We're always on the lookout for the swiftest new currents in the four-wheeling world, whether they're related to products, technology, or to the backcountry lifestyle in general. So when we visited the SEMA show in Las Vegas last year, we were struck by what seemed like a sudden proliferation of mildly modified project vehicles that were built as rolling showcases for what we called "outback accessories"-rooftop tents and teardrop trailers, portable camp kitchens loaded with galley gear, propane-powered water heaters and compact fridge/freezers; in short, the kinds of all-purpose vehicles that could be driven to work daily, yet loaded with enough outdoor gear to be capable of spending long stretches of time in the wilderness, all on a moment's notice.
We thought we detected a trend in the making, and as it turned out, we were right.
It's called "overlanding," and while it originated in places such as Australia and Africa-where it's less a weekend luxury and more a way of life-it has become a growing force in the North American marketplace. More companies than ever are manufacturing a greater variety of products, and even vehicle-specific parts, for the expanding number of enthusiasts who are buying and building their rigs with an eye on "adventure travel"-not merely venturing off-road for the sake of off-roading, but for added activities such as camping, hunting, kayaking, rock-hounding, and backcountry exploration, too.
It should come as no surprise that the concept has caught on here. After all, you can overland with nearly any kind of vehicle (even a motorcycle) on virtually any budget. If you want everything in one single package, loaded with all the comforts of home, Sportsmobiles and Earth Roamers can be built to order. On the other end of the spectrum, if you're on a tight budget, just about any stock 4x4 truck or SUV can be transformed into a bonafide Wild Kingdom wayfarer with just a few thousand bucks' worth of accessories and parts.
And now, the concept of overlanding has become so popular, it has its own consumer/trade show: Overland Expo.
The Expo, the brainchild of Overland Journal publishers Jonathan and Roseann Hanson, debuted last year near the magazine's home base in Prescott, Arizona, with the aim of providing a venue for parts manufacturers to display their relevant wares and as a vehicle to provide hands-on education to the public on the basics of backcountry driving and survival skills, with an emphasis on responsible land use and conservation practices. Call it "long-distance eco-wheeling," and you get the picture.
This year, Overland Expo moved to a more expansive location-a 60-acre private ranch in southern Arizona about halfway between Tucson and the Mexican border (read: middle of nowhere. Hey, where else would you go to a backcountry show?). Attendance was nearly double over last year's Expo, with more than 100 vendors and exhibitors present, including industry heavy hitters such as Jeep, Land Rover, Suzuki, and Toyota. Clearly, this is a trend with growing legs, and we'll be following it closely (and building an overland rig of our own) in the months and years to come. We spent a warm sunny April weekend at this year's Expo, and here are some of the sights we saw and the products we liked.