American Adventures

Overland Expo East 2021

This was a busy year. Overland Expo East was to be our third Overland Expo event within the space of a few weeks, and it seemed like I had just returned from Colorado when it was time to go again. Overlanding is different east of the Mississippi, and I was keen on seeing how the East Coast version of Expo was doing. As usual, I left Northwest Florida a couple days early for a bit of overlanding and a much needed break from work before show time.

The drive north through Alabama was mostly uneventful save for a few absentminded drivers as I headed straight into torrential rains and buffeting winds. Crossing into Georgia at dusk, I headed through Atlanta in the general direction of the event site in Virginia.

Rather than book a hotel along my route, I opted for some spontaneity by using the iOverlander app which helped me find a quiet, dispersed campsite just across the border in South Carolina. We have no affiliation with iOverlander, but I’m a big fan and have been using this app for a couple of years now as I’ve crisscrossed the lower 48. I really enjoy adding locations to their crowd sourced map, and finding or updating featured ones as I travel. It’s a great way to save some money on lodging if you’re traveling long distances like I do.

Fully rested and with hot coffee onboard, I broke camp just after daylight and rolled back out towards the hardball. Drifting north through the Carolinas in daylight and better weather with my favorite road trip playlist blasting, all was right in the world. With just one last layover at an undisclosed location in northern Virginia, I skipped lunch and pressed on towards friendly territory.

The kitchen was warm and inviting when this weary traveler arrived, and I enjoyed dinner, supper, breakfast, and second breakfast during my stay. It was here at this bastion of hospitality and gastronomical wonders that Tim Bleau joined our merry band of Adventurists for the event.

Mercifully, Tim chose to travel light with only four steamer trunks and a sea bag, and we added his gear to the Jeep in the morning along with a big batch of his famous clam chowdah that would sustain us in camp at Overland Expo East.

Big thanks to Tim and Diane Bleau for their outstanding hospitality at what I jokingly refer to as the Last Homely House in Occupied Northern Virginia (Tolkein references here for the unread).

Underway once again, after a few more hours on the road in Virginia and a stop at Yoder’s country market for last minute provisioning, we arrived at the event site and were quickly checked in. The onboarding process was much improved from what I saw at Overland Expo Mountain West out in Colorado a few weeks back and we were thankful for the soft landing here. At the booth, our IT maestro Greg Henle was already set up in his Shiftpod. Before long, the rest of our crew started drifting in and we we had Old Glory flying high in short order.

The weather forecast was typical for this region in the fall – anything was possible. Being veterans of many previous Eastern events like Mudderland Expo East, and with big rain in the forecast, we were ready for anything. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.

We even went so far as to invite a special guest to help us with inclement weather preparedness this year – BIG thanks to Andy Nichols and Force Protector Gear for helping us provide ample shelter at our booth for our staff and the Overland Expo attendees.

Speaking of Force Protector Gear, check out the Adapter Shade Panel on the rear hatch and the rest of the awesomeness that is the Goose Gear 60 Series Land Cruiser build. I’ve seen some dialed in 60’s over the years, and the attention to detail and overall wow factor here is second to none. This was the first in a series of jaw dropping vehicle builds to catch my eye at Expo East.

The Venue, and future growth

It’s been said that the first rule of business is location. Through the years, I’ve watched Overland Expo move around to a few different venues as it grew. Any way you slice it, site selection for large scale outdoor events always comes down to compromises, especially for an outdoor focused event as diverse as this. And while it may not be perfect, my prediction is that Overland Expo East is unlikely to outgrow Infinity Downs in Arrington, Virginia.

The same can’t be said for Fort Tuthill in Flagstaff, Arizona though. It’s quite clear after the 2021 feedback that the event needs a larger location with better infrastructure (cough… near bigger markets in SoCal… cough) but that’s a tale for another time around a campfire. As you can see below in this aerial photo, Infinity Downs has the potential to be the largest of the Overland Expos…

On with the Show!

Bottom line up front: Overland Expo East 2021 was a massive success from where we stood. The weather was very palatable, and people came from all over to see what was new after the long hiatus. Read on to learn more!

Photo: John Allen

Vendor Areas

The vendor areas at East were thriving, and of the two shows I made it to in person this year, Saturday at East “felt” the busiest to me. It was absolutely gonzo, with many vendors selling out that day. Those who had things to sell on site versus those who could only talk of “containers stuck at the ports” were the big winners here. There’s still something to be said for making things here in the USA, and the supply chain woes of 2021 may have cemented that once and for all in those minds who may have thought it was smart to outsource everything.

Is #Vanlife the future of Overlanding?

Some say yes. And if you look across what was on display here at East, at Mountain West, and Overland Expo West in Arizona, the van scene is coming into it’s own right as a major player in the overland industry. Many people are recognizing the fact (some of us begrudgingly) that you can see about 80% of our preferred outdoor destinations in a “soft roader” like an AWD van. And, you can do it extremely comfortably and with decent fuel efficiency. Here’s a sampling of what we saw at East.

Storyteller Overland

Clearly top shelf and targeted squarely at the affluent consumer market. If you’re ready to retire and travel, or just ready to sell your house and work from the road full time, be sure to check out what Storyteller has to offer. We’re impressed.

Backwoods Adventure Mods

If you’re outfitting a van and need some expertise, check these guys out for some different approaches to things and serious vanlife know-how. They’re out on the road living the life and can help you get there too.

Storage Options

We’re starting to see an increase in the number of rugged storage options available in this segment, and companies like Step 22 Gear stand out as real innovators in the overland genre. I’ll do a deep dive on their brand and some new offerings in an upcoming article.

Speaking of storage options, Zarges USA was there and we were able to get our hands on some of the very first Goose Gear top plates for their K470 series boxes. Top plates are a real force multiplier as you now have a single item that does many things around camp while being literally indestructible – step stool, ottoman, or even use it as a small workbench or table next to your camp chair. These Zarges cases are literally bomb proof, bear resistant, and will outlive you.

Terrapod Adventure Systems

New on the scene after a lengthy R&D and iterative testing regimen, Terrapod was on deck with full production versions to check out. Made right here in the USA, these things are full of innovative features and incredibly well thought out. We’ll be documenting their lineup in a full article here #soon.

Big Brands at East

Major players were well represented with Ford, Dometic, GMC, Volkswagen, ARB, Falken, Thule, Redarc, and BF Goodrich on the field just to name a few.

Cool Stuff Sighted at Expo East

Photo by John Allen

Training and Education

At a glance, Overland Expo may look like one big trade show. While this is a part of the story here, there are many layers that make these events what they are. Across this event series I’ve noted an uptick in the interest and attendance for their classes and skills areas. Anyone with decent credit can go out today and buy the latest vehicle and enough overland bling to quickly exceed Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. That’s the easy part.

What isn’t always easy or convenient to attain is the right knowledge, skills, and attitude to safely and responsibly utilize all the vehicle features and other equipment that people add on. Overland Expo makes it easy by providing literally all these topics in one space. We highly recommend that you spend some time and money on the most important tool you own – the one between your ears!

“Although it may not look like it while standing in the middle of the vendor area, the foundation of the Overland Expo event series has always been education. From the very beginning there was an intentional effort, first by the Hanson’s and now by Lodestone, to bring together a cadre of experienced and passionate travelers to share their experiences and expertise with the next generation of travel enthusiasts. There are excellent hands-on experiential based sessions in the Camel Trophy skills area, a plethora of lecture style sessions in the classroom, some video based opportunities in the theater, and now a series of entry level classes in the new Overland Essentials Area.”

Dean Shirley, East Coast Overland Adventures

“The sessions I facilitated this year were focused on covering the basics. Everything from a “What is Overlanding?” class to entry level topics like “Navigation 101” and “Communication 101.” These classes were well attended, often overflowing the tent and necessitating additional chairs bring brought in at the start of more popular sessions. Students listened with wide eyes and fast moving pens as they soaked in what they could in the brief time we shared together. It was my hope that by facilitating these classes and having an area dedicated to the “essentials” that I could model a practical approach to overland travel that stands in contrast to the gear-centric and heavily modified vehicles perpetuated by influencers. I encourage them to find a vehicle and kit that works for them.”

Dean Shirley, East Coast Overland Adventures

Driving and Riding Skills Areas

A major draw at any of the Expo events, this year the weather was fairly cooperative which made for some great times out in these hands-on skills areas. I took the time to hike all over the courses with my camera and came away impressed. And I really like how spectators could grab a beverage at the Oasis and observe the obstacle course from on top of the hill. This is a great event locale with unlimited future potential for BIG driver and rider skills tracks!

Photo: John Allen

Ford Bronco Ride and Drive

Ford was out in force with many new Broncos and Bronco Sports on deck for Expo attendees to try out. Let there be no doubt, Ford did their homework and the end result here with the new Bronco is a platform worthy of the badge. We’re excited to see this segment heat up with Ford, Chevy, Jeep, and GMC all in the arena. We’re still wondering if Toyota even notices their market share is in danger.

Ford had some other eye candy on scene like this very nice Expedition build

Fun People

There’s a TON of people that make these events what they are. Between the staff, the volunteers, and the vendors, everyone seemed to be having a good time, especially once the weather started turning in our favor – no rain for once! WOOT!

Big Rigs and Feature Vehicles

Big rigs and feature vehicles are always a big draw, and Expo East 2021 did not disappoint.

This 200 Series Land Cruiser build by Richard Sines was featured in the Goose Gear booth and caught our eye with it’s excellent layout and attention to details.

Attendee Camping Areas

One area that we make it a priority to cover at every Expo is the attendee camping area. In our opinion, this is a great opportunity to see how people are living out on the road, as many here are on longer trips and “pop in” for the show on their way across the country. You’ll usually see some rare makes and models out here, and meet some of the best people along the way. We avoid hotels when traveling if at all possible, and we highly recommend camping on site here instead for a more grassroots experience.

Photo by John Allen

In conclusion

We had a great time, and it’s always cool when you see SO MANY like minded people in one location like this. In any organization, it’s always about the people and we’re blessed to have been a part of this great endeavor for so many years now. Thanks for reading, and if you’re interested in learning more about all of this sort of stuff and more, head on over to our Forum and join the discussion!

BIG thanks to my my crew for coming out and helping support our effort with boots on ground in Virginia: Tim Bleau, Greg Henle, Ryan Schmidt, Andy Grace, and Andy Nichols. Oh, and Jax too. You guys rock.

Dave Bennett is the Founder of American Adventurist, a North America focused adventure travel lifestyle Forum and Independent Magazine. Currently bas...
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