The saying, “life is a journey, not a destination” perfectly sums up the culture of overlanding. If you haven’t heard of overlanding, it’s an extended road trip where you combine camping and off-roading. Overlanders crave being outdoors and off the grid for days at a time, and they spend hours prepping their vehicles and researching routes. It’s a big commitment, but veteran overlanders will tell you the experience is well worth the effort.
One appeal of this form of adventure travel is that you can go solo or with a group and get as far away from civilization as you desire. The only requirements are a love for exploration and the outdoors, along with an extreme sense of adventure. To help get you started, we’ve put together a quick and dirty guide to overlanding for Alabamians.
There is a lot of info to absorb in overlanding, which is precisely what makes it intriguing. You’ll have to know some auto repair, get creative in building out your rig, study navigation, and learn the proper way to drive off-road. Over time, you’ll pick up plenty of other skills.
As a first step, you can check out a variety of online resources like Overland Journal, Overland Bound, and Alabama Overland. Overland Bound Talk is an app that provides a wealth of information, and you can connect with other aspiring or veteran overlanders. These groups will be your best resources to learn the basics, share ideas with others, and find routes.
What to Expect
When overlanding, be open for anything and ready for everything. Keep in mind that the journey, not the destination, is the focus. You can expect days of navigating off-road and dealing with auto repairs along the way. During the evenings, you’ll camp in remote wild areas, gather around campfires, and enjoy meals and drinks under star-filled skies.
It’s wise to start small, with a weekend trip on a well-traveled trail. This will give you a chance to make adjustments and discover what new gear you need. Once you feel comfortable with your vehicle, then plan for an extended multi-day trip with some fellow overlanders.
Types of Vehicles
A four-wheel-drive vehicle will likely be the first thing you buy. Most overland vehicles are the models you would expect and include the Land Rover Defender, Range Rover, Toyota Tacoma, Land Cruiser, 4-Runner, and, of course, various Jeep models. Scour the used car market to find a vehicle that you’ll feel comfortable working on and driving. Remember, you’re going to devote a significant amount of time to this vehicle.
You don’t have to stick with traditional models, but there are certain things you must consider while researching. First, keep in mind that there will be different parameters for a weekend trip close to home versus one you will use for global travel. But, no matter your destination or the terrain, the vehicle must be able to withstand a heavy payload. Called “capacity,” this is one feature that you can’t safely modify. Ensure the vehicle has an excellent reputation for being durable on rough terrain and reliable on long distances.
Overlanders use their vehicle as a creative outlet. If you aren’t somewhat interested in cars, overlanding may not be for you. By the time you hit the trail, you’ll know the ins-and-outs of suspension, tires, winches, skid plates, roof racks, and high-intensity LED lights, just to name a few. You can find built-up overland vehicles in good condition on the market, but that may take some of the fun out of the experience.
If you’re a gearhead, you’ll be in heaven overlanding. If you aren’t, you soon will be. Basic camping, survival gear, and vehicle maintenance tools are necessary. And, there is specific gear designed to keep you comfortable and safe while traveling off-road. Dual purpose tents that you can use free-standing or attach to your vehicle will keep you protected from the elements. There are stoves and ovens designed for overlanding, vehicle-specific storage containers, and even solar-powered showers. Space is limited, so you’ll become an expert packer after a couple of overlanding adventures.
You’ll also need vehicle-specific gear like an air compressor, a fire extinguisher, equipment to free the vehicle from sand, mud, snow or ice, and extra fuel cans. The gear list can get extensive, and careful planning is necessary.
Where to Go
While many of the more well-known overland sites are found in the western United States and overseas, there is an expanding database of routes close to and in Alabama. The Georgia Traverse is one of the most well-traveled trails close to the state. In Alabama, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides motor vehicle use maps for the National Forests. They’re in black and white and only show roads and trails open for motor vehicles. No topography info is provided. Link up with a community like Overland Bound to find overlanders that are willing to share known trails before heading out on your own.
Rules of the trail in a vehicle are generally the same as if you were to do any other outdoor activity such as trail running or mountain biking. For example, overlanders should stay on established paths, avoid going on private property, and try not to travel on muddy trails to reduce damage and erosion. Also, when you’re camping, follow Leave No Trace principles to limit your impact on the environment. Dispose of waste properly when you’re answering nature’s call, limit the size of campfires and fully extinguish them, and carry out all of your trash.
Written by Hap Pruitt for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL.