Reviews of the Best Overland Vehicles – Tips, Specs, Photos
On the pages of our online magazine, we publish feature stories and overviews of the best overland vehicles, expedition trucks, adventure mobiles and SUV. Our editors keep the hand on the pulse of this movement to bring you the feature stories about the world’s best overland projects built by outdoor enthusiasts and professional adventurers from all over the world. Learn from their experience, to build your own ultimate adventure vehicle.
What is that that makes us leave our comfort zones and get out to the wild places, explore remote paths and enjoy untouched nature. Perhaps it’s something that lays in our DNA, something that we inherited from our ancestors, that still runs in our veins and makes our minds strive to the freedom.
Luckily today, thanks to the technological and economic progress, just about anyone can feel himself in a skin of adventurer and set off to a road trip to faraway lands. All you need is a car and a couple of more things to help you on your journey. So the vehicle itself and the things that you take with you on your journey define how far can you go and how long can you stay there, and these are the two of the most important key points of any outdoor expedition travel planning.
OFF-ROAD CAPABILITY – HOW FAR CAN YOU GO?
Every travel is different, but it certainly depends on your vehicle whether you’re going to make it to your destination and back. Your car must have a certain number of features that are critically important for every successful outdoor travel. Off-road capability is one the first things that comes to the mind when we think about the unpaved roads, narrow forest trails, rocky terrain and deep water crossings, so let’s take a look at what lays behind this term.
Four wheel drive is a ground principal of all vehicles designed to be driven safely on anything other than the concrete roads. According to Wikipedia, this term refers to a two-axled vehicle drivetrain capable of providing torque to all its wheels simultaneously. The first four-wheel drive vehicles appeared in the first part of the XX century, but only after WWII they’ve become widely spread in the general marketplace. This technology evolved with time, so many modern cars are now equipped with different variations of this drivetrain type, such as AWD, 4WD and 4×4. Low range of gears, limited slip differential and differential lockers are common elements of the most four-wheel drive systems as they define the vehicle’s behavior on the off-road terrain. It is very important to select a vehicle properly basing on the type of terrain that you can possibly meet in your future travels. If one-foot deep quicksand or a deep snow can immobilize an AWD crossover like a Mitsubishi Outlander, then a 4×4 JEEP Cherokee XJ with lockers and a low range of gears can handle it with ease.
Traction is everything for any overland and expedition vehicle, and tires are directly responsible for it. Properly selected tires can make a big difference in the off-road behavior of any vehicle. Sand, Mud, Snow, Ice and Rocks have different physical qualities that affect the traction, so it is very important to pick an appropriate type of tires for your environment. A/T all-terrain and M/T Mud terrain tires are the most common, but there are advanced sand, snow, ice and super swamper tires for the most extreme types of terrain. Find out how to choose the right A/T or M/T tires for your vehicle here.
The distance from the ground to the lowest point on the chassis of a car defines the height of the obstacles it can go over, so the road clearance is another critical element of an overland vehicle.
If the stock height of your Land Rover or Toyota Truck is not enough for you, it can easily be changed with a help of an aftermarket suspension lift kit. Nowadays it’s not hard to get any kind of lift for an SUV or 4×4, starting from minimal 1” leveling kits up to insane 8” and even 10” suspension lift systems.
Approach and departure angles
Front and rear bumper overhangs also define the height and shape of the obstacles on your way that could be overcome by your vehicle. Aftermarket steel bumper not only allows to improve the approach and departure angles of your truck or SUV, but also helps to toughen up the contact points on the body and avoid damage and repairs. Rock sliders will take care of protecting the wheelbase.
OVERLAND EQUIPMENT AND GEAR
Maintaining autonomous living in a remote location is the main objective of every outdoor expedition, so it’s critically important to equip your vehicle accordingly. There are many aspects you should take care of beforehand to make your journeys comfortable. It is not necessary to load your vehicle with all the overland gear from the catalogs or online magazines. Carefully think over your future travel and ask yourself what exactly are you going to need. Below is the list of common things that you should take care when preparing for an off-road trip or overland expedition.
Even the best 4×4 can sometimes get stuck, so it’s important to prepare a recovery kit that will help you to get out from an off-road
trap. Winch, high lift jack, sand tracks, shovels along with various straps, ropes and shackles can help out even if you travel all alone. If you have concerns about the reliability of your rig it would be a good idea to grab some tools and a couple of spare parts that may help you to fix basic mechanical problems on the go.
Navigation and Communication
Thanks to the GPS and various maps it’s now possible to find any remote location and safely find your way out, so if you don’t want to use old-school methods of on-spot navigations used by our ancestors – get a proper GPS unit and load up to date maps to avoid the risk of getting lost in the middle of nowhere. Keep in mind that a cellular connection may not be available in remote locations, so a radio may be your only mean of communication, of course, if you don’t have a satellite phone.
To ensure the proper operation of the above-mentioned devices, and other electronics on board you have to take care of the proper amount of power. Keep in mind that extensive use of the stock 12V power plug in your vehicle can drain your battery pretty fast, which can lead to serious consequences. There is a wide choice of battery solutions on the market so you can opt to a high capacity battery, dual battery setup, additional solar batteries, inverters and many other options to maintain a proper balance of power aboard. If you afraid of getting stuck because of a dead battery you should consider getting a portable jump starter. These devices look just like small power banks for your gadgets and have plenty of power to jump start even the big V8 and Diesel engines a couple of times per one charge.
Food Preparation and Storage
If you calculated the fuel consumption basing on the daily mileage of your four-wheel friend, you should do the same thing for yourself and your companions and prepare enough food for all days of your expedition. Propane outdoor stoves and burners can really ease your life and help you to cook faster without the need of making a firepit unless you really want to, however unlike the above cooking devices, nothing can substitute the fridge especially when it’s hot outside. Prepare a portable fridge with the sufficient volume and forget about the risk of wasting your provision.
Sleeping and Recreation
Properly organized camping spot and the sleeping place is a key to a pleasant time being. If you don’t want to organize a sleeping place in the outdoor tent you can transfer it to your vehicle. Fold the back seats in an SUV or a station wagon and you will get a perfect warm sleeping platform for two people. If the arranged floor area is not flat, it may be a good idea to custom build a podium. Soft sleeping bags and an inflatable mattress can really add up to the comfort and make it just as good as a bed in a five-star hotel room. The only thing that you should take care of with this configuration is a place to store your luggage, and a roof rack is a perfect solution for it.
If setting up a sleeping place inside of your car looks like a too much hassle for you, or your SUV doesn’t have a sufficient amount of space on the back you can opt to a roof mount foldable tent that can house up to 3-4 people and be set up within minutes. It’s got many benefits, in compare with a regular ground-based tent, for example:
- it’s very fast and easy to set, so you can easily move from one location to another without packing and unpacking;
- there is no risk of getting flooded
- in the rain;
- It’s relatively more warm and safe;
- it’s harder for animals to break in.
- it’s compact and allows to arrange a permanent storage in the cargo area of your SUV without the need of taking out everything again and again.
If you are a truck owner you can set up a sleeping place in the bed of your truck. There are many solutions for this purpose and some of the most convenient options are the truck bed campers and truck bed camper shells (also known as truck cap o topper).
Truck bed camper provides all the benefits of the RV and easily turns your pickup truck in a mobile apartment on wheels with all necessary kitchen appliance, storage, sleeping place and even a bathroom. Truck bed campers are pretty heavy and mostly being installed on the full-size trucks like Chevy Silverado, RAM or Ford F-Series trucks. Climbing in the mountains with one of such things in your bed can be a real challenge though.
Picture credit: IG pnw_toytacoma
Camper shell seamlessly fits with the body of the truck without adding too much weight and offers lockable door and windows. The advantages of this setup are: it’s completely weatherproof, relatively warm and very convenient. Plus you can attach a roof rack over it and store your gear or even additional rooftop tent.
Soft truck bed tent is another great solution to turn your truck bed in a mobile home. Some tents require assembling every time you are setting up a camp just like the regular ground-based touristic tents, other tents are designed to be foldaway to ease up the setup process. If you think about driving with the soft bed tent up, then we must warn you that it is a bad idea, because it can easily fly off or even tear apart just like a parachute.
Every time you’re getting ready for a trip you need to prepare a sufficient amount of freshwater for drinking, cooking, and washing. There are many solutions for that starting with small water canisters and up to complete overland travel plumbing systems with the roof mount tanks, hoses, showers, and other plumbing. It’s up to you to decide whether you need it or not, but a convenient water supply system will save you a lot of time and efforts when you’re out in the wild.
Top 11 best overland vehicles that you can count on
Since we went over the key aspects of the overland and expeditions vehicles you have a good understanding of what do we actually need from a vehicle to serve this purpose.
Here is our own view at the top 10 best overland vehicles regardless of the class. We realize that this list may be different for everybody, but we tried to pick the most versatile vehicles of all classes with good off-road characteristics.
- FORD E-Series Van with a four-wheel drive.
- Toyota Land Cruiser FJ60 – 200-Series
- Toyota Tacoma
- Toyota 4Runner
- Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
- Land Rover Defender
- Toyota FJ-Cruiser
- Chevy Suburban
- Ford F250
- Jeep Grand Cherokee
- Subaru Outback
Every travel is different and so are the requirements for the vehicles. If you are a binner and looking to start your first outdoor trip to common touristic places, you may not even need a big 4×4 vehicle. A regular station wagon or even a well-equipped hatchback will satisfy all your needs. If you’re an experienced traveler and you’re preparing to set off to remote places with the complex terrain you may need something more sophisticated. Keeping that in mind we decided to arrange our own classification of the vehicle classes that can be used for outdoor travels and overlanding:
|OVERLAND ADVENTURE VEHICLE CLASS||COMMON MODELS|
|AWD Hatchbacks||Subaru Impreza Wagon, Subaru XV|
|AWD Station Wagons||Audi Allroad, Mercedes E-Class 4-Matic, Subaru Outback, Volvo XC70|
|AWD Crossovers||Honda CR-V, Honda Pilot, Jeep Cherokee, Toyota RAV4|
|Offroad SUV and Trucks||Jeep Wrangler, Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Tacoma,|
|Classic 4x4 Trucks and SUV||Land Rover Defender, Toyota FJ50, International Scout|
|4x4 Minivans and Vans||FORD E-Series, Chevy Express, Mercedes Sprinter|
|Custom Truck Based RV||Earthroamer and Similar|
We hope that our article has given you an understanding of basic things that you need to keep in mind if you want to enter the world of motor-assisted travels. Don’t be afraid to start, it’s not a science, rather the questions of common sense. The travels are what makes us breath free and live happily, so we highly encourage you to leave your comfort zone and start exploring. Prepare your perfect overland vehicle and set off for a trip!