Revved up and ready for prime time

Overlanding, Outdoor Retailer's budding gear genre, takes center stage at the summer 2018 Demo Experience.
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Brands show off overland gear at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market's Demo Experience.

Brands show off overland gear strapped to Jeeps and Subarus at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market's Demo Experience.

Forget idyllic reservoirs and hour-long drives. This year's Demo Experience took the pre-show trials to Confluence Park in the heart of the city to highlight all the ways that outdoor and urban get together. The overwhelming message? The outdoors are bigger and more inclusive than you think.

That was obvious from the entrance, where cars and trucks kitted out with overlanding gear showed the industry is big and diverse enough to welcome vehicle-based travel into the mix. It was called the Overland Experience, and off-road-ready vehicles from Subaru and Jeep, mounted with Tepui Tents and outfitted with Dometic Coolers, Spot devices, and solar panels from Goal Zero, were part of a mock campground that greeted demo-goers—and highlighted one of Outdoor Retailer's newest centerpiece markets. 

So what is overlanding? It means self-reliant, vehicle-supported travel to remote or rugged destinations with the intention of staying overnight or longer. It has grown popular even with OR's more typically human-powered consumer, both as a method of traveling to and from their other adventures, and as an activity unto itself.

For those who haven't fully latched on, the Overland Experience made a point to bring the activity from showgoers' peripheries closer to the mainstream by highlighting its overlap with other, more traditional, pursuits. 

Lots of attendees seemed most interested in ascending to the tops of the vehicles to stretch out in the roof-mounted tents. That's an experience a lot of folks are liking.

"The overland consumer is changing," said Outdoor Retailer Marketing Director Sarah Langston, adding that it's slowly coming more in line with OR's typical demographic. According to a study by Overland Journal, 87 percent of overlanders enjoy camping, while two-thirds consider themselves hikers. Backpacking, mountain biking, and paddling also share large constituencies with vehicle-based exploration.

The Demo Experience's first Education Session of the day, "Identify, Understand, and Embrace Overlanding," saw retailers asking a panel of experts—representatives from Overland Journal, the website Expedition Portal, and Tepui—different questions about introducing the activity to their customers, as well as brand representatives wondering how they can put their products in front of vehicle-minded consumers.

According to Overland Journal's Brian McVickers, one of the largest areas of overlap for overland consumers and Outdoor Retailer brands is in cookware. "Overlanders are foodies," and have the ability to carry far more cooking gear than backpackers, he said. Camping equipment like tents, sleeping bags, and other basics—as well as the other products featured at the Experience, like satellite messengers, knives, and solar panels—are similarly in demand by the overland consumer.

Overlap isn't a one-way street, either, said Overland Journal's Scott Brady. Brands familiar to Outdoor Retailer—like Big Agnes and Goal Zero—regularly cross over and present at Overland Expo, the education-based event for the adventure-motorsports community.

According to Langston, though was also given to marking overlanding appear accessible, rather than committing and expensive. Instead of packing the experience with burly off-roading specific vehicles and other gear, Langston said mounting a Tepui atop a Subaru Ascent makes overlanding "more approachable to everyday people."

Still, only a small percentage of truly overlanding-specific brands make the journey to Outdoor Retailer, many of which were represented at the Demo Experience. But as the sport continues to grow and expand into OR's audience, Langston said she's confident we will see more brands join in. "We hope to continue the conversation at the show," she said.

As outdoor enthusiasts spend more time pushing the limits of their vehicles, and adventure drivers put on the parking brake and pull off their boats and bikes, the lines will continue to blur between different activities and product will only look more similar. In an event happening in the shadows of skyscrapers, it seemed a fitting message: Outdoor adventures can start at your doorstep.

This article was originally published in Day 1 of The Daily (summer 2018).

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