We are a family of four (my husband, our 12-year-old daughter, our 10-year-old son, and myself) who loves overlanding and exploring with our fully-equipped Land Rover Defender, and enjoy being outdoors in nature.
An article by Emeline from the Off-Track Family.
Today I want to share with you our way of overlanding and why we like to keep our vehicle always ready to go out and face any situation, which might be slightly different to most overlanders. It is our version of “bugging out.”
What is Overlanding?
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, overlanding is seen as self-reliant adventure travel that involves off road driving in vehicles equipped for both rugged trails and camping.
Overlanding in vans or 4WD vehicles is becoming very popular and is considered a cool way of traveling nowadays. Almost everybody wants to taste this feeling of freedom, but many of them also want to have all the comforts of their home in their camper without understanding the importance of having well-thought equipment and being prepared.
Over more than 10 years of time, researching information, experiencing breakdowns, learning how to do most maintenance and installations by ourselves, looking for the best gear, getting truly involved and interested in how to become more and more autonomous, we were able to build this Land Rover Defender to how it is today. We now consider it to be the best Defender tourer we have seen.
Important Points of Overlanding
The most important point is to know your vehicle. You need to know the gear you have, and how to use it. Some overlanders fail here because of their lack of knowledge in simple mechanics or electrical systems. Some will go without knowing the basics of how to change a tire or where to look if there is an electrical failure. Without basic knowledge, freedom can quickly turn into a nightmare depending on where you are.
Then there is the gear. What is considered a necessity and what is less important to have in your camper? Overlanding with a fully-equipped and loaded 4WD vehicle is best when kept as simple as possible but with the most efficient gear possible.
As 4WD off-roaders, the basic off-road and recovery kit is already adding a lot of weight to the vehicle. Having a bull bar, a winch, car protections, and recovery gear to get you out of a bad situation is a necessity when loving going off-track. Going for heavy-duty parts so the vehicle will not let you down when exploring is important. Then there is all the camper equipment, such as an interior layout and a roof rack with a tent or storage, a good dual battery setup, and maybe a water system. All of this is necessary to stay autonomous.
As you can see, there are numerous points to be aware of when going overland.
How to Choose the Right Equipment
What we would not recommend is to cut down on any recovery gear or on a good dual battery setup with a very good 12v installation. Those two points are a necessity to keep you on track. You will not want to be stuck in a remote area because you missed out on a tool to repair a breakdown or because you can’t start your engine after a bivouac.
A basic 4WD recovery gear would be a spare wheel, tool kit and WD-40, straps with shackles, recovery boards (traction boards or sand boards, depends on what you call them), a compressor, a jack, jumper cables, a folding shovel, and a winch.
Dual Batter Set-Up and Management System
A dual battery set-up with a good management system is essential. Going remote and having accessories such as a fridge, a quality CB radio, a mobile HAM radio, rechargeable headlamps, and your mobile phone that need electric current to function requires a reliable electrical system. This means investing is a second battery and a dual battery managing system that allows you to keep your main battery with enough power to be able to restart the engine the next morning and at the same time keep your accessories powered overnight.
Last point concerning overlanding gear is all the camping equipment. This goes for all gear and installation of the sleeping, cooking, eating, and washing. As written earlier, many overlanders want to have all the comfort of their home in their camper.
On this point, we do not really meet them. They want a huge kitchen camp with all the cooking accessories, a shower and toilet cabin, and enclosed room. This means either having a trailer (which won’t allow you to be fully independent as you won’t carry all your gear in your vehicle and it might slow you down), or setting up a huge camp when stopping overnight which isn’t always a good idea depending on where you are.
Keeping it minimal here is key! Minimal but adequate, efficient, and organized camping equipment. In the above picture you can see a sample of our gear, including two-way radios and packs with MOLLE straps.
Our Land Rover Defender 110 Conversion
With all of that being said, here is what we have in our Land Rover Defender converted into an off-road camper and why we always keep our vehicle prepared to bug out.
Well, I say “bug out” as our friends and relatives would say we are prepared for anything, but it’s more of the way we like to spend good time outdoors and explore the world as a family. We might also be testing our limits and knowing that if we had to leave our home for any reason, we would be able to move quickly and be autonomous without too many problems. But to bring it down to reality: we do not like losing time preparing our stuff every weekend or before leaving for vacations, and we don’t have any garage or storage space for all this gear.
Why a Land Rover Defender?
Our Land Rover Defender has been upgraded throughout the years. We bought it brand new back in 2009 without a real plan in mind.
My husband chose this vehicle over another 4WD because of its infinite possibilities of conversion and its look. Without any mechanics background, he self-educated on how to do most of the maintenance and repairs, and over time. Of course, involving all the family most of the time means all of us have basic knowledge and can help in case of a breakdown.
Our Defender’s Exterior Equipment and Mechanical Upgrades
Our Defender is now equipped with an aluminium roof rack with a hard-shell roof top tent, a storage box, jerry cans for diesel and one for water. We added a snorkel and sealed the air box, added LED lights and long-range Halogen headlights, went for a heavy-duty transmission and suspension, have mud terrain tires in summer and winter tires in winter, a side folding table that acts as Maxtrax holder, and we recently installed an awning – phew!
How We Sleep in our Defender as a Family of 4
As the children were growing up, it was becoming uncomfortable to sleep the four of us in the roof top tent. We had to find a solution to add two beds as carrying a ground tent wasn’t a good solution from our experience.
When we started overlanding several years ago, we pitched a ground tent for the four of us. We did not like it! It was a pain to find a suitable ground to plant the tent. This is the reason why we quickly invested in a roof tent; we still have the same one since 2012.
We were then looking for an interior layout that made it possible to keep the back seats and add 2 beds to travel as a family. Luckily, we found it by a French manufacturer, Aménagement 4×4. He is a specialist in interior wooden layouts for 4WD vehicles. Our layout allows us to have more storage space, keep the back seats, and convert it into a double bed inside the Defender.
Now all the family can sleep comfortably when overlanding.
Our Defender’s Interior Wooden Layout
Inside our Land Rover Defender we have this wooden layout that converts into a double bed. In the storage of this wooden layout we have a 60 litres water tank, a 35 litres fridge, minimal necessities for cooking, 2 inflatable mattresses, 2 chairs, 2 stools, some recovery gear, some tools, and spare parts. We always leave more recovery gear in the truck, children sleeping bags (our sleeping bags stay in the RTT), and a bag with our cutlery, dry food, and spices.
More Storage Space
Attached to the inside of the trunk’s door we have a small folding table and a metallic grid with many pouches in which we store a vehicle first aid kit, plates and collapsible bowls, soap, Paracord, and other small items.
Where are the Electronics Hidden?
On one of the back seats we keep our other toolboxes and compressor items. We also have our VHF/UHF motorized antenna. Behind the back seats there are all the electric connections with our second battery and our water pump system.
Our Defender’s Dashboard
In front, we have the Defender’s GPS and the dual battery managing system monitor. We also have CB and HAM radios, different types of plugs for charging our electronic devices, and a cubby box with several switches to turn on our accessories.
There you go for our overall gear! We decided to keep our Land Rover Defender always ready. This is the most efficient and convenient way of exploring as a family.
How to Define Freedom When Overlanding
Overlanding with any type of equipped vehicle must be a pleasure overall. You must enjoy exploring and being outdoors and discovering new tracks and new vistas. You are free to stop whenever and wherever you want, and to meet locals in not-so touristy or remote places.
This is what overlanding is meant to be: an adventure! With freedom in mind, it is still a good idea to put a priority on what matters most to you. We found out over time and through experience that being free is the same as being autonomous.
We enjoy going further into overlanding because we know we can rely on the conscientiously chosen equipment, our skills acquired throughout the years, and the continuously growing community.
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What’s your experience with overlanding?