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

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Overlanding vs. Off-Roading: Tips, Tricks and Gear Recommendations for Wherever the Road is About to Take You

Often when people are talking about vehicles, they will mention that the vehicle in question is well-suited for overlanding or off-roading. Some people become confused by these recommendations because the distinction between the two types of driving is not always made clear to the reader.

The vehicles that are primarily used for overlanding are almost identical to the ones that are used for off-roading. There are differences in the driving type and the vehicle features that will make the driving excursions more fun and safer.


This is driving that is done covering areas that do not have established roadways for you to travel. Many people think that dirt roads are off-roading experiences, but when you are off-roading, you are driving across trails, and land that has not been cleared and frequently traveled.

Off-roading adventures generally include some mud, some water fording, or some getting stuck and needing a winch to pull you back onto solid ground.

When off-roading many people will ford through water and across streams. The vehicles driven during these excursions needs to be lifted higher than average so the water does not hurt the vehicle when it is driven through.

Rocks are a common element found on the surfaces the off-road enthusiasts encounter. If you are going to be covering a lot or rocky ground then you want a vehicle that is equipped for rock crawling.


Off-Road Travel on Dirt Road

Overlanding often includes some off-roading into it. Overlanding is used to describe trips by motor vehicles that cover greater expanses of land. Many of the roads and acreage that is driven over is considered to be off-road or off the beaten trail.

When you are overlanding, you are normally going to be in the vehicle for several days. Many off-roading excursions are completed in a day and the people are home safe and sleeping in their own beds at night. Overlanding requires you to cover greater distances which takes more time. Coveri8ng greater distances also requires that you pack more gear with you when you travel.

Vehicles designed for overlanding adventures need to have ample cargo room for your food, cooking apparatuses, and sleeping accommodations like tents, bedrolls, lanterns and more.

Vehicle Features Best for Off-Roading

Jeep Warn Winch Sand Recovery


The typical winch allows you to get out of a tough spot. It gives you the ability to pull the vehicle out of the mud and across tough spots. You can go off-road driving without one, but it is not recommended.

Lift Kits

Lift kits that give you greater ground clearance are needed so you can travel over rougher terrain, through deeper water, and the undercarriage of your vehicle will not be put into jeopardy while you do.

Proper Tires

You need to have good tires on the vehicle if you are going to travel over rough terrains. The tire quality will help the rubber stay intact while you drive. You do not want to have to stop and change a tire while you are driving over these rougher areas. Do keep a spare with you because a flat can happen at any time, but make sure you have tires with an aggressive tread that can cross water, sand, and mud without any complications.

Skid Plates

When you are driving over rocks and things that could damage the undercarriage of your vehicle you want as much protection as possible. Skid plates are mounted to the frame in such a way as to add a protective barrier between your undercarriage and the things you are driving over.

The most vulnerable spots you want to protect are your radiator, transmission, differential, and fuel tanks. A rock or piece of sharp debris can be thrown up and strike your radiator and leave you losing water. A properly placed skid place will not completely stop that from happening but it will reduce the possibility greatly.

Sway Bar Disconnects

The sway bars make handling and stability fabulous when your vehicle is driving over paved roads. When you leave the pavement, you also need to disconnect that sway bar. The bars limit the amount of movement the front suspension can make, and that can mean broken pieces due to unnecessary stress.

Vehicle Features Best for Overlanding

Four-Wheel Drive is a Must

Four-wheel drive vehicles are preferred by people who take these adventures seriously. The all-wheel-drive units provide a greater amount of power to one axle at a time. A four-wheel-drive vehicle provides equal power to both axles so you have the ability to drive over rough terrain and get out of tougher areas without ever employing the winch. Good platforms for overlanding are the Jeep JK/JL, Jeep Gladiator, Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Tacoma, Toyota Tundra, and many others.


You cannot set out on an excursion of this nature without a powerful winch on the front of the vehicle. The winch is going to help you move obstacles like fallen trees, or rocks that you may find impeding your progress. The winch is also going to help pull you out of the mud, the sand, or up a steep slope that your vehicle simply cannot get out of alone.

Having a good winch will allow you to travel without other vehicles. The winch will also allow you to pull your buddies out of situations they might want to escape.

Overhead Storage

Overhead storage will allow you to pack more of your belongings along with you. It allows you to have plenty of space inside the vehicle to maintain comfort and provides you with the opportunity to carry all of the necessities you are going to need while you are on the trip.


Be sure to get accessory lighting when you are going to do this kind of travel. The roads and areas you will be traveling are not going to have streetlights to help you see in the dark. Extra lighting can help you illuminate the path you are on and keep you from making a hazardous mistake like driving into an area that you cannot get back out of.

Tips for Overlanding and Off-Roading

If you are going to be engaged in these exciting types of adventures in your vehicle there are a few tips from the pros that you will want to consider.


Before you head out on a week-long overlanding excursion, take smaller off-roading excursions that allow you to travel over the same type of terrain you will be covering in your extended trip. This is especially important if you are new to using some of your vehicle features like the winch or the navigation system.

Practice using the equipment so you will be confident that you know how to engage it, you know how to use it, and you will not be stuck in the wilderness wishing you had the manual with you.

When you go out on practice runs make sure you take a friend along in another vehicle. If you get into any kind of trouble it is best if you have someone with you that can help you out. Later when you are better at using the vehicle features you can try solo adventures, but in the beginning, always travel in pairs or greater.

Parts and Repairs

Before you consider buying a vehicle that you plan to use for these adventure driving episodes make sure that the repairs and repair parts you might need are going to be easy to find anywhere you might be. You do not want a vehicle that you have to order parts for and wait for weeks to get the parts if you are going to be going on an overlanding trip.

Newer vehicles are typically easier to get parts for if there are dealerships close to where you will be. Older vehicles have more aftermarket parts available, but they are less comfortable to ride in, less dependable, and the older vehicles often see parts stop being offered so you do not want an older vehicle that there are no longer part alternatives available to you.

Choose Your Suspension Carefully

You basically have the choice of getting a suspension system that is leaf-sprung or getting an independent front suspension for your adventure vehicles. Be sure you know which one will serve the type of driving you do best.

A leaf-sprung suspension is normally the stronger of the two suspension types. This type of suspension also offers greater amounts of ground clearance.

The independent front suspension offers a more comfortable ride. This may not sound important to you but, if you are going to be riding in that vehicle for several days, then you are going to want the most comfort that you can get.

Solid front and rear suspension systems are going to be stronger and they are generally easier to maintain. You need to consider what elements are most important to you and then decide what kind of ground you are going to travel over the most. This will allow you to choose the best suspension type for your driving needs.

Gas or Diesel

The pros all agree that a diesel engine is more fuel-efficient than a gasoline-powered engine. The diesel engines normally have fewer maintenance issues and they tend to be long-lasting. The problem is that when a diesel begins to start acting up it will be costly to repair, and in cold weather conditions, a diesel engine is harder to start.

The availability of diesel fuel is not always as reliable as the availability of gasoline. If you are going to go on long trips to remote areas you want to make sure that you have a vehicle you can buy fuel for at most places.

You will also find that gasoline-powered engines cost less to purchase initially. You may save a lot of money by buying a gasoline-powered vehicle and guarantee yourself the availability of a fuel source wherever you travel.

Prepare for the Trip and have more fun

Before you go on an adventure drive you need to prepare the vehicle, prepare yourself, and think about all of the possibilities so you can make sure that you are always ready to get out of or live through any situation you might encounter.

The following items are supplies you should carry with you at all times:

  • Emergency communication devices
  • Hi-lift jacks
  • Tow straps
  • Snatch blocks
  • Land anchors
  • Air compressor
  • Tire repair kits

Never go on these types of excursions without telling someone where you are traveling and when to expect you back. This information will be very useful if anything should happen and you need help.

Always carry enough food and water for a couple of days. It’s a good idea to have a kitchen in the vehicle for food storage and grill cooking. If you do get stuck in the wilderness, having food and water may be the difference between survival and not surviving. It is also a good idea to keep a blanket in the vehicle just in case of an emergency situation.

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Kim Epton
Kim Epton
2 years ago

Hugh, why do you recommend a high lift jack.And, for that matter, a land anchor.

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