" Keep it simple stupid "

Overlanding? What makes the perfect rig?

Overlanding is self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal.  Typically, but not exclusively, it is accomplished with mechanized off-road capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping, often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and spanning international boundaries.

Source: Wikipedia

I’ve been reading a lot about overland travel lately. There are some amazing people out there making incredible journeys to ends of the Earth and they are doing it in some pretty impressive machines.

It was while reading about overlanding that a post on the Expedition Portal caught my eye. Most overland rigs are overbuilt the author claimed.

Christophe Noel of Expedition Portal asserted that the big steel bumpers, roof racks, roof top tents, winches and awnings that we associate with overlanding rigs are nice to have, but aren’t necessary for overlanding.

He said many vehicles, including the Jeep Wrangler, are more than capable enough for overland travel right off the assembly line.

That got me thinking, what exactly does it take to build a competent overland rig? What are the must haves and what can you get by without?

Keep it simple stupid

Nowhere in the definition of overlanding does it say the vehicle has to be capable of anything and everything. It doesn’t say your rig has to have a fancy bumper or a roof-top tent.

All it says is these journeys are typically, but not exclusively, accomplished using an off-road capable transport.

VW Vanagon

The VW Vanagon and Syncro have become popular overland platforms in recent years.

If I’ve learned anything scouring the various overlanding communities, any vehicle can be outfitted for overland travel. One of the most popular I’ve seen is the VW Syncro, which was the 4×4 version of the famous VW Vanagon camper van. Steve and Julie over on the MTdrift blog spotted at least one at Overland Expo East last year.

It’s not just VW vans, Land Cruisers and Jeeps either. Subarus have become a popular platform for overlanding.

The couple over on the His This & Her That blog are building their Subaru Crosstrek for overlanding this year.

Starting to get more parts for the Crosstrek and prepping for what’s to come, I would like to take a trip consisting of 2-3 days with her and family. Heading on trails each day and exploring the… Continue reading on His This & Her That.

The thing about Subarus and a lot of 4x4s these days, is they don’t have the same aftermarket support Jeeps, Toyotas or Landrovers do. This makes finding bumpers, roof racks and other equipment difficult, and forces owners to really consider what they actually need to achieve their goals.

Noel makes another point that carries a lot of weight. All this stuff people bolt onto their vehicles to make them more capable or comfortable also takes a toll. Fuel economy suffers, the suspension wears faster and handing becomes compromised.

I agree with Noel on this one. When I installed my winch bumper I had to install sturdier coil springs to compensate for the extra weight. Had it not been for the strong aftermarket support for my vehicle, it could have cost me a lot more to do this.


Jeep packed up with gear

I think bull bars, roof racks, winches, awnings, etc…, have their place on Overland vehicles, however, they aren’t absolute necessities.

I think sometimes people get so lost in building their rigs that they forget that the principal goal of overlanding is the journey itself. The more money you pour into your rig the less you have to spend on your travels.

I’m not surprised people still do it. There is, after all, a certain intimacy associated with a vehicle that is not only your transportation, but also your shelter, and over the course of a long journey becomes your home.

Many overlanders recommend starting with what you have and adding only what you find you need during your travels.

As I continue to build my Jeep for overlanding, my plan is to keep my build modest. I want to keep the modifications I make to my rig practical ones like sliding drawers and rock rails. These upgrades serve multiple purposes or protect the vehicle from harm.

Photo credit: Nicole Mason



  • Is your rig overbuilt?
  • What is/was your build philosophy?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below

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  • Allyson Engelstad

    This is a great article. It’s informative for those of us who don’t “overland” and interesting! Your vehicle is a modern day Conestoga wagon.

    The journey is what’s most interesting to me — I was hooked on such travels in high school when I read John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charlie. A modern travel writer is William Least Heatmoon who wrote Blue Highways. I particularly loved Heatmoon’s PrairyErth.

    The vehicle enables the writer/adventurer to travel to the story; the vehicle becomes part of the story!

    You’ve got great photos!

    February 5, 2017 - 11:24 am Reply
    • tobiasmann

      I’ve heard of some of these. Travels With Charlie is one on my reading list. I’ll have to add Blue Highways on my list too.

      February 5, 2017 - 11:48 am Reply
  • Allen Reaves

    I found your site looking for suzuki sidekick info..like you I’m w wondering what is really needed. Come along? Tire chains. Roof top tent would be nice but where to put the kayak? Some kind of organization in the back. Like you said .keep it simple. Thanks for the articles. Like your style

    December 28, 2018 - 10:32 pm Reply

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