Here's the Real Difference Between Overlanding And Off-Roading

Illustration for article titled Here's the Real Difference Between Overlanding And Off-Roading
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Overlanding, off-roading: you might be inclined to think they’re both the same thing, since people use them interchangeably. But don’t be fooled—while they might share some similarities, overlanding and off-roading are two distinct driving practices that deserve to be named and defined properly. And the difference has nothing to do with the kind of vehicles you drive or the equipment you use.


Team O’Neil has blessed us with yet another video, this one dedicated to dissecting the differences between—and history of—overlanding and off-roading.

Overlanding is pretty easy to define. It is, basically, any form of travel you do via land, not via air or water. Wyatt Knox notes that it’s basically the original form of travel, the kind of stuff the human race has done since day one. The Silk Road, for example, is one of the oldest overland travel routes. And it’s how location-to-location race events started out. What better way to test out your car than to drive it as fast as you can as far as you can?

This is where the confusion starts to come in. A lot of that kind of overland travel used to require the use of off-road routes because those routes either didn’t exist, or they weren’t well maintained. If you wanted to make the trip, you’d have to be self-sufficient enough to take care of your own gas and maintenance needs. It’s easy to think it’s the exact same thing as off-roading.

Overlanding, though, is defined by Knox as long-distance self-reliant travel through mostly remote areas via unpaved roads. Off-roading is just the kind of driving you have to do to complete that route. Overlanding is a long, multi-day trip, while off-roading is something you only for a little while, something that takes a day or less. In this day and age, where more and more roads are paved, you can string together a bunch of off-roading routes and create a longer overlanding trail.

Knox points out that people constantly confuse the Rubicon Trail as an overland route. It isn’t. At only 22 miles long, you can off-road it, but it’s not an overland route unless you’ve included it in a much longer trip.

Honestly, it’s kind of a matter of semantics here, but Knox is right to point it out. Both off-roading and overlanding are cool activities, but they do have separate definitions and involve different things. As an English major, I will absolutely defend anyone who wants others to respect the true definition of a word.


Now that you know, I expect I’ll never see any of you making this mistake again.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.



Overlanding, though, is defined by Knox as long-distance self-reliant travel through mostly remote areas via unpaved roads.

And therein lies the rub. Is any fossil fuel car that gets its fuel from a pump actually self reliant? You can’t forage a gallon of gas (at least not legally nor ethically). The closest thing to true self reliance with such a vehicle would be to bring a still+fermentation vat and make your own ethanol. Or press oil from local flora to run an old diesel. Not the quickest way to get around.

An EV with a huge solar array and/or portable windmill might count but again, not a quick nor easy way to get around. And of course there’s the issue of tires, fluids, parts, etc.

Overall using ANY modern vehicle is a stretch of “self reliant”.

IMO the only true overloading experience by the strictest interpretation of the definition is to hike, using nothing but whatever you can forage (legally) off the lands you traverse. Clothes, shoes, food, everything. Riding an animal is also acceptable provided it is sourced locally and ridden without shoes, saddle or other non self provided accessories.


This is not overlanding:

This is: