Overlanding vs. Camping: What’s the Difference?


Overlanding and camping are two great ways to explore nature and spend some quality time in the great outdoors. While Overlanding and camping are similar in that you are setting up a camp and sleeping outdoors, there are a few differences between the two. 

Overlanding and camping differ in three major areas: the focus on the journey vs. the destination, the level of planning you’ll need to do ahead of your trip, and the gear you’ll need to bring with you. 

Keep reading to learn more about Overlanding and camping, how you’ll plan for each type of trip and what gear you’ll need to bring along. 

Overlanding vs. Camping – The Journey vs. The Destination

Overlanding and camping are sometimes used synonymously with one another, as people tend to think they are referring to the same thing. While there are many similarities between the two, camping focuses on your campsite’s destination, while Overlanding focuses on the overall journey.

Here is some helpful information that should help you differentiate between the two. 

Camping

CampingOpens in a new tab. is classified as an activity in which you spend the night outdoors and away from your home, sleeping in a temporary shelter such as a tent or camper. You can make camping remote or involved with others as you’d like, choosing a remote location to set up shop or traveling to a dedicated camping facility with bathrooms, swimming pools, and other RVing families. 

Something you’ll notice about that last point is that the primary focus is where you are going. This is the single most important distinction between camping and Overlanding.

When camping, you’re more focused on the destination than you are the journey. The fun of the trip will take place once you get to that mountain top plateau, that tranquil lakeside campground, or that bustling, family-oriented RV Park. 

Camping is also more focused on relaxation than it is about exploration and traveling. Because you’re going to one destination and likely staying there throughout the length of your trip, you can set up a semi-permanent camp. At the same time, you take day trips around the local area, with the expectation that you will return to your camp at the end of the evening. 

Camping is not as reliant on a vehicle as Overlanding is. You don’t need a hefty four-wheel-drive vehicle to take you where you want to go. You could pack everything you’d need for a few-day camping trip on your back and set off on a hike to get to your destination. 

Overlanding

When you’re on a true OverlandingOpens in a new tab. trip, your primary focus will be on the journey itself, not the destination. Overlanders value the feel of the open road and traveling through little known trails and pathways, seeing all of the beautiful sights there are to be seen in nature.

Overlanding trips tend to span longer lengths of time and will likely traverse many more miles than you would with a normal camping trip. When Overlanding, you will camp every night you’re away from home, which is likely where the confusion comes in regarding the two activities.

However, you won’t be camping with an RV, or at a campground with amenities like showers, bathrooms, and electricity. Overlanding focuses on being completely self-reliant while on the road. 

Unlike camping, when embarking on an Overlanding trip, your goal is not to spend time relaxing at a solitary camp for multiple nights but rather to travel over as much ground as possible. You’ll set up a temporary camp each night, usually with a rooftopOpens in a new tab. tent instead of the one you’d set up on the ground. 

Also, unlike camping, the use of a four-wheel-driveOpens in a new tab. vehicle is essential for your trip. You’ll need to be able to travel over any type of terrain, from sand and loose dirt to rocks, snow, and ice. This would be virtually impossible without the help of a 4×4 vehicle. 

The Planning Process

Much like the end-goal of camping vs. Overlanding, the planning process for each of these outdoor activities varies greatly. While both will require you to be prepared for anything while temporarily living away from home, you can get by with far less of a plan while camping than you can while Overlanding. 

Camping

Because of the nature of a camping trip, you’ll only need to plan for three things – where you’re going to go, the activities you’d like to participate in once you get there, and what gear would make the most out of your trip. 

The activities you’re interested in, such as hiking, swimming, or biking, will dictate where you end up camping. You’ll want to be close enough to these activities that you don’t need to drive anywhere once you’ve set up your campsite so that you can get the most out of your trip. 

Once you have an idea of where you’re going and what you’ll be doing once you get to your camping destination, you can create a list of gear you’ll need to bring with you.

While many of the things you’d bring on a standard camping trip will cross over onto your gear list for an Overlanding trip, you will not need to pack nearly as much when embarking on a stationary camping trip. 

The bare necessities for a camping trip should include a shelter to sleep in, food and water, equipment for cooking, and equipment for any extracurricular activities you’d like to do (like bicycles, kayaks, or day trip backpacks). 

Overlanding

Planning for an Overlanding trip takes a bit more upfront thought than is required for a standard-issue camping trip. You’ll need to consider what route you want to take, you’ll need to pack for all of the unknowns, and you’ll need to bring significantly more gear. 

Although the purpose of Overlanding is to embark on a free-spirited journey, having a general idea of where you want to go is just plain smart. When planning the route you want to take, you’ll need to understand the different weather patterns of the areas and general knowledge of off-roading and what trails are safe in order to avoid getting into some sticky situations. 

You’ll be away from home much longer on an Overlanding trip than you would on an average camping trip. Because of this, you’ll need to be prepared for a number of different scenarios.

You’ll need more food and water than you would for a multi-day camping trip. You’ll also need spares of certain items like batteries, fuel, and tires, just in case you run into trouble with your vehicle while out on the trail. 

The essentials you need to bring with you will increase on an Overlanding trip. You won’t be able to get by with just a shelter, food, water, and activity equipment like you would on a normal camping trip. 

The Gear

As mentioned above, the gear needs of a camping trip vs. the requirements of an Overlanding trip are very different.

When Overlanding, you’ll likely be far out into the wilderness, away from other people and utilities like gas, electricity, and even emergency services. One of the most fundamental values of Overlanding is self-reliance, so you’ll need to be prepared for anything and everything.

Because of this, you’ll need to pack everything you’ll need for the entire length of your trip – from fuel and water to spare vehicle parts and recovery equipment to help get you unstuck if needed.

You’ll also need gear specific to remote, 4×4 travel such as an off-road navigation system and a communication device that doesn’t rely on cellular service to communicate. 

With camping, many more ‘nice to have’ items than ‘need to have’ items often end up on the gear list. None of the spare fuel, vehicle parts, or recovery equipment will be necessary when embarking on a camping trip.

Everything you bring is meant to enhance the enjoyment of the experience, rather than to help you survive alone on your journey. 

Summary

There are three main differences between camping and Overlanding – the purpose of the trip, the planning process, and the gear required to make the trip both enjoyable and successful. 

Camping focuses more on the destination, while Overlanding is meant to be all about the journey. It takes significant planning to pull off an Overlanding trip, but you could plan for a camping trip with only a few days’ notice.

You’ll need significantly more gear – ranging from vehicle parts to navigation systems to be safe while on an Overlanding trip. 

Whichever activity you decide on – just know you’ll have a blast getting out in nature.

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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