What is the difference between a backcountry and overland adventure?

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Scott Brady

Basic Definitions:

Backcountry Adventure: A one-day, or multi-day off-highway trip in an adventure motorcycle or 4wd.

Overland(ing): Vehicle-supported, self-reliant adventure travel, typically on remote, secondary or unimproved roads or tracks.

Vehicle-Dependent Expedition: An organized, vehicle-dependent journey with a defined purpose, often geographic or scientific in nature.

Expedition Vehicle: A 4wd or adventure motorcycle prepared for self-reliant travel over long distances, through unpredictable weather and over variable terrain.

Detailed Descriptions:

Backcountry Adventure:​

A backcountry adventure has the goal of exploring the outdoors or traveling on technical terrain for shorter distances, often only one day. These trips are for the personal enjoyment of exploring, testing the vehicle or equipment. Backcountry adventures can be a day or more in length and include camping. All day-long trips would qualify as a backcountry adventure, and most 2-3 trips will as well.
1. Primary purpose: Fun or vehicle/equipment testing and skills training.
2. Duration: One day to several days.
3. Logistics: Minimal planning is required, and the trip can often benefit from less planning (i.e spontaneity)
4. Route Finding: Navigation is easy, typically on known routes that are well documented
5. Camping: Remote or established campgrounds
6. International Borders: Rarely includes crossing of international borders
7. Risk: Low risk to personnel, moderate risk to equipment on more challenging tracks.
8. Terrain: Backcountry travel often includes challenging trails as part of the adventure, with trails like the Dusy Ershim and longer routes in Moab, Utah being an example.

Overland Adventure:

Crossing the Altar Desert, Mexico
Note: Adapted from the Wikipedia entry, which was primarily authored by Graham Jackson (Director, Overland Training) and Jonathan Hanson (Executive Editor, Overland Journal).
Overlanding is the self-reliant adventure travel to remote destinations where the journey is the primary goal. Typically, but not exclusively, accommodated by mechanized off-highway capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping; often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and often spanning international boundaries. While expedition is defined as a journey with a purpose, overlanding sees the journey as the purpose.

Technical terrain can be encountered throughout the journey, and the traveler may even seek out the most challenging route to a destination as part of their experience, but overland travel is not the same as recreational “fourwheeling”, where the primary objective is overcoming challenging obstacles. The critical point to the term overland travel is that the trip must be vehicle-support, and the purpose is to seek out at least two or more of the following: 1. Remote locations, 2. Other cultures than your own, 3. Under-explored or under-documented regions, 4. Being self-reliant in unfamiliar territories for multiple days, weeks or months. That is to say, an overnight trip to the local mountains on a well documented route and staying in an established campground with full-hookups is not an overland adventure, it is a backcountry adventure or at the very least, car camping.

1. Primary purpose: Exploration and adventure travel
2. Duration: Typically a week to many years. Can be only a few days if the route is particularly remote, challenging and infrequently traveled.
3. Logistics: Detailed planning is required for environmental, geographic and geopolitical contingencies.
4. Route Finding: Navigation can be easy or complicated, though many areas may have no mapping detail available, requiring extensive research.
5. Camping: Remote camping. Some travelers may use a self-contained unit due to weather conditions, security concerns or duration of travel, though most will camp in a roof tent or high-quality ground tent. There also may be limited camping available (like in many parts of Asia), requiring use of local accommodations, hostels, etc.
6. International Borders: Often includes crossing of international borders. Some overlanders may cross dozens of borders in a trip.
7. Risk: Moderate risk to personnel and equipment due to security issues or the extreme remoteness and difficulty of the journey.
8. Terrain: Terrain can vary depending on environmental and use conditions, but can be highly technical in the jungles and remote deserts.
The vehicle and driver must be prepared for these unknowns.
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