Car vs SUV: Overlanding Guide

In recent years, there has been a large shift from traditional camping to overlanding.

With traditional camping, you spend more time planning where you will camp, and what you will do when you get there, but very little time is spent on planning the actual journey. Sure, you may draw lines on the map to indicate the route you will take, but you are still going to camp in a place that is readily accessible.

But what if you wanted to spend the night, or even an entire week in some remote destination that cannot be reached by any road. You would need to spend a lot of time planning the actual journey, the route you will take, where you will stop to sleep and gather supplies, to ensure that you get to your destination safely. When you focus on the actual journey, rather than the destination then you are overlanding.

And although it’s more common to overland in a pickup truck, many people still ask, “can I overland with a car or SUV?”

Overlanding in A Car

Without a question, it is possible to overland in what many would consider a car. However, there have not been a lot of cars manufactured over the years that have been designed to be taken off-road. In recent years, the Subaru has become a popular all-wheel-drive car, but it’s not the best for rough terrain.

If you want to overland in a car, then you might want to think about picking up something a little bit older. In fact, several decades old.

To date, there has only been one car manufactured that is capable of handling the rough terrain that one often faces when they overlanding and that car is the AMC Eagle. The AMC Eagle was initially introduced in 1980, and it was a true four-wheel drive passenger car. They continued to manufacture the Eagle until 1988.

After Chrysler acquired AMC, they ended the Eagle as a four-wheel-drive vehicle. They revived the line a decade later, as a rebranded Mitsubishi, but this did not feature four-wheel drive.

Although all-wheel-drive cars have come and gone over the years, no other car has been manufactured with four-wheel-drive.

Overlanding in an SUV

Unless you are lucky enough to get your hands on an AMC Eagle, then chances are you’ll need to look into purchasing an SUV for your overland expedition.

While it is more popular to use trucks overland, you cannot overlook the utility of a sport utility vehicle. Not only do you have plenty of storage space, but you can also sleep in them.

Toyota 4Runner

One of the most popular SUVs used for overlanding is the Toyota 4 Runner. It is considered by many in the overlanding community to be one of the most reliable options available on the market. They are well-designed from the factory and generally require very little modification.

When looking for a Toyota 4Runner, it is better to look for older models. They generally feature solid front and rear axles, which means fewer parts to break on the trail. As result, the most that anyone will need to modify one of these SUVs is to add a set of good off-road tires and a roof rack.

If you plan on driving through deep water, you may also want to look into getting a snorkel. In fact, there is a whole swath of available aftermarket gear that you can purchase for this SUV. In the end, regardless of where you plan on going, you will find that the Toyota 4Runner has the ability to get you there safely.

Ford Bronco

Although there is a new model of the Ford Bronco, you can never go wrong with the older version from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. There are two versions of the Ford Bronco to choose from, both of which are great for an overland expedition.

The full-size Bronco was based on the F150 chassis, and thus shares many of the same features as the standard pickup truck. But, there was also the Bronco II, which was based on the Ranger chassis and therefore shares many of the same features as the Ranger.

There are two major differences between these models, while both of them use an independent front suspension, the full-size Bronco is larger and has room for a bigger engine. When it comes to offroading, your engine displacement can play a pivotal role and whether you get where you are going or not. Since the Bronco II generally came with either a four-cylinder, it is a more fuel-efficient option, but lacks much of the power needed for heavy offloading.

Land Rover Defender

One of the most expensive SUVs for overlanding is also the only SUV that is specifically designed for an overland expedition. The Land Rover Defender may look like an expensive overpriced luxury vehicle, but it was designed by the manufacturer to be the ultimate off-roading machine.

One of the most popular trim packages for the Land Rover Defender is the Landy. This version features a tent built into the roof rack, which can be easily folded out each night, then packed away in the morning. Designed for life on the African Savanna, the Land Rover is the epitome of overland SUVs.

Isuzu Trooper

Believe it or not, the Isuzu Trooper is a very popular overlanding SUV. While most of the off-road world has all but forgotten the existence of this well-built SUV, thanks to the growing community of fans, it is starting to make a comeback.

Like the Land Rover defender, the trooper is designed for overland expeditions. It is a very popular SUV in the deserts, because of its ability to handle some of the world’s most extreme offroading conditions. Not only is the Isuzu one of the cheapest SUVs available on the use car market, but it also has an amazing ability to be modified for overland trips.

With a little bit of tender loving care, you can prep an Isuzu Trooper for a journey across the country, through the jungle, or even to the beach. It is a versatile SUV, that has a large selection of aftermarket gear and accessories.

Jeep Cherokee

The Jeep Cherokee is one of the oldest, and longest continuously manufactured SUVs in the world. The first Jeep Cherokee came off the assembly line back in 1974 and was commonly found with the same 258 cubic inch in-line straight-six engine that was found in the CJ. Over the decades, the Jeep Cherokee has gone through many different facelifts.

The first Jeep Cherokee design was manufactured with very little change for an entire decade. In 1984, it received its first major facelift and redesign. This second-generation continued with very little change until 2001. Since 2001, however, the SUV has gone through a number of major changes, which has turned the SUV into more of a family car rather than an off-road vehicle.

Range Rover

Along the same lines as the Land Rover Defender, the Range Rover is also an extremely capable off-road vehicle. Although the modern version of the Range Rover, like the current versions of the Jeep Cherokee, is not the best option for an overland expedition, the older models can be extremely reliable. As a result, you should focus on Range Rovers that are more than 20 years old.

Just to put it in perspective, if you have ever visited the African savanna, then chances are you have probably seen many Range Rovers being used. Like the Land Rover, this British-designed SUV was created for the most remote and hostile areas of Africa. They were designed to be driven down even the harshest of trails and still bring you home safely.

SUV vs. Truck

The fact is, that an SUV can be a great option when it comes to an overland expedition. But, there are times when a truck is better than SUV. For example, although an SUV has a lot of storage capacity, all the added weight can put you at a disadvantage when the road gets rough. Likewise, most trucks are designed for rougher roads, and generally have four-wheel-drive rather than all-wheel-drive.

The Terrain

One of the first things that needs to be taken into consideration when determining whether to choose a truck or SUV, is the terrain that you plan on traveling over. The rougher the train, the better the suspension you need. At the same time, the weight of your vehicle will make a huge difference in whether or not you will be able to traverse rougher conditions.


Next off, you have the drivetrain. There are several different types of drivetrain that are available in SUVs and trucks. This includes rear-drive, front-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive, and four-wheel-drive.

Rear-wheel drive – In a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, the power from the engine is sent directly to the rear axle via the transmission and driveshaft. The front axle on the other hand spins freely and does not provide any traction in off-road situations. Since trucks are lighter in the rear end, they are more likely to lose traction than an SUV.

Front-wheel drive – In a front-wheel-drive vehicle, the engine’s power is sent directly to the front wheels via a transaxle. In a front-wheel-drive vehicle, the rear wheels spin freely and do not provide any form of traction. Instead, the front wheels are responsible for delivering power to the ground. Because the engine sits above the front axle, these vehicles tend to have more traction in the front and effectively drag the weight of the rear end.

All-wheel drive – In an all-wheel-drive vehicle, the engine power is generally sent equally to the front and rear axles. Depending on the make and manufacturer of the truck or SUV, the amount of power received at each individual axel and wheel is controlled by a computer that can sense if a tire is slipping. Because both the front and rear axles receive power from the engine, they provide more traction than a front-wheel or rear-wheel-drive vehicle. They are also more complicated than a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Four-wheel drive – In a four-wheel-drive vehicle, the engine’s power is sent from the transmission to a transfer case. This transfer case allows the operator to choose between four-wheel-drive and two-wheel drive. Depending on the make and model of the vehicle in question, either the front or rear axle will be the primary source of traction. However, using the transfer case, the operator is able to put the vehicle into either four-wheel-drive high, or four-wheel-drive low.

High and Low

The ability to switch between high and low gears in a four-wheel-drive vehicle can make a very big difference. When set too high, the tires spin faster, but as a result, have less torque. Likewise, when set too low, the tires will spin slower but have greater torque. This can mean the difference between getting stuck, and getting out of a sticky situation.

4WD high – Four-wheel-drive high, allows you to drive at highway speeds with all four wheels engaged. However, this is not recommended because it results in more friction on the drivetrain and a higher rotating mass. Older off-road vehicles have manual lock-out axles which allow you to disengage the front axle when not in use in order to reduce this rotating mass. As a general rule of thumb, when driving at highway speeds you should only use two-wheel drive.

4WD low – Four-wheel-drive low, reduces the gearing of the output of the transfer case. As result, the tires will spin slower than normal, resulting in an increase in the amount of torque applied to the ground. This is extremely helpful when you get stuck or need to deal with extreme conditions.

For those who live in northern states where it snows, there is a general rule of thumb when it comes to four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Even if it’s snowing, you should always drive on the highway using two-wheel drive. Only if you lose traction and slide off the road, should you engage four-wheel-drive high. If after engaging four-wheel-drive high, you are still unable to get back onto the road, then, and only then should you switch to the lower gear ratio. You have a better chance of getting out of a sticky situation if you follow this simple rule.

In the end, the choice of whether to go with an SUV or a truck is totally up to you and your particular needs. And, if you are able to get your hands on an old AMC Eagle, then by all means use it as an overlanding vehicle. But, you probably shouldn’t use your brand-new Subaru all-wheel-drive on your next overland expedition, because it’s just not designed for that kind of abuse.

Recent Posts