Why Is Overlanding So Popular Now?
Overlanding is not new. Travelling cross country with a vehicle is as old as the wheel. When you look at the some of the first overlanders, they travelled in wagons, or rode horses. Nomadic tribes, sheep herders, and the pioneers of the old west all lived on the move, and had to carry their entire belongings wherever they went. That’s what overlanding means to many people; being able to go anywhere while being self-contained. When the automobile showed up in the 1900’s, overlanding followed. The country still had large swaths of open, undeveloped land with plenty to explore. People had leisure time, and transportation.
American’s fascination with offroad travel has never waned. The same can be said for exploring the wilderness. One reason why overlanding has become so popular is because it’s a diverse crowd. You can find people overlanding in everything from a million dollar, purposely built big rig to an all-wheel drive car with a roof top tent. Can you still overland in a car? Sure, but one prerequisite of overlanding in many people’s minds is the ability to go off road. Not just down a graded dirt road, but beyond man-made roadways and off onto challenging trails. Whether you can accomplish that in a car is up to you, but I’ve seen it done. In fact, it’s typical in Mexico to be miles outside of any town, or so you think, and see a local chug past in an old car with bald tires through the same silt bed that just trapped your fancy 4 wheel drive for the last hour with hardly a care. The fact is, most offroad race vehicles are 2 wheel drive. The venerable VW beetle is an example of a very basic, 2 wheel drive vehicle that is capable of going just about anywhere offroad. Don’t expect it to carry a bunch of gear though, but that leads us to the next topic; comfort.
Overlanding has many levels of comfort. It all depends on your budget, and how far off the beaten path you care to venture. Some of the most extreme overlanding vehicles have everything a typical home would contain; a kitchen, bath, bedroom, even laundry facilities or a garage. The finishes inside will reflect the cost of the build. When money is no object, you get marble backsplashes, microwave ovens, and big screen TV’s. The more luxuries you bring, the more payload your vehicle needs to carry. At some point, your offroad capabilities become compromised. That’s why many prefer to trade convenience, and comfort for capability. True overlanding in my opinion has to do with getting off the beaten path. With that said, the terrain you will be exploring also has a lot to do with the size rig you can use. In deserts, and dunes, the bigger rigs are fine. If you’re navigating through thick forests, or tight mountain trails, a smaller rig is the only way to get around. There is no single vehicle that will serve every purpose.
Overlanders for the most part fit into two categories; those who do it for recreation, and others who live full time on the road. Many people say that overlanding is just a fancy word for camping. That might be true, but those who live full time on the road will argue that it takes a lot of commitment to cut ties with a conventional existence. Their choice of vehicle, and what to outfit it with, will be different than that of someone who is just out for fun for a couple of days. You can rough it for a while car camping, but as soon as you are forced to take shelter for a couple days due to weather, the contrast between full time, and for fun becomes clear. There is no going home to get out of the elements when you live on the road. You can always pack up and leave, but your choices are more limited. Staying warm or cool, dry, and fed can be challenging at times.
…it’s typical in Mexico to be miles outside of any town, or so you think, and see a local chug past in an old car with bald tires through the same silt bed that just trapped your fancy 4 wheel drive for the last hour…
So what has created all the renewed interest in overlanding today? You’ll probably be surprised by the answer, but it happens to be technology. While that may seem like some type of an oxymoron, it’s actually the existence of current technology that makes getting away from it all easier than ever. The ability for primitive man to use fire was revolutionary to survival. Today, it’s the satellite, the cell phone, and solar panels. Current explorers may not even own a flannel shirt. They have technologically advanced clothing that keeps them warm, or wicks the sweat from their bodies to keep them cool. Satellites give you your current location, and detailed information about what lies on the other side of that ridge ahead of you. They also allow you to make phone calls from just about anywhere. Even without a satellite phone, cell phone communication continues to expand. Proposals have been put forth to go completely nationwide by using the commercial airplanes flying overhead as mobile hotspots. Being able to connect to the internet from almost anywhere has led to people working remotely, myself included. This frees them up to travel full time. Many full time travelers make their living by sharing videos of their adventures on the internet; technology at work again.
Watch Brad from Trail Recon catalog one of many overland adventures in his Jeep JK Wrangler:
The one thing that most of us just can’t live without is power to run our electronic devices. You can’t make videos, call anyone, or check on your current location without electricity. The accessibility of inexpensive, and reliable solar power has allowed people to roam freely, and to live off the grid. 12 volt appliances, low draw LED lighting, compact electronic devices, and the continuing advances in vehicle technology have made it possible for us to get out to remote locations while being safe and comfortable.
As more people head out to remote locations, they will no longer be remote. You can see this phenomena happening right now. As with any trend, I predict that some people will want to go against the crowd. We may see a return to actually roughing it outdoors. The purists will travel in a vintage truck with a tent, and wear flannel shirts around the camp fire again.