There are many things to consider when selecting an overlanding vehicle. It’s like you’re buying a car and a house at the same time and there are so many vehicles to choose from it can be intimidating. Unfortunately there is no one vehicle that is the best at everything. You will have to make some compromises. It’s all about figuring out what your needs and priorities are so that you can make the compromises that will work best for you. As a starting off point make the following three considerations.
The first thing to consider is size. A larger vehicle offers more living space, more
storage, and generally more living comfort, but it will be more cumbersome to drive on narrow roads and can cause you many extra expenses at campgrounds, toll roads, ferries, and at the fuel pump. The biggest down side of a large vehicle is that there will be times when you simply can’t take it where you want to go and you will be forced to find other transportation or miss something along your route that you would have liked to see.
The next consideration is cost. This includes the cost of the vehicle as well as any maintenance, repairs, or modifications that need to be done to get the vehicle ready. You may also want to factor in the cost of shipping if the vehicle is not available where you are, if you will have to ship the vehicle to the starting point of your journey, or if you will need to ship your vehicle along your route in order to get around an unpassable area like the Darien Gap for example.
You should also consider where you are going. Picking a vehicle that is available in the area you will be driving it is a good idea for the availability of parts and mechanics that are capable of working on your rig. Your travel destination will also dictate road conditions. Will you be driving through the narrow roads of colonial towns or muddy jungle trails, or will it be all highways and smooth, open road along your route? You should also consider the availability and quality of fuel in the area you will be traveling as well as the availability of other things such as food, drinking water, electricity, or dump stations.
Now you need to get honest with yourself and ask some practical questions. The point here is to identify your needs, the things that are nonnegotiable must haves in your overlanding vehicle for you and the trip you’re planning. This will narrow down your search to vehicles that work for you. Your list of needs will look different than anyone else’s and that’s why there are so many different overlanding rigs out there. Then consider your wants, the things that you could live without, but that would be nice to have. Prioritize your wants and weigh your options. Remember to only consider vehicles that have everything on your needs list and don’t be afraid to get creative with solutions that work for you. Check out our experience below. Then let us know what you end up choosing and how it works out for you.
Using ourselves as an example this is how it worked out for us:
1. Size: Enough room for two adults and a large dog to ride and sleep inside of the vehicle. Enough storage for camping gear, tools, and several surfboards up to 8 feet long. Small enough for driving through colonial towns and narrow dirt roads required to get to some of our destinations.
2. Cost: Based on how much we had saved and our expected budget and time frame for our trip we had a maximum of $10,000 for the vehicle and all maintenance, repairs, and modifications needed before the trip. We also included our camp kitchen in this consideration since some vehicles come with a kitchen.
3. Where we are overlanding: Our planned route is from California to Panama via the Baja Peninsula. We have given ourselves two years to make this trip and plan to go to lots of remote beaches and mountains along the way. 4x4 is a must since we will be driving many dirt roads during the rainy season and we don’t want anything bigger than a full-size truck so that we have a chance at making it down those narrow roads.
Enough space to bring fishing gear and extra stuff for fun and comfort since we will be living in this vehicle for two years. The smaller the better as far as drive ability is concerned. Fuel efficiency is a factor. Not spending our entire budget would be nice. I should consider what vehicles are available in the United States and in Central America. I want to be able to purchase the vehicle and get on the road as soon as possible so not to many big projects to get it ready.
How did we do?
We ended up with a 1995 Toyota T100. It’s larger than a Tacoma or Ford Ranger, but smaller than a full size American truck and it has a relatively fuel efficient drive train that is also offered in vehicles sold in Central America. We built our own cab-over camper with a sleeping platform, 12v refrigerator, and solar system. We came in well under budget at about $6000 mostly due to finding a screaming deal on the truck and doing all the work ourselves, but we did fail to get it all done by our planned departure date. It ended up taking us 3 weeks longer than expected.
After 6 months on the road we are still happy with our overlanding rig. It’s comfortable to drive, is capable enough offroad that we have made it everywhere we have tried to go, and we have enough storage for our toys and camping gear, plus enough food and water to camp remotely for four days.
The main thing we would like, but don’t have is a kitchen and hangout space inside the camper for bad weather days and city-camping ability. It’s something we knew we wanted from the start, but were not willing to give up four-wheel drive, vehicle size, or our budget in order to obtain it.
See you on the road,