Overland Expo Mountain West almost didn’t happen. For most of us, the last year+ was like a dystopian B movie on many levels, complete with terrible casting and an even worse plot line. Because of all that, there was an uncomfortable feeling right up until the day I drove away from Florida for Colorado that this event would somehow get derailed too. I know the event organizers likely aged a few years with worry and lost sleep over the what if’s that were spawned in our minds as a result of 2020.
Spoiler Alert: The pandemic and shutdowns of 2020 conspired to put Overland Expo out of business, but Lodestone and this community are RALLYING in 2021. My hat is off to all those at Lodestone from the very top all the way down to the volunteers on the ground that made this happen in Colorado. This event was a huge success!
Colorado or Bust
We’ve covered almost every Overland Expo event to date ( see here and here and here and here ) so being able to physically attend this inaugural event in Colorado was a big deal for us, especially after being Virtual in 2020. With all systems go on my end, and a last minute confirmation from my contacts inside the puzzle palace at Lodestone, I headed west. Now the fun began, with three back-to-back 10 hour days across six states and nearly 1,500 miles “overland” to get to this event and cover it. A three hour nap in a “picnic area” off I-20 in August heat in East Texas reinforced my need for a fan in my Quick Pitch roof top tent, and a full night’s sleep and hot shower in camp in New Mexico made all the difference when I finally rolled into “The Ranch” on Thursday for work.
Linking up on site with fellow Adventurist and Founding Member Tim Bleau, check in was made easy by the Expo staff and we quickly established our forward operating base for the long weekend at Overland Expo Mountain West in Colorado. Reinforcements soon arrived when John Tate and Adam Wright joined us on site as well. With tens of thousands of attendees on the way, and hundreds of vendors, this was an extremely busy weekend and I could not have done it without the boots on ground presence of these fine Americans. Hand salute!
Once we were set up, we watched the fields and surrounding facilities at The Ranch Events Center in Loveland fill up as more and more vendors and companies rolled in by the hour. Like usual, we saw representation from around the globe. Having attended Overland Expo since it was a modest once a year gathering down in Amado, Arizona, it’s truly mind boggling to see how this once “niche” overland community of ours has grown and become truly global. Overlanding is clearly MAINSTREAM now with companies like Winnebago, Thule, Yakima and even GMC jumping onboard today.
I spent the next three days walking the expansive grounds here, talking to people and vendors, and sniffing out innovation and things I thought would be of interest to you and the overland and outdoor segment at large. Our on the ground “live” coverage from the event included 55 InstaGram and Facebook posts and four “live” sessions on InstaGram. It took me a few days just to wrap my head around the hundreds of photos I walked away with and the sheer magnitude of what was gathered there in one place.
It wouldn’t be an Overland Expo without extreme weather. Thursday night was a real treat as the Ghosts of Expo’s Past roared through the Ranch bringing dust storms and 65 mph wind gusts. This was a great opportunity for one of my favorite Expo pastimes, E-Z Up Kite Watching. Several of them took flight that evening and once their parachutes were expended, they quickly lost altitude like angry metal spiders, thrashing other booths. Thankfully, the remainder of the weekend was beautiful with no more angry wind gusts. Pro tip: stake down your booth before you go to the hotel!
Below, you’ll see that the 4WD, Overland, and Outdoor industry did not take a vacation during 2020, they were burning the midnight oil in garages and shops and factories across the globe to create new things to show off at Overland Expo Mountain West in 2021!
Camping at Overland Expo Mountain West
Before we cover all the mercantile stuff, let’s take a walk through what I call “Gen Pop” camping, or general population. People travel from all across North America to attend this show, and rather than stay in hotels, they’re using their gear and actually living the overland lifestyle on site. We’ve always done the same at our booth, and camping here is a great way to meet some interesting people. This is where you’ll find some of the best ideas and examples of what really works when people are living “out there” on unsupported trips in the backcountry. Many of these people are full time overlanders, so I like to make it a point to lurk here, looking for unique solutions and rare vehicles among the campsites and other parking areas. Here’s a few of the best of those, and some other cool rigs and “Feature Vehicles” that caught my eye.
Toyota TownAce 4WD
Onward to the Main Event!
Walking around the event on the business side of town was a lot of fun too. Like SEMA, companies come out in force at Overland Expo and it’s cool to see OEM vehicle manufacturers like GMC bringing their latest and greatest offerings out to be seen in public.
Guaranteed Mountain Climbers
GMC’s new Hummer EV drew lots of attention and features new tech like the “crabwalk” feature that lets it drive diagonally (the rear wheels turn 10 degrees), underbody cameras, and “extract mode” which raises the vehicle six inches through it’s active air suspension system.
We wanted to crabwalk all over it ourselves but they were quick to let us know this one was an early “hand build” and as such, we couldn’t touch it or get any closer up than what you see here even with media credentials. As a gearhead I love my combustion engines, but I have to admit that as this EV technology matures, vehicles like this will change the overland game forever. Just give me a 500 mile range and a money tree and I’m all in.
GMC also debuted the new Canyon AT4 OvrlandX concept at Overland Expo Mountain West. This is a serious entry featuring factory front and rear lockers, OEM winch, and 10 inches of ground clearance. I wonder when Toyota will wake up and notice they’re no longer leading this lucrative segment?
Hill People Gear
Not everything at Overland Expo is about trucks. Some of our best adventures happen out on foot, far away from the comforts of camp and the safety of our vehicles. Many top shelf outdoor gear manufacturers attend these events, and we took advantage of the opportunity to get some good deals on some important kit. The need for sturdy clothing and gear in the backcountry cannot be overstated.
When your life depends on it, when you need the absolute best, choose American made, choose Hill People Gear!
We have one of their mounts in our Jeep that’s several years old now and still going strong. Simply the best way to secure devices in a vehicle, and 67 Designs is made in USA.
The Australian powerhouse known as ARB is still developing new products, and they had their loaner Bronco test mule on display with new bumpers, Old Man Emu suspension, ARB Solis lighting and some other bits. Competition is good for everyone and we’re excited to see what what Ford does with this new 4WD platform.
AluCab‘s newest RTT offering is impressive, and very well thought out right down to the box. But, I have no clue how they get that tent into, or out of, this box!
Redtail Overland has a killer build and more importantly, an airy, carbon fiber hard sided rooftop tent that made me stop and stare for a few minutes. So many features, so many high level options, so much innovation.
This segment at the show continues to grow every year, and the big splash this year was Harley-Davidson and their all-new Pan America. I’ll be the first to tell you that Harley is not playing games here, they went all-in on this bike from thr ground up and mere photos do not do this bike justice. The buzz was truly warranted and my overall impression is that Harley nailed it with this long awaited entry into the ADV space, it will only get better once the aftermarket swoops in to fill any small gaps.
There were tons of other ADV bikes out and about with strong showings from both BMW and Yamaha, with the riding courses and clinics remaining ever popular at Overland Expo.
Dometic went all in this year, and showed up with a slew of new products that they’ve been developing. Aside from their strong presence in the 12v fridge/electric cooler segment, Dometic is launching an entirely new line of lifestyle enhancing products ranging from camp furniture to storage, traditional coolers, scene lighting, and on-demand drinking water delivery.
They even have heated seating pads for those chilly nights in camp when the backside is 180 degrees from the campfire. And no, their camp furniture is not white labeled Snow Peak, it’s all from Dometic, and it’s all legit. They remain in our top 10 companies to watch, and we looking forward to what they do in the overland market in 2022.
Another great company that sets the bar very high when it comes to quality and innovation is Leitner Designs. Their entire ecosystem is not only beautiful to look at, it’s extremely well thought out and over-engineered. Their new Shower Pod caught my eye along with the rest of their burly rack accessories. The only limit with their system is your imagination!
Overland Expo continues to be a mecca for the latest and greatest innovations in recovery gear and techniques. We spent some time talking to companies we trust like Warn, Factor 55 and our friends at Deadman Offroad. We’ve also seen some snake oil salesmen show up in recent years peddling some questionable widgets to newbies so this is one area we recommend a good deal of research, and some hands on training from a reputable source like the I4WDTA, before spending your hard earned cash on the latest shiny bauble.
Step 22 Gear
Speaking of innovation, meet Adam Wood, the brains behind Step 22 Gear. This guy takes attention to detail to a whole new level through his design cues, unique features, and uncompromising choice of materials. If you need to maximize limited storage space on the road, and avoid yard sales in camp when you need something quick, check out Step 22 Gear and change the game.
Step 22 Gear’s Pangolin Tool Roll is simply without equal in this genre.
Step 22 Gear Tortoise gathers everything you need in a very small footprint.
Equipt Expedition Outfitters
It simply would not be an Overland Expo if “OG” Paul May and Equipt Expedition Outfitters didn’t show up. Back again this year with more of the very best gear from around the globe, a visit to this booth is like a pilgrimage each year for those of us who have been around since this event began. Sadly, there were no parties this year due to the venue’s concession rules but it was still great to see Equipt there doing their thing in Colorado.
MAXTRAX – Accept no substitute!
I had not seen this top for the Jeep Wrangler before, and I liked how you could step up and stand inside the rear cargo area for ingress and egress to the sleeping area as well as changing clothes. Great idea and I can’t wait to see what Hatchet Overland does next with this minimalist concept.
This is another segment that continues to grow rapidly, and it was nice to get to see so many van companies there taking the #vanlife to the next level. We see a van in our not too distant future, and we spent quite a bit of time looking at Field Van as well as for upgrades. With the amount of coast-to-coast overland travel I’ve done these last few years, I can hardly imagine the comfort and ease of travel in one of these. I think this option is the bees knees so long as you stray no further than BLM or USFS fire roads etc. You could probably reach 85% of the spots we love in a van
Wouldn’t it be cool if you could bring a boat or kayak with you on every trip, without the hit on MPG and aerodynamics? We were intrigued by Kokopelli Packraft and on closer inspection it was quickly evident that these things are not your kid’s pool toy. The materials remind us of the tough Zodiac boats we used in the military, and their ease of transport and deployment is a game changer when that perfect campsite (and priceless solitude) require some paddling to get to.
Off The Grid Surplus
Companies like Off The Grid Surplus are ensuring that we have better options for outdoor clothing beyond what’s available in a boring big box store. Because believe it or not, you don’t have to dress like a zookeeper or safari movie extra to get out and enjoy overlanding. We actually checked on Linked In and there’s no need for more lion tamers out there. Not even one.
RAM was there in a big way with a killer Rebel on display and an obstacle course where you could drive a new Power Wagon. The new split tailgate system and outfitting they did with Dometic on this new Rebel was way over the top. A serious fisherman’s camp on wheels!
Yes, that tailgate folds down too!
The inaugural Overland Expo Mountain West was a smashing success, drawing 17,000+ attendees from all over the world, with 270 registered exhibitors, 87 presenters/instructors, and industry VIP’s.
Additionally, this event had TONS to do in the form of 300+ classes, seminars, demos, activities, slideshows, and films; totaling 365+ session hours of instruction. With so much going on all at once, it was simply impossible for me to cover it all with one camera. The place was literally covered in shiny stuff, squirrels, and Patagucci.
I could go on forever here…
…But I won’t. I have a deadline to make and we’re going to see most of you at Overland Expo West or Overland Expo East in 2021 anyway. I’ll dump more photos over HERE on our Forum where you can head over there to see everything else I forgot to talk about or poke fun at in this article. Until next time!
FULL DISCLOSURE: This is not a sponsored article. None of the companies mentioned here paid for reviews or event coverage by American Adventurist. #IndependentMedia