After you’ve selected a vehicle and procured the absolute essentials, there are a handful of items you’ll find very useful in an adventure vehicle. In fact, this is where things get really interesting for gear junkies. Just don’t overdose on heavy equipment, adding weight to a vehicle increases wear, decreases fuel economy, and wreaks havoc with your center of gravity.
Sleep & Shelter
It ranks pretty high on Maslow’s Hierarchy of (overlanding) Needs. Plus a sleep-deprived, cold travel companion can put an end to your adventure travel career in short order. Your vehicle will provide warmth and protection from the elements, but you’ll need somewhere to sleep and some shelter if you want to venture beyond the confines of your vehicle.
One of the first things you will think you need to purchase is a roof top tent. While they’re an awesome addition to your adventure vehicle, and very comfortable… there are better things to spend your money on out of the gate.
If you already have a ground tent use that. Plus, a huge benefit to ground tents is its versatility. Something mounted to your vehicle’s roof, becomes pretty much useless if you’re bikepacking, kayaking, or on an adventure motorcycle. Plus tents, like those from Big Agnes, are very easy to store in the off season.
When you’re finally ready to step up to a proper roof top tent; take your time. There are a lot of options with more and more being added to the mix every year. When it comes to the types of roof top tents; there are really two real choices. Hard shell models that look oversized Thule cargo boxes and the other variety that folds out to look a little more like a traditional tent – but on top of an awesome overland vehicle. On the higher end you’ll find brands like James Baroud and Eezi-Awn. Expect to pay north of $2,500 for a high quality tent and over $3,000 for a hard shell unit. The latter being much, much easier to erect and take down when the time comes.
If you know you want a roof top tent, but don’t want to pay Eezi-Awn or hard shell prices there are way more options in the sub $2,000 price range. They are slightly lower quality, but should serve you well and will free up some breathing room in your budget. Some of the more popular brands are CVT, ARB and Tepui. However, companies large and small are adding tents to their lineup (Yakima, Free Spirit Recreation, etc.). Final thought on rooftop tents; they are great, but don’t get too caught up in getting the adventure vehicle “look,” start small and expand on the gear you already own.
Exterior Storage & Racks
Your factory cross bars probably aren’t going to cut it. Well that’s not entirely true; they work great for your run-of-the-mill roof top box (like those from Yakima, Thule, and Rhino Rack). Unfortunately, if you want a more capacity and less wobble you will need to move up to a good set of cross bars from one of the previously mentioned manufacturers.
Moving beyond aftermarket crossbars, you’ll begin to venture into full on roof rack territory. They’re a common adventure vehicle accessory that transforms your entire roof into a cargo area. Companies like FrontRunner, ARB, Baja Rack and Rhino Rack provide excellent options for increasing roof top capacity. A word of warning; no matter how cool it looks or what the load rating on your newly acquired rack leads you to believe – be very careful about putting too much weight on your roof. It will drastically affect the way your vehicle handles and may increase your chances of rolling over.
Interior Storage & Luggage
One of the best investments you can make, for a Jeep or SUV, is a drawer system. Life becomes so much easier when you don’t have to unload and load everything in your cargo compartment to find one small item tucked away in a corner. Like many things you’ll encounter on this journey as a vehicle-based adventurer; you’ll be surprised at how much a good system will cost. Expect to pay at least $1,000 for a drawer system from a company like ARB, AT Overland Equipment, or FrontRunner. Prices do vary, depending on layout and vehicle.
Fortunately if you paid attention in wood shop, a drawer (or shelf) system is one of the more DIY-able overland accessories. It’s way easier than scratch building a rooftop tent or winch bumper. Use good materials and hardware for your drawer system. For plywood consider Baltic Birch, and make sure your drawer slides are heavy duty (lock-in lock-out sliders are awesome).
Another benefit of drawer systems is that they do a great job of keeping your gear contained. Nothing makes a rollover or collision worse than a heavy piece of camping gear speeding toward the back of your head.
Food and water. They’re pretty important. Make sure you can carry or process enough water to stay hydrated. Repackage food to save space. Other than that your menu will vary greatly based on personal preference.
To prepare your meals you’ll need some cookware, cutlery and a stove. Turn to high quality backpacking gear if you’re short on space or want to keep weight down. For larger groups consider a camp stove like those from Partner Steel.
Speaking of personal preference. If you’re the type of person that prefers finely crafted IPA over Busch Light tall boys, consider craft beer in aluminum cans. Their availability continues to grow, they are way easier to pack, you’ll have less garbage to pack out, and they chill much faster than bottles.
If the day concludes with a bit of bourbon or scotch consider using a flask… or three. Distribute a single bottle between three flasks and you’ll be left with just over an OZ in a 750ml bottle. Three flasks are much easier to manage than the cumbersome bottle of Lagavulin or Buffalo Trace.
Hygiene & Waste Disposal
Nothing ruins a newly discovered campsite faster than stumbling upon a pile of used toilet paper. Especially when it’s behind a tree within five feet of your freshly-pitched tent. There are different rules for different locations, but regardless of where you are please make sure you leave no trace. Either bury the evidence (if permitted), stick to established facilities, or pack it out.
You’ll also want to plan on keeping yourself fresh and clean. Look for products (soap, toothpaste, etc.) that are biodegradable. If you really want to keep the B.O. at bay look into a camp shower. Avoid the ones from big box stores, and consider something like Nemo’s Helio shower or a heated unit from Zodi. If you’re short on cash and flush with time a great DIY option is a lightly modified garden sprayer. Just make sure you use a brand new one; hosing yourself down with herbicide can’t be good for your health.
Electronics, Relaxation & Entertainment
Nothing is more versatile or packable than a deck of playing cards. Well maybe a cell phone/tablet… but cards have been around forever, and if you have a tornado-like three-year-old; cards are way easier to replace.
Finally, when it comes to relaxing in camp a hammock is hard to beat. They’ve become very popular in the past few years so there are plenty of packable lightweight options out there. We recommend and use ENO hammocks, but there are others.
- Want to go beyond basics? One of the best things you can add to your adventure mobile arsenal is a fridge freezer. Check out or page on Selecting the Right Fridge Freezer.
- Already a backpacker? Want to overland and backpack? Checkout our Backpacking Gear page or see Expedition Wire’s picks for the best Backpacking Stoves.