What is Overlanding? Do You Think You Know?

So, what is Overlanding? 

Language is a funny thing. 

We have invented words to describe something. We share that word, it means something to us. But does it mean the very same thing to everyone?

So, imagine, something as simple as an apple. What do you reckon? Is it big or small, Green or Red? We all see a different thing.

Hence, a lot of arguments start with misunderstandings like this. I guess the important thing is to have some agreement or we don’t know what we are discussing.

I’m an Overlander – Aren’t I?

As I mentioned in the about page for Overland to Adventure, I was drawn to the world of vehicle-based Adventure from magazines and watching coverage of events like the Camel trophy. I don’t remember back then calling it anything other than Adventure or exploring, though to be honest, I can’t remember.

I don’t recall when I first heard the term Overlanding. Moreover, I don’t remember starting to describe myself as an overlander or that I went overlanding. It happened though.

I am an Overlander – I think.

So, what is Overlanding?

Let’s start with Wikipedia, which describes that Overlanding evolved from Australian roots.

"Overlanding is self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal. Typically, but not exclusively, it is accomplished with mechanised off-road capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping, often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and spanning international boundaries."

So, I don’t have much to argue with that. However, it does say “often lasting for extended lengths of time” – often doesn’t mean always. So, I can live with that. I “often” think, at least in the past, that some of my weekend trips have been an Overland Adventure. Similarly, international borders can’t always be right as, for argument, the US is a big country; you surely don’t need to nip into Canada to say you have been overlanding.

I was confident that I was an Overlander; after all, I had been to the Sahara 4 times. But I also included the trips around the UK where I went off for the weekend.

Could I define these as overlanding – at the time I thought so.

I have since moved to the US. I started to hear new terms, furthermore, it coincided with hearing a podcast by Scott and Matt from Overland Journal

A long came the terms; Car camping, 4x4 Touring, Back Country Adventure. So, what now.

What Overlanding isn’t

So, for now, let’s ignore the grey area. I was and am still confident in my mind what Overlanding wasn’t.

Rock crawling

That is extreme off-road driving, in a very specialised vehicle, from my knowledge, with incredibly low gearing. Having seen videos on YouTube, it would terrify me.

Mud Plugging

So, more extreme off-road driving, but swapping rock for mud. To me, and I am no expert, the main difference is higher gearing and more nobbles on the tyres

Off-Road (4x4) trials

Trials is a little more sedate than rock crawling or Mud plugging, but not always! My simple definition

is that it a 4x4 technical obstacle course where you have to drive over technical terrain without touch gates.

In conclusion, none of these activities includes self-contained travel. For instance, you aren’t camping, not in the vehicle anyway; it would likely ruin your camping gear for a start. So, we are clear and all agree on this at least?

The Grey Area

To me at least, with trying to define overlanding, there seems to be a grey area. Where do you shift from car camping, or 4x4 touring or Backcountry adventure to Overlanding?

Before moving to the US, before hearing these terms, which as i mentioned were new to me, there was only one grey area, and that was off-roading or 4 wheeling. But I clarified this in my mind. That when Overlanding you may indeed off-road or 4 wheel (I’m sure there is a difference between these too, but let’s worry about Overlanding for now!) but you didn’t camp, you weren’t camping with your truck, you weren’t transporting your supplies, you weren’t self-sufficient.

So, if we are going to resolve this, I guess we need to look at what the others are. Thanks, Scott and Matt!

What is the Difference Between Overlanding and Car Camping?

At face value, when I first heard the term, I thought – New name for Overlanding. On the Overland Journal website, they establish it as “travelling in a vehicle to an established campground. If there is a picnic table there, it is probably car camping”.

In other words, if you aren’t wild camping, then you are car camping? In some countries, especially in Europe, wild camping is in itself a grey area.

My take is that the difference is more about attitude. I would suggest that if the camping site is the destination, then that is Car camping. If the campsite is merely a means to an end, somewhere to stop as part of a weekend adventure, then you could be overlanding.

What is the Difference Between Overlanding and Back Country Adventure?

Using my attitude argument, is, well, a little harder to argue with this one. In the UK we don’t have a backcountry, we have countryside, but not on the same scale. So, when I heard the Overland Journal Podcast “What is Overlanding?” this is the one that put doubts in my mind.

Was I not an Overlander? Was I a Backcountry Adventurer? To me, Overlanding is and Adventure. Besides, I would still consider myself overlanding, even if I took a break from driving on a trip and went off hiking for a morning. Sometimes, even if I had taken my mountain bike with me and gone for a ride. It was still an Overland trip.

So, was I right to describe myself as overlanding? I doubted myself, especially when in the episode, they mentioned Australia, the home of the term Overland. Matt, who had spent some time in Australia, told how Australians referred to 4 Wheel Drive Touring. Something else again!

Does it matter what Overlanding is?

In life do think identity is essential. We are our identity. Listening to the Podcast did make me question myself for a while and that I think is a good thing.

To question what you are, what you are doing.

That doesn’t necessarily mean we will always agree. What Overlanding is does matter!  But I guess like everything, within boundaries, it is down to the individual to decide for themselves (I won’t except you are an overlander if you continuously sail!) I am still learning the craft, so I’m a long way from having the complete definition.


However, I concluded that I was an Overlander. Overlanding is an Adventure. Even the Adventures obtained on a trip in breaks from driving whilst overlanding, is also, for me, forms part of the equation. All part of the Overlanding experience

Above all, I feel the essential part of overlanding, in addition to the Wikipedia definition, is the attitude, the philosophy, by which we travel.

On the other hand, not every trip I take is overlanding; sometimes, it is merely car camping.

I highly recommend that you listen to the podcast episode that Scott and Matt recorded if you are interested in Overlanding.

I believe that they wanted to emphasise the definition, as Overlanding becomes more popular, as they feel it is already starting to be exploited by people and organisations. Because it is cool, everything off-road is becoming overlanding – that will lead to the power of the word, the images, and feelings that it arouses diminishing and blurring.

I completely agree with their point if I have correctly understood their message. Overlanding to me is a philosophy, a mindset concerning responsible, curious, Adventure and travel.

In the Podcast, they suggested considering 4 points, and these are what made me stop and think. They propose that if any two of the following are valid, then you are probably being honest in calling the journey an Overland trip.

You are travelling to:

  1. 1
    Remote locations,
  2. 2
    Cultures other than your own,
  3. 3
    Under-explored or under-documented regions,
  4. 4
    Self-reliance in unfamiliar territories for multiple days, weeks or months.

Try it! Are you an Overlander?  If not try it, have an Adventure.

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