Overland Expo 2017

Overland Expo 2017

By Spencer Whitney



Flagstaff, Arizona sits at almost 7,000 feet and only a short distance from the Grand Canyon. Historically important as a cross-country stop on Route 66, today Flagstaff is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts of every description. High enough for skiing and in close proximity to some of the most spectacular scenery in the country; it’s no wonder why almost 70,000 people call it home. Each year in May, that population grows as overlanders and off-road enthusiasts from around the world converge on Overland Expo West at Fort Tuthill County Park. (An east-coast event takes place in the fall in North Carolina.)

Founded as a gathering of like-minded off-road enthusiasts, Expo has grown into a massive celebration of overlanding, and attracts an ever-growing number of exhibitors anxious to show off their latest equipment. While the initial impression may be that gear and toys take centre stage, there is still a fantastic social and educational aspect to the event. Over 170 courses and presentations are held throughout the weekend on topics such as wilderness first aid, vehicle recovery, adventure travel photography, driving skills and trip destinations. Each evening, you’ll find ‘happy hours’ at sponsors’ booths and there’s even a weekend-long Overland Film Festival.

Attendee’s vehicles are an exhibition in themselves. Hundreds of 4x4s and motorcycles of every type can be found among the trees at Fort Tuthill. Most common were Toyota and Jeep products, with many of them towing off-road-specific trailers. At least a dozen exhibitors were there to show off new trailer products, including suppliers from as far afield as Australia and South Africa. This growing segment is getting more interesting every year, as manufacturers try to one-up each other in the features department. Before each Expo, finalists are chosen from among attendees for the “Cool Ride” contest, with the winner decided by popular vote on the last day of the event. This year it was a unique 1972 Pinzgauer 710M from Washington, kitted out for search-and-rescue operations.



Deadman-1Deadman Earth Anchor –  deadmanoffroad.com

This innovative new Kickstarter-backed recovery product was one of the hottest new products at Overland Expo. In some climates the lack of trees means a ground anchor is essential. By digging a hole in the ground and burying the Deadman “bag” you can achieve over 7,000lb of winching support from dirt alone. Unique straps with precisely positioned loops distribute the load evenly, and when you’re unstuck, simply pull on just one of the straps with your winch to retrieve the bag. Overlanders who frequent sandy and barren expanses without trees in sight may find this indispensable, but the system is also equally useful when wrapped around a large rock or a tree in place of normal tree saver straps. In addition to their nearly 20,000-lb breaking strength, the straps are also inherently redundant when used in any configuration.


P3 Solar Flexible Panels – p3solar.com

The most common solar solutions out there consist of rigid glass or polycarbonate panels with aluminum frames. They’re durable and weatherproof but take up roof clearance, can weigh down your rig and are at risk of damage when travelling through dense forest. P3 specializes in soft, rollable, military-grade solar panels that can be hung from trees or your rig. You won’t have to worry about permanently mounting anything to your vehicle, and they can be safely kept in storage during the off-season. Kits include charge controllers to allow direct connection to a vehicle battery out of the box, and are available in 21w, 90w and 200w versions with an optional collapsible frame for the largest model.


foldaflame3Fold-a-Flame Grill & Firepit – foldaflame.com

Many of the best camping spots out there aren’t actually campsites, so it’s essential to bring everything you’ll need to spend the night with little impact to the environment. This innovative new portable charcoal camp grill and firepit uses no screws or fasteners and packs down to less than one inch thick for easy storage in your rig. Made in the U.S. of heavy-gauge laser-cut steel, it’s also priced reasonably – if you don’t mind the weight. Fortunately, it comes in a smaller, lighter size and has several grill options. The large model is designed to accommodate standard 22-in. firewood and presto logs.


Cummins Repower R2.8L crate motor – cumminsengines.com

For decades, 4×4 owners have fantasized about swapping a compact diesel power plant in to their gas-guzzling rigs. Before today, the only options were costly Japanese conversions or several less than ideal offerings. Enter the brand-new Cummins 2.8L four-cylinder crate motor, now available in North America and derived from a long-running (and proven) international model. Shipped complete with everything you need (engine accessories, electronics, throttle, harness and more) this 161-horsepower turbocharged common-rail solution has the light, compact profile needed for swapping in place of an old, tired motor in everything from Jeeps to Land Cruisers. You’ll also get capable off-road performance with 267 lb-ft of torque across a wide power band.



earthroamer3Earthroamer XV-LTS – earthroamer.com

No, that’s not a typo. This world-ready overland expedition rig really is almost CA$600,000. Based on a Ford F-550 Lariat 4×4 chassis with 6.7L PowerStroke diesel V8 – and upgraded with several off-road features – every piece of this land-yacht is custom made, from the one-piece shell to the granite countertops to the electric winch system that lowers the 41-in. bead-locked spare tire to the ground. Earthroamer ensures that every goodie is installed from the factory: individual air levelling at each wheel; 1,200 watts of solar power; heating and air conditioning; 5.1 surround sound; a complete outdoor kitchen with powered awning, and more. These vehicles are built in Colorado by hand with extreme care using techniques normally seen on the production lines of yachts and aircraft. The XV-LTS is capable of enduring independent travel for up to two weeks, so you’ll really be able to reach the ends of the earth – and by any path you choose.


1998 Camel Trophy Land Rover Discovery

Perhaps the inspiration for modern overlanding, sponsored treks like the Camel Trophy involved somewhat attainable vehicles traversing seemingly impossible routes in exotic locations around the world. This particular Discovery is an original competitor and belongs to off-road instructor and expedition leader Ken Cameron, who drove it in the Camel Trophy in the late 1990s. Fitted with the 300Tdi motor and 5-speed manual transmission combination that was never seen in North America – and sporting only 27,000 km on the clock – it could be the most interesting Discovery in this part of the world. Land Rover heavily modified the competitor vehicles with roll cages, high-intensity lighting, underbody production, winches, extra fuel tanks, communications equipment and the ability to ford very deep water through the use of engine snorkels and drivetrain breathers. Once called the “Olympics of 4×4,” the annual Camel Trophy event ceased in 2000 after 20 years, leaving many fans to wonder if something would eventually come along to replace it.


FJ Company Restorations

Iconic in so many ways, the original FJ-series Land Cruisers are getting more difficult to find and even more scarce when seeking one in original condition. Enter The FJ Company of Florida and their ground-up restorations. Customers can pick from several models and option out their vehicle with upgrades like a modern stereo, fuel-injected motor and more. Basic models start at US$55,000, which is quite reasonable considering the prices home-restored models command.


discovery22018 Land Rover Discovery TDV6 – landrover.ca

Land Rover’s staple luxury SUV is almost 30 years old and has recently been re-launched as a somewhat smaller unibody model. Although extremely luxurious and packed with technology features, you shouldn’t ignore the off-road capability under its soft exterior. Dynamic chassis control and fully automatic drive modes allow you to transition between pavement and heavy-duty off-road conditions with relative ease. Features like hill descent control, automatic centre and rear locking differentials and air suspension with up to 11 inches of clearance will help you tackle almost any obstacle. In a test drive on LR’s tough Overland Expo off-road course, we were surprised at what was possible – including several obstacles that left us with one or even two wheels off the ground. 20-degree side hills and deep cross-ditches were no problem, and built-in real time off road data helps you stay within limits. The two 3.0L power plants (a 340-hp supercharged gas and 258-hp diesel featuring a massive 443 lb-ft of torque) propel the Discovery easily on steep hills and freeway on-ramps, and offer towing capability to boot. But don’t let the trendy exterior lines fool you: the new Discovery can wade in three feet of water, and has almost 30 degrees of approach and departure angle capability.



As the weekend comes to a close, the hundreds of vehicles at Overland Expo begin to disperse. For those who drove a long distance to be in Arizona, it means the second half of their adventure is just starting – there are dozens of scenic off-road routes that lead to Flagstaff. Some attendees have come from one or two states away, others from places far away like Australia and China. Overland Expo is popular not just because it’s a destination and social gathering, but because it signifies the start of the off-road travel season. If you’re working on a new project and need to test out the latest products or just need some inspiration for an existing rig, you’ll certainly find it in Flagstaff.

Categories: Features, Off-Road Plus