Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Wandering the Overland Expo 2016

When the weather goes bad, equipment choice and deployment make the difference between dependability and dumpster fodder. Sometimes it's best to learn from others' experiences.

When the weather goes bad, equipment choice and deployment make the difference between dependability and dumpster fodder. Sometimes it’s best to learn from others’ experiences!

As you may have guessed, the above scene was taken in the area I was camped in. The wind advisory yesterday was for gusts up to 50 MPH, and the tall trees blocked some of it, but not all. The one camper I’d talked with in the Expo camping area on Thursday was not aware of what was forecast, and when I returned to see the show on Friday, even the canopy used at the day pass sign-in checkpoint had been blown away. I’d assumed that they had taken it down as a precaution, but the volunteer there told me, “Nope, it took off.” Fortunately, the tight pack-together and a line of tall pines at one edge of the display area broke enough of the 25 MPH average that the vendors seemed to be doing well – even the awning people.

Biking further down towards town showed this classic overlanding combo.

Biking further down towards town showed this classic overlanding combo. it looks appealing, but considering the nightly lows in the high-30s, it’s for hardier stock than I am.

What follows is not at all a comprehensive overview of this year’s Expo. It’s just the few things that drew my attention.

Just inside the Day Pass gate was this sort of a power station trailer, with both solar and a wind generator. I assume that a massive battery pack is inside the box. No doubt it all collapses nicely, but you need to be one serious power hog to be willing to tow it around with you.

Just inside the Day Pass gate was this sort of a power station trailer, with both solar and a wind generator. I assume that a massive battery pack is inside the box. No doubt it all collapses nicely, but you need to be one serious power hog to be willing to tow it around with you.

Attendees who buy the more deluxe weekend passes get to drive new Land Rovers through the advanced driving course, and they can take their own rigs as well, if approved for suitability. All are accompanied. This rise has to be spooky since even with those marker poles, you can't see anything but sky until you're heading downhill. Naturally, in the real deal, you'd be getting out beforehand to scope the situation out on foot.

Attendees who buy the more deluxe weekend passes get to drive new Land Rovers through the advanced driving course, and they can take their own rigs as well, if approved for suitability. All are accompanied. This rise has to be spooky since even with those marker poles, you can’t see anything but sky until you’re heading downhill. Naturally, in the real deal, you’d be getting out beforehand to scope the situation out on foot.

Okay, okay, I admit it. This guy is hauling more crap along than I am. Those are probably kayak rollers on top.

Okay, okay, I admit it. This guy is hauling more crap along than I am. Those are probably kayak rollers on top. Add much more weight back there, and he could probably do wheelies.

Same rig. Once the Aluminess system is swung open, the hitch platform serves as a step to enter the camper. What other purpose it serves I don't know. Maybe a chair deck to stay out of the mud.

Same rig. Once the Aluminess system is swung open, the hitch platform serves as a step to enter the camper. What other purpose it serves I don’t know. Maybe a chair deck to stay out of the mud.

Given a proper mount, SUVs and other enclosed-body vehicles are a popular way to use rooftop tents.

Given a proper mount, SUVs and other enclosed-body vehicles are a popular way to use rooftop tents. Lots of dry storage.

These rooftop units by James Baroud look a bit short to me. Sleeping on a quasi-fetal position doesn't appeal to me, but these are popular. I should have stopped in to ask.

These rooftop units by James Baroud look a bit short to me. Sleeping in a quasi-fetal position doesn’t appeal to me, but these are popular. I should have stopped in to ask. Maybe they’re longer then they look.

Hallmark RV was there with their upscale pop-ups, which have holding tanks. That makes them more mainstream than Four Wheel's products, and they use a more advanced construction, which is reflected in their cost.

Hallmark RV was there with their upscale pop-ups, which have holding tanks. That makes them more mainstream than Four Wheel’s products, and they use a more advanced construction, which is reflected in their cost.

You're looking at Ford's Ranger pickup, which is offered everywhere but in the U.S. This one originated from Picacho Grupo Automotriz in Mexico. Its length makes Ford fear that it will cannibalize their more profitable F-150 sales here, but I have to wonder if they don't also consider that Toyota is eating their lunch for all those overlanders that don't want the F-150's wide-ride. I guess it comes down to what they consider acceptable niche market losses to be.

You’re looking at Ford’s current Ranger pickup, which is offered everywhere but in the U.S. This one originated from Picacho Grupo Automotriz in Mexico. Its length makes Ford fear that it will cannibalize their more profitable F-150 sales here, but I have to wonder if they don’t also consider that Toyota is eating their lunch for all those overlanders that don’t want the F-150’s wide-ride. I guess it comes down to what they consider acceptable niche market losses to be.

This old Land Rover Defender has rubber sheets bolted to its hood and fender tops. I don't know what they're supposed to be protecting the paint from.

This old Land Rover Defender has rubber sheets bolted to its hood and fender tops. I don’t know what they’re supposed to be protecting the paint from.

There are a ton of KTM riders at this event, and KTM apparently wants to help that along.

There are a ton of KTM riders at this event, and KTM apparently wants to help that along.

Half of motorcycle row, which is pretty long and heavily populated. I figure I shouldn't ride what I can't lift back upright, which explains why all the riders here are young.

Half of motorcycle row, which is pretty long and heavily populated. I figure I shouldn’t ride what I can’t lift back upright, which explains why all the riders here are young and hale.

Bundutec USA offers 270-degree awnings, tents, and now their own Hallmark-style pop-up truck camper.

Bundutec USA offers 270-degree awnings, tents, and now their own Hallmark-style pop-up truck camper.

Minivan livin'. They seemed to have a sort of modular table, stove, and cookware box.

Minivan livin’. They seemed to have a sort of modular table, stove, and cookware box.

A lot of these vendors refer to or have "expedition" tacked onto their names, which outnumbers "adventure". That may be a big overblown, but is more succinct than "a passion for weekend and vacation touring outside the norm".

A lot of these vendors refer to or have “expedition” tacked onto their names, which slightly outnumbers “adventure”. That may be a bit overblown, but is more succinct than “a passion for weekend and vacation touring outside the norm”.

Actually, the Overland Journal has come up with a pretty good definition of what overlanding is: “History, wildlife, culture, scenery, self-sufficiency – these are the rewards of overlanding. Overlanding describes self-reliant adventure travel to remote destinations where the journey is the primary goal. Typically, but not exclusively, accommodated by mechanized off-highway capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping; often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and often spanning international boundaries. While expedition is defined as a journey with a purpose, overlanding sees the journey as the purpose.” So, this is quite a bit different than enthusiasts who want to permanently live in their vehicles as an alternative lifestyle (like me), and who tend to band together by vehicle type and any associated subcultural beliefs that may go along with that. Here, the ideal draw is personally experiencing new places and cultures, and the annual gathering together is to share those experiences and to inspire more.

The Jeep Brute, a 4-door pickup.

The Jeep Brute, a 4-door pickup.

When I first saw the above vehicle with manufacturer’s license plates on it, I thought that Chrysler had finally gotten serious with the brand, and that the Warn booth next to it had simply added one of their winches in front. But what I found confusing was the proper amount of lift, the big tires and an elaborate rear bumper that had massive plates for attaching D-rings for recovery, which are all counter to the direction that manufacturers want to go. So I headed over to the Chrysler Jeep booth (why isn’t Toyota here?) and looked for it among the assortment of Wranglers. Nope. A fresh-faced young man, maybe 23, told me that the Brute was a concept vehicle that was planned for production in 2017-2018, I forget which. Mystified, I eventually circled back over to Warn to get a little more info. Apparently, American Expedition Vehicles has been building heavily-modified Wranglers for 15 years now, and Chrysler often includes them in their auto show displays as concept vehicles – concept vehicles that AEV actually sells.

The front end of the Brute.

The front end of the Brute.

I’m not certain of how AEV would feel about Chrysler offering their own version of a product like the Brute (and I may head back on Sunday to ask them since they’re there too), but one thing is guaranteed: it won’t be even close to the same, but will appear similar. AEV builds in some $42K worth of serious base-level mods to start, in addition to the composite core pickup bed and rear roof section. No doubt Fiat/Chryco will refrain from all the characteristics that make the Brute succeed off-road, and simply offer standard Wranglers with a pickup bed – possibly fiberglass or some material suited for very low volumes – at a market price slightly above the rest of the line. That’s just a guess on my part. Montana-based AEV completely re-engineers the vehicle without compromise, while Jeep will have an attractive price as their driver. No way Chryco is going to come remotely close to bringing the Brute into volume production as-is.

I was surprised to see this rear brake line routed to the outside of the frame, since the chance of a flat tire or whirling tire chains could take out the rear brakes. The installation hardware looks factory, so I'll assume that this feature is Jeep's, and AEV chose not to alter it.

I was surprised to see this rear brake line routed to the outside of the frame, since the chance of a flat tire or whirling tire chains could take out the rear brakes. The installation hardware looks factory, so I’ll assume that this feature is Jeep’s, and AEV chose not to alter it.

A 1960s Bond movie comes to life as an autogyro, this time holding two passengers. It may not be "overland", but is more like "over land". Close enough.

A 1960s Bond movie comes to life as an autogyro, this time holding two passengers. It may not be “overland”, but is more like “over land”. Close enough.

There's been a vocal contingent out there for years insisting that a yurt is inherently the best, good karma camping structure going. Now, it's offered to vehicle-based adventurers and packs down to a somewhat bulky but workable storage bag. Far out, man!

There’s been a vocal contingent out there for years insisting that a yurt is inherently the best, good karma camping structure going. Now, it’s offered to vehicle-based adventurers and packs down to a somewhat bulky but workable storage bag. Far out, man!

The MoJoe Griddle display is always popular, especially when demonstration time comes around. They can be placed over a Weber grill, or for campers, suspended or legged over a campfire or turkey fryer base.

The MoJoe Griddle display is always popular, especially when demonstration time comes around. They can be placed over a Weber grill, or for campers, suspended or legged over a campfire or turkey fryer base.

This got my attention because I was down an aisle directly in front of it when they turned the lights on. They were blinding in broad daylight.

This got my attention because I was down an aisle directly in front of it when they turned the lights on. They were blinding in broad daylight.

This old International Harvester has some very serious underpinnings.

This old International Harvester has some very serious underpinnings.

I have to say, I’m a sucker for old IH Scouts. I think they were the first competitor to the Jeep and were in production from 1961-1980, and spurred later equivalents from Ford and Chevy once they smelled the money flowing. International Harvester kept it pretty much the same throughout, and became pretty much outgunned as the competition out-marketed and new-and-improved it out of existence. It stayed dowdy and slow, but it was endearing because its truck engine was intentionally overbuilt for durability and abuse. When the other more successful SUVs were heading for the crusher, an inordinate percentage of the few of these made were still lumbering along like the-vehicle-that-would-not-die. Obviously, with no aftermarket and no help from the factory on parts, most of the clapped-out remnants are rare today. Somehow, Anything Scout in Ames Iowa has been goofing with these since 1993 and can scrounge for parts, upgrades, and even help you find one. The example at the show got notable and well-deserved attention, I think. It’s as tough and functional as it looks.

This OzTrail "Swag" or mini-tent caught my eye in the Kadaku Camping booth.

This OzTrail “Swag” or mini-tent caught my eye in the Kadaku Camping booth.

During my break for lunch I couldn't help but notice this tent area of the RV park filled with motorcyclists. Researching a good tent, sleeping bag or pad should probably start here.

During my break for lunch I couldn’t help but notice this tent area of the RV park filled with motorcyclists. Researching a good tent, sleeping bag or pad should probably start here.

Here's something you won't see every day: an ex-military HMMWV H1 converted not only for legal road use, but with a camper body to boot. Humv4u in Georgia painted this one entirely in urethane bedliner, so paint scratches on those narrow trails can't possibly happen. Heck, go right over the bushes. Doesn't matter.

Here’s something you won’t see every day: an ex-military HMMWV H1 converted not only for legal road use, but with a camper body to boot. Humv4u in Georgia painted this one entirely in incredibly tough urethane bedliner, so paint scratches on those narrow trails can’t possibly happen. Heck, go right over the bushes. Doesn’t matter.

A look inside shows they put all that width to use.

A look inside shows they put all that width to use.

I'm not sure why this old WWII 6x6 was here, but it does go overland, and it is impressive.

I’m not sure why this old WWII-style 6×6 was here, but it does go overland, and it is impressive.

I found this Australian rig to be notable for two reasons, the first being this swing-up staircase that covers and secures the entry door. When left parked, snatch & grab plans are thwarted.

I found this Australian rig to be notable for two reasons, the first being this swing-up staircase that covers and secures the entry door. When left parked, snatch & grab plans are thwarted.

The second notable this this map of their tour, beginning at the Pacific end of the Russia-China border and continuing on to Mormon Lake, Arizona. Now that's an expedition!

The second notable is this map of their tour, beginning at the Pacific end of the Russia-China border and continuing on to Mormon Lake, Arizona. Now that’s an expedition! Or is it overlanding?

This is notable since if they'd backed up just two feet less, the front left tire would have been down into a rut and pretty much leveled it out. Maybe that's too sissy for these guys?

This is notable since if they’d backed up just two feet less, the front left tire would have been down into a rut and pretty much leveled it out. Maybe that’s too sissy for these guys?

Just one of the aisles.

Just one of the aisles.

This is the same rooftop tent I saw installed at its maker, Adventure Trailer.

This is the same rooftop tent I saw installed at its maker, Adventure Trailer.

The Fiamma awning offered by Four Wheel Campers, which one of the customers deployed for me just to show how quickly it can be done. No tie-down ropes are needed, since the swing-down adjustable legs have keep that can accept common tent stakes. It takes less than a minute, up or down, and rolls into a hard cover. Four Wheel now also offers a 270-degree huge awning that takes a little longer and stuffs into a fabric zipped case.

The Fiamma awning offered by Four Wheel Campers, which one of the customers deployed for me just to show how quickly it can be done. No tie-down ropes are needed, since the swing-down adjustable legs have feet that can accept common tent stakes. It takes less than a minute, up or down, and rolls into a hard cover. Four Wheel now also offers a 270-degree huge awning that takes a little longer and stuffs into a fabric zipped case.

One of the many camper customers packed into the Four Wheel area showed me her favorite folding chair in the world, a rocking chair that is in fact comfortable and stable. It collapses sideways.

One of the many camper customers packed into the Four Wheel area showed me her favorite folding chair in the world, a rocking chair that is in fact comfortable and stable. It collapses sideways.

They also had this Little Giant step, safer and more elaborate than most. This couple had a 2015 like mine but with an internal shower, but traded it in on a more basic shell model because it was just too fancy. They don't mind stowing the chair, steps and a camping stove inside, and then pulling it all out to go inside. That allows for more elaborate equipment, and not having to stuff the truck cab or buy a cargo box.

They also had this Little Giant step, safer and more elaborate than most. This couple had a 2015 like mine but with an internal shower, but traded it in on a more basic shell model because it was just too fancy. They don’t mind stowing the chair, steps and a camping stove inside, and then pulling it all out to go inside. That allows for more elaborate equipment, and not having to stuff the truck cab or buy a cargo box.

Once I hit the Four Wheel display, I looked for mods that the customers there had on their rigs and got sucked into prolonged conversations with them about how various features were working out for them, the value of updating older models to current specs, and where they’d been. Apparently, at 1 o’clock, the company owner Tom Hanagan had gathered them together and asked point-blank what they liked and did not like about their FWCs – emphasis on did not like. They were impressed by that, especially in that he did not flinch or dance around with pat responses. If anything, he asked for details. That’s precisely what drives future production changes and, as I found out myself later, they do not wait for the next model year to carry them out.

I’d been talking with the production manager and mentioned that one of the three overhead LED lights on my Grandby took to slowly flickering in light levels over time, unrelated to other equipment turning on or off. I asked whether my dabbing a little dielectric grease on the bulb’s contacts would help, since a single tap on the fixture immediately got it back to full brightness. “Nope,” he replied, “Just call us and we’ll send a replacement fixture right out to you wherever you are. We don’t use that light any more for that reason. We’ve changed over to an LED strip light that’s better, but we just found and tested a new LED light from National Luna, and are very impressed with the way it lights, and its reliability. It’s much better. We’re going to be sourcing it from Equipt Expedition Outfitters as soon as possible. If you want to see it, their booth is just down the next row, and ask them to show you what they’ll be supplying us with.” Equipt is probably one of Four Wheel’s newest camper dealers, but also sources at least two recent upgraded components for them.

Since all the customer yakking was eating up so much time and I was done with my show tour, the complimentary supper was about to be served in their big tent, so I did what comes naturally – I mooched some great grilled edibles and guzzled a Corona beverage made from healthy hops. Tom also fielded more questions, including the details of why prices go up every year, and mine of how they deal with the fun of seasonal demand and how that affects production rates (it doesn’t). They take build orders and pump out 14 a day. All that varies is the backlog and lead time. He refuses to staff according to demand and then lay people off, as he’s been on the receiving end of that little joy. Their business did contract somewhere less than 20% in 2009 (but laid off no one, by force of will) and bounced back and then some in 2010. This, at a time when most of the RV market went bankrupt and most of what was left was snapped up by mega-brands for pennies on the dollar. They still exist as brand names but, much like the lawnmower industry, they’re all just variants from only a few real manufacturers. FWC has been gaining between 10-20% in sales each year since.

I’ve met arrogant business owners, kindly ones, and self-entitled ones acting as royalty. I must say, Hanagan talks like a real person, considers that he had to “buy his job” at FWC in order to find work, and was silently digging out napkins and refilling wine cups at meal prep instead of enlightening the masses as the center of entertainment. He’s very likable guy who’s eager to listen, and not your average businessman. Little wonder that his attitude has filtered deeply into every department of Four Wheel, and that the business is doing as well as it is. I’ll end my brand-centric gushing here.

My God, these people can talk. I finally had to bow out just past sunset in order to pedal the e-bike back up the hill to camp, picking out a halfway decent path between as many rocks as I could in the light of the headlamp. I arrived there at about 8, with a full gut and a tiring battery, just before true blackness set in. Another fine day!

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18 thoughts on “Wandering the Overland Expo 2016

  1. Linda Sand on said:

    A fine day, indeed. I hope my daughter, who is thinking abut buying a Granby like yours, reads this.

    • Ultimately, seeing is believing, in a product as expensive as a camper! Actually, it also helps to also see what you don’t particularly want first, just to get a frame of reference. Besides, surprises happen!

  2. Great great great. Nothing more to say about that.

    • …Except that the few dozen pics of what I liked doesn’t show you guys much of anything about what you’d be interested in seeing. There are just gobs of free classes, demos and seminars open to all too, which I didn’t even mention.

  3. Rod Duell on said:

    Wow, what a fun and informative tour for those of us unable to attend. Thanks mucho Doug!

  4. Kevin Johnson on said:

    Good Review!! Been following Overland since it’s inception, mostly because it’s in Arizona. This years has as had been past, no exception! Product meets hands on all in one place. When I went shopping for a slide-in and this is where I went. Manufacturers all in one place. The internet can only do so much? I liked FWC product, great for smaller vehicles in good climate weather! But, I needed room to grow > forward thinking> ? So the move to something a bit more comfortable with a capacity & especially Air Conditioning! Requirement in the good AZ sun! Tech changes with times and Hallmark is a good reflection of that. You can see the updates in goodies currently available LED”s come to mind 1st. It will be fun to see what direction Overland go’s in the next 10 years? Where product meets consumer demand or? Buy the way I went with an Outfitter Apex LB!

    • Good pick, Kevin! I noticed an Outfitter camper rolling into last year’s show, and am only sorry that the company was not present this year, especially since they offer models that are intended to compete with Four Wheel. I’m just glad you’ve got a mechanized roof lift to get that A/C unit up! And you’re right, there’s just no substitute for crawling around the real thing in person when you’re trying to make such expensive decisions. Having different brands collected into one place would make things easier, which makes me wonder whether Outfitter now tends to hang around at RV shows instead.

  5. Kevin Johnson on said:

    P>S> I tested MY rig Ford F-250 super duty 7.3, Outfitter Apex LB down Senators Hwy all the way after the Gladiator fire! That’s about as good as Overlanding gets in Arizona! Based on the previous reply!

    • Yep, that Navistar 7.3 diesel is justifiably the most popular one they supplied to Ford, since it works very well and lacks the emissions gear that later engines were required to have. I had to Google the Gladiator fire in Arizona, as that happened before I even took to the road. That Senators Highway sounds like a worthy tour. One more happy memory for you!

  6. Ming on said:

    wow, what a great day you had! That ShiftPod looks neat, but expensive and a bit heavy for me. Good to know it’s there though!

    • Yeah, I didn’t bother researching the thing, since yurts just aren’t my bag. They did generate interest among some passersby, though.

      • Ming on said:

        I can see that you don’t have a need for it, with your super cool camper, but I’ve been scratching my head about what to do for a main living area in inclement weather, something that will stand up to wind, allow for heating in cold weather, and keep the rain out.

        I do like that this can go up and down in a few minutes, like an ez-up but won’t blow down in the desert storms. I don’t like that it can’t be opened up to serve as a sun shade/ open shelter.

        Have you come across any campers who have such a shelter?

        • Good insight, Ming. My camper is super cool, much like myself. 😉 I haven’t seen such a shelter myself, not without including a rooftop tent into the mix, which you don’t want. Below the tent’s platform overhang serves as the sunshade area, and an enclosed ground room descends on the opposite side of the vehicle.

          Over in the LTVA in Winterhaven I once saw a 4×4 Dodge pickup in camo, with tall hoops in the bed stake pockets. Over the hoops he had a mix of tarp and screen material. The rear was the flap entry, and on top of the cab roof was a solar panel. Kinda looked like a smaller version of a troop carrier, and the hoop structure was well done such that wind and sag looked like a non-issue. I’m guessing you have something similar to this?

          More to your question, I have seen what looked like a homemade tarp yurt set up in the same general area, and it looked like an ordeal to set up and break down. My guess is that you’d need to add either an open canopy or a vehicle-based awning to a ground shelter like the yurt. EZ-Up makes zippered walls for their canopy, but as you said, in a wind, oh my.

  7. Ming on said:

    that’s funny, I had thought to build something like that mini troop carrier for my truck, but then how to secure it in town, and how would I make it sturdy enough to travel highway speeds? Hence the truck canopy.

    The shiftpod videos are looking interesting, ez-up speeds with yurt sturdiness. As I contemplate longer duration trips, such a shelter becomes more important.

    • It’s too bad that the photo I took of it is back in Wellton. I can’t remember how tall it was, but it seemed well-made with heavy fabric, and was fastened down competently. For all I know, he may have attached a piece of plywood vertically to the forward-most hoop to support the canvas against air pressure. The vagaries of memory after a couple of years.

      The Shiftpod does look interesting. I would say that it’s pricey, but all camping shelters and equipment are pricey, so that’s not much of a complaint. What caught my eye are the “quick-zip” tie-downs. And the 12″ stainless stakes with a pull-out handle look competent and lack the toy-like aura of most tent stakes. I regularly come across discarded bent stainless OE stakes, including where I am now. You could be onto something here!

  8. Ming on said:

    those stakes and tie-downs caught my eyes too. I like how easily they can be loosened – if the wind shifts and you want to change the location of the doors, it would be a quick job to unhook, spin the hut around and rehook.

    It did not take me long to ditch stakes that come with shelters in favor of 9 inch nails, no more problems with bent stakes. If you use 2 nails on either side of the “stake” to clamp down on it, you have a stake puller that can use the ground as leverage.

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