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The Gearzette


- March 02, 2024

Purchasing an overland vehicle is a costly exercise. Before doing just that, you need to consider which vehicle best suits your specific needs and planned adventures. Read our Choosing the Right Overland Vehicle article to help you make the right choice. ​

The modern overlander has a much broader range of vehicles to choose from today, especially once you start considering vehicles like the Grenadier or a Unimog. To help you choose we’ve compiled a list of the top 5 overland vehicles of all time. ​

© Craig Kolesky © Gürel Sahin

Land Rover Defender​

Land Rovers first saw the light of day at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show. The 80-inch utilitarian Series One’s on display were made for the military and farmers, yet adventurers with a wanderlust soon took a massive liking to them, and they quickly became the overlander’s vehicle of choice. ​

Then 42 years later, the Land Rover Defender as we now know it was born. It’s often said that a Land Rover is usually the first motor vehicle seen by remote-dwelling tribesmen. The world fell in love with the iconic shape of the Defender, and soon the military, game parks, and anyone who needed a real workhorse had one too. Especially overlanders, who could bolt on bits like a roof rackspare fuel tank, and water tanks. As Defenders were sold almost everywhere, getting spare parts for them was not a problem. ​

Sadly, Land Rover stopped producing old-style Defenders in 2016, shortly after the two millionth Defender rolled off the production line. This led to a massive increase in their popularity and price. The jury is still out on whether the new Defender, with all its electronics and computers, is equally capable.  

© Craig Kolesky

Toyota Land Cruiser  ​

The Toyota Land Cruiser is, without a doubt, the most common and reliable vehicle spotted on remote overland tracks worldwide. Production of the Land Cruiser began in 1951, and by the end of 2019, they had already sold over 10 million of them. Remember when the old Defender production ended? They had only sold just over 2 million of them. ​

While the FJ40 and FJ45 are now highly collectible classic Land Cruisers and go for top dollar, the 80-Series, launched in 1990, cemented the Land Cruiser as a global overlanding superstar. The high-in-demand latest Land Cruiser, the 300 Series, has further elevated the status of the people’s choice on the overland circuit.​

© Ian Niklaus ©Front Runner

Toyota Tacoma

The Toyota Tacoma was first introduced to the US market in 1995 as a replacement for the Toyota Pickup (known as the Toyota Hilux in other parts of the world). While the Hilux had already developed a global reputation for being one of the toughest 4x4s in the world, the North American market needed something that had better ride quality, more comfort, and was bigger, of course, and the Toyota Tacoma more than delivered on all those fronts. It did not take the Tacoma long to become a firm favorite as an American overland option. Further proof of this is the fact that they sold 150,000 of them in 2000, while in 2021, this figure peaked at 252,490 in America. 

The popularity of this midsize truck was further cemented in May 2023 at the Overland Expo West event when attendees got to see the 4th generation version of the Tacoma for the first time. At the heart of this model is a turbocharged inline 4-cylinder gas engine. What makes it such a popular overland option is the fact that it is extremely customizable, can carry loads of overland gear, and is very reliable. What more could anybody want from their overland truck? 

© Front Runner © Falk Siegel

Mercedes Geländewagen ​

The boxy-shaped Geländewagen was launched in 1979, and since then, it has served aid organizations, overlanders, and remote communities with great distinction in the most testing terrain imaginable. While the AMG models are attracted to the urban jungle, the basic, no-frills 464 commercial version is perfect for the most extreme overlanding tracks. ​

Thanks to its three-ton payload, the Geländewagen can carry lots of gear, water, and fuel, while the three locking differentials make it a super capable off-roader. The heavy-duty axles can handle a bump or three, and there is the hugely practical fact you can rinse out the rubber mats and interior with a hosepipe after a muddy or dusty trip. We asked the Front Runner founder Stanley Illman why he used the 463 commercial Mercedes Geländewagen as a base vehicle when he built the Mercedes Entdecker: “Having traveled about 400,000 km over 30 years through the most remote and hostile terrain in Africa in Mercedes vehicles and never once needing a tow, we knew the Mercedes 463 was the platform on which to build the ultimate expedition vehicle.” They might be pricey, but they are, without a doubt, the real deal. ​

© Sidetracked.Australia

Nissan Patrol ​

If a vehicle is much-loved and respected in Australia by overlanders and all those driving about the dirt tracks of the Outback, then you know it must be very good. There is no other country in the world where the Nissan Patrol receives as much admiration as it does in Australia. During the heydays of the tough vehicle-breaking Outback Challenge, most people used modified Nissan Patrols for the event.​

The first-generation Patrol came out in 1951 and looked a bit like an over-inflated Willys Jeep; it was only when the 4th generation Patrol came out in 1988, and it got coil sprung suspension, live axles, and power steering that the world began to take notice of this behemoth off-roader that was available as both a pickup and SUV. ​

You still see them in use by the military and aid organizations, especially in rural areas with rough tracks. The bulky Patrol has proven virtually unstoppable on challenging overland trips.