2019 was a historic year for the Overland Expo West. It was the event’s 10th anniversary. In addition, 22,000 people came out to see what overlanding was all about. As for me, it was my first time.
This event was huge, with vendors from all over the world packing the Fort Tuthill Park and Coconino County Fairgrounds over the weekend of May 17-19 in Flagstaff, Arizona. Miles of vendors displayed items currently on the market, along with some new items that improve the overland experience. This did not include the surrounding area of campers, all attending the expo with their rigs.
My experience of overlanding took place in my younger years when my parents got together with other families, loaded up the vehicles, and we all drove someplace to camp. This was not as fancy as the modern-day overlanding, with trailers or vehicles set up like an entire house on wheels.
While wandering around, I came to the instructional area. At one tent, they offered a class on knot tying. They show students basic knots that might be useful during your off-road travels for basic camping to emergencies. Other tents offered synthetic rope use and repair. The Camel Trophy Expedition crews showed students different ways to use a winch and recovery. The Camel Trophy crew has been around for many years and has traveled the world in search of the toughest off-road experiences.
If you are new to overlanding, then this was a great place to start. Classes were taught on how to spot your drivers and driving on different terrains. They even offered classes to the two-wheeled overlanders. Most were taught to handbrake, climb terrain other than dirt, and how to ride safely in the backcountry. Some of the important classes were backcountry mapping, mechanical repairs for both two- or four-wheel vehicles, and wilderness first aid.
There were so many classes that you could spend weeks taking all of them. The class I should have taken was how to document your travels through photography, as I always want to learn new tricks of the trade. General Tire had a ride-a-long to showcase their tires in off-road conditions. In another area, Land Rover had a driver’s area testing their vehicles in the dirt. I would have to say that some of the course showed the true capability of the Land Rover’s popularity.
So, how much do you what to spend to make your ideal overlanding vehicle? The least expensive, I believe, would be overlanding on two wheels. The starting budget would be around $7,000-15,000 just for your bike. Ideally, you should get a dual-purpose bike for both street and dirt, but at the minimum, you could trailer a dirt bike anywhere.
You could do like most people did many years ago and tie your tent and bedding to the handlebars, and then backpack your food, water, and supplies in to camp. Then, when you are done, head back to your vehicle and load it all up to go home. Or, build that dual-purpose bike with saddlebags to put your stuff in and drive. Your options are greater in that you can go farther on both road and dirt as you travel in between towns and cities.
Overlanding SUVs and Trucks
Next would be a truck or SUV. This too will be budget-dependent, with an average cost for the vehicle in the range of $25,000-60,000 or more. Then throw in a tent at about $100 for a ground model or $2,500 for a good roof-mounted model. Add your normal supplies for cooking and enjoyment, and you are on your way to destinations unknown. The limitations are where your vehicle can travel in the backcountry.
Going up in the budget, you could add a trailer. There are two types here – a homemade or a production trailer. Homemade trailers let you build it to your preferences. Some people re-purpose old truck beds or military trailers to make their dreams come true. Here too you have a choice of either ground or rooftop models for your sleeping arrangements. They can be pulled rather easily by a medium-size truck or SUV to give extra room for more supplies. Budget-minded people will look for the best deals, but range of cost will be what you can buy or build. This can be a few hundred dollars and up.
The other option is a production trailer. These can be customized how you would like your trailer to be, or be ordered off the shelf, so to speak. Most of the patrons I spoke to like the medium-size teardrop or low-profile trailers. They’re not too high or wide, are easy to tow, and have all the comforts of home in a small vessel. Your sleeping area is enclosed and protected from the elements.
The cooking area accommodates a gas or electric stove top, a place to put a small AC/DC refrigerator or cooler, and plugs of various types. Some of the trailers I look over started on the low end for a budget of about $8,000 up to about $20,000. Most of them were built lightweight but sturdy, capable of going off-road with no issues, and had plenty of room for a week or two of camping, maybe even longer.
Next was what everyone calls Van life or Vanning. These are projects in themselves. Most vans do not come from the factory with four-wheel-drive. If they have that option, then at the time you order your van, it will be built with a front differential system. If not, then it’s time to seek out a company that has a specialty building the conversion.
Your initial cost for a van could be $30,000-70,000, or even more with the Sprinter vans. A few companies offered conversions to the inside to build them almost like an RV. These have storage cabinet and cook areas, fold-up tables, bunks, and even small coolers. The front seats can be converted to swivel around. The average cost to start this type of project was about $10,000, and that does not include anything outside of the vehicle projects, like cargo racks and ladders, bumpers, tire carriers, and propane tanks.
The ultimate overland vehicles (and the most expensive) are made by companies like Global Expedition Vehicles. For the most part, these vehicles are retired military vehicles that are stripped down to cab and chassis. They then apply a box or convert a box (if it came with the vehicle) into a RV. These boxes have whatever you think you need, and then some. On the outside, it looks bland with a few windows and doors for the entrance and compartments, but the inside looks like a million-dollar motor home. The drive train will either be a 4×4 or 6×6, running on 2.5-ton or 5-ton axles with air braking systems. Tires run from 45 to 55 inches in diameter.
As you can see in the photograph above most of the displayed vehicles were retired Germany military trucks. You see how the vehicle is set up from the outside. For me to own one, I would have to allay some big concerns. The biggest worry would be if I need parts – is there an U.S. company that I can order replacement parts from, or am I looking on the net to order a needed part and how long will it take to get to me? Or should I look at building the same type of truck using a U.S. military truck picked up at an auction?
I have driven a five-ton military 6×6 and they are nice to drive and go just about anywhere, with a few limitations. They have automatic transmissions on the newer years, or if you find an older model, you might get a stick shift. Either way, you must remember there is a big cost to the project. I am not sure the cost of a U.S. model truck, but Global Expedition Vehicles had several rigs on display. The base cost for a chassis started at $55,000 and the living quarters started in around $100,000 (up to $300,000) and this would be how you wanted your living area to be equipped.
If you are new to overlanding, visiting Overland Expo West or Overland Expo East (coming October 11-13 2019, in Arrington, Virgina) are great places to start. Here, you can find products from every vendor that you might need for your project. To keep up to date with Overland Expo, visit their Facebook page, as well as their Instagram page and Twitter page.
Photos by Spinning Wheels Photography