If you love camping and 4-wheeling and the widgets of every size and shape needed to do both those activities, then you need to attend the Overland Expo, which is put on every year just south of Flagstaff, Arizona. The old joke is that if you’re camping in a Land (Cruiser or Rover) you’re overlanding, and if you’re camping in a Ford or Chevy you’re camping. Either way, the Overland Expo has plenty to see or do. Yes, we may have a little fun to the expense of our more well-heeled readers (decked out in zip-off khaki shorts, Camel Trophy–esque shirts, and big floppy hats), but it’s all with a bit of jealousy as we check out the awesome, gazillion-dollar, Unimog-based, world-traveling 4x4 expedition trucks, every variety of rooftop tent and adjoining canopy, and more types of camp cooking utensils than the average single guy has in his home kitchen!
The Overland Expo brings car-campers (actually mostly trucks and SUVs) from around the globe for a weekend of camaraderie and classes. There’s also an amazing vendor alley of neat stuff, with newbies buying up every bolt-on camping gadget they can find. Crusty experts who have already been around the world a few times are more than willing to shave off some knowledge at the campfire to anyone chomping at the bit for an adventure.
The Overland Expo offers a ton of classes to learn about everything from backcountry cooking to vehicle recovery as well as great adventure movies to watch and roundtables with OE manufacturers where you can ask questions and give feedback about possible future vehicles being built and how they could be made better for overlanding (or camping). There are also onsite driving seminars in new 4x4s and a great wide-open campground perfect for just walking around and seeing all the different vehicles people have built for exploring and overlanding. To find out more about next year’s event visit overlandexpo.com.
Mercedes Benze Unimogs are very cool, and this year no less than a dozen attended the Overland Expo. Built like giant farm equipment and running massive tires and portal axles, these trucks ranged the spectrum from giant off-road motorhome to basic (but still awesome) commercial trucks with slide-in campers.
Think you need to invest as much as a house to go overlanding? Think again. This turbodiesel South American Ford Ranger crew cab stopped here en route from Argentina to Montana. No lift or giant mud tires, just a small, capable, efficient truck with a shell on the back and a roof rack on the cab.
The expo has a variety of classes for attendees of all ages, even many kids classes, such as this one where youngsters were learning about how to make a small mud fire pit for backcountry cooking. Other classes include overland driving skills, motorcycle skills, outdoor photography, GPS, ham radio, advanced navigation, basic navigation, top travel tips based on different world regions, advanced recovery training, and up to 160 other seminars.
Want to go overlanding but only own a Samurai or Willy’s CJ? No problem. Think like a motorcyclist. This two-wheeled camper was living in style with a hammock, a fly tarp, and a ground tarp for a comfortable dry place to sleep. The Expo has tons of motorcycle accessories for those bikers who like to explore distant lands.
Solar panels were the latest craze at the expo this year. We’d seen them other years, but they were everywhere this time. It seems everyone is offering a way to keep that battery charged while camping so you can stay longer with your 12-volt fridge and phone charger plugged in. We wonder when Jeep soft tops will come with a panel sewn in.
Some of the 4WOR staff gets all geeky when it comes to flashlights, and Surefire lights are some of the best. When we saw the new Surefire ARC-2 off-road lights that detach and become a handheld torch, the jealousy factor spiked.
Walking the campground and parking lot outside the Overland Expo reveals just as many well-built vehicles as are in the show. We saw everything from Baja bugs packed with camping gear to mega motorhomes with bamboo flooring. The overlanding trend is a great avenue to get the whole family to explore and live outside, whether it’s for a weekend or a lifetime, and the Expo is a perfect destination to meet other people who like these same adventures.
This Avion camper on a Ford F-350 diesel was retro cool. The owners had purchased it and redid the interior for optimal foot room and comfortable sleeping. Though not an extreme off roader, it would be perfect for simple backcountry dirt road exploring, and the riveted aluminum look is unique compared to many modern fiberglass campers. A simple one-post canopy covers the picnic table for shaded dining.
We didn’t see as many Jeeps at the Expo as we expected, but this four-door JK modified with a custom camper from Phoenix Pop-up campers was by far one of the most distinctive. We can’t imagine that the older 3.8L V-6 would appreciate the added mass, but the newer Pentastar probably wouldn’t mind as much.
We stopped by the Sportsmobile 4x4 van company booth and almost missed their latest creation. Though the van looks like any normal E-series van, you can just make out a slight body bump rear of the front doors. This is because the full E-vans are being discontinued by Ford, but the cab/chassis vans are not, as they are popular amongst motorhome and ambulance builders. Sportsmobile developed a polymer rear van body that is barely larger outside than the current and previous steel van bodies but offers substantially more interior space. And since it is a cab/chassis, it comes with a full- floating rear axle.
Proghorn Overland Gear had a line of bumpers unlike any we had seen before. The styling is definitely a “love it or hate it” look, but the functionality is wild. The multiple modular components, which can be attached or removed, change the look and the use of the bumpers. For example, Proghorn’s Jeep JK bumper can have 18 different configurations depending on how you assemble it. Visit pronghorngear.com to check out the options.
Ah, the original overlander: Land Rover. This Discovery is reminiscent of the now defunct Camel Trophy, where teams from around the world competed to traverse wild jungles and extreme off-road obstacles in different places every year. Land Rover has a big presence at the expo, with driver and recovery training as well as the opportunity to get behind the wheel of new Land and Range Rovers.
FJ Cruisers are quickly gaining on Land Cruiser as one of the most modified overland trucks here in the U.S. We saw small cities of FJs equipped with RTTs (rooftop tents) and packed with all the required camping and exploring gear. Though small for a family wheeler, as a two-person truck an FJ would be a great platform for an overlander.