Overlanding, which refers to self-sufficient travel to rugged and off-grid destinations in a four-wheel drive vehicle, has definitely grown in popularity over the past several years. And with good reason!
This exhilarating combination of camping, off-roading, exploring remote and wild places, and being self-reliant is enough to make any adventurer’s heart palpitate.
But beyond the thrill of hitting dirt roads and discovering new horizons, overlanding is not only good for the soul, it also good for our mental and physical health.
Here are just a handful of the many ways overlanding can be beneficial to your health and well-being.
Spending Time in Nature Can Reduce Your Stress
A trail in the Olympic National Forest, Washington State
This modern world, which is bursting with gadgets and gizmos and apps all vying for our attention, can be more than a little stressful. These days, feeling overloaded and overwhelmed is becoming more and more common. And it’s getting harder and harder to relax and unwind.
But those of us who’ve experienced the joys of overlanding have discovered something amazing. Doing this activity that we love and spending time in nature is a sure-fire way to relieve stress. And there’s science to back this statement up.
First, research has shown that spending time in nature can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Our bodies release this hormone when we’re stressed, and high levels of it can be damaging to our health over the long-term. Overexposure to cortisol can increase your risk of anxiety, sleep problems, heart disease, and more.
A study published in 2021, in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that spending time in nature was associated with lower levels of cortisol, indicating that being in natural environments can have a calming effect on the body.
Getting out and about in nature can also help promote feelings of well-being and positivity. In a study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology back in 2010, researchers found that spending just 20 minutes in nature was associated with increased feelings of vitality, and decreased feelings of stress and fatigue. The research also suggests that being outside promotes positive emotions and a sense of well-being, which in turn can reduce stress levels.
Results from that same study also indicate that getting outdoors can improve our cognitive function (aka, thinking skills). Researchers found that spending time in nature improved attention and working memory, two cognitive functions that are key to managing stress.
Spending time in the great outdoors also promotes physical activity, which is a very effective way to relieve stress. The 2021 study found that time spent in green spaces was associated with increased physical activity and that, my friends, can help lower your levels of stress.
Getting outside, breathing fresh air and soaking in sunshine, is a fantastic way to deal with any stressors in your life and can have a positive impact on your mental health.
So the next time you're feeling overwhelmed and under pressure, hop into your off-road rig, find some dirt trails, and spend some quality time in the great outdoors—it just might help you feel better.
Overlanding is a Physical Activity that Can Boost Your Physical Health
Brad climbing photos vehicles after climbing a hill
Some folks might assume that because overlanding revolves around driving there’s no physical activity involved. But they would be wrong. Overlanding is an active form of travel and it requires you to move your body.
One of the most obvious ways that overlanding provides physical activity is through off-road driving. This can require a fair amount of physical effort because, as anyone who has wheeled over rough terrain knows, you are constantly adjusting your body position and using your muscles as you navigate over rocks and obstacles. And sometimes, you have to get outside and physically manage obstacles—moving rocks, digging through sand, or even hauling fallen trees out of your path to get your rig through.
Of course, there’s more to overlanding than just driving. There’s the whole camping and getting out in nature part of it.
When you overland, you’re lifting gear and equipment in and out of your vehicle, and you’re setting up and breaking down camp. All this lifting and carrying requires strength, coordination, and balance, and can help build muscle and improve overall physical fitness.
Done right, overlanding also includes taking the time to explore the beauty of our surroundings on foot…something most people call hiking. And guess what? Hiking can be a great form of exercise that can improve your cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of chronic diseases.
And, if you happen to have YouTube channel (TrailRecon) and you want to film your overland adventures, you’ll be running up and down the trails like there’s no tomorrow. Usually carrying camera gear that can weigh anywhere from 5 to 10 pounds, depending on your setup. Now that’s a workout!
While it’s probably not going to become an Olympic sport anytime soon, overlanding can be an excellent way to incorporate physical activity into your travel adventures. How much or how little is up to you, but there are ample opportunities to move your body and get your blood pumping.
Ditching Your Electronic Devices and Soaking Up the Sun Can Improve Your Sleep
A starry night sky along the east rim of the Grand Canyon
In today's fast-paced world, it's far too easy to get detached from the rhythms of the natural world. Many of us spend our days in front of computer screens and artificial light, which can disrupt our sleep and our natural circadian rhythms. But there is a simple solution to this problem—overlanding.
After a day spent outside and on the trail, there’s nothing better than falling asleep in the kind of quiet that can only be found when you’re far from the constant commotion of civilization. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard folks say they sleep better when they’re camping. And there’s a good reason for that.
A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2021 found that spending time outdoors, in nature, can improve sleep quality.
Many other studies have shown that disconnecting from electronic devices, something that happens naturally when we head to remote locations, benefits our sleep quality. Those devices—our beloved cell phones, tablets, and computers—all emit blue light, which causes our bodies to stop releasing the sleep hormone melatonin, disrupting our sleep.
But when we put away our electronics and focus instead on the dancing flames of a campfire or the glittering night sky, we’re saying goodbye to blue light and hello to good sleep.
Overlanding and off-roading can also help our bodies reset our innate sleep-wake cycles by harnessing the power of another kind of light—the natural kind from the sun.
Our bodies are designed to be awake during the day and asleep at night. Being outside where we’re exposed to sunlight helps reinforce this natural rhythm, and when our bodies are in sync with day and night, we sleep better.
So, if you’re like me and you don’t get nearly the amount of good, quality sleep that you should be getting, spending time overlanding, off-roading, and camping just might be the ticket to a good night’s rest and a healthier life.
Getting Out in Nature Can Give You a Fresh Outlook on Life
A campfire, a lantern, and a dutch oven...simple life at camp.
Another wonderful benefit to overlanding is that it can really help us put our lives and ourselves into perspective.
Hitting the road and exploring the great outdoors provides an escape from all the stresses of modern life which helps us clear our minds. Because when we’re out in the wilderness, there are no emails to answer, no social media accounts to check, and no mandatory meetings to attend. All that work-related mind-clutter disappears.
Instead, we can focus on the present moment and enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Like drinking in the colorful glow of a sunset. Or gazing at a million stars twinkling across a black velvet sky. Or relaxing with friends and swapping tall tales around a campfire.
Overlanding liberates us from all the distractions of our busy lives and allows us to live simply in a remote and rugged environment, whittling life down to the bare necessities. And this can help us gain some mental clarity, provide a new perspective on life, and remind us of what’s really important.
If you’ve lost some of your objectivity, if life seems a little muddled, it might be time to throw your camping gear in the your rig and head for the hills to gain some clarity and improve your outlook on life.
Overlanding Builds Resilience, Boosts Self-Esteem, and Helps Us Grow
Driving through an unexpected snowstorm in the Lincoln National Forest.
Overlanding, while fun and exhilarating, can also be challenging. And that’s a good thing because without a challenge, there isn’t much of an adventure.
The challenges we encounter when we’re overlanding and off-roading can be physical, mental, and emotional. Conquering them requires skill, patience, and determination to navigate rough terrain and rocky situations, but overcoming adversity will boost our confidence and build resilience.
Overlanding and off-roading takes us off the beaten path and into remote locales, which means we need to be prepared for anything and expect the unexpected. Things like flat tires that can cause delays and frustration. Or inclement weather that can necessitate a change of plans and push our driving skills to their limits. Or obstacles blocking the path that can require rerouting a carefully planned journey and traveling down an unknown road.
Which is why, in addition to our recovery gear and cooking equipment, we need to make sure we bring the right attitude. Because when we approach a challenge with a positive mindset, we’re more likely to overcome it or not crumble apart if we can’t. And even though we may not overcome every challenge we encounter, every challenge is an opportunity for us to grow and take away knowledge that allows us to do better the next time.
If we have the right attitude, challenges can allow us to learn how to adapt and overcome. Challenges can teach us to be patient and flexible. Challenges can make us aware of our strengths and weaknesses, and often show that we are more capable than we knew. And all of the knowledge and skills we gain during our adventures in the wilderness can translate to other areas of our lives, including work and relationships.
And then there are the “expected” challenges. Driving a four-wheel drive vehicle in the back country, over technical trails, along shelf roads, and through tight forest roads, requires us to learn new skills or hone existing ones…like navigation, vehicle maintenance and repair, and off-road driving techniques. Mastering these skills will not only make us a better overlander and off-roader, they’ll give us a sense of accomplishment as we see our progress and growth along the way.
No matter where the road takes us or what kind of challenges we encounter on our journey, the adventure of overlanding provides us with boundless opportunities for personal growth, self-discovery, and to become a better version of ourselves.
Spending Quality Time Off the Grid Builds Meaningful Friendships
Friends gathering around a campfire and preparing an evening meal.
I’m sure this will come as a surprise to no one, but one of the very best things about overlanding is the community—the wonderful people who join us on our adventures.
Overlanding, at least the way we do it, is often a group activity, and the experiences and camaraderie we share on the trail strengthens existing friendships and provides fertile ground for growing new ones.
But why is it that overlanding is an activity uniquely suited to building friendships?
One reason is that we and our fellow travelers start on common ground with our many similar interests, and that gives us a head start when it comes to forming friendships. We share an adventurous spirit with our overland companions. We all have a need to see where the dirt road takes us. We love and respect the natural world. We enjoy outfitting our overland rigs for our self-sufficient treks into the wild. And all the things we have in common are what gives us an affinity for each other and nurtures budding friendships.
Overlanding is also an activity that requires teamwork and collaboration. When we’re out on the trail, we need to work together to navigate challenging terrain, set up camp, and stay safe. And similar to what Brad and I have experienced serving in the military, sharing the experience of overcoming challenges to “accomplish the mission” (whether in the field or on the trail) creates a sense of “we’re in this together,” and that forges some pretty strong bonds.
There are also many opportunities while overlanding and off-roading to get to know each other on a deeper level. Spending days together on the trail and evenings sitting around a campfire create space and time for meaningful conversations, especially when you don’t have electronic devices to distract you.
Overlanding is a wonderful way to connect with like-minded individuals and build solid, lasting friendships that are good for the heart and soul. If you crave connections with folks who share your passion for adventure and spending time in nature, the overlanding community is the place for you.
Overlanding is Good for the Soul
A beautiful sunrise at Merus Adventure park during an overland trip.
From less stress and better sleep, to building wonderful friendships, there are so many aspects of overlanding that can have a positive impact on every aspect of your health and well-being. So, if you are looking for an excuse to get into overlanding, or you need a reason to get out there and adventure more often, we’ve just given you six terrific reasons to do just that.