Last weekend, hundreds of Overlanders converged for the annual Overland Expo East at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. These DIY adventure-travel enthusiasts spend their time and money outfitting off-road trucks and SUVs with state-of-the-art adventure and survival goodies, including rooftop tents, on-board solar, and axes. Lots and lots of axes. For three days, the car owners participated in clinics like “Machete Use: Maintenance and Safety for Overlanders” and navigated a muddy off-road course. Meanwhile, we ogled their drool-worthy rigs—from retrofitted ambulances to burly Subaru Outbacks. Here are some of our favorites.
Photo: Harold Zeller had this sidecar custom-built for his dog, Jake. It also has plenty of storage space for things like extra gas, water, and beer.All-wheel-drive Subarus don’t have the cachet of a Land Rover Defender, but Subie owners know their station wagons are capable off-road machines. Grant Wilson added a two-inch lift that beefed up the front and rear springs on his 2016 Outback. He also added a steel front bumper and custom rear bumper with a tire swing and Superwinch, plus a snorkel from an old Mitsubishi Montero. The result: the most badass station wagon we saw at the show.This year is the 50th anniversary of the Ford Bronco, and Paul Perry has been celebrating by taking his ’77 Bronco to Overland events on the East Coast. He spent 21 years turning this rig into an off-road beast, adding aftermarket touches like a Warn full-float rear axle, Atlas 4-speed transfer case, a 4R70W overdrive transmission, custom steel bumpers, and a Warn 9000 winch.Timothy Hill wanted a trailer that his Jeep Rubicon could tow. Then he found this airplane, which had crashed near Miami, on Ebay. He ditched the wings, cut three feet off the tail, and spent a year building out the interior, adding twin-bed recliners, a fridge, a TV, hot water heater, and shower. He then welded it to an aluminum jet-ski trailer. The whole thing weighs 800 pounds.Timothy Hill in his airplane trailer.Want to live the van life without having the hassles of van life? Oregon-based Dub Box made a fiberglass mold of a ’69 camper van to create VW-inspired trailers with all the trimmings of a Vanagon but none of the mechanical headaches.Off-road bikes are always a popular option at the expo (they get their own campground), and few people have spent more time on their bikes than Simon and Lisa Thomas, who’ve been riding around the world for 13 years straight. After three months of conversions, their BMWs (an R 1200 GSA and an F 800 GS) are fully custom, from the hubs to the seats.The Tacoma is capable on its own, but this model, owned by Goose Gear, is made even better thanks to a Habitat camper shell with an aluminum, fully waterproof tent that folds open in seconds. Goose Gear also retrofitted the truck with a shower and sink fed by an onboard hot water heater, a foldout table and chairs, a toilet, and room to sleep three adults. They call it a five-foot RV.Jeeps can do things other off-road vehicles can’t. Jason Ingle’s Wrangler Sahara can do even more, thanks to its two-inch lift, on-board solar, and smart accessories like the ARB fridge. We like the Gobi Rack and Cascadia Vehicle Tent, which can slide into different positions on the rack. It’s not finished yet: Ingle is in the process of building custom storage boxes from aircraft-grade aluminum for the back of the Jeep.Greg and Katie Blachon have driven this 4WD Syncro 51,500 miles across North, Central, and South America over the past two years. They bought the van for $500 back in 2010, then worked on it for three years, adding the camper top and onboard solar along the way. It has the coveted Boxer Diesel EE20 engine, which combines new diesel technology with the performance of a boxer configuration for more power and less fuel consumption. The Blachon’s beefed up the offroad capabilities further with a super winch on the front bumper and an ARB compressor in the back for custom tire pressure depending on the terrain. Oh, and there’s a special compartment and table for bourbon in the back.If Goose Gear’s Tacoma Habitat fulfills your tiny RV needs, this truck fulfills your plus-sized fantasies. Global Expedition Vehicles does custom builds of all-wheel-drive “extreme” RVs. Global X started with a Workstar 730 International Truck for this Safari Extreme and spent eight months building out the box for owner Mike Lynch. The truck will go just about anywhere (except a parking garage) and has all of the comforts of home, including a 40-inch TV and a separate rooftop tent over the cab for Lynch’s 10-year-old kid.This custom build from Apex Overland offers a large amount of livable space it offers in a super-light package. Apex started with a Harbor Freight trailer, then added a Dinoot fiberglass tub and a custom-welded rack. The end result: a sub-800-pound towable that owner Michael Barber can move by hand. Barber finished the build with a spacious Gordigear Rooftop Tent and ARB 2500 awning.Tacomas were the pickup truck of choice at this year’s expo. We saw dozens of them in the campground and exhibition. Travis Oldenburg has been building out his 2014 Tacoma for two years. It’s tricked out with an on-board 15-gallon water system, solar panels, an ARB fridge on a drop-down slide, burly ARB front and back bumpers, Flip-Pac shell, and a tent that cranks open in about 30 seconds.Many Overlanders flock to retired emergency vehicles because they’re often built around capable trucks and have roomy boxes. This ambulance was originally an emergency vehicle in Miami, and the owners have kept much of its character intact. (Ambulance cabinets, it turns out, are very well built.) The owners have also raised the interior ceiling and added RV-like amenities to the 13-foot rear. There’s a queen-size bed in the pull-out couch, a retractable bunk, microwave, ARB fridge, and induction oven. There’s also a built-in ice machine for margaritas.Everyone—and I do mean everyone—wants a 4WD Syncro. So the folks at TW Adventures took a 1991 Volkswagen Multivan and turned it into one, converting it to 4WD and adding a six-cylinder Subaru engine with 230 horsepower. Bigger tires, a small lift, custom suspension, rock sliders, and Rocky Mountain Westy bumpers round out the off-road capabilities, while the new pop-up tent and ARB awning make it livable.It took Shane and Sandra Young two years to build out their Land Rover Defender 130. The result is remarkable. The storage box is custom built and hides 20 gallons of fresh water and 1,000 miles worth of extra fuel*. The rooftop tent is electric and modified so the couple can enter the sleeping area through the floor (like a Vanagon pop-up tent). A diesel space heater keeps the interior warm in winter, and the hot shower works through a heat exchange on the engine. A foldaway kitchen with more cabinet space than a lot of home kitchens pops out from one side, while the other has a storage panel for emergency tools like an ax, rope, and machete.Correction
*These statistics have been corrected