We’ve all seen the beautiful pictures on Social Media platforms that make Overlanding look like some of the most fun a person could ever have traveling in their 4×4 vehicle! The very definition of Overlanding is traveling a long distance over land, which is usually vehicle based but can also be on foot, bicycle, motorcycle, horseback, or roller skates(if you’re brave enough!). A 4×4 vehicle will get you further into the backcountry, off of the beaten path and away from the hustle and bustle of society, which is often where we go to seek peace and to reflect on our busy lives!
In this article, we are going to discuss a broad overview of the ways that you can maximize your Overlanding experience, while outfitting your 4×4 vehicle for long distance travel or even short weekend trips! In the future, we’ll dive more into detail about each of these aspects so that you can build your vehicle to satisfy all of your basic needs when you point your windshield in the direction of the unknown and begin to explore!
Choosing a good vehicle platform that best suits your needs is key! The vehicles that we own are some of the largest investments that we can make and it’s important to make sure that your vehicle will serve your needs properly for as long as you need it to. For example, a 2 door Jeep Wrangler may not be the best platform to serve the needs of a Family of 4, as the back seat is usually smaller and the cargo capacity is very limited. A 4-door SUV with some cargo capacity would definitely serve the needs of a Family of 4. Not to say that a 2 door Jeep Wrangler isn’t a great platform, but it may be better suited for a couple rather than a Family. If your vehicle needs to pull double-duty, as in you tow a heavy trailer during the week, and you want to use your vehicle for camping on the weekend with your Family, then a 4-door full size pickup or SUV may suit your needs better.
Now that you’ve hopefully chosen or own your vehicle platform of choice, let’s move on to the fun part: Vehicle Modifications!
Whether your goal is to build a very capable off-the-grid 4×4 that can sustain you for many days in the backcountry or to build a heavily modified rock crawler and weekend warrior, we’ve got you covered!
While there is some grey area and similarities between a self-sustained overland-ready vehicle and a 4×4 rock crawler, there are many more differences than similarities! While both may be four wheel drive, an Overland vehicle usually runs smaller tires and more amenities to make life in the backcountry easily sustainable and comfortable. A rock crawler is of course going to have larger tires, highly modified suspension and axles, and more times than not a roll cage. When traveling long distances with the interest of camping and exploring, even a stock or lightly modified 4×4 with a good set of all-terrain tires will take you many places, while achieving good fuel economy, reliability and comfort. If you foresee yourself tackling trails that are more challenging than regular forest roads, a small suspension lift and slightly larger than stock tires will give you more ground clearance and capability, while also retaining good fuel economy over a long distance journey.
One more thing to keep in mind when modifying your Overland vehicle, is to keep an eye on the GVWR(Gross Vehicle Weight Rating). GVWR is the maximum operating weight of a vehicle as specified by the manufacturer, including the vehicle’s chassis, body, engine, drivetrain fluids, fuel, accessories, driver, passengers and cargo. You can usually find this information in your owner’s manual, or on the driver’s side door sill sticker. It is often easy to add a lot of heavy modifications and gear to your vehicle(in addition to the weight of passengers), which can quickly add up to meet or exceed the manufacturer’s rated specifications for the brakes, suspension and drivetrain, thus stressing the vehicle and potentially making it perform less than ideal or even dangerously.
Are you a Cooler or Refrigerator kind of person? While coolers are fantastic for overnight or weekend trips, ice will soon need to be replenished and that isn’t always the easiest thing to find when you’re smack in the middle of the backcountry! Vehicle application 12volt refrigerators, such as Dometic, have become wildly popular in the last few years, which allows you plenty of cold food and drink storage for extended periods of time. Your food will also keep from getting soggy in a refrigerator as there is no ice to melt!
While having an onboard refrigerator/freezer in your vehicle is great, it is important to mention the proper way to power them without draining your vehicle’s engine cranking battery. A dual battery system is highly recommended if you plan on running a fridge/freezer.
A dual battery system is essential when one battery is dedicated to engine starting and accessories such as headlights, radio, factory options, etc., whereas the secondary battery is for powering amenities such as a refrigerator, laptop or camp lighting. Dual battery systems often come with a relay that allows charging of both batteries while your vehicle is running, however it isolates your secondary battery so that your refrigerator or accessories don’t drain your engine starting battery!
To keep your batteries topped up if you are camping in one place for an extended period of time or you leave your vehicle stationary for a hike/bike session, it’s always a good idea to consider Solar Panels to keep your batteries topped up! This will allow your vehicle’s refrigerator(if equipped) to run most of the day so you can return to your vehicle for a cold beverage and fresh food! Most vehicle application solar panels kits come as a foldable mat that stores compact and can easily and quickly be set up at camp. There are also solar kits that can be mounted to the roof or hood of your vehicle if saving space inside your vehicle is a priority!
Another great amenity to have onboard your vehicle for extended travel in the backcountry is an onboard shower system! There are quite a few options on the market nowadays for camp showers and water storage. One of the more popular are the roof rack mounted water storage tanks which rely on either being gravity fed, or air pressure to pressurize the tank. While these styles of camp showers work great in some situations, there isn’t an easy way to regulate the temperature of the water. If this setup has been sitting in the sun on your roof rack all day, you could very well end up with 140-degree water when you’re ready to take a shower! A propane heated shower may be a better bet for those looking to take a hot shower during the day or night, of which the aftermarket has many options!
Staying organized is one very important aspect of long-distance vehicle travel. A drawer storage system in the back of your 4×4(SUV or Pickup) is a great way to stay organized on the road of adventure! GooseGear makes top-quality vehicle-specific storage system for Jeeps, Toyotas and more! When everything has it’s place in your vehicle, you are minimizing the amount of time searching for an item, thus maximizing your time for fun! There’s nothing worse than misplacing your spatula, when food is burning on the grill!
-Camping, Sleeping and Comfort-
One of the often overlooked and important aspects of camping and sleeping in the great outdoors, is comfort! Technology has come a long way in the past few years in regards to comfortable options for camping!
Having the right gear to keep you warm and comfortable so that you can get a good nights rest should be one of the top priorities for your vehicle-based adventures! A poor night of sleep cannot always be solved by caffeine, as lack of sleep causes fatigue, which in turn inhibits your mental clarity, which then can effect your ability to have fun! Lack of fun in the great outdoors makes it less likely that you will want to stay out there or travel for longer periods of time.
While everyone’s personal preference on what is most comfortable to sleep on is different, we can’t all pack our King Size memory foam mattresses into our vehicles, so we must pair down to something smaller and lighter weight! Air mattresses are the go-to for most ground and tent camping, however this technology has vastly improved in the past few years! There are now air mattresses on the market that have memory foam inside of them that will automatically inflate when you pull the vent plug, which means no more foot or battery-powered air pumps!
There’s a long-heated debate about Roof Top Tents vs. Ground Tents, but it ultimately comes down to personal preference! While Roof Top Tents are great at keeping you up off of the ground and are convenient to deploy and store, they do add weight to the top of your vehicle thus increasing the center of gravity. There’s also that whole part about how awesome they look atop a vehicle(like a tree fort!) when they’re deployed, which is our favorite argument for having one! Ground tent technology has also vastly improved, with some tents boasting a 90-second or less setup time, portability, excellent build quality, water and UV-resistance, as well as the ability to accommodate 4-15 people at most! There are even ground tents available that can attach to the back hatch/tailgate of your SUV with a watertight fit, giving you easy access to your gear or even a convenient place to sit if you need it!
Camp cooking has become wildly popular these days for Overlanders and there are many options available for delicious eats! While the 2-burner Coleman Stove is the tried and true method of whipping up good meals at camp, the growth of the outdoor industry in the past few years has produced near endless options from simple to quality! The TemboTusk Skottle Kit is a compact and easy cooking apparatus to set up, cook and clean while also remaining reasonably compact and light weight. The cooking surface itself is 18inches in diameter, large enough to cook food for an entire Family! This kit comes with nearly everything you’ll need to immediately start cooking, with many add on options to make your cooking experience even better! The adjustable height legs make cooking easier on your lower back, as well as easier to cook on uneven ground! Best of all, cleaning your Skottle is super easy: “Pour enough water into the pan to cover the burned on crud. Turn on the burner until the water is hot and let it sit for ten minutes. Use a spatula and scrape the crud off the pan. Drain the pan and reheat until the pan is hot. Throw water into the pan and it will flash steam any remaining crud off the pan. With a paper towel apply a light coat of cooking oil to the pan and you are ready for the next meal.”
If you’re into cooking over the fire, the Front Runner Spare Tire Mount BBQ Grate is a fantastic way to grill in the great outdoors! The grate is stainless steel with aluminum legs, has grill and griddle options and stores over the spare tire of your vehicle, conserving precious interior space. It can fit 29inch to 35inch tires, has a cooking space diameter of nearly 24inches and weighs in just under 10lbs. You’ll be the hero around the campfire when you pull this off of your spare tire to start making food!
Communications are ultra-important when you’re spending time in remote places! Whether you’re running trails in a group or simply out solo, being able to communicate to keep a group of vehicles together or call for help is paramount! While a lot of people are still using CB Radio’s to communicate out on the trail, let’s do a quick overview of CB Radio vs. Walkie Talkies vs. HAM Radio vs. GMRS Radios. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these communication devices, so here’s a quick overview of Pro’s and Con’s!
A CB Radio is the normal go-to option and has been for many years, however more and more people are using HAM or GMRS Radios to communicate between vehicles or to emergency services when out in the backcountry. A CB Radio can have a range of up to 50 miles, offers many channels and doesn’t require a license to operate, however generally has a low handheld range of 3-5 miles and usually a lot of static. Walkie Talkies on the other hand, are very reasonably priced and can function when the grid is down, however their function can be limited by varying terrain and it requires at least two units to stay in contact. GMRS Radio’s have become a lot more popular in the last few years, being that there is minimal static, very clear communication and a range of up to 25 miles. The only real con to GMRS Radio’s are the fact that they require a license from the FCC, however, it is easily obtained once you pay the fee. A HAM Radio is popular for long-distance communication, has many frequencies available and even offers direct communication with emergency responders! Ham Radio’s also requires a license to operate, and usually, there is a class with a test that needs to be passed before you receive your license!
There are many options on the market for PLB’s(Personal Locator Beacons), which are simple electronic devices that are meant to be used in life or death emergencies that result in a full-scale rescue mobilization. These devices have direct access to emergency networks of rescue personnel to save lives in emergency situations! The Garmin inReach is great example of a PLB communication device if you find yourself truly out in the middle of nowhere! The inReach uses satellite technology from Garmin so that you can stay in touch with others. This device allows you to send and receive messages, track and share your journey, navigate your route, and even has an SOS button to that can alert emergency services 24/7 nationally.
First Aid skills are an absolute essential for those that like to explore remote areas! A bad situation can arise at any time, and having the right training and equipment may just save a life! First Aid, CPR and even AED training classes are available in our area through the Red Cross. First Aid Classes can be taken in-person or online for convenience. Each Red Cross certification is only valid for 2 years from its award date, so be sure to stay on top of the latest training to keep your certifications up to date!
While having a basic First Aid Kit is important for things like basic cuts or bruises, an IFAK(Individual First Aid Kit) is mainly focused on treating more serious, traumatic injuries. An IFAK generally contains items such as Medical Gloves, a variety of Band-Aids, Sting Relief Wipes, Antiseptic, Alcohol Prep Pads, Burn Gel, Pain Relief Pills, Benadryl, Neosporin, a CAT Tourniquet, Compressed Gauze, and Trauma Sheers to name a few! It is very important to have the proper training to use these items effectively before adding them to your First Aid Kit.
Now that we’ve touched on each of these important topics, hopefully you feel more prepared to dive into vehicle adventure travel known as Overlanding. In the coming months, we will dive deeper into each of these subjects with more specific information to prepare and empower you to venture out into the backcountry a little farther, and a little longer!