A decade ago, the Arizona high country played host to an upstart event that promised a life of adventure. It was called Overland Expo. That inaugural gala, the brainchild of world travelers and conservation advocates Roseanne and Jonathan Hanson, was a small and casual get-together with less than 300 participants and few dozen vendors. However quiet that first expo was, it had obvious potential. There were workshops on vehicle recovery, technical driving, navigation, and outdoor living—all designed to sharpen these necessary skills.
The overlanding craze has since swept the country like a bush fire in the Kalahari, and during the past 10 years Overland Expo has experienced exponential growth and added a venue on the East Coast. In May of 2018, we joined about 15,000 overlanders in Flagstaff to enjoy what has become the spring gathering for those who long to pack up the Jeep and hit the road—with no return date.
BFGoodrich sponsored one of the off-road training courses, letting participants get behind the wheel of a Wrangler JL Rubicon to test the new KM3 Mud-Terrain.
We attended seminars with folks that had crossed the Americas, Africa, and Asia, and watched some Camel Trophy team members and trainers high-line a motorcycle across a deep chasm and recover a Land Rover from near death. Throughout the weekend, BFGoodrich let participants take their new KM3 Mud-Terrain for a spin on one of the off-road courses, and others could vet their talents with their own vehicles on another. Afternoons were spent walking miles of aisles through the vendor show. This year there were more than 400 manufacturers in attendance with goodies ranging from super-lightweight dinnerware to rooftop tents and teardrop trailers, and a surprisingly large number of items were directed at the overland Jeeper.
Need a good adventure yarn? Some of the world’s leading expedition authors were on hand to provide autographed copies of their latest books. When the sun went down we found ourselves at the Overland Film Festival, followed by an evening at the Tepui Tents booth sipping coldies and enjoying some live music. The “OG” Expo has come a long way since its early days, and an East Coast Expo launched a few years ago is growing too. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the off-road trekking culture, there is no better place than Overland Expo. For more information, check out overlandexpo.com.
American Expedition Vehicles, renowned for their factory-fit Hemi conversions, was on hand to present its new Outpost II. The top automatically deploys to reveal a luxurious interior, and their Dual-Sport 4.5-inch suspension and heavy-duty coils allow the Outpost II to flex like no “RV” we’ve met.
Fitted with a Vortec V-8 mill, this fully restored Wagoneer was one clean ride, and it was for sale.
The Gladiator, later known as the J-10, filled the Jeep pickup category from 1962 to 1988. The guys at RoamR blended a mid-70s J-10 with its predecessors grille, fitted a 401 AMC V-8 under the hood, and kitted it out with all the gear for extended overland travel.
Another hybrid and one of our favorite retro oldies is this 1962 Willys wagon, which was part of Jeep’s 2012 Moab concept fleet. Chief Designer Mark Allen found the wagon in a warehouse collecting dust and decided to give it a new life atop a Wrangler LJ chassis.
Knowing how to tie a proper knot is an essential skill in the backcountry. Duncan Barbour of Camel Trophy fame taught participants how to lash down their gear with everything from a sheet bend to a clove hitch.
With the increased number of people toting trailers, there was a hands-on class on how to back them up without running over Fido or taking out your camp host.
After returning from an 18-month expedition from Ushuaia to Alaska, Four Wheeler contributor Ned Bacon and wife, Kat, gave a presentation on the nuances of Latin American travel.
Members of Camel Trophy and 7P teams were on hand to demonstrate various vehicle-recovery techniques. This exercise required extracting a Land Rover with a block and tackle and Deadman Off-Road ground anchor.
To keep sticky fingers from walking away with your Hi-Lift jack, Warrior Products developed a lockable hood mount. Secure the jack with the drop-down clamp, slip on a cable lock, and voilà.
After several years in development, ARB’s new hydraulic recovery jack made its debut. Manufactured in the same facility as their BP-51 shocks, it is crafted from aviation-grade 6061 T6 aluminum, will support 4,409 pounds, is easy to use, and won’t take your head off if you let go of the handle.
Blue Ridge Overland offers an innovative line of U.S.-made products including this handy grab-and-go recovery kit bag. It will accommodate a strap or rope, pair of soft shackles, and includes a sturdy carry handle.
Also from Blue Ridge is their new MOLLE seatback storage system. It will strap to the back of any seat, is compatible with all MOLLE-style accessories, and as is the case with all Blue Ridge offerings, is manufactured in the USA with American-made materials.
We found two galley systems we liked. The first, from Expedition Essentials, is a compact aluminum cabinet that slips onto to a bracket on the spare tire rack. Once mounted, just open, pull out your stove (contained inside), and secure it to the slide-out rollers.
The second galley setup we really liked was a full slide-out in a deck-mounted aluminum cabin system from Overland Kitchen. It accommodates a fridge/freezer, has two storage draws, and a dual slide-out galley. Once deployed you will have easy access to sundries and plenty of room for food preparation.
Freespirit Recreation’s Adventure Hard-Top features an ABS shell, automatic deployment for a 60-second setup, built-in solar panels, and provides a comfy loft for two.
James Baroud offers a full line of durable hard-shell rooftop tents. Their fiberglass Discovery Space, though a bit heavy weighing in at 145 pounds, features a high-density foam mattress, great ventilation, and 52 inches of headroom for changing. Its low-profile design makes it more aerodynamic than fold-out tents, and setup and stowage can be done in less than a minute.
TC Teardrop’s compact Off-Road Trailer features a heavy-duty frame, articulating hitch, and plenty of storage for extra fuel and gear. The interior, adorned with custom wood cabinetry and a cozy high-density foam mattress, is nothing short of luxurious compared to pitching ground tent.
If a camp trailer is in your future, Into The Wild Overland offers the Boreas XT. It features a Timbren independent suspension, 20 inches of ground clearance, onboard water and solar power, electric brakes, rear galley, and sleeping for four (albeit cozy).
When the sun goes down, Expo attendees flock to the many social gatherings close at hand.
In contrast to the handful of vendors at the first Overland Expo, this year’s event drew more than 400 manufacturers offering everything from recovery gear to million-dollar RVs.