Breaking Down the Overlanding Scene

You’re familiar with overlanding by now. Really, how could you not be? The automotive aftermarket’s most recent darling has been flooding the marketplace, with numerous companies itching to get a piece of the action. YouTube and Instagram are practically littered with self-proclaimed overlanders who garner varying degrees of fame for their go-anywhere spirit and irreverent, fresh outlook on all-things travel. But amid this trendy boom, it occurred to us that many people aren’t entirely sure what overlanding actually is. Nor do they quite grasp how it differs from comparable activities, like off-roading and adventure camping.

Do you know the difference between overlanders and off-roaders?
Jeff and Melissa Sikes from Expedition Essentials

We decided to go directly to the source. Mike Hallmark, International Sales and Marketing Manager at Hellwig Products, helped flesh out the real meaning and motivation behind the movement, which is less about the destination and more about the journey, if you ask him. Why Hallmark? Because not only does he represent a well-respected company that produces various load control and suspension products to meet the rigorous demands of overlanders, but he’s also one himself. With over 15 years of experience in the lifestyle and a seasoned Land Rover as his trusty steed, Hallmark has the benefit of saying that he’s been part of action before it was “cool.”

Do You Have What It Takes?

Make no mistake about it, business in the overlanding market is currently BOOMING. Though, it’s important to note the overlanding culture was around long before it was deemed the next big thing in the aftermarket. A true crusade of wrenchers and explorers laid the framework for its explosion in popularity, and it’s high time we learn more about who these people are. “It’s tough to put people in a box,” says Hallmark, “but yes, you definitely must have an adventurous soul and a very open mind to go overlanding.”

True overlanding, especially into different countries—second-, third-world countries, countries that are engulfed in war—requires skill, ingenuity, and mindfulness that most don’t possess.

Full Time Adventurers

According to Hallmark, the survivalist aspect is what separates overlanding from off-roading—terminology that outsiders tend to mistakenly use interchangeably. “Overlanders (mechanically skilled to face any adversity on the trail) outfit their vehicle to be prepared for the worst situations—but mindfully try not to get into the worst situations,” he says. Off-roaders are primarily in search of a trail or a place to crawl and flex their suspension, an experience that no doubt includes carrying gear and doing some light adventure camping. But overall, their excursions are generally getaways, not regular obstacles as a part of everyday life.

An overlanding vehicle, on the other hand, serves a far broader purpose. It is still very much an off-road-ready vehicle, of course, but “when overlanding, your vehicle is typically your home. That is your everything vehicle,” asserts Hallmark. “The difference between an off-roader and an overlander is the latter is going to do it full-time, essentially, if they are a true overland adventurer or explorer,” says Hallmark. “You gave up—if it’s for months, if it’s for years, whatever you’re doing—you gave up your normal livelihood, your normal house, and you outfitted this vehicle to be what you live out of and travel in…. An overlander [vehicle] is typically, a person’s say all, be all. That is their house, their off-road vehicle, their bedroom, and their kitchen,” adds Hallmark.

True overlanders are full-time explorers. Their vehicle is their everything--home, bedroom, kitchen, etc...
From HerbivoreExplorer.com

Passion Doesn’t Always Come Cheap

Hallmark acknowledges that even for those who aren’t buying in to the trend, the true lifestyle is still expensive. “You have to have some funds to feed the beast,” he says. “You have to pay for the fuel and the maintenance. You have to have a passport. You have to have all these different things to truly go out and overland and not be reliant on a 9:00 to 5:00 job, because your lifestyle is going out and exploring the world your way, on the unbeaten path… with no clock to punch.”

Some overlanders opt for a more abbreviated version of the lifestyle.

He suggests that perhaps this is why some pseudo-overlanders opt for an abbreviated version of such an escapist lifestyle. “Some people … the best way they can express or get a taste of that freedom is to outfit their vehicle in the same fashion,” he explains. Then they take their rig and head out for a week or weekend, engaging in an experience that falls somewhere between overlanding and self-sustainable adventure camping.

What Makes An Overlanding Vehicle?

For those up to the challenge, the aftermarket is bursting with products to turn that ride into a roving home. There are a litany of differences that separate the off-roading and overlanding communities, and a host of different products for each and their respective purposes. Much of it is useful, and some of it is pure frivolity. Hallmark jokingly likes to refers to the new throngs of overlanders as “over-loaders.”

“Hanging poop is what I call it,” Hallmark chuckles, referencing the common occurrence of overlanding newbies to adorn their rides with every unnecessary doodad available. “A true overlander outfits their vehicle with the right and essential tools to get out of a worst-case scenario, and nothing more. You don’t just hang as much on the side of the vehicle as you possibly can, so people go, ‘Wow, you have a lot of cool stuff.’ Overlanders have to get resourceful with where they put their things, so there’s no room for extra stuff and extra weight.” The mark of a true overlander, like Hallmark, is determining which modifications are absolutely necessary.

From trusted builds to essential gear, intelligent upgrades to trail experiences—we’ll be covering all the bases as time goes on. But first, we must run down what is important to a real overlander, and what specs are absolutely necessary for success.

Tires

The importance of the proper tires cannot be overstated. Everything, quite literally, is riding on them. Mud terrains are favored by serious off-road crawlers. And depending on the environment, these may be right for an overlanding excursion as well. Trips to wetter parts of the globe may benefit from mud frames, while many overlanders appreciate the quiet ride (comparatively) and versatility that all-terrains offer.

“If some of your overlanding is going to be hard packed dirt roads, or you’re even on asphalt or maintained roads, (though some may be very poorly maintained), an all-terrain tire may be best, because you have more tread, more rubber making contact on your contact surface than others,” says Hallmark. Comparatively, if you’re traveling through central South America or even an East Coast overland trip, you’re in a wetter environment. “It’s a lot muddier, so yes, a mud terrain tire is better, because you need maximum traction for the situation you’re in,” he adds.

Suspension

Needless to say, when hauling everything one needs to survive at all times, weight management is never far from an overlander’s mind. While off-roaders may be more concerned with ground clearance and inches of articulation, the overlander is more concerned with a balanced load that isn’t going to roll around the first corner.

Some off-road specs are great, of course, but heavy-duty springs and shocks that can support a greater weight load—as opposed to those designed to improve rock-crawling geometry—are much preferred. And a good, heavy duty shock with a smooth ride is highly valued. “They [overlanders] are not necessarily looking for shocks that have 36 inches of articulation or travel,” explains Hallmark. “They need enough travel in their shocks to basically maintain what the spring is, or make sure that the vehicle can get over certain obstacles…. They’re looking for a smoother ride, because they’re living in this vehicle. So, a stronger spring to manage the weight, to keep the ride height where it’s supposed to be without compromising ride quality,” adds Hallmark.

Overlanders need a stronger spring to manage the weight, to keep the ride height where it's supposed to be without compromising ride quality.
Bryon Dorr from Exploring Elements

Hallmark’s advice? If you’re operating a true overland rig, one that will see remote locations where breaking down means real dangers, he recommends ” heavier duty springs, or steel helper springs to maintain proper ride height. Steel components are less susceptible to failure while off road compared to air springs,” he clarifies. Although Hellwig Offers both solutions.

Ground Clearance

The same ethos goes for a ride’s lift: moderation. While six extra inches of ground clearance is great for crawlers, that’s just an increased chance of tipping over to an overlander. Hallmark reminds us that since many overlanders are placing their gear on a roof rack, “They’re putting the weight in the absolute worst place possible, which is as high as possible.” Therefore, a mild lift, that allows for opportune clearance and appropriate tires while not compromising the rig’s center of gravity, is what the true overlander is after.

Overlanders battling that extra weight should also consider a sway bar upgrade, advises Hallmark. “Which is where I come in at Hellwig, because we support that,” he says. “We reduce body roll, providing a more controlled and comfortable driving experience.”

Lighting

Without a shadow of a doubt, you’re going to rely on powerful, durable lighting options. And that’s especially true if the overland journey includes evening travel and dark trails that require additional illumination. There are countless options from which to choose, from the forever dependable Rigid Industries to Vision-X, but one name that has us intrigued is Xray Vision. Based “Down Under,” this Australian company is making a name for itself using die-cast alloys, stainless steel, and a virtually unbreakable polycarbonate to ensure product longevity.

Xray Vision sets itself apart from the competition with exclusive Quad-Optic LED Multiplexer Projection Technology. Basically, four individual optical components gather and project light from high-powered LEDs, rather than scattering that light from a single shallow reflector. This means you can see farther and clearer, even in the most rugged terrain. So, while they look like a traditional lightbar, they actually offer better visibility, a sleeker design, and a lower profile—a perfect option for overlanders. 

Gear

And when it comes to gear? “Overlanders need to be self sufficient, self reliant,” says Hallmark. So key essentials will include equipment to both keep and prepare food (maybe even a place to sit and eat at); a place to sleep, like a tent, hammock, or bed (typically out of the weather); a method for maintaining personal hygiene, like a portable potty and shower facility; and basic tools to diagnose (and hopefully repair) any unexpected hiccups.

Additionally, Hallmark stresses the importance of safety when out in the wild. “You definitely have to be very mindful, very resourceful, to be able to get out of almost any situation possible. But there are some things you flat-out can’t fix.” That’s why, much like off-roading, this is an undertaking best experienced with a partner. And even then, some form of communication with the outside world is a worthwhile investment.

“Have a way to always be able to contact the rest of the world, so if you get in dire straights, you could get some help,” says Hallmark. “Know the area you’re going into. If it’s an area that’s still running CB (citizen band) and you have a good transmitter and network, cool. If not? Get your ham radio or satellite phone. Make sure you have a good reach on people, and you know what channels to communicate on.”

Going Mainstream

Overlanding is more popular than it has ever been. And with its growing place in the aftermarket and on social media, it only stands to get bigger still. Many seasoned overlanders are proud to see their pastime swell and stretch towards the mainstream. There is, however, a certain cringe factor induced when one sees their passion watered down for mass consumption, but Hallmark is able to make the distinction between the overlanding culture and the overlanding market.

“The scene of overlanding, yes, it has hit critical mass; it has become a cool thing,” he says. “I’ve been doing it for 15 years, roughly. It’s not just a lifestyle, where you actually immerse yourself into overlanding. It’s also a style that you can easily emulate by outfitting your vehicle in that fashion.” No different than what we’ve seen on the JK scene for years. (In the immortal words of non-overlander George Michael, “Sometimes the clothes do not make the man,” but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear clothes. Just have some substance beneath the wardrobe.)

Some overlanders emulate the lifestyle more than they truly live it.
Some overlanders work harder at emulating the lifestyle than living it.

“You’re going to get stuck, that’s a fact of life,” admits Hallmark. “Things are going to break, that’s a fact of life. How you deal with those issues and get out of it is going to determine whether you continue your experience, your adventure, your expedition—or if you have to button it up and go home.” There is definite skill involved in overlanding and much of it is acquired over time. But above all, it’s a mindset to overcome and forge on.

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