Overland travel. That's a simple uncomplicated term. We all do it every day, just going to work on the freeway--and it isn't all that exciting. But take away the blacktop, and overland travel acquires a whole new meaning. Now you're on dirt roads in far-off places: crossing the two-tracks of the Mojave Desert, exploring backroads in Baja California for a week, or driving around South America for two years. And that can also mean mud, rain, high winds, dust, snow, deep sand, questionable food and fuel supplies, insects, and strange diseases. Does this sound more like what you'd want to do?
Turns out there is a large group of individuals worldwide who thrive on this kind of adventure, and nearly all of them have one thing in common: They drive trucks. Whether it's a Land Rover Defender 110 with a rooftop tent, a Ford F-250, or a $500,000 Unicat built from a Mercedes Unimog with all the comforts of home, a truck is an essential tool for the serious overland traveler. These are not four-wheelers or rock-crawlers, and they are not off-roaders. They follow roads, however bad they may be at times.
As demand has grown, an entire industry has formed, dedicated to providing the accessories that make traveling into remote areas safer and easier. There are vehicle and camper manufacturers and outfitters, schools and books that can teach you the special skills needed to get off the beaten path, and hundreds of companies offering specialized equipment.
4x4 test course simulates backroad conditions.
Recently all that was organized under one roof at the Overland Expo 2009 in Prescott Valley, Arizona. Being overlanders ourselves, we welcomed the opportunity to attend the three-day event.
Much of the choice in an overland vehicle depends on answering a few key questions: Where do you want to go? For how long? How comfortable do you need to be?
How much money you can spend? The last item on the list is probably the most important. At this show, there was a large selection of smaller trucks, including Land Rovers, Toyotas, and Jeeps, all typically equipped with rooftop tents or tent trailers. Some of these fold out to the side, some to the front, and others rise straight up like a clamshell. For their simplicity, we especially liked the Italian pop-up tents offered by Autohome (www.autohomeus.com): Four clips, one crank, and you're home!
Big Michelin tire lowers to ground at push of a button.
Tom Collins shows technique for righting 500-pound BMW bike.
Smaller trucks include Land Rovers, Toyotas, Jeeps with rooftop tents or tent trailers.