It’s become such a keyword now it’s worth discussing. I’ve been interviewed about it by Andrew St. Pierre White from 4x Overland, I’ve been asked about it at shows thousands of times, and was even hired by the folks at Seattle Met magazine to take one of their writers and photographers on an overland trip a couple of summers ago. The word is popping up everywhere nowadays: “overlanding.” There are magazines, blogs, countless Instagram posts, vlog series’, meetup groups, online stores, and t-shirts/stickers/patches galore. But what is it, actually?
The reason I am posting about this now is because it’s getting muddy; there seems to be a lot of confusion about what “overlanding” really is. First, “overlanding” is not off-roading. Off-roading is defined as this:
Off-roading is the activity of driving or riding a vehicle on unsurfaced roads or tracks, made of materials such as sand, gravel, riverbeds, mud, snow, rocks, and other natural terrain.
Off-roading is definitely a part of overlanding but it’s not the whole equation. However, overlanding is also not just adding camping when off-roading; going camping up a trail or Forest Service road with a groups of friends is fun (I do it regularly), but that’s really not overlanding – it’s going camping for the weekend up a forest service road with friends, and while that incorporates the essentials of overlanding, it’s missing one key ingredient.
But before we get into the meaty bit let me back up with a disclaimer: this is not a diatribe born out of elitism or some need to remove an undesirable members from a group of hardcore enthusiasts. In fact it’s exactly the opposite – I strongly encourage everyone to get into overlanding, real overlanding. And not just because it keeps the shop busy! You know those surveys that rank the happiest countries in the world (it should be noted that the US actually ranks pretty low, on a regular basis)…guess what the happiest ones all have in common? They all value their natural surroundings and spend a very high percentage of their time living in and exploring the outdoors. Those “happiest countries” know something that we’ve lost touch with in this country: that exploring and enjoying the natural world around us improves our health, happiness, and makes for a better overall society. But there’s also another reason I encourage you to overland: the more people out using and requesting access to our public lands, the more money will be allocated to it and the more access we’ll get. And if I can judge what more might be out there based on the tiny percentage of land we can access now, I can safely guarantee you that we live in the most diverse and beautiful country on the planet. There is such an incredible amount to see in our own back yards. I have spent years exploring just the Western United States and I still have many dozens more starred locations on my main Google map I’ve yet to experience…
So back to the original question – what is it? What is overlanding? Overlanding, at it’s core, is self-sufficient exploration along a route. That route can be planned or unplanned, but that’s the difference: the travel and exploration aspect. It’s about going out and discovering new and amazing things and places while ticking off miles from a starting point while heading toward a distant goal. And that makes a big difference. Why? Because the true essence of overlanding is the exploration, diversity, and proving to yourself and/or your family that you’re worthy and capable of navigating the natural world.
Now I know I’m going to get some flack here from hardcore bushcraft enthusiasts and backpackers, and I get it. Yeah, overlanding isn’t exactly roughing it. I get that. But you know what, I’ve taken cynical hardcore backpackers on overland trips more than once and each time they’ve come away impressed and totally stoked! Because seeing hundreds of miles of terrain and scenery in a single weekend, and being able to look out the window and say “Ooooh, look over there! Let’s go check it out.”, and not adding dozens of hours slogging down a soggy trail to do it, is game-changing. The mobility, the comfort, the getting lost, getting stuck, running dangerously low on fuel, or simply just not knowing what lies ahead is all part of it, and I deeply love and appreciate all of it. There are benefits and detractions in every activity but to me overlanding is the best of everything and I’ve learned more about myself and my capabilities, and gained more real happiness and comfort from hours behind the wheel of my truck, than almost anything else in my life. And if you’re inclined to find these things for yourself come by the shop – a coffee and a chat is on the house.
“So back to the original question – what is it? What is overlanding? Overlanding, at it’s core, is self-sufficient exploration
along a route. That route can be planned or unplanned, but that’s the difference: the travel and exploration aspect. It’s
about going out and discovering new and amazing things and places while ticking off miles from a starting point while
heading toward a distant goal. And that makes a big difference. Why? Because the true essence of overlanding is the
exploration, diversity, and proving to yourself and/or your family that you’re worthy and capable of navigating the natural world.”
I totally agree! Overlanding is a great lifestyle for travel. You don’t have to own a monster equipped off-road vehicle, a simple vehicle will do just fine for most of us 90% of the time. A weekend or 2 week trip is great. A multi month, multi country trip is excellent. I have ‘roughed it’ doing several multi month 4 x 4 trips in Africa, Australia and India and have equally enjoyed more comfortable car and motel/B&B trips in Europe and New Zealand. I have also spent years backpacking in many countries, spending months on the road sleeping in my tent or hostels of all sorts. It’s all ‘overlanding’ to me. Getting from a starting point to an end point and experiencing everything I could along the way. It is great to have a vehicle for the freedom of choice and time and it can be equally pleasing to use local transport, be it a chicken bus, Tuk Tuk or airconditioned inter-city bus or train. The concept is all the same … get out there, go as far as you can for as long as you can all while being self sufficient.
For a great read check out First Overland, the 1955-56 overland expedition by 6 graduates from Oxford and Cambridge in two Series 1 Landrovers, from the UK to Singapore and back. I love their motto, to go “as slow as possible but as fast as necessary.”