So you want to go overlanding?

What does that mean, exactly? We’ve covered some of the philosophy and approach to the lifestyle in previous posts here on the Notebook, but it’s worth taking a look at how to prepare yourself for a successful first outing.

Let’s call it the “overland starter kit”. The range of products and gear available to the modern vehicle-based explorer is vast, and it can be hard to parse out what you really “need” and what you can live without. Some would argue that all you need to go on your first overland trip is a vehicle and the will to find adventure. Others would advise that you carefully and fully equip yourself with an array of different products that will ensure your safety, comfort, and enjoyment of the experience before even thinking of leaving your driveway.

I’m a firm believer in finding the middle ground.

Plunking down a huge up-front amount of money and time preparing your vehicle and camping set-up runs a handful of risks. First, if you’re fairly new to spending extended time outdoors and traveling on the road, it’s likely that you’re not confident in what you need and what you don’t. You may end up loading yourself down with tons of expensive gear that you may never use. All that dead weight can clutter up your living space and weigh on your vehicle - it can be frustrating. Often, it’s better to go wanting for something and find that you’d like to have it later on, then carry around a device or piece of gear that gets shoved in a corner and never sees the light of day.

Part of the joy of overlanding is minimizing your stuff and simplifying your life. It’s remarkable what we can live without! The other risk in over-preparing is that every dollar and hour you spend building the “perfect” overland vehicle (it doesn’t exist, by the way) is one dollar and one hour subtracted from your time traveling. It’s an equation we all have to balance - how much happiness do I derive from the gear vis-a-vis the experiences I will have on the road? I know where I tend to fall. My builds tend to be fairly minimalistic, and fuel is still pretty expensive.

On the other hand, just throwing a water bottle and a blanket in the back seat and driving off into the unknown can be a recipe for disaster. If you break down, and are cold, hungry, and miserable, it’s likely that you may not want to try this overlanding thing ever again. Remember, this is supposed to be fun. A certain degree of preparation is key to having an enjoyable experience and some degree of safety and comfort. And, let’s face it, overland and off-road gear and tools are really cool. I still geek out over new products and I like the satisfaction that comes with putting together a really functional and good-looking overland vehicle.

Where to start, then? Here’s a quick outline for what I think are good areas to spend your money and time preparing your vehicle and your camping gear for success on your first overland outing.

The Vehicle

The number one upgrade to any overland platform - from a Subaru to a Suburban - is tires. Nearly every other modification, such as lift kits, body armor, or even roof racks, can wait. A quality set of all-terrain tires will take you further than you might imagine, and protect you from punctures and loss of traction. Tires aren’t cheap, but pound-for-pound are by far the best investment you can make in your vehicle.

The second thing to consider when preparing your vehicle for an overland journey is simple, routine maintenance. Are all the suspension components in good shape? Are the brakes up to the task of hauling you down from highway speeds? Has the oil been changed lately? How about those drive belts? Is there air in your spare tire? If you’re not feeling mechanically inclined, find a local independent shop to give it a thorough once-over. Just the peace of mind knowing that you’re confident in your truck’s reliability goes a long way.

A small recovery kit is a worthwhile investment. A sturdy tow strap, a tire repair kit and air compressor (which can do double duty for your comfy air mattress!), and a basic set of tools that are relevant to your particular vehicle will give you some added confidence to tackle more challenging trails.

In Camp

Besides the baseline camping gear like a sturdy tent, cold-rated sleeping bags and sleeping mats, as well as coolers, cooking gear, and camp chairs, there are some extra perks that will make your first overland outing that much better.

When my folks took me camping as a kid, there was an unsaid implication that it wasn’t “real” camping unless you were at least a little bit miserable the whole time. Maybe really miserable. Now that I think about it, it’s hard to figure out why I love camping so much even to this day. However, in our modern age, I say to all of that old misery: *unprintable*. There have been so many great innovations in camping gear since the days of drafty canvas tents, flannel sleeping bags, leaky kerosene lanterns, and digging cat holes, that there’s no excuse to suffer the worst of nature.

There are compact propane-fired water heaters, rocking camp chairs, collapsible fire pits, 12 volt portable fridges, down sleeping comforters, gourmet-level camp stoves, retractable awnings, and so much more. But, there is a middle path – you can very quickly make your camping life way too complex, and find yourself on the wrong end of your credit card statement.

Here are a few of my key go-to’s for a comfortable car camping experience.

  • Go whole hog on your sleeping situation. If you’re not carrying it on your back, your truck is, so don’t sweat the weight too much. Use a big tent – one you can stand up in, even. Go ahead and splurge on a super comfy air mattress. Bring your pillow. Pile on the blankets. Don’t feel ashamed. The better sleep you have, and the more comfortable you are, the more fun you’re going to have.

  • Are you going to be bookdocking it away from convenient facilities for a little while? Camping off the beaten path away from campgrounds? A portable toilet makes things just a little more civilized. Paired with a privacy tent, it offers all the conveniences (almost) of home.

  • Consider your power needs. In our modern age, we still need our phones and other electronic devices even if we’re out of range. How are you going to get those killer Instagram snaps if you’re on the final percentages on your battery? A compact solar-powered USB charger is just the ticket – it keeps the charging stress off your car battery, and they are super convenient on long hikes. Some even double as a little lantern at night.

How did you equip yourself for your first overland adventure?



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