Overlanding requires a tough vehicle, whether you’re a weekend warrior or thoroughly dedicated to getting off the grid. Here are our favorites.
Among camping enthusiasts there’s an undeniable divide between the levels of luxury and number of amenities that people expect, or will tolerate giving up, when they venture into the “wilderness.”
On the one hand we have glamping, the modern trend of high-end RVing, outdoor luxury resorts, and “experiential travel” itineraries. At the opposite end of the spectrum we have overlanding, where the object is off-grid, self-sufficient travel by 4×4 across rugged terrains to remote locales. Think Mojave, think Grand Staircase Escalante, think Trans-American Trail. And because we feel you should only stay in a yurt you’ve erected yourself (sorry glampers), we’re listing the best reliable SUVs and trucks for your upcoming overlanding adventure.
Overlanding’s unique combination of challenges make it an ultimate test for off-road vehicles. The terrain may vary from washed out riverbeds to sand dunes to deeply rutted tracks of mud to steep, craggy inclines. The distances covered between points of civilization mean durability and reliability are paramount. A breakdown could be literally life threatening on the wrong area of the country. You’ll be carrying everything for the journey with you, fuel, food and water, sleeping accommodations, sundry supplies. Therefore, cargo capacity is at a premium, especially when traveling with companions (highly recommended both for fun and safety reasons).
So, a good overland vehicle needs to tick all three boxes to be considered worthy of the off-road. It must be 4WD or AWD capable, with enough ground clearance to prevent damage to the undercarriage. Second, it must be tough-as-nails reliable, we’re talking supreme confidence well past the 150,000-mile mark. And third, there’s got to be enough cargo space for all your gear, because gear you will need.
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van 4×4 is a Venn diagram for modern vehicle lifestyle trends. It covers both #vanlife and overlanding equally well. So, whether you’re camping in the Walmart parking lot or in the middle of nowhere, the Sprinter has got you covered. The 4×4 option is available in the 2500 and 3500XD versions of any of the three primary Sprinter trims: Passenger, Crew, and Cargo. The Passenger might be the best option for overlanding if for no other reason than it offers the greatest height at 117.6” (translating to over 75” inside). But because of that ultra-high profile, unlike other overland candidates, the Sprinter isn’t well-suited to roof-rack set-ups. The combination of verticality and top-heavy loading means any off-roading would risk tipping over your $57K-plus Benz-O, ouch!
But, properly loaded, the Sprinter is surprisingly well-equipped for the job of overlanding. It’s got a diesel engine (which will reduce the amount of fuel you’ll have to haul), genuine 4WD, and an absolute cavernous 300+ cu. ft. of cargo space. It’s not quite a Unimog, but its still dope.
I’m still not sure whether the name refers to fierce birds of prey or Jurassic Park’s Velociraptors, but either way a moniker denoting sharp-taloned predators fits here. Possibly the most capable stock pickup you can buy, the F-150 Raptor just begs to be unleashed. It’s so much more capable than the grocery runs you’ll often see them on, so what better way to do the Raptor justice than an overland challenge? The Raptor comes with a 450-hp twin-turbo V-6, BFGoodrich all-terrain tires, and a long-traveling suspension that devours obstacles. Whether it’s rock climbing or traveling at speed the Raptor is more than able.
You’ll have to decide what the right balance is between interior space and the size of your Raptor’s fuel tank. The SuperCab version has a 36-gallon fuel tank, ten more than the SuperCrew. The decision doesn’t hinge on the size of the bed, which is set to 5.5 ft. in both versions. With unmatched off-road abilities, the Raptor is the weapon of choice when tackling the most imposing of trails.
The prototypical overland vehicle, the Toyota Land Cruiser has been a staple of off-roading for decades. Dating all the way back to the early 60s and FJ40, this stalwart 4×4 has become the go-to among overlanding die-hards. The Land Cruiser combines off-road capability with incredible durability and reliability. These things are tougher than a Timex, often running well into the 300K and even 400K marks and still going strong.
Part of their popularity is due to their near ubiquity across the globe. Land Cruisers in their various forms have been sold all over the world, which makes finding replacement parts in remote areas of Africa or Central Asia much easier than say the above-mentioned F-150 Raptor. Since these things have proven so tough even high-mileage examples still command a decent price. Therefore, shopping around for a good deal will be warranted. But you can also invest with the confidence that adding a 100K to the odometer won’t mean totaling it out.
No overlanding list would be complete without at Jeep and this is the best of the bunch. The Wrangler’s 4×4 superpowers are the stuff of legend. Factory locking differentials, long-travel suspension, solid axels are all present. Plus, there are few more customizable vehicles out there. Need to accommodate some burly off-road tires? Lift it. Think it needs more room for taking a snooze? Add a pup-tent. Keep getting stuck? No worries, you’ve got a winch, right?
Similar to the Raptor, the Wrangler is at its best when facing down difficult obstacles. The steeper the grade, the rockier the road, the more the Wrangler shines. There’s a reason this Jeep is named after the famed overland trail in the El Dorado National Forest. You can either go with the Sahara, if you want to get some sun by removing the roof and doors, or you can go with the maximally equipped Rubicon. This trim offers additional off-road goodies like 17-inch tires and an electronically disconnecting front sway bar.
I know since I have some snide things to say about luxury camping earlier the inclusion of $125,000-dollar SUV risks confusing things. But make no mistake, the G-Wagon is the real deal; and if you’ve got the pocket change and the gumption for real adventure, there may be no better choice.
Don’t think for a moment that all that scratch is just going toward high-quality leather upholstery, it is, but it’s also getting you some of the best off-roading capabilities around. The G-Class has three locking differentials, approach and departure angles of 31° and 30° respectively, and a payload of 1,550 lbs.
Another Toyota, another overlander built to last. This SUV sibling of the Toyota Tacoma offers that same off-road ruggedness this time with an enclosed cabin that can house more passengers or, since the rear seats fold flat, a ready-made sleeping surface. Like the Land Cruiser, the 4Runner lives up to the Sport Utility billing, blending 4×4 agility and a never-say-die attitude.
Toyota FJ Cruiser – The FJ Cruiser has a cult following for a reason, and it’s not because of the unique styling (though that doesn’t hurt). No, it’s because this throwback SUV has real off-road chops. With its highly articulate suspension it can go boulder-for-boulder with the Wrangler.
Subaru Outback – Just because it’s small doesn’t mean the Outback isn’t an outstanding overlander. The 8.7 inches of ground clearance, standard AWD, and ample interior space are only some of the reasons this lifted wagon is beloved by the tree-hugging crowd.
Chevy Colorado ZR2 – Forget the Ford Ranger or the Jeep Gladiator, the real king of the mid-size off-road pick-ups is the Colorado. Excellent approach and departure angles, locking front and rear differentials, and copious skid plates to protect all its vital organs. There attributes combine Voltron-like to comprise a monster off-roader. It’s also got a kinder suspension over rough roads than its closest competitors.
Lexus GX – Picking up on a theme yet? Yep, Toyota makes some seriously durable products and its premium arm is no exception. The GX grants you a luxury level interior to go with the reliability and 4×4 abilities of the Land Cruiser and 4Runner. Want overland in comfort but don’t have G-Wagon money? The Lexus GX is a great alternative.
Land Rover LR4 – We couldn’t leave off without a nod to the Land Rover, specifically the LR4. The LR4 has plenty of space inside for cargo and passengers alike all trimmed in luxury quality materials. Similar to the G-Wagon and the GX, you’ll probably want to let someone else take the deprecation hit on this luxury vehicle. Once the odometer tips above 100K you can usually get one for under $20,000.
Which vehicle inspires you to tackle the great outdoors? Let us know in the comments.