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Overlanding vs Off-Roading. What’s the difference? [Explained]

If you’re new to overlanding, then one of the first questions asked is how is to compare overlanding vs off-roading? I think that’s a fair question to ask and it really helps to understand the different “philosophies” between the two types of driving.

Overlanding vs Off-Roading

Lets start with a few basic definitions of overlanding and off-roading and then we can get into the differences and similarities between the two?

What is Overlanding?

I wrote about “What is Overlanding” in a previous post, but to summarize, “overlanding” is considered a longer journey by either motorcycle, car, truck or SUV over sometimes unimproved roads. Overlanding is more of a journey and true overlanding is the experiences formed during that travel and not so much focused on the destination or the technical aspects of the trail or road.

I consider overlanding to be more of the “zen” approach to travel. Its the process of being about to deal with whatever comes your way and a self-reliance of unfettered and sometimes unplanned travel.

Overlanding is typically considers a longer trip that can last several days, weeks or if you’re traversing the Pan American route from Alaska to Argentina, you can measure time in months or years.

Overlanding has a history of traveling long distances and being self-supported. From the outback of Australia to the continent-crossing travels from Egypt to South Africa or trekking 19,000 miles down the Pan-American Highway, overlanding is the long-term adventure and exploration of our world in a different way

What is Off-Roading?

off-roading jeep

I have always looked as “off-roading” as a more general term for getting off pavement with a vehicle. While off-roading trips can also turn into days or weeks, most off-roading tends to be shorter day trips focused on technical terrain and can usually require a heavily modified off-road vehicle if you want to tackle some of the more challenging off-road terrain like the Rubicon Trail in Northern California or the slick rocks of Moab, Utah.

from YouTube

Off-roading usually focuses on the driving skill and technique and isn’t so much focused on the other aspects of the journey. I’m not saying that’s anything wrong with off-roading, I total enjoy taking on some technical 4×4 trails. But I find at least for me, off-roading doesn’t really allow me to completely unplug from the modern world. At least for me, its a little too “objective” driven. Worrying about crawling over that last rock, planning the correct descent down a steep hill, and on-and-on.

Off-roading often times is about pushing the limits not only of the driver, but of the vehicle as well. That’s why you’ll often see expensive custom Jeeps or other off-road vehicles featured prominently in off-roading magazines.

Overlanding doesn’t have to require an expensive customization of your vehicle. In some cases, even just an all-wheel drive vehicle with decent clearance is enough to get started with overlanding.

Land Rover LR3 overlanding in the Eastern Sierras

For me, when I bought my 2008 Land Rover LR3, I knew that overlanding was something I wanted to discover and explore. There is something about following in the tire tracks of fellow Land Rover owners that traveled the African continent that holds a certain amount of historical and romantic appeal.

Sometimes I just want to disconnect, unplug and enjoy the outdoors and have some solitude and freedom and that’s where I believe overlanding offers a unique opportunity to experience that freedom.

Final thoughts on overlanding vs off-roading

So comparing overlanding vs off-roading, while the two are not mutually exclusive, I think that overlanding offers a much deeper appreciation for the world around me.

And it’s that appreciation that made me start this website on overlanding, to be able to share my journey and hopefully connect with like-minded overlanding enthusiasts.