Overlanding is a different kind of adventure. Instead of traveling to one destination to explore for a weekend, overlanders spend months or years wandering across boundaries, both physical and national. With the aid of an overland vehicle that can travel off the highway, overlanders ramble toward destinations that aren’t as important as their journeys.
You may have heard about Henry Crew, who now holds the world record as the youngest person to circumnavigate the world on a motorcycle. That’s overlanding (although Henry did have to take some boats). You can do it with a variety of vehicles.
Overlanding is a response to our speed-obsessed culture that assumes the faster you get somewhere, the better. But while you might be enticed by the idea of a slow and self-sufficient adventure, the cost of equipment can shut those dreams down fast.
The good news is that it’s possible to get a great deal on a used overland vehicle. You just have to know where to look and what to look for.
In our rundown of the best used overland vehicles, we’ll start off by going over the types of vehicles you can use for overlanding. Then we’ll list some of the most important features to look for in a used overland vehicle. Finally, we’ll share some of the best overland vehicles to buy used. With our help, you’ll be on your journey in no time.
Types of Overland Vehicles
While overlanders enjoy difficult terrain from time to time, seeking out technically complicated routes isn’t usually the primary goal. Overland vehicles are less about being able to go absolutely anywhere and more about being self-sufficient for as long as possible.
Motor vehicles with two wheels up to more than four can count as overlanders. It’s not a vehicle class but a design philosophy.
From Easy Rider to Che Guevara, motorcycles are one of the most iconic ways to overland. The trick, though, is that you can’t buy just any type of motorcycle. Remember, it’s got to carry you and your gear across rough terrain for months at a time.
Most bikes on the market are built for paved roads only and don’t have the qualities needed to travel far offroad. To count as an adventure motorcycle, a bike needs to be able to carry heavy loads, have stiff-walled tires and large wheels, have about a foot of suspension travel, and be easy to operate while standing up.
- Pickup Trucks
Plenty of pickup trucks work great as overlanding vehicles. Truck beds are an incredibly useful feature for long journeys, working as storage space during the day and sleeping quarters by night. Many pickups have the suspension and load-bearing capabilities the job requires.
Some of our favorite pickups, like the 2010 Toyota 4Runner, can cross rough terrain without any aftermarket modification whatsoever. Others aren’t ready when they roll off the lot, but they come with tons of aftermarket adjustments you can use to increase their maneuvering power and load-bearing capabilities.
- Jeeps and SUVs
Other SUVs work for overland travel, but no brand name is more synonymous with it than Jeep (except maybe Land Rover). It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t a trademark at first. Arguments about the origin of the word “jeep” are still raging, with some claiming it comes from Ford’s “Government Purpose” (GP) military vehicles and others point to the cartoon character Eugene the Jeep.
It’s not just the reliable four-wheel-drive, solid axles, locking differentials, and high suspension travel of Jeeps that make them some of the best offroad vehicles. It’s also the aftermarket support that makes them incredibly easy to modify, and the community of Jeep-loving adventurers whose members almost always give solid advice.
Not all strong overland jeeps have the capital-J branding. The Nissan Destination Frontier is one example of a jeep that isn’t a Jeep.
Some people look down on RVs and motorcoaches as not “rough enough” for overlanding. However, a luxury expedition vehicle is really just a Jeep with more space and a few more amenities.
Similar to motorcycles, you can’t get just any RV and assume you can drive it across deserts and grasslands. An overlanding RV needs strong axles, large wheels, and multiple fuel tanks, along with standard RV amenities like water tanks and propane.
What to Look for in Used Overland Vehicles
If you’re considering getting into overlanding with a used vehicle, chances are that budget is one of your top considerations. If so, you’ve made a good choice: Not only are older, fixed-up overland vehicles often much cheaper, they’re sometimes even higher quality.
In this section, we’ll explore how older overlanders are better in more than just price. We’ll also note what features you should look for in your first used overland vehicle.
- Age and Mileage
Buying a modern, late-model vehicle for overlanding comes with a few problems. Aside from being far more expensive, many of them contain electronic components that are critical for helping them run. If a computer breaks down in a remote area where you can’t summon help, you could be stranded.
The good news is that older overland vehicles are built to last. For example, a 2005-2015 4Runner can go for over 300,000 miles with regular maintenance.
Instead of using age and mileage as a strict measure of quality, treat it as a starting point for information about the overland vehicle’s service history. Ask the seller if it’s received regular tune-ups and what parts have been replaced. On a good overlander, 100,000 miles means it’s just getting started.
- Drive Features
Your used overland vehicle needs to have several features directly related to its ability to cross difficult terrain safely and efficiently. You might not be seeking out the hardest possible routes, but long overlanding expeditions tend to wind up in places without reliable roads, such as the grasslands of Siberia, the roadless south of Panama, or deep in the Colorado high country.
Look for tires with rigid sides and deep traction treads (or the ability to install them). Four-wheel drive is a must, not all-wheel drive, which hardly means anything anymore. You want a tall suspension and large approach and departure angles, which are more important than the absolute clearance measure.
- Other Features
If you’re overlanding, rather than just weekend off-roading, you need more features than just those that actually help you cross the terrain. The most important is a gas tank with a large capacity, so consider adding a spare to double your range.
Then there’s camping. The development that’s made overlanding into the hottest new adventure trend is the hard shell rooftop tent, which can turn any vehicle with a roof rack into a comfortable camper. Other overlanders prefer to sleep in their truck beds or opt for full RVs. While you can sleep on the ground every night, we all but guarantee you’ll have a better time with some camping gear beyond your old two-person backpacking tent.
Finally, don’t overlook storage space. Traditional Jeeps don’t have beds, so to carry everything you need for a months-long trip, look for cargo pods, trunks, or other solutions.
Best Used Overland Vehicles
The following are some of our favorite overland vehicles that you can easily purchase used. These models are affordable, powerful entry points into the overlanding craze. Some of them might require some modifications, but if they do, we’ve made sure they’re supported by a strong aftermarket parts ecosystem.
Average prices are based on Kelley Blue Book values for a non-certified vehicle without any added options.
2003-2009 Toyota 4Runner
Toyota’s heavy-duty vehicles dominate lists of the best starter overland vehicles, and deservedly so. The Land Cruiser and Tacoma also stand out, but the 4Runner leads the pack because of how impressively smooth it feels, even when driving through knee-deep water on all-terrain tires.
All these 4Runner model years also stand out for their rear space. When the seats are folded down, the rear of a 4Runner is as spacious, comfortable, and sheltered as any rooftop tent.
Average used price for a 2009 Toyota 4Runner Sport SUV 4D: $11,026
2007-2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited shines for its ability to be modified. Its factory build is a good starting point, with an optional hard top for camping and about 20 miles per gallon on rough terrain. Yet the ease of acquiring and installing new aftermarket parts is where the Wrangler Unlimited series truly shines.
Owners look fondly on their Jeeps as never-finished projects. Parts range from new compressors in the engine to cargo capacity on the roof. There’s always a way to get more power out of your overland build, but if you just want to get out there, none of these vehicles punish you for doing the minimum.
Average used price for a 2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Sport Utility 4D: $22,190
2005-2015 Toyota Tacoma
The Tacoma is probably the most popular overland entry vehicle. It’s famously reliable: Engines on all these model years travel long distances through remote landscapes without complaining.
Like the Jeep Wrangler, it’s also beloved for its wide array of aftermarket options. However, its factory build can actually perform better than the Wrangler’s, with periodic replacements sometimes the only modifications required.
Average used price for a 2015 Toyota Tacoma Access Cab TRD Pro: $22,569
2003-2006 Ford Expedition
Several different Ford vehicles are great platforms for overland builds, but we’ve singled out the Expedition because of how well its early generations are still performing in 2020. Expeditions aren’t nearly as popular for overland conversions as Tacomas or Jeeps, which means you can find one that’s cheap.
Even on a budget you get a 1,700-pound payload, a huge interior space, a durable drivetrain, and responsive off-road handling. Be warned, however, that they suffer proportionally in the fuel economy department.
Average used price for a 2006 Ford Expedition XLS Sport Utility 4D: $4,678
2000-2004 Subaru Outback
(To be clear, we’re talking about the wagon here, not the sedan.)
Practically every generation of the Subaru Outback makes for an excellent overlanding vehicle, but we like the second generation best, since it’s currently the best balance between price and functional mileage. Subaru Outbacks are basically immortal, though, so don’t be afraid to go higher on the odometer for a better price.
What are the Outback’s overlanding virtues besides being cheap? Storage space is immense, and they almost all come with roof racks, making them ideal for rooftop campers. They also perform really well in the snow with the right tires. Their car chassis also gives them one of the best gas mileages on this list.
Average used price for a 2004 Subaru Outback Wagon 4D: $3,502
2004 Suzuki DR650
Some overlanders think you can only have a true overland experience on a motorcycle, carrying minimal gear, with nothing but a jacket between you and the elements. We’re not here to be purists or gatekeepers. All we’ll say is that if you decide to go for a stripped-down journey, the 2004 Suzuki DR650 might be your bike of choice.
The DR650 is an all-around bike you can ride anywhere, from city streets to far off-road. It might need some aftermarket adjustments (we recommend at least a new seat), but with a bit of work, this bike is a reliable, durable touring workhorse that carries loads surprisingly well.
Average used price for a 2004 Suzuki DR650: $3,105
More than almost any other driving hobby, overlanding is about making the vehicle your own. Though you might start out believing you won’t change anything about your used Toyota Land Cruiser except the tires, the trips you take it on will shape your relationship with the vehicle, until you get a sense of exactly what else it needs.
Just remember: It’s not about having the sexiest build, it’s about getting out there. We hope this article has made it easier for you to imagine yourself driving across roadless terrain and sleeping under the stars. It’s never too late to get started!