This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it does cover the basic Overland gear you’ll need for your first few adventures. There are certain items that are simply required for camping off the grid. We’ve included the most important ones in our list. There are lots of things you could add, but if you’re just getting started in Overlanding, this list of essential items is a good place to start. If you’ve done any camping at all, you probably have most of the gear you need to start Overlanding.
We’ve made a few assumptions about your situation:
- Your vehicle isn’t heavily modified and in solid mechanical shape.
- You won’t be tacking anything more than soft roads and well-worn trails on your first few adventures.
- You have some experience in the outdoors like car camping or RVing.
- You’re not venturing too far from home and not for more than a few days.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into our list and see what items you’ll need for your next adventure.
Those who Fail to Plan…
1: You Need a Plan
It’s not really a piece of Overland gear, but it is the most important thing you’ll carry. A plan for car camping usually involves a reservation at a campground. A plan for Overlanding is more complicated. We’ll cover the details on planning your first Overlanding adventure in a future post, but for the sake of this list, you’ll need to know where you’re going and where you’ll stop for fuel. What kind of roads and trails will you encounter? Mark out your route and points-of-interest on a paper map. Program your GPS, or app like Gaia GPS with your route. Leave a copy of your route and itinerary with a friend or relative.
Pro Tip: Electronics fail and batteries die. Bring a paper map!
A Vehicle to Hold Your Overland Gear
It may seem like an obvious entry for our list, but it’s an essential bit of Overland gear for your adventures. We included it here because we don’t want you to be overwhelmed, or put off from getting started, by searching for Overlanding vehicles on Google. Let’s be honest, the search results will show some impressive (and expensive) vehicles, but you don’t need any of that to get started. It’s more of a run-what-you-brung approach in the beginning. That’s what we did. Just make sure it’s mechanically sound, and capable of handling the roads and trails you plan on traversing.
3: Extra Fuel
Remember those fuel stops on your Overland plan? What happens if you don’t make one? Gas stations are few and far between in most great Overland areas. It wouldn’t hurt to pack an extra jerry can of fuel for your vehicle, assuming you have a roof rack or hitch-mounted carrier to stow it. I wouldn’t pack spare fuel inside my vehicle. RotopaX are a great idea (and also for water), but extra fuel isn’t a big concern for shorter trips close to home. If you’re venturing further from civilization, fuel supply becomes more important.
4: Spare Tire (w/Jack and Lug Wrench)
Does your vehicle have a spare tire and jack? Most of us assume so, but have we ever actually checked? Is the spare tire properly inflated? Does the jack function? Does the lug wrench fit? Do we actually know how to change a tire on our vehicle? Check this gear and practise changing a tire in your driveway. You don’t want your first tire swap to be on the side of a trail, in a rainstorm, in the middle of nowhere. Make sure all the tools are there. Make sure you know how to use them. Roadside assistance is only helpful if you are actually on a road.
Pro Tip: Swap out the donut spare for a full-size tire same as the other four.
Adequte Food and Water Supplies are Critical
5: Food & Water
Unless your Overland adventure is only a few hours, you’re going to get hungry. Thirsty too. You’re going to want plenty of food and water to sustain your journey. Camping food staples are perfect for Overlanding. Plenty of healthy canned and pre-packaged food, plus your favourite pre-made meals will be ideal. Consider the length of your trip. Here are some of our favourites. Note the availability of grocery stores on your planned route. Keep in mind the next four items on our list when planning your meals. Bring lots of water. Two to three litres per person, per day.
Pro Tip: Pack some food that can be enjoyed without the need for cooking. Just in case.
Most food needs to be kept cold, especially on longer trips. There are many different styles of coolers, but you’ll want one big enough to hold all your food, rugged enough to stand up to the rigours of overland travel and reliable enough to keep your food cold. You could go with something as simple as a styrofoam cooler for short trips. Cheap, functional, but not environmentally friendly.
At the other end of the spectrum, companies like Dometic make excellent electric coolers/fridges that are staples of the Overland gear enthusiast community. Perhaps landing somewhere in the middle would be best. A quality cooler from a reputable brand like Coleman, Igloo or Yeti would be ideal.
Pro Tip: We pack our food into a Yeti Tundra 65. Big, rugged, reliable and most importantly, bear-resistant.
7: Camp Stove (w/Fuel)
There’s something satisfying about using a fire to cook our food. It’s been good enough for humanity for thousands of years, and when possible, it’s our preferred method of hot meal prep, but sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate, or we don’t have the time or energy to spark up a blaze.
That’s where the humble camp stove comes into play. A simple, single burner model that mounts on top of a 1-lb propane cylinder will provide all the necessary BTUs to heat your for (or drink) regardless of the weather or the availability of naturally-provided combustible material (i.e. wood).
Pro Tip: It might be raining, but DO NOT use these propane burners inside your tent or vehicle! Use a tarp.
We’ve covered food, and a source of heat for cooking, but unless you plan on using a stick to cook your food (it’s not a terrible idea), you’re going to need something to bridge the gap between the fire and the food. We recommend a pot. A skillet would work as well, but a pot makes heating fluids easier and safer. One-pot will work, especially if you plan one-pot camping meals. A can of beans, a pack of wieners, a pot and heat can be combined into a delicious staple of camping. Of course, budget and space permitting, bring a pot and a skillet.
9: Mess Kit
This is a fancy term for plate, bowl, cup, fork and spoon. It usually comes in a mesh bag and makes consuming a hot meal easier than using your fingers. Less messy too. It’s not a critical item. You could consume your beans and wieners directly from the pot with a piece of bark for a spoon, but we are trying to inject some bit of civility into our Overland adventures. Mess kits like this one are cheap, functional and most are made from enamelled steel or hard plastic, which will last for many miles.
Staying Warm and Dry
You’ll need a place to sleep. If your vehicle is big enough, you could sleep inside, but most of us would be more comfortable in some sort of tent. Another Google search, this time for Overlanding tents, will show a huge selection of roof-top tents, many selling for several thousand dollars. You don’t need these. Use the tent you already have, or pop over to Amazon and grab an affordable tent with enough space for your family. It’ll set you back a couple of hundred dollars for a good one. It just needs to keep you dry inside and the bugs and critters outside. Once you’ve settled into your new Overland lifestyle, you can splurge on a slick roof-top tent.
11: Sleeping Bag/Pad
The tent will keep you dry. A nice sleeping bag will keep you warm. An air mattress or foam pad will keep you comfortable. Sleeping bags come in a variety of temperature ratings. Keep in mind the rating on a bag is more of a survival level, not a comfort level. Go with one rated for much colder than the temps you expect to encounter. Much like at home, you can kick off the covers if you get too warm, but that’s a better problem to have than being too cold. Here’s a link to the sleeping bags we use.
Bring three. Not too big. One big enough to fit snugly under your tent to act as a groundsheet. It helps keep the tent bottom clean and improves water resistance. Don’t let the edges of the tarp extend beyond your tent. It’s a recipe for rain-related disasters. Tuck them under instead. Have a second tarp you can drape over your tent (or a rope strung above your tent for better airflow) to keep you dry if the rain turns heavy. This trick has kept us dry many times. The third tarp can be stretched over your food prep area, again with a length of rope.
Pro Tip: Bring some camping poles like these. They are super handy for quick tarp setups.
Essential Overland Gear, Tools and Equipment
13: Small Axe / Hatchet
At some point, you’ll need to chop some firewood or drive a tent stake into hard ground. A quality hatchet (or small axe) can make quick work of both projects. Keep the blade sharp. There are few things more frustrating than a dull axe. Buy one with a tough sheath that covers just the blade, so you can use the butt end as a mallet more safely. This model from Amazon should do the trick.
Knives are a very personal thing. It’s also a key piece of Overland gear. You’ll have to find one that works for you. But we’re not talking about your two-inch pocket knife here (although that would be better than nothing). You’ll want something more substantial. It should have a fixed stainless-steel blade. Capable of cutting sticks and branches or shaving down kindling for fire starters. It needs to slice rope with ease and chop food like a Ginsu. Get one with a sheath you can hang from your belt. It’ll become your best friend in the outdoors. Buy a good one.
Pro Tip: A folding knife is great choice. We carry a Gerber Bear Grylls Scout knife.
15: First Aid Kit
While absolutely a necessity on any road trip, it’s even more critical when you venture off the road. First aid kits come in countless styles and combinations. The best choice is to buy one commensurate to your first aid skill level. Basically, the kit shouldn’t contain anything you don’t know how to use. If that means your kit only includes band-aids and Polysporin, it’s better than nothing.
But you should seriously consider taking a quality first aid course to upgrade your skills. When you’re a couple of hundred kilometres from the nearest town and hours beyond the end of the road, you’re the first responder. You’ll want to know how to handle any medical situation that arrives. Here’s a well-balanced kit from Amazon that contains most of what you should need.
Pro Tip: The kit contains the materials. It’s up to you to know how to use it!
16: Small Tool Kit
Your toolkit will reflect the needs of the rest of your Overland gear. It’s a bring-only-what-you-need approach. You don’t need the entire 222-piece socket set if your gear only has 3 bolt sizes. Put those three sockets and the matching ratchet into your toolkit. Likewise, you’ll only need one or two wrenches/spanners and maybe a couple of screwdrivers. Or better yet, this quick-change driver from Craftsman. It’s my favourite screwdriver ever.
It’s a bit of a process but examine your gear. Figure out what might break and what you’re skill level would allow you to fix. Pack the tools you need for only those repairs into a small toolbag or tool roll.
17: Matches / Fire Starter
Seems obvious, but on occasion, the matches have been forgotten. Or worse, they got wet. We tend to pack multiple methods of generating fire, including several fire-starting options. Our favourite has become a combination of dryer lint, candle wax and an egg carton. It lights easy, burns slow and gets hot. Perfect for starting a fire.
You can go hardcore survivalist and use a couple of sticks, or a steel and flint setup if that’s your thing. It doesn’t matter. Just keep your fire-related items protected. Count on having to use them in less-than-ideal weather, with no dry wood in sight.
18: Flashlight (w/ Spare Batteries)
It’s going to get dark, unless you venture really, really far north (or south) at the right time of year. You’re going to need some light. There are lots of fancy options available, but you can’t go wrong with a good old-fashioned flashlight. In fact, get two. And plenty of spare batteries. Make sure your flashlights are steel or aluminum for durability, and LED lightbulbs will be brighter and last longer. Flashlights are like everything else, you get what you pay for. Don’t break the bank, but don’t buy it from the dollar store either. Same with batteries so get the good ones.
This is probably the only place on our gear list where I’ll tell you the cheap stuff is the good stuff. No need to get fancy with rope. This isn’t for towing vehicles (that’s what straps and chains are for). It’s for utility and small projects around the campsite. String a line to dry your clothes. Support a tarp over your tent or food prep area. Whip up a spare guy line for a camping pole. Things like that. Grab a hundred feet or so of 1/4-inch yellow poly rope. Cut to length with your knife and melt the edges to prevent fraying.
20, 21 and 22: Bungie Cords, Zip Ties and Gorilla Tape
I don’t think I need to explain the inclusion of these items on the list, except perhaps to say we’ve switched to Gorilla Tape from other duct tape brands and won’t go back. Combined with Bungie cords and zip ties, these three items are the Holy Trinity of camping supplies. They belong on any outdoor equipment list, including our Overland gear. If you need to hold, stick, patch, secure, restrain, join or mend just about anything else on your campsite, some combination of these three items will likely get the job done.
There’s More Overland Gear We Could Add
As I said up top, by no means is this a comprehensive list. There are dozens of things we could add to our essentials list, but for bare-bones basics, this list should cover everything you need for a short Overland adventure not too far from home. As your enthusiasm grows, and as your skills develop, you can add different bits of Overland gear to your kit.
We’re curious how this list compares to other lists you’ve found or your own list you’ve created. Leave a comment below if there is anything we missed or something you think should be included in our list of essential Overland gear.
We’ll see you on the trail!