Overlanding, the practice of equipping four-wheel drive vehicles for self-reliant adventure travel into the wilderness, is growing rapidly.
The trend was evident in the large crowds attending the 2018 Overland Expo West last weekend near Flagstaff, Ariz.
The show drew an estimated 14,000 visitors, almost a 17 percent increase over 2017, according to Overland Expo’s organizers. The number of exhibitors grew by 30 percent to 365.
Overlanders are often experienced campers and off-roaders, but many beginners used the seminars and workshops to learn how to participate in the rugged pastime.
“It’s certainly a growth opportunity,” said Jim Randall, director of marketing for Warn Industries, a manufacturer of winches, hoists and products to free vehicles from mud, ditches and other entanglements overlanders encounter. Warn is developing new products and merchandise specifically aimed at overlanding customers, Randall said.
“They want to come here and learn and be educated on the type of gear they need,” he said.
What is driving the overland phenomenon? Trucks.com spoke with exhibitors at the show to identify the market forces behind its growth.
- A Strong Economy
A healthy economy is providing overland customers with more disposable income and easy access to credit. Nearly 60 percent of attendees who responded to a 2017 Overland Expo West survey reported an individual annual income over $80,000. Nearly 30 percent said their income is over $150,000.
“Definitely the economy is helping push this,” said Jeremy Headlee, marketing director for suspension company Icon Vehicle Dynamics. Icon is struggling to build its products fast enough to meet demand, Headlee said.
- Access to the Internet and Instagram
Online research makes it easy to plan a trip, find inspiration and purchase the right products for a long trip.
“There’s so much good information,” said John Griffith, director of sales marketing for Tepui Tents. “So much of this is aspirational. Those of us sitting on the couch have more fuel now because you can see what’s possible out there.”
Instagram, especially, is essential to showing off products and courting new fans.
“All the amazing photography and videos keep feeding the fire,” said Chris Wood, national sales director for American Expedition Vehicles. “People new to the sport have been captivated by the idea of getting away but having comfort and conveniences too.”
- Generational Preferences
Millennial consumers aged 22 to 37 are heading outdoors because they value experiences over material goods.
“Millennials are looking for that opportunity to rough it and get off the grid as much as they can,” Headlee said. “How could you see a tent pitched on the side of the Grand Canyon and not want to do that? What’s nice is being able to offer a product that helps them get there.”
The overlanding community also draws from large numbers of baby boomers ages 54 to 72 who are beginning to retire. Many aren’t fond of the motorhomes their parents may have used for family vacations when they were young. Motorhomes are typically large, inefficient and expensive.
In the Overland Expo campground, owners of nearly a dozen Earthcruiser adventure trucks grouped together. Several had caravanned to the show from the company headquarters in Bend, Ore.
Most were retired or approaching retirement age. They prefer the diesel Earthcruiser to motorhomes because of the compact size, improved fuel economy and long-distance range of the 80-gallon fuel tank.
“Extreme off-roading, that’s not what we’re looking for,” said Caroline Diericx of San Francisco. “We’re looking to go around the world.”
- Rugged New Trucks
Powerful new engines and advanced traction systems make many vehicles capable of overlanding right off the dealer lot. For some, the only thing a brand-new pickup needs for overlanding is a rooftop tent, Wood said. This summer the Tepui team will take a lightly– modified Toyota Tacoma to the treacherous Rubicon Trail near Lake Tahoe, once reserved for only the most hardcore vehicles.
“We’ll put tents on any car,” he said. “If you just pull off the road and pop a tent that makes camping more accessible, easy and fun because you never know where you’re going to go.”
The hottest new trucks on the overlanding scene include the Tacoma and Toyota 4Runner, while the Jeep Wrangler is also extremely popular. Even full-size trucks like the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500 are finding fans among outdoor enthusiasts.
Dan and Renee Baluta became members of the overland community when they purchased a Conqueror 4×4 trailer to carry equipment on trips with their two daughters and two dogs. The San Jose, Calif., couple use a 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 to pull the nearly 4,000-pound trailer at full load.
“This allows us to access the places we want,” Dan Baluta said. The off-road variant of General Motors’ mid-sized pickup truck has 31-inch all-terrain tires, advanced suspension technology and a 2.8-liter diesel engine with 369 pound-feet of torque.
“So many new vehicles will do 90 percent of the trails that we see — especially if they come with an electronic locking differential,” Headlee said. “Being able to offer something that improves upon that ups the ante on what you can do.”
- Working Remotely
More employers allow employees to work from home. Or, in many cases, from the road. Professionals who work out of their overland vehicles are growing in numbers and market influence.
“Technology has really been a blessing in that regard,” Wood said. “I have a friend who built out a Ram truck with a satellite dish and solar panels and he works from the road. I have to admit there have been times I wonder if I could pull that off.”
The advancement of solar power technology is enabling people to take to the trails and still answer emails or submit feedback on a project.
“Batteries are going to get more affordable and more powerful,” Griffith said. “People put panels on the windshield or on the tent when it’s folding up. While they’re driving, it’s charging. Whatever you do, you can do that off a dirt road in your vehicle now.”