Overlanding has been gaining some steam during the past few years. The pandemic has certainly helped people realize that traveling in their cars can be a fun, comfortable and very adventurous way of exploring. Being able to go to another state or even country, have all your gear with you, camp and drive in remote places, certainly has some pull.
However, you must always be prepared, and it’s not that easy or simple to do. Overlanding does have some basic tips you need to know, what gear to carry, how to properly prepare your vehicle for it, the tires, the suspension, so on and so forth. Going unprepared can turn into a bad experience.
That said, even though there are plenty of vehicles that can actually be built for overlanding with aftermarket accessories, the truth is there are a few models that are the best overlanding vehicles. There are some that are simply much better suited, even if left stock, to go out and roam the outdoors, drive through the mud or rocky trails.
This article will discuss, as in depth as possible, which are the best overlanding vehicles in the world and why. It will go through features and characteristics of each specific car, and why it’s one of the best. As said before, you can certainly upgrade any vehicle with the right after-market gear and modify it to go overlanding. But, if you were to do the same on these vehicles, they’ll be literally the best overlanding rigs out there.
What Do You Need To Look For In An Overlanding Vehicle?
Well, first things first, honestly, an overlanding vehicle can be almost any vehicle. Personally, I prefer a 4-wheel drive, capable of going off road, since not all roads, trails or parks in the United States or the rest of the world are suited for a regular car.
Imagine a Toyota Corolla trying to go on a muddy path in Costa Rica? Not happening buddy.
Therefore, the first thing I look for is a four-wheel drive feature. I want to make sure that I can go anywhere and probably not get stuck. Sure, recovery gear is always essential, and sure, overlanding doesn’t mean heavy off roading, but I want to be able to explore with the peace of mind that my rig can get out of tough or rough places.
But what else? Let’s take a look at a few key features:
Safety Features & Standards
When you decide you want to buy a vehicle, any vehicle. you need to make sure it’s safe and reliable, but even more if it will be one for off-road or overlanding activities. This is not just another walk in the part, but a more serious set of activities.
Do your homework, read about each vehicle you have in mind, speak to other people that own them, mechanics, online reviews, but most importantly, safety features and reviews from reputable sites or organizations. For example, the IIHS or the safety ratings given by Safercar.gov.
Look for safety features such as the anti-lock brakes, side impact air bags (both important for overlanding purposes). You never know when your vehicle can slide on the mud and crash sideways against a wall.
Here comes one of the most important factors. You want a good suspension, and if your vehicle doesn’t have it, you might want to upgrade it. This is one of the first things that overlanding and off-road vehicle owners change and go with aftermarket versions, it can be a very serious upgrade.
For suspension kits you can find the classic leaf-sprung or solid front axle, and the Independent Front Suspension.
To quickly explain the difference between both:
Leaf Sprung Suspension Systems tend to be stronger and simpler than the rest, but are much rougher. Why? It’s a set of “leaves” of metal one over each other, so it won’t bounce as smoothly as any other system.
Coil-Over are what you probably imagine a suspension is: a coil. They are more complex, cost more, and less common. These are used on very specific vehicles such as rock crawlers, or those who drive through the desert. Not really necessary for overlanding.
The Independent Front Suspension Systems are the smoothest of them all, but a bit weaker and with less ground clearance. They use more components for each wheel to be moved up or down on their own.
Most vehicles, might combine front suspension systems alongside what is known as a solid rear axle. But, often times, you can see both wheels at the back also work independently.
What you choose depends completely on you. The Independent Front Suspension is very smooth, and depending on how tough the trails are, such smoothness makes it easier and less painful for your body to ride. In the long run, they might be literally more comfortable for your body. But, if what you need is more clearance, and again that depends on you and where you plan to ride, a leaf sprung system might be a better fit.
Aftermarket Accessories Available
One of the most important features to consider, since you might want to build your rig a bit. There are certain vehicles, such as Toyota 4Runner, Jeep Wrangler, or a Tacoma, that have tons and tons of aftermarket off road and overlanding accessories to choose from.
Therefore, depending on where you want to go and what you plan to do, any of these will be a better fit than say a Toyota Rav4, which might not have as many options.
Of course, it doesn’t mean you can’t go overlanding with just a roof rack, and a few other things, but if you want a full modification and build-up, think about parts availability!
Vehicle’s Weight, Clearance, Angles, Center Of Gravity & Payload Capacity
This is mostly for those looking to tackle on bigger challenges, tougher trails, roads and places.
Let’s explain the basics, step by step, topic by topic. The Vehicle’s weight is quite obvious, it’s what it weighs. The Gross Vehicle Weight or GVW should not be exceeded if you want to keep it safe. So, make sure that you weigh your vehicle, even after adding accessories, and make sure it doesn’t go over the weight rating that the manufacturer asks you to.
Sure, some people exceed it, but the idea is to better not to. And if you do, keep in mind it might not be as safe.
Ground Clearance is the distance between the lowest point of your car to the ground, simple. So, if you know it (and just measure it), you can have a good idea when you are riding, what’s the space or clearance you have and if you can or not go over a certain place.
When it comes to angles, we have a few: break over angle, which is the maximum angle of an obstacle (such as a rock or branch) that your vehicle can go over without the lowest point of the wheel base touching or getting damaged by this object.
Then, there’s the approach angle, basically the angle from the front part of your car, to the point where the tires touch the ground. It’s what determines how steep a hill, road or inclination you can go up, without touching the ground.
Finally, the departure angle, which is the angle at the point of the rear of your vehicle and where the tires at the back touch the ground. It’s the opposite of the approach angle, and it lets you know how steep of an incline you can go down on without touching the ground.
Then we come to the Center of Gravity, basically the average point at which your overlanding vehicle carries its mass. Keep in mind, this is the point of your vehicle, in which everything happens, all the force: braking, accelerating, etc.
You can calculate it, but it’s not simple. It’s better to simply estimate the Center of Gravity Height of your rig, by measuring the distance from the centerline of the engine’s camshaft, to the ground.
To make things clearer, the lower your CGH, the more stable your vehicle is, and so it won’t be tipping or rolling over any time soon at weird angles.
Most importantly, whatever aftermarket gear you add to your overlanding car, whether that’s a roof rack, roof top tent, bumper, you name it, try to keep it lightweight so the CGH remains low. Also, if you add a suspension or lift to your vehicle, the CGH also changes, keep it in mind to keep your ride safe.
Finally, we have the payload capacity. That’s the capacity that the suspension and braking systems of your car have, that allow more weight to be carried safely. So, keep that in mind when choosing any aftermarket accessory such as a suspension, or checking the stock brake payload capacity of the vehicle you choose to purchase.
There are currently three types of engines: diesel, gasoline or petrol, and the most recent electric engines.
Let’s begin with Gasoline. Petrol engines have the fuel injected into them through cylinders that mix with air. Then, the pistons will compress the air and fuel mixture, which combusts at the moment that it is ignited by an electrical spark from the spark plug, which forces the piston back down. The force it generates, is transferred through the crankshaft into the transmission, and then to the wheels.
Gasoline is less efficient, but the gasoline vehicles tend to be cheaper, and also cheaper to repair.
Diesel engines and vehicles are slightly different. The diesel is a type of fuel that is injected into the engine of your ride, by its cylinders, then mixed with air. The piston will compress the air with the fuel, to the point it combusts, and forces the piston down once again. That force is then transferred through the crankshaft and into the transmission, which distributes it to the wheels and axles.
Comparison to gasoline? Diesel has a higher efficiency, the engines are less complex, and tend to have less maintenance issues. Nonetheless, they tend to be a bit more expensive, that also includes any repairs, but you do save in fuel costs.
Finally, the newest Electric Engines, such as Tesla and Rivian. You need to be charging them, which can be a bit off-putting for those looking to go overlanding in very remote areas. But things will improve with time and technology.
Electric vehicles have motors that drive each wheel independently, which gives much more traction, power and torque. In the near future, this can be a huge advantage for overlanding!
Best Overland Vehicles
What you have been waiting for: the best vehicles for overlanding. We will now look a bit into detail at the 6 best overland vehicles in the market, taking into consideration most of the factors mentioned above.
The vehicles are not in any order, so it doesn’t mean one is better than another one. Also, don’t forget that it can still depend a lot on you and your needs, rather than what we are saying. For example, I personally really love the Subaru Outback, and honestly, I’d love to have one, outfit it and it would make an excellent overland rig. However, I still think that the six mentioned in this list, are a bit better.
Consider all the factors above, and then of course base your decision on price, the looks, the comfort, the style, and what you want to do with your ride. This is a list to guide you, give you the best possible features and options so you can make an informed decision before you buy your next overlanding vehicle.
Chevy Colorado ZR2
Payload Capacity: 1,100 lbs.
Pros: Full locking front and rear differentials, for great low traction. Many aftermarket accessories available.
Cons: Not as powerful as it could be.
As said before, there is no order, but let’s just start with the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 or ZRII pick-up truck. There’s many, many things to like about this vehicle, from the style and design to the versatility and reliability.
The ZR2 from 2020 was an outstanding model, but the newest 2023 version is right up there too. Let’s take a closer look. The Chevy Colorado ZR2 is not the biggest, largest or widest of trucks out there, but it does have tons of aftermarket accessories and gear to choose from, whether that’s roof racks, bed racks, bumpers, suspension kits, you name it. Many reputable brands have different options, and that’s already a pro.
It comes with a standard MultiMatic DSSV dampers, full locking and electronic both front and rear differentials which will give you lots of low traction when you need it.
Add to that the fact that this comes in a 308 horsepower with a 3.6-liter V6 engine, as well as a 186 horsepower 2.8-liter turbo diesel I-4 engine, and you know you have solid options. The payload capacity is of 1,100 lbs., therefore, it’s strong enough to equip it properly, and you can go diesel and be quite fuel efficient.
The Chevy Colorado ZRII is a good overlanding truck, with power and low traction, good safety features, and a possibility to modify it without having to break bank or look around too much. You will be able to use the bed for storage or even to keep a tent, a drawer kit, kitchen sets and more. And of course, keep the cabin for passengers with a roof rack on top for cargo storage.
Ford F150 Raptor
Payload Capacity: 1,200 lbs.
Pros: 450 horsepower engine, a very powerful truck, with an excellent shock absorber system.
Cons: Low payload capacity, limits it a bit.
Ford, the true American truck. That kind of introduces the F150 Raptor on its own, but we will still go over what we like about it. I remember when one of my best friends told me that his dad had finally bought and F150 Raptor because it was the truck he liked the most, and finally he had followed his desire and got one. I guess it was a kind of mid-life crisis decision, but hey, he was happy, so was my friend, and we enjoyed riding in it a lot.
This is a very, very powerful truck, which is important for certain trails. It is a bit too large for some, therefore if you go through a narrow trail or path, this can be an issue. However, once again, there are tons of aftermarket solutions when it comes to gear, racks and accessories from many brands, even American made products, which will make it simple for you to outfit it.
It comes with Fox shock absorbers, and as said it’s very powerful. The gasoline engine has 450 horsepower with a 3.5-liter twin turbo V6 design. Perhaps the only real con is the payload capacity of only 1,200 pounds, which is not impressive for a truck that size.
Still, good enough for overlanding even in tough trails.
Toyota 4Runner 5th Gen
Payload Capacity: 1550 lbs.
Pros: Great payload capacity, outstanding aftermarket support worldwide, many aftermarket overlanding parts available.
Cons: Engine could be mor efficient.
This is my dream car, always has and maybe it will always be. Why? My dad used to own a 3rd Gen 4Runner when we were kids, and since then I fell in love, the sound of the motor, the design, it just brings me great memories from a fun and joyful childhood.
That said, Toyota makes great cars, and the 4Runner, especially the TRD Pro version is outstanding. With an impressive payload capacity of 1,550 lbs., you know this vehicle can be equipped and it can also haul, and it can go anywhere with anything and anyone and there won’t be any trouble.
What’s the con? Well, it has 270 horsepower 4.0-liter V6 engine, that has been the same since 2002. Therefore, there hasn’t been many improvements through the years, which might change soon. It can have a newer powertrain, and certainly a more efficient engine.
That said, perhaps the biggest advantage is not only the aftermarket support you will get for a very popular car anywhere in the world, also because Toyota is the biggest car manufacturer and they are everywhere, from USA to Latin America, Asia, anywhere. So, after market support is guaranteed and a vast if not the biggest amount of aftermarket accessories and roof racks is there for this overland rig. All great brands, from Front Runner, ARB, Prinsu, and many more, all design racks and other gear for it. Upgrading to a full overlanding 4runner is not that hard.
Finally, the 4Runner TRD Pro version is already good enough to go off roading, without you having to break the bank and add anything else. It’s literally a vehicle that was introduced back in 2017, and since then overlanders have used it a lot, and just as it comes out of the oven, it’s ready to perform.
Toyota Tacoma TRD
Payload Capacity: 1,175 lbs.
Pros: TRD line is overlanding and off-road ready as it is, no need to upgrade. Huge aftermarket accessories available.
Cons: Engine can be more powerful and efficient.
Another Toyota, another great model and design. The Tacoma on its own is a beautiful truck, perhaps the most attractive design out there. Just like the 4Runner mentioned above, the TRD Pro line, comes right out of the box ready to go overlanding, no need to add much, perhaps a rack, a few lights, but overall, it’s born ready for adventure, and that’s already a huge advantage over most other trucks in the market.
What else? The payload capacity is ok, 1,175 pounds, which for the dimensions is more than enough. The cabin is quite comfortable, meaning you will ride well, comfortably, with enough space. It’s not as powerful as some would like with a 278 horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine, but it’s not your classic huge American pick-up truck, making it let’s say a bit more tuned for smaller or narrower trails.
It comes stock with a Fox Shox Multi-Terrain Select system, which is excellent. There are also hundreds of aftermarket overlanding gear to choose from, and tons of brands offering it. The Tacoma is not yet as popular outside of the US, but that’s likely to change. Aftermarket support will also be guaranteed anywhere in the world, making this vehicle one of the best choices , and upgrading it into an overlanding Tacoma is not hard.
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
Payload Capacity: 892 lbs.
Pros: Off road and overland ready from stock. Plenty of aftermarket accessories to equip it, great suspension for steady pace.
Cons: Low payload capacity.
Jeep vs Toyota, the classic beef or discussion we see and read about on all forums and groups on the internet, but I invite you to be objective, because we don’t need to be on one side or the other, we can appreciate them both. The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited is a great overlanding vehicle.
Let’s start with the fact that the vehicle itself, stock, is great, no need to spend more money on it to go overlanding, or even off-roading. Right off the bat it’s great. And in case you need anything, at least in USA you will find a bunch of gear and accessories to equip it, from racks to lights, bumpers, suspension, pretty much anything. It’s easy and affordable to improve it.
What we don’t like is a low payload capacity of only 892 lbs., and the fact that it’s a bit stiff and if the ride is a bit bumpy. The cabin can get noisy. The suspension is built for a steady pace, so not as much for speed or as much power, that can be seen as a pro or a con depending on what you plan to use it for.
The standard is for it to be 285 horsepower with a 3.6-liter V6 engine, but you can also get the 270 horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 and even a 260 horsepower 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6. With these three options, you have the flexibility of choosing based on needs, efficiency, or power, making sure you get the best overlanding Jeep.
A Jeep, in America (USA), is always a great fit for overlanding, jokes aside, there are many, many accessories at a great price to equip them.
RAM 1500 TRX
Payload Capacity: 1,310 lbs.
Pros: Excellent if not the best stock suspension, tremendous power and speed.
Last in this list, for no reason at all as these are not in any order, is the Dodge RAM TRX. Another pick-up truck, which I think is just because trucks allow you to easily pack and carry more gear without having to add roof racks or other things.
Anyways, the RAM 1500 TRX, boasts an excellent stock suspension, which is an independent front system, with a high coil spring to be able to smoothly move around in trails at higher speeds. It’s comfortable, smooth and reliable. One of the best stock suspensions in the overlanding industry.
The payload capacity is quite good at 1,310 lbs., meaning you can pretty much outfit it in any way you want. The engine is a 6.2-liter Hemi V8, and it is fast, very, very fast, perhaps the fastest on the list. We wanted to include a fast option here, for those who prefer overlanding in less complex or tougher trails and see it more as an enjoyable adventure to drive longer distances in smoother roads, and still have the option to camp and explore certain places.
The cabin is large and comfortable, it has adaptive cruise control, and even comes with a protected undercarriage thanks to the skid plates underneath it. It’s ready to go off roading.
It might be a bit pricey, as a matter of fact the pricier of them all, but again, that is up to your budget and needs.
There aren’t as many aftermarket accessories as possible for it, but the amount of roof racks and bed racks, and what you can add to each, is enough for you to build it up and turn it into the best overland truck.
Wrapping It Up:
As we come to an end on this brief but clear and informative blog post, you should be reminded that this list of overlanding vehicles includes what are considered the best by us, but there are still plenty of other rigs which are great. The factors we considered before we mentioned the vehicles are key for you to make an informed decision.
Make sure you know where you will be suing your vehicle, with who, the amount of people, and where you live and want to go exploring. A Toyota 4Runner might be a fantastic choice for someone in Arizona, whereas a RAM TRX might be a better fit for somebody in Michigan. I’m just naming places a bit randomly, but the point is, it depends on you.
Just make sure you get your information and facts right. Look for payload capacity, keep the aftermarket parts availability into account, make sure it is powerful, make sure the safety features are good, that the angles will allow you to take it to certain trails or not. That’s what an informed purchase means.
Anyways, any suggestions? Did we miss an overlanding vehicle in this list? Let us know in the comment section!