How to Choose an Overland Vehicle: The Ultimate Guide


How to Choose an Overland Vehicle

Looking for a great overland vehicle for your next adventure? We’ve got you covered.

The best overland vehicles have a durable engine with good fuel economy, solid axles, a suspension with enough clearance for trail obstacles, a lot of aftermarket accessory options, and a price that fits within your budget.

When choosing an overland vehicle that’s specific for your needs, you want to consider the following:

  • How far will you be going?
  • How far away from civilization will you be?
  • What kind of terrain will you be covering?
  • What kind of journey do you envision?
  • Where in the world will you be going?
  • What is your budget?

Let’s go into further detail into the things you should look for when purchasing an overland vehicle. Let’s start by discussing what the different types of Overlanding vehicle options are.

The Main Types of Overlanding Vehicles

The best types of Overlanding vehicles are capable of doing several things well. From performing well off-road, hauling the maximum amount of gear, to providing enough room for the entire family. There are several types that stand out in different areas. Let’s take a quick look at each option and the sleeping situations in each (excluding ground tents).

Standard 4×4

Many overlanders use a common 4×4 SUV. Some of the most popular examples include a Jeep Wrangler, Toyota 4Runner, or a Toyota Land Cruiser. 4×4 SUVs convert easily into an Overlanding vehicle by creating a bed in the back where they can sleep or installing a rooftop tent.

Pickup Truck

Another option is actually taking a 4×4 pickup truck and using that for your Overlanding rig. You have several options for sleeping arrangements:

  • If your pickup truck has two rows of seats, then the back can be converted into a bed.
  • The truck bed can be utilized as a sleeping space. A cover is optional based on your climate!
  • Installing a Rooftop Tent on top of a truck bed rack.
  • Installing a camper truck bed insert.

Popular pickup trucks for overlanding include Toyota Tacomas, Toyota Tundras, Jeep Gladiators, Chevy Colorados, Dodge Rams, Ford F150 Raptors, and many more!

Off-Road Van

These vans are larger than standard 4x4s, so they are easier to convert into overland vehicles. There is more room for a bed, and they are perfect for couples and even families. Since they are larger, however, certain trails may be more difficult to explore than a standard 4×4 SUV or truck.

The Sportsmobile Classic 4×4 Adventure Van is the perfect example of an off-road van.

Camper Trailer

Some overlanders use a standard 4×4 SUV or a pickup truck and haul a camper trailer capable of being taken off-road. Again, whether you should do this will depend on what kind of trip you are taking.

There are several Overlanding trailers options stemming from DIY to high-end custom manufactured. The Expedition 2.0 Trailer is a great example.

Motorcycle

Can a motorcycle be an overland vehicle? While it is not ideal, the idea will certainly appeal to motorcycle enthusiasts. Of course, sleeping on a motorcycle could be a challenge, to say the least. However, you can bring along changes in clothes, a large backpack with your necessities, and a small tent.

Of course, this can be challenging, and Overlanding where you explore far out from civilization is often reserved for the experienced motorcycle Overlanding enthusiast.

You can’t just use any kind of motorcycle to take an overland trip. We will be taking a closer look at the best kind of overland motorcycle later in this article, in a section of its own.

RV/Camper Truck 

Finally, we come to the ultimate Overlanding vehicle: the monster off-road RV or camper truck. Unlike standard RVs, which are not usually designed to be driven on tough terrain, an off-road RV will have larger wheels and a suspension providing more ground clearance.

You can have an entire mobile home with a bed, kitchen, and toilet, depending on how large your RV is.

Offroad RVs come in the form of pickup-type RVs and larger, monster-sized trucks. These types of vehicles are sometimes called adventure trucks or expedition trucks.

The GXV UXV is a great example of the kind of pickup-type RV that we are talking about. The Earthcruiser EXP is another great example. These trucks are versatile, small, and are perfect for couples.

However, if you are looking for something larger, you might want to look at something like the GXV Pangea or even the GXV UXV Max. These are larger vehicles that are perfect if you need a little extra space.

How to Choose the Best Overland Vehicle

How to Choose the Best Overland Vehicle

When it comes to choosing an overland vehicle, the most important thing to remember is that there is no one-size-fits-all vehicle. Just because your neighbor or friend uses one kind of vehicle or you saw it recommended on some online blog, that doesn’t mean it will fit your needs.

The right type of overland vehicle is one that works for you. That’s what this guide is here for – to help you decide what kind of vehicle you need. One of the biggest factors that we won’t cover, is how many people will be traveling with you? We will explore the other factors as I assume you will choose a vehicle that accommodates enough seats for everyone along for the trip.

Instead let’s look at choosing based on the kind of trip you are going to take, the kind of terrain you will be covering, where in the world your trip will be taking place, your budget, how long you will be on the road for, who you are going with, how you plan to spend your nights, and so on.

How Far Will You Be Going? 

The first question to ask yourself is what kind of trip you are going to take. Do you plan to take a trip around the world? Do you plan on taking a cross-country trip?

Even that could vary — if you take an Overlanding trip from the Northeast of the United StatesOpens in a new tab. to the Southwest region of the US, you will be facing a much larger journey then if you were to take a cross-country trip across Portugal or Iceland. Perhaps you will be taking a cross-continent trip across Africa, Europe, or South America, or perhaps it will be across Australia.

Instead of a cross-country trip, do you plan to take a trip across your state on the weekends? Perhaps you work full-time, and that is all you can afford to do. Perhaps you will be going Overlanding on the weekends, and during the two weeks a year, you can take off from your job.

It’s important to think about how you will be using your vehicle because it will help you determine what kind of vehicle you need. If you are going on a cross-continent trip, you will need to take more stuff with you. You will also probably be faced with more extreme — and more varied — weather conditions.

If you are going on a week-long trip, you might be fine with having a spare, uncomfortable backseat bed, but if you are going to be gone for months, you might want something more comfortable.

If you are going to be staying in areas where there is hot, dry weather, you might be fine with bringing along a tent. On the other hand, if you will be going through rainy or cold areas, you might want a camper truck so you can sleep inside.

If you are taking more gear with you, you will need a vehicle or trailer that can handle more weight.

It can also turn into a major problem if you are bumping along on rough terrain, as the extra weight can throw you off balance and lead to some dangerous situations.

How Far Away Will You Be Going?

This is an entirely different question than the one we just asked. You may be going across the entire United States but never planning on going too far away from major cities or campgrounds. In that case, you don’t necessarily have to bring along as much food and gear.

If you are going to be far away from civilization for a while, you may want to get an RV that actually has a kitchen. Otherwise, you will end up eating warm tuna fish and sardines all the time — and what kind of fun is that?

There’s another major factor to consider here — how much fuel your vehicle can take, and how quickly it uses it up. If you are not going to be going far, then you can manage with a vehicle that has a smaller gas tank or which burns through your gas quicker. After all, there will always be a gas station within a reasonable distance.

However, if you plan on really going out in the wilderness, you need to get a vehicle that can last longer without refueling. This way, you won’t have to keep stressing out about finding a gas station. You may be able to carry some extra gasoline with you, but this takes up space and can weigh down your vehicle, so you will need a larger vehicle for that anyway.

What Kind of Terrain Will You Be Covering?

Here’s something else to consider — what kind of terrain will you be covering? Will you mostly be covering paved roads and speeding down highways, with only an occasional excursion on some unpaved, easy dirt roads? Or do you plan on taking most of your journey off-road and going on some extreme terrain?

If you are only going off-road occasionally, you will be fine with a more standard 4×4, even if it’s not as durable. However, if you are going the extreme route, you will need a more durable vehicle with a great suspension and tires that can handle the rough terrain you will be driving on.

What Kind of Journey Do You Envision?

This question mostly boils down to this: Where do you plan on sleeping, and what kind of food do you plan on eating?

If you have no problem pitching a tent in the middle of nowhere and going camping there with your sardines, you don’t need a very large vehicle. On the other hand, if you plan on a trip where you basically live in a home on wheels, you might want an RV-kind of truck or van.

Getting an RV is more of a lifestyle shift. People who do that often sell their homes or stop renting their apartments and take all of their possessions on the road. They may sell off the possessions they can’t take with them, donate them to charity, or leave them with friends or family members.

If you plan on taking your life on the road for the foreseeable future, you might want a large RV instead of a small jeep with a makeshift bed.

Where in the World Will You Be Going?

Believe it or not, many people buy an RV and then ship it to another country so they can take their journey elsewhere. Whether you are taking a global trip around the world or just want to take your off-road vehicle on a trip across Europe, you have to take shipping into account.

Shipping a vehicle is a topic that requires an article of its own, but you have to make sure that your vehicle is of the right size and can be shipped easily and at an affordable cost.

What Is Your Budget?

Finally, you need to take into account your budget. You may simply not be able to afford a very expensive OverlandingOpens in a new tab. vehicle. We mentioned the UXV Max as an example of a large off-road RV.

Indeed, the UXV Max has enough room for your entire family. It has a dining area with seating room for 4-6 people, charging outlets for your phones and laptops, a king-size bed area with bedside cabinets, a bathroom with a sink and a shower area, and various cabinets and drawers. In other words, it is an entire house on wheels. It has a length of 24’6″ (7.47 m), which is upgradable to a whopping 28’6″ (8.69 m).

However, you may be surprised at the cost — it costs a whopping $650,000! That’s a lot of money for most people, and unless you are rich or are willing to sell your house, you may simply not be able to afford it.

Take a small 2019 Nissan Frontier, on the other hand, and you will get a starting price of only $19,290. That’s a massive difference! If you go the motorcycling route and opt for a 2018 KLR650, you can pick a new one up for less than $7,000.

Even if none of these vehicles are big enough for you, you can get a Jeep Wrangler for just $28,295. On the other hand, the small GXV Turtle, which is a pickup-type RV, costs $280,000, which is more affordable but still the cost of a small house.

Another option is to get a camper trailer, which we already mentioned. The Hiker Extreme Off-road Trailer, for example, starts at $7,995 and can be hitched to the back of your vehicle. It comes with two windows, a power strip, cabinets, and a front storage rack.

If, for example, you get the Nissan Frontier and the Hiker Extreme Off-road Trailer, you can get both of them, new, for less than $27,300. That’s less than the Jeep Wrangler on its own.

The downside of getting a camper trailer is that even if it’s designed for off-road, let’s face it — it will be kind of hard to manage it on extremely rough and hilly terrain. On the other hand, a monster RV truck probably won’t be great for that either.

If you want to explore the topic further, check out this YouTube Video:

What Kind of Motorcycle Is Best for Overlanding? 

We mentioned that avid motorcycle enthusiasts could take their motorcycles on cross-country, cross-continent, and even global trips. However, the type of motorcycle you get is very important.

There are many kinds of motorcycles available, but most are not good for Overlanding. Cruisers are good for long, straight roads, but they are terrible off-road and aren’t great for sharp, mountain roads. Scooters are nimble and small, but they don’t have enough power, have smaller gas tanks, and are simply too small to take a lot of gear with you.

Dirt bikes and small dual-sport bikes can be taken off-road, but they aren’t really great for long trips as their seats are thin and not very comfortable. 

The best kind of motorcycle for Overlanding is an adventure tourer. These bikes are large, comfortable, powerful, and can handle all sorts of terrains. They may even have built-in GPS systems to help you find your way. The BMW 1200GS is a good example of such a bike.

However, if you can not afford such a large bike or would like to opt for a smaller bike, there are plenty of options. You would want to go on a bike such as the KLR650. This is a dual-purpose bike that can be used for both paved streets and off-road terrain. It has great mileage and will take you a long way on a single fill-up. It is sturdy and durable and won’t break down on you. Also, you can pack a lot of storage on the back.

As with regular vehicles, you need to choose a motorcycle that is common so you can easily repair it or get replacement parts. A KLR650 is a pretty common bike, so no matter where you go, you will likely find people who can repair it. With motorcycles, you might want to learn some basic repair tricks and learn how to do basic maintenance on your bike before you head out.

The thing with motorcycle Overlanding is that you can’t stray too far from civilization. You simply do not have enough room to store a lot of food and gear, and although you may be able to store enough tuna fish to last you for a while, you will eventually have to stock up again. You also can’t take too much extra gasoline with you. However, if you love freedom and the open air that comes with motorcycling, it is a great option.

Another thing that must be pointed out is that motorcycle overland trips are more suited for solo adventurers and those who enjoy crossing the country and riding through the wilderness and mountains on their own.

Yes, of course, you can take a passenger on the back of your bike, but things get a lot harder when you are trying to make room for your camping gear. When you have a passenger, you will have a lot less room to store things, and riding in tough terrain will be more difficult.

It’s worth mentioning that cruiser-like touring bikes like the Honda Goldwing are also available, but these are made for cross-country trips that are strictly on paved roads. These bikes have no place on rough terrains, though an experienced rider will usually be able to handle them on simple unpaved roads.

Should You Buy a Used Overlanding Vehicle? 

If you are looking to save money, you may be tempted to buy a used 4×4 or RV. That’s fine, but you do need to take the proper precautions first. 

If you are buying an RV, make sure to check for wear and tear, especially mold. Water leaks are particularly harmful to RVs. You need to make sure that the structure is durable and will last a long time. You also need to inquire about the vehicle’s maintenance and storage history. 

When buying a 4×4, whether a jeep or a pickup, make sure to get a durable vehicle and it has been well taken care of. You may think that if a lot of modifications were made, the vehicle automatically has a higher value, but that is not always the case as these vehicles have usually been used more. 

The standard advice for buying a used vehicle will be applicable. For example, ask for maintenance records, check the oil, see the vehicle yourself, take it for a test drive, and, if possible, get it checked by a professional mechanic before you make the purchase. This is especially important if you are buying an expensive vehicle like an RV. 

For more tips on how to buy a used 4×4 vehicle, check out this Youtube video.

Overlanding vs. Off-Roading Vehicles: What’s the Difference?

It is important to distinguish what Overlanding is as opposed to off-roadingOpens in a new tab., as the two are commonly confused. Many people think that they are the same thing, but they are not — and the type of vehicle you should be looking for will depend on what kind of trip you are taking.

Off-roading refers to riding any kind of vehicle on off-road terrain. This can be dirt tracks, a jungle, or anything other than paved streets. It can even be in the desert. However, off-roading doesn’t necessarily involve a long trip. You can go on a short, one-hour off-roading adventure for fun, but although you may enjoy it, you won’t need to take along all kinds of gear and food. 

On the other hand, OverlandingOpens in a new tab. generally refers to taking a trip to a faraway destination, with the journey being the goal instead of actually getting to that destination. This usually involves being on the road for days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years.

Overlanding includes off-roading because you will likely come across trails and paths that are not paved. You may even decide to spend the majority of your trip off-road. For this reason, you will need a good vehicle that can be taken off-road and optimal for taking along camping gear, storing food, and even sleeping in.

Let’s look at a standard ATV (all-terrain vehicle) as an example. A four-wheeled ATV is usually uncovered and small. It’s great for going off-road, but is it great for your lone Overlanding vehicle? Not necessarily.

While it is possible to take it off-road, the reality is that it doesn’t offer a lot of storage space. Also, it doesn’t provide you with any protection from the rain, sun, and other elements.

The main problem with ATVs, however, is that they are usually not street legal. You may be able to ride them off-road, but depending on where you are, you may not be able to take them on highways or even on regular streets. This makes ATVs challenging to use as your only Overland vehicle, as they are certainly not suitable for long-term, overland travel. 

Time to Choose Your Overland Vehicle

There’s a lot of things you have to take into account when purchasing your overland vehicle. You aren’t stuck with any vehicle you buy, and you can always sell it and swap it for a larger or smaller vehicle later on. 

Nevertheless, by making the right choices and buying a vehicle that fits your budget and your needs instead of what looks cool, you will have a safer, happier, and more comfortable trip.

Jeremy Hoxie

Born and raised in beautiful Northern Michigan, I've have spent two decades enjoying everything the outdoors has to offer. When not working on RigForge, I spend my time Overlanding and tackling off-road trails while sharing my experiences and testing gear along the way. My current rig is a 2013 Jeep JKU Moab.

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