Overland Expo 2015
The local horse riding place had a bunch of horses saddled up and ready, to tempt visitors into going for a ride.
[Caution: If you’re on a limited cellular data plan, you might prefer to abort and hold off on this post until you can get to a free WiFi source. It’s a big one, with lots of photos.]
My being out in Arizona’s drier parts for so long made the many days of overcast and frequent sprinkles of rain stand out. The rain actually got significant just before the Expo started, which turned the grounds into a bit of a mudpit, which was probably a first for this show. I felt sorry for the vendors, who had to find the driest spot available in their little preassigned slots to set up canopies that were commonly surrounded by moats of water. Attendees then had to snake their way around the mini-bogs and ponds to navigate a workable path in the gooshy mush. Even on the main paths through the show area, folks needed to use care to pick a path here and there.
I merely cruised around the camping area on my first day, since heavy rains were quickly due in. These visitors from Brazil had a Jeep that we are not offered: one with a diesel engine. Torquey when it counts, Jeep thinks they won’t sell here. This one is making its way from coast to coast before moving on to another continent.
The e-bike proved invaluable here just to gain entry! I was able to idle it right through a couple of deep troughs of water, pedals up, and park it against a perimeter fence or tree to walk at leisure. That was handy, because folks faced congested paths in and through by foot, plus the Aurora carried a big bottle of water for me. People didn’t seem to mind the sloppy ground or resent the occasional sprinkles on day one. With so many being tent-camp oriented, their attitude seemed to be “Ya get what ya get. Just deal with it. Whatever”. Never heard a complaint or whine in my hours there.
A Sportsmobile 4×4 in the campground, not the show. Sportsmobile was present as a vendor, and they have an enthusiastic following. That rear bumper and storage is by Aluminess.
The Overland Expo is directed toward people who like to methodically cover long distances, exploring and enjoying the challenging trip through areas seldom crossed. Some are literal world travellers, shipping their rig from continent to continent to explore all that the world has to offer. Some go from Alaska to the tip of South America. Some just go on extended excursions, and then return back home until next year. A few try to find a way to make it a full-time activity, gathering sponsors and generating publicity for them. “Overlanding” is not really intended to be a long-term, full-time activity, but is simply geared mainly toward those who enjoy extended tent camping in remote areas difficult to access by conventional means. By and large, these folks are young and up for the adventures and challenges of navigating over very difficult terrain in order to experience vistas seldom seen, and the sometimes-arduous process is more valued than the accomplishment of it. The types of equipment that make that process possible are here at the Expo.
Here’s a High Top version of Sportsmobile, carrying even more crap.
It was thus not a huge surprise to find that I was practically a distinct minority of one here, a retired codger whose interest is merely to camp outside the boundaries of KOA “camping resorts”, where campsites are rated for bathroom cleanliness and appearance, and staff courtesy with a willingness to tolerate bad behavior. I’m just a geezer trying to gain some contemplative solitude on the cheap. Yet, one really can’t dismiss this Expo as monied hardware freaks trying to impress each other with their seldom-used macho rigs, either. There’s a little that of course, but the point of having it is to use it, and that’s the great majority. Even the biggest monstrosity here pales in cost to the parasitic outlay needed to full-time in feature-laden KOA-level commercial RV camps, long-term.
These require your firstborn child to acquire, so they hold value pretty well in the used market.
The orientation here is a world away. The goal here seems to be to carry as little as possible in a rig that is as capable as possible, and whatever is carried must do its job when called upon, be it showering or getting unstuck. I saw nary a satellite dish TV vendor here. Many types of RVers may sing that they are living a lifestyle that communes with nature, but this crowd seems to take that mantra a little further. They want to explore what they can of its untamed core. It’s not exactly a horse, a bedroll, a flint, a can of beans and some wood (which a few Park Ranger jobs entail, by the way), but given the mechanized base and a destination in mind, this bunch is pretty serious about it. If anything, the Overland Expo caters to optimists. You’ll find no dark, depressive aura of survivalism here. It’s about enjoyment, exploration and adventure. You can find many home-brewed, similar-ish and more affordable rigs owned by locals around the bumpier, trendier parts of Colorado, but apart from day-to-day accessories, this event is more oriented for folks going from A to B, not those who repeatedly buzz around the same area because that’s where they live and work.
Some kinda Land Rover, a model that made their reputation but doesn’t get much press or marketing push these days.
It never seriously rained the second day of the show, and unlike during my former film camera days, I didn’t need to be concerned about protecting my old Pentax K-7 DSLR, since it’s fully sealed against weather. So I was able to just pick my way around, enjoy the show, and keep one eye on the clouds above for my own sake. That’s the nice thing about making choices in gear – if you do the match-up right for your own particular needs, you can just use it. It’s a very freeing thing. In this case, having to shroud or hunch over trying to protect something, worrying that it might get damaged, is very distracting for me. I wouldn’t be enjoying the show – I’d be absorbed with whether a one-time $1,400 camera is going to be okay. I’m not trying to brag about the camera model or my intellect (such as it is) here, but merely point out the end benefit of taking the time to make choices that fit what you want to be able to do. What’s on sale is nice, and what everybody else is buying is nice, but if it won’t do what you need it to do in the crunch, it’ll eventually be donated to Goodwill or dropped in the wastebasket.
Amazing. These simply won’t fit on Jeep trails, but are surprisingly capable off-pavement.
I’m still on the learning curve of this careful choices thing, and I doubt I’ll ever graduate, but each little move from “Oh, I should have…” to “Hey, this really does the job” makes for an ability to engage other things instead of having to expend attention and energy toward what isn’t really working. I find the end effect surprisingly large. You can find all this stuff online, but to have it in front of you to check out is, in many cases, essential. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but having something on the table in front of you to fondle and try out is worth a thousand pictures.
Back in camp, one guy got his sleeping/lounging/office area just the way he wanted it. The tent was amazingly full, and how he jams it into the Jeep is a mystery to me.
In this post, I’ll once again let the pictures do the talking, as I try to let you see a least a portion of what I came across as I wandered around the Expo. Much of it is breathtakingly expensive, built for a realm of folks a few orders of magnitude wealthier than I, but some of it simply represents clever, cost effective solutions to needs. Top or bottom-end, it’s all interesting. I did not include many bits and pieces that make camping easier, merely because I had to exclude something. I will say that such mechanized touring depends highly on those “smart decisions” being made, which is part of the value of the Expo. Make an appropriate choice for you, and it’s a fun and challenging adventure that will offer a lifetime of pleasant memories. Make a poor choice merely because of an impulse buy or a “show special” discount, and at best it’ll wind up as a tale of trial years later. At worst, it’s a potentially dangerous situation waiting for the right opportunity. Think of it as major fun, yet fun with little room for carelessness or sloppy planning.
I saw this when leaving the camping area on the first day, and wondered just what crazy German encampment it came from. This is pre-1940 design.
On that note, there were classes available (for a fee) to learn winching, jacking, and off-road driving techniques, little tricks of the trade, bridging, navigation, and so on. Major sponsor Land Rover normally offers hands-on driving through a course guaranteed to test one’s mettle, but the fabricated course had to be closed once it became clear that the mudslide into the pond made it unworkable this year. One visitor chided the company for needing better engineering to overcome the excessively sloppy conditions, but that was, frankly, just ignorance in action. As one of Murphy’s Laws states, “Anything is possible when you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Mud is mud.
My first official day in, actually buying an entry ticket. The day varied from partly cloudy to pelting rain all day.
Was the Overland Expo worth it? Certainly, and there’s no need to be a gearhead to enjoy it. It’s about camping, automotive and navigation gear, but to really enjoy camping, one needs the respite of good meals. That tends by interest to fall into the realm of the fairer sex, and the many women present were making critical evaluations of the related equipment, plus sleeping accommodations and their ease of deployment. If anything will be impractical, or a pain to break out, use and pack up, it will get vetoed, period. The vendors I saw fully realize this, and there was precious little Rube Goldberg make-do anywhere on display. Wrestling with things that want to flop over, pinch fingers, lose parts or need a manual to use don’t cut it with this crowd. If it wasn’t easy, quick and efficient, it wasn’t here. These aren’t your holiday weekend campers that will put up with anything as long as it was the cheapest choice at Walmart. The vendors here know who they’re selling to and what they want. It’s a small world with this small bunch, and if something doesn’t cut the mustard in the outback, word gets around pretty quickly. The extra cost to get something that performs well and reliably is a minor point in the great scheme of things. RV industry accessories giant Camco would starve here.
This guy was from Alaska, hoping to sell his rig.
A 4×4 VW Vanagon pickup, something not often seen.
Honestly, how do these vendors mentally survive?
An interesting bed-mounted tent setup one guy with Aluminess stayed in each night.
Stay on the cinders, and watch your path, please! Just a glimpse down one aisle.
One vehicle in the Sportsmobile display, showing that they’re more than happy to convert a front-wheel-drive Mercedes van into a 4×4 camper, too.
At the rear, it has a hydraulic lift for the tires. Easy, right? This kind of thing explains why the geriatric headcount was low at the Expo. Fright.
Mounted on a flatbed, interior space becomes more abundant. But you have to be mighty well-breakfasted to heft one of those spare tires up onto its mount.
This is called a truck camper, made by Four Wheel. Sparse in features, lightweight and built to survive off-road pounding and bed flex, it’s been continually honed since the 70s.
A look inside. Though available as an empty shell, this one is a standard model with furnace, stove, sink and so on.
Two seats facing a suspended table, with just enough space for a small Porta Pottie under that shelf. Pull-out double bed is over the truck cab.
With a very low door, entry is easy, but exiting means coming out backwards, slowly. I tried it. It takes some care.
Towable with anything, put it behind a Jeep and you can get seriously off-road. I’d kill myself on that ladder, but turn a kid loose, and you’d never get him back down to the blue carpet. Ever.
The hitch on these things allows full rotation, which allows for usage in the nasties. A conventional ball or pintel hitch would not allow very much twist, and damage several somethings.
Okay. Wretched excess. A portable, self-contained bar, for when you’re really roughing it. I condemn it mainly because I wouldn’t be able to lift it. But I’d come over if YOU had it.
“Expedition vehicles”. The black snorkel on the red one is so the engine will still be able to get air while crossing a deep stream. Actually doing that also requires a host of other mods to prevent damage to a lot of very expensive assemblies, so don’t gasp when you see the sticker price.
Shock and awe in a box.
Don’t ask. You can’t afford it unless you have a spare house to sell.
A teardrop on steroids. That stove and a sink at the top of the box all slide in on dual drawer slides.
Same trailer. That’s a big screen TV under the tent, for promotional blurbs.
Another variation on the same trailer, to get a sitting room.
Overlanding on motorcycles is a serious affair, but quite popular.
I took a lot of photos of bikes because it’s five pounds ON a three-pound bag.
This caught my eye pretty quickly, as it looked like kin to the one out by the gate.
“Ural”? And using an old BMW motor? And look at the front suspension! Looks like it weighs a ton!
It turns out Ural is a Russian-made bike imported into the U.S. now. Stalin managed to get BMW blueprints, license to manufacture, and a sample or two early in WWII, just before the Germans turned on them and invaded. The Russkies reverse-engineered it and started making their own clones to use against them. Current bikes now have fuel injection, electronic ignition and disc brakes, but retain much of the original 1930s design features intact. You can even order a two-wheel drive version and a machine gun mount, if you wish, ladies! Reliability reputation is spotty, as expected, but holy mackerel, what a bike!
Oh, my. And it has a driveshaft, so no chain to get filthy and start to complain.
LostForAReason.org is a rider’s charity for Native Americans.
Couldn’t help it.
This guy is no doubt looking to see if the spare tire mount is going to fail under all that weight. Answer: no. It comes with that rack above.
Achtung! Ready for anything but racing, mein herr!
Okay, last one. See? People actually use these things.
Must be a cult of some kind, a very popular cult.
A pickup tries to idle down an aisle.
Three guys (expeditionelectric.com) are in the process of building one electric motorcycle then following it with three duplicates. They’re looking for a fourth rider to go with them from Alaska to Argentina. Easy!
But here, ZeroMotorcycles.com offers several mighty stout electric bikes, for not as much cash as I would expect. Just stick some baseball cards in the spokes, and everybody’d like them!
A motorcycle clothing maker had this 2WD cycle made up as a promotion, though the driveline is premade by a supplier to the military.
One vendor was popular, grilling and handing out free food.
One model of XP Camper uses a hinged clamshell to allow a pop-up’s air drag and CG advantages with the protection and insulation of a hardwall truck camper.
The interior of this particular XP Camper shows a rather liveable interior.
Another model of XP Camper, this one on a flatbed. Note the wonky Dutch door.
Want to overland without the capital outlay? Various outfits rent 4×4 rigs or take you out with them on guided tours.
These kinds of rigs got quite a bit of attention.
Got no water heater? Don’t want to wait for a solar bag to warm all day? This propane water heater heats on the fly, and the one on the left does that and cooks, too. The South African lady I talked to hoped that this KaribaProducts.co.za design was about to be picked up by trailer maker Campa USA. A 12VDC pump pulls water from the hose in a bucket, jug or stream, through the heater and hosed showerhead, and onto you.
Large, but aluminum and high-clearance, this pop-up trailer was eclectic and impressive.
A shot through the open window shows the hint of long bench seats and dining table. That whole area flattens into a massive sleeping surface. A kitchen of sorts and pantry are further up.
Stepping in reveals a sleeping platform above too, justifying the generous dining area.
The stove pulls out, and storage of pots and pans is above it.
Counter, storage, microwave and fridge inside.
The stove is on the other side of this wall, so inside storage is actually above only.
Another unit by the same outfit, these are all basically made to order. I wouldn’t want to tip it too far, but look at that ground clearance!
Inside that same unit. Width is too short for an adult up there.
I didn’t open these doors, but I assume a fridge is in here someplace, maybe.
Outside in back, well…there’s the fridge.
And another, used to its fullest. These were all brought in by actual owners for the Expo. None are “in stock”. You say what you want, and they build it.
Outside shower or hose-off station. Controls are for temp and pressure.
Looks depressing. Despite the cold and wet, it wasn’t at all. Not a screaming kid all day, either. Just people milling around, talking and asking questions. And looking fairly happy.
Solar panels built onto tough fabric. Innovative. Expensive.
Bed rack for fuel, water, waste, or what-have-you.
Wanna buy a 1960s cutie?
This home-built camper on a Mercedes had meticulous detail work. Not sloppy at all.
Toyotas are very popular with the overland crowd, simply from word of mouth reputation and the West coast’s love of all things imported. They’re subject to recalls too, but have the reputation of being reliable, and Chrysler Corp’s self-sabotage of Jeep basically handed them a building part of the market.
A motorcycle riding area in a rodeo oval. Not sure why. I’m sure there’s a point.
These are usually black. Fill with water, and let it sit in the sun. Then pump in a little air for pressure, grab the hose sprayhead, and take your shower! No more hefting heavy heated water bags overhead to snap off tree limbs.
This guy had two items of interest to me. Tire deflators and bead lock systems. Huh? The Mighty Furd’s tires must be at 70-80 PSI for pavement use. That is brutally tooth-jarring when offroad, especially when crawling slowly. It also ruins traction on loose surfaces. If you screw a tire deflator onto the tire valve, it takes pressure down quickly to a preset value of your choice, with no playing with a tire gauge to get it sorta right. Go too low, and your tire will lose air and try to demount. It can get you unstuck, but you must air back up when returning to sustained higher speeds. These simply prevent the game of accidentally undershooting the pressure you wanted. A reasonably safe level for the Ford is 15 PSI, though the engine’s torque in 4-Low makes even that debatable.
Old school at least, bead locks are normally screws driven into the tire bead at the wheel rim. At low tire pressures and under stress, tires can otherwise spin and demount from the rim. This guy developed an inner pneumatic tube that has its own valve. Inflated to 30 or 80 PSI, it presses the tire bead hard against the rim, just as in normal highway use. It stays at constant pressure, and also acts as a run-flat should the tire itself be punctured or blow out. Thus you can deflate the tire as low as needed without the slightest concern about overdoing it and dismounting the tire’s bead. Getting the bead reset on the rim can be a bear, even with a jack, lug wrench, strap, a bar lever, and a strong arm. I was just curious to see how this works, because his website doesn’t help much. Now I know.
This thing is a pop-up, but is hardwall. The “lid” slides down over the box. Major wow factor, I’d say.
Another solar panel you just roll up like a flag. These need to be large, because they aren’t very efficient.
I’m a little shaky on this for stability, but you can’t say that somebody isn’t trying hard and has pretty well got it. But I’d still defer to my wife’s assessment, if I had one. I’m not seeing all of the potential usage issues here.
This guy builds griddles for Weber grills or over a fire. Pancakes, anyone? Shrimp/fish? Burgers?
Shockstrap takes a decent tie-down ratchet strap and adds what is likely a urethane stretch link at one end. Urethane is extremely tough, yet can be giving, so I see this as a pretty big improvement over a bare strap in many applications.
Ahmmm, no. This is a rental camper. The flatbed style gives it plenty of interior space, but the high center of gravity of the tall hardside would give me the willies at every crowned trail as it flopped toward one side or other. The awful graphics and styled low-profile tires make it look more rad than it is. Rent it, but take it easy.
These are traction strips, proudly attached to your vehicle’s exterior even if you’ll never need them. They can also be used to bridge gaps between rocks, but that’s only for Jeeps and such. The Mighty Furd would bend them like wet spaghetti, but for traction, they’d work fine. But simply airing down the tires usually works as well or better.
I think this group travels across the outback full-time in a kind of reality show format, sponsored.
Another Toyota that flattened someone’s bank account and/or shows off one manufacturer’s wares.
An interesting setup, a rooftop tent with what looks like ARB’s version of an awning with a cover on it. The “TRD” designation on the flank refers to “Toyota Racing Development”, and is an optional off-road equipment package. I pronounce it “Turd”. Rhymes with “Furd”.
Same shot as earlier in this post, only more so. Big Trucks, big bucks.
A heavy winch on the front means you can get unstuck, uproot trees, or both at the same time.
The black equipment is Wilco’s. I assumed that they made suspension parts too because of the display, but no, they just like to bend things.
A camper body on a flatbed Unimog, with storage boxes underneath.
A retired ambulance that’s seen better days. 2WD. But looka that storage!
Another hardside pop-up, this one mounted on a 4×4 Unimog.
Beats me. Maybe they indicate any wheel lugs that are loosening. I think that hose remotely controls tire pressure.
Been there! Done that!
Unimogs are extreme-conditions trucks owned by Mercedes. The frame just to the rear of the cab is articulated to allow much more twist than any suspension could handle. They are claimed to be able to get over a yard-high boulder, so long as you don’t add stuff underneath. This limits their load capacity, but they are the ne plus ultra of 4×4 off-road trucks, and the debate over that is zero.
“Oh, I think I’ll change a tire just for fun. Time me!” If you’re ever complained about lifting the spare tire out of your car trunk, just try this on for size.
They take what you got and make a 4×4 out of it, and as I recall, it doesn’t affect the OEM warranty. This is a Nissan NV van.
You hate going to pick up bread or eggs at the market? Not any more!
Not on display, this is the real thing, in use.
On the right is an alternative to plastic traction boards. This is sold specifically as a bridging ladder. The Furd would not be absolutely certain to bend these up too, since they are rated at 2,000 pounds per axle. That’s a little under what the Furd weighs in front. For traction or sticking inside a deep rut to prevent bottoming out the diff, these might work, but they might not be flat when returned to storage. Crux is now developing a heavier-duty version.
Rocky Mountain Bikes. Gnarly, I’m sure, but they ain’t got no electric motor!
This outfit displayed laptop-sized batteries in capacities to jump-start anything from shitboxes to diesel trucks.
Phoenix Pop-Ups showed off their “Red-Diculous” creation, custom-built to order. I looked inside one pop-up, and the engineering looked okay, though quality of the finishing work seemed a bit iffy.
Coffee 911 served up hot java to warm those attending the show. There was a long line to this revamped ambulance.
Another major sponsor, oddly perched off on a dead end and missing a lot of foot traffic.
The Land Rover boys, and I’m still trying to figure out how that canopy structure goes up and how much it weighs. I don’t really get Land Rover any more, as they only offer sleek SUVs today in the U.S. and have abandoned their legendary heritage. Might have to do with British Leyland fumbling the ball, selling to BMW, who sold it to Ford, who sold it and Jaguar to an Indian company, Tata. Might also have to do with U.S. regs, which required air bags and impact doors on the 67-year-old Defender in a tiny U.S. market. That model will cease production worldwide at the end of this year. Goodbye, legendary one.
Fox Shocks shows a lot of elaborate Jeep suspension setups, as well as this mountain bike with one of their shocks on its rear suspension. Rad.
In this case, I had to smile. Image is everything. But I really liked it. That’s an aluminum flatbed with removable sides. Dodge Ram, looking good. It has the appearance of an almost-stock Ram with a bed delete and big tires, but trust me, there’s a big wad of money tied up in this thing.
Screw a 1-lb propane bottle under this wok and you got yourself some stir-fry waiting to happen.
Crazy, man! This tent is raised up for storage access on stabilizer jacks. I wouldn’t care to be up there in a 60 MPH wind, but these things aren’t meant for full-time use no matter what comes.
The rear of the same rig offers an awning over a counter, stove, grill, and sink. And it can handle rougher ground than the vehicle towing it.
If you’ve been thinking that erecting and breaking down a tent would be unmanageable, these all pivot in half and fold. Drop the platform down, lift the attached ladder…
…Collapse the telescopic ladder and throw the cover over it. Though the designs vary, the realization remains that tents which are a PITA to deploy and stow are not going to be used.
A GOBI exterior, with storage/propane box and fuel, water, or whatever you want jerry cans.
The sleeping and storage area of a GOBI.
The kitchen area. This is roughing it?
Sometimes tarps are used to shade tent windows and allow them to be open during a rain. Here, it’s used to protect unsold merchandise. You can sense that this one folds neatly up as well. That sitting area keeps you from having to huddle in the rooftop tent in poor weather.
A trailer for hauling whatever you can strap down to it. In this case it shows off a Timbren suspension setup made specifically for rough off-road clearance. Leaf springs will drag and bend the axle, and torsion suspensions have the reputation for spontaneously disassembling in the rough stuff. This is adjustable and battle-tested.
Leaving. The bikers just came out of the woodwork for this show!
Do they look bored, or what?
Back at camp, the Mighty Defiant is ready for some gnarly rock-crawling and stream-fording action, oh yeah. Well, at least the Aurora e-bike is. It’s just coated with mud from the show, hubs and all!