The last decade has seen the popularity of “overlanding” increase rapidly, and there’s no better evidence of that than this year’s gathering of the faithful, Overland Expo West. Since 2009, Jonathan and Roseann Hanson, both veterans of global overland travel and long-time contributors to publications like Overland Journal and Outdoorx4, have produced Overland Expo as a way to connect interested travelers to the people, products and skills that help make this form of adventure travel safer and more enjoyable.
Held twice a year in two different venues – one in the Southwest and the other near the East Coast – this year’s Expo West event moved from its previously more remote location to a new venue, Fort Tuthill Park, just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. A former military field-training site set among the pines at 7000 feet of altitude and with snow-capped mountain peaks visible through the trees, the park is the perfect backdrop for exhibitors and visitors alike attending the three-day weekend event.
Spread throughout the park in clusters were more than 250 vendors, ranging from home-based businesses hawking everything from artisan coffee and survival knives to major corporations like Land Rover and BFGoodrich demonstrating their products in their natural environment. The range of products included roof racks, tents, solar charging systems, lighting, and off-road trailers, to name just a few. Really, any product that could be used for vehicle-based travel in remote parts of the world was on display.
Beyond mere products, Overland Expo is also known for its interactive exhibitors. Daily seminars included well-travelled speakers talking on subjects from wilderness first aid to how to travel with your spouse. Land Rover was on hand demonstrating its vehicles on an improvised off-road course and also taking participants in a new off-road adventure challenge. BFGoodrich and 7P International were demonstrating proper off-road techniques, while BMW Motorcycles was busy conducting clinics on riding in challenging terrain and conditions.
The array of products on hand could be overwhelming, especially to newcomers. Overheard more than once were attendees asking, “Do I really need all that stuff just to go somewhere in my vehicle?” The answer, of course, is ”no” even though many of the items on display might make a trip more comfortable or enjoyable. In contrast, the number of minimalists in attendance proves that you need neither an overbuilt off-roader nor a garage full of specialized equipment to hit the road for an adventure.
Nevertheless, some of the vehicle builds were truly impressive. We were in awe over a Defender 110 built by a Colorado couple that lives out of it on expeditions through Central and South America. It included a hardshell rooftop tent, integrated propane tanks for cooking, a drop-down side table built into the rear fender, and a self-contained potable water tank. Other notable vehicles included the countless Mercedes-Benz Sprinter conversions that looked to blend a motor home, a personal jet and a moving van into one incredibly capable vehicle.
If there were one disappointment, it would have to be the lack of Land Rovers in attendance. The vendors certainly know the power of a well-kitted Series and Defender to draw people into their booths, but a walk through the attendee parking lot revealed an abundance of Toyotas and Jeeps, but few Land Rovers. It’s hard to fathom that the company that is essentially synonymous with adventure travel isn’t delivering a bigger contingent of owner to such a focused event.
While Land Rover’s corporate team is still beating the drum for adventure travel, the current vehicles don’t seem to be connecting with those who make overlanding their activity of choice. We’re hopeful that the just-released new Discovery as well as next year’s new Defender will pull some adventure travelers back into the Land Rover tribe.
The next Overland Expo event will take place from September 30 to October 2, 2017 in Asheville, North Carolina, on the beautiful grounds of the Biltmore Estate. The East Coast version is smaller, attracting perhaps one-third as many guests as the West show. Nevertheless, it continues to grow, and it brings out both vendors and attendees alike that can’t make the haul to Arizona.