The Overland Expo, held for the last three years just outside Tucson, Arizona, is growing steadily. Adventure-seeking motorcyclists and four-wheel-drive enthusiasts come from all over the country to share stories, discover the latest products and technology, get advanced training, see extreme adventure movies, and often make lifelong friends, all in the name of mild to extreme backcountry exploration. This show is quite different from other 4x4 or camping exhibits in that there is an active push to get people prepared and excited about their next big trip. In fact, the central theme of the Overland Expo is "Get Outfitted; Get Trained; Get Inspired; Get Going."
If you've ever spent much time in Africa or Australia, you've likely heard of "overlanding." Overlanding is not four-wheeling as we know it in the U.S., where the vehicle's primary focus is to navigate and conquer an obstacle or trail. Overlanding is more about using the vehicle as a tool (in fact, one of many tools) for exploration, adventure, and discovery. Of course, that can be done in an old 2WD Chevy van or a custom-built 4x4 global expedition vehicle, as long as the main goal for the people involved is to learn more about the world by getting out there and experiencing it. This type of safari-like lifestyle has naturally spawned and tapped into a growing industry of manufacturers that provide a wide range of products to support such activities.
One of the most exciting aspects of the expo is the abundance of product booths offering everything from rooftop tents to water purifiers to solar-powered battery chargers. As you might expect, some of the themes are self-sufficiency and conservation of the beauty of remote lands and cultures. A key component to the weekend is learning, facilitated by dozens of training sessions and clinics covering new safety techniques, tips on how to use your gear, and discussions about faraway lands with experienced travelers.
Manufacturers like Jeep, Land Rover, and BMW's motorcycle division are heavily involved and participate in several activities. The celebrities of the show are, not surprisingly, those connected to the old Camel Trophy expeditions, as they embody in spirit and knowledge what overlanding is all about. This year, Jeep broughts interesting vehicles and a host of applicable Mopar accessories, in addition to engineering and corporate experts to address questions regarding current and future products. Such personal access to people who share attendees' enthusiasm and passion for this brand of outdoor adventure is probably the show's greatest strength.
2012 Overland Expo
Final details for the 2012 Overland Expo are in the works now, and the event will likely take place in late spring or early summer. To find out how to register, go to www.overlandexpo.com for information.
This year, Land Rover brought a full team of trainers to provide education and opportunity for those interested in being better 4x4 drivers and spotters. Attendees drove one of the eight Range Rovers on hand, or their own vehicles.
Top Five Trucks at the Show
Power Wagon Loaded
It didn't surprise us at all that there were a few Power Wagons at a show like this, but this one had clearly been used quite a bit and was outfitted to do it for long stretches at a time. A quick list includes a Four Wheel pop-up camper, Carli suspension lift, Honda XR trail-rider, custom front and rear bumpers, and much more.
Unimog Expedition Vehicle
Although not common in the United States, the Unimog remains one of our most favorite vehicles of all time. This 2003 U500 was specifically built by Global Expedition Vehicles for a couple looking to travel the globe. With ultra-low gearing, extra fuel and water tanks, solar charging cells, and a completely refurbished interior (full shower, fridge, stove, generator, and more), we're told this vehicle is now for sale. Asking price is $170,000 (we know the chassis is probably worth $90,000). Go to www.globalXvehicles.com for more info.
We saw all kinds of four-wheel-drive vehicles at the Overland Expo, but none caught our eye like this late-'80s Suzuki Samurai JX. We like the whitewall 205/75R15 tires, tow bar, and massive suspension travel. We're guessing a stock 63-horsepower, 1.3-liter I-4 is under the hood. Still, beginning 'wheelers (easy to work on; easy to modify), these little 4x4s can be found in relatively good condition for around $5000 to $6000.
F-550 Jesse James UXV
This Ford F-550 UXV was built for Global Expedition Vehicles for Jesse James -- racer, Sandra Bullock ex, and self-described outlaw. The chase vehicle was designed to go anywhere the Potts Racing vehicles might get stuck. The UXV has a custom HD airbag suspension, military-grade rims and beadlocks, an aerospace-grade interior structure, and two body-integrated full-size spares. And if you have to ask, you can't afford it. This one started at $200,000 and got a lot of add-ons. Go to www.globalXvehicles.com for more info.
There will always be plenty of talk about a Jeep pickup until they start producing them again. Until then, AEV will continue to offer the Brute conversion kit for those who can't wait. And this one is just about the cleanest and well-sorted vehicle we've seen. You can order the kit for about $10,000 (only for TJ Wranglers), but expect to spend another $10,000 to have the kit installed by a professional. Go to www.aev-conversions.com for more info.
Probably no single product defines the overlanding attitude better than the rooftop tent on a full-size SUV. Unlike most other camping, overlanding does not usually include long stops in campgrounds, leaving adventurers exposed to some potentially nasty, poisonous, and/or sharp-toothed critters. The solution for many is to invest in a foldout rooftop tent. One of the best platform tents we've seen is Eezi Awn. Depending on the model, expect to pay between $1800
and $3000. They even have racks to fit over the bed of pickup trucks.
Part of the fun of overlanding is being able to enjoy the journey, however far away from civilization it takes you. Naturally, being able to keep your food safe and at the right temperature is a big part of that, which is why ARB has been making sturdy fridge/freezers for more than 20 years. Offered in a wide range of (35-, 47-, 60-, 78-quart) sizes, the plug-in (in AC and DC) units range in price
from $800 to $1200.
Charge & Store
Goal Zero specializes in small, medium, and large power storage and generation using solar cells and lithium-ion batteries. Kits range in size from palm-sized (for cell-phones, iPods, or USB devices) to backpack size (for laptops, air pumps, and iPads) and as large as full-blown base-camp adventure kits (for small appliances, a string of lights, or a television). From $140 to $2200.
MaxTrax is rugged and lightweight and provide a simple, grippable surface for a stuck tire, which is of special importance when traveling in the desert. You can link several together if necessary, and they stack and store easily. Figure on spending between $250 and $300 for a pair.
Pop-up Camper Shell
Four Wheel Campers has a new, more compact bed camper the size of your midsize or compact pickup bed. The unit was specifically designed for those needing a smaller footprint, but who still want the benefits of the pop-up room and protection. Prices will vary depending on options, but expect the shell to start around $6000 and likely end up near $10,000. Sleeping quarters are tight, but all the amenities are there.
Four Wheel Campers
So Cal Teardrops
Builders of on- and off-road teardrop-shaped trailers, So Cal Teardrop will design the trailer that best fits your needs. Trailers can include a full kitchen, queen bed, lockable storage, slideout drawers, a full stereo, and more. Models range from $10,000 to $20,000.
So Cal Teardrop
High-Tech Baja Burner
Just because you're hundreds of miles away from the nearest gourmet restaurant doesn't mean you can't eat well. That's why Overland Gourmet tells us their most popular item is the GigaPower Plate Burner, also called the Baja. This single burner is larger than most camping stoves and uses a special propane and isobutane fuel mixture reported to burn cleaner and longer than other fuels. The Baja retails for $160.
If you're converting your SUV into an overland vehicle, it's likely you'll have a painfully clumsy way of retrieving a good fridge/freezer or cooler. The Load Spotter solves that problem. Basically, it's a set of cantilevered sliders that hold the unit and slides it out the rear of your vehicle for easy access. It supports all the weight, drops it to the tailgate when needed, yet keeps it all securely locked down when not in use. $925.
A simple idea, the Dura Cozy is the brainchild of a father-and-son team who wanted a better, more compact pop-up camper. This lockable pop-up folds and locks to the size of the bed, but provides comfortable sleeping accommodations for two adults. Pricing starts at $5000, or it can be fully equipped for about $8500.
Campa can create an extreme trailer or fully outfitted pickup bed to your exact specifications, whether you want a holiday adventure trailer or need a disaster preparedness HQ. This compact off-road trailer has a sleeping pod upstairs, a full kitchen, cooler, lockable storage cases, and water tanks -- enough to survive, we're told, for six weeks. Prices range between $10,000 and $30,000.
All-Pro Expedition products are some of the coolest rack and pickup accessories around. This off-the-shoulder BBQ holder is an easy campsite install and can be stored just about anywhere in the bed of a pickup. All-Pro has many other storage solutions (mostly for Toyotas) starting around $250.
Portable, lightweight recovery gear is essential for the serious overlander, which is why the Bushranger X-Trax is a great idea for anyone heading into deep sand, mud, or snow. These foldable Series II models cost about $250 for a set and can be a life-saving solution to a problem you didn't see coming.
When you're likely to be stranded because of a small hole in your tread or sidewall, you'd better have a way to inflate your tires. Extreme Outback has several fully self-contained toolbox-size compressors, complete with a 30-foot air hose and 40-foot battery cables. This rugged inflation system will save you a trip to the local fuel station, but it could save much more than that while you're in the backcountry. For a quality kit like this one, expect to pay upwards of $700.
When heading into the backcountry, bringing extra fuel and water is always a good idea, but you must be very careful to use the right kind of container. Not all plastic or metal is created equal. Midwest Cans offers sturdy and specifically designed containers for whatever you need to carry -- diesel, kerosene, water, or gasoline. Expect to pay between $20 and $75 depending on the size.