Updated: Sep 14
The big day is just around the corner, and you're ready to head into the bush on your first overlanding adventure! Like most things in life, you'll find the experience more enjoyable with the appropriate planning and preparation. Heaven forbid you find yourself stranded in the wilderness due to improper planning-- it happens more than you'd think!
First things first, this is your very first overlanding adventure, so don't go crazy. In fact, we'd recommend traveling with a friend/partner/spouse, or better yet, a group if possible. Most folks feel more confident and comfortable knowing they have at least another person to rely on when heading into the wilderness. Remember, this is your first overland trip, so keep thing manageable and don't bite off more than you can chew. Typically, this means starting with an overnighter, or perhaps a two night adventure. This is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about your gear, your vehicle, and ultimately to become comfortable and confident driving off road. Speaking of driving off road, we'd recommend sticking to well traveled areas, and choosing a route that consists of mild dirt and/or gravel roads. When you don't have the skills and expertise to navigate more challenging trails, it's easy to get in over your head fast, which is why it's important to stay within your comfort zone until you gain the appropriate experience. Lastly, and this is a big one, be flexible! No matter how much effort you put into preparing for your adventure, things don't always go as planned. Come with a flexible and can-do mindset, and you'll be much better equipped to deal with challenges when they inevitable arise. Always tell at least one person (the more the better) your plans before heading out, where you'll be going, and when you plan to return. If something were to happen to you, friends/family can readily make contact with the appropriate agencies and direct them to where to begin their search.
Before heading out, start of by doing an appropriate amount of research on where you'll be heading. This typically means plotting your route out on a paper map or uploading a GPS file into a mapping application like Gaia GPS or OnX, having a general understanding of the area and trails/roads, things to see, and where to camp. Don't just head for the hills and hope for success-- this is a recipe for disaster!! For campsites, we'd recommend trying to identify a plan A, B, and C. If you're heading out on a busy weekend, you'll be happy you identified those extra campsites in advance. Water, Food, and Fuel
Water, food, and fuel are all critical to your literal survival. For water, keep 1-1.5 gallons of water per day per person. For food, we always recommend bringing at least an extra day or two (apply the same rule to water as well), as you never know when you may need those extra rations. Fuel is another important resource that you'll need to consider. Depending on where you'll be traveling, your fuel economy may take a big hit if you're traveling through the mountains in 4-wheel drive. Your 4runner may get 19 MPGs cruising down the interstate, but traveling through the Rockies or Sierras in 4 wheel drive, your fuel economy can easily drop to 11-12 MPGs. When heading deep into the backcountry, try to top off your fuel tank at the last gas station before heading into the bush, and make sure you'll have more than enough fuel to get to the next fuel station. On this last point, don't cut it close-- you need to get a better idea of the fuel economy your loaded vehicle gets when driving off road. Create a Templated Packing/Prep List We highly recommend creating a list of everything you plan to bring and prepare for using either a spreadsheet or free project management tool like Asana. At OTG, we've created a template project in Asana to help us prepare for our adventures. This covers everything from packing clothes, grocery lists, vehicle prep, technology checks (is the GPX file loaded into the ipad?), and more.
Know your Vehicle
You'd be surprised (or maybe you're not!) how many people head into the backcountry without knowing the basics of their vehicle, such as how to engage or disengage 4-wheel drive! This doesn't mean you need to read the entire vehicle manual, but you should at least know the basics. Be sure to ensure that all of the essentials are present or in working order. Here's a short list of items to check on your vehicle before heading out:
Always check tires for tread-ware, damage, and air pressure.
Check fluid levels (radiator, coolant, windshield wipers).
Check vehicle for leaks (keep an eye on this by keeping an eye on the ground where you park your vehicle).
Confirm you have a working spare tire, and you know how to access it.
Confirm you have a tire jack, wrench, and any other relevant parts (do your wheels require a custom lug nut)
Know how to engage/disengage 4-wheel drive-- practice this!
And so we've reached the vaunted gear section! You'll need some basics (and you can certainly leverage any camping gear you already have), but you definitely don't need to spends thousands of dollars on gear to enjoy overlanding. This gear list is simply the basics to help get you started on your first adventure! Gear: The Essentials
First aid kit, bug spray, sunscreen
Appropriate clothing, footwear, headware, and sunglasses
Camping gear: tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camp chair
Stove and fuel source (propane/butane)
Small shovel and bucket (for extinguishing campfires)
Flashlight and lantern
Campware: utensils, plates, pots, pans, etc.
Food storage: cooler/fridge, containers for dry foods
Firewood & firestarter (recommended)
Smart phone & tablet (if applicable)
Mobile device battery (recommdned)
Confirm GPX file/digital mapping file has has been imported and visible in your smartphone/tablet
Confirm offline map tiles have been downloaded (we recommend restarting your device and putting it into airplane mode to confirm)
Camping & Off Roading Etiquette
There's some general camping and off roading etiquette that you should be aware of before heading out. Some of it's obviously, and some if it isn't. Always abide by Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly principles.
When looking for a campsite, the presence of a tent or other camping gear means the site is taken-- respect this. Also, don't drive into people's camps in dispersed campaing areas (outside of developed campgrounds). If you'd like to engage with folks at camp, get out of your vehicle, wave and walk over in a friendly manner. When dispersed camping, always try to give your neighbors plenty of room between camp. We understand that space may not be a luxury in busier areas, but do your best to provide your neighbors with privacy.
The best way to keep animals out of camp is to keep it clean. Washing and rinse all dishware after meals, and all food should be stowed in your vehicle when away from camp or sleeping. Unless you're camping in an area known for nuisance bears (eg Lake Tahoe), bears rarely come into camp, especially in dispersed locations. Often when they do, it's because someone failed to keep their camp clean.
If you plan to target shoot, make sure you check all rules, regulations, and laws where you've be visiting. We always recommend shooting well away from other campers (1/4 mile when dispersed camping), and only shooting during hours when people are awake. When camping outside of developed campgrounds, be prepared to either bury your human waste, or pack it out (recommend in areas that see heavy use, deserts and drier environments). Solid waste should be buried at least 8" deep, and at least 50 yards away from any waterway. Off Roading Etiquette
If you're not familiar with Tread Lightly principles, this would be a great place to start. Below is a shortlist of items to consider when traveling off road:
When traveling by campgrounds or campsites, slow down to keep dust to a minimum.
Be prepared for oncoming traffic. When approaching blind turns, slow down and approach with caution.
Stay on marked and open trails. Driving off of roads may damage sensitive habitats.
Leave gates as you found them.
Yield to uphill traffic.
Keep At It
With due time, and enough time spent in the backcountry, you'll become comfortable with your vehicle, gear, the wilderness, and confident in your own skills. In due time, you'll gain the confidence to go on multi-day to week-long trips. Making friends, or going out with a group is a fantastic way to learn and share your own knowledge-- greatly speeding up the learning process and making it fun and enjoyable for everyone.