Sunday, 6 September 2015

What's the best Overlanding vehicle?

As I write this we are at a German event called 'Willy's Treffen". It's promoted as an international Overlander event, although 90% of the vehicles are German. 

We are surrounded by many big vehicles: MAN, Unimogs, ex Fire-trucks, Iveco's. They are all set up for overlanding with an appropriate living space in the back. There are very few small overlanding vehicles here, and Blac is definitely in the small category in comparison with the average vehicle here at Willy's Treffen. 

This selection of large overlander vehicles is despite that in South America we saw most Overlanders in small vehicles (eg Toyota Landcruisers, Landrover Defenders, VW Combis, amongst others). H has also been overlanding in Africa and says there were more small vehicles there too. 

Admittedly, although some of these vehicles have been overlanding, there are many vehicles that are here because they are vehicles that have the potential to go overland, even if they don't. 

So, what makes the best overlanding vehicle? The truth is that everybody is individual and it depends on what's important to you. 

Here's some pros and cons, and please note they are simply mine or our opinions, some people will disagree. 

Size. Big versus small.  I should hope that, in a big vehicle, you'd get more living space, but some of them actually have a box no bigger than ours. Design becomes a very important feature. Some big units have a wonderful pull out verandah. Some travel with chainsaws to clear their path!
On a big unit you might have better clearance which in some driving situations is an advantage, but with that big vehicle do you fit everywhere? In many colonial streets of the world there isn't enough space between the buildings for some of these vehicles. And are the bridges strong enough? In the third world many interesting roads have wooden bridges that aren't rated for much weight.
Also, some national parks don't admit big trucks.
Big vehicles do cost more in shipping, ferries, tolls, parking, and fuel. 

Security. Many of the big vehicles are so far off the ground and with the windows so high that I think they might be more secure from outside dangers. That's good, but when I saw a man yesterday have to detach a ladder from the back of the vehicle to take it to the passenger side to help his wife and dogs from the cabin I wondered if that was a great feature in case of emergency. 

Obviously, when it comes to choosing any vehicle in which you want to do a lot of miles, fuel efficiency is important. But, some Overlanders don't drive far and instead spend a long time on each beach (or elsewhere) and then they might prefer a bigger vehicle rather than fuel efficiency.

4wd versus 2wd
You do not need 4wd to drive on a gravel road, but many people seem to think you might. A four wheel drive will typically cost more to buy, fuel and maintain. You can go overlanding in Africa, South America, Asia or Australia with a 2wd, but there are places in each continent for which you can need 4wd (but you don't have to go to them, or you can join a tour/hire a suitable vehicle). It really depends on what type of traveller you are whether a 4wd is a good choice or not. Also, if you have no 4wd experience then you might not be any better off driving with one. What I want to say is: don't think a 4wd is necessary. High ground clearance is more useful than 4wd in many instances. 

Roof top tent, Pop-up, or fixed unit. (small vehicles)
I can see that an advantage of a rooftop tent or pop-up is that you've got less wind resistance while your travelling. It should be helpful to travelling faster and even make your off-road travel easier. But, from what I've seen you should make it that you can sleep without always having to raise the roof. In Patagonia travellers weren't able to raise their pop-top or roof-top tent due to the winds. And, since pamping on town streets isn't allowed in most parts then you don't want to alert people to what you're doing if that's what you're doing. We met a single guy travelling with a roof top tent in Patagonia and he regularly slept in his passenger seat. 
A fixed unit (like Blac) means easier access to everything anytime of the day that you want it, even an afternoon nap mid journey. Having cab to back access is definitely useful, and when we wildcamp we park so that we can potentially drive away if trouble ever strikes. 

Vans and buses
I like vans. We've seen VW Combis and Mercedes Sprinters around the world. Service and parts don't seem to be a problem. They seem to make nice accessible units in a great price range. So, why don't we have a van? H is too tall! We're going to be converting a bus for our Australian vehicle. Buses can be a great option if your focus is more on living in the vehicle rather than travelling with the vehicle, maybe spending more time in locations and going slow. 

Standard motorhomes
Those 'common' motorhomes you see in Europe? They're designed from typical motorhome customers: who travel a few weeks each year, in Europe. We've met some in South America and each was falling apart. 

The car you already have
It's relatively cheap to ship a small vehicle. (Eg. You could easily ship your car to Uruguay and travel in it). Take a tent, or stay in hotels. 

And finally
As a Brit called Tim who was riding a beautiful Triumph motorbike in Patagonia said:
"I know it's not the best motorbike for this trip, but it's the bike I own, know, and love, So I'm doing it this way". 
It really can be just a matter of what you love. 


  1. Hi there!
    I am following your blog since a couple of months. Thanks for your work here! And many thanks for this blog entry! It was very interesting, and it confirmed our resolution to do our trip starting in 2017 in our VW campervan without 4WD. But it's the car we own, and the one we love since 16 years. Spending about 10 weeks in it each year while travelling in Europe.
    Safe travels to you!

  2. Hi Jogi, I'm sure that your VW Camper is a great choice. Thanks for the positive feedback! Ali.