OVERLAND WEST 2016

OBSERVATIONS FROM MY FIRST TRIP TO AN OVERLANDING EVENT

You could say that I didn't know what Overland was and I was not a part of it. I didn't know what the word Overland really meant. I did not know where its roots came from, and I wasn't sure what the parameters of an Overlander was. However, I have been camping since I was four weeks old; I do it for about 2 to 3 months out of the year and true to the Overland community. I even owned a Honda element that I converted with the Ecamper by Ursa Minor. This is something you see a lot of when you visit Overland West. I had an FJ Cruiser (lifted, of course) with an ARB bumper and many other bolt ons, you could drop me just about anywhere and I could camp for an unusually long amount of time. My Dad was a camper, my mom was a camper, my dad's father was a World War II PT boat captain & this guy was a diehard camper, he would bring just water with him on a week-long trek into the woods because that was the sort of thing you did to prove what you were made of. 

     The Overland community is much closer to how I grew up in camping, definitely not the “Glamping” that has recently gained popularity. We get pretty gritty out there, my wife and I; especially after a month. But we simply called this ‘car camping’, meaning we are tied in many ways to our motor vehicle. I've done plenty of backpacking, but by far car camping has always been my favorite. As of last year my wife and I were able to completely go off the grid with solar panels for all of our electricity and propane for our cooking. This was a goal of ours for many years, and the technology has finally become portable and affordable enough to achieve it. Innovation in camping is all about tools and products that are smaller, lighter, faster, and more efficient. We also like to make our own gear just like the overlanders I met at Overland West. We take pride in having parts of our campsite and on our rig that no one else has, and like many of the people I met here, we light up when someone comes by our site and says “wow, that's really cool! Where did you buy that?” Of course, our favorite thing to say in return is, “we didn’t, we made it”, and go on to share the process of how we did.

    So what exactly is Overland, and what sets it apart from what we classically called car camping? Or 4x4ing? I had a great opportunity to be embedded into the Overland community for a weekend, at the Overland Expo West event in Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s like a highly creative and diverse car show, a festival, and a camping experience all in one. From the outset, the vehicles look and perform drastically different, and the amount of money put into the rigs varies drastically. You could see vehicles there with a few nifty modifications, or a pricey eye-catching add-on, crazy elaborate roof-top tents, to over the top rigs worth a million bucks. Some bought the best of the best, while others have spent 10 years creating their own ultimate personalized vehicle. After my interviews with some of the attendees, I found that what brought these people together in a mutual love for the community of Overland. These are people who like to live like a turtle, in a way; they like to have everything that is necessary for human existence in or on their vehicle, and most of them want to sleep in or on top of it, too. These are people who would build a spaceship if they could. These are people (like me) that, when they drive down their favorite road or a road they've never seen, or over a rock or ridge, they take pride in their gear and their ingenuity. The folks in the Overland community from what I've seen are adventurers. Cowboys who have replaced horseback with horsepower. Whether their breed of choice is Land Cruiser, Hummer, Toyota, Ford, or something more exotic, you get to see the passion that these people have in being able to ride through and camp in areas other people have never seen, because those people lack the technology, know-how, and desire to explore beyond the beaten path.

    Why is the Overland community growing? I think, in part, it can thank the economic crash and subsequent recession of the last decade. In leaner times, the vacation budget is the first thing to get cut; all of a sudden people stop going to hotels and resorts, they don't feel secure enough totake the family to Disney World, or have money to travel to Hawaii, Las Vegas, Florida, or abroad. After the housing crash, when the breadwinner was looking at their bank account and could see their options were narrowed, somewhere in the back of their mind they said, “you know, I remember having a good time camping. I wonder if we can still do that. I wonder if the kids would like that.” And camping technology has changed so drastically since they’d last gone camping, they found that could be far more comfortable and convenient. Gone are the cumbersome tents with the fiberglass poles, that were not only a chore to assemble, but had you picking fiberglass out of your fingers afterwards. Now, almost every tent brand has an easy set up version, that folds out and you stake down in under five minutes. Back-crippling hammocks and cots are no longer a concern with self-inflating mattresses and high-density foam. Not only is all of this new-fangled equipment better designed, more convenient to lug around, and cheaper than it used to be—- it’s actually sorta cool, too. This way, a family could spend more of their vacation with each other, and the price-point extended the option to the subgroup of people who previously were spending more of their time in hotels and poolside or maybe only going out for day trips with their 4 x 4. 

    Another reason Overland culture is growing is that, beyond just word of mouth, off-road websites and camping blogs, internet forums, and social media have provided overland enthusiasts the outlet to share the amazing things they are doing. My wife and I, for example,  saw the pop-up tent for the Honda Element and we thought it was the coolest thing the world. It’s a lot like a Westfalia van, but with good gas mileage and without the risk of breaking down 30 miles into the trip. We searched it online, talked to people who had it, and eventually decided to buy an Element specifically to have an Ecamper installed on it. We jumped on forums and saw other mods we could do, posted our own pics, and realized that there was a whole group of people bonding over their cars. And there's another big reason the Overland community that exists today could’nt have existed 10 years ago: I have access right now to products at cost that was impossible before. Before, not only could I not find the exact lighting housing I wanted for my new vehicle, but if I did find it, it would have been prohibitively expensive. There was not a mass distributor for aftermarket off-road bumpers. If you wanted a rooftop tent, there was one location, you had to drive there and be without a car until the accessory was installed, and it was a major buying decision (which made for a very small market). Now, the Internet had allowed for people to access affordable ways to customize their vehicle, bit by bit. Maybe one year they pay for a cage on their truck, the next year get an ARB bumper and then the next year they get a rooftop tent. The vehicle becomes an evolution and if you talk to anyone at the Overland event, they will tell you exactly where they bought it, why they chose that type over the other, what they’re looking to do next, and so on. The Excitement is contagious. I talk to folks who had never even been camping before, who got caught up in the joy of this activity you can't help it. It’s our generation’s version of the hot rod. 

     So is overlanding for you suffer everyone at the event winds were amazingly high. Sand was blasting us in the face. it was dry. This is not always the case, but he candy we are the astronauts of Earth land astronauts earthbound astronauts we are community that loves the difficulty of it because what happens is our brain has to engage in away that it doesn't in the office we have to be sharp we fast. We love this overland experience because it brings us back to something much simpler. A time were everything you needed was right there with you. You could go anywhere and you were tied to nothing. In a world that tries to define you by your job, and your house, keeping your existence within socially acceptable parameters, being an overlander is like being a modern cowboy. Where, for however long, the journey is the goal, andwe can walk away from society and run our own universe.