American Adventures

10 Years Gone: Overland Expo, Then and Now

Enjoy the ride as we look back at TEN YEARS of Overland Expo! Lodestone Events has entered the game, and 2019 is shaping up to be even bigger than previous years so please stop by and say hi at the American Adventurist booth at site PS1. We’ll have a cold beer ready for you courtesy of Wanderlust Brewing in Flagstaff, bring your cup!

In 2009 at the Yavapai Fairgrounds in Prescott, Arizona, an ambitious group of like minded travelers gathered for something new. Something called Overland Expo.

Before 2009, roof top tents, 4WD vans, off-road campers, Glamping, Overlanding, all of it was virtually unknown in North America. Yes, some of the gear was around, and car camping was hardly a new thing, but Yakima didn’t sell awnings yet, and Walmart wasn’t dabbling in 12 volt fridge/freezers. It was more of a “you need to know a guy” to get a roof top tent or 12 volt fridge back then.

Overland style gear and builds were quite rare in the mid to late 2000’s, and gathering them all in one place was unheard of. Even more exotic were the tales some of these people told, with many miles traveled by 4WD in Africa, Australia and other distant lands.

Legend says that around 900 people attended that first event along with a handful of pioneering companies: Equipt, Adventure Trailers (AT Overland), Land Rover, Baja Designs, ARB, Viking Offroad, Four Wheel Campers, Ursa Minor, KC Hilites, Autohome USA, Sportsmobile, Overland Journal, Aluminess, and Global Expedition Vehicles. These are the Plank Owners of Overlanding in America as we know it.

Organized and led by Jonathan and Roseann Hanson, that first Overland Expo was the catalyst for the Overland mania that is now mainstream. Today, this event draws top automakers, hundreds of outstanding companies, and tens of thousands of eager enthusiasts.  Few dared to imagine back then that it would have grown to be the largest event of it’s kind in the Western Hemisphere, fueling a global, multi-million dollar Overland Industry.

Mark Twain said ““Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” I think if Mark Twain were here today he would be proud of the community that grew up around Overland Expo.

Photo by Chris Collard.

I still remember their second Overland Expo in 2010 at the Amado Territory Ranch in Arizona like it was yesterday. The entire Overland thing was still in it’s infancy and it was there that I met Jerry from Tembo Tusk, before anyone ever heard of a skottle. It was in Amado that I contracted the Snow Peak virus, a mishap that cost me more than a few dollars in “must have” glamping equipment over the next decade.

I shared midnight tequila with the late Al Walter and company in Amado, remembering favorite Baja trips while Al regaled us with his vast knowledge of obscure places and desert history. It was at Overland Expo that I got to hang out with people like Chris Marzonie, the Baja Taco himself. I had a beer with Scott Brady from Expedition Portal, and partied with the likes of Mario Donovan from Adventure Trailers and Paul May from Equipt before they were Overland Rock Stars.

All the coolest people were there, and it was there that I realized I wasn’t that weird, and I found many others just like me, eager to follow the paths less traveled while exploring the most remote places in the world.

Overland Expo was also my first look at many, many exotic 4WD’s and top-shelf vehicle builds. As a career military guy, “vehicle dependent expeditions” were nothing new to me but this new Overland thing was very, very different. I learned that I could eat well in the field, have hot coffee and cold beer, and above all I didn’t have to sleep on the ground unless I chose to. It was even possible to have a hot shower in camp.

So many things that I loved were blending together in one place: travel, 4WD’s, camping, cooking, training, gear, motorcycles, and the stories these activities produced. The Expo was blurring all the lines and I was all in.

More than just a trade show, the Hanson’s brought in concepts like education, hands-on training, environmental responsibility, community service, and film festivals making the event greater than the sum of it’s parts. Above all, I was fascinated by the quality of people that I met at the Expo, and I left that event personally inspired to become better educated and better traveled. This all came at a time in my life when I was suffering from some combat related survivor’s guilt as well as recovering from my own deployment injuries and really needed “something” to focus my own surplus energy on.

Attending that Overland Expo in Amado inspired me to found American Adventurist, and I started organizing my own Desert and Mountain Rendezvous events that same year.

Thank you Jonathan and Roseann for inspiring us.

Fast forward a bit as Overland Expo grew. And grew. The American Adventurist crew attended every year in Mormon Lake and then at Fort Tuthill. When they added Overland Expo East at Taylor Ranch, we expanded too with our first Appalachian Rendezvous in North Carolina. We attended Overland Expo East at the Biltmore and then at the Reeb Ranch. We met thousands of amazing people and became involved in land stewardship and access issues.

I am unaware of any other events that have inspired such a fast growing, diverse, and dedicated following as Overland Expo.

Looking back now on 10 years of events we have nothing but good memories – Underwater Expo, Snowverland Expo and Mudderland Expo included. For those of you who were there well… if you know, you know!

Challenging weather, the tyrannies of time and distance to travel to these events, in our experience it was all worth it to attend these grand family reunions. The one family reunion that you don’t have to dread going to each year. Where else in the world can you learn so much, see so much, and do so much in one weekend?

So what did we learn along the way at Overland Expo? Too much to list really, but here’s a few salient points that may be of help to anyone attending for their first time:

  1. The 7P’s aka Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Always be prepared for the wind, the wet, and the cold. Or blazing heat. Or monsoons and mud. There are no guarantees when it comes to weather, and there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.
  2. Site Selection. Just in case weather happens, select a camp site that provides for good, rapid water runoff and wind-blocking protection if at all possible. Tent and vehicle placement to take advantage of prevailing wind conditions is critical to maintain a stable structure. Arrive early for best results.
  3. Meal Planning. Plan your meals carefully in advance to save time and preparation, you’re going to be on your feet a lot at an Expo and being prepared with easy meal plans pays off.
  4. Be prepared to have FUN. We’ve made so many great friends at Overland Expo, and every year brings a wild bazaar of the latest goods and services sprinkled with happy hours with friends old and new. Bucket list trips and new business partnerships take root here every year.
  5. Bring some walking around money. You don’t know it yet, but there’s something shiny there that you need that you’ve never seen before. Trust us when we say shiny squirrels abound.

Today, the Hanson’s have handed over the keys, and Overland Expo West 2019 marks the first year with Lodestone Events at the helm. We’re confident that it’s in good hands, and we look forward to seeing what they do to take it to the next level. With well over 10,000 like-minded enthusiasts headed to Overland Expo West, it’s guaranteed to be a show for the record books. Again.

So stop by and have a beer with us at Overland Expo West 2019 courtesy of Wanderlust Brewing in Flagstaff. Grab some swag from us, trade some patches, grab a raffle ticket to win a set of Falken Wildpeak tires at 3pm on Saturday, we’d love to hear your story and how this community of interest impacts YOU.

See you out there!

Event photos used with the express permission of Overland Expo and Exploring Overland.
Additional photo credits and thank you to: Chris Collard, Chad de Alva, Richard Soohoo, Chris Griggers, Bryon Dorr, Chazz Layne, David Croyle, Bosque Bill, Adventure Trio, Mike Petrucci and Gary Haynes.

Dave Bennett is the Founder of American Adventurist, a North America focused adventure travel lifestyle Forum and Independent Magazine. Currently based in the Midwest, Dave is a military veteran and an avid outdoorsman with over 30 years of back country experience in the most remote and challenging environments in North America, Asia, Africa, Australia and the Middle East. Engaged in all facets of remote wilderness travel, Dave is an International 4WD Trainers Association Certified Trainer and a Tread Lightly! Master Tread Trainer.

Dave

Adventurist
Founder
Senior Staff
Editor
#2
Since we're celebrating ten years, if you stop by and see us at the show you might be able to get one of these while they last!

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richard310

Adventurist
Moderator
Author
#3
It's amazing to see how this event and the industry itself has grown exponentially over a seemingly short period of time, and even how it is still expanding!

Thank you to the Hanson's for starting this event to bring us all together!
 

Dave

Adventurist
Founder
Senior Staff
Editor
#5
It's been a long strange trip Dave. A dozen years for us, right? What an incredible ride. Thanks for the mosey down memory lane.

Cheers,
It’s been an incredible journey Paul, glad you enjoyed it. Seems like more than a dozen years really, seems a lifetime ago.

Expedition Trophy 2007... Good times :clang
 
#6
My first Expo was the first year in Amado. I got meet Baja Taco builder Chris and stole many ideas from him for my build. To actually see and touch all the cool equipment I had been reading about was like being a child at Toys are Us before Christmas!
 

Chris Griggers

Adventurist
Author
#7
Hard to believe its been a decade of events and dreaming of attending West. This event has come such a long ways. I am looking forward to what the future holds for this event and the overlanding community!
 
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