The Overland Expo event series commenced with the first event of 2023 at Overland Expo West in Flagstaff, Arizona. Held at Fort Tuthill County Park, just outside town, the venue had everything Overlanders could dream up or want. There was a large paved area for vendors, ample space for onsite camping, and several buildings used for classroom instruction and seminars.
A big part of the Overland Expo is the knowledge transfer that takes place. Many travelers and companies who cater to overlanding hold seminars to teach and train people on the skills they will need to successfully complete their next adventures. Everything from driving skills and navigation to food prep and crossing international borders is covered.
You don’t have to learn things the hard way, just go to the Expo near you. In addition to Expo West, there is Overland Expo Pacific North West on July 7-9, at Deschutes County Expo Center in Redmond, Oregon. Mountain West is held August 25-27, at The Ranch in Loveland, Colorado, and Overland Expo East October 6-8, at Oak Ridge Estate in Arrington, Virginia.
The undulating terrain at Fort Tuthill County Park in the Vehicle Expedition Skills Area (VESA), is perfect for honing both rider’s and driver’s skills during instruction. The Toyota Ride Along experience was also held at the VESA which was enhanced this year by the plentiful mud, courtesy of the rains on Friday. This Toyota 4Runners had no problem navigating in the soupy conditions; it only enhanced the fun.
Mother Nature Made Things Interesting At The 2023 Overland Expo West
Typically, Arizona rains come fast and furious, but not lengthy. However, Friday’s afternoon deluge lasted for hours. It was definitely a bummer, but looking at the bright side, many new friendships were created as people ducked under canopies and huddled in tents for shelter. The weather on Saturday and Sunday more than made up for it.
There were threatening clouds, but the wet stuff held off for the most part. The dramatic skies added to the incredible scenery at Fort Tuttle Park. The snowcapped Humphreys Peak could be seen through gaps in the pine trees that dominate the park.
Overland Expo Is All About The Vehicles Just As Much As The Gear
This was my third Expo, and I could see growth at the event this year. There were vehicles of every type wherever you looked. They ranged from cars and motorcycles to self-built creations and multi-million dollar mansions on wheels.
Adventure bikers are the experts when it comes to multi-functional gear that has to fit in tiny boxes. They value the go anywhere and “feel the experience” sensation that you can only get on a bike. Meanwhile, the huge trucks offer hot showers and cappuccino machines; no creature comfort is overlooked.
Vehicle selection for Overlanders depends on budget, destination, and willingness to rough it. The longer you spend “out there,” the more you will learn about yourself and your needs. Some will be content with a toothbrush and a wet nap as luxuries. For others, going to bed sore, dirty, cold, and wet will eventually get old. That’s why the full-timers will typically have extensively-built rigs. Wherever you land, there are plenty of options.
The overlanding crowd is extremely diverse, but everyone shares a love of nature and the outdoors. As the lifestyle increases in popularity, those who like solitude have to go farther into the wilderness to beat the crowds. Vehicles are getting much more capable which includes both the self-built rigs and those supplied by manufacturers. No longer can the manufacturers get away with a decal kit and slightly bigger tires. They have to supply real function and innovative performance features to compete in this marketplace.
Vehicle Manufacturers Were Present At The 2023 Overland Expo West
Certain brands have long been associated with overlanding. Toyota, Land Rover, Subaru, and Jeep have all been in the game since before it was cool. Now you see offerings from Ford, Chevrolet, Ram Trucks, Nissan, Hummer, Rivian, Honda, and many others that have jumped all the way in with competitive offerings. It is much more than just marketing exercises.
Toyota unveiled and showcased its new 2024 Tacoma at the show in the form of the overland-focused Trailhunter. Toyota is not messing around with this truck. They’ve teamed up with ARB to outfit a functional off-road machine. Under the hood lies the i-Force Max hybrid powertrain that combines a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a 48-hp/184-lb-ft electric motor. The combination supplies 326 horsepower and 465 lb.-ft. of torque.
Four-wheel disc brakes, electronic rear locking differential, front stabilizer bar disconnects, and Old Man Emu (OME) heavy-duty shocks. These forged monotube position-sensitive 2.5-inch dampers feature rear external piggyback remote reservoirs as the standout feature. Protecting all of that is an assortment of steel skid plates that protect the front end, transmission, and rear differential. Frame-mounted rock rails and a high-clearance exhaust tip show that Toyota engineers really understand the needs of off-roaders and overlanders. The rear even has a high-lift jack point integrated into the frame end. This is a serious truck, not a poser, and something worthy of the Toyota badge.
What Else Could Be Found At The 2023 Overland Expo West?
This level of seriousness is also seen in the vendors in attendance. Every booth was filled with overland products from very basic and useful to highly complex and innovative.
There is much debate over what overlanding actually is. Some say it’s just camping, but I like to think of it as being capable and self-contained. You have to be able to take care of all your necessary functions; shelter, cooking, eating, sleeping, hydration, and yes, sanitation.
Ask any overlander what is the number one question they are asked and it’s always about number two; where do you go? Answers range from a hole in the ground to a bucket or even a flushing toilet. It all depends on your circumstances.
One of the greatest inventions when it comes to overlanding has to be the sanitary wipe. Not only do these help to preserve water, but they are so functional that they are carried by everyone. They can clean your bum, but also your hands, face, bike, dog, dishes, and everything else.
I found a product at the Expo designed specifically for adventure. Klean Freak wipes take care of all the shortcomings found in baby wipes. These are anti-bacterial sheets sized 11 x 11 inches and are made from natural ingredients so they are safe for sensitive skin. Perhaps the best part is that they don’t leave a residue, and are biodegradable. They are available unscented or in several pleasant scents that won’t leave you smelling like a baby. Some might laugh, but real overlanders know how practical and useful these are.
When it comes to pure survival, nothing is more important than water. How you carry water and store it is vital. Most water jugs are awkward and difficult to pack. Dometic has solved this issue with their Hydration Water Jugs. The square, stackable jugs allow you to efficiently pack them into tight spaces. They are available with several accessories, including a USB-charged, self-contained faucet that has a one-touch on/off button that will automatically shut off at one minute or after one liter of water is dispensed. The faucet has a magnetic base that can be placed anywhere.
Overlanders Do Not Mess Around When It Comes To Cooking Hot Meals
Cooking is a big part of the overlanding experience. Whether it’s gourmet coffee in the morning or a delicious meal in the evening, overlanders don’t scrimp when it comes to the menu. There are many different ways to prepare meals in the wilderness.
Open flames, charcoal, solar ovens, gas or electric, everything is available. Wood stoves are popular, and electric appliances can be run from solar-charged systems or batteries charged by the vehicle’s alternator. Gas, diesel, or propane generators can also be used but their noise is generally frowned upon off-grid.
Your camp kitchen set-up can be sourced from a variety of vendors or built using products from a single supplier. Cook inside or out; some even have their kitchen mounted to a drawer slide so they can do either. You can find all the products, learn from the best, and get the know-how at the Overland Expo.
Overlanding Is The Off-Road Industry Crossroads
Typically, overlanders have come from hiking, biking, backpacking, and those types of pursuits. They were never considered off-road enthusiasts but rather fans of nature. But the customers were savvy enough to realize their vehicle requirements demanded performance and rugged durability. As the community evolved, they turned towards and embraced the high-end suspension technology found in off-road motorsports.
Maybe it’s due to the desire to get further off-road, or the fact that automotive manufacturers are also headed in that direction, but most of the serious rigs are using bigger shocks and purpose-built suspension components. All the goodies that have been designed for prerunning and off-road are equally important for overlanders.
Shocks, sway bars, custom springs, stronger wheels, and larger tires; all serve a purpose. Companies like Baja Designs, Baja Kits, Bilstein, Camburg Engineering, Eibach Spring, Fox Shocks, Hellwig Products, Icon Vehicle Dynamics, KC HiLiTES, King Shocks, LiquidSpring Smart Suspension, Rockjock 4×4, Total Chaos Fabrication, and others are making a big impact on the overland rigs being built.
Overlanding is about function. It has to perform or it’s just unnecessary weight. Sure, there are still many mall crawlers that want to look the part, but those who are serious are embracing all the suspension technology available to enhance their experience.
Can Overlanding Get Even More Extreme?
One trend that has grown just as large and fast as overlanding is the UTV category. They have flooded off-road everywhere. It was only natural for UTV manufacturers, builders, and the aftermarket to wholeheartedly embrace overlanding with an SxS twist.
New for 2024 is the Polaris Xpedition Adventure SxS. With enclosed cabs, roofs that can mount all kinds of gear, toys and tents, and cargo beds designed for even more storage, the overlanding UTVs are here. There were several on display at the 2023 Overland Expo West and each one got plenty of attention.
Overlanding is about covering long distances, and some of that is on the pavement which mostly requires registered and road-legal vehicles. It’s unclear how or if UTVs will fit into the overlanding landscape; but we will find out.
Overlanding For A Good Cause
Overland Expo is about having fun, learning, and sharing ideas, but also about protecting our access to off-road environments and remote destinations. That’s where the Overland Expo Foundation comes in. Capital support for the Overland Expo Foundation is primarily bankrolled through their fundraising efforts at Overland Expo events and by public donations.
They hold raffles and each year they create an Ultimate Build that is auctioned off. This year’s build was a Triumph Tiger 1200 Rally Pro, the ultimate overland motorcycle. The bike was modified to exemplify Overland Expo’s vision of the Ultimate Overland Motorcycle, including components from Bridgestone, Denali Electronics, Helinox, Mosko Moto, Optima Batteries, Outback Motortek, Ram Mounts, and Redverz, with graphics by Taco Moto.
At the end of the show season, the Triumph Tiger 1200 will be auctioned off on Bring a Trailer, with 100-percent of proceeds going to the Overland Expo Foundation charity. This bike is totally tricked out and won’t last long once it hits the auction.
Last year’s Ultimate build was a LEXUS LX600 so those who don’t ride are covered too. The Lexus helped (along with donations) to raise over $100,000 for the foundation in 2022. If you are into overlanding, are interested in finding out more about it, or even if you still just call it camping, you should attend an Overland Expo near you.