Overland travel can be identified by many terms, including “Expo”, “overlanding”, “expedition”, and “vehicle-dependent travel” depending on what you read. All these terms describe long distance travel that is generally off highway, often through very rugged and remote terrain, of duration longer than two days, dependent upon supplies carried on the vehicle(s), and typically . A sentimental and informed individual may conjure up mental images of an old Land Rover bouncing across the Serengeti Plain of Africa with a roof rack full of gear. That romantic image is not too far off of reality. The places visited by overland travelers are typically very remote and inaccessible by standard mainstream automobiles, so the transport of choice must not only have the capability to travel rough tracks for days or weeks on end—but must also carry all necessary supplies for life and comfort for the duration of the journey. Overlanding may sound like glorified car camping, but it requires a much more developed set of skills and vehicle than what may be required to go car camping at a national park. Overlanders themselves must be as capable and robust as the vehicle they use. However, you don’t have to go to Africa or Australia to experience the thrills of overland travel.
Still, how can we define "overlanding"? For one, it shouldn't be confused with "four wheeling", "mudding", or "rock crawling". There are a lot of misconceptions out there, so let's talk first about what it's NOT.
- If your exploration vehicle travels on a trailer (except for overseas shipping) to go exploring, and the travels back on a trailer- it's NOT overlanding.
- If you camp where there is a picnic table, toilet/shower house, running water, or defined parking and tent areas- it's NOT overlanding.
- If you are only gone for 1-3 days on well documented routes in order to tackle the toughest terrain obstacles you can find and impress your buddies- it's NOT overlanding.
- If you could care less about nature, history of the area, interacting with different cultures, or documenting your travels to share- it's NOT overlanding.
- If your journey didn't teach you hard lessons to make you a better person, force you to interact with people different from yourself, or improve your appreciation of the world around you- I'd say you weren't overlanding.
This is what Overland Journal has to say about overlanding:
"Technical terrain can be encountered throughout the journey, and the travelers may even seek out the most challenging route to a destination as part of their experience, but overland travel is not the same as recreational "fourwheeling", where the primary objective is overcoming challenging obstacles. The critical point to the term overland travel is that the purpose is to include at least two or more of the following: 1. Remote locations, 2. Cultures other than your own, 3. Under-explored or under-documented regions, 4. Self-reliance in unfamiliar territories for multiple days, weeks or months. That is to say, an overnight trip to the local mountains on a well-documented route, staying in an established campground with full-hookups, is not an overland adventure, it is a backcountry trip or at the very least, car camping."
There is still much to experience in our expansive nation that has not been urbanized or closed by zealous officials trying to “save” wilderness from the American public instead of for it. It is an almost indescribable experience to sit beneath a canopy of stars so dense the constellations wash out in the sheer volume of stellar light points. Places where the scent of piñon ignites deep wonder from an intoxicating campfire whose embers seem to rise up and become part of the speckled translucent ceiling above. The light and shadow from a campfire dances across Navajo sandstone strata walls that frame the heavens above, and suddenly, all is right in the high desert world. A breaking morning reveals materializing mountains and canyons washed by a river of light flooding out from the east. The crack of competing bighorn sheep and the fury of a desert storm can fill your ears and skip your heart in fearful anticipation of what is about to open to the day. Laughter and friendship are always around the stew and smoke. Every serpentine twist of the trail reveals details you never thought were in the world. Assumptions of your capabilities and your vehicle’s limits are tested by stone and water and sky. Could I go on? Absolutely, but no amount of words or photos will give you ten minutes on an overland adventure.
Thankfully, some Americans are awakening to the reality that they will never see much of the spectacular public land that remains open without venturing off of paved roads. Much of the intermountain west is accessible by a well equipped 4x4, but is still remote enough that most people will never be able to enjoy it without the ability to carry the water and supplies that a vehicle offers over a backpack. There are more than a few organizations that would love to see our public lands shut down to the average American and accessible only on foot. I would highly suggest seeing our backcountry while you can. Vehicle dependent overland travel remains the most viable way to experience the grandeur of the vast American backcountry. Just seeing the geographic locations of our public lands is one thing, but the total experience of the journey and the memories made while camping with the light of the stars framed by mountains and canyons remain some of my most powerful sentimental blackmail.
Don't wait until you own that pinnacle overland vehicle! Even if it's just a day or a weekend adventure, get out into our public lands and experience the wonder that is living there every day. It will only serve to entice you to further explorations, and teach you what you are going to need to stay out there until you've had your drunken fill of beauty. Below are links to some of the best places to get started in your overland education- we each have a lot to learn, and to keep learning from each other.