What is Overlanding? Off Grid & Off Road Extreme Camping

Overlanding is not a new camping concept. People have been overlanding even before the inception of the covered wagon. Today, the overlanding lifestyle combines off-roading, outdoor recreation and off grid camping in some of the most rugged terrains. But, not everyone nor is every vehicle capable of overlanding. Are you?

From knowing what type of vehicles are suited for overlanding to what kind of person can survive this type of rugged lifestyle, our fellow nomad friend, Misti Tokarsky of Lady Overlander Radio, helps answer some questions about Overlanding lifestyle.

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What is Overlanding?

Overlanding Covered Wagon in Red Rocks

Humans have been overlanding for centuries; even thousands of years. From biblical nomads to pioneers, people would travel great distances for jobs, relocate their families, hunt and gather food, to explore new lands and even recreation.

“Modern overlanding may be slightly different, but the premise of it is still rooted in the journey and experience itself, not just the destination,” says Misti.

Car camping, off-roading, vanlife, RV boondocking, motocamping and overlanding all come from the same desire for adventure and exploration of areas that are off the beaten path.

However, by it’s own definition, overlanding is more than just camping in the woods a few miles down the dirt road. It’s a survivalist lifestyle that takes an enthusiast to extremes at times and even beyond.

Many overlanders are minimalists and nature lovers. So the combination of a small footprint for travel and the ability to go where most others cannot holds the appeal. 

Can anyone live the overlanding lifestyle?

Let’s be real honest here. The answer is no.

Not just anyone can not survive the whole overlanding concept. It takes incredible sacrifice and grit to take on this type of lifestyle.

You need to be mentally and physically tough and be resourceful. Overlanders are accustomed to living without modern creature comforts.

First, space is a premium when traveling and supplying your vehicle and your needs. The outdoors literally becomes your kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom.

Second, overlanding can be lonely at times. And, if you’re overlanding with a partner, spouse or family, you’ll be faced with a whole different set of relationship dynamics.

Third, if you have medical issues or concerns that require constant care or attention, overlanding may not be for you or those in your party.

Remember, you’re going to be in the wild. People who overland must be, for the most part, healthy physically and mentally tough. There are no doctors or hospitals from a few miles to a few hundred miles.

Fourth, you’ll need to withstand harsh environments and unpredictable weather. Fluctuating temperature extremes can range from 90° in the day to 30° at night (or vice versa!).

And last, wildlife encounters may be prevalent in certain regions of the Country. From rattlesnakes, toxic bugs and venomous spiders to big cats and bears, you’ll need to become part of the environment you’re camping in.

While camping in the wildland, you learn to respect each other’s space.

What kind of vehicles are used for overlanding?

Misti says, “Overlanding vehicles range anywhere from Subaru station wagons to Unimogs and Earth Roamers. Converted vans, Jeeps, Toyotas, Nissans, and many other types of 4-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicles.”

Even adventure motorcycles can be considered for overlanding. Adventure motorcyclists like our friend, Dana of StrykerADV, have their own little niche of overland camping called motocamping.

According to Overland Expo, while Jeeps have a long history of making 4×4 vehicles that could make for great overland vehicles, they don’t feel comfortable recommending a Jeep more than 15 years old as an overland rig.

In other words, overlanding can be done in vehicles that have the ability to traverse rugged terrains and withstand harsh environments.

PRO TIP: Did you know you can overland in your pickup truck? Check out Truck Bed Tent Camping Info Guide – What You Need to Know.

Do you have to spend a ton of money on overlanding gear or equipment? 

While you don’t need a big checkbook on overlanding gear, there are some items that you will absolutely need to get started on your overlanding adventure.

But, there is absolutely no need to break the bank just to get out and explore!

Once you decide if the overlanding lifestyle is for you, then you can slowly upgrade your overlanding gear and equipment.

But, for right now, stick with the basics.

What basic overlanding gear will I need for off-roading and off-grid adventure?

Camping Supplies and Overlanding Gear

Don’t think you have to go right out and buy a whole bunch of extravagant camping gear to go overlanding.

And don’t think you have to go buy a whole bunch of dehydrated food and all those extreme survivalist supplies as if you’re planning for the apocalypse.

Seriously, unless you’re going to camp off grid in extreme weather conditions or temperatures, just stick with simple gear to at least get you started.

Then, as you progress and feel comfortable with the overlanding lifestyle, then you can consider upgrading your gear and getting equipment for different seasons, weather and terrain.

Basic Overlanding Supplies (but not limited to…):

      • Overlanding Vehicle – with appropriate tires, skid plates, etc.
      • Extra fuel can
      • Tire jack
      • Recovery kit
      • Winch
      • Mechanical tool kit
      • Fire extinguisher
      • First aid kit
      • Electronic GPS and paper maps
      • Compass
      • Flashlight and lantern
      • Pocket knife
      • Multi-Tool
      • Potable water
      • Small stove
      • Tent
      • Ground Tarp
      • Roof Tarp
      • Sleeping Ground Pad
      • Sleeping Bag & Pillow
      • Air Mattress
      • Cooler
      • Food box
      • Cooking kit
      • Mess Kit
      • Lifestraw
      • Water sanitation tablets

PRO TIP: Check out these camping gear suggestions that are perfect for overlanding: Outdoor Camping Gear for Overlanding, Truck Bed Camping, and Small RVs and Campers.

Where do Overlanding campers sleep?

Overlanders can sleep in everything from ground tents, hammocks, rooftop tents, truck beds and even truck campers.

Some people even car camp by removing the back seats of their vehicles to make sleeping platforms.

Can you overland and camp just anywhere?

Overlanding Vehicles on Dirt Road

You absolutely cannot enter, overland or camp on private property without the owner’s knowledge and/or permission.

Public lands vary regarding their rules on camping.

There is primitive camping available at Bureau of Land Management lands, National Forests, Wildlife Management areas, state forests, water management districts, and even in some National Parks.

How do you find places to park your overlanding vehicle? 

Overlanding Truck at Night with Campfire

Misti quotes, “Finding places to overland and set up camp takes research to find out whether dispersed camping (camping anywhere) is allowed or whether you must camp in designated areas.”

There are some helpful overlanding smartphone apps that gives crowd sourced information on off road routes and locations. 

Overlanded spells out their 6 best overlanding apps:

Classic Overland rounds out their own list of best overlanding apps in addition to those listed above:

Are overlanding vehicles welcome at campgrounds? 

Always On Liberty - Overlanding Rooftop Tent in Campground
Photo by Always On Liberty©

There may be times when you need to seek safe harbor from harsh weather, get your laundry done, take long hot showers or restock your stores.

Campgrounds and overlanding-vehicle approved RV parks are great for regrouping and restocking. Some may allow you to receive mail or packages.

However, some campgrounds or RV parks aren’t as welcoming to overlanders because they aren’t considered ‘RVs’ even though they are a type of recreational vehicle.

That said, we did notice throughout our own travels as full-time RVers that Overlanding vehicles are almost always welcome at federal, state, county and city park campgrounds.

My best suggestion is to do your research. Call the campground reservation office to ask if they allow vehicles with rooftop tents or tent camping. 

How much does it cost to overland full-time?

According to Adventurism.tv in their article, “Is Overlanding Expensive, the average startup costs to get into overlanding with a 4×4 are about $21,000.

However it can be done for much less. Once you’ve got all the necessary gear it will cost about $40 per person per day to travel full-time.

Of course, that estimate is all subjective. Vehicle maintenance, upgrades and repairs, fuel costs, overlanding gear and equipment, etc. all come into play.

Average overlanding costs will fluctuate based on current markets.

That figure does not include your camping permits or fees (there may be some) and vehicle insurance, medical insurance and your basic living expenses.

How does one financially support the full-time overlanding lifestyle?

Lady Overlander Working Remote
Photo by Misti Tokarski, Lady Overlander Radio

Overlanding certainly isn’t free. But then again, neither is living.

As mentioned above, there are specific costs associated with the overlanding lifestyle. But, there are ways to support your off-road, off-grid endeavors.

Overland campers can relocate to workkamp at temporary local jobs like Amazon CamperForce or other distribution fulfillment centers.

Other temporary gigs include Christmas tree and pumpkin patch lots, working the sugar beet harvest, camp hosting, amusement parks, oil field gate guarding and even marketing consultant for campground guest guides.  

A lot of campers can even do remote work for a company or corporation or even their own business.

And, some full-time overlanders are digital nomads; social media influencers, Bloggers and YouTubers.

Those who overland and have a good wifi signal can set up some sort of side hustle to bring in passive income.

If you’re considering full-time overlanding, make certain you have a variety of income streams. Don’t commit to just one means of making money.

But, you’ll need to make money. If you’re working online, you’ll need good WiFi, a decent computer system, allotment for courses and subscriptions, etc.

What sacrifices does one have to make when overlanding? 

Misti shares extensively, “Overlanding is not quite the same as using an RV (Recreational Vehicle). Most overlanding setups do not have enclosed climate-controlled rooms, running water, or flushing toilets.

An Overlander must think like a backpacker! You should only bring what you need.

A huge oversight many beginner Overlanders do is they forget to consider the payload of the overlanding vehicle.

So, packing all those frivolous extras isn’t going to happen.

If you do take more than you absolutely need, your vehicle will feel it. Not to mention, you’ll become frustrated because you packed so much that you can’t even find something.

Overlanding exposes you and your vehicle to all types of weather. You’ll experience everything from high winds, driving rains, blowing snow or pounding hail to extreme temperatures.

Overlanders must be willing to forgo daily showers (but we insist on daily hygiene) and sleeping in a regular bed.

But, what we gain from the sacrifices we make are so worth the experiences for our family and ourselves!”

How long does it take to setup or take down your overlanding vehicle? 

Misti and her family can have their camp completely set up or broken down in about 15 – 20 minutes. But that’s because each member of their family tribe has specific jobs. Each has their own responsibilities that completes their unit.

That’s pretty impressive for a family of five, in our opinion!

What made you choose the Overlanding lifestyle?

“I travel full-time with my husband and three children,” Misti says, we are nomads by choice“.

Misti and her husband, Joe, homeschool or what many refer to as road school their children. Their kids and live simply with two overlanding vehicles with rooftop tents. 

They began their nomadic journey back in 2017 in an RV but transitioned from full-time RV life to full-time overland life back in early 2020.

“Getting to this stage in our journey was a process” she said. When we decided to leave all the ‘things’ behind that were weighing us down, we did so quite systematically.

We sold our two homes, and most of our furniture, and moved into our 37-foot camper. It was both terrifying and liberating at the same time.

And, transitioning from a large home to an RV took some time and had its share of challenges. We continued to downsize and streamline our lives, and as we did so, we grew closer as a family.

Now our RV days are far behind us, and the only thing on the horizon ahead is the next place we visit. Overlanding isn’t a hobby for us, it’s a lifestyle.”

Misti very eloquently put it, “It’s an intentional choice to live as minimalists, and to teach our children about the world through experiences. I often hear that the time goes by so fast with kids. So, we want to spend every moment we can with ours before they grow up and start their own lives.”

How has Overlanding changed you?

Misti says, “I have changed so much since we began traveling full-time. I push my own personal limits and learn new skills each day.

I started her own podcast about women who overland.  I have become more in tune with myself and have learned how to slow down and just be in the moment. “

Where do you go to overland?

“In the past year and a half of full-time overlanding, we’ve explored twenty-three national forests and other public lands.

We camped in eighteen states. We enjoy seeing the diversity of our Country’s landscape from waterfalls, mountains, to the vast dry deserts.

We’ve experienced hail, snow, rain, high winds, extreme heat, vehicle failures, unexpected surgeries, and some of the most epic views the United States has to offer,” Misti explained.

Do you have a routine?

Taking a deep breath, Misti finished our interview with, “As the sunlight slowly makes its way into the forest and reaches my tent, I awaken and start my day.

My body is in sync with the sunrise. Out in nature, there really is no need for clocks. I wake with the sunrise, and by the time the sun sets, I am ready to settle in for a good night’s sleep. 

Our morning routine is like most other people’s. We brew the coffee (because what adult with kids doesn’t function well on coffee?) and make breakfast.

Maintaining good health habits is important even out there. We stress the importance of hygiene of teeth brushing and cleanliness.

After all our morning routines are complete, our kids are get ready to start their school day.

The best part? We’re doing all of this in the forest, next to a creek, on mountaintops, overlooking canyons and amongst the wildlife.

There are no cinderblock walls to confine our dreams and how we raise our family.

The environment actually helps us open our minds for learning.”

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About our Contributor

Always On Liberty - Barefoot Overlander - Misty Tokarsky

Misti Tokarsky, partners with her husband Joe on their channels The Day We Make. Both share their on-the-road travels and overlanding experiences on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.

Misti also partners and co-hosts with Arla Cress known as Mrs. Bats Offroad on their podcast Lady Overlander Radio. You can find Lady Overlander on Spotify, Apple Podcast, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.

Final thoughts on what is overlanding

As you see, overlanding isn’t for everyone. Nor can everyone do it. It takes an incredible amount of grit, knowledge of the outdoors and not be afraid to get down and dirty to live the overlanding lifestyle.

However, the rewards, as Misti explained totally outweigh the sacrifices.

Now, do you think you can succeed at overlanding?

Always On Liberty - What is Overlanding

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