Overland Camping Shelter Options Pros and Cons

Overland camping is one of the fastest-growing hobbies in the world. Many outdoor fans love exploring the remote wilderness and camping out with the added comfort of their vehicle. Many off-roading enthusiasts find that adding a camper setup to their 4×4 enables them to hit the trails for an entire weekend–or longer. But what is the best overland camping shelter option?

There are several different options for camping while overlanding:

  • Sleeping inside your vehicle
  • Setting up a ground tent or hammock
  • Installing a rooftop overland camping tent
  • Buying an off-road camper

Each overland camping shelter option has pros and cons. Read on to find out more about each option, and decide for yourself.

Sleeping In Your Vehicle is a Cheap Overland Camping Shelter Option

Overland Camping shelter options: VW Westfalia camped overlooking the Snake River above Spring Recreation Site near Huntington, Oregon.
Overlanders using a van camper to explore Oregon. | VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

For many overlanders, sleeping in their vehicle is the obvious choice: their vehicle is comfortable, warm, and dry. They fold their back seats down to fashion a comfortable sleeping surface, or they may crawl into the bed of their truck. One downside of sleeping in your vehicle is moving any gear stored there every time you set up camp.

Depending on your sleeping surface, some sleeping pads or an air mattress may be a must. Most truck owners use a camper shell for weather protection and warmth. When sleeping inside a vehicle, ventilation is key, so cracking your windows and hanging some mosquito netting may be vital to getting a good night’s sleep.

A Ground Tent or Hammock is a Versatile Overland Camping Shelter Option

Overland Camping Shelter Options: Hipcamp campers hanging out tent camping in farm fields on the weekend. (Photo by: Edwin Remsberg/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Overlanders camping in a field | Edwin Remsberg/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Many overlanders prefer to park their vehicle, then set up a campsite nearby. Some people set up a ground tent, others hang a hammock, and a few prefer to sleep under the stars. 

Many outdoorspeople swear by their ground tents. Once you invest in a ground tent, you can use it for multiple adventures–including overlanding. You will need to find a flat spot and take several minutes to set up their tent, but then you are good to go. Consider that some climates require specialty winter tents. Valuable upgrades to your tent include a tarp to use as a ground cloth and sturdier aftermarket tent stakes.

Camping hammocks are lightweight and comfortable–it is no surprise they are exploding in popularity. Overlanders can rig a hammock between two trees or between a tree and vehicle bumper and climb in for some shut-eye. In many climates, you will need to hang mosquito netting or a tarp over your hammock.

Rooftop Tent Pros and Cons

Overland Camping Shelter Options: A campsite set up under the wondrous night sky , Helmeringhausen, Namibia. (Photo by: Edwin Remsberg/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Overlanders using rooftop tents to explore Namibia | Edwin Remsberg/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

You may have seen sweet rooftop tent setups on an increasing number of overland vehicles. On the pro side: Many rooftop tents are very comfortable, even featuring a thin built-in mattress. Some overlanders prefer the security of camping on top of their rig, far away from animals. Rooftop tents are also very fast to set up and close down.

On the con side: Rooftop tents are an expensive option, ranging from $800 to $4,000. Rooftop tents are also very heavy, heavier than most other overlanding gear–and not ideal for every car. In addition, they need a roof rack which adds more cost and weight. This added weight can slow your vehicle down and waste fuel. Finally, in windy conditions, rooftop tents can blow back and forth, and the fabric can make a lot of noise.

Softshell Rooftop Tent or Hardshell Rooftop Tent 

Overland Camping Shelter Options: Overlanders use both softshell and hardshell rooftop campers while exploring Landmannalaugar. Iceland. (Photo by: Mikel Bilbao/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Overland campers use rooftop tents to explore Iceland | Mikel Bilbao/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A hardshell rooftop tent is packaged under a solid roof. This roof is either hinged at the front of the tent or sits on four hydraulics; setup is as simple as lifting this roof. Hardshell rooftop tents are the quickest rooftop option to set up. But hardtop tents are limited to the width of your vehicle, so some models are shorter on sleeping space than softshells. The hardtop shell offers added protection–both while driving and while camping in extreme rain or sleet. Hardshell tents are also the more expensive rooftop option, usually costing between $2,000 and $5,000.

A softshell tent is essentially a normal tent, mounted to the roof of your vehicle. Many softshell rooftop tents unfold to twice the size of your roof–thus offering tons of sleeping space. Softshell tents usually take a few minutes longer to set up than hardshell tents, but they often cost less. You should budget between $1,000 and $2,000 for a softshell tent. You can see Popular Mechanics‘ 2021 rooftop tent ratings. 

An Off-Road Camper is a Convenient Overland Camping Shelter Option

Overland Camping Shelter Options: Mike Hallmark oversaw the creation of the 'Hellwig Rule Breaker' - a 2016 Nissan Titan fitted with a 2017 Lance 650 camper. Mike and his team at Hellwig Suspension Products came up with their unique design for the 2016 SEMA car show. The company's Big Wig airbags in the vehicle's wheel wells allow this one of a kind souped-up pickup to ride level with maximum comfort while navigating any terrain. Mike said: "When you think of a camper you think of a white truck and a white camper, with a white-haired dude driving it at 45 miles-per-hour. We wanted to go the complete opposite, so we did a yellow truck, black camper with some graphics on it to really catch your eye and make a splash in the market." The addition of the Hellwig rear sway bar provides enhanced control while carrying the camper, which features a full audio system, TV, fridge, bed, full-size wet bath, and living area. To accommodate all the added weight, Mike and his team also added Falken Wildpeak AT3W LT 325/65R18 tyres, which beefed-up the truck's on and off-road handling capabilities. Mounted on the front bumper are Baja design lights, fog lights, projection lights, and a full light bar that allows the driver visibility while traveling at night or off-roading. The whole thing is powered by a Cummins 5.0L V8 turbo diesel engine.
Overlanders use a truck bed camper to explore California | Brandon Hickman/Barcroft Media via Getty Image

Some overlanders take a camper with them into the wilderness. Popular camper options include truck-bed campers and overland-ready camper trailers. Many campers take little or no time to set up. But they are also the most expensive option: often costing between $10,000 and $20,000 dollars. There is a dizzying array of campers available: The outdoorsy website has a great ranking of off-road-ready trailers, and truck camper adventure maintains a list of lightweight truck bed campers fit for off-roading.

RELATED: Are Rooftop Tents Worth the Money?