A couple weeks back we highlighted some of the best rides fit for adventure-seeking (find that list here). Now we’re back with Part 2 of the back-road rigs that check all the boxes for durability, capability, reliability, and cost-effectiveness. In no special order, here are the final five overlanding vehicles that’ll make your fingers itch to grip the wheel and hit the back roads.
And the (remaining) nominees are…
7.) Toyota 4Runner (1984-2009)
While early models are already into their thirties with kids and a mortgage, the Toyota 4Runner can still party like a college girl in her prime. Dependable and hardy, with decent used models available for around $10,000, this overlanding rig fits the bill.
The 4Runner is a competent driver on pavement or rough roads. It offers a comfortable and safe ride without the extra bells and whistles. Earlier models are praised for their power and simplicity, as well as their capability for off-road adventures even in stock condition. And like the Land Cruiser, they have the respect that comes with the Toyota name. Which is why many of them are still holding their value three decades later.
Their interior storage and payload capacity aren’t the best. So if you’re planning some heavy traveling for this overlanding vehicle, then invest in upgraded leaf springs, sway/load control, good shocks and proper cargo solutions to ensure a safe and reliable long-distance excursion.
8.) Essentially Any 4×4 Truck
This may seem like we’re cheating a little here. But it just doesn’t make sense to pick only one truck when so many are remarkably suited for overlanding. Mid-size, full-size or heavy-duty, these rigs are built for handling rough terrain and heavy payload capacity. Obviously, the bigger the truck the more bed space there is to haul all your gear and supplies. But many small pick-ups are just as effective and are often better-suited for tighter trails.
Regardless the class, trucks offer unique aftermarket potential to truly customize any adventure expedition. Lance cab campers, Pittman Outdoors AirBedz and raised tents all offer great sleeping options. And brands like ARB, Smittybilt, KargoMaster, WARN, and Bilstein make that truck not just overland-ready but exceptionally off-road capable as well.
Mid-size trucks like the Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma, and Chevy Silverado are all common options. They’ve each proved their worth in various ways and can be had for a respectable price on the used market.
9.) Jeep Wrangler Unlimited JK (2007-present)
Were you starting to worry we’d left this guy out? The first four-door in Wrangler’s history to offer the same toughness and credibility of the beloved two-door with more passenger space and comfort, cargo room, and payload? Of course it’s on our list.
The Wrangler platform may have its shortcomings, but swagger ain’t one of them. It’s got grit and authenticity and the ability to go full Jurassic Park with the top off and no doors. And in addition to being just plain cool, the Unlimited offers an almost overwhelming amount of aftermarket potential as well as access to a truly incredible community of enthusiasts.
The Unlimited provides a smoother ride than its two-door sibling, but it still isn’t for the casual SUV owner. However, for the free-spirited Jeep lovers who now find themselves needing space on their overlanding expeditions for their free spirited soon-to-be Jeep lovin’ kids? It’s a perfect fit. The Wrangler Unlimited is ready to tour the world, even in stock condition. It makes a trip to the grocery store feel like an adventure. And despite their pricing being unnaturally high regardless of year or mileage, they’re still a worthy investment for anyone looking for an honest to goodness all-American off-roader.
10.) Mercedes G-Wagon (1979-Present)
The Geländewagen is a military-grade, uber competent 4WD SUV that carries all the rakish bravado of a young Errol Flynn (sans green nylons). And it hasn’t changed much since its debut in 1979. It’s got a truly rich history that includes Iranian royalty and the Catholic pope, Hollywood A-listers and an adventurous German man who drove his for over 500,000 miles through 177 countries. The G-series really has almost unparalleled prestige. And while it’s only been available in the US since 2002 (and only in an embarrassingly showy luxury version) many older workhorse models have been imported for years on the gray market.
The G-wagon has a strong frame with solid axles, three locking differentials, plenty of ground clearance, and impressive payload capacity. It’s rugged and inherently off-road capable. But we can’t avoid the fact that it’s boxy and awkward, has crappy ride quality, and nightmarish cornering. And yes, it’s shockingly overpriced and has become associated with the likes of the Kardashians. But if you can get your hands on an older version that stays true to its old-school war-time heritage, you’ll have a serious tool for overlanding. Or hell, if you’ve got the paper, get yourself a fancy G550 and relish in the spectacle you’ll make everywhere you go.
11.) Land Rover Defender (1983-2016)
Oh, the Defender. Offered in America from 1993 to 1997, Land Rover pulled this baby from US markets when airbags became mandated because, well, that just wasn’t cost-effective. Unreliable, uncomfortable, slow, with terribly thought-out features, and dangerous to boot. So why is it on this list? Just look at it! If the Wrangler makes every mundane errand feel like an adventure, the Defender makes a trip to the Piggly Wiggly feel like you traveled via Moab Rim.
It’s unbelievably cool and unique. And its bare-bones simplicity has its merits as an overlanding vehicle. Instead of an expensive trip to the dealership, a Defender could be treated with a hammer and some duct tape. It’s like an old farm dog– loyal and willing, with enough rough edges to make the fun times that much more special. Unlike that working dog, however, these rigs are insanely priced. With their tumultuous history in the US, and the brand being discontinued abroad last year, demand (and prices) have skyrocketed. You’ll be pinching some serious pennies to afford one of these. But if by some wondrous twist of fate you’ve already got one, and you’re interested in entering the overlanding game? Congratulations you’ve already won.
And the winner is…
Hopefully this list proves that you don’t need to spend a fortune or have the highest rated 4×4 to enjoy overlanding. As long as you’re armed with an open mind and a thirst for the unknown, you’re ready for the journey. Well, that and a proper familiarity with the vehicle and route you’ve chosen, as well as a thoughtfully arranged cache of supplies. You don’t need to be waking up stranded in a national forest somewhere nose-to-nose with a hungry and confused wild animal with only a granola bar to defend yourself.
Back woods, cross-country, or deep into the Australian Outback an overlanding journey is yours to design. The whole world is your oyster; now go dig up some pearls.