Don’t get caught up in the ‘overlanding’ hype trap of shiny new gear, says Sam. Instead, make sure you and your Land Rover are properly prepared
Don’t buy overland bling, buy reliability
There’s a new buzzword in the world of 4x4s – it’s ‘overlanding’. Trawl ebay and you’ll find ‘overlanding’ versions of Land Rovers and pieces of otherwise run-of-the-mill kit that command huge price hikes just because of that one word in their description.
Newcomers to the idea of travelling long distances to interesting locations by Land Rover can be drawn into this world and infected with the belief that they need to spend a fortune on this tent or that roof rack, or this matching array of accessories if they want to be assured of a successful trip. Of course, this isn’t the case.
A chrome-plated mouse toaster may well look nice bolted on to your Land Rover, especially if it has a desirable brand name stamped on it, but it’s often far better to spend that £200 (or whatever) on border crossings, ferry tickets or an extra service.
Basic vehicles are often best, and while I’m not suggesting the traveller necessarily forgoes comfort in favour of utility, it’s all too easy to stock up on shiny ‘overlanding’ toys and forget the basics like assuring mechanical reliability and safety.
Servicing, not kit, is key
I am frequently driven into frothing apoplexy by sneers about ‘Land Rover unreliability’ (usually from armchair pundits) where in fact most failures of Green Oval products on long trips are caused by the fitment of cheap aftermarket spare parts, or cutting corners on servicing and mechanical preparation – user error, in other words.
This is made worse by the fact that when you buy a used Land Rover you often have no guarantee about the provenance or quality of parts fitted by previous owners. If you are preparing for a trip, get some miles under the wheels and check that all the parts currently fitted are fit for purpose. You should only look at upgrades once you have a reliable vehicle.
Get some pre-trip practice I’ve just come back from a long trip through the northern mountains of Oman, where the landscape is very much a case of rocks and rock-crawling rather than desertscape.
My Camel Discovery is a fairly heavy overland vehicle rather than a dedicated off-roader, so not hugely nimble in awkward terrain, and the trek brought into sharp relief the need for a spotter when going over rocky areas (unless you are lucky enough to be driving something far newer from Solihull with its own spotter cameras).
Part of my route was a washed-out mining track with an adverse camber caused by flooding, coupled with big eroded hollow areas and large rocks. Luckily, I had a friend in the car who could hop out and spot for me as I inched the heavy truck over the difficult sections. The ability of the Land Rover was never an issue – what was crucial was the ability to carefully and slowly tackle the potentially damaging sections of track with a pair of extra eyes to guide me through the areas that I couldn’t see.
As Ray Mears, Defender fan himself, often remarks: ‘Drive your car like it’s made of glass – it has to get you home.’ A big right foot can result in damage, often terminal, and on an overland trip you could be thousands of miles from home and tens of miles from help.
It can quite rightly be argued, though, that sometimes in a difficult stretch of terrain ‘he who hesitates is lost’ – whether the ground is unstable, an accident is about to happen or traffic is being unforgiving – and the only way to know whether you should tread gently or give her a bootful is from experience. This is why pre-trip practice is vital. Greenlaning, preferably on long lanes like Rudland Rigg in Yorkshire, and preferably with a fully-laden vehicle that you are camping with – it’s an excellent rehearsal for overlanding.
After a few greenlaning trips you’ll know how your Land Rover (and its load) will behave when at an odd angle, or under sudden acceleration or deceleration. You’ll know the angles where you can or cannot see, and your blind spots. You’ll know where your diff hangs down and what sort of rocks and axle-twisters you can deal with without issue. Not just that, but if you live out of your truck on such a trip. you’ll know where you prefer to keep things like matches, brew-up kit, loo roll, head torch, bin liners and so on.
It’s even better if you can guide yourself over the lanes rather than take a guide – most of the time on a long overland trip you stand or fall by your own experience – and you get that experience by making the decisions yourself.
Don’t let excuses put you off making the overland trip you dream of. There will always be a reason ‘why not’ – job, finances, family, weather, holidays – and there will always be plenty of time after the opportunity to regret not going. Land Rovers don’t need modifications to be overlanders – look at the words in the green oval. That’s what they do. Pack, and go. Go while you can.
‘Don’t let excuses put you off making the overland trip you dream of. There will always be time to regret not going’