Overlanding vs. off-roading: What’s the difference?

Off-Roading Photo

Off-roading is a term familiar to nearly everyone, describing both a type of vehicle and the terrain covered when traveling. Most off-road vehicles are 4×4 trucks, Jeeps, and SUVs, although certain all-wheel drive models are also capable of handling at least light-duty work.

The term “overlanding” may be much less familiar to most, though the word dates to the 12th century, according to Merriam-Webster. In the simplest definition, overlanding is simply traveling by land, instead of by sea.


Contemporary overlanding

Today, overlanding describes a longer off-road trip. Typically, off-roading may be of a short duration – a one- or two-day event, while overlanding suggests self-reliant adventure travel that can take weeks, months, or years to complete.

The vehicle itself may be four-wheel drive, but the purpose of the trip is exploratory and involves camping as the principal form of lodging. Tent camping is one option, while pop-up campers using a pickup truck’s bed is another choice. For even larger sleeping areas, there are camper shells that overlay the hood, cab, and camper.

Overland - 2 Jeeps

Alaska’s Dalton Highway – a great overlanding destination

Overlanding enthusiasts enjoy traveling to remote locations, visiting under-explored regions, and encountering different cultures.

One example of an overlanding trip is navigating Alaska’s Dalton Highway (Alaska Route 11). This rugged road begins just north of Fairbanks and pushes its way to remote Deadhorse – well above the Arctic Circle.

Four-wheel drive is the way to go here, and travelers bring spare car parts and ample provisions with them, as the predominantly gravel-covered, 414-mile route offers few services along the way. Stops at Finger Mountain, Gobblers Knob, Sukapak Mountain, and Sag River offer ample places to camp and enjoy a true overland experience.

Overland - Truck

Want to know more?

If overlanding sounds like something you might like to explore (pun intended), check out Overland Journal for trip ideas, overlanding essentials, trip resources, and more.  You may also be interested in the Overland Expo, held annually in both east coast and west coast locations.

Photos: Simon Harrod, Nick TaylorJuren 


One thought

  1. Thanks for helping me learn more about overlanding and off-roading. I’m glad that you explained that overlanding can be good for travel that can take weeks to complete. It sounds like a nice long term option, so it’s probably beneficial you know how to set it up properly so that it can last for that duration.

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