How To Choose The Best Camping Car Out Of The Dozen Overland Vehicles In The Market
Dozens of overland vehicles, some with intimidating price tags - if money’s no issue, you still might not know where to start. With plenty of advanced features in newer vehicles, you have your research work cut out.
Fear not – this guide will make things easier for you. You’ll know exactly which factors to consider, as well as budget options. So, fasten your seatbelts and read on!
Overland Vehicles – Decision Factors
Common overland vehicle options include all-wheel-drive SUVs, 4WD SUVs, and pickup trucks. You also have the option for RVs and vans. Whatever type you’re interested in – or if you have no preference yet – there are factors you should always consider. Read on to find out.
Reliability is crucial when you’re constantly on the road, and Toyotas and Hondas are renowned for it. What is the most reliable 4x4 SUV? And what does that really mean?
In short, a reliable vehicle is:
- One that won’t break down if you maintain it correctly
- This depends on how the engine and other components are equipped to handle the challenges of running
One challenge is heating. A vehicle with an effective cooling mechanism is, therefore, more reliable in combating the stress heat causes to the system.
To sum up, do your research to find out how reliable your chosen vehicle is. Does it have a reputation for lasting, with minimal maintenance? And what does it cost to service it? Can you afford to keep it in good condition?
“Payload” is the maximum weight a vehicle’s cargo area can hold. If your overland vehicle is going to be your permanent home, you’ll need a decent payload to carry your gear. For full-time Overlanding, that list includes:
- Jerry cans of water – enough for each passenger, to last until the next opportunity to refill.
- Jerry cans of extra gas
- Other vehicle fluids
- Everyday essentials – food, first aid kit, clothing, footwear, cooking utensils, etc.
- Appliances, including fridge-freezers, stoves, and heaters in winter.
- Vehicle toolkit, spare tire, spare parts, and recovery gear
- Fire extinguisher
- Bear cans
- Outdoor gear – bikes, hiking poles, fishing equipment, etc.
3. Towing Capacity
If you’re going to split your storage between your vehicle and a trailer, you’ll need to make sure the vehicle’s towing capacity is adequate. Plan what you’re going to store, and where.
Then, calculate the towing capacity you’ll need, based on how much you’ll store in the cargo area and how much gear will be leftover.
4. Storage Volume
What good is it having a decent payload if there won’t be enough space to fit larger appliances like fridge-freezers and shower units? This is why you need to think about storage volume.
To help you plan how to distribute your gear, think about the type of storage you’ll use. A few options are:
- Crates and pods
- Drawer systems
- Full truck bed storage systems like the PCOR
Knowing what storage you’ll use helps you factor in the weight of containers, and work out how you can best optimize your space. Organizing your gear properly with a good storage solution makes a big difference.
5. Rooftop Load Capacity
Yet another weighting factor - you need to know your vehicle’s static and dynamic loads. You can then decide how much to store on the roof, including your rooftop tent.
The static load is the weight it can bear when stationary and the dynamic load is the weight limit when it’s in motion. For off-roading, the dynamic load reduces.
For full-time Overlanding, comfort is a must. For the occasional week-long trip, you might be able to compromise here. But for countless hours on the road, you need to be comfortable.
Comfort factors include:
- Comfortable suspension (due to high-quality dampers which absorb vibration).
- Spaciousness in the cab/passenger area
- Noise levels in the cab/passenger area
- Comfortable, ergonomic seating (i.e. adequate lumbar support).
- Variable lighting modes
Will you be:
- On the road all the time?
- On the road most of the time – you need something that CAN perform off-road, but won’t need a true off-road vehicle?
- Mostly off-road?
- Driving on the sand, snow, and ice, or muddy terrain most of the time?
If you’re staying on the road, you won’t need a specialist vehicle. Any car with enough space for your gear and passengers can work, as long as it can support the weight of your rooftop tent.
If you don’t need to go off-road but you have a lot of gear, a used pickup truck could do the trick, and you’ll save a lot of money.
If you’re going off-road occasionally but nowhere extreme, consider something reliable, but nothing advanced or specialist. Adjust your tire air pressure or change your tires for the occasion.
If you’re only going off-road in certain seasons, changing the tires might be the only modification you need to make. For example, you could add snow chains or get snow tires for winter – an option suitable for any vehicle.
Here’s a brief overview of factors to consider for the most reliable off-road car:
- Maneuverability – many advanced features exist to help in this regard.
- Whether the vehicle’s size is suitable for narrow trails - some larger trucks might struggle.
- Integrated recovery points, including winch provisions.
- Enough ground clearance. This reduces the odds of the vehicle’s underbelly hitting or scraping the ground, and helps in recovery situations. (Clearance reduces as the weight from cargo and passengers increases, so keep this in mind when checking the vehicle’s specs).
- Ease and cost of customization for use in different scenarios.
- Storage – how adventurous are your plans and how much recovery gear will you need to store?
- Skid plates to protect the engine, front suspension, fuel tank, and transfer case.
Let’s explore some features of modern off-road vehicles so you know what to look out for.
Its features include:
- Extra wheel articulation for extreme terrain – articulation is how well a wheel can move up or down in relation to the one on the opposite side of the vehicle. On uneven terrain, this helps improve traction and stability, by keeping as many wheels in contact with the surface as possible. – Why does the 4Runner have “extra”?
- Crawl control – this function uses sensors to adjust acceleration and braking for the wheels based on the conditions of the terrain.
- Multi-Terrain Select (MTS) System – this system uses pre-set parameters for different types of terrain, to improve traction. It automatically adjusts the throttle to control wheelspin. The presets are:
- Rock and dirt
- Loose rock
- Mud and sand
- Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) – when the vehicle is stationary on a slope, HAC helps prevent it from rolling backward when it resumes its ascent.
- Downhill Assist Control (DAC) – this helps you make your way down descents at controlled speeds.
Features like this are common in newer SUVs.
Land Rover Defender
A few key features of this all-time favorite:
- 900 ml wading depth for crossing water
- Gradient release control – This provides more control when starting to move from a stationary position on an incline.
- 3500 kg towing capacity with tow assist - Not only does this towing capacity help if you have a lot of gear – if you’re off-roading with over vehicles (which you should), this is helpful if you need to recover or tow another vehicle. The average large SUV or truck weighs 5,603 pounds (2,541 kg) – the Defender can handle it, along with 1000 kg of cargo.
- Option for hybrid
- Terrain configuration – it has an automatic mode that analyses conditions and selects appropriate settings.
- Adaptive dynamics – road conditions and driving style are monitored up to 500 times per second. The system selects settings to automatically optimize suspension, great for on and off-road comfort.
If you weren’t familiar with off-road vehicle features, you now have some food for thought. Look for these specifications in any vehicle you’re thinking about taking off-road.
8. Scope for Other Uses
How flexible does the vehicle need to be for different applications? What’s the likelihood you’ll want more from your vehicle in the near future?
You might not have off-roading experience but would like to try at some point. In that case, it might make more sense to get a vehicle that can handle it in the first place, at least to some extent.
Also, think about where you plan to travel and ask yourself:
- Does the vehicle have serviceability and parts available worldwide?
- Will it fit in international shipping containers?
There’s a wide price range, especially if you’re considering used vehicles. So, rest assured, you won’t need to spend $1.5 million on the EarthRoamer’s XV-HD, their newest luxury RV!
Choose something you can afford but also gives you the flexibility to explore and enjoy the experience.
Some of the more expensive SUVs suitable for off-roading (excluding high-end brands) include the Toyota Land Cruiser, which starts at around $85,000.
If you can’t afford a top-of-the-range new off-road capable vehicle, your dreams aren’t over. Older vehicles will do the trick, just with less advanced features, and you’ll still have the storage volume and payload you need.
Used Off-Road Vehicles
A few alternative suggestions for used, off-road capable overland vehicles:
- 3rd generation Toyota 4Runner
- 3rd generation Ford Ranger
- Land Rover Discovery Series 1, 1998 and earlier (on the pricier side – you’re not likely to find these used for less than $20,000).
- Mitsubishi Montero – 2nd or 3rd generation
- Mitsubishi Montero Sport
- Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ, 1998 or earlier
- 2018 Jeep Renegade (less than $20k new)
You can find many of these in the range of $5,000-$10,000. Make sure you have the vehicle thoroughly, independently inspected before purchase, and make sure you’ll be able to get parts replacements for older models.
If you won’t be spending much time off-road, smaller SUVs below $20,000 new include:
- Ford EcoSport
- Fiat 500X
- Mazda CX-3
- Chevrolet Trailblazer
- Honda HR-V
- Nissan Kicks
- Hyundai Kona
You’ll be driving all the time, so this matters. There are hybrid options for many small SUVs, and it’s becoming more common in larger vehicles.
According to Business Insider, the average US-sold car has an efficiency of 25 mpg. One of the most efficient large SUVs is the 2021 Ford Expedition, at 19 mpg.
Newer vehicles are more efficient than old ones. Weigh up your budget in terms of fuel cost vs. the cost of a newer vehicle.
To improve gas mileage, try to limit rooftop storage, or store items in the most aerodynamic way, to reduce drag. Also ensure your tires aren’t underinflated (unless you’re off-road), as this can increase consumption by up to 3%.
What is the Best Overland Vehicle?
There’s no one-size-fits-all best overland vehicle of all time. It depends on how well the vehicle meets your needs, how reliable it is and how well it handles its intended use.
Some spacious SUVs which aren’t designed for off-road include:
- Honda CR-V
- Honda HR-V
- Subaru Forrester
- Mitsubishi Outlander
- Volkswagen Tiguan
- Chevrolet Equinox
As for off-road capable vehicles, we already looked at the 4Runner and Defender. Now for some other popular models, in no particular order.
1. Toyota Tacoma
Is a Toyota Tacoma a good investment? Starting at around $26,000 new, it’s not the priciest option out there. So, what does it have to offer? The most basic build has:
- Skid plates on the engine and front suspension
- 9.4 inches ground clearance
- Hill-start Assist Control
- The payload capacity of 1,155 pounds
- The towing capacity of 6,400 pounds
- Full-size spare tire
- Bed size: 60.5 inches length x 40.15 width x 19.1 inches height
2. Toyota Tacoma TD Pro
The higher-end TRD Off-Road starts at around $44,000. It has:
- The Multi-Terrain Select System
- 1,175-pound payload capacity
- 6,400-pound towing capacity
Its suspension better handles off-roading and the interior features heated, leather-trimmed seats.
3. Toyota Land Cruiser
Reliable and durable, many consider it the ultimate Overlanding vehicle. It has:
- Off-road turn assist which improves maneuverability.
- Multi-Terrain Select
- The payload capacity of 1,320 pounds.
- On the downside, it needs a lot of fuel.
- Starts at $85,000.
4. Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
This is a well-loved SUV for on and off-road use, with high-quality dampers for comfort. It starts at around $44,000. It’s equipped to handle terrain with low traction. It has:
- 49.9 cubic feet of cargo space
- The payload capacity of 1,357 pounds
- The towing capacity of 5,000 pounds
- Skid plates
- Starts at around $41,000
5. Jeep – Various Models
There’s quite a list to choose from when it comes to Jeeps.
- Wrangler JK – it can easily handle any adventure.
- Wrangler JL - like the JK on steroids, with improved off-road performance. It also has a more comfortable interior and more advanced safety features.
- The Gladiator - a great payload capacity, considering its smaller size – 1600 pounds.
- Gladiator JT – like the JL but with a truck bed and a whopping towing capacity of 7,500 pounds.
- Gladiator Mojave - specially designed for desert terrain, but doesn’t handle mud as well.
Well, those are just a few options. Researching and comparing vehicles is a big project but hopefully, you have a better idea of where to start.
To Sum Up
Remember – reliability, payload, storage volume, comfort, flexibility, and customizability. These are the key factors to look for in overland vehicles.
Overlanding doesn’t automatically mean off-roading. So if you’re new to the game and you have a smaller vehicle, don’t put it on the market just yet. Its storage capacity could work for you – test it out.
Instead of sleeping in your vehicle, sleep on top and save interior space – with a rooftop tent. The Eezi Awn Stealth rooftop tent has a streamlined, aerodynamic shell –perfect if you’re concerned about gas mileage. Check out the best rooftop tent to explore its other features.