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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.

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What is Overlanding?

What is overlanding?

Overlanding or overland travel has become more popular in the United States over the last two decades. However there still some confusion on what overlanding is and how overlanding compares to off-roading.

Overlanding is any type of long-distance, self-reliant travel in a vehicle, mostly on unimproved or unpaved roads. Overlanding can be by motorcycle, car, truck, SUV or a custom off-road vehicle. Most overlanding is through remote areas, but usually with a destination in mind.

Overlanding in a vehicle is the historical progression of the long trade routes followed by merchants and explores along the Silk Route or Road from China through the Middle East to Europe, early travel through the Outback in Australia. Overlanding follows the original adventurers that were traversing in a Land Rover across the African safaris and deserts from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa or driving the Pan-American route from Prudhoe Bay Alaska across and through North, Central and South America to its southern end in Ushuaia, Argentina.

Overlanding is about the spirit of exploration and self-reliance, of slowing down and taking time to enjoy the journey. Overlanding is tapping into your underlying sense of adventure and discovering the road less travelled.

Combine traveling down fire roads or old forgotten dirt roads with outdoor camping in the vast open spaces of the backcountry and you have the essence of overlanding. Its tapping into your ability to rely on yourself and your resilience in handling whatever unforeseen issues come your way.

Overlanding is about unplugging from the typical non-stop distractions of 21st-century life and slowing down to enjoy nature and get back in touch with your inner self, the part of you passed down generation to generation by the rugged lovers of the Australian Outback and African Serengeti.

Somewhere in the Eastern Sierras with the Land Rover LR3

Overlanding doesn’t have to be a months or year long journey across several continents as you deal with vehicle breakdowns, unpredictable weather and road conditions. Overlanding can start with just a day-long or weekend-long escape into the local backcountry.

Overlanding doesn’t require an extensive and expensive upgrades to your vehicle to start. Many of the shorter land roving routes in the United States are dirt fire roads that a stock SUV or pickup truck should be able to handle.

Overlanding and off-roading sometimes get used interchangeably, but the big difference between off-roading vs overlanding is more to due with the experience and not so much the technical aspects of off-roading.

Throw your tent, sleeping bag as well as extra water and a camping stove and you can get started with overlanding on a minimal budget.

As you get more experience with overlanding and roving the outdoor road system, you can add upgrades to your vehicle with better tires, upgrading the suspension and adding a roof top tent and roof racks.

If you’re new to overloading and want to find out more, check out our list of beginner overlanding YouTube channels.