Sunset at a beautiful lakeside campsite.

Shelter Options for Overland Camping

While camping in the backcountry with your 4X4 vehicle, you have plenty of options for your sleeping situation. It is mostly a matter of personal preference, but there are pros and cons for each camp shelter option to be aware of.

Check out my breakdown of shelter options for overlanders.

Classic Ground Tent

Watercolor sunset sky on a desert playa at camp.

The tried and true, classic way of camping. A ground tent is a solid option for overland camping. It provides shelter and is easy to pack up and transport.

When it comes to choosing tents you need to pick a tent for the right season. If you are camping in the summer you can get away with a 1-2 season tent, but in colder weather you will want to get a 3 or 4 season tent. That way if you must face rain or snow, you can be comfortable and safe inside your tent.

Ground tents are usually easy to set up and take down, but they do take work. Additionally, some tents can be a real pain to set up, so it may be worth checking out the reviews ahead of time to find one that works for you.

I recommend the Coleman Steel Creek Fast Pitch Tent.

Roof Top Tent

The golden standard of modern-day overlanding. A rooftop tent can be an easy convenient way to bring your shelter along wherever you go.

Roof top tents are quick to set up and take down and are always attached to your car when you need them. They are often durable and act as a reliable shelter from the elements—just make sure you get a good quality one. Not to mention sleeping high above the ground can add an extra layer of comfort and safety from the creatures and critters below.

The largest downside is the hefty price tag—some can run from $2-5k. Additionally, they are large and take up a lot of space, which could be used for other cargo, so consider what is best for your situation before buying.

For a quality but reasonably priced option check out the Smittybilt Roof Top Tent.

To help you determine whether it is worth it to purchase a Rooftop Tent, check out our article Are Rooftop Tents Worth it?


Depending on what type of camper you are hammock camping could be a solid option. Hammocks are easy to set up if there are trees around to tie them to. Additionally, they pack up small and compact, so they are easy to transport. They are also super easy to set up and take down, in comparison to say a ground tent.

It can get a little breezy on your back so keep that in mind for cold weather. You can use a comforter below you to keep heat in. Additionally, if there is rain in the forecast you will want to make a tarp shelter above your hammock to keep you dry.

I use the Covacure Hammock with Bug Net when I go hammock camping.

Hammock camping in the high desert forest.

Sleeping in the Car

The nice thing about driving your car to go camping is that it is essentially a portable shelter. It is sometimes as simple as just passing out in the driver’s seat, to avoid the hassle of setting up a tent. Additionally, if you have a big enough trunk you can convert it into a bed. Buy an inflatable sleeping bag or just use a sleeping pad and lay it in the back.

This is probably the easiest way to car camp and gives you the most shelter from the elements, but in my opinion it is not the same experience as camping outside. You will not hear the noises of the forest at night—maybe you prefer that—or the birds in the morning. However, it is a solid option to be considered while outdoors.

Sleeping Under the Stars

If you are up to it and the weather permits, you may just sleep out in the open with a sleeping pad and sleeping bag. Your sleeping bag should keep you warm, so long as there is not a storm in the forecast.

This option leaves you the most exposed, so it is not for everyone. However, if you want a real rugged outdoor experience and are willing to tough it out, then give it a try.

For a list of other overland gear, check out our article on the topic.


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