The Outpost Trade Retreat

I’d like you to take a moment to close your eyes and envision a trade show. What do you see? Images of little white booths, plastic folding tables, and long conversations might drift through your mind. Your feet probably ache at the memory of convention center floors, while your soul pales at the endless line of people asking for free swag. All the while an array of fluorescent lights shine down at you from above and the din of thousands of people trying to shout over one another engulfs the room. But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if a trade show could be more exhilarating, relaxing, and effective by immersing its attendees in the experiences of the products on display instead of just showing them photos in a booth? Well, then that event would be called the Outpost, and it would change the way we see products and do business.

What the heck is a trade retreat?

That was the question I was asking myself as I walked toward the check-in. Like many people, I showed up to the event with a rather vague overview from the Outpost website, which described it as a place for telling your brand story, activating new products, and connecting with influencers and media outlets. That sounded a whole lot like every other trade show to me, but somewhere along the rugged shores of Northern California, the difference clicked.

At the time, Harley Davidson had been sending people out on test rides, and despite my less than positive feelings toward their bikes, I couldn’t turn down an afternoon cruise. I grabbed a helmet and set off for the coast, the sun filtering down through the foliage all around me. At first, the bike felt heavy and awkward, nothing like the sport or adventure models I was used to, but slowly I became accustomed to its flowing nature. The two-lane road beneath it weaved back and forth alongside a creek, the pair dancing in a perfect curving rhythm, while the bike rolled from side to side with the beat. I twisted the throttle, sending the roar of the Harley’s exhaust reverberating off the enormous trunks of the Red Woods flying by. Then something unexpected happened. As the white-capped surf of the coast came into view, a smile crossed my face, and I began to see the appeal of a Harley. Right then it all made sense. By removing the crowds, ditching the sales pitch, and placing people in a relaxed environment, the Outpost enables its attendees to move past their preconceived notions in order to truly experience a product and a brand. It’s brilliant really, but they don’t stop there.

Instead of handing you a badge with your name, title, and company on it at check in, they simply provide a wrist band and send you on your way. All of a sudden you’re not talking to “the head of marketing,” but just another person. Venture capitalists and van lifers alike can mingle and organically grow productive relationships without judgement getting in the way. The sum of this wonderful equation is a surprisingly fun and productive weekend in the woods with some of the best people and brands around, so let’s take a look.

The Outpost

We arrived at Camp Navarro in beautiful Northern California the day before the event, but were greeted by the sight of trucks, vans, and gleaming Airstream trailers tucked back into the pines. These were the homes of the many travelers, overlanders, and brand ambassadors attending the Outpost, and a good sign that we would be in great company for the next few days.

Of course our accommodations wouldn’t be nearly as luxurious as theirs—or so we thought. Our “tent” ended up being a glamping tepee with an inflatable chair, real queen-size mattress, and an end table complete with a lamp. They even dropped off cold kombuchas in the morning. It was a far cry from what we had expected to find, but we certainly weren’t complaining.

The next day set the tone for the rest of the event. Amazing meals, awesome products, fantastic people, and crazy activities. Want to climb an enormous redwood tree? You can do just that. Feel like catching a Harris Hawk on your arm? Why not? Need to ask Scott Brady how to build an overland vehicle or where to go? Just hang around the Nissan booth and ask away. How about going on a mountain jog in a brand new pair of Merrells, flying a Mavic Pro 2 with Andy Best, floating the river with Chillbo, or taking a cruise on a Fuji mountain bike? All possibilities. The list of activities was so outrageously long we never even saw a fraction of them, but that was alright, because what we did do was downright fantastic.

Take our stop at Vintage Electric Bikes for example. They had several models on hand, so we snagged one of their Trackers outfitted with knobby tires for a jaunt through the trees. At first I wasn’t expecting much, but once I thumbed the throttle, the retro-styled beauty rocketed across the dirt, plastering an absolutely ridiculous grin on my face. The top speed of 36 miles an hour felt blistering on such a small machine, and the light weight made it easy to whip the cruiser into corners or fly over obstacles with the generous front fork. I’ve ridden other things that are faster or more capable, but nothing that is as much fun.

To learn more, visit their website here.

Just across the lawn we ran into the folks from Merrell in their new tiny-home-style booth built from reclaimed materials. To be honest, it would have been hard to miss them, partly because the booth was so cool, but mostly because it was always a hub of activity. Trail runs, new shoe displays, and one heck of a happy hour kept people flowing in and around the trailer all weekend long. In fact, I’d say the only place more comfortable to hang out was in their shoes.

To learn more about Merrell, visit their website here.

Unsurprisingly, their neighbors at Verve Coffee and Revive Kombucha shared their popularity. In the mornings, crowds would groggily flow towards the Verve Sprinter for lattes or cappuccinos, then move on to the ice cold kombucha next door as the afternoon’s heat set in. While they waited, there was plenty of time to check out the three gleaming Airstream trailers on display across the road. The first was a Basecamp, a compact and lightweight single-axle unit designed to support your adventures and keep you comfortable at the same time. The one seen here is a standard model, but they now have a lifted variant with larger all-terrain tires called the Basecamp X, which you can read about here. Next to that they parked a Nest, a seriously space efficient and comfortable trailer, and on the end their flagship, an absolutely stunning 27-foot Globetrotter. After touring each, I had a hard time not hooking up the Nissan Titan parked nearby and making a run for it.

To learn more about Airstream’s trailers, visit their website here.

Of course, I would have preferred one of the other Titans on display, specifically, the Cummins-powered Surf Camp parked at the Decked booth. It’s equipped with Nissan’s factory ICON suspension lift, Icon Alpha wheels, and Nitto Ridge Grappler tires for more clearance and better grip off-road. A Fab Fours bumper protects the front end, while KC Hilites Pro 6 lights, a Rigid Industries E-Series LED light bar, and Baja Designs XL9s light up the surroundings. In the bed, a Decked drawer system holds all of the gear for your adventures, while a Freespirit Recreation tent and Rhino Rack Batwing awning provide all of the living space you’ll need. We were ready to take it out for an adventure right then and there, so Scott Brady borrowed it and did just that. More on that story will appear in Overland Journal soon.

To learn more about the new Titan, visit Nissan’s website here. To learn more about Decked, visit their website here.

Just 10 feet away from Nissan’s Surf Camp we stumbled into Pacific Overlander, a rental company based in San Francisco. They have a range of ready to roll overland trucks and SUVs for reasonable rates in the Pacific Northwest, and even offer one-way rentals to various cities and airports. Their Tacoma and Defender 90 were tucked neatly between the redwoods on display, but they also rent 4Runners and Jeep JLs, all of which come fully stocked with gear.

To check out Pacific Overlander’s rentals or learn more about them, check out their website here.

After taking in the local 4×4 fare, we headed over to the trading post to see what outdoor products were on display.

Admittedly, I thought this gourmet s’mores kit was absolutely ridiculous when I first saw it, but after trying one, I’ll concede that they really are quite good. Available in flavors like pumpkin pie, cocoa espresso, or the original vanilla bean marshmallow with honey graham cracker, there’s something to suit everyone’s taste. The marshmallows are even shaped in square blocks, making them ideal for the crispy handmade graham crackers.
To learn more about this small business, visit their website here.

We’re always on the lookout for travel clothes, but it can be extremely difficult to find something attractive that still retains the technical fabrics we like to see for field use. That’s why we were excited when we spotted Architec’s display. Their shirts, hoodies, pants, and coats are inspired by different locales around the world, and tailored to a stylish fit. More importantly, their materials are designed to keep you comfortable, while lasting through years of travel.

To learn more, visit their website here.

If you’ve never heard of a One-Wheel, you’re missing out on an awesome way to get around. Think of it as an all-terrain skateboard combined with a Segway. Lean the direction you want to go and it takes you there. Unfortunately, it can also take your face or rear end straight to the ground, and often does to less-experienced riders. Have fun, but ride with caution.

Although we’re big fans of Airstreams, Iron and Resin’s Spartan trailer was pretty darn cool. Who knows, maybe it was just all of their awesome gear inside, but we were definitely digging the vibe.

They say that all good things must come to an end, but there were times I wondered if the Outpost ever would. Its final evening was filled with a roaring bonfire, hundreds of string lights, live music, comedians, independent films, and of course plenty of Bulleit whiskey. People were serving up s’mores, others had tacos, and there were events and activities scheduled out into the early hours of the morning. It felt like no one was ready for this retreat to be over, and I couldn’t blame them. After all, the Outpost was different. It challenged our perceptions of what a trade show could be, and left us with new ideas, new experiences, and new friends. It might not be the biggest show we’ve attended, and may never be, but it is definitely one of our favorites. To learn all about it, visit their 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.