iOverlander Review: Pros and Cons of the Popular Campsite Finder App

If you ask van lifers about their must-have van life apps or how they find free campsites, they almost always mention iOverlander.

When I first started van life back in 2016, finding campsites was a lot more difficult than it is today. While there were campsite finder apps, they weren’t nearly as robust. Phone service was also a lot more spotty. This meant you had to do your research ahead of time and rely more on paper maps.

Fortunately for van lifers, car campers, and road trippers, the technology has gotten so much better. These days, Ryan and I rarely make a plan for where we are going to camp.

In fact, the ability to be spontaneous is one of the things I love most about van life. Most often, after wrapping up our day’s activities, I turn to the iOverlander app on my phone to see what our options are for nearby camping. Whether we are looking for an established campground, informal campsite, or dispersed camping, iOverlander is extremely useful for finding places to camp on the fly.

Although iOverlander is widely known as an app for finding free campsites, you can also find other helpful van life, camping, and travel features like water hookups, laundromats, and showers.

This iOverlander review includes information about the app, how to use it, and the pros and cons. I hope you will learn more about how iOverlander works and how it can help you on your adventures!

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    What is an Overlander?

    iOverlander defines overlanders as self-reliant travelers in search of remote destinations. In overlanding, the goal is not to reach a specific destination; the purpose of the journey is to enjoy the process of getting there.

    An “overlander” can be described by the following:

    • Their vehicle has off-road capabilities. Overlanders tend to have vehicles or machines with off-road capabilities, though this is not always true.
    • They camp for an extended time. They also often camp for extended periods (months or years) and travel to other countries.
    • They have their own method of transportation. The overlander community is vast and includes people traveling by car, big rig, camper van, truck camper, trailer, motorcycle, or bicycle.
    • They may have unique travel situations. Overlanders also include travelers with pets or children, and travelers working remotely.
    Helpful Tip

    You don’t need 4×4 to use iOverlander

    Although iOverlander was originally built for overlanders, you do not need a 4×4 overlanding vehicle to use the app or consider yourself a traditional “overlander.” You can be a visitor to a new area interested in exploring options for camping or travel amenities.

    Hundreds of camper vans in a grassy field at Open Roads Festival in McCall Idaho
    Overlanding includes a variety of vehicles and types of travel – many of which we see at our Open Roads Fest

    What is the iOverlander App & Website?

    iOverlander was started by two overlanders, Sam Christiansen and Jessica Mans. They saw a need for compiling camping locations and other reliable resources for people traveling and living in their vehicles.

    Slowly, the site transformed into a nonprofit project that is now almost entirely operated by users across the globe. This community volunteers their time, ideas, and GPS coordinates to help other overlanders find resources during their travels

    iOverlander is more than just an app for finding free campsites, though. Here are a few features that you can find on the iOverlander app and website.

    iOverlander app features

    • Search for campsites – both paid and free
    • Filter for amenities like showers, dump stations, water, wifi, and so much more (see below for what types of services you can find on iOverlander)
    • Read reviews on campsites and other places listed
    • See photos from other travelers who have visited these places
    • Leave your own reviews and photos and submit your own recommendations

    These days, almost everyone in the nomadic community recommends downloading iOverlander as a way to find free campsites as well as other amenities you need on the road.

    iOverlander app map showing camping and amenities around Phoenix, Arizona
    iOverlander is a user-generated database where travelers can find locations for everything from wild camping to trustworthy mechanics / Source: iOverlander App

    What You Can Find on iOverlander

    Below is a list of the types of campsites and amenities you will find on the iOverlander app. Distinct icons on the app mark these categories.

    It’s important to note that iOverlander is a global resource, so some of the categories might not feel applicable to US travel. However, if you were to road trip down to Baja, visit the Icefields Parkway in Canada, or drive the Pan-American Highway down to South America (my dream!), the range of amenities in the app would be very handy!

    Established Campgrounds

    Paid campgrounds range from privately owned RV parks with a pool, laundry, and more to designated sites in a National Park with no amenities.

    While I personally think there are more comprehensive van life apps for paid established campsites, having these sites in iOverlander is still helpful if there aren’t many free or available campsites, an area doesn’t feel safe, or you are looking for a paid campground with amenities like a shower.

    Four people sitting in camp chairs around fire pit at campsite
    We tend to stay at established campgrounds when camping with my parents because they offer more amenities like showers, toilets, and potable water

    Informal Campsites

    These are on-advertised camping spots attached to other businesses or facilities. They are places where camping is permitted by the property owner such as a Cracker Barrel, Walmart, or Love’s gas station.

    Wild Camping

    Otherwise known as dispersed camping, these are remote spots where camping is permitted on public lands, such as BLM land and National Forest land.

    They are free and rarely have amenities. This category is the main reason why van lifers tend to use and recommend the iOverlander app for traveling in the United States. Check out my detailed guide on how to find free dispersed camping for more info about camping on public lands.

    Sprinter Van parked at dispersed campsite in Moab overlooking red rock landscape
    One of my favorite dispersed campsites in Moab found on iOverlander

    Hotel/Hostel

    Hotels and hostels listed on the app are typically available without a reservation. The app forbids Airbnb and long-term apartment rentals.

    Fuel Station

    Fuel stations in remote areas (especially in international destinations) where services are otherwise limited.

    Propane

    Places you can refill your fixed propane tanks or bottles.

    Mechanic and Parts

    Places that offer mechanical services or auto parts.

    Water

    Places you can fill up your tanks with safe, potable drinking water. Most places listed on the app in the category are gas stations with complementary water spigots if you purchase gasoline or something inside. If I can’t find any water fill stations on iOverlander, I turn to one of my other favorite apps for finding water and showers on the road.

    Man filling up sprinter van water tank
    iOverlander marks places where you can fill up your tanks with potable water

    Short-Term Parking

    Daytime or overnight parking spots in crowded destinations where parking is difficult. We used this feature to find parking in Banff where parking for Sprinter Van-sized rigs is extremely limited.

    Recycling & Eco-Friendly Services

    If you’ve been doing van life for a while, you know how difficult it can be to find places to drop off your cans and bottles. This category includes listings for facilities with eco-friendly services such as recycling. If you want to be more eco-friendly on the road, consider using these facilities on your travels.

    Sanitation Dump Station

    Places where it is legal to empty the toilet or pee jug in your rig. Dump stations inside campgrounds are included on the app if they are also accessible to non-campers.

    Foldable toilet in converted campervan
    Although not a fun chore, you can use iOverlander to find dump stations to empty your waste

    Restaurant

    Places with exceptionally good (or bad) food, prices, or locations in remote areas.

    Tourist Attraction

    Significant stops with detailed descriptions.

    Shopping

    Includes high-quality grocery stores or those in remote areas. This category also features local handmade artisan goods and markets. When BFT contributor Kaylin visited Sedona in her van, she noticed there were some Native American markets with hand-made items marked in this category that she passed on the side of the road.

    Financial

    Banks or ATMs in areas where there are few. It also includes places to exchange money in international destinations.

    Wifi

    These are businesses that offer decent wifi including restaurants and cafes. When I’m working on the road and need to upload large files to the internet (or I just want to download some new Netflix shows), I’ll use iOverlander to find a place we can do that. See my guide to Van Life Internet for more tips on getting wifi on the road.

    Medical

    Spots where overlanders can receive medical attention or care in remote or uncommon areas. If you are visiting a dispersed area near a small town and have a medical emergency while camping, this category could direct you to the closest medical center (although if you have phone service, I’d probably go to Google first).

    Pet Services

    Any place offering services to pets, including dog parks and veterinarians. On days when we have long drives with our two dogs, we use the iOverlander app to find nearby dog parks and dog-friendly trails where our dogs can burn some energy.

    A man and a mini australian shepherd sitting in front of a Sprinter Van
    We travel with our two dogs, so it’s nice to know I can quickly and easily search for pet services

    Laundromat

    Places where overlanders can do their laundry.

    Showers

    Includes locations for both free and paid showers such as recreation centers, truck stops, etc.

    Border Customs and Immigration

    Helpful information for overlanders regarding border crossings, along with info that helps travelers avoid paying bribes.

    Checkpoint

    Permanent police, military, or agricultural checkpoints with info about what to expect. Includes helpful information for overlanders to avoid paying bribes.

    Consulate/Embassy

    Describes experiences at specific consulates and embassies.

    Vehicle Insurance

    Getting insurance for your camper van can be tricky – especially if you’re traveling abroad. iOverlander lists places to get insurance when you’re traveling abroad.

    Vehicle Shipping

    Places where you can ship your vehicle (ex: going across the Panama Canal).

    Vehicle Storage

    Locations where overlanders can store their vehicles for over a week.

    Warnings

    Warnings to personal health, safety, or property, such as muggings, thefts, or violent crimes.

    This category also includes major road problems when the road is impassable or delayed for two hours or more.

    Other

    Places that do not fit in other categories but are of interest to overlanders.

    Sprinter Van parked next to a lake underneath a rainbow in British Columbia
    Camping underneath a rainbow in British Columbia at a free site I found on iOverlander

    How to Use iOverlander

    You can access iOverlander via the website or the free app. Both provide a functional, user-friendly experience, but I find the phone app to be much easier to use on the go than the website.

    All of the information in iOverlander is crowdsourced, meaning all of the locations in the app are uploaded by other users.

    You not only have the ability to browse campsites and other amenities in the app, but you can also add new locations or update listings based on your experience.

    This section walks you through how to create an account, browse locations, apply filters, check into existing places, add new places, and view your check-in history.

    Create an iOverlander account

    To create an account, you will need to enter your email address and choose a password. You can also choose to display your blog/username if you like (note that this will be visible to everyone on the app).

    For example, since BFT contributor Kaylin has a blog and social media channels with her husband under the name Roam With Less, she likes to leave reviews for places under this name on the iOverlander app.

    You do not need to create an account to utilize the app. However, I recommend creating an account for the benefits listed below.

    iOverlander account benefits:

    • Check into places you visit.
    • Leave descriptions of places and reviews.
    • Update information so you can be a contributing member of the iOverlander community.
    • Add new places to the database for other overlanders to enjoy.
    • Keep track of which locations you have visited like cool campsites you’ve stayed at that you want to return to in the future.

    Browse locations

    You have a couple of different options for browsing locations on iOverlander. You can either:

    1. Browse by map
    2. Browse by list

    I always use the “Map” view to browse the region I’m looking to camp in. When you click on “Map,” iOverlander will show your current location and all of the places users have marked on the map around you.

    To use the map, you can zoom in and out by pinching your fingers together and apart.

    Another option on the main menu is to browse locations by clicking “List.” This view will show you a list of nearby places users have marked on the app according to your current GPS location. On this view, you will also be able to see the coordinates for your current location and your current altitude.

    A phone screenshot showing the map view on the iOverlander app
    Map view
    Screenshot of iOverlander app list view of campgrounds and amenities
    List view

    Apply filters

    The default setting for iOverlander is to show all locations in all categories on the app. To make the map feel less cluttered, you’ll want to use the Filter feature to only display the categories you are interested in.

    On both the “Map” and “List” view, you can click the blue “Filter” button in the top right corner of the app. You can click the blue “None” button to turn all the categories off, then select the one(s) you want to see on the map or list.

    I use this feature when searching for something specific, such as free campsites in an area. In this case, I turn on the filters for “Informal Campsite” and “Wild Camping” and turn the other filters off.

    A phone screenshot showing the filter view on the iOverlander app
    some of the filters on iOverlander

    Check into existing places

    You can help keep the places listed on iOverlander up-to-date for other travelers by checking into locations and leaving a description or review of your experience there. If something doesn’t match the description, you can update any details about the spots as needed.

    For example, if a listing says the site has a fire ring, but land managers have removed fire rings due to a fire ban, you can update that info during your stay. Or if the road is a lot rougher than the description, it’s really helpful for future visitors to know that so they don’t venture down a road they shouldn’t.

    Keep in mind that your review may not show on the app immediately. Moderators may review it before publishing it on the database.

    Screenshot of iOverlander check-in screen on app
    the Check-in Screen on iOverlander

    How to check into a place

    • Go to the main menu: Then click “Check-in.” Clicking here will show you your current GPS coordinates and a list of nearby places marked on the map.
    • Select the place you want to check into: From the list of nearby places, click on the one you want to check into. On the check-in screen, you can enter your description of this place and include information you think will help other overlanders visiting this spot.
    • Edit your visit details: You can edit the date you visited the spot and take or add photos (if you have them).
    • Update the main description: Once you finish, click the blue “Check-In” button on the bottom. The next screen will ask you if you want to update the current description or amenities listed for the place.
    Helpful Tip

    Leave descriptions when you can

    Even if the details of a spot have not changed, it’s helpful for other users if you leave a description of your experience there. Since some spots aren’t reviewed for months (or even years) at a time, this allows other users to see that someone visited the spot recently.

    Add a new place

    All of the spots in iOverlander are added by users, which means you can add new places to the database if they meet the criteria for entry. The main criterion is that all spots in the iOverlander database are of interest to at least one type of overlander (i.e., overlanders traveling with pets).

    iOverlander location criteria

    • Spots must be open. They must remain open for travelers for the foreseeable future (4 weeks or more).
    • Spots must be legal. They must not violate the laws or wishes of the locals.
    • Spots must be environmentally friendly. They cannot damage the environment.

    I appreciate these rules because it means I don’t have to worry about getting a knock from the police or pissing off any locals – both of which help me sleep better at night.

    New listings must contain relevant and quality information, and the contributor must also physically visit the place before listing it.

    Wondering how much van life costs and whether you can afford it? Learn what it costs to live in a van and how to budget for common expenses.
    Make sure your campsite is open, legal, and doesn’t harm the environment before adding it

    How to add a new place

    • Go to the main menu: Then tap “Check-In” and hit “Add New Place.”
    • Verify that your place meets the criteria: The directions on this screen will ask you to verify that your new place meets the criteria for entry (which you can confirm by clicking on the blue “Help” button on this screen and reading about it). Moderators will delete new spots that do not meet the criteria without further notice.
    • Select coordinates: Once you have verified that your new place meets the criteria, click the blue “Next” button on the bottom. Choose the location based on your pre-populated GPS coordinates, or click on the pencil icon next to the coordinates to manually enter a location.
    • Select the category: After confirming the coordinates, select which category your new place falls into on the app, the country of the new place, the name of the site, and a description. Depending on the category, iOverlander may ask you to answer additional questions about amenities such as electricity, wifi, kitchen, restaurant, showers, water, toilet, or a sewage dump station. For campsites, the app will also ask you to specify if the place is friendly for big rigs (for rigs >24 feet), tents, and pets.
    • Add photos: The app will prompt you to add or take photos of the spot.

    View your check-in history

    One of the benefits of checking into places you visit on the iOverlander app is being able to view them in your check-in history. This feature is helpful when you want to refer to places that you have previously visited.

    For example, one time I stayed at an amazing spot near Crater Lake that I found on iOverlander. By checking in, I can easily find that spot again next time I’m in that area looking for camping.

    From the main menu, click “Check-in history.” This view will show you a list of all the previous locations you have checked into on the app. They are listed in order by date, with the most recent places you have checked into listed first.

    If you click on one of the locations you have previously checked into, you can see the coordinates, altitude, description, and photos you included. You can edit these at any time.

    Kristen standing in open doorway of Sprinter van looking out onto winter landscape in Salida, Colorado
    I love checking into epic spots like these on iOverlander so I can find them again in the future

    Pros of iOverlander

    Now that you know how to use iOverlander, you may understand why this app is so popular among travelers!

    In this section of the iOverlander review, I highlight my favorite features of the app.

    1. It’s free

    One of the biggest perks of using iOverlander is that this app is free. There is currently no paid option for users, so everyone enjoys all the benefits at no cost.

    Since iOverlander is a nonprofit project, there are no advertisements on the app or website.

    Although the creators have considered adding a paid option for iOverlander in the future, they claim on the website that they will always continue to offer a free version of the app.

    Sprinter van camped at a free dispersed campsite with a fire pit and a dog
    It’s hard to believe I don’t have to pay for this app to help me find amazing campsites

    2. It’s easy to use

    Another pro of iOverlander is that it is easy to use. The app provides an intuitive, straightforward user experience.

    Beneficial iOverlander elements

    • The layout of the main menu is simple. When browsing locations, the filter feature of the app makes it easy to find what you are looking for on the map or list.
    • It’s easy to copy and paste coordinates. Once I find a spot I want to travel to, I appreciate how I can scroll down and click a button to open the spot in Google Maps or copy and paste the coordinates to share them with someone else.
    • You can keep descriptions short and sweet. When checking into locations, I also like how the app allows you to be as detailed as you want in your description as long as it is at least 40 characters long. It makes it simple to check into places where I don’t have much to say and expand on spots where there are several things I want to share with other travelers.
    • It’s easy it is to view my check-in history. This feature has been helpful when we want to return to places and find where we stayed so we can stay there again. When our friends ask us for recommendations on where to camp in certain areas, this feature also makes it easy for us to find these spots quickly.
    Three vans parked together at a dispersed campsite in the forest
    I love being able to share campsite recommendations with my family and friends

    3. It is the best app for discovering free campsites

    Many iOverlander users like myself use the app for the primary purpose of finding free campsites.

    iOverlander free campsite benefits

    • Save time: This app can save you hours researching camping spots or scouting new campsites.
    • Many options: Compared to other campsite finder apps, the number of free sites on iOverlander far exceeds those found on competing apps. With thousands of free campsites marked and reviewed by users, this is a definite perk of the app.
    • Thorough reviews: When I look for free campsites on iOverlander, I rely on other user descriptions to see if the spot is a good fit. For example, if users describe the road to the campsite as super narrow and sketchy, I tend to think twice about these spots since my 170” wheelbase Sprinter Van is on the larger side. Often reviews will also share if a free campsite contains litter with trash or used toilet paper – which is enough to send me looking for an alternative.
    • Highlights amenities: I also appreciate how the app includes detailed information on the amenities available at the free campsites (such as vault toilets) along with photos of the campsites.
    • Scenic campsites: I’ve found some of my all-time favorite and most scenic campsites on iOverlander. A couple of spots that I’ve enjoyed the most include a campsite near Crested Butte with 360-degree views that I’ve returned to several times and a spot along the river in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains.
    A man sitting in a camp chair with a dog in front of a converted Sprinter van in Colorado surrounded by golden fall aspens
    Camping near Kebler Pass in Crested Butte, Colorado

    4. It is convenient to see available facilities in an area

    While finding free campsites on iOverlander is convenient, the app is more than just a free camping app.

    As a part-time van lifer who often needs other travel amenities such as water, showers, and laundromats, I use iOverlander to see what other travelers have recommended and experienced in the areas I visit.

    Instead of spending time researching these amenities in Google, I can open iOverlander to see which amenities are available in an area.

    5. It is accessible without cell service

    A final benefit of using iOverlander is that you do not need a cell signal to use the app or access the locations in the database. You only need cell service to view the photos of locations.

    This feature is helpful when you camp in dispersed areas with no cell service and need to view the map or see your GPS coordinates.

    There have been times when I’ve lost service on the way to a campsite, making Google Maps unusable. Luckily iOverlander worked, and I was still able to navigate our way to a campsite.

    Woman standing on top of a ladder ont the back of a Sprinter camper van under a starry sky
    One of the best things about iOverlander is that you don’t need service to access locations in the app

    Cons of iOverlander

    Although the iOverlander app has the benefits of being free, easy to use, accessible without cell service, and features campsites along with amenities for an area, there are some downsides.

    This section of my iOverlander review explores some of its shortcomings.

    1. Its information is not always current

    Because this app relies on data from volunteer travelers, some of the information on places listed is incomplete, inaccurate, or outdated.

    Lack of details

    When I search for wild campsites, I often find places lacking a detailed, helpful description. For example, some contributors fail to include information like the accessibility of the road to get to the campsite, how many spots are available, and if there is cell service. It is also hard to tell what the campsite will be like when the contributor does not include photos.

    I have arrived at the campsites to find that the spot is not as described. Perhaps the contributor stated that the campsite includes a fire ring or good cell service when it does not. This discrepancy could be due to the contributor providing inaccurate information about the spot, or there is the possibility that the campsite changed since the contributor wrote the initial description.

    No recent reviews

    Another downfall is that some locations lack recent reviews. There are spots with no user reviews in months or even years. It is hard to tell if the spots are still there or still have the amenities mentioned.

    For that reason, I tend to pick spots with more robust, recent reviews and photos. The downside of this is the more thorough the reviews, the busier and more popular the spot tends to be.

    A woman stands next to the Eureka Ignite Camp Stove sitting on a GCI Outdoor Slim Fold Cook Station table. She is standing next to her Sprinter van.
    Cooking outside my campsite for the night

    2. It lacks some helpful features

    Although the app includes helpful features such as the option to filter categories and see a list of spots you have visited on your check-in history, it also lacks some features that could benefit the overall user experience.

    One missing feature is the ability to type in the location of where you are traveling into a search bar.

    For example, if I want to see spots around Phoenix, AZ, I would like to be able to type this location into a search bar that takes me directly to this area on the map. Instead, users have to go to the map view, zoom out of the map, navigate to Arizona, and then zoom into Phoenix to see the locations listed there.

    No filters for specific campground features

    Another downfall is that there is no way to get crucial information on campsites without clicking on them individually.

    For instance, there is no way to tell which campsites require 4×4 or which spots are big-rig friendly. You can only find this information by clicking on the location and reading the descriptions.

    It would save you time to have specific camping filters, especially for wild camping.

    Also, some campsites still appear on the map even after users mark them permanently closed. There is currently no way to filter these out either.

    Can’t save future campgrounds

    A final feature that iOverlander lacks is the ability to save or mark spots you would like to keep track of to visit in the future.

    If I chose one feature I’d love to see them add, this is it. Although you can check into spots while you are there and view spots you have previously visited, there is currently no way to save the campsites you plan to travel to.

    When I search for spots on iOverlander and find a place I plan to visit, there is no way to save it. It is inconvenient to try to refind spots on the map. I usually screenshot the coordinates and description of the spot to remember it for my trip. This system works, but I wish I could mark or save spots directly in the app.

    Learn how to car camp like a pro with these Car Camping 101 tips with advice on finding free campsites, packing and gear, cooking and Leave No Trace.
    Ryan and I camping at a free site in Southern Utah before I got my Sprinter Van

    3. It has an outdated interface

    Although not a major downfall, the iOverlander app has an outdated interface. The design of the app lacks a modern touch.

    It looks and feels like the designers made it a long time ago. Since the app is a nonprofit project managed by volunteers, it seems like they may not have the funds, time, or capacity to improve it. Luckily this does not affect the performance or functionality of the app.

    Some of the well-known or most frequently visited spots on the iOverlander app have become overcrowded. Now that more people know about the iOverlander app and use it as their go-to source for camping, many travelers are driving to the same campsites, especially in areas where there are not many options for free camping.

    Since everyone has access to the same free campsites, the spots that are the most popular and highly reviewed are often already taken, especially if you show up after work on a Friday night.

    Sprinter Van and many other vehicles camped on the beach at night under a starry sky at Lone Rock on Lake Powell
    My first Sprinter Van camped on the busy shores of Lone Rock at Utah’s Lake Powell

    Using iOverlander, there is no way to know ahead of time if the campsite you have in mind has already been taken, so you must take a chance if you pick a popular camping area that only has a couple of spots.

    You may risk having to find a new spot at the last minute in the dark. This has happened to Ryan and me many times, forcing us to keep driving much later than we planned, and it’s taught us not to wait until the last minute – especially on the weekends.

    Helpful Tip

    Arrive early to popular campsites

    Arriving early to popular iOverlander campsites is even more important if you have a bigger rig, like a large RV. We’ve all seen people arriving late to a camping area only to cram into someone else’s spot when they can’t find a spot of their own. This makes the experience uncomfortable for others who arrived early to snag a spot and is honestly not great camper etiquette.


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    Have you tried the iOverlander app? What information would you add to this iOverlander review? Tell me in the comments!

    The post iOverlander Review: Pros and Cons of the Popular Campsite Finder App appeared first on Bearfoot Theory.

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