A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Overlanding in 2023

beginner guide to overlanding

Are you interested in starting overlanding but feeling unsure or confused even after watching countless YouTube videos? Don’t worry, I’ve got your back. In this beginner guide to overlanding, I will go over the bare minimum basics of what you need to start overlanding today. Additionally, I will discuss some best practices that will help ensure you have the best possible experience on your first overlanding adventure. Stick around till the end of the article, as I will also talk about some non-essentials that can be total game changers in overlanding.


Start with a Vehicle

Let’s start with the essentials. The first thing you need for overlanding is a vehicle. It is preferable to have a high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle, but we’ll talk more about that later. The second essential item is shelter, which could simply be your vehicle. The third item is food and water. And that’s it! Those are the bare minimum basics that you need to start overlanding right now.

Now, let’s dive into each of these essentials in more detail. First, let’s talk about the vehicle. Overlanding is vehicle-based adventuring, so having a vehicle is crucial. The type of vehicle you should have depends on where you want to go. If you only plan to visit national parks and established campgrounds, you could get away with any car.

However, if you plan to explore Forest Service Roads or relatively well-maintained graded roads, it’s a good idea to have at least an all-wheel drive vehicle. And if you want to venture off the beaten path and into the backcountry, a high clearance 4X4 vehicle like a Toyota or Jeep is ideal.

guide to overlanding - vehicle

But keep in mind that your vehicle should match your needs and the terrain you plan to explore. You don’t need a lifted Wrangler Rubicon 392 running on 40-inch tires or a fully built-out 3rd gen Toyota Tacoma with light bars all over it to overland. Stay within the capability limitations of your vehicle, and you’re good to go.

Shelter comes second to overlanding trails

Now, let’s move on to the shelter. As previously mentioned, your vehicle can serve as your shelter if it has enough room for you. Otherwise, you may want to consider investing in a tent or other shelter options.

When it comes to camping, there’s nothing wrong with using a ground tank. In fact, ground tents have several benefits, with the main one that provides enough space for doing normal things like changing your clothes, taking a wet wipe shower, or whatever else you need to do with privacy. Some use ground tents when the weather is warmer. A rooftop tent works fine too, it could be an investment after your first tent, but you don’t have to have a rooftop tent to go overlanding.

guide to overlanding - tent types

Food and Water

When planning a camping trip, it should be a total no-brainer that you gotta have food and water. It doesn’t matter to me if all you want to do is eat Slim Jims and Pringles your entire trip, no judgment from me. Freeze-dried meals that only require hot water are perfect for emergencies or when you don’t feel like cooking after a long day on the road. Nowadays, they’re not even half bad.

But if you want to cook, then you gotta have something to cook on. Being in Colorado, we pretty much have a seemingly permanent fire ban, so using a campfire here for cooking .

The two things we use for cooking are a propane stove for cooking and an isobutane burner for boiling water. However, you can’t just use one of those simple butane stoves. Keep in mind that butane doesn’t really work that well in higher elevations and in extremely cold temperatures.

guide to overlanding - stove

Someone’s probably going to ask why we use one of those tiny little isobutane burners just to boil water. Well, the kettles we use are tiny, and the burners on the propane stove are just too large to hit the center of the small kettles and heat them up efficiently. So, that little isobutane burner actually gets water boiling faster in the kettles that we use, plus the isobutane burner can act as a backup stove.

The isobutane canisters come in different sizes, and they’re super lightweight. They don’t take up that much room. As far as propane, you already know that you can pretty much find propane almost anywhere. You can take a tank with you to get refill easily in a station when you are out for short trips, a six-pound tank is great for short trips. Generally, it’s way easier to find a 20-pound propane tank exchange location than it is to find a refill station.

Water is also a crucial element to consider when going on an overlanding adventure. Your water needs will vary depending on where you’re going. If you’re in a desert or a hot, dry environment, plan for more than one gallon per person per day. For drinking, cooking, cleaning, and personal hygiene, a general rule of thumb is one gallon per person per day, which should be enough. Make sure to plan out water supplies for pets if you’re bringing them along.

Carrying around 10 gallons of potable water at all times and using a water purifier. You can get these water tanks from Amazon, they come in different volumes, and some are pressurized with a sprayer.

guide to overlanding - water tank

What about food storage? Well, if you just start with overlanding, there’s nothing wrong with just using a simple cooler; they work just fine. Don’t feel that you have to have some fancy portable fridge just to go overlanding.

However, a fridge can be a game changer, especially if you plan on going overlanding frequently. While overlanding fridges can be expensive, they’re well worth the investment because they eliminate the need to refill ice or drain out the cooler, and prevent soggy food. Additionally, once you try a fridge, it’s hard to go back to using a cooler.

Planning Trials

When planning an overlanding adventure, some planning is necessary. Knowing where you want to go is the first step. And it’s important to have a general idea of the area you will be visiting. Spend some time browsing maps online or playing with Google Earth to get a sense of the area. Don’t forget to check websites for the park, national forest, or public land area you plan to explore, as well as ranger stations and visitor centers, for up-to-date information on trail conditions, camping, and more.

Google Maps or other navigation apps can get you to your destination, don’t rely on them entirely. Traditional navigation apps may not be reliable in remote areas, so offline GPS maps can be helpful.

For example, on a trip to Death Valley, Highway 9 190 was closed when entering the area. Later, when we stopped at the visitor center, we found out that it was open again before we left. Knowing this saved us from an extra hour and a half of detour driving. Sometimes, ranger stations have paper maps available, which are perfect for backup navigation since they don’t require power, cell signal, or GPS signal to work.

Other than traditional navigations, some apps are quite popular among overlanders, you may not have heard of them before your first overlanding , but those Apps are quite powerful. I think Gaia GPS is an extremely powerful offline mapping tool that has been around for a long time. It may not be the most intuitive thing to use, but it’s well worth the time it takes to learn the basics.

guide to overlanding - trail planner

Join the local Facebook groups or other communities to get some ideas of the latest info on the camp spot, words often travel fast than GPS or google search results.

Best practices to overlanding

To get started with overlanding, you really only need a vehicle, shelter, food, and water. However, there are best practices that can help ensure a great experience.

Make a checklist

Before your trip, make a checklist of everything you want to bring on your adventure. List out the things you’ll need and want for the type of weather and terrain you’ll be facing, and don’t forget to pack sunscreen and bug repellent. Do this ahead of time, because waiting until the night before you leave will likely result in forgetting something.

Carry a mini satellite

It’s important to be prepared for emergencies, so always carry a Garmin inreach mini satellite communication device or a similar device that allows you to send text messages via satellite comms. You can also use it to pull a weather forecast in the middle of nowhere. Checking the weather forecast and wildfire information for the areas you’ll be traveling through is also important.

guide to overlanding - a life saver satellite

A decent first-aid kit

And of course first aid kit, it’s likely that you’ve already considered bringing it. However, it’s worth mentioning that you should get a decent first aid kit, rather than relying on a subpar drugstore kit. It’s also a good idea to have a tourniquet or two, just in case. It’s important to learn how to use these items, as they could potentially save someone’s life one day.

Small-sized fire extinguisher

Additionally, having a fire extinguisher on hand is another good precaution to take. While I personally only have one, I’ve heard great things about Element fire extinguishers. They have excellent reviews, and are small in size. Best of all, they don’t require maintenance and never expire.

Caution for bears and other wildlife

If you’re going to be in bear country, it’s wise to carry bear spray with you. Not all bears are just playful and trying to steal your picnic baskets, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Many of the big-name brand bear sprays even make inert practice canisters, so that you can train on how to use them properly.

guide to overlanding - animal caution

wildlife is likely to be attracted to your trash when you are in remote areas, you’ll need to come up with a plan for dealing with it. While hanging bear bags is a tried and true method, there are other options as well. Personally, I use a product that’s made to store animal feed in airtight conditions, called a Vittle’s Vault. It’s weatherproof, airtight, and pretty durable. I’ve found that it keeps odors in really well. That being said, it’s unlikely that any animals will be lured to your food storage. As long as you ensure that the seal is fully seated, it’s unlikely for a bear to open it and keep the odors pretty well.

Wet pipes for Shower

When you’re out in the backcountry for multiple days, wet wipes can be a luxury or even a necessity for maintaining personal hygiene. While a hot shower setup is a nice splurge, wet wipes will do the job for now.

If you want some privacy, an easy set-up tent will do the job.


Take care of all the waste

If you’re getting out into the backcountry, be prepared for no toilets. Decide ahead of time what you’ll do about that, whether it’s digging holes or using a portable toilet with a privacy tent.

I highly recommend learning more about the Leave No Trace principles. One of the most important principles I want to emphasize is the proper disposal of waste. It’s disheartening to see how much garbage is left behind on trails and in campsites. When you venture out, be sure to bring plenty of trash bags with you and pack out what you pack in.

Additionally, strive to leave the environment better than you found it. Irresponsible behavior from visitors is often the reason why public land managers have close access to certain areas. Remember, waste isn’t just limited to garbage. Even everyday actions such as washing dishes with typical household detergents can have harmful effects on the environment. To minimize the impact of such actions, consider using a pure Castile soap or one that’s specifically designed for camping.

There are some other truck recovery gears I mentioned in overlanding on a budget, you may want to check these out too. Like a portable 12v air compressor, tire repair kit, transaction board,etc. I would like to mention them here too, as you may encounter those unexpected punctures or flat tires.

To get started with overlanding, all you really need is a vehicle, shelter, food, and water. Chances are, you already have those. So, go forth and enjoy the great outdoors. If you’ve gone on your first overlanding adventure, leave a comment below and let me know how it went. If you found this article helpful or entertaining, please share it with a friend.

As always, remember that destinations don’t matter – the journey does.

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