Preparing for your first overland adventure [Part 1]

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is something along the lines of, “What do I need to go on an overland adventure?”  This is usually from someone who is new to the 4×4 world and is eager, yet cautious, to get out there.

Adventure begins where the pavement ends…
Are you ready?
If not, we can help.

In this two-part article series we will explore the breakdown of what I consider to be the most basic things you need to do before your first overland adventure.

1. Personal Safety

The very first thing you need to do is prepare for the unexpected.  Regardless of what it’s function is, every vehicle you own should be equipped with a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit.  You should also know how to use them.  Having fired off a few fire extinguishers in my day I can say it’s worth taking a class and practicing with one.  The last thing you want to do is empty your very first fire extinguisher at the open hood of a car while it’s on fire (ask me how I know).

A good 5lb extinguisher and a first aid kit as a MUST for any vehicle regardless of if it’s an overland rig or a pavement pounder.

The same goes for a first aid kit.  If you have no prior first aid experience a basic first aid and CPR class through something like the Red Cross is a great place to start.  If you have some basic experience then I highly suggest taking a Wilderness First Aid class.  There is no need to get crazy and aim high at either a Wilderness First Responder or Wilderness EMT.  While those are great skills for someone who is a professional they are a bit overkill for most people.  Plus most of the advanced skills require professional experience.

2. Recovery

There is absolutely no point leaving pavement and heading into the backcountry if you’re vehicle cannot be recovered when it gets stuck, or at the very least make a safe recovery of someone else that is stuck.  Solid reliable safe recovery points front and rear are an absolute must.  At the very least you’ll want to have some sort of tow-strap, shackles if you need them, and a jack that is appropriate for your vehicle.

A bare minimum a tow strap and a pair of shackles will help ensure a vehicle-to-vehicle recovery.
Other things like the Custom Splice Shackle-insert for a 2″ receiver can help adapt a sturdy Class III tow-hitch into a recovery point.

3. Skills & Knowledge

Knowledge is power. Before setting out on your first adventure some professional 4wd training will go a long way.  Even if you consider yourself an experienced driver some level of professional 4wd training will help.  Most instructors, like those at Off-Road Consulting, teach classes ranging from Basic 101 level workshops to more advanced 201 and 301 level workshops as well as specialized training on topics like winching and recovery, navigation, and even spotting.  They are also more than willing to do personalized one-on-one training tailored to your experience and expectations.  If an old dog like myself can learn a new trick, so can you.

Instructor Kyle providing hands-on 4wd training in the drivers own vehicle.
Visit their site at
(Photo courtesy of Off-Road Consulting)

Another major advantage of professional specialized off-road training is the ability to learn, practice, and hone your skills in a controlled environment.  I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way often not knowing what I don’t know until it’s too late.  Instructors like Kyle (pictured above) have been-there-done-that and are more than willing to help you learn new skills in a proactive manner.  This can save a lot of heartache, prevent embarrassing stucks, and hopefully even prevent damage to your vehicle.  Without proper training you might end up packed sideways in a stream in the middle of a snowstorm for three days and end up needing to replace the entire steering system on your 4×4 not more than a month or two after you got it (ask me how I know).

4. Communication

Communication is a key element for safety, but it’s also a nice thing to have.  Cell phones are pretty ubiquitous and great for calling home and letting the people you left behind know you’re okay.  However, cell reception in remote backcountry locations isn’t always reliable.  Cell phones are also a very inefficient way to communicate with other people if you’re traveling in a group.  That’s when radios like CB’s or HAM’s come into play.

Cell phones are good.
A CB (not pictured) is good.
Dual-band radios are better.
Satellite communications like the DeLorme inReach are great.
Having multiple options and redundancy is best.

The other option for communication is a device like the DeLorme inReach.  Not only does it allow for a SOS signal but it works as a two-way text device.  Unlike other satalite SOS devices on the market, not only is the inReach two-way but it also provides data allowing your to update social media and download weather. The team at Mountain State Overland have two really good clips demonstrating the inReach:

Make sure to give the MSO team a follow on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.  They put out a lot of great content!

5. Navigation

You should have a good idea where you’re going before you try and go there.  Having good reliable navigation is key.  GPS and navigation apps are great, but they shouldn’t replace paper maps.  There’s a lot of great information in things like DeLorme Gazetteers, local maps, and even DOT maps.  Like with communications, having redundancy when it comes to navigation is not a bad thing.

While smart-phone apps and GPS devices are great, nothing can replace a good paper map.
Make sure to check out ECOA’s more detailed primer on the different kinds of maps:
“Let’s talk maps… The paper kind”


Good news, we’re halfway there!  If you noticed we haven’t even touched the vehicles yet.  That’s intentional.  Successful overland travel, like most things in life, is all about preparation.  As they say, “Prior proper preparation prevents panic and pain.

In the second part I’ll get into more practical details about preparation for your first overland adventure. Stay tuned…