For the past couple of years, we’ve been restricted in our day-to-day activities. With life slowly returning back to normal and our regularly scheduled programming coming back online, we collectively decided that it’s time to get our 10th Annual Mountain Rendezvous penciled in and official at our go-to MRV location: Camp Tahquitz in Angelus Oaks, CA.
With the weather just passing through earlier in the week, all our Adventurists were greeted with the best weather we’ve had in quite some time. Temperatures all weekend were around the 60’s during the day, and a cool 30-40’s once the sun set with clear skies throughout the weekend. It was classic San Bernardino Mountain Fall weather and it couldn’t have come at a better time, including the changing colors of the trees making it such a picturesque environment.
This weekend was to be filled with events, from recovery and preparation classes, to scavenger hunt and trunk-or-treating for the kids, and the always popular Camp Cook-off Competition. Otherwise, you are always free to do whatever you’d like all weekend. There is always something for everyone!
The first two days are always the lighter days as most folks roll in before the weekend goes into full swing. Lot’s of socializing and lounging were definitely had, meeting new neighbors and making new friends. We are always about making everyone feel as welcome as can be as all our events are family-friendly!
Evenings are always the best time for socializing around campfires, but seeing how we were in a very high fire restriction status, only propane fires were allowed. Luckily a lot of folks had planned ahead and brought their own Campfire-In-A-Can. Clear skies and all sorts of colors scattered throughout Camp Tahquitz made for some fun colorful photos.
With everyone finally settled in, we were able to get the weekend into full swing. While some started waking up and making breakfast, there were some who were beginning to prepare for the Camp Cook-off Competition. During mid-morning, some trail runs were organized, classes were held, and the relaxed social environment continued until the evening when the big cooking competition would take place.
We’ve always encouraged everyone to participate as this is not only a camp cooking competition, but also promotes contribution and individual effort which brings everyone together. There are always a variety of entries for the competition, and we’ve also even opened up the cooking from dutch-oven-only to now any media you decide to cook with. Of course, with fire restrictions in place, we all were somewhat limited to propane, but the amount of food and vast variety of continues to surprise us all every single year!
We are genuinely thankful to everyone who contributed to the evening event, and I’m sure all of us who had a delicious bite(s) of your cooking are thankful as well! We even had seconds and thirds! Amazing!
Of course, with the cook off being a competition, we had quite the variety of foods to vote on, and the people ate and voted, deliciously!!
Congratulations to the winners of the Camp Cook-Off Competition!! We hope to see all you competitors and future competitors at next year’s Desert Rendezvous!
The last day of the Mountain Rendezvous is always fun as we anticipate the raffle along with the finale group photo!
And of course, here are the raffle winners!
Gratuitous thank you’s to the many sponsors who donated to this gathering, and most importantly THANK YOU to everyone who attended and supported American Adventurist over the last ten years! On behalf of the entire staff of American Adventurist, we hope to see you all at our Desert Rendezvous in February 2022 in Arizona!
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
The guys from Rig.Talk made the long trip out from California for this event and brought their new line of wheels from Ryder Offroad.
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 Surplusare 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
The average Overland style trip requires considerable planning and organization due to the tyrannies of time and distance involved. Too much or too little gear and provisions can negatively impact the success of any trip, and your load plan will be tested by rough terrain, inclement weather, and critters. And with our limited time off from work being so valuable, what’s the absolute best way to stay organized, avoid loss, and prevent the trip of a lifetime from being derailed?
We believe that hard cases provide a superior level of organization and accountability. Weather resistant and capable of being stacked and tied down, they ensure peace of mind when exposure to the elements is a risk factor and are a top choice for storage of gear and provisions inside or outside of any vehicle. Useful for long term storage with easy portability to and from camp or job site makes all-metal cases like the AluBox line an easy choice .
Recently we had the chance to put our trail tested and trusted Danish made AluBoxes up against their German rivals from Zarges.
Our subjects for this review are the AluBox 42 L and 60 L, and the Zarges K-470 series 40568 and 40678 boxes. These cases are nearly identical, yet inherently unique. Here’s what we learned researching them online and using them in the field when comparing both brands side by side in our “Battle of the Boxes”.
Yes, there’s a story somewhere about something between the Danish box and the German box companies but we won’t bore anyone with rumors or hearsay about industry politics. They’re both incredible products with some subtle features that differentiate them, so read on to learn more.
In this corner…
AluBox is a small, family-owned company based in Denmark and marketed in the U.S. by Equipt Expedition Outfitters. AluBox specializes in aluminum boxes, cases, and containers, and offers a wide-range of standard box sizes to customers around the world for use in defense, industrial, emergency services, transportation, and recreational use. AluBoxes are made of 1 mm thick 5754 (AlMg3) aluminum alloy. This aluminum is a mid-strength material, non-hardening alloy that offers excellent corrosion resistance against seawater and industrial polluted atmospheres. It is widely used in the food and chemical industries, vehicle construction, ship building, architecture, and interior design with 17 total sizes available that range from a modest 20 L to a massive 415 L option.
And in this corner…
Zarges was established by Walther Zarges in Stuttgart, Germany in 1933. Distributed in the United States by Charlotte, North Carolina based Zarges USA, their Tech Center offers in-stock cases, customization and rapid, custom cushion fabrication. The ZARGES K470 universal case is their classic design, constructed of 1.5 mm thick 5005 aluminum alloy which has a high corrosion resistance. These sturdy cases have been tested to withstand temperatures from -238 to 302 degrees Fahrenheit, with 25 sizes available and capacities ranging from small 13 L boxes to 829 L behemoths.
Zarges boasts three K470s that are listed as “bear resistant”; #40810, #40568, and #40678. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) certification means that certain National Parks, including Yellowstone National Park, will allow campers to bring their food supplies into the park when stored in approved K470 cases.
AN INTERESTING DISCOVERY:
The AluBox 60 L and the Zarges K-470 #40678 are both advertised as weighing in at 5kg/11 lbs on their websites. Despite the differences in advertised material wall thickness (1mm vs 1.5mm), in my opinion the heft and construction appears identical with each box weighing in at 11 lbs.
NOTE: Both AluBox and Zarges have received Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) certification, but tested or not we still wouldn’t leave any of these boxes all alone in bear country while we’re away from camp. We do recommend that you store your camp food in your (insert brand loyalty here) box and hang the entire box from a tree or a bear pole. Please remember to follow the proper guidelines at all campgrounds and campsites in bear country as they may differ from by region and state. Here’s more info about camping in bear country.
DETAILS AND DIFFERENCES:
Zarges corners versus AluBox corners. The differences are subtle. The four AluBox rivet heads are exposed, Zarges are counter-sunk. Some say the Zarges corners stack better. Both are robust, both stack well, and the two brands can be intermixed for storage and stacking if you happen to own both.
Handles. Virtually identical. Both super strong with the same number of attachment rivets in the same locations. Both use springs to stay in the down position. Zarges handle is slightly longer.
Locking Latches. Virtually identical in form and function. Style points to Zarges for their branding.
Hinges. Both brands feature sturdy piano hinges.
Zarges Dividers and Accessories. They have a good selection of internal accessories for organization.
Weather Seals. Zarges places the seal in the lid, eliminating any risk of damaging the seal during heavy use. This seal may be hard to replace if damaged though because it’s a foam material that’s applied with adhesive. That said, AluBox uses a rubber seal on the box which is inserted into a channel and easily replaced if needed. I’ve yet to have an issue with that.
Trekpak. I used this for organizing the interior of my AluBox kitchen box. They were bought out by Pelican awhile back, this stuff works GREAT if you can find it in stock, and if you can stomach the ridiculous price. You’ll have to cobble it together piece by piece to fit your project but once assembled it is a stellar option that looks good too.
Let’s get some pros and cons for BOTH brands settled.
Drop dead gorgeous. Your family and friends will be jealous. Guaranteed.
Completely weather proof. No water (or dust) intrusion is happening.
Timmy the Trash Panda will need to seek his entertainment elsewhere. 100% critter and bug proof.
Latches on both brands can accept small locks to keep honest people honest.
Very light weight given their size and capacity.
Durable. Will not warp or crack in the sun.
Cases can withstand EXTREME temperatures.
Will not rust.
Will not shatter upon impact if dropped like some plastic cases.
Square shapes with vertical walls enable maximum use of available square inches.
AluBox rubber seals appear to be easily replaceable if damaged.
BOTH brands have received the coveted Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) certification which means that certain National Parks, including Yellowstone National Park, will allow campers to bring their food supplies into the park when stored in IGBC approved cases.
Sticker shock! The AluBox 42 L and 60 L (MSRP $290 and $295), and the Zarges K-470 series 40568 and 40678 boxes (MSRP $293 and $299) are a serious investment.
They may scratch easily in the field. Patina happens so embrace it.
Dents are possible. It hasn’t happened to me, but it’s a concern.
Metal gets hot. If you stack these boxes outside in the sun, wear some gloves.
Top plates (see Goose Gear) are an option hard requirement for overland use, and an added cost to consider if you want to use one as a step stool or table. Available for AluBox.
Top plates (see above) not available for Zarges at the time of this article. I do hear that Goose Gear may produce some soon.
Zarges foam seals on lid are well protected, but appear to be affixed with adhesive and may be hard to replace if damaged.
If you leave food in one of these and forget about it, you’ll enjoy an excellent science experiment and green cloud when you discover your mistake.
Ursus Maritimus can likely open all of these cases. Because Polar bears do what whatever they want.
So, which one is better? Like Jeep versus Toyota, which one is better really depends on who you ask. Each brand has it’s finer points and legions of fan boys who will argue them online. I will say that I am extremely impressed by the quality and customer service associated with both companies and can recommend both brands here with supreme confidence. Yes, they are expensive options as far a storage is concerned, but I always say buy once, cry once because you really do get what you pay for.
These timeless designs will be the last box you will ever need to buy.
Sadly, there are knock off boxes out there from companies like Swiss Link – so just say no to cheap Chinesium copies and buy the real deal from a reputable company like Equipt Expedition Outfitters or Zarges USA. They’re both pinnacle products that will be around a generation from now when your descendants find them in the attic or garage while marveling at your camping gear from a bygone era.
FULL DISCLOSURE: The AluBox products, Goose Gear top plates, and Trekpak featured here were purchased privately by the author for his personal use. The Zarges products featured here were provided at no cost to the author by Zarges for the purpose of this gear review.