These Rad Camper Rigs Define Overlanding for 2020
These trucks and SUVs—plus one Porsche 911—show you where overland camping is, and where it's headed.
If you haven't been living in a basement in Uganda the last few years, you're probably aware of the recent boom in the popularity of overlanding. The idea is nothing new, of course—explorers have been loading down Land Rovers, Land Cruisers, and the like and driving them across faraway lands well before the term was coined—and it happened on the backs of animals for hundreds of years before that, to be technically accurate. There's many a hypothesis to explain the recent uptick of desire to get out of dodge, and just as many opinions on the best way to do so. Regardless of the vehicle you choose, the aftermarket has jumped to help equip it for middle-of-nowhere missions. We thought we'd check out the biggest gathering of wanderlust that the industry has to offer—Overland East—to try to sort the useful from the useless, and provide some intel on both going into the next decade.
Main Line Overland's Porsche 997 Rally Build
Well-known overland outfitter Main Line Overland says there's no plan to bring this 997's build into production, but we'd be remiss not to include it anyway. It's lifted two inches through the use of custom aluminum spacers (soon to be replaced by a coil-over suspension) and it rides on Fuchs-style 16x7 and 16x8 wheels with 215/65R16 BF Goodrich KO2 rubber. To keep the wheels where they need to be through the adjusted suspension-travel path, Elephant Racing adjustable strut mounts were installed up front, along with SPC adjustable rear lower control and trailing arms. Tarett Engineering adjustable rear toe arms allow further tweaks to work with the lift. Baja Designs amber lighting is hood-mounted as on early 911 rally cars, and an sPOD Bantam power distributor keeps things tidy under the hood.
Four-Wheel Pop Up Campers "Project M"
What's so special about another bed-mounted pop-up top, you ask? We'll cut right to the chase: This one starts at $8,995 and has a welded aluminum frame that will bolt to most truck beds, and it offers 6.5 feet of head room. Even on a midsize truck, there's enough space for a queen mattress in the cabover portion, and the modular system comes prewired for battery and solar power. It's truly suited to midsize trucks, too, thanks to the fact that it's 425 to 500 pounds lighter than typical camper shells. It's possible to order this pop-up in six colors, including khaki, white, black, or gray, and you can spec diamond-plate or smooth aluminum sides.
1964 F-350 Open Road Robinette Coach
If you needed proof that people have been overlanding long before the catchy term was coined, consider this cherry yet wonderfully patina'd 1964 F-350. Owner Robert Lahr bought it in Arizona, where he's pretty confident it spent most of its life after having left the now defunct Open Road upfitter in Culver City, California. It's been upgraded quite a bit over its 55 years, including a not-insignificant swap to a 1976 F-250 4X4 engine and drivetrain, which bought the trusty truck a 390-cubic-inch V-8 with C6 transmission and a serious-duty NP205 transfer case—not to mention a Dana 44 front axle. Complete with an original water heater; interior propane lamp, stove, and oven; glass sliding door and a fold-down porch out back, the truck is an impossibly good marriage of old and new(er).
Brokentooth CCM 450
Oliver "Brokentooth" Solaro says he almost had a series on cable television, and it's a no-brainer: There's a town called Churchill in the way north of Manitoba, Canada, that lost rail access due to spring flooding. As a result, even basic necessities had to be flown in via the settlement's small airport, causing the price of dog food to skyrocket to $140 per bag. Solaro didn't like the thought of residents having to put down their best friends to stay alive themselves, and armed with this horrifying story, he talked his way into a CCM 450 from Motorsports Canada and a track-and-runner kit from Camso Inc. He converted the bike himself and loaded a sled with some 1,000 pounds of dog food. The harrowing journey through -22 degree weather is impossible to describe here, but worth a Google if it's grabbed your interest the way it grabbed ours. More than the food, the goal was to send a message, bringing awareness to the situation in Churchill.
1993 Toyota Land Cruiser with Cummins Swap
A bone stock 80-series Toyota Land Cruiser has a loyalist following to rival any New England sports team, but this 1993 FJ80 will make a fan of the most stubborn deniers. With 350 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque, its 12-valve 6BT Cummins Diesel swap more than addresses the biggest 80-series gripe: a lack of power. The legendary diesel is mated to a five-speed manual transmission and a Dana 300 transfer case, and that's before things get really unorthodox. There's the Chevy 14-bolt rear axle, supported by a four-link long-arm travel kit and a Fox coil-over suspension front and rear. Custom Bowman driveshafts distribute the power, and an ARB front locker keeps things moving in the rough stuff. The list goes on and on from there—follow it @thecumminscruiser.
Fab Fours Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
This list just wouldn't be complete without a decked-out Gladiator Rubicon, and it's hard to beat Fab Fours when it comes to over-the-top Jeeps. In this case, many of its existing Wrangler offerings translated right over to the Gladiator. The company's stubby front bumper pairs with a custom rear bumper that'll support the entire truck's weight and which features integrated steps and slider tubes. Those cool-looking angular fenders will hold your weight, too. Up top there's a modular bed rack that connects to an over-the-roof rack. The bed area has Decked pull-out drawers and a Cargoglide system to roll out niceties like a generator, fridge, and a hot shower. The Gladiator rides on a Skyjacker 5.0-inch coil-over suspension system and a 40-inch wheel-and-tire combo.
Mercedes Sprinter 2500 4x4 by Thule
A Sprinter 4X4 is almost definitely one of the most capacious ways to support all of your gear—and your favorite loved ones—off the beaten path. Thule has taken that idea to the next level with its 2018 Sprinter 2500 4x4, adding just about every Thule product you can think of along with a custom front bumper, sliders, and roof platform from CaTuned, as well as fender flares, a snorkel, and a hood spoiler from Terrawagen. The van has been lifted by 2.0 inches and rides on 35-inch tires, with a Warn Zeon winch mounted up front for really sticky situations. TouRig of Golden, Colorado, built a custom interior to match.
Dan Grec's Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
If you're into overlanding, you've probably heard of Dan Grec—the Aussie who has been overlanding for real since 2009 and writing about his experiences. He brought his 2011 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited with him to Overland East and was on hand for some highly informative chats that featured perspective that could only be gleaned from actually living the life. Rather than building a super-cool-looking rig, Dan's focus was instead on reliability and functionality—the thing had to actually make it around the world, and be in use full time. It'd be impossible to list his mods here, but he has a rundown on his site. Dan has already done almost two years and 40,000 miles through South America, plus roughly 54,000 miles in Africa. The guy knows what he's talking about.
Goose Gear's Ford F350
Goose Gear brought its custom Ford F350, and while the truck has the expected and numerous overlanding upgrades, the highlight was its three-piece modular pop-top from German maker FiftyTen. Comprised of three modules—the tray, the box, and the tent—it's a relatively simple trick to subtract the top two, leaving a functioning flatbed for daily use. The tent sets up in seconds with the pull of a single latch, revealing a near-queen-size bed that can be quickly flipped away in the morning, freeing up headroom to use the box as a mini living room after you wake up. The system's hardtop roof allows for the mounting of accessories or solar power, and the tent fabric is removable to expand indoor storage.
Drive the Globe's Insane 1979 Mercedes-Benz Unimog
You don't buy a Unimog and pretend to be an overlander—the tradeoffs are too real for fakers. This one, from Drive the Globe, features "fast" axles that allow it to cruise at 60 mph and get 12 mpg, but even still, it's far better suited off the highway, where its 58-gallon fuel tank allows some 700 miles of range. The attached trailer makes it easy to call wherever it stops home, too, with an on-demand hot shower, a 3000-watt power inverter, a 270-degree shadow awning, and a Dometic refrigeration system. There are no fewer than four deep-cycle batteries in the trailer alone, with a 24-volt electrical system for the cab, which has another 2500-watt inverter. Naturally, there's solar to charge both systems mounted atop both the cab and trailer. As you can derive from the image, the list goes on and on—find it at drivetheglobe.com if your interest is unsatiated.
C2 Design's 70/80 Series Hybrid Build
Though C2 Design doesn't necessarily specialize in Land Cruisers, owner Chris Chapas says he's accumulated a few more than he cares to admit. This one is built on a stretched 1997 FZJ80 chassis, which gives it coil springs and shocks in the rear as opposed to leaf springs, as well as that vehicle's entire running gear. That means it packs the trusty 1FZ-FE engine—supercharged here—and full-time 4WD. The new cab interior is clean enough that you could eat off any surface, and features seating from scheel-mann. Outside, there's everything you might expect: a lift kit from Old Man Emu, 33-inch Cooper tires on steel Tacoma wheels, and a bevy of gear from Big Country 4x4 in South Africa, including a fully featured rear box with pop-up tent and awning, drawers, and a front rack. Solar panels are mounted up top alongside a pair of ActionTrax recovery boards for sticky situations.
Details were scarce on this well-executed Land Cruiser we spotted on our way out of Overland East, but it was good looking enough that we thought to include it anyway. Pop in the gallery below for more from Overland East: