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Overlanding vs Off-roading – What’s the Difference?

What’s the real score between overlanding and off-roading?

In this article, we discuss the differences between the two to clear any existing misconceptions.

The Overlanding Travel

overlanding travel

Overlanding is basically a long-distance drive through remote places. But just how long is it really? Well, let’s just put it this way; if you can still recall bits and pieces of your history class referring to the popular Silk Road used as trade route for silk (so goes the name itself), then that’s probably how it is.

The Silk Road connects China to the western countries especially to Rome that played a vital part in the prosperity of ancient cultures during the Han Dynasty (from 206 B.C. to 220 A.D.). In fact, this civilization lifeblood expands to 4,350 miles.

Another example is the Pan-American Highway that you can use to move from Alaska to Ushuaia Argentina. This whopping strip of land stretches about 19,000 miles.

overlanding travel 2

To cut the long story short, overlanding isn’t a matter of getting to your destination. Its very essence comes from the journey or travel that you need to go through in order to reach it. Surprisingly, most of the time, it doesn’t have a destination at all.

On the contrary, when you say off-roading, it means going to places that are also remote with the exception of a short-distance drive that’s only 22 miles like passing the Rubicon Trail or longer but not reaching a thousand.

This is because off-roading aims at a specific destination as opposed to overlanding. In a sense, you go through rough terrains but you do it because you need to get to a particular place where you can unwind.

For example, you’re planning off-roading to Sawtooth National Recreation in Idaho not only because you need to relieve yourself from stress by conquering obstacles, but also due to the fact you want to take a short vacation where you get to dip in a swimming hole or run free on ATVs.

Self-Sufficiency vs Self-Reliance

self reliance vs self sufficiency

When you find yourself in the unknown’s grasp, you’ll learn a thing or two on taking care of yourself. This is where the case of self-sufficiency and self-reliance comes in as far as off-roading and overlanding are involved.

Both are important factors in survival because they connote that you have your own resources that make you independent of outside help, whether it’s about the food, shelter, or protective equipment that you take with you on your adventures.

On the other hand, the two terms become distinct the moment time passes. In self- sufficiency, the amount of resources or supplies that you have lasts only for a brief time. For example, you can’t leave home without a dose of your favorite go-to protein peanut butter spread but you’ll be out for two to three days off-roading. Ideally, you may bring half a jar of it.

In self-reliance, your resources are meant to last in the long-run. So on overlanding’s end, you may take three to five jars or as recommended, if you’ll be gone for about three to six months or more.

When it comes to your choice of 4×4, the same things apply. In off-roading, you may use a jeep or truck in helping you go through certain terrain types that prove to be challenging for the meantime, but in overlanding, your two 4×4 choices would either be a SUV or a truck that’ll serve almost as your second home for the rest of your exploration.

The good thing about SUVs is they can have a huge capacity for families and friends. In other words, you can go in large groups and even have the option of sleeping inside, depending on how the seats fold to accommodate sleeping bags.

Whereas trucks’ main selling point is you get a cargo area that’s separate from the cab which is very convenient if you have something to haul or extra items you need to include on your trip. Plus, you can customize a truck according to your preferences; whether buying a roof rack for rooftop tent installation or truck tent if you want to simply settle on your truck bed.

For complete details regarding the two’s advantages including their downsides, check out Last Line of Defense’s video.

4×4 and Overlanding Trails

4wd trails

Another distinction between off-roading and overlanding are the paths where you go through. On a normal setup, off-roading as its name suggests means there’s nothing to travel on except the unconventional, rarely-taken ways like muddy surfaces, places with enormous rock formations and even those where your tires can get slippery or sink in snow. This explains the logic behind reducing your tires’ pressure so you can improve your grip on unstable surfaces.

However, on overlanding’s part, you have the option to either go for light off-roading via an L4 low-speed four-wheel drive system that lets you carefully crawl your way up steep mountainous terrains, or go for the smooth ride that you’ll usually find on the road.

Because of this, there are times when you need to maintain your tires’ typical air pressure when going for the latter. If you’re not sure of the appropriate tire pressure on the road or something similar, see our article on Best Tire Deflators.

Basically, overlanding is like preparing for the worst-case scenario without facing the danger head on. Why? It’s not after the challenge because its main goal is exploration.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

gross vehicle weight rating
As much as possible, loads should be kept within the triangle to maintain the balance.

If there’s one thing in common between off-roading and overlanding, it’ll be balance. Whether you’ll be spending a lot of time in your vehicle or not, you need to take into consideration avoiding the possibility of going beyond the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). This simply tells you the total load capacity that your vehicle can endure as given by its brand name or maker. There’s no exact GVWR since it varies by vehicle model and type.

But to make sure you don’t go overboard, it’s imperative to understand how its principle works. Suppose you have an average-size pickup truck. Too much weight on the front axle can affect your lighter springs that determine how your motor runs.

Some things that can add to front axle weight:

  • Bull bars
  • Dual batteries
  • Light bars

When it comes to loading your vehicle, the further the weight towards the rear axle, the more it stresses the rear axle and vice versa. Take note that the rear axle is the pivot point or steering reference and the center of gravity will always try to maintain equilibrium, that any weight in between the front and rear axle will be shared or split for both axles.

However, the moment you put too much weight on the rear axle’s side, it’ll produce a tilting effect, a force that automatically lifts the front axle which leads to poor vehicle handling. This means that if weight accumulates behind the rear axle, the vehicle becomes unstable and can also cause a rollover.

Some things that can add to rear axle weight:

  • Wood blocks
  • Equipment
  • Food or assorted goods

However, there are some instances when putting too much weight on the rear is unavoidable and so it’s where suspension upgrades come in to steal the scene. Many often believe that when such cases arise, the rear axles need all the modifications to boost their bearing capacity. But the truth is, the front axles also need as much modifications as the rear ones because they’re also affected by various weights one way or another. Remember, it’s all about balance.

But how does a suspension really work in general to maintain this so-called “balance?” For starters, your vehicle’s suspension is the one responsible maintaining proper traction between your vehicle’s tires and the ground, the moment the ground’s surface becomes uneven and bumpy.

It’s composed of chassis, steering, shock absorbers and tires, that all work together to ensure that your vehicle runs as intended.

Suspension is of two types:

types of suspension

To simply put it, during cornering or turning, the suspension compresses to try to compensate for the load that’s present in your vehicle. But if your vehicle is too heavy, there’s a chance for you to lose control on your wheels which may cause a crash.


Digging differences between overlanding and off-roading surely lets you understand what each has to offer. But bear in mind that the choice is also yours as to which of them better resonates with your purpose. If you’re more of the beast mode, thrill-seeker type, off-roading is your best friend. On the contrary, if you’re up for an immersive, cultural exploration, then overlanding can take you to new heights.






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