Everything You Need To Know About Overland Equipment
Overlanding is a lifestyle. Starting to live from your vehicle is like furnishing a new home – one devoid of appliances and fixtures. You need to consider your overland equipment set up in the same way.
Where do you get started? How do you decide which items are crucial and which to invest in later? How do you enjoy the most adventure while staying safe? Read on to find out - from the most basic accessories to those you might not have thought of, you’ll be ready for the open road in no time!
Overland Equipment: The Essentials
What fundamentals do you need? Aside from your vehicle, there are many essential accessories that will make your trip a success. Below are some of the basics.
1. The Roof Top Tent
Unless you want to sleep in your vehicle, a rooftop tent is a must-have. With a memory foam mattress and waterproof fabric, you can get a good night’s sleep without worry. You can opt for a hard or soft-shell tent, depending on your price range and the kind of trip you’re planning.
Hardshell tents are generally more expensive but much more durable and long-lasting than soft shell tents. They also function well in all four seasons.
Softshells are cheaper but lower-end models are not fit for harsh winters. With that said, they can be a good entry-level tent.
2. First Aid Kit
This is a must-have for any situation. Be it a short camping trip or full-time life on the road, a well-stocked first aid kit is an essential part of any overlander’s arsenal. Ensure you have the basics to deal with cuts and bruises, but a comprehensive kit can include supplies to treat hypothermia, more serious wounds, allergies, and other complications.
3. Water Purification
If you run out of fresh water, it’s essential that you can purify more. Tablets are the most basic form of water purification, but filters and portable purifiers are also available if you are looking for a higher-end, multi-use product.
Ensuring that you have a decent reservoir of water, to begin with, is the first line of defense against shortages. Having one with multiple uses, such as showering or washing dishes, is also a good investment.
4. Basic Tool Set
With a small toolset, spare parts, and some basic knowledge, you can keep your vehicle on the road. You don’t need to know how to take an engine apart and put it back together again, but knowing how to change a tire and the basics of your engine is key.
Bring a service manual in case something more complex occurs – this may help someone more experienced to solve the problem.
5. The Roof Rack
This is an essential piece of kit, as you won’t be able to fit all your gear into the trunk of your vehicle. It’s especially important if you’re planning to use a rooftop tent.
Getting the right roof rack is essential - just make sure you don’t load all your heavy equipment onto it, as you’ll find it harder to control your car. (Check your vehicle and roof rack documentation to see their weight capacities).
6. Maxtrax Recovery Tracks
Essential if you are going to be anywhere with muddy or unstable terrain, these hardwearing, handy boards get you out of trouble - without the need for a passing fellow traveler with a tow cable.
For ease of storage, consider securing them on the top of your vehicle with maxtrax mounts and maxtrax mounting pins.
Aside from these crucial items, other necessary equipment includes ropes, storage, sleeping bags, and seasonal clothing and footwear.
With the basics out of the way, what should you bring to make your Overlanding trip comfortable?
For a luxury experience, you could fork out $187,500 - $221,633 for a built-to-order Overlander RV. Otherwise, add some simple comforts to make your experience more convenient and homely.
Whether a fridge-freezer unit is an essential or luxury item is a matter of personal choice, but one thing is for sure – if you’re not planning on foraging to survive and you don’t want to live off preserved food from tins and sachets, a fridge could be the perfect solution.
You can expand your outdoor cooking possibilities and pack ice cold drinks to boot! Here are a few things to consider about fridge-freezer units:
- Size: Sometimes it can be difficult to judge how much supplies you should take on a trip. If in doubt, it’s always better to have more than you need. You won’t always be Overlanding for a set amount of time, so choosing a fridge with a decent capacity means you’re ready for any situation.
- Utility: Check out the functions of each fridge on the market. Some are equipped with surprisingly useful extras. One example is the Dometic CFX40 - it has a phone app that warns you of temperature fluctuations, power loss, or an open lid. It sounds like a gimmick, but when your fridge is packed in the back of your truck or trailer, it’s invaluable for preventing spoilage.
- Power consumption: A larger fridge requires a larger compressor to keep cool, which in turn requires more power. Consumption also depends on the climate, as the compressor will work harder and draw more power in hotter ambient temperatures. Well-constructed fridges such as the Engel MT-45 can handle up to 90° variance between ambient and internal temperature. Some fridges also come with a power shut-off function to ensure it doesn’t completely drain your vehicle battery.
- Galley Layout: Many experienced overlanders set up their cooking appliances and fridges on slide systems that negate the hassle of pulling equipment out and putting it back into the vehicle. They can run to expensive prices, with some thrifty trippers constructing their own systems. If money isn’t an issue, going for a higher-end fridge slide, such as one from ARB or Eezi-Awn, could be a good investment.
Camping Table and Chairs
When you’ve been on the road all day and it’s time to stop and pitch up, you won’t want to sit on the hard ground. Thankfully, there’s a huge range of camping furniture out there. Here are some tips and tricks to help you choose the best option for you:
- Camping chairs - It doesn’t seem like a light and durable chair could be possible, but there are brands out there using high-quality, super-lightweight material to make a comfy chair. Make sure you get something foldable for easy storage.
- Camping tables - If you’re plotting a short weekender, a mini folding camping table for a small meal and a few drinks may suit you. Longer trips with more people require more food prep and dining space, so a hard table is a better investment.
The main thing to remember is your camping furniture is an investment! While it can be tempting to try and save money by going for cheaper equipment, you may find that it breaks quickly. Save yourself money in the long run and invest in quality.
Once you’ve set up all your gear and are ready to cook, the last thing you want is a sudden rain shower to ruin your meal - or maybe that sunshine is far too warm. Investing in an awning for your vehicle or trailer is a good idea.
They come in various shapes and sizes, but most attach quite easily to your vehicle and fold down into a surprisingly small package for easy storage and deployment.
- Bundutec BunduAwn - 7’ of coverage on 3 sides and comes in an 8’ or 10’ length. Lightweight due to the aluminum frame, the Bundutec BunduAwn is easy to operate and hardwearing.
- Eezi Awn Series 1000 - Simple and quick to set up, this awning can be erected in under a minute and provides 6’ or 8’ of coverage. Also constructed of aluminum, this awning weighs only 30 pounds, giving it a great size-to-weight ratio.
Some free-standing awnings are equipped with wall sets that convert an open awning into a marquee-like room. Others have detachable mosquito netting.
Like other Overlanding gear, make sure you match the function to your needs. The most important thing is to measure your vehicle and decide how much space you want to be covered around it. If you select the right one, a good awning will be with you for many years.
Seasonal and Off-Road Overland Equipment
Overlanding doesn’t always mean sticking to the beaten track. Incorporating off-roading (which some call “Jeep Overlanding”) takes the adventure to a new level. When taking the road less-traveled, extra preparation is required.
You also need to prepare according to the season and the conditions you’ll encounter. Read on to be ready for anything!
Any vehicle can be used for Overlanding if it supports the weight of a rooftop tent. Sometimes, the term “overlanding vehicle” refers to SUVs and trucks with off-road capabilities. This includes cars that are great on both and off-road, and those designed for hardcore exploration, as the mighty Jeep.
These vehicles should have certain functionalities which make them appropriate for handling rough terrain.
- Locking differentials (aka. “lockers” or “differential lockers) – Compared to open differentials where wheels turn at different speeds, this mechanism locks the axles together so the wheels turn at the same speed. As a result, when one wheel is off the ground, the one touching the ground will get the traction it needs
- Extra wheel articulation - Wheel articulation refers to the upward or downward movement of a wheel, in relation to the one on the opposite side of the vehicle. Extra wheel articulation helps keep as many wheels in contact with the surface as possible, improving traction and stability on rough terrain.
- Crawl control - This function is designed for driving slowly on rough terrain. The system automatically adjusts throttle and brakes based on the conditions of the terrain, so you can focus on steering.
- Skid Plates - These are abrasion-resistant metal plates attached to the underside of a vehicle, protecting the engine, gearbox, front suspension, fuel tank, and transfer case if contact is made with the ground.
- HAC - Hill-start Assist Control helps vehicles drive uphill from a stationary position on an incline, without rolling backward.
- DAC - Downhill Assist Control helps vehicles descend at controlled speeds.
- Reliable integrated recovery points – Strong and sturdy ones are a must for off-road vehicles, and winch provisions are good to have (though not crucial).
Along with your maxtrax, you need:
- Kinetic Recovery Straps – They’re very stretchy and can handle the tension caused when pulling a heavy vehicle. Make sure your vehicle has the recovery points to support them.
- Shackles - You need these so you can attach the strap to the recovery points. Screw pin and soft shackles are the best types.
- A shovel – To remove snow or sand from around tires or other areas a vehicle may be stuck.
- A winch – Dangerous yet effective in trained hands, this motor-powered solution can quickly get your vehicle unstuck. It’s not an essential recovery item – you can get the job done with straps – but it will save the day faster.
- Jacks – Not the type for changing a tire, but ones designed for recovery. Types include:
- High-lift jacks – Usually rated for more than 2,000 kg, this device can lift higher than other types. On the downside, they can be unstable and don’t fit underneath your SUV due to their height.
- Exhaust jacks – These are inflatable bags, placed under the vehicle. They connect to your exhaust with a hose, so the gas can inflate them, lifting the vehicle from underneath. They also have a high load rating (4,000 kg) and are effective in mud and sand.
To help your vehicle cross-ice and snow, you might need:
- Snow tires – Studded and non-studded types provide different levels of traction.
- Snow chains – In some states, these are only legal during certain months.
- Winter formula fluids – Brake and windshield fluids designed for winter perform better in such conditions and have lower freezing temperatures.
- A shovel – You should have this anyway for recovery purposes. If you get snowed in, you’ll be glad you packed it.
- An ice scraper – Pretty obvious, but worth a mention.
- Snow removal tools – If your vehicle is tall,
- Hard-bristled brush – Remove snow from inside the exhaust to prevent carbon monoxide from leaking inside the vehicle – if you don’t, the consequences can be fatal. Clear snow from around the pipe, as well as inside.
It’s not just your vehicle’s winter needs to consider. For your safety and convenience, think about:
- Shelter – A sturdy, waterproof, four-season tent that can handle high winds.
- Insulation – This includes getting the right sleeping bag or quilt, and extra insulation for your rooftop tent.
- Heating – Your type of heating depends on how extreme the temperatures are. Electric heating suits milder winters, while a catalytic propane heater may do the job for Overlanding in the depths of the Canadian tundra.
- Snowshoes – Even when walking around camp, these will be handy. Wading through deep snow takes energy – save it, by walking on top instead.
- Snow goggles – to protect yourself from the sun’s reflection.
- Insulated water bottles – To prevent drinking water from freezing.
- Emergency blankets – To protect against hypothermia.
If you’ve been thinking about installing solar panels, now’s the time. With all that sunshine, you have a great opportunity to supplement your main power supply.
Deflate your tires when driving on sand – the increased surface area of flatter tires prevents them from sinking. Less chance of sinking means less chance of getting stuck.
For your own safety, bring:
- Much more drinking water than you usually need
- Heating or suitable insulation for cold nights
Deserts are unpredictable places, and they’re not immune to flooding or blizzards. The strong winds can bring unexpected weather – fast. Keep a close eye on the forecast and research the conditions you could face in the region you’re visiting, so you can prepare accordingly.
Also study the terrain you’ll cover in-depth, and check for landmarks that might call for specialist gear.
If you’re not careful, you might get lost in the beauty of the desert – literally. The dunes and rock formations may all seem to blend into one, everything looking the same. To avoid this, switch on the tracking function on your GPS so you can retrace your steps.
Never rely solely on cell phones for navigation in the backcountry. Why?
- You may not have a signal. You could download maps in advance, but…
- Your phone could lose power. The battery drains extremely fast at sub-zero temperatures. (Even if you have an insulating cover, you still need a backup).
- Having one device with no backups is not a good idea – GPS units or otherwise.
When running your GPS from a vehicle, there’s far less chance of losing power. However, if you need to take it away from your vehicle for activities like hiking, it’s crucial to have backups, as well as a compass and printed maps.
Make sure you’re experienced using a compass – you don’t want your first time to be during a difficult situation.
Overlanding and off-road GPS units need to give you more detail than standard maps. They should also have:
- Detailed information about the terrain
- Map layers, such as rivers, trails, and political boundaries
- Offline mode for when you have no connection
- Storage space for downloaded maps
- Good battery life
It’s a good idea to find something waterproof and vibration-resistant. Some units have more information, depending on where you are. For example, the Hema HX-1 Navigator has more detail for Australia compared to the US and other locations.
Below are some examples of the most popular Overlanding GPS units and other solutions.
- Garmin Overlander
This unit not only directs you on the road, but it also gives off-road directions – something which standard navigation apps don’t often provide. It helps you locate crucial landmarks like campgrounds, and guides you back toward the road when you’re done with off-roading. It also gives detailed information about the topography and comes in a durable, weatherproof case.
- Garmin Zumo
Cheaper than the Overlander, this device is waterproof and offers plenty of on and off-road maps. It’s designed to connect to a motorcycle battery, but you can install it in any vehicle. For standalone use, its battery lasts 3.5-6 hours, depending on screen brightness
- Megellan TRx7 CS Off-Road and Trail GPS
It comes with abundant routes available which other users have provided. It’s also waterproof. On the downside, it doesn’t provide navigation on-road.
- Satellite Messengers
These devices give you the means for emergency communication, but some models come with GPS functionality.
Since you should have a satellite messenger or phone in case you need to contact emergency services (and have no other means), this is a good choice, On the other hand, most of them won’t double up as in-vehicle navigation.
- GPS Apps
If you need to use your cell phone, there are apps especially for backcountry travel. One example is Gaia GPS. You can view off-road maps, hiking trails and much more.
Make sure you get the “membership” version – it lets you use offline mode so you can download maps in advance for when you have no signal. It also lets you print maps. (The free version has neither of these features).
An app subscription is cheaper than investing in a GPS unit. The membership version is less than $20 per year or $60 for five years. There’s also a premium version with more features. Just make sure you have a power bank with you since GPS can drain battery life.
Other popular apps:
- Maps.me – It’s free, offers detailed maps, and lets you download maps for use offline.
- The Offroad App – 3D maps give you precise topographical information. It also uses your cell phone’s internal GPS – this means you can navigate, even if there’s no connectivity. Seven-day weather forecasts are integrated.
To be safe, always send your location to someone before going offline. If you’re planning to visit any landmarks, send those coordinates as well.
There you have it – a comprehensive overland equipment list, no matter the weather or terrain. You know which tools you need to get out of a sticky situation and how not to get lost. You know some fundamentals about fridges and other ways to make yourself feel at home.