In our article, The Ultimate Guide to the Best Overland Vehicles we looked at which individual vehicles were best for Overlanding. We determined that the best choice would be a vehicle that had the perfect combination of reliability, capability, durability and came at a price that fit your budget. However, we didn’t really investigate which type of vehicle would be best. We aim to help with that topic in this article.
If our Guide to Overlanding vehicles told us anything, it was that there is a wide array of Overland vehicles to choose from. We could have gone higher but we capped the number at 41. Which one you choose has everything to do with your individual needs. The guy going out on his own will have completely different needs compared to a small family of four hitting the trail.
The mantra of many Overlanders is “Only carry what you need”. No two individuals or groups would have the same Overland supplies list. Are you going it alone or is a friend joining you? Are you going out for a weekend away, a month-long adventure or will this be a multi-year lifestyle change? What will the terrain look like? Answering these questions will help determine which type of Overland vehicle is best for YOU.
SUV, Pickup, Van or Crossover for Overlanding?
While we can’t precisely choose the absolutely perfect rig for you, we can help you weigh the pros and cons of each type of vehicle to help you at least narrow down the search to a smaller range. This is, after all, an investment, and we don’t want you to regret your decision halfway into your journey.
A Place for Your Stuff
Make a list of what you need to bring with you on your trip. The absolute essentials. The Overland gear that will fit in, on top of, or for some Overlanders, in an off-road trailer.
Get it all together and put it in your living room to see how much space it takes up. Put that in your current vehicle and take an honest assessment of how well it fits.
Now take a few weekend trips and review what was a must-have, a nice to have, or a waste of space. If you used something every day it is a “must-have”. If it made life easier, it was a “nice to have”. If it was never used, it’s a “waste of space”.
Keep in mind that this does not include items you would need in an emergency like an off-road first-aid kit or a spare tire.
Take all the wasted space items and put those in storage. Take the nice-to-have supplies and rank them based on a scale of 1 to 10 on how “nice” it was to have with you on your trip. The lower the number the more likely it will not make the cut in the event that you need to free up some additional space for people or the must-haves.
Lastly, make a list of “wish I had” items. These are things you left at home OR gear you need to purchase before the next trip. If you are planning a longer length trip this list may include something you would need for an extended period of time in the wilderness.
On a weekend trip, you can make do with coolers and ice packs. For anything longer than a few days you would want to invest in a portable refrigerator freezer. Paper plates and plasticware will be fine for a weekend, for longer stays away from home, reusable camping dinnerware is a must-have.
One more thing to keep in mind is where you plan to go and how much “roughing it” you want to endure. Sure, Overlanding is traditionally done off-road and out in the wilderness but maybe you’re looking to ease your way into the backwoods. No judgment here. Your significant other may enjoy the traveling part but prefers a hotel room over a tent. If that’s the case, leave the roof top tent and sleeping bags at home and plan your trip with waypoints that have overnight stays.
Selecting Your Overlanding Vehicle
So… now that you have your list of everything you will need for an enjoyable Overlanding adventure, will it fit in what you currently drive? If not, it’s time to upsize to an Overland vehicle with more cargo room or look for storage ideas such as roof racks and durable, weather-resistant cargo cases.
Know Your Options
Now that you know what size of Overland vehicle you need, you can work on weighing your options with what type of rig will be taking you down the trail.
There are 4 categories or types of Overland vehicles:
- Pickup Trucks
- Cargo or Euro-style Vans
- Crossovers (also known as Soft-Roaders or CUVs)
Here we take a look at those as well as their respective qualities in what one looks for in a capable Overland vehicle such as ground clearance, cargo space etc.
SUVs for Overlanding
SUVs dominated our list of the best Overland vehicles. Tons of room, adaptable and more than capable in bad weather and rough terrain, SUVs have been a favorite of Overlanders from the beginning.
When we say SUV we’re referring to the traditional type of vehicle. This doesn’t apply to some of the modern SUVs that aren’t designed for off-road use. Think sturdy suspension, four-wheel drive, body-on-frame designs, solid axles and basic amenities.
Older SUVs are getting harder to find but offer the best off-road qualities for the money. Many are reliable, functional and quite capable for Overlanding. It might take some time to find one in good shape but patience pays off.
Look for SUVs in the 1995 to 2004 era. Older SUVs are great off-road but tend to lack the comfort needed for extended times in the seat. Vehicles newer than that (except some newer off-road models) lack the off-road capabilities needed for Overlanding.
Refer to our Guide to Overland Vehicles to find the best SUV for your budget. At the end of the article, we break them down into price ranges. We also note which years are the best to look for. Anything by Toyota or Lexus, most Jeeps, Nissan XTerras and Land Rovers are great SUVs for Overlanding.
Assessment: Traditional SUVs are a combination of comfort and capability, have plenty of room for people and cargo, have a huge selection of aftermarket off-road parts designed to improve all aspects of their design and can utilize their roof as extra cargo space.
Pickup Trucks for Overlanding
Lacking cab room and more widely known as a tradesmen’s workhorse, the pickup truck might not be the first vehicle you think of when somebody mentions an Overland vehicle.
You might think it’s fine for weekend trips but there’s no way you could take everything you need for an extended stay on the trail. Fortunately, there are thousands of truck bed accessories that can help you morph your standard pickup bed into a cargo-carrying super rig.
The pickup has evolved into a highly capable, durable and comfortable Overland vehicle. With assistance from an Overland bed rack, you’ll have a place to mount your recovery gear and roof top tent. Now, your truck bed space is freed up for hauling the rest of your Overland essentials.
Where pickups may lack in comfort and cargo space they more than make up for in durability, off-road capability and selection. It is very easy to find a pickup truck that is priced right and ready to take you on your next adventure. Reliability should be a high priority when shopping for a pickup. The last thing you want is to be stranded out in “nowhere land” with a busted rig.
If you can afford one, many manufacturers are currently making off-road versions of their popular pickups. These have the latest comfort, convenience and safety features as well as beefed-up suspensions and a variety of upgrades that will help you tackle even the toughest terrain.
Another great thing about having a pickup is the huge assortment of aftermarket truck parts and accessories you can consider. These will improve the utility, appearance, storage, functionality and performance of your pickup. The sky really is the limit when it comes to upgrades available for pickups.
Assessment: If you have a lot of gear and not a lot of people, you are looking for a vehicle that was built for off-road use, comfort is not your highest priority and you like to fix up your truck with aftermarket goodies, a pickup truck is the best Overlanding vehicle for you.
Vans for Overlanding
We’re not talking about minivans here. Vans that are good for Overlanding are what most people refer to as cargo or “Euro-style” vans. Dependable rugged vans that can handle off-road use like the Mercedes Sprinter, RAM Promaster or Ford Transit. These are gaining in popularity as more are being made specifically for traveling off the beaten path.
With a unibody construction and a platform that provides generous space and decent fuel economy. The entry-level price is pretty steep and finding parts can be a challenge once you’re out on the road. The Ford Transit has one of the largest dealer networks in the US so you’re more likely to find a place to get that make and model serviced as opposed to the others.
Euro vans are great for self-reliant independent traveling. With plenty of space, you are free to enhance the inside with upgrades like a small kitchen, a bed, toilet and/or a shower. With a van, you also have more privacy and additional security if you’re traveling through an area that is lightly populated or dangerous. With a van, everything is self-contained.
With a van, although you’re at liberty to do so, it’s not typically necessary to “set up camp” at every stop. You won’t have to pitch a tent or pop open the roof top tent. Your camp kitchen is inside so you won’t need to set up a table and propane stove.
Assessment: If you would like to have a sustainable, comfortable and convenient home away from home that’s not overly complicated to drive, is able to be conformed to your unique needs, to be able to be self-reliant with upgrades such as solar panels and water heaters and you aren’t too concerned with ground clearance and off-road capability the Euro-style van is the Overlanding vehicle for you.
Crossover (or Soft-Roader or CUV) for Overlanding
Many people have decided to take an alternative option when deciding what they take off-road and many of them had a very competent Overland vehicle in their garage and they didn’t even realize it.
The AWD (All Wheel Drive) unibody crossover is gaining quite the following amongst weekend travelers that simply want to get out in the great outdoors and enjoy nature without investing their paycheck on off-road upgrades and recovery gear.
Mud terrain tires, lift kits and performance suspensions are great off-road but on your daily driver, they make for a less than optimal highway experience. Fuel economy also plummets when you add the weight and less than aerodynamic nature of trail-ready upgrades. This isn’t the case with the crossover.
In addition to great fuel economy and a more comfortable daily ride, the AWD crossover has a lower cost to entry compared to the other options previously discussed. So Monday to Friday you comfortably drive to work, soccer practice and the grocery store but when Saturday comes around your crossover doubles as a weekend off-road warrior.
As long as your plans don’t include rock climbing, river crossings and going through 3 feet of mud, your crossover will do the job just fine. Crossovers allow for plenty of adventurous exploring, simply keep your expectations in check. Your crossover is perfect for reaching remote areas via less traveled trails and parkland roads but you won’t want to take it mud bogging.
Even though upgrades aren’t necessary for most dirt trails, if your traveling brings you through some rougher terrain, a lift kit would provide the ground clearance you need. There are several companies currently offering spacer lifts that provide an extra 1 to 3 inches of ground clearance but maintain the factory set camber and caster specs.
The most popular crossovers for Overlanding are made by Subaru such as the Forester, Crosstrek, Outback, and Ascent. They all come standard with all-wheel drive and 8.7 inches of ground clearance without performing any modifications.
The edge goes to the Forester with a generous 35.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats up and 76.1 cubic feet when they’re down. With the seats down, there is enough room for 2 people to sleep comfortably in the back but that means you have to take all your cargo out to lie down. The better option is to buy a roof top tent. The Forester’s roof rails can support a roof top tent and its occupants with a total combined weight of 700 pounds.
Other popular choices are the Honda CRV, Toyota Rav4 and the Jeep Compass with the Trailhawk package.
Assessment: If you would like to have a vehicle that’s easy to maneuver, has a smaller comparable price, is just as at home on the highway as on the trail, does not need any major modifications for off-roading, has great fuel economy, you’re not too concerned about roominess and you don’t plan on traveling over extreme terrain, the crossover is the Overlanding vehicle for you.
So which is the best type of Overlanding vehicle? The best one is the one that best for you and your unique individual needs. Selecting the right one requires an honest assessment of how much space you need and how deep into this great pastime you want to get.
It also involves a great deal of research. This isn’t a decision that should be rushed. Seek out opinions from people on Overlanding forums, Facebook groups and friends that are into Overlanding. Additionally, set a realistic budget and stick to it.
Remember though, as we mentioned in the beginning of this article, the best vehicle may be the one you already have. Take it out and see how it goes. You might be surprised to find out you’ve had the best Overlanding rig right in front of you.