Expedition Portal http://expeditionportal.com Fri, 20 Jan 2017 08:00:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Uro-Camper teams up with Viajes-Tara http://expeditionportal.com/uro-camper-teams-up-with-viajes-tara/ http://expeditionportal.com/uro-camper-teams-up-with-viajes-tara/#comments Fri, 20 Jan 2017 08:00:22 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=44199 The Volkswagen T6 4Motion is a strong platform that adapts well to expedition style travel. An optional two liter diesel, 4Motion four wheel drive, and a respectable 1600+ kilo payload, these little vans have all the important boxes checked. There are several different iterations of the VW T6 available from a standard cab “truck” with factory aluminum ute bed, the California camper, and the workhorse of the fleet: the Transporter. Like most vehicles, the T6 Transporter can benefit from a few modifications to increase comfort and capability. When the Canary Island touring company, Viajes-Tara was looking to update their fleet of inner island touring vehicles, they entrusted Uro-Camper to make these changes. Viajes-Tara has been providing adventure to their clients for several years in everything from Toyota Landcruisers to Land Rover Defender 110’s, this time they wanted to do something a little different.

Looking to expand client experience to VIP status, Viajes-Tara decided to add fifteen VW T6 4Motion vans to their stable, to which they entrusted the Spanish company Uro-Camper to complete. Once they in the capable hands of Jose Luis and his talented crew, the team went to work cutting and stripping the stock chassis. The entire roof was removed and replaced by a raised Oryx vinyl unit. Not only does this substantially increase passenger headroom, it also provides unobstructed views of the stunning Grand Canary Island (Gran Canaria) landscape. With an average annual temperature of 75 degrees fahrenheit, clients are almost guaranteed fair weather and the removable top provides an open air experience. A Lowrance HDS7m handles GPS duties while exploring the back roads and beaches of the country’s larges island. The addition of a raised air intake helps to keep the little diesel from sipping clean air and free from ingesting sand in the high winds common to the region.  
A CAD program was used to quickly design a simple yet effecting mounting point for a spare tire and fuel can just over the rear window, the budget of which was secured to the rear hatch via aluminum E-track -making it easy to remove. The spare mount also houses a bottle opener so that clients can enjoy a cold one as the sun sets over the Atlantic -life is good on the island.





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Field Tested: Strongback Elite Chair http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-strongback-elite-chair/ http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-strongback-elite-chair/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 07:40:24 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=46653 While walking the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, a guy at the Strongback booth lassoed me from the crowd and confidently said, “Hey man, sit in this chair.” I paused and asked what made his chair different from the dozens I’ve used. His response, “It won’t wreck your back.” I took a seat. Although I like flop-like-a-sack-of-potatoes sling-style chairs, the Elite’s wide stance, firm back and seat, and lumbar support captured my attention.

Strongback Chair 006

The frame is engineered with ergonomics in mind; uprights press the padded material near the small of your back forward while not making you feel like you are sitting at attention. The horizontal section where you place your derriere is equally firm yet comfortable, and padded armrests support the elbow like a good office chair. Crafted from heavy-duty 600D polyester fabric and a powder-coated aluminum frame, it is easy to deploy and stow, and the sturdy carry bag has a long shoulder strap that allows for hands-free portage. Capacity is 300 pounds, and lest I forget it has a drink holder for your coldy.

Strongback Chair 005

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Strongback Chair 007

I have since added an Elite to my kit and used it during trips through Nevada, Utah, and Baja, Mexico. It has been a comfortable place to rest my bones at the end of along day on the trail. Money back guarantee. strongbackchair.com

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2017: What Does the Coming Year Hold for Overlanding? http://expeditionportal.com/2017-what-does-the-coming-year-hold-for-overlanding/ http://expeditionportal.com/2017-what-does-the-coming-year-hold-for-overlanding/#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2017 07:13:16 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=46722 It seems like every year magazines and websites take a nostalgic look backwards at the year when frankly, it really wasn’t that long ago. To shake things up a tad I thought I would consult the seer, give my two-pence to the sage, and peer into the murk of a crystal ball. As the new year unfolds, what does it have in store for overlanding?

Automotive news to watch

If the last year offered teases of new vehicles, the next 12 months should reward us with substantive details. In 2017 we will finally get to meet the forthcoming successor to the Wrangler throne, the new Jeep JL. Looking deep into my tea leaves I can see throngs of pitchfork wielding rabble who will loathe the new Jeep. Looking even further into the future, I can see those same miscreants will love it dearly within a matter of months. Such is the way of the Wrangler.

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No, this is not the new Wrangler. The future is terrible with providing images so we’ll have to make do with a bit of imagination.


The news which might eclipse the that of the Wrangler, and represent one of the most eagerly awaited vehicle debuts in the last fifty years, is of course the arrival of the new Defender. The scuttlebutt suggests the actual launch won’t fall within the coming year, but I suspect details will begin to leak as the announced 2018 release date nears. Like the Wrangler, I can foresee clinched teeth and frustration as hordes decry the demise of the green oval. At the same time I also see lines of people throwing wads of cash at their nearest dealer to get their hands on the first units to hit our shores.


We can only hope the first new Defender to roll of the line next is as cool as the last Defender to roll off the line.


Throughout the painfully long 2016 presidential election, many interesting facts, and un-facts, were flushed out. Amidst rumors that Ford was sending their entire enterprise to Mexico, one of those un-facts I was referring to, we learned that the Ranger, Bronco, and Everest might be coming to our shores, or rather built here on home turf. I suspect we’ll know the full scoop as the summer rolls around. We do have confirmation the Bronco is tentatively scheduled for 2020. Maybe we’ll know more by the end of the year.


Count me amongst the many buyers holding out for the new Ranger. I’ve seen it in South America and want to make it mine.


The other Jeep we know about for sure is the newly redesigned baby Grand Cherokee, otherwise known as the 2017 Compass. Smaller SUVs and crossovers will continue to dominate the automotive industry in the coming year with the Renegade and Compass doing their part to win drivers over to the dirty side. Considering how tight-lipped Jeep has been with the Wrangler, don’t expect to learn much about the second coming of the 2019 Grand Wagoneer. And at a rumored price of over $85,000, do we really care anyway?


I really hope the Wagoneer looks nothing like this. I know it won’t, but that is terrible looking. Image credit: Car Dissection


Travel trends

Hard to believe, but 2017 puts us within reach of the ten year anniversary of the economic poop storm of 2008. While it is safe to say there is still some financial healing to be had, people are once again enjoying at least some pocket cash and that always stimulates travel opportunities. More overlanders will travel internationally in 2017 with fly-and-drive and fly-and-ride tours gaining in popularity. Motorcycle touring companies like Elephant Moto in Colombia and Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental will continue to do a land office business. Iceland will once again lure in more Defender crazed tourists, and people who haven’t dusted off their passports in a while will board planes and end up in places like––Cuba.

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We will also see a greater shift in how overlanders travel. Sprinter, Transit, and ProMaster vans have spawn a cottage industry of companies offering basic to elaborate live-aboard conversions. I see off-road prowess being swapped for creature comforts next year. Overlanding will take on many forms and for some, may barely exceed a graded gravel road.


Overlanding will continue to take on many forms with soft-roading likely to grow in popularity.


Sometimes to look forward one must look backwards. A quick review of the last view years illuminates an undeniable trend towards adventure trailers and I don’t see that changing in the coming year. As overlanders swap heavily built overland trucks for modestly built daily drivers, the trailer is a perfect solution. We may see a reduction in the number of trailer options in 2017 as there has been a glut of startups hoping to snag a corner of the market, but trailers as a whole are going nowhere. Or, everywhere as the case may be.


Live aboard vehicles will continue to gain in numbers. The whole #vanlife culture has become a huge movement as of late.


Trailer sales don’t seem to be losing any momentum. With the introduction of more options from Australia and South Africa, the trend for finely appointed trailers seems to be on the rise.

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The Earthroamer and other large format 4×4 campers will still be much coveted, but rare as hen’s teeth for another year.


Domestic trucks, once quickly dismissed by the overland audience, are now quite common. AEV’s Prospector Ram made a big splash last year. We expect to see more positive movement on the domestic truck front in 2017 with the arrival of the new Raptor and Colorado ZR2.


Beyond the Truck

Another trend to expect with our diversifying audience of overlanders is the importance of adventures that take place beyond the vehicle. It seems that for many years the truck itself and the time behind the wheel were enough to hold our attention. Not to say we’re no longer enamored by cool rigs and bumpy roads, we’re just now squeezing the full potential out of those resources. In 2017 more then ever before, our trucks will deliver us to fishing holes, ski slopes, mountain bike trailheads, river put-ins, and countless other fun having opportunities.

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Adventure Motorcycle

I’m not going to say the reign of the big bike is over, but this year BMW, Kawasaki, CSC, and Honda will begin selling their sub 500cc adventure bikes. This will only serve to get more people on two wheels with entry prices hovering around $5,000. With these new steeds hard off-road riding will take a backseat to gravel crushing. Maybe we can finally bury this silly notion that the harder the trail, the more legit the experience. In 2017 we should all go ride, anywhere, on anything, and however we want to.


The new BMW 310 GS will be the hot ticket for new riders. Although we won’t see it here in the coming year, other small displacement bikes will be arriving soon.


Land Access

When I query the soothsayer about land access in the new year, all I get in return are grumbles and predictions of discordance. All eyes will be on Southern Utah with the recent presidential designation of the Bears Ears National Monument. Utah has always been the battleground for opposing interests. One thing is evident, the overland community, just because they all favor wheeled things, does not mean they all see eye to eye on this issue. Time will tell.


Image credit: Bearsearscoalition.org


On a more positive note, areas recently introduced to stricter permitting requirements have proven effective at improving the user experience while not severely limiting opportunities. The new year brings a metric ton of political uncertainty far beyond land access issues, so it’s difficult to see what the year holds in store.


Expedition Portal

As our community of adventurers continues to grow, we see nothing but more collective fun on the horizon. I look forward to another year of sharing our mutual exploits. There will be good times around the campfire, a few struggles and recoveries on the roughest roads, but all in all, nothing but overlanding fun to be had. Or, at least that’s what my Magic 8 ball tells me.

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Touratech Unveils Enduro Bike Concept Called the R1200GS Rambler http://expeditionportal.com/touratech-unveils-enduro-bike-concept-called-the-r1200gs-rambler/ http://expeditionportal.com/touratech-unveils-enduro-bike-concept-called-the-r1200gs-rambler/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 07:12:04 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=46706 There has been a lot of buzz as of late around new motorcycles and hot concepts. Most of the latter are interesting enough, but none of them are quite as tapped into the adventure vibe as Touratech’s project built around a water-cooled BMW R1200 engine and chassis. It’s a beautiful machine sure to resonate with many a dirt-crazed big bike rider. Without repackaging the press release, it’s probably best to just hear this news straight from the horse’s mouth. Without further ado…     – Christophe Noel

 From the Touratech Press Release

The project, code-named K199, was a challenge accepted by Touratech to build an enduro machine based on the current liquid-cooled R1200 power-plant for BMW Motorrad. The mission was to create a water-boxer dirt bike that weighed under 200KG (440lbs) ready to ride. A modern-day interpretation of the legendary HP2 Enduro, the Touratech R1200GS Rambler is a race-ready powerhouse built for agility off-road. Weighing in at 199kg or (438 lbs), this might just be the lightest water-boxer in the world.

The engineers at Touratech started with the chassis and engine from a BMW R1200R because the frame is set up for conventional forks rather than the telelever front end of the R1200GS. This was married to a final drive and swing-arm from an R1200GS to maximize the suspension travel and boost ground clearance. The chassis was fitted with a custom aluminium triple clamp that holds a set of re-worked forks from an F800GS Adventure.


A long-travel fork cartridge conversion kit from Touratech Suspension was fitted into the F800GSA fork legs and set up for 230mm (11.8”) of travel. Performance for the rear comes by way of a long-travel Touratech Suspension Extreme shock with 200mm (7.9”) of travel. The Metzler Karoo 3 rubber meets the road with Haan Excel wheels 21” front and 17 rear. Several pounds were shed by going to a single rotor brake set-up like a dirt bike, but in this case with ABS.

Considerable weight reductions came by stripping the bike of its bodywork, fairing and all unnecessary mounting brackets. A custom lightweight airbox and fairing were crafted of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic. The fuel tank and rear subframe were combined into a single aluminum structure that supports the rider and rear fender. An ultra-lightweight seat was crafted from Polyurethane using a method that requires no seat pan. Ultralight master cylinders & titanium footpegs were utilized for maximum weight savings.




While technical components were manufactured by Touratech AG, the clay modeling, design and prototyping were carried out by sister company TT-3D in Murnau, Germany.

Touratech built a pair of bikes that differ only in color: one in the Touratech colors black, grey and yellow; and one in BMW colors white, blue and red. Touratech CEO Herbert Schwarz and a few journalists put the bikes to the test on an adventure ride in the Azores, a group of islands in the Atlantic Ocean 850 miles West of Portugal.


There currently are no plans for a production version of this bike but it’s been fun for the Touratech team to rise to the challenge and create a modern day version of the HP2. Perhaps BMW Motorrad will feel inspired enough to produce something like this again.

Modifications and materials:

  • Airbox:carbon fiber reinforced plastic with original air filter

(Touratech / TT-3D)

  • Fairing mount:aluminum tube construction (Touratech)
  • FuelTank: aluminum, lowered side walls, capacity approx. 4.2 Gal (16 liter)

(Touratech / TT-3D)

  • Fuel pump:in separate plastic tank (1.8 l) beneath the main tank
  • Total Fuel capacity: 4.75 gallons / 18 liters
  • Seat:rally seat made from PU foam (Touratech / TT-3D)
  • Frame:unnecessary mounting brackets removed
  • Rear sub-frame:integrated aluminum fuel tank sub-frame (Touratech)
  • Handlebar & controls:Magura TX handlebar, very light high-performance

radial-pump master cylinders for clutch and brake (Magura HC3)

  • Triple clamp: custom-made by XTRIG
  • Brakes:front: 1 x brake disc Ø 300 mm; rear: 1 x brake disc Ø 276 mm
  • Brake lines:stainless steel braided hose (Stahlflex)
  • Fork guard / brake line mounts: aluminium (Touratech)
  • Front & rear body work:plastic parts (Touratech / TT-3D)
  • Rear light:European BMW R nineT kit
  • Headlight: BMW G 450 X kit
  • Turn Signals:LED from BMW R 1200 GS
  • Enduro exhaust system:titanium and carbon fiber,

custom-made by Akrapovič

  • Rear silencer bracket: aluminum (Touratech)
  • Battery:lithium-ion 12 V, 4.6 Ah
  • Rear fairing: carbon fiber reinforced plastic (Touratech / TT-3D)
  • Wheels: rugged Haan Excel rims (custom-made) with Metzler Karoo 3 tyres;

front:  21 x 2.15 with 90/90 R21, rear: 17 x 4.24 with 150/70 R17.

  • Skid plate:carbon fiber reinforced plastic (Touratech / TT-3D)
  • High fender :carbon fiber reinforced plastic (Touratech / TT-3D)
  • Suspension: CustomLong-travel, 7.8” (200mm) Extreme shock custom-made by Touratech Suspension
  • Forks: Original BMW F 800 GS Adventure fork with Long-Travel 11.8” (230mm) Fork Cartridge Conversion Kit by Touratech Suspension
  • Foot peg assembly: titanium foot pegs, aluminum bracket and heel guard
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Show News: The 2017 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market http://expeditionportal.com/show-news-the-2017-outdoor-retailer-winter-market/ http://expeditionportal.com/show-news-the-2017-outdoor-retailer-winter-market/#comments Mon, 16 Jan 2017 07:30:09 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=46608 This year’s annual Outdoor Retailer Winter trade show lived up to its namesake with attendees forced to brave heavy snowstorms to get to the venue in Salt Lake City. It made for an appropriate backdrop to an event aimed at next year’s fall and winter offerings within the ever growing outdoor market. As we have observed in the last few years, overlanding continues to be a growing theme, albeit without being specifically called out as such.

Spend anytime talking to outdoor industry professionals and you quickly glean that built Tacomas, Sportsmobiles, Wranglers, and even adventure motorcycles are a valued addition to the backcountry traveler’s arsenal. The line that once partitioned the traditional overlander from the backpacker, skier, climber, and mountain biker has all but dissolved. We are now––of the same tribe.

The Winter show is considerably different from the larger and more widely attended Summer event. Whereas the latter is the show where many new gear products are announced, the Winter market is targeted mostly at apparel items and snow sport toys. It didn’t take us long, however, to find a clutch of shiny new objects to capture our interest.


Helle is a premium knife maker we have favored for the last several years. They’ve been making their unique stainless and hardened steel tools primarily in fixed blade formats, but they have recently redesigned their one folding knife to be more solid, easier to use, and dependable. Without deviating from their Norwegian heritage, their new Bleja folder is bound to be a big hit with new and existing Helle fans.



At the Summer show in August, MSR released a new line of winter tents aimed at backcountry skiers and other cold weather enthusiasts. Those shelters were once again on display and I must admit, made me want to add one to my gear closet. Not exclusive to winter pursuits, they could be good alternatives for some users currently living in traditional 3-season tents.



Apparel is the most prominent product category at the Winter show and few brands have been at it longer than Pendleton. It’s easy to dismiss their products as exclusively lifestyle oriented, which is a strong focus for them, but they’re now offering highly technical jackets and layers for the outdoor enthusiast. Their seam taped wool jackets are particularly interesting and come in a variety of styles perfectly suited for the overland traveler.



You know you’re a commercial success when you accrue a horde of imitators and blatant copy cats. No brand is more shamelessly ripped off than Yeti of Austin, Texas. To keep ahead of the me-too brands, Yeti has become aggressive with their product development and at this show released a new addition to their Rambler series. Gallon and half-gallon containers, they are designed as a large drink or food vessels with a large handle, drink-through port, and a cleaver magnetic cap-keeper so you don’t misplace the cap.



Over the last few years we have noticed a growing number of companies springing up with philanthropic directives. Cotopaxi is one such brand. Unlike others who just allocate a portion of their proceeds to noble causes, Cotopaxi was formed with those ambitions as a cornerstone of their business model. If the feel-good story behind the label doesn’t move you, their high-quality products will. Their travel luggage is perfectly suited for the traditional overlander while their more technical products appeal to the backcountry athlete.



We all know the name and have most likely owned something from their catalog in years past. With Stanley’s rapidly expanding offering of products for coffee, beer, spirits, and food, chances are they have a dozen new items which fit into your travels or daily life. We’re continually impressed with their clever designs. I use one of their French presses on a daily basis.



Freeze dried meals have never been very enjoyable––until now. Acclaimed chef and backpacking enthusiast, Jen Scism, is the mastermind behind Good To-Go meals. With her husband, David, they have created a company with a simple mission, to produce flavorful backcountry meals with premium ingredients, balanced nutritional values, made in small batches to maintain the highest quality standards. Every year their menu expands and each new addition is absolutely delicious.



On the heels of our Overland Journal headlamp test, I would say we have become lighting experts. LED Lenser has proven itself time and again as one of the best performers on the market and the value is equally impressive. For the last year I have used one of their lamps on every outing and could not be happier.


If you’ve been by the Overland Journal / Expedition Portal booth at Overland Expo West you have probably seen few of our toys from Barebones Living. Their latest offerings include a new polaski constructed with a very unique handle design. To augment the strength of the tool, the shaft has been cored and filled with a large steel rod. The cutaway below demonstrates their innovative approach to an age old camp tool.


Another expansion to the Barebones line is a new selection of cast iron cookware. As a relatively new player in the space, and one doing quite well, we expect to see more innovative and useful products added to their catalog.




Overlanders and backcountry travelers love footwear. Han Wag has become a new favorite of ours at Expedition Portal, their line of premium boots continually evolving to fit the needs of an ever widening audience. Their line of boots going into next fall and winter promised to add more options including lightweight but durable boots which can be easily resoled providing years of service life.



Portable fire pits and pans have been a popular camp item for decades, but there seems to be renewed interest in these products. Primus  just announced their own system which folds flat for easy transport, can be paired to a variety of cooking surfaces, and is slated to clock in at a price barely over $100 for the smaller of two sizes. Look for a review in the coming months.



Every adventurer needs good luggage solutions. Osprey is the pinnacle brand in the world of backpacks and their new duffels look to be standard-setters as well. Made of highly durable materials and packed with features, they will be a big hit with the travel set. Their catalog of accessories are also innovative and well designed.




Not every cool product discovery has to cost big bucks. I’m a freak about keeping my glasses, sunglasses, goggles, and motorcycle visors clean and free from fog. Last winter I tried a free sample of Sven Can See, a unique and revolutionary fluid designed to cut fog. It works. It’s also now better than ever with a brand new formula. Hate fog? You’ll love Sven Can See.



Everyone loves a spork and newcomer Ace Camp has put yet one more riff on this stalwart camp tool. The small high-carbon steel blade slips into the handle and is always at the ready. If you’re not familiar with Ace Camp it’s worth checking them out. Their product catalog is extensive, includes something for every type of backcountry traveler, and their prices are quite reasonable. Better yet, the quality seems excellent.



Chippewa has been making boots for over 115 years. Made well and made to last, their boots prove that Outdoor Retailer is more than a showcase for the latest and greatest. Sometimes greatest is more than sufficient to earn a spot on display.



The Wild Card is just one of many new products on display that have yet to go into production. Some startups attend the show to get their projects off the ground. If we see them again at the Summer show, we’ll know if it was a success or not.



Sometimes we attend the show not just to discover new products, but to learn more about the companies behind the products. Sherpa Adventure Gear has been around for some time, but always a bit on the fringe of the industry. Originally started owned and managed by Nepalese Sherpas, the company never found its feet. That may change soon. New ownership will bring more resources for success. I’m an ardent supporter of the Sherpa business mission which includes a strong philanthropic initiative to help the people of Nepal with education and employment opportunities. You will see us give this brand more attention in the coming months.




Winter sport toys are a big part of the OR winter market. They also play heavily into the new evolution of the overlanding audience. Many backcountry enthusiasts are turning to overland vehicles to help them access skiing, climbing, and other outdoor playgrounds. I know at any given time during the winter, my overland rig is filled with ice tools, skis, snowshoes, and other diversions. It’s not always about the driving and camping.



No visit to OR is complete without a visit to Snow Peak’s elegantly appointed booth. Some people find their products over priced, even out of reach. One thing you can’t deny is the fact their stuff is beautiful and functional. Premium goods fetch premium prices and that holds true for Japan’s most celebrated gear purveyor.



In an effort to outfit their loyalists head to toe, literally, Woolrich offers a line of boots that are genuinely beautiful. The perfect pairing to the Woolrich wardrobe, these boots will last the ages.



Continuing to perpetuate the theme that everything old is new again, Julbo of France is reintroducing one of their most successful sunglasses in their long and storied history. The oldest sunglass manufacturer in the world, their classic glacier glasses have always been popular and are once again available. Pick your summit and go knowing you at least have the right shades for the job.



On the newer end of the product spectrum is the Nordic Pocket Saw distributed by the Scandinavian merchants at Sport Hansa. The bi-directional teeth of the chain permit fluid and smooth cutting action to chew cleanly through an arm-sized limb with minimal effort. Look forward for a full review in the coming weeks.





One of the horrifying stories I’ve heard as of late is that of an overlander working on his truck only to have his wedding ring contact a battery terminal instantly melting the metal to his finger. Eesh. No thanks. For a few years I have worn a rubber replacement wedding ring to save my favorite finger from damage in the event I crash a mountain bike or endure some other mishap. Groove is a new company with an innovative design that allows the rubber ring to breath, reducing the clammy moisture that builds up under other rubber rings. It’s a product that seems unnecessary and easily dismissed until––you weld a wrench to your wedding band.



The leader in multi-tool products, particularly those fitted with a pliers, is without a doubt––Leatherman. For the coming year they have added several new tools in new materials with fresh designs. Their selection of pocket knives expands with lighter and smaller solutions. We’ve been big fans of their new Signal emergency tool and look forward to testing new models as the year rolls on.



After 18 months testing over 36 sleeping pads, the last thing I wanted to do was see another option enter the market, but I’m a pro, it’s what I do. Thermarest is a legendary brand and their new line of pads is extensive and includes more pads fitted with their new high-volume Speed Valve inflation system. Look for a review of their latest pads later in the year.



If you didn’t know it already, all of us at Overland International love dogs…all dogs. That makes us instant fans of Ruffwear. Their massive catalog of products is field-engineered for the most adventurous pooches. From dog bowls and leashes to harnesses and floatation vests, they have something for every pup.



This year’s show may have started off a little bumpy with the crowds thinned due to bad weather, but it proved once again, the Winter Outdoor Retailer show is the place to be every January if you’re a gear hound. We walked away with a bunch of items you’ll see in upcoming product reviews throughout the spring. One thing is for sure, overlanding is becoming a popular talking point in the outdoor industry.


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From the ExPo Vault: Is your overlander overbuilt? http://expeditionportal.com/is-your-overlander-overbuilt/ http://expeditionportal.com/is-your-overlander-overbuilt/#comments Fri, 13 Jan 2017 07:24:16 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=26303 It would be safe to say overlanding in America, at least under that specific designation, is still in its relative infancy. It wasn’t until recently that many off-road enthusiasts began to convert their 4WD trucks from weekend play things into platforms for extended travel. You can count me amongst the many who took inspiration from the impressively built trucks traversing the Outback of Australia or pushing through the tall grass of the Serengeti. Shortly after acquiring my Land Rover, I quickly raided my personal coffers to buy every possible widget I could bolt to it. Had my funds not been limited by my more level headed spouse, I cringe to think how it might have turned out.

Over the last few years we have witnessed a subtle change in how overlanders prepare their vehicles. Not all that long ago it was a foregone conclusion that any respectable overland rig would receive a pair of steel bumpers, a winch, snorkel, roof rack, RTT, fridge, water tank, a second battery, elaborate navigation system, long-reach communications, lockers, compressors, drawer systems, solar panels, slide-out stoves, and why not include some seat covers, right? It’s a wonder there is room left for occupants, or money remaining to fill the tank.

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A new project for Expedition Portal, this Disco II came to us having been tragically overbuilt. It is now undergoing extensive therapy.


While interviewing one particular overlander about the build-out of his Land Cruiser, he alluded to the near $35,000 he had bolted to his $20,000 truck. It was a staggering display of accessories from around the world. He then sheepishly admitted he may have gone a tad overboard. He began to lament the decreased fuel efficiency, the tenuous reliability, and compromised handling on and off the pavement. He then made a tension easing quip by saying his truck was a rolling Craigslist showroom as he slowly removed accessories one by one.

It’s an easy thing to do, to overbuild a truck. It often starts with a lift and five fresh tires, and before you know it, you’re plumbing your cargo area with a hot water system or wiring in your third layer of radio comms. Avoiding this conundrum is easy enough and can be summed up with one simple concept: Buy only what you need. Have more restraint than Caligula on a bender.


4runner 177


Although the JK has more after market support than any other platform in NA, it does incredibly well bone stock. That sure saves more money for actual travel.


There are perhaps other contributing factors influencing the trend towards less comprehensive builds. Many of the newer vehicles on the market do not have a great deal of aftermarket support. Few options exists for trucks like the new 4Runner, or Land Rover LR4. Those items that are available are often priced out of reach of many practical overlanders. I would contend that there’s also just a growing movement towards the simplicity of a clean, thoughtful build. I would’t go so far as to say gone are the days of the hulking build, but it is becoming less common.

There will always be occasions where the full-tilt build is warranted, and there will always be those who simply like the process of creating their own elaborate overland masterpiece. It is a fun pursuit to research, purchase, install, and then put to use all of the after market gizmos available to us. We just have to ask ourselves to what end?


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The Front Runner Land Cruiser could be considered overbuilt for the needs of most overlanders, but given its use in remote Africa, it is perfectly assembled. Being realistic about the truck’s actual usage will guide the build process.


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The Expedition Portal 4Runner is a good example of a clean, restrained, and practical build. 


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Building for the terrain you most commonly travel, and factoring in how you like to travel, is the best way to plot out the necessary mods to achieve those ends. 


© Tony Knight 2012 WWW.TONYKNGIHT.COM.AU

Planning to cross all of Australia for the summer? That might be a good time to go all-in on your build.



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Westx1000: It’s Never too Soon to be a Snowbird http://expeditionportal.com/westx1000-its-never-to-soon-to-be-a-snowbird/ http://expeditionportal.com/westx1000-its-never-to-soon-to-be-a-snowbird/#comments Thu, 12 Jan 2017 07:25:42 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=46484 “Do you guys live around here?” We’ve heard this phrase quite a few different times since we arrived in Arizona. After some pause, an awkward smile and comical facial contortion, our response is always “sort of…?” Because, yes, we’re “new” to whichever area we’re in at the time, but in Arizona, from October to May (ish) we’re locals. Then we leave for some place less akin to an oven, and come October, we find ourselves back in Arizona, new again. Caught behind a side-by-side traffic jam amidst the canyon trail that was our objective that afternoon, a mature group of off-road adventures laughed in amusement at our conclusion that we are Snow Birds. “You’re 50 years too early!” Ten years ago, they’d be right. But in the era of ever advancing technology, not only do we own our own business at our ripe young age, but there’s no Brick & Mortar to tie us to one place––ever.

Never Too Soon to Snowbird (14)

The result is a couple of workaholic wanderers with a liberating work day. Coffee, cookies and computers in the morning, and come noon we buzz off on the bikes or wait for a swell. When it’s too hot, we seek shade under the evergreens. When it’s too cold, we find warmth in the arid desert – which brought us to the sunny side of the U.S., and on this day, to Box Canyon. In Seattle, it was 53 degrees and wind. Portland was 62, and Phoenix a balmy 86 degrees. Luckily it was only 81 in the mountains. And so again, Justin and I outfitted our XT’s and tried to get lost in the Tonto National Forest. It had been a few weeks since we last rode on rugged terrain, and the surge of excitement and satisfaction that always electrifies us made its lasting presence once more. Not that I’d forgotten, but for once the flutter of nerves never really surfaced. What had many times before intimidated or defeated me was quickly dispatched by my throttle hand and able balance.

Never Too Soon to Snowbird (12)Never Too Soon to Snowbird (16)
Never Too Soon to Snowbird (11)Never Too Soon to Snowbird (15)

In Arizona there are blue skies, endless rides, ancient history, and a budding community of craft beer buffs. I like it out here. I felt fooled when I’d first arrived. This isn’t the barren wasteland – flat, dry, dusty and colorless! Though the Phoenix area is actually quite flat and dusty, the world that surrounds it is green, lush, varied in altitude and flecked with lakes and rivers. The temperature for at least six months out of the year is temperate to hot, but not deadly. And within a two hour’s ride up I-17, goosebumps could riddle your skin and steam float from your mouth when you find yourself at 5,367 feet surrounded by snow, woods and adventures galore. If for some reason you want something more, coastal California is less than six hours away. Moab and Santa Fe are seven and Crested Butte Colorado a mere 10.

Never Too Soon to Snowbird (13)

Elevation isn’t high on Box Canyon, but the rolling hills provide enough climb for anyone daring. Though the road was wide, the assorted topographical features tested my) vigilance and endurance. But, what really made the ride? Squeezing through the slowly narrowing gully at faster speeds than your mother would advise, knowing that a simple low-side could mean fatally close contact with the canyon wall. It was an invigorating ride when all we’ve had on dirt in a while was forgettable at best. Indifference to easy rides had lulled us so lethargic, we ran to our American road mistresses (some call them ‘cruisers’) to feel the hum of steel and hear the roar associated with power unlike what we’ve known in a while. If we couldn’t have technical single-track or pin the altimeter to the top, then we would have speed, size and bob between semi-trucks on Interstate 10. It’s the thrills born from fear that burn deepest into our memories. And it was going to be had in whatever form it came.

Never Too Soon to Snowbird (22)

Whether pounding pavement or pioneering paths, going south for the winter is the only way to make those dry-day activities happen – comfortably. And just like the many ver 60 who patron Phoenix for the cold months, we’re happy to fly with the birds. After all, we didn’t start a digital business to be uncomfortable, ever. Unless we want to be, of course. So to answer the nice man under the safari hat, “Aren’t you 50 years too early?” To eat Fig Newtons and live in an adventure mobile; to put up with nothing and to think the kids these days are doomed; to see loved ones on the holidays, travel endlessly, and to choose our own schedule? Are we too early? We said, “Nope. You’re 50 years too late.” And we left him with a wink and a knowing smile. After all, it’s due time to take advantage of the era and see the world––in person.


Never Too Soon to Snowbird (21)


About the Author

Kyra Sacdalan is a freelance journalist. She is the co-creator of WESTx1000, a multimedia company that creates unique content for motorcycle community. Follow her on Instagram: @WESTx1000

Photos: Justin W. Coffey – @justinwcoffey


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Visit Canada’s National Parks for Free in 2017! http://expeditionportal.com/visit-canadas-national-parks-for-free-in-2017/ http://expeditionportal.com/visit-canadas-national-parks-for-free-in-2017/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 08:00:57 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=46522 2016 marked the 100th year of operation for America’s National Parks, but as the new year rolls in we find ourselves ready to celebrate two more anniversaries, this time with our neighbors to the North. The first is Canada’s 150th year as a nation, a milestone it will recognize with festivities ranging from dancing to naval parades. The second is the centennial celebration of their National Parks, for which they’ve gone above and beyond to encourage tourism. How you ask? With completely FREE passes to all national historic sites operated by Parks Canada throughout their ten provinces and three territories. That’s just over 170 unique and interesting places to visit for those who are wondering.


So lets get to the meat of it, getting your own 2017 Discovery Pass. It’s really quite easy, just logon Parks Canada website here, and follow the instructions laid out.  Be sure to read the fine print, as you’ll only need one pass per vehicle, and some additional fees like parking may apply. Then head on over to Canada’s Plan Your Visit home page to check out some of the amazing things you’ll be able to see for free. I’ll admit, deciding what to do might be the hardest part, as Canada’s vast wilderness contains some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.  Just remember, those of you traveling from outside the country will need a valid passport to go take part in the fun, so start your application if you haven’t already!

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Beyond the Truck: Hiking 465 Miles of the Baekdu Daegan Trail (South Korea) http://expeditionportal.com/beyond-the-truck-hiking-the-baekdu-daegan-south-korea/ http://expeditionportal.com/beyond-the-truck-hiking-the-baekdu-daegan-south-korea/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 07:46:48 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=46448 “I’m happy,” I said to Coen as I took in the view of forested mountains with jagged peaks pin-sharp against a cobalt-blue sky. I stood in a wilderness so vast it rang in my ears and could still not really believe we were actually here. “Please remind me of this when one of these days I will have had it with hiking,” I added.

Maybe it was a remark more addressed to myself. We had just started our hike and had another 450 miles or so to go. I was bound to get exhausted, bored, annoyed and desperate. Frankly, we had no clue what we were in for. Over the past 13 years we had done multiple-day hikes in Pakistan’s Himalayas and a couple of hikes in the Patagonian Andes. Nothing that came anywhere close to this: hiking for 50 days, between 6 to 9 hours a day, with an average of 1.5 miles per hour.


Meanwhile our Land Cruiser, our faithful home on wheels for the past 13 years, stood in the parking lot of a friend. Why had we left the comfort of our means of transportation, home, kitchen, and so much more?

After nine years of South America I had been ready for a change of scenery. I convinced Coen to leave the idea of driving to Central and North America (at least for the time being) and ship the Land Cruiser to South Korea instead. A distinct environment indeed. While Korea enchanted us for many reasons – kind people, fabulous food, extraordinary sites – we quickly found it too small and too developed to explore properly by car.


South Korea’s roads are asphalted, the countryside is used for either urbanization or agriculture while nature is to be found solely high in the mountains, unreachable by car. Driving here didn’t give us a sense of adventure.


Yet, through the glimpses we had caught during our first weeks in South Korea, we knew there was much to learn and experience in this country. We just needed another way to move around. Thus came the question: why not on foot?

We bought a guidebook and after a four-day trial run in Seoraksan National Park we decided we’d go for it: hike the entire trail. The Baekdu Daegan, translated as the White Head Great Ridge, runs for some 870 miles from the south in South Korea along the western side of the peninsula to the border with North Korea and China. Obviously, the northern part is off limits, which left us with a 465-mile section in South Korea



We hadn’t even started out yet when a ranger stopped us. “You can’t go there. This is a closed section,” he sign-languaged. Due to torrential downpours – in all our brilliance we started hiking in the rainy season, with a leaky tent at that – part of the section was flooded. We had taken two buses to get here and having to backtrack wasn’t enticing but we needn’t have worried. In South Korea, people always want to help. “Get in,” the ranger motioned, “I’ll take you to another trailhead.”

This would characterize the hike. Despite being surrounded by wilderness, we would frequently come across people. Koreans are avid hikers. Dressed to a tee they explore national parks and sections of the Baekdu Daegan during weekends and holidays. When in between jobs or after retirement (age 60), quite a few take up the challenge to thru-hike the Baekdu Daegan. Others can’t afford to take so many days off and have joined one of the dozens of hiking groups. Some of them section-hike the Baekdu Daegan, e.g. one weekend or day every month.


Throughout our Landcruising Adventure, meeting people has been a key element. Despite all the fears people have of their neighbors (whether of a person, country, culture, or continent) we have felt welcome almost everywhere and have mostly met nice people. In South Korea this was no different. Koreans have a deep respect for Baekdu Daegan hikers and we were met with thumbs up, words of admiration and gestures of help. We got tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, grapes – whatever happened to be in season. Hikers shared their lunches with us and I learned to carry more than we needed so I could return my share. Food also came from people living along or near the trail, even when they ran food businesses. While on a thru-hike you will eat more Ramen noodles than you can possibly enjoy, the trail regularly offers opportunities to eat in restaurants and devour fabulous local food. A practical one to remember is jeonshik, a type of set meal that includes a whole range of saucers with vegetables, mushrooms and/or fish that are refilled as often as you like.


Some sections of the trail are closed (to protect flora and fauna) and to get around them we hitchhiked, which was a piece of cake. Not only would people take us, filthy smelly hikers, in their new, shiny vehicles, they would often go out of their way to take us where we needed to be. One time Coen forgot his thermal shirt at a minbak (Bed & Breakfast). The next day had to go and retrieve it as the nights in our tent were too cold not to wear one. A couple on their way to Seoul made a forty-minute detour to take him to the minbak rather than dropping him off at the crossing where their ways were to part.

The Baekdu Daegan is much more than hiking. It is an intensive introduction to Korea’s culture and history. All along the trail, or sometimes just a few miles away from it, you come across interesting sites. You hike along remnants of fortress walls constructed by empires that were among the first civilizations on the peninsula, such as the Silla Kingdom. Monuments remind you of the many lives lost during the Korean War. Most of Korea’s temples are in the mountains and some of the most important ones, among which Jikjisa, are on the trail. The temples are guarded by polychrome, humongous guardian kings and are colorful yet tranquil sites to either admire as an outsider or to pray to Buddha. At some temples you can spend the night, which we once did and subsequently got stuck for a day because a typhoon was raging across the peninsula.





Hiking the Baekdu Daegan allowed us to go slower than slow, to enjoy a combination of mind-blowing nature and Korea’s culture. It was also a beautiful way to meet people and experience their kindness. Oh yes, and of course hiking 465 miles in the mountains is a great opportunity to get in shape too, which may be expedient after having sat on your butt in a car for way too many hours during your overland journey.

As to the hiking, we experienced two challenges. The obvious one was the exercise our bodies were not used to. Never having been prone to injuries at all I found myself hiking with two taped heels due to a type of heel pain called calcaneal bursitis, and later with a brace when a knee started acting up. Hiking 1,5 miles per hour on average says a lot: the Baekdu Daegan is steep. There are hours – days – that you literally only walk up or down, from one summit to a saddle and up to the next summit. No flat stretches, no undulating areas to give you a rest. Coen gave me a crash course in climbing and descending vertical rock surfaces using fixed ropes properly and efficiently.




Boredom is the second challenge, which may surprise you. Despite all the hard work, the hike entails a lot of walking in the woods. We often did so in the clouds or mist (which may be different during other seasons), so we couldn’t see anything around us. At times our world became claustrophobically small.

The challenges and boredom, however, are easily forgotten when you wake up to a clear day. A dry tent and dry clothes! You savor breakfast while dawn is breaking and the first sunrays are warming the earth. You drink another cup of coffee because, well, it is so nice to be here. You take in the moment. And, when you have finally packed your bag and have found your rhythm, you are enchanted by millions of mushrooms all around you: small, big, round, oval, red, brown, grey, white and every shade in between. You marvel as you snack on raspberries and blackberries that grow along the trail.


You are too late to grab your camera to catch the boars or deer thundering down a slope but it doesn’t matter because the sight is one you will never forget. You meet a hiker who already knows your name because as foreigners you are celebrities. “Let’s have lunch together,” the hiker says. You sit down on rocks that have warmed up in the sun. And while your better half mixes a package of Ramen noodles with pre-soaked lentils and dry seaweed, you nap and take in yet another view of awe-inspiring mountain ridges stretching towards the horizon, their colors fading from green to blue to grey.


And you feel blessed being here, and doing exactly this: hiking the Baekdu Daegan.


We would experience all this, and much more, in the weeks to come. Right now a kind ranger was driving us to another trailhead into Jirisan National Park, where an hour after our initial start, we began our first climb. It was an easy one, mostly following stairs cut out of rock, to the official start of the Baekdu Daegan, which is at the highest point of the trail (and on Korea’s mainland): the summit of Cheonwangbong at 6282 feet.

We started the day in sunny weather. Coen took his time photographing a wealth of flowers, which in the weeks to come would also include mushrooms, trail markers and trail ribbons, and any other detail he came across. We took our time snacking on gimbap (the Korean version of sushi) and quenched our thirst with water from a spring.

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After lunch clouds took over and dressed in rain gear we continued to the top. When we reached the summit, a mound of gnarly rocks, the world had disappeared in mist. We were in the company of two young, cheery guys and since there were no views to admire we had fun taking selfies on and around a tablet bearing the name of Baekdu Daegan. “I’ll facebook my photos to you right now,” one of them said. Here? In the middle of nowhere? “Oh yes, of course. We have good coverage here. Korea is #1, you know.” Right.


And on that note – standing on top of Korea’s wilderness with excellent cellphone reception – we started our hike.


Useful information:

– We recommend buying the guidebook Baekdu Daegan Trail: Hiking Korea’s Mountain Spine, by Roger Shepherd. The author is currently working on a new edition, including an e-book version, which he intents to get published in April 2017. You can keep up to date via his website.

– The Baekdu-Daegan Facebook page is helpful to get up-to-date information.


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Ford Bronco and Ranger Return to US Market http://expeditionportal.com/ford-bronco-and-ranger-return-to-us-market/ http://expeditionportal.com/ford-bronco-and-ranger-return-to-us-market/#comments Mon, 09 Jan 2017 18:15:01 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=46531 Ford just made some big waves at the Detroit Auto Show by announcing that two legendary platforms will be added back to the North American lineup. In 2019 showrooms will once again be graced by the mid-size Ford Ranger Pickup, followed closely by the legendary Bronco in 2020. Although we had suspected this might be the case after a United Automobile Workers representative let a rumor slip last year, we’re excited to see the formal announcement by Ford in Detroit.


Details are still few and far between, and there has been no confirmation of whether or not we will see a diesel in either platform, but the release of both vehicles indicates that ford is taking the off-road and small truck markets seriously, and one can only hope that they will step up to meet the challenge of Chevrolet’s new ZR-2. After all, with the international success of their diesel Ranger platform, and the popularity of their existing Raptor, it would only make sense.

Even in the midst of all these questions one thing has become clear, Ford is  listening to its customers, and their future in the off-road and overland world looks strong.

“We’ve heard our customers loud and clear. They want a new generation of vehicles that are incredibly capable yet fun to drive,” said Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of The Americas. “Ranger is for truck buyers who want an affordable, functional, rugged and maneuverable pickup that’s Built Ford Tough. Bronco will be a no-compromise midsize 4×4 utility for thrill seekers who want to venture way beyond the city.”

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Buyer’s Guide: Traction Mats http://expeditionportal.com/buyers-guide-traction-mats/ http://expeditionportal.com/buyers-guide-traction-mats/#comments Mon, 09 Jan 2017 07:01:30 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=46360  

Spend enough time plying the road less traveled and you will eventually get stuck. While there are innumerable ways to restore forward momentum, one of the least complicated is the use of recovery boards. Some people call them sand or traction mats and should they be strong enough to span a small ditch, can even be dubbed bridging ladders. Regardless of what you call them, they’re a good thing to have when your wheels begin to spin in place.

Although they have been around for decades, there has been a noticeable resurgence in the number of products entering the marketplace. Some are little more than planks of wood coated with an abrasive material. Others are designed with highly evolved computer models and made of cutting edge materials. This buyer’s guide is not intended to recommend one solution over another, but rather to highlight the most current options.

Considerations before buying traction mats and bridging ladders


Intended purpose: While all of these products are suitable for extricating a vehicle from deep sand, snow, and mud, only a few are strong enough to span voids unsupported. Only a proper bridging ladder can reliably perform those duties without flexing dangerously or failing outright.

Materials: The materials used to make recovery boards is as varied as the designs themselves. Some are made of steel, aluminum, fiberglass, and various types of rubber and plastics. Some are rotary or injection molded, machined, or stamped from plate metals. The material, and how it is put to use, determine durability, weight, flexibility, and effectiveness. Some softer plastics can become quickly damaged in the event a wheel suddenly spins while others can simply fracture or bend irreparably. Although it’s not always a judge of quality, the less you spend, chances are the lower the quality the product will prove to be.

Bridging ladders: Whereas most mats are strictly designed to bolster traction, some are rigid enough to span small voids and shoulder the weight of a fully laden vehicle.

Size and features:  It is important to consider the length and width of a recovery board and put that variable in proper context with the size of tire it will be paired to as well as the conditions where it will most likely be used. It’s also worth noting that some mats will allow for more convenient mounting and storing options.


Bushranger’s mats are pliable tracks made of sections of heavy-duty rubber joined with lengths of reinforced cable. Each track can be rolled for easy portage and is designed to work with the natural contours of the surface below the tire for maximum grip.

X-Trax II

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Price: $249.00

Material: Rubber and steel cable

Dimensions: 55″ long, 11.8″ wide

Max weight capacity: N/A

Weight: 36 pounds/pair


Crux Offroad 

Crux Offroad is a relative newcomer and their innovative take on the classic bridging ladder is not only strong, but extremely light relative to the loads they can shoulder. Available in standard length, extra long, and heavy-duty models, there is likely a solution for the type of vehicle you drive.

Standard and Extra Length Bridging Ladders

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Price: $349-$419

Material: Aluminum

Dimensions: 48” or 63” long, 16” or 18” wide

Max weight capacity: 2,000 pounds individually, 4,000 pounds per axle

Weight: 17 pounds



Heavy-duty Bridging Ladders

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Price: $429-499

Material: Aluminum

Dimensions: 48” or 63” long, 16” or 18” wide

Max weight capacity: 3,500 pounds individually, 7,000 pounds per axle

Weight: 23 pounds


Front Runner

Front Runner’s mats are constructed of 1/4″ thick fiberglass and as such are very flexible. The highly texturized coating with its absence of raised lugs affords maximum surface area of the tire to contact the mat. Light and thin, they are ideally designed to work well with Front Runner’s Slimline racks and because they have a flat and even surface, have multiple uses around camp beyond vehicle recovery.

Sand Lizard Rescue Trax

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Price: $222

Material: fiberglass

Dimensions: 45″ long, 10” wide

Max weight capacity: N/A

Weight: 12 pounds



Mantec has long been the gold standard for mats and bridging ladders. Made famous by Camel Trophy teams the world over, the classic all-metal Mantec recovery boards are built for the most demanding overland travelers. The exclusive distributor in North America is Rovers North.

Alloy Bridging Ladders 

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Price: $650

Material: Aluminum

Dimensions: 49″ long, 15” wide

Max weight capacity: undisclosed

Weight: 42 pounds



Alloy Sand Mats

Sand Tracks

Price: $445

Material: Aluminum

Dimensions: 60″ long, 17” wide

Max weight capacity: undisclosed

Weight: 28 pounds


Maxsa Innovations

Maxsa is by no means a big player in the off-road or overland world. A quick visit to their website reveals a wide range of products from porch lights to fleece blankets. Within their “off-road” catalog, which contains two products in total, are the newly updated Escaper Buddy traction mats. Most commonly sold through Amazon and eBay, these are little more than knock-offs of more reputable products. Their presence on this list should not be construed as any sort of endorsement. Buy them at your own risk.

Escaper Buddy

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Price: $250

Material: high-impact polypropylene

Dimensions: 47″ long, 12” wide

Max weight capacity: N/A

Weight: 17 pounds



 MaxTrax is arguably the most trusted name in traction mats and the the brand most frequently imitated or copied. Their MkII mats are available in a variety of colors with multiple mounting options. Considered by many as the most reliable recovery board on the market, their unique material compound allows the MkII to flex to extreme curvatures without breaking.

MaxTrax MkII

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Price: $299

Material: UV-stabilized reinforced nylon

Dimensions: 45″ long, 13” wide

Max weight capacity: N/A

Weight: 15 pounds/pair


OK Offroad

 OK Offroad is a retailer of various 4×4 parts and accessories including aluminum and fiberglass rescue boards.  Their Waffle Boards, sold by various retailers the world over, are classics which have been widely used for decades. Their aluminum mats are similar to those sold under other names as well and also have a proven track record.

XD Aluminum Sand Ladders

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Price: $250

Material: aluminum

Dimensions: 48″ long, 12” wide

Max weight capacity: N/A

Weight: 20 pounds/pair



XD Aluminum Sand Ladders

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Price: $324

Material: aluminum

Dimensions: 60″ long, 16” wide

Max weight capacity: N/A

Weight: 32 pounds/pair



HD / XD Waffle Boards


Price: $199, $229*

Material: fiberglass

Dimensions: 48″ long, 12” wide *The XD version is 2″ thick versus the 1.5″ thickness of the HD board

Max weight capacity: undisclosed

Weight: 17 and 19 pounds/pair



 Pronghorn Gear started making modular bumpers for Wranglers and Tacomas and has since expanded their offering into other products and accessories. Their unique traction mats come in two widths and can be made into custom lengths by adding extra links.

LinkTrac All/Terrain

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Price: $470

Material: aluminum

Dimensions: 55″ long, 10” wide

Max weight capacity: 15,000+

Weight: 32 pounds/pair


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Smitty Built

Smitty Built is well known throughout the four wheel drive world for their price minded accessories. This is another example of a product that demands careful research before purchase. Reviews are mixed at best.

Element Ramps


Price: $149

Material: nylon reinforced plastic

Dimensions: 45″ long, 12” wide

Max weight capacity: 7,700 pounds per axle

Weight: 16 pounds/pair


Tuff Stuff 4×4

Tuff Stuff 4×4 is a retailer of off-road accessories and their traction mats appear to be identical to those sold under the Smitty Built label.

Tuff Stuff Recovery Track


Price: $129

Material: nylon reinforced plastic

Dimensions: 45″ long, 12” wide

Max weight capacity: 7,700 pounds per axle

Weight: 16 pounds/pair


Traction Jack

 Traction Jack is another new product within the last few years. The folding design greatly reduces the storage size and opens up many options for mounting. The low-profile lugs reduce the build up of mud making for easier cleanup. The central hinge also allows the mats to better fit the contours of the terrain to maximize traction.

Traction Jack

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Price: $199

Material: poly-composite

Dimensions: 52″ long, 12” wide

Max weight capacity: 35,000+

Weight: 28 pounds/pair



New to the market as of 2012, TRED has become widely accepted and distributed throughout North America and within their native Australia. Their most recent product uses an innovative dual-compound construction that reinforces the lugs to prevent them from damage in a recovery scenario. Computer aided lug designs also allow the sides of the mat to better connect with the water purging channels on most tires.



Price: $299

Material: dual compound-composite

Dimensions: 46″ long, 12” wide

Max weight capacity: undisclosed

Weight: 17 pounds/pair



TRED 1100


Price: $179

Material: patented compound

Dimensions: 42.5″ long, 12.5” wide

Max weight capacity: undisclosed

Weight: 13 pounds/pair



TRED 800


Price: $145

Material: patented compound

Dimensions: 31″ long, 10.5” wide

Max weight capacity: undisclosed

Weight: 13 pounds/pair







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Fifth Element Camping http://expeditionportal.com/diy-camper/ http://expeditionportal.com/diy-camper/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2017 08:35:23 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=46411 When I first fell in love with mountain biking I was living in San Francisco. Before too long I found myself spending more and more time driving outside of the city in search of new trails. The drive to ride time ratio was becoming a problem, not to mention my bike was crammed in the back seat of my 1991 Nissan Maxima. I knew then that I had to find the perfect vehicle for camping and hauling my beloved bike and gear, and that’s where it all started.

Rays Town Lake-FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)wide open-FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)

Lost Coast-FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)

Like so many others, I was really taken with the classic VW Vanagon, so I began my search there. This was a long and disappointing process, as the vans I saw were either: 1. consistently unreliable 2. incapable of off road exploration, or 3. waaaaay beyond my price range if they passed #’s 1&2. One day, while combing the internet for the perfect ride, I ran into an unfamiliar pop-top camper. It turned out to be a Honda Element with an Ecamper top built by Ursa Minor Vehicles and it was love at first sight.

Pop top by Ursa Minor Vehicles FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)

Photo by Brandon DiPierri

I had never considered the sort of dopey Element before, but once I took a look inside I was sold on this tiny van barely longer than a Mazda Miata. All it’s boxy lack of styling was put to impressive use inside, and the small size made perfect sense for city parking. Plus it’s a Honda, which gave me far better odds of reliability than a VW. Two months later I had purchased my perfect model, and six months after that I had my Ecamper pop top installed in San Diego. After that- creating the rest of my dream camper was up to me.

Seating for two FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)

I went to work re-imagining the empty rear cargo area to haul my camping gear, my bike and all sorts of other things, in a way that kept everything organized during travel in the unruly empty space. I needed something that was easy to take in and out of the car and light weight enough that one person could do it alone. It also needed to provide a bunch of storage, but fold in a way that accommodated my mountain bike

Quick and secure bike loading. The cabinet allows loading of bike handlebars. FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)

Almost two years after first beginning this project on the living room coffee table of my cramped San Francisco apartment, I relocated to a special chunk of land outside of Santa Barbara where I had access to a fully stocked wood shop and 40 acres of gorgeous ocean front desert for trail building. It was a  Mountain bikers paradise. But, the way life works, shortly thereafter a bike crash left me with a broken wrist, unable to ride or even to drive the windy mountain road to town. So I took to the power tools occupy my time and the microcamper project ramped into high gear.

Home of our new shop-FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)

Double Bed folded flat FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)

double bed FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)

With my cast the progress was rather arduous, but after several weeks I ended up with a simple bench and cabinet design. The removable rear seats in the element also make it possible to have either bench or cabinet and a third seat. My vision of a modular, removable camper, with no alteration of the car itself, was taking shape.

Over the next couple years the build went through many many iterations but gradually came together as the rolling fort of my dreams. By the time my girlfriend and I left Santa Barbara to strike out for the east coast the Fifth Element Micro Camper was more or less fully formed.

Snow-FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)

We came to Asheville to be close to family and to put down roots. I was familiar with Asheville’s reputation as a vibrant small city with a thriving outdoor sports scene, but I was pleasantly surprised by the culture of entrepreneurship I found. This area has a crafts person’s sensibility for creativity, resilience, and a do it yourself-ed-ness that seems endemic to the region.

Van Life Rally Asheville, NC-FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)Camped along the French Broad River-FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)

In short order I became aware of the Outdoor Gear Builder’s of Western North Carolina. It is a network of local entrepreneurs in the Outdoor Gear Industry who work together with the intention of building a thriving outdoor gear economy. I attended their first ever “Get in Gear Fest” in March 2015 and was impressed to see such a wide variety of locally made outdoor products, from kayaks to slingshots, and to meet and get to know many of the folks from companies like I9 wheels, of which I had long been a fan.

Camped high above Big Sur FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)

Element removable kitchen packs down small-FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)

Honda Element Camp Ktichen FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)

Since joining the OGB a little over a year ago, the project has really accelerated. My woodworking skills have improved a lot and I’ve added and refined new components like a center console for the empty, boxy element and a removable camp kitchen that can work in any car- complete with the kitchen sink.

With the advice and support of other OGB members I have sold my first few hand made models for field testing with other Element owners and I am currently looking for just the right fit to begin commercial manufacturing.

The first camper system we built for the Element 1.0 FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)

A home on the road when you want it-FifthElementCamping.com (Copy)

This project is certainly a labor of love. It started out as something simple and silly I wanted for myself but it has become central to my life and dear to my heart. It has been a way for me to showcase and share the joy I get from mountain biking, camping and being outdoors, and also from creating.  Even after so many years and so many more variations of the micro camper I am still beyond excited to see my vision come to fruition. I don’t think I will ever be finished tinkering and improving on it- because, the little “a ha” moments that come from designing and building bring me a happiness and satisfaction that, for me, is second only to gliding through the landscape on a beautiful section of single track.

More information on this build and other products, check out Nick’s site at FifthElementCamping.com

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