Overlanding vs Backpacking – What’s the Difference?

Overlanding and backpacking are commonly considered the same thing. The term “Overlanding” is quite broad, and it can be confusing for many individuals who are new to traveling or camping adventures. 

However, backpacking and Overlanding have many differences, and before you start packing for a new journey, it’s essential to understand what each term means. This post will tell you everything about Overlanding vs backpacking to make sure you choose the best adventure for you. 

Overlanding vs Backpacking

The Difference Between Overlanding and Backpacking

The main difference between Overlanding and backpacking is that Overlanding involves having a vehicle and organizing your trip based around where that vehicle can travel. With backpacking, you depend on a bus/train, and you’ll be traveling with unknown people.

Overlanding is a journey where you care more about the trip rather than the destination. So, while you do follow an established path, you will be more focused on the journey that gets you there and the places you see while you’re on the road. 

During an Overlanding trip, you learn more about the world, its beautiful places, and different cultures. Often you need an off-road vehicle that is spacious enough to carry everything you need for the trip. Generally, overland journeys can take weeks, so you need to pack enough stuff to enjoy your time away from home and have everything you need. 

Meanwhile, backpacking is a more traditional journey where you will depend on a bus/train to take you to different places. You’ll have to go to a bus terminal/train station, limit the number of things you bring with you, and stay in a smaller space for a longer time. 

It also involves some hiking to reach more remote areas where you can’t get by bus/train.

You cannot stop and get off the bus whenever you want to, as the bus/train will stop in designated spots planned ahead of the trip. With backpacking, you’ll be traveling with other people, so whether you are backpacking by yourself or traveling with someone else gives you the chance to meet new people and possibly make friends for life. 

When Overlanding, you will usually camp somewhere and have the chance to choose your camping spot. Backpacking can involve staying in a hotel or hostel, which is convenient, but it’s pricier. However, you can also choose to take a tent with you and camp in nature.

A Beginner’s Overview of Overlanding

Overlanding is a type of trip where the road itself is more important than the destination. It involves exploring different places in a journey that takes weeks or even months. 

To become an overlander, you need a proper and durable vehicle that can withstand long roads and even off-road conditions. Besides, it needs to be spacious enough to fit all your essentials and offer enough room for your family/friends. 

Overlanding Gear Essentials

SUV packed with gear for a trip

When you’re Overlanding, you need different gear that will help make your life on the road easy and ensure you can camp safely. If it’s your first time preparing for an Overlanding trip, you need to know what to bring with you. Here are some essentials you should have during your journey:

Overlanding Vehicle

A suitable Overlanding vehicle is a must. Your typical small car will not handle the typical Overlanding trip, especially if you find yourself in remote areas where the roads are not the best. A sturdy, off-road vehicle is one of the most important things to consider for an Overlanding trip. 

CB Radio

A CB radio, or citizens band radio, is a land mobile radio system that allows people to communicate, and it can save your life during an Overlanding trip when you need it the most. A CB Radiao is a very common way to communicate in the Overlanding community. 

They are easy to install, reliable, and pretty affordable. Also, they have a range between 2 and 15 miles in general. They allow you to keep in touch with other overlanders or make sure you let someone know when you’re in a dangerous situation or ask for help. 

You can either have your CB radio fixed to your vehicle or have a handheld device. Also, you can get important information regarding the weather so that you can plan your trip and actions accordingly. 

Roof Top Tent

Roof top tents can be installed on top of your vehicle, keeping you away from the cold ground, roaming bears, and the annoying bugs that might disturb your sleep. It’s important to have one when you’re camping, especially if it’s been raining and the ground is still wet. 

Water Storage

Water storage is essential as you need enough water supply to last until you find another water source. Besides, if you’re Overlanding with other people, you need enough water for everyone. So, the water storage will save you from filling your trunk with numerous water bottles. 

Cooler or Fridge

A cooler or fridge can help you keep food or drinks inside for longer periods, so you don’t have to constantly worry about purchasing more. Conditions are unpredictable, and you may not always have access to a generous shop where you can get all the food you need. A fridge or cooler will help maintain food for a longer time and prevent alteration.  

Camping Stove

There’s nothing like a warm meal, especially during an Overlanding journey, when you don’t have the luxury of cooking in your kitchen. A camping stove will let you cook different meals and fill your stomach before a long day on the road or at the end of the day when you’re exhausted from your journey. Just make sure you bring enough fuel for your trip.

Fire Extinguisher and Blanket

Usually, these are things you will forget about, but they may come in handy at one point. A fire extinguisher is extremely useful when you’re cooking in your trailer, and an accident happens. It’s one of those things you’ll be thankful to have if all hell breaks loose. A fire blanket can also be used to smother the fire when you’re dealing with an emergency. 

First-Aid Kit

You never know what might happen during your journey. Even if nobody will get injured, having a first-aid kit is essential. The kit should include items that can help you in case a more serious injury is affecting any family member. 

Superglue, splints, nitrile gloves, and gauze are only a few examples of what a first-aid kit should contain. Other things that should be included are antibacterial cream, alcohol swabs, band-aids, ibuprofen, diphenhydramine, and anything that will help in case of bruises or minor cuts. 

Water Filter

When Overlanding, it’s hard to know what type of water you’ll come across, and it might be dangerous to drink water without knowing whether it’s potable or not. A water filter is an essential gear for overlanders, especially if you find yourself camping near a lake and want some water supply. 

Navigation Items or Devices

When Overlanding, you need to know where you are and where you’re going. Given how hard it can be to make sure you’re on the right path, sometimes, a navigation device or app will come in handy. 

Paper maps and a compass are quite helpful, but you might also want to consider offline maps and a GPS device. Also, there are many useful apps that will give you directions. 

Spare Parts

Let’s be honest; you don’t want to be left in the middle of nowhere with a broken tire and no way to replace it. Spare parts are important for this exact reason. You may want to consider taking a spare tire with you, as well as other spare parts for the engine of the vehicle. 

On top of that, you may want to consider taking some air filters, fuel, and oil with you if your vehicle is a rare one. After all, you don’t know if the towns or cities you pass through will have these items. 

Besides this, it’s important to consider transmission and brake fluid, as well as some relays, fan belts, fuses, and a fuel pump. 

Common Overlanding Vehicles

During an Overlanding journey, you may come across various types of roads. Some of them will be good, but others may be rocky or muddy, which would make traveling almost impossible if you’d travel in a small car. This is why so many overlanders invest in a good vehicle that will handle these unpredictable conditions. 

Some of the most common vehicles for Overlanding include:

Popular Overlanding Destinations

All overlanders have certain routes that they fell in love with, and there are a few that are very popular among the community members. If you’re a beginner, you may want to check these destinations as well and see what they have to offer. 

The most popular Overlanding destinations in the world include Africa, Australia, and Asia. In the States, some of the most well-known are Telluride Colorado, and Moab, Utah. 

A Beginner’s Overview of Backpack

As already mentioned, backpacking is different from Overlanding. You don’t have to bring half of your house with you, and you don’t have to do the same amount of planning. 

Instead of riding a huge vehicle on the road, you will carry a backpack that has all the essentials. Obviously, there are certain things you should bring with you, which will make your journey trouble-free. 

Backpacking Gear Essentials

backpacking gear

When backpacking, there are some gear essentials that you cannot overlook when preparing for your trip. Without these items, your journey may not be complete. Here are some items that you should bring along:


Backpacking would not be possible without a backpack, obviously. In order to carry all the essentials, you must choose a proper backpack. It needs to be sturdy and spacious enough to keep everything inside without dragging you down or breaking. 

Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bags will ensure a better sleep when you’re camping, and they will also keep your body temperature optimal. It is one of the bulky items in the backpack, but it’s worth the trouble and the extra space. Not only will it make your sleep more comfortable overall, but it will also make sure you don’t feel cold when you’re camping somewhere. 

Sleeping Pad

Along with a sleeping bag, packing a sleeping pad is also important. It can make a difference, especially if you’re not camping in an area with the best conditions. This item can give some thermal insulation and some padding, thus helping you stay warm without feeling the rocky ground underneath. 

Tent or Hammock

The tent is one of the most important things to bring along. Tents can increase your safety and comfort while you’re camping. Whether you’re backpacking alone or you bring a friend or family member along, a good tent will make a big difference. 

If you have the extra space, a hammock can also increase the convenience of your trip, allowing you to enjoy your time in nature on a different level. 

Backpacking Stove

There’s nothing like a warm meal, especially when you’re in nature and the wind is making you shiver. Since you’re not at home, preparing the food is not that easy, but it can become much simpler if you bring a stove along. It will allow you to cook or make a hot cup of tea or coffee even when you’re away from home. 

Water Filtration Gear

Your water supply will depend on whether you can find a water source while exploring a new place or not. And if you find a natural water source, water filtration gear is a must. It will help filter your water so that you can drink it safely. 

Popular Backpacking Destinations

You can go backpacking pretty much everywhere, and the good thing about backpacking is that you don’t need to buy a massive car to go to different places. All you need is your backpack and a bus/train ticket to reach new areas. 

Still, there are some backpacking destinations that are quite popular among backpackers. Some of them are Asia, Europe, the Pacific Coast Trail, and the Appalachian Trail. 

Things to Consider when Comparing Overlanding vs. Backpacking

Whether you’re considering Overlanding or backpacking, you have several things to consider before leaving your house. Proper planning is necessary, so make sure you think about these factors to avoid unpleasant surprises:

The Length of the Trip

How long you’ll be gone from home is a very important aspect to keep in mind, because a lot of things depend on it. Your funds, food and water supply, as well as the vehicle fuel, and how much stuff you bring along will depend on how long your trip will be. 

Generally, Overlanding trips tend to be longer, so you need to prepare for this. You can be on the road for several weeks or even months. Conversely, a backpacking trip is much shorter, and it may take several days. 

Instead, for backpacking journeys, you have to plan how many miles you want to hike every day. 


No matter if you’re on a budget or not, you cannot overlook the importance of planning your funds for the trip. Usually, Overlanding tends to be much cheaper. More often than not, you’ll be in rural areas, and you will be supplying your own water and food. 

Besides, you will camp in nature, meaning there will be no money spent on hotel rooms. As a result, Overlanding can save a lot of money. So if you want to travel on a tighter budget, this type of trip is more suitable. You only need to make sure you have enough money for fuel. 

Backpacking can be pricier, but it all depends on how you plan it. If you decide to camp in nature, it can still save you some money, but you may also spend money on a bus/train trip if you decide to reach a more remote destination. 

No matter what, you have to take all aspects into consideration for both backpacking or Overlanding to make sure you have all the funds you need. 

Your Fitness Level

Your fitness level will come into play, particularly when backpacking. You’ll spend more time hiking rather than inside a vehicle, so your fitness level will influence how well you handle the conditions. Would you rather make more physical effort or sit inside a car for hours? Hiking might not be that simple as it sounds, especially on rough terrain and bad weather. 


Both backpacking and Overlanding come with their safety risks. While Overlanding, you have peace of mind that you are the one driving, or a loved one is behind the wheel, rather than a bus driver you don’t know. Safety on the road is essential, and you need to trust the driving skills of the person controlling the vehicle. 

At the same time, with Overlanding, you might find yourself in more remote areas, which can also be a bit risky. 

Backpacking may take you to more crowded locations or generally safe places unless you decide to go to a less frequented area. 

However, in both situations, you must keep in mind that you’ll be out in nature, and this comes with its risks: wild animals, insects, snakes, minor accidents (especially when you’re backpacking, you could fall, get scratches, etc.) 

To make your job easier, here are some questions to ask yourself to determine whether you should go on a backpacking or Overlanding adventure:

  • How many things do I have to pack, and what are the essentials?
  • Do I want to travel long distances by car or not?
  • How many risks am I willing to assume?
  • How much money am I determined to spend?
  • Am I in a good physical condition for walking long distances?


Overlanding vs. backpacking – which one should you choose? It’s hard to answer since they are so different and can give you different experiences. 

It would be best if you decided based on all the preparations you need to make, as well as how much money you have, how good your fitness condition is, how long you’re willing to be away from home, and so on. 

Also, think about your reasons for traveling, and you may be able to pick between backpacking and Overlanding.

James with daughter on the trails

About James...

Hi, I’m James. If I’m not working on this site, you can often find me outdoors roaming the trails. I’m an avid hiker, mountain biker, and overlander. I’m excited to share my passion for the outdoors with you.