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overlanding night time fire place with rooftop tent

Maybe you’ve seen photos of remote vistas on social media and wondered how to get there. Or a friend has told you about everything they’re adding to their rig. You’ve probably heard the term “overlanding” thrown around but might not be sure what it means. If you’ve wondered how to get started overlanding, you’re in the right place.

At JEH Outdoors, we’re all about getting more people into the overlanding community and heading outdoors.

While it may seem like you need to drop thousands of dollars to have the perfect overlanding setup, you can get started for a lot less. In this guide to how to get started overlanding, we’ll walk you through everything we recommend for a beginning overlander. However, remember that all you need in the beginning is a sense of adventure and a destination.

What is overlanding?

Overland Journal defines overlanding as “self-reliant adventure travel to remote destinations where the journey is the primary goal.” Typically, overlanding is done in a mechanized vehicle. Lodging consists of camping. 

Sometimes overlanding can look like rough 4×4 roads, but the technicality of the roads is not what defines overlanding. Overlanding is exploration. It’s traveling for the sake of traveling, not necessarily reaching a specific destination.

Overlanding can be year-long expeditions or weekend trips to the local forest. Overlanding may take you to rough roads. Challenging routes might be something you seek out while overlanding. However, overlanding is not the same as off-roading or “four-wheeling.” 

Photographer: Chris Cordes / @4x4_touring

What vehicle do you need for overlanding?

While having a vehicle with some clearance, AWD or 4WD is useful for overlanding; you can get started with whatever you currently have. A low-clearance sedan might not get you down the gnarliest roads. But if you want to get out and explore the world, you can still drive on many graded dirt roads, even with cars you wouldn’t consider “overlanding rigs.” 

When you’re ready to venture out to more complicated and rugged roads, you may need something with more clearance and four-wheel drive capabilities. Also, having all-terrain tires can help if you’re driving off pavement often. 

Having clearance allows you to drive over rocks, sticks, and things in your path. For many roads, having high(er) clearance will allow you access to many places, with or without four-wheel drive. 

But if you’ll be driving in snow, sand, mud, or anywhere where you may not have all four tires fully on the ground, having at least an all-wheel drive is key. All-wheel drive means that all four of your tires have power. Some AWD vehicles have continuous AWD, where all four wheels are being used at all times, whereas other AWD vehicles only use the AWD when 2WD is not enough. 

4WD systems are similar to AWD but are generally more robust for more rugged terrain. Most 4WD vehicles have a button or lever to shift into 4WD, and many have high or low options. Low is better for maximum traction in off-roading scenarios, and high is better for slick snow or ice-covered roads. 

The bottom line is that you can use any vehicle for overlanding. But having something like a truck, SUV, or jeep with high clearance and four-wheel drive can be nice if you’re looking to head to more remote and rugged locations.

Where to overland

Overlanding can be done pretty much anywhere outside of a city. Whether you’re driving across continents or to a local National forest, as long as you can drive off of a highway and can find a place to camp for the night, you can overland anywhere.

While the Western US has become famous for overlanding with destinations like Moab, Baja, and Colorado, there are places all around the United States and beyond for overlanding adventures. If you’re learning how to get started overlanding, here are a few good places to look first.

To find overlanding destinations near you, look for National forests close to where you live, or consult a map. One of the best ways to find great dispersed camping, scenic viewpoints, and roads your vehicle can travel is to ask around. 

Call the National Forest ranger office or show up on your way. Rangers know the area they work in intimately and often have great advice for off-the-beaten-path destinations. 

Otherwise, paper maps or apps like OnX Backcountry are a great way to find routes. Just consider what your vehicle (and you) are capable of.

If you’re located on the east coast, check out our downloadable guide to the Best East Coast Off-Highway Road Trips.  

Must have overlanding accessories

You can definitely get started overlanding without much. But if you’re going to be out there regularly without cell service, here are some things we recommend for a beginning overlander. 

Rescue Gear

Rescue gear is one of the most important things for anyone venturing off the pavement without cell service. Start with a shovel, like our favorite Krazy Beaver Shovel. The Krazy Beaver shovel cuts through roots, ice, and mud to get you unstuck. 

Another essential piece of rescue equipment is MaxTrax or similar recovery boards. These are great if you get stuck in sand, mud, or snow and your tires need traction. You can use them to even out large rocks or create a portable boat ramp.

If you’ll be taking your rig on intense trails where you might need to be pulled out, you should own a winch and know how to use it. It can save you from some stressful situations. There are also a lot of different accessories, like rigging plates or recovery straps. You may need various accessories for different situations you might find yourself in. 


If you’re heading out on an overland adventure, you probably need something to sleep. While you can sleep in a standard tent, something attached to your vehicle is a lot simpler. Some people build out vans or truck beds or get a truck camper. But if you’re not interested in permanently modifying your vehicle, a rooftop tent is our favorite way to sleep.

Our roof top tent is the Nimbus Hardshell tent, a lightweight, high-quality tent in collaboration with 4×4 Colorado. 

SOS/Satellite Communication Device

Having a way to communicate in case s*** hits the fan or you just need to check the weather forecast from someone back home is not just nice. It’s a safety concern. A device like a Garmin InReach mini allows you to communicate through satellite while off the grid. Plus, it includes an SOS button if you’re injured or stranded and need emergency services. 

A device like this is highly recommended to carry with you while you’re off the grid. It’s also important to remember that this is the last resort, and not necessarily something to depend on. Rescue services can be unreliable and take a long time to respond to in some situations. 

Photo by Fluid Imagery on Unsplash

Get Outside and Explore!

While there is a lot to learn about overlanding, the most important thing is just getting out there and seeing what you find. There’s so much to explore that it would take a lifetime to experience it all truly! So fill up your gas tank and just see what you find. 

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