Preparing for your first overland adventure [Part 2]

In part one I started discussing a breakdown of how to prepare for your first overland adventure.

Camping on the 2015 No Highways Tour in Acadia National Park in Maine

In part two we will build off those first five items and by the time we’re done it will be time to load up and roll out!

6. Tires

One of the best improvements you can make to any four-wheel-drive vehicle is a good set of tires appropriate to your terrain and climate.  I don’t mean bigger tires, just better.  For now I’m not even going to begin to try and address the selection process for tires right now (maybe in a dedicated article later on).  The reason I mention this at all is because most off-the-lot trucks and SUV’s are sold with tires more suited for on-pavement travel than off-pavement travel.  A few exceptions to this are specialty models like the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon (which comes with mud-terrains) the Ford Raptor (which comes with all-terrains) or a handful of other upgrade packages.  For the most part though most stock tires are not suitable for sustained off-pavement travel, especially if you air down.  That’s why spending the money on better tires that are appropriate for your terrain and climate.

For the 2015 season I ran 31×10.50r15 All-Terrains.
Not “bigger” but “better”

Without going into too much details, some things to consider are: total time on-pavement verse off-pavement; soil type; overall function of the vehicle; and so forth.  Again, the idea here early on it’s to worry about bigger tires and the slippery slope of modifications like lift kits and gearing.  I’m a strong advocate of learning to drive your vehicle stock rather than trying to buy your way down the trail.  It’s also a good idea to modify your vehicle to fit your driving style, terrain, and location rather than just mindlessly throwing parts at a vehicle so it looks cool.

7. Tire Pressure Management

Regardless of whether you’ve upgraded your tires or not, you want to take care of them.  One of the biggest killers of tires is poor air pressure management.  Your tires are just as much a part of your suspension as your springs and shocks.  If you’re tires are too soft (on-pavement) or too hard (off-pavement) you can do irreparable damage to your tires.

Air deflators like these ones from J.T. Brooks allow you to quickly air down from pavement to off-pavement pressure.
These Pro-series ones take it a step further and allow you to dial in a range of pressures that best suite the terrain you encounter.
Click here for a review of the J.T. Brooks Automatic Tire Deflators

Two essential pieces of gear are a good tire gauge and an air compressor.  While things like defaltors are nice, and speed up the process, they aren’t essential.  Although I’ll admit once you use a set you’ll never want to go back to the old way of airing down.

An inventory shot from when I installed my ViAir Onboard Air system.
The nice thing about a kit like this is it comes with everything you need for the instal.

As far as an air compressor goes, onboard-air is nice but again not essential.  What is essential is a quality compressor that is up to the task.  Many discount ‘cheap’ off-brand compressors aren’t rated for extended repeated use.  The key thing you want to look at is the duty cycle.  A compressor with a 100% duty cycle will serve you well.  One that is 33% means you can only run it for 20 minutes before it needs to cool down.  It’s highly unlikely you’ll get all four tires (or six if you’re pulling a trailer) in those 20 minutes.  A good portable compressor is more flexible allowing you to move it from vehicle to vehicle and takes up lest room when packed.

8. Food & Water

Once your vehicle is ready to go it’s a good idea to make sure you’re not going to starve on your adventure.  While things like 12v fridges are common in the overland lifestyle, they aren’t essential.  I have traveled for years with a pair of coolers (one for cold storage and one for dry storage).  While stopping for ice can be a minor inconvenience, the truth is every time you stop for fuel you can also pick up ice.

Tried and true basic cooler for cold storage.
A few milk crates for dry storage.
MSR backpacking stove.
Doesn’t have to be fancy if it works.

Water is something you also need to factor into your trips.  You’ll need water to drink (dehydration is a bitch), water to cook with, and water to clean with (both your dishes and yourself).  Water storage can be as simple as buying one gallon jugs at the grocery store or using reusable/refillable jugs.  I’ve seen everything from specialized “water bricks” to collapsible bladders.  I’ve even see people use the big blue 5-gallon water cooler style jugs.

When the time comes to cook nothing beats a tried and true camp stove.  The problem is the variety of camp stoves on the market is about as wide as the options are for tires, if not wider.  The simplest options is a small compact backpacking stove.  For the longest time I used an MSR Dragonfly I got when I was in scouts.  It served me well.  A step up from that is a quick-boil stove like a Jet Boil or MSR Windburner.  Quick boil stoves are great if you drink coffee (or tea) or prefer dehydrated meals while you camp.  They also make great stoves to heat up water for cleaning up after your meal.  The next level of stoves, and the most common, are dual burner camp stoves.  The most common ones are propane, although there are some that run on camp fuel or butane.  These stoves are great when you’re cooking for larger groups of people (like a family) or if you cook more complicated meals from scratch.

Tried and true Coleman two-burner liquid gas stove
Small MSR pot on the left; 12″ cast-iron skillet on the right
Quick, easy, cheap meal that was very tasty and very filling.

Beyond a stove a basic cookset is about all you’ll need.  I prefer to do most of my cooking on a cast iron skillet.  I also have a MSR Pot set which features three pots ranging from a small to large which allows me to boil a lot of water for cleaning or use the small one to heat up some vegetables.

Stay tuned for a more detailed comparison of the types of camp stoves.

9. Shelter

Shelter doesn’t have to be as elaborate as a roof-top-tent.  When you’re starting out it’s best to keep things simple.  If you’re used to camping then stick with what you know for a while.  There is nothing wrong with a ground tent.  I’ve even seen people using hammocks and tarps while on overland adventures.  If you have a truck you can even sleep in the back.  Suffice to say there is more than one way to provide adequate shelter while traveling.  The

Eventually dubbed “Camp Humble,” my shelter for 2015 was nothing more than a ground tent.

My setup for 2016 is the “Poor Man’s Teardrop” which represents a total investment of around $1,200
Just because you opt for a trailer doesn’t mean it has to be expensive.

10. Fuel

Bags are packed.  Cooler is stocked.  Maps are in hand.  Time to roll out.  You can do without a lot of things on an adventure, but fuel is not one of them.  Doesn’t matter how nice your rig is, or how many gadgets are in your kit, or how shiny your titanium spork is… if there’s no fuel in your rig you’re not going anywhere.

For $5 at a yardsale I picked up two 5 gallon military blitz cans with nozzles.
The carrier was a cheap DIY project using two leftover trailer fenders, some re-bar, some pipe, and a piece of flat steel.
Just be warned that gasoline left in the sun will become pressurized (ask me how I know).
Also make an investment in a safety siphon.  While pouring is fine, those 5 gallon cans are heavy.

For the novice you’ll really not need to worry too much about extending your range.  It’s another reason for keeping your vehicle as close to stock as your can.  When you fall down the slippery slope of modifications and start running bigger heavier tires and deeper gears you’re fuel milage will be the first thing to suffer.  Well, after your wallet of course.

One of my all-time favorite upgrades to the LJ is replacing the stock 19 gallon plastic tank with this 31.5 gallon “Safari” tank from GenRight Off-Road. Not only is the take made out of aluminum it also comes with a heavy duty steel skid plate.
Click here for a detailed instal writeup on the GenRight Off-Road Safari Tank.

When the time comes to increase your fuel range you can look into axillary fuel cans or even a larger fuel tank.  I’m very pleased to have the 31.5 gallon GenRight tank (12.5 more gallons than stock) on my LJ now, but I won’t be giving up my two 5 gallon blitz cans any time soon.  In the meantime just be mindful not only of your fuel range when in 2wd on pavement but how limited your range will be off-pavement in both 4wd-high and 4wd-low.  For the most part your first adventure won’t, or shouldn’t, be anywhere too crazy or remote so you’ll be okay with your stock tank.  Just be mindful so you don’t end up stranded.

Bonus – Amenities

The final thing I’ll mention are the amenities that make life worth living.  We all have our fun things to do while we travel and camp.  That said, I will express a word of caution to over-pack and bring too many creature comforts just because you can.  I am super guilty of over-packing.  I end up tossing in a handful of comfort items that I honestly don’t need.  There is nothing wrong with a good book, some good tunes, or even a nice comfy camp chair for around the campfire.  However, we need to remember that the essence of what we do, and why we do it, is to explore and accumulate new experiences.  We also do it, recreationally speaking of course, as a way to disconnect and distract ourselves from the daily grind of the real world.  Therefore it is in our own best interest to retain a certain authenticity to our overland adventures.  Some amenities are essential to keep up morale, and stave of fatigue and frustration, but too many may become a burden.  That said, you’ll never find me camping without popcorn, a cold brew, and a warm fire.

“It’s not camping with Dean unless there’s Jiffy Pop!”

Conclusion

This list is by no means an exhaustive list of everything you’ll need on a trip.  There are a lot of little personal items (clothing, bedding, etc) that is at your discretion.  That said, this list is a pretty good place to get your mental gears turning when you start preparing for your first overland adventure.

My final words of encouragement are going to be “start small.”  Whether talking about your rig, your kit, or your first few trips, “start small.”  Keep your vehicle small.  Keep your kit lean.  Keep your first few trips modest.  Don’t base everything you do on what some guy on the internet said (and yes, present company is included in that).  So much of overlanding depends on who you are and where you are going.  There are some differences between planning an overland adventure through the forested mountains of the east coast and planning a desert crossing in the western half of the country. Weather, elevation, and time of year are also important variables to consider.

In time you’ll gain the experience and learn as you go.  You’ll figure out what you really need on a trip verses the things you want or wish you had.  Something will make like easier, others more complicated.  Don’t let it overwhelm you.  Things like the off-road 101/201 courses and also attending overland events (like Overland Expo) are a great way to learn additional skills as well as network with other potential adventures willing to share their experiences and ideas with you.

Also, don’t be scared.  That’s why I say start small for your first trip.  Don’t venture too far from home. Travel with some friends.  Stick to an established campground your first few times out.  These are all little things you can do to mitigate disaster, or at least have an out if something were to not go as planned.  Don’t be scared, but be vigilant.

In the meantime, feel free to message or email me with any questions.  That’s what I’m here for after all.

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0 thoughts on “Preparing for your first overland adventure [Part 2]

  1. Stumbled across your blog today via r/overlanding and I am enjoying your take on it. I live in Idaho and see all too many wallet warrior rigs that likely never cross the county line, let alone go off pavement. I did some unmodified overlanding in my old Forester and a little off roading to get to trail heads in my girlfriends Tacoma, but am looking into getting an old XJ for turning into an overlander in anticipation of a long trip down to Patagonia. It's nice to see I can do what I want without selling my internal organs.

  2. Bryce,

    I'm glad you enjoyed it. If you have any questions let me know. I owned an '87 XJ for a while and my mom has a '99 XJ. The XJ is a great platform with a lot of options for building one up for overland travel.