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Overlanding: A Quick Rundown of What It Is, and Why It’s Cool

Relatively new as a trendy activity in America, overlanding dates back to the 1900s.

A lot of people have asked us recently, "What is overlanding, anyway?" Compared to the rest of the world, overlanding is a relatively new way to explore the outdoors in the U.S. During the past few years, though, vehicle-based exploration has boomed and developed a strong following by off-the-grid enthusiasts. Helping the cause, off-roading aftermarket brands and automakers have recognized overlanding's growing popularity and are extending their inventory to match. Indeed, there now exists an entire industry dedicated to overlanding here in the U.S.

So, What Is Overlanding?

We don't usually refer to Wikipedia as a source, but in this case, it's answer to the question, "What is overlanding?" sums it up nicely:

"Overlanding is self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal. Typically, but not exclusively, it is accomplished with mechanized off-road-capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping, often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and spanning international boundaries."

What Is Overlanding 101

Introduced on other continents decades before bursting onto the scene in America, generally speaking, overlanding is a combination of remote travel, off-roading, and camping. Overlanding's origins date back to the early 1900s, when Australia began to establish routes for long-distance travel within the continent. Primarily used for trading farm animals, drovers used these trade routes to transport livestock to markets on foot. Years later, overlanding took on a different meaning and would become an outdoorsman activity inspired by road builder, pioneer, and surveyor Leonard "Len" Beadell in the 1940s.

Overlanding, unlike off-roading at the Trona Pinnacles or a camping trip to Grand Canyon National Park, usually involves long-distance travel to remote locations that are under-documented and where little prior exploration has occurred. Other characteristics that define overlanding include, but are not limited to, self-reliance, adventure, survival, and discovery. Overlanding can involve a variety of elements such as crawling on massive boulders, wading in deep waters, slogging through mud, and sprinting across a dry lakebed.

Don't fool yourself: A weekend trip spent roasting marshmallows over a soothing campfire, tackling obstacles, and conquering trails, as adventurous as it sounds, does not qualify as overlanding. The real-deal requires taking yourself off-grid and venturing into the truly unknown, and doing so for days, weeks, months, and even years at a time, depending on the journey. Overlanding isn't a vacation or a guided adventure at Zion National Park, but rather a meaningful quest in search of something greater than yourself.

Overlanding-Vehicle Types and Essential Gear

Several vehicle types can be made into capable overlanding rigs, including SUVs, trucks, crossovers, vans, and motorcycles. From a high-mileage Jeep Cherokee listed on Craigslist to a slightly modified Honda Passport to a luxurious 1991 Land Rover Defender 110, your overlanding dreams can come true on any budget. Some popular models for vehicle-supported adventure are Toyota's Land Cruiser, Tacoma, and 4Runner. And of course, the iconic Defender 90 and 110, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, Volkswagen Vanagon, and a spectrum of Jeeps.

Traveling in unfamiliar territory requires a properly equipped vehicle, but an overlanding rig is a means to an end; in other words, it's a tool that helps you reach your destination. Like the rest of the gear you carry, a vehicle is a piece of equipment you use to bring you closer to the wilderness. It is equally important to pack plenty of water, a first-aid kit, food, tools, utility jugs, a full-size spare, camping supplies, and toiletry items.

So You Think You Can Overland?

Self-reliance is the key to overlanding success, and mindset is everything. You have to be prepared to go full-survival mode and to handle repair needs that arise during your journey. Other factors to take into account are harsh environments, extreme temperatures, and the creatures you may encounter along the way. And remember, traveling self-supported also entails going days without a shower, and at some point, all you'll have left to eat is a granola bar and instant coffee. If you are 100-percent comfortable, have cell service, a place to shower, and find yourself within a stone's throw away from a Taco Bell drive-thru or gas station, then you're probably not overlanding.

What's the appeal to people who partake in the activity? Overlanding is cool because it brings you solitude, possibly broadens your perspective and understanding of the world, and allows you to learn about other cultures. Vehicle-based exploration also helps build mental toughness, survival skills, and resilience, and it connects you to the natural world in a way few things can. What is overlanding? Just one hell of a challenge, both mentally and physically.