Offroad Tips

You Brought the Kitchen Sink?!

What You Really Need for Your Overlanding Excursions
By Jerrod Jones

When you head out for a few days on the trail, what do you take along? Do you take a stove or grill? What about a blow-up mattress? Are you a sleep-in-your-seat kind of guy, or do you like wheeling a mini motorhome with a transfer case so you can pass out in a queen bed? And what type of terrain are you traversing? Are you in low range, leaning your roof over the edge of a cliff to get over a three-foot ledge, or are you popping down dirt trails in 2WD, stopping in at state parks and campgrounds that have maintained dirt roads?

These are the questions you should be asking yourself when you build your overlanding rig. You probably don’t need a class VI 4×4 motorhome for a night around the campfire with the boys. And if your version of overlanding means a day out at picnicking grounds, then your money may be better spent on a hitch-mounted table than a rooftop tent. If you’re not going to be seeing another human for two weeks and low-range is your full-time option for the duration of your trip, then you need a more substantial (read: much more investment) overlanding rig to suit your needs.

And while its good to be prepared for anything, there is a broad line between too much and too little, and its best to sit somewhere on that line so you don’t come to the party unprepared, but also don’t waste a lot of time and money on equipment and gear that you’ll never use. If you think about your needs and are truthful with how you’ll use your vehicle, you’ll end up having more fun on your trips and likely save yourself some money!

Do you need a bigger tire than what you can fit on stock? If so, then look into a lift kit of some sort. But if not, you’ll still want to upgrade your shock package and possibly address your springs if you’re adding weight to your vehicle. Don’t feel like “lift kit” needs to mean $10,000 suspension. Overlanding (camping) rigs should never be lifted too much, nor have tires so radical that they risk drivetrain parts, nor are they going to be driven
down off-road race courses at speed. Unless you’re crawling around extreme terrain or bombing Baja roads, you probably don’t need to suspend your rig like a race truck.

Tire choice is another important consideration when constructing your overlander. The most obvious aspect: What tread type? If this is your off-roader/overlander/daily driver and you’re choosing tires, an all-terrain (A/T) is hard to beat. An A/T is more aggressive than what most vehicles come with, and will provide an excellent, quiet ride. But if you are on trails in wetter climates or find yourself in 4WD more often than 2WD, a more aggressive mud-terrain (M/T) will not let you down. As long as you’re using a quality tire from a reputable manufacturer, you shouldn’t need to worry about the load rating too much on your overlander’s tires unless you’re carrying a seriously heavy pop-up camper. A three-ply sidewall is common on most A/Ts and M/Ts these days (improving durability), and you’ll not want to run anything other than a radial.

Recovery equipment
It’s nice to be able to save yourself or someone else’s 4×4 when in the dirt, so you should never leave on a trip without the minimum recovery essentials like strap, jack, shackle, and shovel. And adding options like a winch can really come in handy when they’re needed. But it’s a high-cost item that adds a lot of weight, so be sure its worth it. And if you do have a winch, make sure you have the proper tools to use it in the field—things like a tree strap and a land anchor that will aid in self recoveries.

Traction Aids/Axles
Some type of traction aiding devices like a locker or a limited-slip differential is a great option, but you’re looking at around $1,000 or more, per axle, to add a locker or limited-slip. Make sure the terrain you’re going to be traversing calls for it.

Living quarters
Where are you sleeping at night? Are you fine with a tent made of sticks and your old bed sheet, or do you need a heated camper with a memory foam mattress? Know your needs. The popular go-to for most overlanders is the rooftop tent, due to its ease of use. But you may need less or more. The theme is common here: Spend your money wisely, and don’t just get a bunch of stuff you don’t need.

If there was a specified way to “properly overland,” this is not it. While the 4×4 fullsize van has oodles of potential for an awesome overlander, the obviously ridiculous stack job makes this vehicle top heavy on the highway and even worse on the trail…assuming everything does stay on top and doesn’t fall off driving down the road. You don’t need to bring the kitchen sink.

Your adventures are going to take you off-road, no doubt. But how far? In what conditions? Stock vehicles are being made extremely capable these days, but they are still made for use on paved highways a majority of the time. If you feel it necessary, a simple lift kit and some better shocks can
allow you to put on a tire better suited to your off-road travels.

Overkill suspension is a great way to waste a lot of money under your truck. Overlanding is not the same as entering an off-road race, and you do not need external-bypass shocks to putter down a dirt road with your camping gear on the back. While you likely don’t need $10,000 worth of suspension for your trips, an upgraded shock package will better handle bumps increased load, and even help with sway control.

You don’t need the most aggressive bias-ply tire that is DOT approved for your weekend overlanding rig. An all-terrain will likely serve most of your needs, but if you’re spending times in damper areas, a mud-terrain will be a better guarantee that you’ll make your trip without getting stuck.

An aftermarket front bumper can be a great and useful addition if you need it. Not only can a good bumper contain a recovery winch, but it will give a better approach angle on the trail. But it can also add a lot of weight and expense to the front end. If you’re staying in parks with camping grounds and doing light trail running, you likely don’t need all the high-end equipment up front.

If you don’t think you need an aftermarket bumper but would still like the option of a winch for self-recovery when exploring, a removable winch cradle and winch might be just what you’re looking for. They work in conjunction with your stock bumper and use a standard 2” hitch receiver so the winch can be moved from the front to the back of the vehicle (assuming you also have a rear tow hitch).

Do you really need a locker? While the performance can never be argued, the cost surely can. You’ll likely be paying over $1,000 for a locking differential and install. If you’re seeing a lot of tire slippage where you like to venture into the dirt, then a locker may be a good choice.

If you’re out for days at a time, an electric fridge/freezer unit is an excellent addition to your gear list. But if you’re only heading out for one or two days, a nice cooler filled with some ice might serve your needs just as well as a thousand-dollar fridge.

Maybe it’s a trendy foodie thing that is spurning this, but you don’t need to bring an entire kitchen with you on the trail. Minimize your cooking equipment and your rig will be lighter and there will be more room for other stuff. This owner mounted a simple propane grill directly on the front bumper!

With a shell on it, this old F-100 had room to spare even after loaded with a week’s worth of gear for two guys. They chose to also bring tents instead of unloading the entire bed every time they wanted to sleep in it.

For a weekend trips this owner added a collapsible fabric shell that can be removed in minutes for workweek duty, and then put back on as a mobile tent for light camping trips.

A pop-up camper can fit directly into the bed of your 4WD truck. But a setup like this can be a bit fragile for rougher trails. The straps, brackets, and tensioners can loosen up and the truck bed can start to fatigue and collapse over time. A pop-up camper is a fair amount of weight in a truck bed and it is a substantial investment, so make sure that your camping requirements call for one before you go that route.

True overlanding rigs are more than just some bolt-on parts. This owner knew he’d be out for weeks at a time on rough trails where he might see no one for days. Therefore he built a custom flatbed base with tool boxes for storage on the side, with enough room to plant a pop-up camper in the middle. He also chose a more compact version that is on the lighter side and will hopefully survive many years of use.

Friends may give you a hard time about “glamping” but pull up to camp in one of these off-road motorhomes, and they’ll be drooling with jealousy. There are certain specialty companies out there that start with medium-duty trucks and construct purpose-built expedition vehicles with oodles of gear and recovery equipment, not to mention some pretty fancy accommodations and insanely high price tags.

Of course, we have the rooftop tent—the unmistakable mark of the overlander. While there are lots of way to camp and overland on the trail, the rooftop tent is a fast and easy way to form some sleeping accommodations quickly, without having to pitch a standard tent, fold down any seats, or unload the entire vehicle to make some sleeping room. They are built fairly light to keep overhead weight to a minimum, but it still lessens your overhead clearance and adds more wind resistance to your 4×4.

Wanna be the coolest overlander in the parking lot? Start with something unique, and start doling out time and cash to build your home on wheels. The problem with something like this old Dodge is that unless you spend enough to buy a house, you’ll always have some rattles and leaks and not as many creature comforts as a newer platform would offer you. As cool as it is, it’s not a great overlanding choice.

This is what happens when you overland for days in a Jeep instead of a fullsize. Not only do you have to bring a trailer to fit all your gear, but the potential of the driver suffering a mental breakdown in then cramped quarters is apparent in this picture.

The great thing about an overlanding rig is that you’re prepared if the hotel accommodations don’t quite look like they did online.

Call it overlanding, call it exploring, adventuring, or just dirt camping; It’s fun to take an overnight (or longer) expedition in the dirt. But weigh out the pros and cons of what you’ll be carrying. While being underprepared is never good, being overprepared can add unnecessary hassle to your trip.

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