What I Learned at Overland Expo West, the Epic Overlanding Show

UPDATED March 21, 2024 — Overland Expo West, the world’s premier overland and adventure off-road show, drew 18,000 enthusiasts to Flagstaff, Arizona. I was one of them.

So why does the annual event keep drawing me back? Well, first, the most extraordinary collection of overland adventure companies in the world with more than 400 expert gear vendors assemble right here in my backyard.

Second, the epic off road show is the best place to get insider tips. I’ll share what I learned, but first, what is overlanding?

Table of Contents

Pinterest graphic with yellow 4x4 truck going over log bridge in muddy hillside reads" what i learned at overland expo west - the epic off road show

What is overlanding, you may ask?

Self-contained overland campers | Photo courtesy of Overland Expo

Overlanding is a way to describe exploring by self-contained means, usually by vehicle—often with four-wheel-drive capability—or adventure motorcycle. Traditionally, the term was used for Africa safaris or exploring in Australia.

Unlike other 4WD enthusiasts—rock-crawlers or ralliers—overlanders place as much importance on the journey as the destination. Or on the activities such as hiking, nature watching, kayaking or mountain biking found along the expedition.

For overlanders, camping is a highlight as well—they enjoy innovations such as roof-top tents, 12-volt fridges and kitchen kits. State-of-the-art equipment such as compressors, winches and other recovery gear also makes overlanders self-contained.

My husband Dan and I invest in the “Overland Expo West Experience” package, which allows us to rub elbows with overlanders from all over the world during interactive driving courses, seminars and training sessions. With over 175 focused classes, there’s something for every interest, from hands-on self-defense to roundtables discussing border crossing to off-road motorcycle rides to cooking classes. We got inspired by hanging out with authors, filmmakers and other travelers, who hosted workshops and classes. In addition, we all shared stories from the road at the Happy Hours and special after-hours parties. Here’s what I discovered:

1.) UV Light Wands Really Do Sterilize Water

large hand hold small white plastic device with wand of blue light in glass of water

Just days before I took the Disinfecting Water in the Field Class, I’d been snickering with outdoors friends about others who wave a wand in dirty stream water and then pronounce it sterilized. Haw, haw, haw! Crazy New Agers!

Turns out the laugh is on us. UV sterilization is one of the best methods around because it can reduce and in some cases eliminate organic and inorganic chemicals, pesticides and herbicides. That’s in addition to getting rid of the viruses, bacteria and parasites that other filtration systems destroy.

Off-roading expert Bob Wohlers wrote the book on treating water in the field and after I spent one hour with him at Overland Expo West, my skepticism on water filtration dissolved.

Buy the SteriPEN Ultralight UV Water Purifier on Amazon.

2.) Spikes up on MaxTrax Recovery Boards

recovery board of heavy weight orange plastic lies under meaty truck tire creating traction with dark spikes facing upward towards the tire at the off road show
Spike side up on MaxTrax Recovery Boards under stuck Sprinter van

I’ve seen the orange or black recovery boards mounted to the sides of overland vehicles—they look like backboards to me—but I’ve never used one or seen them in action. That was until I went to the Overland driving course, which Overland Expo West experts designed to expose me to challenges I might find on my travels. Like steep side slopes that I’ve ridden in Tanzania, or low traction situations (think one or two wheels in the air) or “elephant footprints.” When I arrived on the scene driving my Toyota 4-Runner, I found a tricked-out Sprinter van with two sea kayaks on the roof high-centered on the course. I was guessing that the stuck rig was worth at least $250K and that the group of guys conferring on what to do next had similar figures swimming in their heads. “Be careful; these vans can be top-heavy,” warned one of the anxious troubleshooters. They’d positioned the MaxTrax recovery boards with the spikey side up.

“I’ve never used these boards before,” I said. “But I would have thought that you put the spikey side down—into the ground.”

“Naur,” the instructor in the Adhoc recovery class said with an Australian accent. “They lay spikes up, so the tires get a better grip.”

Tricked-out Sprinter van stuck on the driving course | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

3.) Travel the Canadian Maritimes Early Summer to See Ice Berga and Whales

white ice berg floats in dark blue waters mistty coast line in the background
Newfoundland iceberg | Photo by Jonathan Cooper on Unsplash

Geologist Pam Standwell recommends traveling to Newfoundland in early summer to experience icebergs and whales. She and her husband never made a reservation while living out of their overland vehicle for ten weeks—except for ferry transport.

4.) Flagstaff’s Mother Road Brewery Produces a Red Beer!

At Overland Expo West with Roy's Red by Mother Road Brewing | Nick Jaynes photo

What a surprise! One of my favorite Flagstaff breweries is an Official Craft Beer Sponsor of Overland Expo. Mother Road brought out two new brews for the off road show: Upland Orange and Roy’s Red. In addition, Mother Road supports Arizona Game and Fish Department with their Conserve and Protect Golden Ale. A portion of all proceeds from the golden ale goes to protecting the state’s 800 unique wildlife species. Mother Road shared its exhibition space with AZGFD, and I was happy to contribute to our wildlife at Overland Expo West.

5.) The Left Turning Signal has a Double Meaning in Baja, California

Perhaps you already know this if you’ve been driving in Mexico. For example, when driving in Baja, if the car in front of you has its left turn light on, it could be signaling to make a left turn. Alternatively, it could be signaling that it is safe for you to pass.

It’s important to know the nuances of driving etiquette for each of the countries you plan visit with your overland vehicle. Overland Expo West or other Overland Expos throughout the country is where you go for such tips of the trade.

Overland Expo www.overlandexpo.com


6.) Embellish Travel Journals with Hand-drawn Maps, Biological Illustrations

Roseann Hanson, former owner of Overland Expo, who now runs Field Arts Institute | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

“Our human drive combines aesthetics and science,” says Roseann Hanson, former owner of Overland Expo, who now runs Field Arts Institute. Although maps are essential to overlanders and travelers alike, I hadn’t thought of combining landscape sketches, biological illustrations and botanical art to illustrate the maps I already create in my travel journals.

yellowed paper with sepia tone handwriting around a pen drawing of a fish - artful and scientific
Lewis and Clark Expedition Journal page | Clark, William, 1770-1838, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

7.) Preparation for the Journey Instills Confidence

When traveling solo, the more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll be. So says solo female overlander Maggie McDermut. Maggie, who also drives a Toyota, recommends that women need information and knowledge about their vehicle, backcountry skills and where they’re going. Getting information is just one reason to subscribe to my website now.

“UNSTOPPABLE Stacey” Wittig is a travel writer based in Munds Park. When she’s not traveling to Europe or Asia, she’s outdoors camping with her husband, Dan, in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, AZ.

Recommended Products

SteriPEN Ultralight UV Water Purifier 


See detail here

Live Long to Wander: Basic Survival for Vehicle-Supported Adventures by Bob Wohlers

Get the book here

MaxTrax Recovery Boards


Get yours now

This list of what I learned at the Overland Expo West could go on and on. I discovered hundreds of new ideas, destinations and tips of the trade!

The seven points I shared where chosen to illustrate the diversity of the classes and workshops.

There REALLY IS something for everyone.

I hope this article encourages you to sign up for the next Overland Expo, coming to your region of the US! Check here for schedules.

Planning a trip to Flagstaff for Overland Expo West? Make sure to consult my recommendations for top lodging in Flagstaff.

Overland Expo West 2021 | Nick Jaynes photo
You can find exhibits that are less crowded | Unstoppable Stacey photo

This blog, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel, contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, Stacey earns a commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help reduce the costs of keeping this travel blog active. 

Further, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thanks for reading.

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4 thoughts on “What I Learned at Overland Expo West, the Epic Overlanding Show”

    • Thanks Julie! There were 100s of things to learn. Hopefully, this short list gave you an idea of the gamut of topics

  1. I really really enjoyed this article about the whole OVERLAND experience. Wish I could have attended but your article and pictures made me feel as if I were there. Thank YOU


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