Adventure Van Expo: The Free Overland and Van Event You Need To See

Thanks to social media and a new generation of travelers, both overlanding and vanlife are flourishing here in North America. The negative connotations of living out of your truck or sleeping in a van down by the river are deteriorating, leading many people to ditch their sedentary lives for a path of adventure. But learning about this lifestyle or seeing the builds in person can be difficult, especially if you’re intrigued by both overlanding and vanlife. That’s why I was more than a little excited to see the launch of the Adventure Van Expo, a free to the public series of gatherings that spans through California, Oregon, and Colorado. Their concept is simple: assemble cool vehicles and products in beautiful locations, and then invite everyone and anyone to check them out for free. It was enough to pique my interest, and with the inaugural event launching in Big Bear, I couldn’t help but take a drive to see how their idea would work out.

Spoiler alert, pretty darn well. In fact, really well.

As you’d expect for a free event filled with amazing vehicles in downtown Big Bear, the place was packed. People of all ages, interests, and backgrounds could be seen wandering from booth to booth. There were singles, couples, families, and dogs—lots and lots of dogs. Some attendees were interested in trailers, others wanted to see truck campers, and even more wanted to experience the vans, but what surprised me was that everyone seemed to find something they loved despite the event’s somewhat limited size.

Ironically, I think the fact that the entire expo could fit in a single parking lot played to its advantage. Unlike some of the events I have attended, the people here seemed more relaxed, less stressed since they didn’t have to cover a massive venue while pushing their way through crowds. There was time for attendees to talk to vendors, ask the questions they needed answered, and to learn all about the lifestyle. Heck, I even discovered several products I had missed at Overland Expo simply due to the scale of that event. Take the Blidimax window mats, for example. They use eight specialized layers of insulation to keep your vehicle cool in the summer or retain heat in the winter. They’re available for a wide array of existing vehicles, or can be ordered to custom fit your needs, including pop-tops. If you find yourself stealth camping a lot, they even have 75 percent of the reflective value of a pure silver window cover, but in black to avoid drawing attention.

Then there was the HydroTank, a DIY 8-gallon water system that integrates into the hollow section of the bumper on Jeep JKs. At $249 it is one of the less expensive pressurized options on the market and utilizes a low and otherwise wasted space. Spare tanks are available, which can be hard mounted, or carried on the roof or interior. Currently, this product is only available for JKs, but options for the Toyota 4Runner and Tacoma are in development and slated to be available shortly.

We also spotted a range of nice products from Step 22, like their padded fire extinguisher mount, and a compact Dopp kit with a mirror, loads of organization pockets, and detachable and vented bags for wet items like your toothbrush. They also had a new travel bag with useful additions like a locking pocket for your passport, separate space for dirty clothes, and convertible backpack straps.


Accessories like shocks, recovery straps, lift kits, tents, pop-tops, kitchens, and interiors for vans were nearly endless. If you stopped by every booth, you could easily spend a day or even two roaming around, but thankfully, whenever you got tired of it all, a wide selection of restaurants and coffee shops was nearby. You could also take a stroll down to the lake just two blocks away.

Overall, the Adventure Van Expo was a refreshing look at what outdoor events can be. It was laid back, informative, and surrounded by all of the beautiful scenery and fun activities that inspire most of us to pursue this lifestyle in the first place. So if you’re looking to learn about life on the road, purchase some new gear, or just check out some amazing vehicles, try visiting one of the Adventure Van Expos this summer—you’ll be glad you did.

Mt. Hood Meadows, OR: Saturday + Sunday, July 20-21
Dillon, CO: Saturday + Sunday, August 10-11
Lake Tahoe, CA: Saturday + Sunday, Sept. 7-8

To learn more, visit the Adventure Van Expo website here.

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Chris didn’t receive a real taste of the outdoors until moving to Prescott, Arizona, in 2009. While working on his business degree, he learned to fly and spent his weekends exploring the Arizona desert and high country. It was there that he fell in love with backcountry travel and four-wheel drive vehicles, eventually leading him to Overland Journal and Expedition Portal. After several years of honing his skills in writing, photography, and off-road driving, Chris now works for the company full time as Expedition Portal's Senior Editor while living full-time on the road.