The year is 2020. A fresh new decade is upon us and the term “overlanding” is more popular than ever before for better or worse. More people than ever before are wanting to explore the Earth, to camp outside beneath the dark sky, to go where they never have before. Social media is flooded with vehicles equipped to conquer to harshest terrain or take on the local campground. One might get the sense that this is the newest way of life for an outdoorsman. Take a step back for a moment and look at what this new fad really is. Let’s talk overlanding in 2020 for a bit.
With the rise of popular Youtube channels showcasing premiere overland builds comes the rise of copycats and those who wish the mimic these builds with one of their own. No fault to themselves they have saturated the media landscape with picture after picture, video after video of what is now the modern overland scene. Let’s face it. In this day and age there’s no much left of the world left to discover. Humans have been exploring for millennia. While yes, there are still unreached areas on our giant green and blue ball of water and dirt, humans have for the most part seen and done everything there is to see that could possible fascinate. Yet there are billions who have not wandered beyond where they are now. Many American overlanders haven’t even seen all there is to see in their own state! Guilty as charged right here. Now don’t get the idea that you have to drive to Prudhoe Bay Alaska to fulfill the overlander’s destiny. Sure it should probably be on your list, however fill in the gaps with some closer places and you can have the ultimate 2020 overland experience. I can guarantee you that if you seek out some waterfalls, scenic overlooks, or simply a forest valley within your state you’ll find what you are looking for in an overland adventure.
Please please PLEASE do not throw all of your hard earned money into gobs of expensive equipment. This is the number one thing I dislike about 2020 overlanding. Being rich is not a requirement. Having the latest and greatest stuff isn’t what its about. Equipping your rig to conquer South America doesn’t make you happier. If you stay on social media too long you will get bombarded with ads pointing you to glamorous lifestyle the overland gods live. I have watched and re-watched so many Expedition Overland videos. There stuff is top notch and they have conquered the world as far as I see it. I don’t need any of that and the odds are you don’t need that either. It’s all great, and each piece of equipment they have serves a purpose and is probably a requirement to do what they do. Don’t let that taint your image of overlanding. You can make it as fancy or simple as you want it to be and still be comfortable and enjoy your time.
The best overland vehicle is the vehicle you already have. I’m not going to give you an overland guide to building an amazing truck because frankly I’m not that mechanically inclined. I will tell you this though. If you want to explore, take the vehicle sitting in your driveway and explore! Remote destinations don’t have to always be along a treacherous trail. Personally I do love it when I have to use 4WD to get to where I’m going but there are some great places I would love to see that I could drive to in 2WD the whole way have just as much of a thrilling adventure! I have survived the Ozarks for two years without a winch or metal bumpers and one year without a snorkel. That in fact is due to the group of friends that I choose to explore with that happen to have some of those things. However you can explore great lengths of terrain without needing any of those things. The idea is to just go.
Some of the best overland gear can be purchased at Walmart or on Amazon for pennies compared to the gold bricks you need for the exquisite gear a lot of big names use. Don’t knock Ozark Trail or Coleman until you’ve tried it yourself. If you are just cooking hot dogs put your money towards gasoline instead of the fanciest stove you can get. I must admit that I did splurge a little bit in this area and grab a nice Jetboil Genesis stove but that was probably the most expensive gear purchase that I have made and I had clear purpose in mind with it. I use it weekly even in the garage. It is important to buy gear you can also use at home so that it has multiple purposes other than just when you are out in the woods. From cooking gear to clothes, there’s no need to have separate stuff for overlanding. After all, overlanding is just living out of your vehicle right? Why would you want to try and live differently and be someone else? Dress a bit warmer if its cold out but don’t worry about looking a certain way or buying expensive overland clothes. It’s not a fashion show. Same goes with communication devices, sleeping arrangements, and storage. Good grief its sad to see some people spend countless dollars on expensive boxes and $3000 rooftop tents to use them twice a month or less when that can go towards so many other real life things to further their adventure. Not a knock on those things. All gear even the expensive gear has its place and is going to be useful and worth the extra price to someone. All I’m saying is pick your poison. Throw money at stuff and then lack money to buy gas or food? Or keep a bit more of your bucks and have steak at camp a lot further away from home? If you’ve got the coin to do all of that and then some, I applaud you!
Yes, overlanding used to be about exploring places unknown to anyone or travelling thousands of miles with a specific purpose of getting to a new location for business or pleasure purposes. Now it has become about going offroad on a weekend to eat something and take pictures and videos of it. And really, that’s okay. If you have ever knocked someone because it didn’t mean your technical definition of overlanding then look at yourself and think about what really matters. Does it matter if they only camped one night? Does it matter whether they camp at rec area or by a creek in the middle of nowhere? Does it matter if they go to the same place every time or go to a new state each trip? I’ve been guilty of this as well but I have learned that everyone can enjoy overlanding in their own way and the definitions are expanding to include many different things or at least there seem to be different levels now. You’ve got the one nighters that camp somewhere easy to find and popular, the weekenders that camp a couple nights in different locations but usually within a hundred miles or so of home, the overlanders that are moving from state to state for days on end, and the expedition crews that lead cross continental trips for several months. Truly there are many methods to get your exploration fix. Find what suits your life and your budget.
Take those pictures! Record your adventures! There are a lot of people out there who want to experience what you did even in a small way. Remember to capture what you did and where you went. Don’t let the fear of being called an overland hipster or cache (who even uses that word for real?). You did it and you want to share it. No problem there. Be responsible with it however and try not to spam your content everywhere on the internet. That will for sure turn people away. But please do find some groups that genuinely enjoy what you do and encourage others to do the same. Photos and videos are a great story telling tool as well. You can relive your trip time and time again while looking through your captures. Sometimes it takes you right back to the trail in an instant. I can’t tell you how many times a week I slide through my photo library or watch some Youtube videos that Matt and I have created.
Lastly I would just like to say this: Don’t be dramatic. You’re going to get things wrong and you are going to be corrected. You are going to do big, amazing things that no one thinks is nearly as cool as you do. You’re going to make some awesome memories that only you cherish and some might think they’re silly. At the end of the day, learn from what you do wrong and make sure you are having fun while doing the right thing. You will not be friends with everyone but that’s what is so great about the overland community. There is a group out there just right for your type of adventures and it won’t take long to find them if you put yourself out there. You’ll have those that try to suck the joy out of everything. Push past that. This hobby or lifestyle has so much to enjoy. Don’t waste your time meandering through the trenches of definition warfare. Do your thing and share it with the world.
I’m going to give you 3 goals of mine to get that overland itch scratched this year, and I am hoping to do these things in 2020.
First, explore 10 new places in your state. This can be a state park, a national forest trail, or any other non-developed remote region within the state you currently live in. Unless you live in Rhode Island, chances are you have thousands of square miles just overflowing with spectacular new-to-you areas.
Second, spend one week living out of your vehicle in another state. I’m going to Colorado this summer and plan to camp at least 5 nights under the mile high sky. After a trip like that you will find within yourself an outdoorsman, an offroader, a happy camper, or an explorer. Maybe all of them get rolled up into the overlander that you want to be. There is a key and you will find it. Hopefully I can make that distinction myself this year.
Third, learn to cook with minimal outdoor accessories at least once a week even at home. If you do not conquer this skill your overland experience will dwindle. I don’t mean a 3 course meal, I mean something hearty and quick that is delicious as something you can cook at home on the stove. Steak, chili, chicken, squash, deserts, you name it. Just do it. And do it regularly so that you learn the wrong ways and the right ways to do it.
What does overlanding mean to me? The adventure of driving, camping, cooking, exploring, thriving, and learning about myself all wrapped up into a weekend.