Over the last few months, I’ve been following an interesting trend in the U.S. overlanding communities. Heavily overbuilt rigs with tens of thousands of dollars of equipment strapped to them, and I can’t help but think how unnecessary all that is.

I’m not saying that the heavy steel bumpers, big 35-inch tires and roof-top tents don’t serve their purposes, they do, but I’d argue whether they are necessary for overland travel in the United States.

That’s because, unlike countries where overland travel is common, the U.S. is incredibly well developed.

I recognize that many overlanders build their rigs for both overlanding and off-road excursions. The only problem with that is it creates the illusion that the lifestyle is prohibitively expensive when it doesn’t have to be.

Need vs. Luxury

There is this misconception that you need a heavily built off-road rig to go overland. The truth is you don’t. Photo credit: Hugo Villegas

I think some of the confusion comes from this expectation that with overland travel you have to be utterly self-reliant. In parts of Africa and the outback of Australia I’d say that’s probably true, but I think this is a pretty rare situation in the U.S.

Sure, there are parts of the U.S. that you may need to be completely self-sufficient, but I’d wager there are far more in which you don’t.

As someone just getting started in overlanding, I find the idea that I need to have big water tanks, bull bars and roof-top tents ridiculous. You don’t need any of these things, but they can make the experience more pleasant and make some routes safer or more accessible.

Why stifle a love for backroads exploration by making overlanding something that is exclusive to the wealthy?

I think as long as the vehicle is equipped with adequate recovery points and gear, space for a reasonable amount of water, supplies and has enough ground clearance to overcome most obstacles, it will make a fine overlanding rig.

Notice I don’t mention four-wheel drive.That’s because there are plenty of overlanders out there rolling around in two wheel drive VW Beetles.

If you don’t have a four-wheel drive vehicle it doesn’t have to be a barrier. People have been overlanding in two-wheel drive VW Bugs for years. Photo credit: Evan Kirby.

Would I encourage someone to go overlanding in a Toyota Camry? Absolutely not. Would I recommend four-wheel drive? Of course I would. But, if all you’ve got is at two-wheel drive truck, SUV or van, there are plenty of trails in the U.S. open to you.

Overlanding in a stock 4×4 is possible

One of my favorite overlanders and Youtube personalities Andrew White made a point of how little you actually need to have a memorable overland experience in one of the least developed parts of the world, Africa. It’s a great series that underpins the fact that overlanding and off-roading demand very different approaches.

Striking a balance

I think it’s important to set a standard of comfort and convenience when deciding on what you need and don’t need.

We’ve gotten by with a ground tent for years, but there is no denying a rooftop tent would be more convenient and no doubt more comfortable.

On long trips, comfort can become an issue of moral. You can put up with a lot if you can get a good night’s sleep.

Built on experience

It doesn’t matter what you drive. Photo credit: Steven Striegel

If there is one piece of advice I’ve gotten that I can share with you, it’s that you should always build based on your experience.

The guys over on the Overland Round Table podcast are big proponents of this. They recommend getting out there for a weekend of overlanding and upgrading your rig based on those experience.

If you find yourself scraping your belly pan on rocks and putting dents in your skid plates all the time, maybe then it’s time for a lift and bigger tires.

Or, if you’re sick of sleeping on the cold, hard ground, maybe a roof top tent is in order.

It’s the same approach I take to camping and it’s a good way to learn what you actually need vs. what you think you need.

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Photos via: Tim Trad, Hugo Villegas, Steven Striegel, Evan Kirby on Unsplash

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