As the age-old maxim says, “it’s not about the destination, but rather the journey." If that’s true, and if you’re a gearhead, there’s no more satisfying way to journey than via expedition-ready rig. And as manufacturers continue to offer up more and more off-road-ready vehicles straight from the factory, the call of the off-road trip grows louder, and adventure arrives more easily.
If you’re ready to answer the call, there are a few things you should put on your shopping list. Aside from your basic camping gear, essential survival tools and standard vehicle maintenance essentials, you’ll also want to make sure you have an array of gear that will keep you high and dry (in a good way) and your truck or SUV from getting stranded. The list quickly becomes expensive, but it’s better to invest now than be stuck later.
This basic guide to gear isn't comprehensive, of course. Part of the fun of the hobby is the continuous refinement of one's kit: adding new gadgets and piece of equipment; swapping out entry-level gear for items designed for more experienced users as you gain confidence; finding better, higher-quality versions of supplies than you started out with. Still, the products here and the categories below should serve as an excellent starting point, giving you a chance to dip your toe (or heck, even your whole foot) into the off-road camping pool.
Tents for Overlanding, Rooftop or Otherwise
With a closed height of just 8.5 inches, the Low-Pro is, as far as rooftop tents are concerned, low profile. That helps you save on gas while minimizing the lift-off effect a rooftop tent can have on a small car rolling down the interstate. Tepui’s tent is relatively light, at 105 pounds, and uses the same mechanism to transform its clamshell design into a fully deployed shelter — you pry it open by using the telescoping ladder.
The ultra-clever trick the Condor pulls is how it unfolds its “wings.” Like most hardshell designs, it pops up, but the lid forms one wall (very much like the iKamper Skycamp Mini). From that position, the tent unfurls like a soft clamshell design. This makes the Condor and Condor XL absolutely huge inside — over seven feet across when open.
Interior height is also maxed-out at 50 inches, and the weight is reasonable too: 135 pounds for the smaller unit, and 160 pounds for the XL. There’s also a zip-open skylight for stargazing. Another bonus is a hardshell lid that lets you rack other gear on top, like kayaks, bikes, or skis.
At just 101 pounds, the two-person Yakima Skyrise HD is light for this breed and is the most “tentlike” of rooftop units in this guide — by which we mean, it has a domed shape that allows you to sit up comfortably once inside.
The clever opening system — you use the ladder as a giant pry bar to unfurl the unit and get it set up — is the same as several other clamshell designs in this guide. It’s a slight chore to anchor the rainfly, but ultimately not that challenging. However, if you want to use the tent’s top window for stargazing or to stand up through it (which is handy for getting dressed), you’ll have to remove the rainfly and gamble that no thunderheads roll in overnight.
One of the best parts of overlanding is that, unlike hiking or mountain biking, you're completely protected from the elements — which means winter is just another season to hit the nonexistent road. Of course, you'll need to sleep sometime — and when you do, a good four-season tent like this two-person model from MSR is the perfect place to lay your head.
The Best Tires for Overlanding
The BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 makes for one hell of a winter tire, but its off-road accolades are not to be forgotten. The BFG All-Terrain tire was the original all-terrain tire and has remained a favorite since its debut in late ’70s. The latest generation combines both on-road manners and off-road capability with a sturdy sidewall construction and long-lasting tread.
Off-Road Accessories for an Overlanding Adventure
The value of a good winch is immeasurable, and WARN has been making some of the finest recreational off-road winches since 1959. The M8000 has become a mainstay in the off-road community for decades for its value, effectiveness and simplicity. WARN suggests you pick a winch with 1.5 times the pulling capacity as your vehicle’s GVWR, so while the M8000 is great for smaller off-roaders like the Jeep Wrangler or Nissan Xterra, if you’re driving something a bit more burly you should consider jumping up in capacity.
Your winch won’t do you much good if you don’t have the right accessories. This kit from WARN comes with everything you need: D-shackles, a tree protector, a 30-foot tow strap, a snatch block, gloves and a heavyweight bag with room for more winching accessories you amass over the years.
Because you won’t want to run on deflated tires for the entirety of your journey, you’ll want to add an air compressor to your shopping list as well. This unit (also from ARB) is light, compact and can be easily installed under the hood of your truck or SUV
If you need to tackle terrain at night, you’ll want as much visibility as you can get. KC has long been a go-to for off-roaders in need of a little more light, and their LED option should not disappoint — they’ll give you the extra visibility you need to see upcoming obstacles without drawing much power from your vehicle.
We’ll let Expedition Portal explain at great length why the Hi-Lift Jack is one of the most important pieces of equipment to have on an overland trip, but it boils down to this: in addition to being used as a jack, it can be used as a heavy-duty clamp, as well as a “come-along” for winching your vehicle out of trouble in case your winch is out of commission.
There’s an old trick that you can use some old carpet or your car’s floor mats to get unstuck in the snow and ice. The MaxTrax uses the same principle of temporary traction but is more durable in case you get stuck in something more harrowing than a little snow and ice.
Lightweight, compact and sturdy, this folding survival shovel from Gerber is ideal for digging your way out of sticky situations without taking up too much room in your truck or SUV.
Aside from basic fire-building duties at camp, a good hatchet will be useful for clearing any fallen trees and excessive vines on the trail. This option from Husqvarna is compact, lightweight and is made from hand-forged steel and a hickory handle. In a pinch, the flat side of the head can be used as a hammer.
Navigation & Communication Equipment for Overlanding
Magellan has been in the GPS game for 30 years, but the TRX7 is the brand’s first foray into hardcore 4×4 navigation. It comes preloaded with maps, over 44,000 off-road trails from National Parks and public lands as well as other points of interest. In addition, it allows you to record your own trails and data (which Magellan also uses to improve its maps) and see ratings of trails from other explorers, who can log information like incline difficulties and the depths of water crossings.
Getting to the campsite is only half the adventure. Hiking, mountain biking and kayaking all await once you get there, but when you leave your base camp, it’s always a good idea to have a line of communication open. The Midland Midland MXT115 2-Way Radio keeps a line open with the walkies you brought and even has NOAA weather channels with alert and weather scan to keep you informed and ready.
While it’s a good idea to have your overland rig outfitted with a HAM Radio, as a backup or last resort, a personal locator beacon (PLB) is a no-brainer. While it lacks the messaging service of higher-cost PLB devices, the McMurdo Fast Find is simple, and will alert a search-and-rescue team via COSPAS-SARSAT of your location within minutes of activating.