Overland travel is a great way to see remote parts of the world.
No matter how you define overland travel and whether you want to join an overlanding tour or go with your own vehicle, you’re bound to have a great time.
And it’s going to be even better if you pack the correct overland gear. Overlanding is different from other trips because you will be camping, often in remote areas, so you need to adjust your packing list.
Daniel and I met on an overlanding trip along the Silk Road. After spending months in a yellow truck, we had a pretty good idea of the gear we should have taken, the items we should have left at home and what we would never travel without.
It doesn’t matter whether you are overlanding in South America, overlanding West Africa or exploring the US; a few overlanding essentials should always be in your luggage.
Some of those essentials only apply if you’re travelling in your own car. Others apply to everyone. We have sorted them so you can easily find out which ones you need, depending on your overlanding style.
What is overland travel?
Overland travel is, simply said, going from one place to another without taking a plane. You are not leaving the land, therefore, you are going overland.
Many people have different definitions of overlanding. Some see it as a long trip between places that are far apart. Travelling overland from Europe to Southeast Asia, for example, is one of those trips.
Others see overlanding as going off-road. Overlanding in the USA, for example, often means that you get a jeep and leave asphalted roads behind.
When overlanding, you can either take your own vehicle or join an overlanding tour. For example, overlanding in Africa is very popular because a lot of tour operators offer trips there. In other areas of the world, you will have a harder time finding a company that specialises in going overland.
Whether you are taking your car or are going on a tour, you need to be mindful of the space available for your luggage. Pack your vehicle in advance at home if you are going with one.
If you are travelling with a company, make sure to check out how much you can take. All overlanding trucks are built differently.
When we went with Oasis Overland along the Silk Road, we had a locker where we could leave bulky items, like a pillow.
On the other hand, when I went on a short overland trip to Uganda a few years ago (with a different company), we only had a small space to store our luggage. We had to take everything out in the evening, so I was grateful that my backpack wasn’t too heavy.
As you can see, you need to adapt your packing to your situation. Nevertheless, these are the items we absolutely recommend you put into your luggage:
Overlanding travel packing list
To make packing more manageable for you, we have sorted our recommended items into three categories. First, we’ll talk about the camping gear you need. Most of these items are essential if you’re travelling in your own car.
If you join a tour, you will have to look at what is included and what you need to take. Most tour operators provide tents, and some also give you an air mattress. You usually have to bring your own sleeping bag, but you might need more. Look into your tour documents to see what is included and what isn’t.
After the camping gear, we’ll get to the personal equipment that everyone should take on an overland trip.
And finally, we’ll look at items you only need if you’re travelling in your own car. Don’t worry about those if you join an overland tour.
Overland camping gear list
#1 Sleeping bag
The first thing you need to pack is a sleeping bag. We highly recommend you get good gear. Don’t try to save money here. You will use your sleeping bag every day, and the quality can make a huge difference.
When buying your sleeping bag, look at the comfort temperature and think of where you’re going. For example, on an overland trip through Central Asia, temperatures can drop below zero at night. In that case, you need a sleeping bag that keeps you warm every night.
In East Africa, on the other hand, the nights are often a lot milder, so you can get away with taking a lighter sleeping bag.
A great all-round sleeping bag is the North Face One Bag Sleeping Bag. It keeps you warm at temperatures as low as -15ºC (5 F), but you can also use it in warmer temperatures by combining and taking off various layers.
The most significant disadvantage is that the warmer a sleeping bag, the heavier and larger it gets. Therefore, if you travel to warmer climates, you should look for a lightweight sleeping bag in which you won’t be boiling at night.
The Teton Sports TrailHead, for example, will keep you comfortable on warm nights. It’s light, easy to pack, and you won’t sweat in it. Just make sure not to take it to any cold areas.
#2 Air mattress
The same principles that apply to sleeping bags also apply to air mattresses.
If you try to save money here, you will feel every tiny rock underneath your tent and have a hard time sleeping.
Plus, you will lose warmth through the ground and will spend your nights shivering despite your good sleeping bag. Good air mattresses pack up very small, so they are easy to take with you.
Even if you are going with a tour operator who provides sleeping pads, you should consider bringing your own for extra comfort.
I own the Exped Synmat UL, which is, hands down, the best air mattress I have ever slept on. It’s comfortable, easy to inflate, and it keeps you warm. Plus, it packs up into a small bag.
What else could you possibly ask for?
#3 Overlanding tent
Most tour operators will provide you with a tent, so you don’t have to worry about bringing your own.
If you travel independently, however, you need to think about what kind of tent you want. Depending on your vehicle, you might be able to install a rooftop tent. These tents have the advantage that they’re off the ground, so you don’t need to worry about mud or uneven terrain.
On the downside, you cannot drive your vehicle once they are deployed. If you’re staying somewhere for a few days and want to use your car, you will have to pack your tent every time.
As regular tents are more versatile, this would be our choice – unless you’re planning on going on a lot of overlanding trips. But even then, isn’t it great to have a tent you can also use for regular camping?
The advantage of travelling in a vehicle is that you don’t need to worry too much about the weight of your tent since you won’t carry it long distances. That allows you to buy a tent that offers you lots of space, like the North Face Wawona 6 tent.
This tent is large enough that you can stand up inside, which you will appreciate, especially on longer overlanding tours. It also has a large vestibule where you can store some of your items. Click here to buy it on amazon.com!
#4 Overlanding table and chairs
If you’re going on an organised tour, you usually don’t need to worry about this. But if you’re travelling in your own vehicle, you need to bring your own overlanding chairs and table.
Even though weight isn’t the most essential factor when you’re travelling in a car, you should still try to find chairs and a table that pack up relatively small. You need to take a lot of equipment with you, and it all needs to fit into your vehicle.
As for the table, make sure it’s sturdy enough. The Mountain Summit Gear Roll Top Table, for example, can hold up to 70 lbs (around 31 kg). When you prepare dinner on it, you don’t need to worry about it collapsing. Plus, it folds up surprisingly small!
You wouldn’t want to carry it for long distances, but it’s the perfect table for your campsite. Go and get one for your next trip now!
#5 Overlanding kitchen
One of your most important pieces of equipment is the overlanding kitchen. You don’t need to worry about it if you join an organised overlanding tour, but you will need to invest in one if you travel independently.
First, you need a stove. Since you’re not hiking and don’t have to carry it, we recommend getting one with two burners. The Coleman Gas Camping Stove, for example, works very well as an overlanding stove.
Next, you need to look into overlanding cooking gear. The GSI Outdoors Glacier Stainless Camper, for example, is a great set that includes two pots, a frying pan and plates, mugs and bowls for four people. Everything packs neatly, so you don’t need to worry about it taking up too much space.
Last, you need to think about whether you need a cooling system. The easiest “overlanding refrigerator” is a good cooler. Fill it with ice, put in everything that needs to be cold and set off.
The Yeti Tundra 35 cooler, for example, does this job.
If you’re gone for a longer time, you should consider investing in a cooler that can run on your car’s power. Be very careful with this one, as it can drain your car’s battery while you’re not driving.
Therefore, remember to unplug it when you start setting up your tent.
#6 Overlanding shower
Having an overlanding shower is not a must. If you’re planning on staying on campgrounds or in hotels from time to time, you won’t need it.
In fact, I would argue that it is the least valuable item in this section.
Nevertheless, if you’re gone for a longer time, you might appreciate the comfort of an overlanding shower.
Just like with all pieces of overlanding equipment, you have lots of choices when it comes to showers. One of the easiest models is the Simple Shower Portable Camping Shower.
It’s small and straightforward to set up, as you can just connect it to a bottle. No, it doesn’t give you much time for showering, but it’s great for cleaning yourself.
If you’re looking for something a bit more advanced, then check out the Advanced Elements 5 Gallon Solar Shower. You fill it with water, leave it in the sun and then enjoy your shower.
Personal Overlanding Essentials
In the next section, let’s talk about all of the personal essentials you need to add to your overlanding gear list. We’re not going into much depth for clothing, but instead, we’ll focus on all those small items that are easy to forget.
Let’s dive straight in.
#7 Rechargeable headlamp
Don’t just take a regular torch or rely on the flashlight in your phone.
Imagine going to the bush in complete darkness because you need to pee. You’ll be holding toilet paper in one hand. Do you really want to hold a flashlight or a phone in the other hand? How are you going to pull down your pants?
And don’t let us get started on what happens if you accidentally drop your phone into that hole in the ground.
The best way around any potential problems is to get a good headlamp. There are a lot of models out there, but the best ones are rechargeable. That way, you don’t have to buy batteries and can protect your wallet and the environment.
I love my Black Diamond Headlamp because it gives off a bright light, and the battery lasts for ages. Go and check it out on Amazon now!
#8 Reusable water bottle
Talking about protecting the environment. Plastic bottles pollute our planet, which is why it’s best to avoid them as much as possible.
Many overlanding companies provide free drinking water on the truck, so it’s best to bring a reusable bottle and fill it up whenever it is empty.
The bottle I use is from Platypus. These bottles fold up very flat and get smaller when they get empty, so they don’t take up much space. Make sure to buy one that’s large enough, especially if you’re travelling to hot climates.
If you’re not travelling with a tour company, or if you’re unsure whether the water they offer is safe, you might want to bring a water filter on your overlanding trips.
Many travellers highly recommend the Life Straw. You can either drink directly from it or filter water through it, and it removes not just bacteria but also dirt.
We personally use a Steripen for sterilising our water. It doesn’t remove debris, but it kills pretty much anything that could make you feel sick using UV light. Stick it into your water bottle, turn it on and leave it in there until the water is ready.
Afterwards, you’re free to drink that water.
#9 Biodegradable soap
Overlanding means you will not only stay on campgrounds but at beautiful spots in the middle of nature. For example, we camped next to the rusty ships on what used to be the bottom of the Aral Sea.
While these kinds of camping spots are stunning, wild camping means that you can go days without seeing a proper shower. Sometimes, your only chance of washing yourself is to jump into clear rivers.
Bring a bottle of biodegradable soap to use for those situations so you don’t pollute rivers and lakes. Sea to Summit, for example, offers a multi-purpose soap that you can use not just to clean your body but also to wash dishes or clothes.
On that note, if you have to cross long stretches of desert, bring a pack of wet wipes. If you know you won’t have access to water at all, you will appreciate those for cleaning yourself.
I brought an inflatable pillow on my overland trip, which served me fine for the first part of the trip. But when we crossed into Kyrgyzstan and the nights got so cold that I had to completely disappear in my sleeping bag, with only my mouth and nose not being covered, I found out that it didn’t give my neck enough support when I was lying on my side.
That is why I went to a Kyrgyz bazaar and bought a proper pillow.
If you’re travelling in your own car or your overlanding company provides you with lockers large enough to fit a pillow in there, we highly recommend you bring a proper one. It doesn’t have to be anything special, just a regular pillow you have at home.
#11 Power bank
If you’re travelling in your own vehicle, you can take a car charger and charge your phone while you’re driving.
And if you’re going with an overlanding company, you might be able to charge your electronic devices on the truck. You just need to double-check ahead of time if you need any special adaptors.
However, there will be times when you’re not driving, and you want to charge your equipment. That’s why it’s essential to take a portable charger.
We recommend a capacity of at least 9.000 – 20.000 mAh so you can recharge your phone a couple of times. In fact, we usually take two power banks with us, a small one and a big one.
Our iWalk Portable Charger is so tiny, we can easily carry it with us. It fits into every pocket, and we always take it when we hike or explore a new place.
We also carry a larger portable charger with more power. Our Anker power bank allows us to charge our phones many times. It takes a while to charge, but it’s great when we don’t have access to electricity for two or three days.
#12 Quick-dry towel
Remember when we mentioned going for a swim in rivers and lakes? Quick-dry towels are very useful for drying yourself afterwards.
They are usually light and come in different sizes and different colours. It’s rare to find one that feels exactly like a cotton towel, but they have gotten very good over the past years and are perfect for any overlanding trip.
The Rainleaf towels, for example, have excellent ratings. Click here to see all sizes you can get and shop for your own towel now!
#13 Clothesline / laundry detergent
Laundry services are available at most hotels, but in certain parts of the world, like Turkmenistan or China, they can be expensive.
And you won’t have access to a washing machine at all when you are wild camping. That’s why we always carry a clothesline that we can put up in every room or in between trees. It folds into a tiny bag when you’re not using it, so it is super easy to take.
Our clothesline is from Sea to Summit and is one of the smallest on the market. Click here to check it out on Amazon!
You also need to make sure to bring enough liquid laundry detergent for handwashing. We already recommended the Wilderness Wash from Sea to Summit above, which also works great for washing laundry.
The next item is one that we didn’t bring on our first overland journey and one that I really wished I would have had.
When we started travelling, my hair wasn’t long enough to properly put it into a ponytail, and I always had hair flying into my face. Open trucks or driving with the window open is great, but the downside is that by the end of the day, your hair is going to be very tangled.
A headscarf helps protect your hair and keep it knot-free. It can also protect you from sunburn or keep you warm in the cold.
A good option is the Buff multi-purpose headwear. It has lots of different uses, and not only will you have fun playing around with it, but it looks pretty stylish, too.
#15 Insect repellent
Overlanding means you’re going to spend a lot of time outside. You’ll be cooking outside, sitting around a campfire outside, and you’ll have your breakfast outside.
Unless you’re in the middle of the desert without any water sources nearby, there will be mosquitos. Depending on where you are, mosquito bites are not just itchy. They can give you malaria, dengue fever and a couple more diseases with hard-to-pronounce names.
Therefore, it’s essential to protect yourself.
In general, you have the choice between three different types of insect repellent. They can be DEET-based, picaridin-based or based on essential oils.
DEET is very efficient at warding off bugs, but it can be pretty aggressive to the skin and any plastic you touch. My fingerprints burned into my GoPro casing when I touched it right after applying DEET, so be careful.Is your overlanding trip taking you through the jungle? Then you also need strong insect repellent! Find out what else you should pack with our
Picaridin is an excellent alternative, which also works well. I am, unfortunately, allergic, but I used it for many years before developing my allergy.
#16 First-aid kit
If your overlanding trip takes you to remote areas, it’s always a good idea to pack a first-aid kit.
You likely won’t need it, but you’ll be very happy to have it in case you do. Fortunately, serious incidents are rare, so you will likely only ever need the band-aids from there.
Check out this first-aid kit which has everything you will need on your trip.
Also, don’t forget to pack any prescription medicine you usually take, plus a selection of emergency over-the-counter drugs. Get a painkiller and something against nausea and diarrhoea in case you get sick on the road.
The best way to find out what you should take is by speaking to your doctor before your trip. They can give you advice and can also tell you if you need any vaccinations before you leave.
Jeep Overlanding Gear
If you’re joining an overlanding tour, then you can skip this section. But if you’re planning on overlanding in a jeep that you drive yourself, there are a few pieces of gear that you need to take.
#17 Maps / GPS
Make sure you don’t get lost while overlanding!
The best way to do so is by taking good maps and a GPS. You can, of course, only rely on your GPS. However, when going off-road, it’s usually best to also buy overlanding paper maps, to be on the safe side.
If you are in the US, Delorme produces excellent topographic maps. Outside the US, you will need to do a bit of research on which maps are best. Compare different offers and see which ones best fit your need.
It’s also often a good idea to take a GPS device. The Garmin Overlander GPS covers North and South America, for example, and gives you all of the information you need. It’s great, no matter if you’re planning on going from Alaska to Patagonia or want to have some off-road fun.
#18 Extra fuel
Are you planning on leaving the roads behind? Then you should pack extra fuel.
You won’t need this if you’re overlanding Europe, for example. But if you’re crossing a desert in Central Asia, going off-road in the Americas or travelling through the heart of Australia, for example, it’s a good idea to have an extra fuel can.
Don’t take anything fancy; a regular fuel can like this one will do. Fill it before your trip, and you’re ready to go.
A shovel serves multiple purposes. The obvious one, especially when it comes to your overlanding car, is that it can help you if you get stuck.
We have shovelled sand before when our truck got stuck in the desert of Turkmenistan.Due to visa restrictions, you likely won’t be able to go to Turkmenistan in your own car. Nevertheless, Central Asia is a great area for overlanding. Find out more in our post about the
We have also used shovels for different purposes. If you’re wild camping, you should always dig a toilet hole if you need to go for number two. Cover it with soil afterwards to make sure that it’s well hidden.
A shovel comes in handy for this.
If you’re travelling with a tour company, by the way, you don’t need to worry about this. You’ll either stay on campgrounds with toilet facilities, or you’ll get a shovel from the tour operator.
But if you’re going on your own, then make sure to buy a foldable shovel like this one!
#20 Winch Kit
You will need to estimate how likely you are going to get stuck on your overlanding trip. Are you mainly sticking to roads? Then you can skip this item.
On the other hand, if you’re afraid that you might get stuck somewhere on your trip, you should consider investing in a winch. And not just that, make sure also to learn how to use it!
We never had to use one, so we can’t give you much advice on that. What we’ve gathered from our research, though, is that you also need to invest in suitable winching accessories.
The WARN Medium-Duty kit consistently receives good reviews and is, therefore, a decent option you should check out.
As we are not experts in this topic, make sure to do your own research before you get anything!
Preparing for an overlanding trip can be time-consuming, but you should now know the main items you need to pack.
Make sure to check out the many posts on our blog that can help you prepare for your trip. We have lots of content about South America and Central Asia, two very popular overlanding destinations.
Here are some of our favourite places we’ve seen that are perfect for overlanding trips:
- Discover the Heart of the Silk Road in Uzbekistan
- Drive a car across the salt flats in Bolivia
- Take your vehicle through the vast landscapes of Southern Patagonia
- Not ready for a long-distance trip yet? Then start with this Germany road trip itinerary!
Until your next adventure!
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