How to Build an Overland Vehicle


Overland rig, covered in mud, driving on a cliffside trail with beautiful alpine scenery.

There is a lot of discussion around what makes the best overland vehicle. Overlanding involves driving long distances in your off-road build, usually driving on remote roads to remote places, far away from the conveniences of civilization. The trails are usually unmaintained and can run very long before hitting pavement, so an overland vehicle has different requirements from an everyday driver.

Here are some recommended mods for your rig to turn it into the ultimate off-road vehicle.

Suspension Lift

A suspension lift is great starting point to building out you rig. You do not need anything crazy, but a couple inches can help to get you a higher clearance for obstacles and rough terrain and will allow you to fit bigger tires. If you are lifting from a stock SUV or truck 2 to 2.5in will usually get you what you need.

Lifter 4Runner driving on bank of lake.

You can potentially go up to 3-4 inches depending on your rig, but anything bigger than 3 inch lift will need geometry correcting parts. For an independent axle you will want high angle or extended control arms to correct the alignment. For a solid axle vehicle, you will want a panhard correction to adjust for the lift.

You still want your vehicle to be stable when driving on the freeway since most overlanders will drive far from their home to explore nature. Make sure you take this into account when getting a lift.

Additionally, when buying a new vehicle some now come with air suspensions that allow you to change the height of your ride. The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk comes with the ability to lift to a higher off-road height. Something to consider.

Upgraded Tires

There are two reasons you want to upgrade from your stock tires to build your overland vehicle:

  1. Larger diameter. Having larger tires will help you drive over larger obstacles and grip for better traction.
  2. More aggressive. A more aggressive tire will give you greater traction when going through mud, snow, or sand, when going over rocks and obstacles, and when going up steep inclines.

I recommend getting a larger more aggressive tire for you overland rig to give you extra capability on your adventures.

All Terrain Tire on Grand Cherokee

When choosing between All Terrain (A/T), Mud Terrain (MT), or Hybrid tires consider how often you drive on paved vs unpaved roads and what fits your needs. If you have a daily driver overland vehicle, AT would likely be suitable. If you have a dedicated trail rig the tougher sidewall and more aggressive tread of the MT may be better.

Although having the biggest possible tires sounds like a great idea, keep in mind what is practical for your overlanding style. No need to try and stuff in some 39s if you are driving on moderately rugged roads. Consider what terrain you will encounter and don’t build a rock crawler if you do not plan on rock crawling.

Armor

Armor is extremely important. While far out in the remote back country you have no help if your vehicle ends up broken down.

Your tires can kick up rocks that can cause damage to your vehicle’s components. You could hit a jagged rock hard and cause some serious damage. Having a layer of armor on your undercarriage will keep those important vehicle components safe from damage.

Rock sliders, skid plates, and metal bumpers can help make your rig even more tough for the toughest adventures.

I recommend getting rock sliders first as they are useful for protecting the high contact points under your doors. Next, I recommend getting skid plates to protect the delicate components under your vehicle.

Roof Rack

When living out of your vehicle for multiple days you realize the importance of cargo space. Especially, when you are carrying all types of camping gear, cooking gear, and recovery gear. Having extra cargo space on your roof can make a huge difference.

You can get standard crossbars to mount all types of gear on your roof. If you need more space to keep things secure from the weather, consider a cargo box. There are also cargo baskets and platforms that work well for keeping overland gear out of your vehicle.

Traction board strapped on roof rack platform attached to a Jeep.

Make sure to not overload your roof. You do not want your vehicle to be too top heavy since your car will be unbalanced when on off road trails. Being unbalanced means you can tip your vehicle, quickly ending your adventure and causing serious damage to your vehicle or yourself.

For a list of different Roof Rack Attachments check out our article Best Roof Rack Accessories.

Recovery Gear

This is not a mod to your vehicle but very important for any overlander. Always bring recovery gear!

I would start with traction boards which are basically boards that you slip under you tires when you are stuck to regain traction.

Traction Boards in sand of beach

A winch is another great piece of gear. If you have a winch attached to your vehicle you can use it to pull you out when you get stuck. It can also help you clear the trail of downed trees.

You should also bring recovery straps so you can get pulled out if you get stuck. Please note that you will need another vehicle to pull you out. However, if you are a solo adventurer, it does not hurt to carry incase you run into someone else who needs help.

Depending on the terrain, a high lift jack can help. If you often go over rocky terrain where you can get high centered, a high lift jack is a great tool to get you back on the road.

Also, always bring a shovel. Sometimes all you can do is dig to get yourself unstuck. It can also be useful for camp tasks, such as building or putting out a fire, or burying your business. Make sure to always have a shovel in your car.

For a guide on how to use Traction Boards, Recovery Straps, and Winches check out our article How to use Recovery Gear.

 

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