Why Overland Expo Should Go on Every Outdoor Adventurer's Bucket List

"It was like a home and garden show for those without homes or gardens"

Subaru en route to Overland Expo

Jon Ratliff

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Overland Expo West

Fort Tuthill County Park, Flagstaff, AZ 86004, USA

After settling into my room at the Cliffrose Lodge in Springdale, Utah, I pulled the curtains back to my magnificent view of Zion National Park. This was quite the contrast from my first experience attending the Overland Expo in 2018.

Nearly four years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. Still, the temptation was enough for me to hop on my BMW GS1200 motorbike and ride the 950 miles each way from my then-home in Fort Worth, Texas, to Coconino Fairgrounds in Flagstaff, Arizona, to check it out. It didn't disappoint.

Overland Expo is the country's premier event for overland travel. Held annually in May, the event serves to promote traditional overlanding—a unique combination of off-roading and camping, often through remote or hard-to-access places—through numerous classes, activities, and programs led by the world's top vehicle and motorcycle driving instructors and overlanding experts. There are also exhibitors of vehicles, motorcycles, outdoor gear and services, and on-site camping. Think a Burning Man for outdoor-adventure types meets a home and garden show for those without homes or gardens.

From the moment I rolled up, I felt something different going on here that I wasn't experiencing in my "regular" life. It was a hot May afternoon in Flagstaff when I set up my tent under the shade of the pine trees along with many other moto-campers and decided to soak it all in for the next couple of days. These people were outside, smiling, laughing, sharing stories, food, drink, and anything else you might want or need.

Fast forward to summer 2021, and I received a request to attend the Overland Expo West again, only this time it would be quite a bit more comfortable but just as adventurous.

In 2021, my overland trail tour started from the Cliffrose, where we received some off-road driving instruction from Jim West and Chris Walker from 7P Overland—and then we met our lineup of vehicles.

Overland Expo rigs

Jon Ratliff

Overland Expo land rover

Jon Ratliff

Overland Expo caravan

Jon Ratliff

Overland Expo defender with mud

Jon Ratliff

From the "tricked out" Ultimate Overland Toyota 4Runner to a Honda Ridgeline HPD, a Subaru Outback Wilderness, Swarovski Optik Land Rover Defender, Mercedes 4x4 Sprinter Field Van, and a Jeep Gladiator, we had it covered when it came to off-road adventure travel.

After leaving the entrance of Zion National Park, we traversed some of the most beautiful desert landscapes imaginable. We even enjoyed a delicious mid-day trail lunch prepared by our chefs, Jason Schaub of Overland Cookery and Danny Nally from The Basin.

Finally, after a long, dusty day of driving and exploring, we set up camp at Grand Staircase Escalante, where we each laid claim to our sleeping arrangements for the next two nights. I decided that the Eezi-Awn rooftop tent mounted atop the Swarovski Land Rover Defender courtesy of Ben Lizdos would suit me just fine!

After sundown, Ben set up a spotting scope, and we viewed the desert sky as I'd never seen before. We enjoyed a warm campfire, cocktails, dinner, and laughter late into the night.

Overland Expo camp sunrise

Jon Ratliff

I awoke the following day and crawled down from my rooftop Land Rover Defender-sized bed to a beautiful desert sunrise and the smell of fresh coffee brewing and a hearty breakfast again being prepared by our chef duo.

Finally, we broke camp and continued our trek heading south, slowly making our way towards Flagstaff and the Overland Expo West 2021.

But there was still loads of fun to be had on the trail.

I spent one day driving the Subaru Outback Wilderness and the Honda Ridgeline before hopping in the Overland Expo's Ultimate Toyota 4Runner build, which was on another level. Whether it was the Mercedes Sprinter 4x4 Field Van, Land Rover Defender, or Jeep Gladiator, each vehicle was impressive and unique and a true reminder of what overlanding is and can be.

Up early again to a Grand Canyon rim sunrise and coffee brewing, we knew our trip would soon end. We all enjoyed our final breakfast together, packed up camp, and made our final push toward Flagstaff.

After arriving at 2021's Expo and walking around a bit, I was immediately reminded of what drew me to this kind of event in the first place. It was smiling faces and happy people. Many of the people I met years ago as strangers are now friends.

In May 2018, while riding back home from my first Overland Expo, I had a lot of time to think. I had a crazy idea that I thought I'd "pitch' to my wife, inspired by overlanding and some of the people I had met: "Let's quit our jobs, sell the house, everything we own, buy an RV, and hit the road and see what happens?"

Believe it or not, she said, "yes." While your overlanding story might not end the same way, whether you're looking for a life-changing adventure or just want to check out the best in overland and outdoor gear, Overland Expo is a must for every adventurer's bucket list.

Tips for Attending Overland Expo

  • This year's Expo will be held May 20-22, 2022, at Ft. Tuthill County Park, in Flagstaff, Arizona. The event will feature more than 400 exhibitors and more than 150 different classes and educational sessions.
  • Book early and camp on-site. There are many ticket options available for camping. Weekend vehicle, weekend moto-camping, and daily general admission tickets.
  • Enjoy the outdoor food pavilion, which relies on local vendors—no over-processed frozen food here.
  • To avoid lines entering the expo, arrive early. You'll want to spend the whole day there anyway.
  • While simply walking around can be tempting, schedule some time to attend a few of the many workshops and demonstrations. They cover everything from motorcycle skills to back-country safety, so there's truly something for everyone.
  • Make a weekend of it, and remember that Grand Canyon National Park is only an hour and a half away.
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Why Overland Expo Should Go on Every Outdoor Adventurer's Bucket List