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What Is Overlanding LITE?

Updated: Apr 3

Is it time to return to our roots? Who is embracing this new segment called Overlanding Lite?

Overlanding is the fast-growing intersection of camping and backcountry travel. It combines our love of the outdoors, exploration, and wilderness access with motorized travel.

But “overlanding” has acquired a negative connotation. The term has become synonymous with overpriced camping gear and excessive modifications to our vehicles. New people exploring this broad category are quickly dismayed when they read articles and watch videos that portray $500,000 motorhomes, $100,000 four-wheelers, and $50,000 expedition trailers. And this doesn’t include satellite TV and phones, lithium-ion electric fireplaces, and more.

We want to travel, including venturing off the beaten path. We want to experience solitude and Nature away from the tourist traps. But we are NOT gearing up for the Dakar Rally!

Those who have intentionally downsized are defining Overlanding Lite.

They share one or more of the main rationales of Overlanding Lite:

1. Enjoying motorized travel across varied terrain at the lowest possible cost.

2. Traveling “lightly” with a minimum of gear and in the smallest possible vehicle.

3. Covering the most distance with the “lightest” environmental impact, primarily the lowest fuel consumption.

Some enthusiasts have a singular reason for rejecting what has become “mainstream” overlanding. Some Overlanding Lite specialists are motivated to minimize their cost and equipment and environmental impact.

Many may say, “Overlanding Lite is just returning to basics.” And they would be correct! Others might state, “Overlanding Lite is a response to societal excess.” They are also correct as the “minimalism” trend spreads to tiny homes, vanlife, the digital nomad lifestyle and now to motorized travel.

“Overlanding” is only the modern term for car camping – which has existed since the Model T Ford! It wasn't so long ago that every camping trip was an overlanding adventure! Today, some fans don’t consider travelling to be overlanding if you are not locked in 4-wheel drive. That is too narrow a viewpoint. I can remember reading about the “new” Alaska Highway and how you needed to outfit your vehicle to survive the journey. Camping was required because there was no guarantee you’d make it to the next town by nightfall. Those early travelers were certainly “overlanding”!

A few years ago, my Wife and I made the 10,000-mile roundtrip from Arizona to Alaska and back. We drove to the end of the road at McCarthy and Eagle. We drove across the Top of the World Highway to Dawson, Yukon and covered many hundreds of miles off the paved roads. We camped in a few campgrounds, and boondocked in Provincial forests other nights. This would have to be considered “overlanding” – despite the entire journey accomplished in a front-wheel drive Dodge Grand Caravan.

Cross-country routes like the Trans-America Trail (TAT) and the BDR series (Backcountry Discovery Routes) were mapped out for adventure motorcycle riders. These routes (and many other cross-state routes) attempt to cross hundreds and thousands of miles primarily on unpaved roads and trails. Adventure motorcycle travel is certainly “overlanding” - and these vehicles are only 1-wheel drive. Many of these same routes have now been discovered by four-wheel overlanders ( but many vehicles need to take the easier bypasses around challenging sections only suited to adventure motorcycles.)

Overlanding LITE provides limitless camping and travel opportunities.

The fact remains that the total mileage of unpaved roads far outnumbers paved highways. This doesn’t include seasonal offroad trails that are open to motorized vehicles. The U.S. and Canada are blessed with many millions of acres of public forest and BLM lands, plus private forest lands with public access. You couldn’t possibly run out of “overlanding” possibilities in a LONG lifetime. was created to place renewed emphasis on economy, efficiency, and sustainability.

By definition, “overlanding” is motorized transportation and thus excludes bikepacking, backpacking, canoe tripping, and other forms of human-powered travel. As noted, overlanding DOES include both 4-wheel vehicles and motorcycles. (Technically, overlanding could also include any other motorized machine, including EVs, ATVs, ebikes, etc.) I have thousands of miles of experience with both 4-wheelers and motorcycle tours. I invite you to bookmark the blog and subscribe for notification of future articles.

Here's another perspective on "Overlanding Lite", surprisingly from the biggest showcase of gear, vehicles, and totally unnecessary gadgets: Overland Expo:

My goal is to discuss the core attributes of overlanding. Along the way, I hope to answer the questions of newcomers to this specialization I have named Overlanding Lite. I also hope to challenge experienced overlanders to DECREASE their footprint (economically and environmentally) with the surprising result that they will INCREASE their enjoyment.

overlanding lite


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