Overlanding may be a newer term to Americans, but it’s a well-known motoring adventure in most other parts of the world. Overlanding is taking a 4×4 vehicle on a completely self-sufficient off-road adventure to (and through) remote locations. Overlanders don’t look for a destination so much as the journey itself. It is about self-sufficiency and exploration. This is the spirit of land travel.
What is Overlanding and how is it done?
Overlanding, aided by the COVID-19 lockdowns, has become a hugely popular activity for Americans. It worked so well as a COVID activity because it takes participants to wild and remote places. Think of the landing as a kind of automotive backpacking.
To put overlanding in more definitive terms, the Oxford Dictionary defines overlanding as “traveling long distances over land” or “carrying cattle a long distance over land”.
However, Wikipedia defines overlanding in the terms we most commonly use today as “self-sufficient overland journeys to remote destinations where travel is the primary objective. It is usually, but not exclusively, accomplished by off-road mechanized transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the primary form of accommodation is camping, often lasting for long periods of time (months to years) and spanning international borders.”
While the original definition of overlanding came from the Australian Bushmen and ranchers, its current place in the world is not that different. Those original overlanders did it as a means of not only survival but also payment. it was occupational. For many overlanders today, the echoes of that occupational side are still heard.
What differentiates overlanding from off-road?
Spending a weekend camping and driving your Land Rover Defender over some obstacles is a monstrous fun time, but it’s not exactly landing. In fact, echoes of overlanding’s survival and occupational origins are still part of it today.
In the words of the team terrestrial diary, “Overlanding is about exploring more than conquering obstacles. While the roads and trails we travel may be difficult or technically challenging, they are a means to an end, not the end itself. The goal is to see and learn about our world, whether it’s on a weekend trip 100 miles from home or a 10,000-mile expedition across another continent.”
Meanwhile, off-roading, which is still quite adventurous and exciting, focuses more on conquering a certain set of obstacles. Off-roading is spending the weekend trying to rock climb in Moab, while Overlanding might be taking a truck to see if you can find your own way through desert that no one has driven before.
Overland Journal gives us some terminology to help us understand the landing and off-road scenes a bit better.
CAMPING CAR: Travel in a vehicle to an established camp. If there’s a picnic table there, it’s probably an RV.
ADVENTURE IN THE FIELD OR ROAD IN 4X4: A day or multi-day off-road trip on an adventure motorcycle or 4×4 vehicle.
BY LAND(ENG): self-sufficient and vehicle-supported adventure trips, typically exploring remote locations and interacting with other cultures.
SHIPMENT IN DEPENDENT VEHICLE: An organized trip, dependent on a vehicle, with a defined purpose, often of a geographical or scientific nature.
EXPEDITION VEHICLE: A 4×4 vehicle or adventure motorcycle prepared for self-contained travel over long distances, through unpredictable weather conditions, and over variable terrain.
The main difference between overlanding and other offroad driving activities is the self-sufficiency and survival part. While you may need to do a repair to get your truck out of the woods off the road, with Overlanding, breakages will happen and your survival often depends on your ability to repair them. Overland journeys often last months or even years. Off-roading, bouldering, muddin’, etc. They happen in an afternoon.
Overlanding is not for everyone
Despite the overwhelming number of examples of “off-roading” and “overlanding” factory packages on new trucks and SUVs, Overload is not for the “I ordered my truck this way from the factory” crowd. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a truck with an off-road package by any means, but on-road rigs require a purpose-built touch that drivers know inside and out. Overlanding depends on commitment. Without commitment, it becomes extremely dangerous and fruitless.
However, now that the activity has become popular, there are tons of builders, parts suppliers, and other informational resources, like the Overland Journal, to help people build a rig, plan a ride, and do it.