Beginner's Guide to Overlanding: Get Started

1. Intro

Off-roading is one of the activities people enjoy with their vehicles. Having fun for a few hours, however, isn’t enough for some. Exploring the great outdoors for days at a time is more enjoyable compared to a single day of off-roading.

In this article, we’ll cover important aspects of overlanding for beginners, and a lot more. If you’re looking for a beginner’s guide to overlanding, this is the right place. First and foremost, what is overlanding?



Basic overlanding terms you should know:

  • Aside from the term overlanding, you’ll most certainly see the term “rig” a few times. A rig is a term used for a vehicle used for overlanding journeys. A rig can be a capable pickup truck, but more commonly an SUV or 4x4 van. A rig is equipped with everything required for exploring nature and trails less traveled.
  • The term “terrain” refers to the surface of the ground where the overlanding journey occurs. It can be mud, snow, sand, or dirt. 
  • Backcountry as a term refers to the area where overlanding happens in general. Most commonly, the backcountry is challenging, untamed nature. Perfect for overland camping.
  • Lastly, the term “trail” refers to the area between the start and finish of an overlanding journey. Most commonly, trails have either never been used, or extremely rarely. 

Before we dive into the guide, let’s start with the basics by defining what overlanding is.

Overlanding is an off-road activity where participants enjoy the journey for a few days while exploring the wilderness. This includes both driving over off-road terrain, but also camping and making the best out of the journey. 

There’s a lot of difference between regular off-roading and overlanding in terms of equipment. The main thing in off-road driving is overcoming certain obstacles, whereas in overlanding, the focus is on the journey itself. Overlanding allows you to explore much more, and to spend more quality time away from the crowded city.

The moment you start exploring overlanding for beginners, you’ll run into a few terms you should know the meaning of.


  • Overlanding originated in Australia
  • The first instances of modern overlanding happened in the early 1900s
  • By the mid-1900s, overlanding became a widespread hobby

The term “overlanding” didn’t always mean what it means today. The original term was used in Australia when livestock was moved over long distances. In a time when there were no roads to use, overlanding required people to be self-sufficient during the long journey. 

In the very beginning, overlanding was a necessity. As motorized vehicles became available, overlanding slowly became a way of exploring and enjoying unexplored parts of nature. 

The 1930s saw some of the biggest overlanding adventures. Max Reich used a 250cc Puch to travel from Vienna to Mumbai. The journey included crossing a vast area of Asia which was mostly unmapped at the time. 

As vehicles became more refined and capable of crossing over rougher terrain, so did overlanding become more popular. From the middle of the 1900s manufacturers started making more capable vehicles. A lot of aftermarket manufacturers also started making off-road and overlanding equipment for SUVs and trucks.


  • Overlanding involves long-distance travel and exploration
  • Off-roading involves overcoming obstacles on short trails
  • Overlanding is all about exploration and the journey

When it comes to off-roading, the main thing is overcoming certain obstacles at a specific location. It can become too much preparation for too little satisfaction, but when it comes to overlanding, things are different. It does require a bit more equipment and preparation, but it provides much more excitement than pure off-road journeys.

While overlanding, it isn’t imperative to go over each obstacle you come across. You can go around, turn back, or try and go over the rough terrain that doesn’t have a predefined track.

That’s the beauty of it. Only a few have taken that particular path to reach a fully remote location in the wilderness. It’s less challenging for the vehicle, but more challenging for the driver and passengers.

Of course, overlanding is better than off-roading for people who enjoy spending time in nature and exploring. On the other hand, it isn’t the best choice for those who want a quick adrenaline rush. It’s a matter of personal preference, but it’s something everyone should try!


  • Fitting the right type of tires
  • Off-road suspension is recommended
  • Mount under-car protection
  • Do a full vehicle inspection

You can technically go overlanding in a stock off-road vehicle, but it’s recommended to make a few mechanical changes. These modifications will help you to maximize its capability and reduce the chances of getting stuck.

The first, and most obvious thing you’ll need are all-terrain tires. By improving your vehicle’s grip, you’ll be able to cover slippery terrain more easily compared to regular tires. Fitting your vehicle with off-road suspension is recommended, but not necessary. This is because overlanding for beginners doesn’t usually include driving over difficult terrain. 

Skid plates, on the other hand, are recommended because they’ll protect your vehicle from underneath.

Another essential thing regarding preparing for an overlanding trip is inspecting your vehicle. It’s worth doing a detailed inspection of the vehicle and all its important features. A failed part can be very difficult to replace especially if you plan on going deeper into the wilderness. If you’re not experienced enough to do a full inspection by yourself, find a mechanic to do it for you.

A detailed vehicle inspection should include checking and replacing fluids, checking the engine’s cooling system, suspension components, and tires. Having a full-size spare tire is highly recommended, too. Inspecting additional equipment is essential to make your overlanding trip as safe as possible.

Even if you have a fully capable vehicle for overlanding, there are certain items you’ll need to get. When you decide on where to go overlanding, the overland camping setup and overland packing list might change. For the most basic overlanding trip, you’ll need to invest around $500. Checking out some online ads and overlanding forums, you can probably make it with less.

6. Preparing Yourself For Overlanding

Preparing Yourself For Overlanding
  • Overlanding is much more challenging than off-roading
  • Take your time to prepare
  • Get familiar with the terrain
  • Get in the right mindset

Unlike regular off-roading, overlanding is a much bigger challenge for both the vehicle and the people in it. Mental preparation for such an adventure takes time, and planning out the trip shouldn’t be rushed.

Even when you pick the area where you want to go overlanding, it’s important to know what the terrain is like and how far you’ll be from the nearest town. These things affect the list of equipment you’ll need, and how much supplies you’ll need to bring.

Planning and preparing for your trip will help you enjoy the journey more. You’ll feel safer and have peace of mind that you’ve prepared everything, even for the worst-case scenario. Aside from this, you’ll need to understand that you’ll spend a couple of days in nature. You’ll need to cook your own meals, and make the best out of every situation you find yourself in.

7. How To Plan an Overlanding Trip?

How To Plan an Overlanding Trip?
  • Pick the area where you’ll go overlanding
  • Create a detailed list of required overlanding equipment
  • Get familiar with the area and possible rules
  • Choose who you’ll go overlanding with
  • Personal preparation
  • Vehicle preparation

Planning overlanding trips is a bit more complicated than planning a regular off-road trip. When it comes to overlanding, numerous factors determine which trails you’ll be able to conquer. These factors determine the amount of time you’ll spend in nature, and what type of equipment you’ll need.

The first thing in overlanding for beginners includes carefully assessing the route. Learning about the route will help you determine what you need in terms of equipment and gear. 

The next thing to do in planning an overlanding journey is to pick the area or destination. If you’re a beginner in overlanding it’s best to choose a simple trail. The trail should depend on how much time you have aside from your experience in off-road driving and overlanding. 

Once the main things from the overlanding checklist have been determined, you should make an overland packing list and get the equipment you need. You should also get familiar with the area as much as possible, and get familiar with any current rules.

8. What Rules Do I Need To Follow?

What Rules Do I Need To Follow?
  • Make sure to have enough supplies
  • Follow the rules and regulations of the area
  • Follow the signs you come across on the trail
  • Stay on the designated trail
  • Drive slowly 
  • Follow common driving courtesy
  • Always pick up after yourself

Being that this is a beginner’s guide, here are some basic rules and etiquette that everyone should follow while overlanding.

One of the first rules of overlanding is to bring enough supplies. This includes fuel, water, and food. Before starting the trip you should think about how much fuel you’ll need to cross the entire trail. 

Driving in the city or highway is one thing. Driving over off-road terrain can take its toll on fuel consumption significantly. 


Other than making sure you have enough supplies, there are a few more rules for overlanding. Most of the rules in this overlanding checklist are recommendations rather than rules. 

Depending on the location, you should inform yourself about potential regulations regarding camping, campfires, and driving through certain areas. This is an important part of preparing for an overlanding trip because it can help you avoid unnecessary stress.

The next rule, or recommendation, is to make sure to read all the signs. It’s unlikely that you’ll drive to a remote location, so you’ll find a few signs along the way. 

Even if you have the entire route planned, keep a lookout for signs as you’ll navigate more easily. More importantly, you’ll know what lies ahead, especially if you’re still driving and night falls. These signs on the trails can end up saving you from trouble as roads less traveled bring massive challenges.

If you decide to go with a pre-existing overlanding trail, stick to it, and don’t try and find shortcuts. These trails are usually great for beginners as there are organized campsites, and they’re not far away from civilization. These offer an opportunity to increase self-confidence, too.

No matter how experienced you are in off-road driving or overlanding, you should always drive slowly. Overlanding trails usually include designated places for overland camping. It’s extremely rude to drive by a camp and send dust flying in other people’s tents, food, or water. When driving quickly, you can also cause significant damage to your vehicle.

The next thing in the rules and recommendations for overlanding is the courtesy of letting other people through. You can come across others on beginner trails, and it’s a common courtesy to let vehicles going uphill pass. It’s just easier to start going downhill, especially if the terrain is slippery. 

The last rule for overlanding is to never leave anything behind you. Camping, especially with a group of people, can result in a lot of trash. The environment can quickly become polluted and lose its charm. 

When you pick up after yourself, you’ll leave a clean site for other overlanders and yourself for any future trips. This is why you should make sure to put a few trash bags in your overland packing list. 

9. Essential Equipment for Overlanding

Essential Equipment for Overlanding
  • First aid kit
  • Essential tools
  • High-quality winch
  • Tents/Shelter
  • Cooking equipment
  • Cooler and water/fuel jugs
  • Clothes
  • GPS and navigation equipment

Aside from having a capable vehicle, you’ll need some equipment, too. Making an overlanding checklist will make your journey safe and enjoyable. Overlanding trips take up to a few weeks, so it’s important to make a detailed overlanding gear list. This list should cover all possible aspects of the journey. 

The first and by far the most important thing on your overlanding checklist should be a proper first aid kit. A lot of people ask is overlanding safe. In essence, it is, but leaving the city and being located in a remote location has its risks. Injuries are possible, so having the proper medical items at your disposal can reduce the chance of cutting the trip short.

The next point in the overlanding checklist should be essential tools. No matter how reliable you think your vehicle is, there’s always a possibility that something will require repairing or replacing. A toolkit is an important part of overland trips because you might experience a breakdown in a remote location. Aside from tools, it would be a good idea to bring some spare parts that are most likely to fail. 

The third piece of equipment is a high-quality winch that would be capable of getting your vehicle out of ditches. Although overland trips don’t include difficult terrain you can come across muddy terrain that can leave your vehicle stuck. It’s important to have a winch powerful enough to pull the entire vehicle with all its equipment and cargo.

After checking the first three items off of the overlanding gear list, it’s time to start thinking about shelter. Spending the night in the vehicle is possible, but there’s a huge downside. It can be uncomfortable especially if the journey is supposed to last longer. 

The longer the journey is, the more supplies are needed, resulting in far less space in the SUV or truck. Even if there’s enough room, sleeping in a vehicle can be uncomfortable.

A roof-top tent is a great choice for overland trips. A roof-top tent provides shelter and protects from dust, insects, and other critters that might be roaming around. You’ll still need sleeping gear such as sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows. The alternative is to have a regular tent in case 

After packing up tools and equipment, it’s time to think about the supplies you’ll need. Having enough drinking water is essential. It’s also recommended to have a water filter and water purification tablets just in case.

A portable stoveshould also be on your overlanding checklist because you’ll need to prepare food during the overlanding journey. A portable fridge is important if you plan on going on a trip during the summertime. Food can spoil easily due to high temperatures, and it can cut your adventure short. Aside from water, you should also bring enough food for the entire trip.

The last thing in your overlanding checklist should be clothes. How many clothes, and what type of clothes you’ll bring depends on the weather, and season. Another factor is how long you’re planning on staying. 

There are a few more things that can be added to the overlanding gear list. A precise GPS, additional fuel, a shovel, an axe, and similar equipment could help you get out of sticky situations,too.

10. Overlanding Vehicle Selection

Overlanding Vehicle Selection
  • Full-size pickup
  • Large SUV
  • 4x4 Van

The most important part of overlanding is having a capable vehicle. If you’re interested in overland trips, you should think about the vehicle that will provide you with everything you need. It should be able to cover off-road terrain, but also provide enough room for a full overland camping setup. 


When it comes to overland vehicles, there are three common choices. The choice comes down to a full-size pickup truck, a large SUV, or a 4x4 van. A 4x4 van is becoming more and more popular for overlanding trips.

Each vehicle category has specific advantages and disadvantages, and there’s no best choice out of the three. It all comes down to personal preferences, needs, and the decision on where to go overlanding. A pickup truck wouldn’t be such a good choice if you plan on going overlanding during the wintertime.

Getting a 4x4 van and heavily modifying it for beginner trails isn’t worth it, either.

There are a few things that make a good overlanding rig. The most essential aspect of a good overlanding rig is 4X4 or all-wheel drive. Another aspect that is often ignored but equally important is the vehicle’s payload capacity. 

Keep in mind that these journeys include a long overlanding gear list. Your vehicle needs to be able to accommodate passengers, supplies, and equipment without reducing its driving capability.

The next thing about choosing the right overlanding rig is its power and fuel efficiency. These two usually don’t go together, so you’ll most likely need to sacrifice one for the other. It’s important to find a vehicle with a lot of torque. This is because horsepower doesn’t have that much effect on the vehicle’s off-road capability.

Some of the most popular overlanding vehicle choices in the US include:

  • Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, 
  • Toyota 4Runner, 
  • Ford Bronco
  • Mercedes Sprinter van, 
  • Ford Transit van, 
  • Ford Ranger, 
  • Land Rover Defender, 
  • Mercedes G-Class, 
  • Ford F150, 
  • and many more

11. Overlanding Vehicle Building & Customization

Overlanding Vehicle Building & Customization

Although most off-road capable vehicles can be used for overlanding, there are a few changes that would make overlanding easier.

The most common change in overlanding vehicles compared to regular ones is the suspension and tires. Vehicles for overlanding are often lifted by adding off-road shocks and springs. This modification alone wouldn’t help the vehicle conquer different terrains unless there are adequate tires on the wheels. Whether you’ll choose all-terrain tires, mud, or snow tires, depends on the weather and terrain conditions.

Reinforced bumpers and protective skid plates are also common items in overland vehicle builds. The sole purpose of reinforced bumpers and skid plates is to protect the chassis from scratches or dents. 

Other modifications are also available, but these few are the most important in any overlanding vehicle build.

12. Recommended Trails for Beginners in Overlanding

Recommended Trails for Beginners in Overlanding
  • Valley of the Gods Loop in Utah
  • Alpine Loop National Back Country Byway in Colorado
  • Trans-Wisconsin Overland Trail

Countless trails are suitable for beginners in the US, and it can be difficult to choose which one is best. Which overlanding trail you’ll choose depends on how long you plan on staying, and how capable your vehicle is. 

Some of the trails are hundreds of miles long. Some of the trails include remote terrain where experience in off-roading and self-sufficient living is extremely important. There are also scenic trails close to towns and cities that are less than 30 miles long.

The fact that you can go around the entire trail in under two hours shouldn’t discourage you from exploring it. It includes a variety of camping spots and some of the most beautiful views you’ve ever seen. 

This trail is ideal for beginners who want to try overlanding. You’ll stay close to a town where they can get anything you need. The only downside to this trail is that campfires aren’t allowed. This means that you’ll need to bring your propane fire pit instead.

Another great trail for beginners is the Alpine Loop National Back Country Byway in Colorado. Compared to the Valley of Gods Loop trail, this is more off-road challenging. A capable vehicle with higher ground clearance is recommended for the Alpine Loop trail in Colorado. 

One of the shortest overlanding trails, but one of the most beautiful, is the Valley of the Gods Loop in Utah. It’s located a few miles from the town of Mexican Hat in Utah, and the trail is 17 miles long. 

This trail includes around 70 miles of amazing terrain that is crowned with some of the most breathtaking views. This is ideal for beginners with basic knowledge of off-road driving who want to experience a week-long journey. The trail starts and ends in Silverton, Colorado.

One of the longest overlanding trails for beginners is the Trans-Wisconsin Overland Trail. Although the trail runs across the entire state, it's great for beginners as it's never too remote. It includes some paved roads, but it's 600 miles long so you'll have more than enough nature and wildlife to explore. 

The Trans-Wisconsin trail isn't very difficult, so a basic rig without many modifications would do the trick. 

With hundreds of trails to choose from in the US alone, there are a lot of beginner-friendly trails to explore. 

13. Safety Tips

Safety Tips
  • Stick to designated trails
  • Drive in groups of at least two vehicles
  • Double-check you packed everything you need
  • Always have a first-aid kit close

Safety is one of the things that should never be overlooked, no matter how experienced you might be. There are a few safety tips everyone should follow to make their overlanding journey as enjoyable as possible. 

The first thing is to always stick to designated trails. Remote locations might be dangerous and a wrong turn may lead to significant vehicle damage or worse. This is where signs on the trail play a huge role in overlanding safety. These signs provide important information about your whereabouts and what lies ahead. 

To further improve safety on an overlanding trip, make sure you're driving in a group of at least two vehicles. In case of any type of breakdown or accident, you'll have someone to help you get back on track. You should also designate specific meeting points along the trail in case of separation from the group. 

Packing adequate gear, equipment, and a high-quality first aid kit is essential, too. 

14. Overlanding Community

Overlanding Community
  • Overlanding forums
  • Overlanding websites
  • Overlanding clubs
  • Overlanding events and trade shows

Overlanding can be a very expensive hobby. Because of this, it's not always easy and simple to find friends in your social circle who share the same interest. Thankfully, that's a vast overlanding community you can easily reach by joining overlanding forums and signing up to different overlanding websites. 

You may not know it, but overlanding is the hobby of choice for a lot of people. Finding them on the other hand, might require some searching. Once you find a suitable forum or website you like, it's easy to reach out to people located in your area. You can find information about gear, equipment, and different trails from overlanders who already explored those areas. 

Aside from joining an overlanding community over the internet, there are other ways of finding like-minded people interested in overlanding. This includes visiting overlanding events, and trade shows, and joining an overlanding club. You can also sign up for a course where you’ll get to meet other beginners you can go overlanding with.

15. FAQs About Overlanding

FAQs About Overlanding
  • Is overlanding expensive?
  • Is a 4x4 vehicle required for overlanding?
  • Can you make money overlanding?

Although overlanding isn’t something new, there are still a lot of frequently asked questions about it. One of the most commonly asked questions about overlanding is why is it so expensive. Aside from overlanding requiring the use of a capable vehicle, there are numerous modifications that are essential for successful overlanding trips. Depending on the length of the journey, supplies can also take a big chunk out of a budget.

Another commonly asked question is whether or not a 4x4 vehicle is required for overlanding. In all honesty, a 4x4 vehicle isn’t necessary for the easiest trails. It’s highly recommended because the terrain can become extremely challenging for a two-wheel-drive vehicle. 

A vehicle with a lot of ground clearance is important as you’ll come across higher obstacles along the path. When it comes to more advanced trails, a capable 4x4 vehicle is required. A fully modified vehicle should be able to tackle any type of terrain or obstacle.

Being that overlanding is an expensive hobby, one of the more common questions is can you make money overlanding? The short answer is - yes. Overlanding can earn you money, but not just as a hobby. You can record your journeys, share tips and reviews about certain trails, and build a community on different social media platforms. 

If you’re good with writing, you can start a blog and share your experiences from your overlanding journeys. You can create a passive income by doing this, and potentially secure a sponsorship that can fund your overlanding trips.

16. Start Slowly and Enjoy the Journey

Start Slowly and Enjoy the Journey

If you’re new to overlanding and have no experience in self-sufficient driving, it’s recommended to start slowly. Plan a day or two-day-long trip until you feel comfortable with your skills and your vehicle’s capabilities.

By starting slowly, you’ll gain all-important experience in both driving and exploring. You’ll also gain experience in being self-sufficient and packing enough supplies to last you as long as you need. This will also lead to less investment in gear and equipment required for longer overland trips.

By gaining experience and modifying your vehicle more, you’ll feel more comfortable  overlanding on more advanced trails. You’ll become comfortable in reaching more remote locations staying longer in the wilderness.

Even if you have a long overlanding gear list, don’t let that discourage you from doing what excites you. Pick an easy route for your first trip, and enjoy exploring the surroundings while connecting with nature and learning about yourself!