Overlanding blends the self-reliance of backpacking, the creature comforts of #vanlife, and the thrill of offroading. No wonder this sport has never been more popular, and that more and more Americans are skipping car camping or RV setups in favor of a gnarlier form of adventure travel.
Essential Overland Gear
It takes special gear to overland successfully, however— you need a little bit more than a 4x4, fuel, and a map. Here are 12 essential pieces of overland gear that will help you get started, and go further.
One of the most essential pieces of overland gear you need (besides food and water) is fuel for your vehicle. How much extra you need to bring depends, of course, on the length of your trip, the fuel economy of your overlanding rig, and how far you'll be from civilization. There are a variety of jerry cans out there to choose from, but you should never leave home without filling yours up and making surely they're safely stowed.
Photo Credit: The Dyrt Camper Madison G.
The great thing about overlanding (well, one of the great things) is that a vehicle affords you a little extra room than you'd have backpacking or even car camping. Instead of an ultralight backpacking stove (though we love those, too), you can bring a bigger camping kitchen setup, like the Profile Duel stove.
It features one 3360 W burner and a generous BBQ grill burner with stainless steel drip tray. That means you can make a pot of coffee while you grill up some sausages and veggies for breakfast, or indulge in multi-pot meals, without having to cook one ingredient or dish at a time.
Photo Credit: Sh4rp_i Flickr via Compfight cc
A winch comes in handy in a dire pinch, like if your vehicle gets stuck in soft sand below the high tide line or in a patch of unexpected mud. Winches can be pricey and even dangerous, but is a great tool to have on hand if, say, your traction boards don't do the trick or letting air out of your tires isn't enough.
If you're really concerned about using a winch safely, there is such a thing as a winch line with soft shackle that has no metal parts. Just be sure that your bumper can handle the extra pressure and that you study up on proper use procedure.
The American West has a major problem with wildfires, and there's no sign that some of the best overlanding destinations in the country will get any less dry in the coming years. Many parks and public lands now have some form of fire ban for at least part of the year. But that really cuts in to the romance of curling up by the campfire in the evening, under all the glittering stars.
The Primus Kamoto OpenFire Pit is safer than lighting a ground fire and makes it simpler to Leave No Trace. That said, it's still pretty, portable, and easy to use. There's a built-in grill for cooking, and when you're done it simply folds up and slides into your vehicle. There's even a carrying case you can purchase separately to keep your interior extra fresh.
Navigation is crucial when you're overlanding far from any known road. The Brunton 70P Dash Mount Compass is advertised for use on boats and kayaks, but can also be installed on the dashboard of your van or truck. It's easy to read with 5° graduations and reciprocal bearing, and will keep you pointed in the right direction even if your vehicle is on steep or uneven terrain.
A First Aid Kit
No, not the beloved Swedish folk duo. A medical kit for scrapes, cuts, burns and worse that might occur out in the back country when you're far from the nearest hospital. Consider not only the basic bandages, antiseptic, and anti-diarrhea, but also how to treat sprains and breaks, serious puncture wounds or deep lacerations, snake bite treatments, etc. Hopefully you'll never need it, but when you do, you really, really do.
A Tire Repair System
First of all, you definitely want a spare tire— and not the little donut that is hiding under your back seat, either. Carry an extra all-terrain tire in case of flats, or in case you need an anchor for that winch on your bumper. It can also make a great seat at the campground in a pinch. Patches, safety seals, and lube are all useful as well for making sure your tires get you back to civilization in one piece.
You'll also want an air compressor, to increase tire pressure in case of temperature fluctuations or if you need to let some air out for traction. For the later, you'll also want a tire decompressor so you can let out just enough to get traction without accidentally leaving yourself flat.
No outdoor kitchen is complete without an all-purpose saucepan. This handy three liter pot is big enough to boil a batch of spaghetti for several hungry overlanders. There's a built in colander in the lid, as well as a stowable handle that you can use to hang the pot over a campfire or firepit. It works just as well on a stove, too, however.
From soups to stews to noodles and rice, this roomy pot feels like you're cooking back in your kitchen at home. That is, except that you'll be using this piece of overland gear while admiring the stunning landscape all around you.
A Truck Tent
If you haven't outfitted your residential van for overlanding, you might be wondering where to sleep at night. You can bring along your camping or backpacking tent, of course, or do the hammock thing. But there are many great products out there now that convert the roof or bed of your van or truck into sleeping space, with all the ease of assembly you get from a tent.
The added advantage over sleeping on the ground, however, is you get more distance from bugs, snakes, and varmints, or especially cold or wet ground. They can also make is easier, safer, and within the rules to boondock at places like Wal-Marts even though you aren't driving an RV.
A Communications System
Often called comms for short by overlanders, you need some kind of communications system to rely on. Believe it or not, a cellphone is not a crucial piece of overland gear, because you'll often be out of signal range. Instead, overlanders rely on GMRS walkie-talkies (which require a special license, since they have a stronger, clearer signal range than your standard walkie-talkie) or CB radio. If you get really serious about overlanding, you might graduate to HAM radio or a satellite phone.
It also can't hurt to have a GPS device on hand, with your compass as a backup, to help you find your way through the back country. A personal locator beacon is always wise, especially if you're traveling solo, in case you need a rescue from especially dire situations like illness, getting lost, a vehicle breakdown, or natural disaster.
Have Fun Out There!
With the right overland gear, you can have a safe, memorable time as deep into the backcountry as your wheels can take you. From the pieces of equipment that keep your rig running to the creature comforts that make the great outdoors feel like home, it doesn't take much to get your feet wet, or take your previous overlanding experience to the next level.