One of the first questions people have about getting started in Overlanding is wondering “Is Overlanding Dangerous?” Well, it can be, so let’s talk this one out and give you some tips to ensure your first overlanding trip is epic and safe!
Open roads, epic views, self-reliance, and sleeping under the stars in some of the most remote and beautiful corners of our lands, what’s not to love about overlanding? It’s no surprise that people hear about Overlanding and want to dip their toes into this outdoor lifestyle.
When sorting out all the details and routes, researching with YouTube videos, you may notice a theme of seeing really fancy built-up rigs skirting steep mountainside drop-offs. This gets people worried that Overlanding may be too dangerous and rather than take those risky trips, instead just head over to the local KOA and pay for a campsite. Don’t do that, just learn some basics, plan your trip routes and enjoy a new Overlanding adventure without unnecessary risks.
What Actually is Overlanding Anyways?
By the Defenintions, here is what Overlanding is described as:
- Merriam Webster Dictionary: “by, on, or across land” or “going or accomplished over the land instead of by sea”. Well now, that’s rather limited, isn’t it?
- Wikipedia: “Overlanding is self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal. Typically, but not exclusively, it is accomplished with mechanized off-road capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping, often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and spanning international boundaries.” OK, now we’re getting somewhere! That’s a more helpful answer, oddly enough from Wikipedia!
Now, if you venture away from the dictionaries, one of the authorities on overlanding is by a website named Overland Journal, and they have a much better breakdown as cited here:
“Overlanding describes self-reliant adventure travel to remote destinations where the journey is the primary goal. Typically, but not exclusively, accommodated by mechanized off-highway capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping; often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and often spanning international boundaries. While expedition is defined as a journey with a purpose, overlanding sees the journey as the purpose.
Overlanding is about exploration, rather than conquering obstacles. While the roads and trails we travel might be rough or technically challenging, they are the means to an end, not the goal itself. The goal is to see and learn about our world, whether on a weekend trip 100 miles from home or a 10,000-mile expedition across another continent. The vehicle and equipment can be simple or extravagant – they, too, are simply means to an end. History, wildlife, culture, scenery, self-sufficiency – these are the rewards of overlanding. Check out Overland Journal here.
While that’s a good explanation and really put forward the intent behind overlanding, did you catch a few lines in there that don’t add up to what you have been seeing on YouTube? Missed it? I’ll give you a couple here. “where the principal form of lodging is camping; often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and often spanning international boundaries.” Did you catch that? Look, very few of ANY overlanders these days are out for weeks, let alone months or years. Additionally, the vast majority have never crossed an international border. So, from the gate, let’s not get too caught up in the titles, it just causes more confusion.
I think oftentimes, people get so emotionally invested in the gear they have, the time they have spent building up their rig, and the overall love they have for the expedition itself, it makes them a bit over-passionate, if you will. Depending on who you ask, you will get all sorts of answers about what Overlanding actually is. Some people get very offended and others (like me) don’t really care how it’s interpreted, I’d rather see you just get out there and enjoy Overlanding and not worry about the hype.
Ignore the Hype Around Overlanding
I get it, YouTube has some incredibly enticing overlanding videos and one can get overwhelmed pretty fast looking at all the fancy rigs and extra gear. Mix all that with some cinematic drone footage of Black Bear Pass and Jeeps skirting cliffs and you may really start to believe that Overlanding is some cool-guy off-road club. I have some good news! It’s not a cool-guy club and it definitely doesn’t need to be a Hollywood production in the Colorado Backcountry.
Overlanding is for everyone, for every budget, for every vehicle and yes, overlanding is even for you! So, let’s deep dive into the topic of the dangers of overlanding. My buddy Fletch over at All Things Overlanding did a great podcast about this very topic and I thought it really is helpful to the prospective new overlanders out there. This should be mandatory listening for all in this business. Check it out here:
What Factors Make Overlanding Dangerous?
Overlanding itself doesn’t have much danger aside from the same old issues you run into when camping or on a road trip. Concerns like car accidents, breakdowns, predatory animals, etc are all part of just taking a trip or camping. The problems arise when you do more than you should and try things you shouldn’t. I’m saying this in my best dad voice, don’t do anything dumb, and you will know in your heart if it looks dumb. It really falls into these two categories:
- Failing to Plan: If you don’t plan accordingly for issues, then when they arrive, you can expect problems, because the planning and preparation didn’t take place.
- Letting Your EGO Take Over: Know your limits and the limits of your equipment. Thinking you can “make it” over a road obstacle or tight drop off mountain pass gravel road could lead to disaster. If you have concerns about a spot, listen to your gut, avoid unnecessary dangers and find a new route.
Is Overlanding Dangerous?
Yes and No. Don’t you love that answer? I have some good news though! The majority of risks in overlanding are almost all self-imposed and can be mitigated or reduced with planning and knowing your own limits. With proper planning and intentionally avoiding certain dangers, overlanding can be as safe as camping in any other area. Let’s take a look at each of those now.
Knowing Your Limits: It’s vital that you be honest with yourself. Check your ego at the door and go into this with a level head. If you have never been swimming, your first attempt at it should be in the shallow end with a buddy watching just in case things go wrong. Same with overlanding, if you have only camped once, you shouldn’t dive into this on your first trip and be out for weeks at a time, just enter slowly and learn from the short trips, in the beginning, each trip offers some lessons learned and you’re that much better when you head out the next time. Don’t head out on your first trip and tackle a dangerous mountain pass with tight switchbacks and steep drop-offs, that IS dangerous and you could quite literally die, so there’s that.
Overland Safety Planning and Contingencies
Planning Your Trip: Any good trip starts with planning, and that applies to overlanding as well. Let’s look over the areas to consider for your first trip:
There is a planning rule called the “20% Rule” and that basically says that you should bring an extra 20% more of the supplies you will need to account for your planned trip and any extra issues that may arise. I don’t know where it came from but it’s a great rule to follow. Additionally, it’s a good rule to not completely rely on any of your electric or gas-powered equipment. Of course, you should bring it and use it, just have a contingency if something doesn’t work. Each planning area below will have a contingency backup mentioned to give you an idea or starting point.
Your Vehicle and Self Recovery: Knowing your limits with your gear and your vehicle are just as important. Don’t get caught up in your vehicle, it truly doesn’t matter (much). Just be aware of ground clearance, if or if-not you have 4×4, and ensuring you have some vehicle self-recovery options, more on that here). Also, keep track of gas usage and knowing areas you can fill-up if needed. Many people bring a spare gascan but it’s not needed if you are aware of your surroundings and don’t idle your car all night so you power your laptop so you can watch Netflix in your tent.
Vehicle Contingency Options: A Spare Gas can, vehicle self-recovery (shovel at a minimum, small compressor, and tire plug kit) and a cell-phone signal awareness if you are alone and need to call for assistance.
Navigation: Take a look at your region you plan to head to. Check the maps out and plan a route, plan an alternate route just-in-case your path is not passable. Check out topographic maps of the area and get an idea of the elevation, terrain, and any areas to be cautious of. Download those maps to your phone or tablet for offline use so if there is no signal, you can still navigate as needed. Grab paper maps as an old-school backup you can rely on.
Navigation Contingency Options: Paper Maps backup, compass and visual terrain association.
First Aid / Adventure Medical Kits: You don’t need to be a paramedic to give first aid. Get yourself a quality first aid kit with the basics (heavy gauze, pressure dressing, tourniquet, antiseptic, aspirin/ibuprofen, clothing sheers, medical tape, and some bandaids). Once you’ve got yourself a good first aid kit, it’s time to pair that with a good understanding of how to use the components, otherwise, it’s doesn’t do you much good. If you are interested, we did a full write up on here on Adventure Medical Kits.
First Aid Contingency Options: Just having the first aid kit really is the plan on this one, however, the real contingency is knowing how to use it and the basics of first aid. For example, if you don’t have a medical kit but understand the basics of first aid, you can still stop arterial bleeding with a DIY tourniquet or non-life threatening bleeding with a pressure dressing.
Food and Water: Using the 20% rule, pack food and water to last you the expected duration of the trip (and then some more). You, unfortunately, can’t rely on the gas station down the road to be open or even still in business. Many of these isolated areas have run-down businesses and Google always isn’t correct in the latest operating hours.
Food and Water Contingency Options: Having access to water and food is essential. If your food options run out and you are not near a place to get food for whatever reason (car breaks down, injury, etc) you will want to have some emergency food options. Keep a few dehydrated meals or MRE’s in your vehicle, they are calorie-dense and don’t require and cooking equipment in a pinch. For water, I recommend keeping something like a Survival Filter or similar item so that you can have the emergency option of safe drinking water wherever you are. Additionally, keep some extra water in your rig beyond what you planned for your trip. Check out Nutrient Survival for some great tasting, healthy, and 25-year shelf-life food options I personally like.
Weather and Clothing: Layers are your friend, cotton is not. In the mountains, weather can change on a dime without much warning. Layering your clothing has always and will always be the way to deal with your body’s effective thermoregulation as well as just being prepared for the elements. Having some base layers and a rain jacket handy will be a big help when they are needed.
Weather Contingency Options: Keep a single set of layers for each person on the trip that can account for unexpected weather conditions. Heading to Colorado in the Spring for an epic overland trip? Great! But be aware that an 80-degree day could turn to a foot of snow in about 2 hours. In my truck, we keep a jacket, boots, gloves, and a beanie for each family member, juuuust in case.
Mind not made up? Rent one! With the season busier than ever, lead times are pushed way out and this year it may be a better idea to just rent an off-road trailer to test them out. Check out Outdoorsy, they have perfected the art of renting you the perfect off-road toy! Visit Outdoorsy here to learn more.
Look, when it comes to the dangers of overlanding, there may be lots I missed here, in realty as I started writing it I realized its a bit of a rabbit hole. Hopefully this helped you understand that overlanding is as safe (or dangerous) as you make it. Plan, Practice, be prepared and you’ll be out there having a great overland trip. Now, go GET OUTDSIDE.