Top 14 Essential Overland Gear List - Tuff Stuff Overland

Top 14 Essential Overland Gear List

What is essential for one may not be essential for all. We each have our own style of travel and specific needs. However, these Top 14 Essential Overland Gear list will surely help you on your next adventure! 
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Written by Graeme Bell
Photos by Luisa Bell

Your grandfather probably used to travel overland. He had a pick-up truck, a military surplus tent, table, chair and water bottles, a pile of wood and a few six packs. He threw your mom or dad in the passenger seat, a good dog, a few fishing rods and his simple, robust gear in the back and headed out to explore. Maybe he drove down to Baja, maybe he explored Nevada, or Arizona, or the Appalachian mountains or maybe he was Australian and explored the outback, or maybe he was like my Grandad who fought tyranny in North Africa and grew to love and respect the desert. The old timers did a lot with little and we can learn from them.

What is essential for one may not be essential for all. We each have our own style of travel and specific needs. You might have to accommodate children or pets or both. You may seek adventure on technical 4×4 trails, or might be equally happy driving simple trails through national parks or across continents. Ultimately, overlanding as vehicle dependant travel opens the world to us and our gear reflects our style. But, we could probably agree that much of the following gear is essential. And Remember – Often less is more, and gear which performs multiple tasks is best.

#1 - A Competent Vehicle
Well, that’s kinda obvious. The vehicle itself should reflect your needs and style of travel. Invest in the vehicle which makes you smile and gets you where you want to go. A base vehicle should be equipped with a set of tires and suspension suited to the terrain you intend to travel, arrangements for sleeping (RTT, ground tent, in vehicle) and the ability to store supplies and relevant gear as suggested below.

#2 - First Aid Kit
We hardly ever touch our medical bag and the most common ailments we have are cuts, bruises and insect bites. In fact we have two first aid kits – one which contains every day product such as band aids, headache pills, sun block, insect repellent, anti bacterial cream and hand sanitizer. The other kit contains bandages, a neck brace, malaria treatment, sterile needles, super glue and an Epi-Pen. Both kits are kept close at hand.

#3 - Fire Extinguisher & Fire Blanket
Like the medical kits, you hope to never use these but simply cannot leave home without them.

#4 - A Fridge or Cooler Box
We have used Engel and Waeco fridges in the past, actually we had both installed in the vehicle at the same time, but have replaced both with one large, modern Snomaster fridge. As a hungry family of four we need a lot of food, we enjoy meat on the grill, a cold beverage and French cheese. For weekends away a Yeti cooler is as good as a fridge and requires no power to run. Of course, your dad and grandad used to travel with just an old cooler and a thermos, those were the good old days but, I promise, they would have travelled with a fridge if they could.

#5 - Tools
A decent compact tool kit and a workshop manual in the right hands can solve most common mechanical issues. Of course maintenance is better than repair but when your wheel bearings fail on a trail or isolated road you want to be able to get yourself running again. A socket set, set of spanners, decent hammer, crow bar and special tools specific to your vehicle are indispensable.

Tools are heavy though, so choose carefully when packing your overland tool box (this is another article on it’s own). Never leave home without a roll of duct tape and a bottle jack. Bogert Manufacturing provides some excellent bottle jacks and accessories.

#6 - Spare Parts
Which mechanical failures could stop your vehicle dead in its tracks? A basic spares box should contain fan belts, relays, fuses, a set of wheel bearings, a fuel pump and various lubricants. We have an ECU in our Defender and with ECU’s come sensors and we have to carry spares. Service parts such as air, fuel and oil filters are essential for even short journeys.

Unfortunately, the spare part you often need is the one part you are not carrying but the world has changed; you can get almost anything delivered almost anywhere. A breakdown is also an opportunity for adventure, it all depends on your mindset.

And please, use only the best spare parts which you can afford as a faulty or poorly manufactured spare part is the definition of false economy. We use only Bearmach spare parts for our Defender and they have never let us down. (Full disclosure, we are Bearmach brand ambassadors and they have helped us out with critical spares in South America, the USA, the UK, Turkey and Morocco.)

#7 - Recovery Gear
Jumper cables, a shovel and a tow strap are the basics. For the 4×4 guys a kinetic strap, a 9000lb winch and recovery points on the vehicle are essential. Also, a good set of sand ladders can be incredibly useful, we have stainless steel sand ladders which double as a drop down table. (But I will admit I have a crush on a pair of black or orange MaxTrax.)

A high lift jack is controversial, loved by some and hated by others. An air compressor is incredibly useful if you intend to take on the rough stuff and when not pumping up tires (or an air mattress {hate those!}) you can use the air to clean camera lenses or to encourage a stubborn campfire.

#8 - Extra Fuel and Water Tanks
Get out there, survive, thrive and return. Running out of fuel and water can under certain circumstances be worse than running out of food. But, practice restraint – we have a German friend who installed extra fuel tanks with a capacity of 150 gallons and no, he was not overlanding on Mars. An extra 20 gallons is usually sufficient and a couple of jerry cans can give you extra range and peace of mind.

#9 - Table and Chairs
Well, chairs mostly. A table is useful but not essential; the tailgate of your pick up is a great place to prepare food. In Morocco we invested in a large ground mat which is practical in the desert or on the beach and as we will be driving through West Africa we intend to spend a lot of time living on sand. We sit crossed leg like the Bedouin and relax under the stars while grilling goat and a few sweet potatoes.

And buy the best chair you can afford! As a large creature, I break camping chairs and went through a good few before I got my paws on an Oztent chair which can support 300 lbs and has lasted four years.

#10 - Ten Pairs of Underpants and Comfortable Bedding
Laundry is a nuisance. A pair of shorts or trousers can be worn for a week as long as you have a clean pair of underpants daily. Yeah, your clothing won’t smell great but usually the only people smelling you are your passengers and they smell as bad as you do. Keep your clothing to a minimum and pack some cold weather gear in case you are hit by inclement weather. Comfortable bedding makes those long nights a pleasure. We use down duvets.

#11 - A BBQ and Gas Stove
The BBQ should be large enough to cook a meal for you and your crew; a stand alone, off the ground BBQ will allow you to make a small campfire almost anywhere and doubles as a fire pit. Sometimes we make a ground fire and shovel the coals into the BBQ for cooking.

A gas stove is the day to day cooker, for making the morning breakfast, tea and coffee and the night time stew. Buy the cooker before you choose the pots and pans and be sure that they fit each other. A Coleman cooker is legendary but fiddly to light and the emissions are potentially fatal if the cooker is used in doors.

#12 - Outdoor Tools
A shovel is essential. A Leatherman is indispensable. A good axe and a bow saw can provide all the fire wood you need and a machete is great for chopping branches, clearing overgrown trails and defending against threats real or imagined. (Yes, I know many Americans travel with at least a 9mm. We would if we could, but have never needed to be armed with a gun.)

#13 - GPS and Navigation Apps
Grandad used a paper map which he bought from the gas station, but grandad also told great stories of getting lost up in the mountains after he “misplaced” his map and had to survive on trout and peanut butter for a week. I prefer old school paper maps to a temperamental GPS but there is no good reason why you can’t have both, plus navigation apps help you to find those trails, campsites, back-roads, secret spots and short cuts.

#14 - Water Filters and Solar Panels
Self-sufficiency is the goal. Generating your own electricity will give you the freedom to roam further afield and keep the fridge cool. Pro tip: turn the fridge off every night before you go to sleep. The insulation will keep the fridge cool and you will save battery power. We love being able to filter water from streams and rivers. Staying hydrated is absolutely essential while out and about.

Honorable Mentions
Power adapters for international travel, podcasts for the long driving days, wet wipes for obvious reasons, sun block, a good hat, a willing partner, a shemagh (to stay warm and dampened to keep you cool), a flask for tea and coffee, a broad necked one litre pee bottle, a Tetford toilet, a good book and a simple, lightweight awning.

And Last But Not Least...
A Good Sense of Humor and a Spirit of Adventure. The correct mind set is everything, and it is free. Overlanding is supposed to be challenging but fun. Don’t take it too seriously, but be serious about your journey.