We’re getting serious about getting away from it all.
More Americans are forsaking crowded campgrounds and recreational vehicles parked on concrete slabs like wheeled weekend cabins (below, left), and instead they are “overlanding” – traveling to remote destinations with an emphasis on self-reliance.
The pastime is surging in popularity, industry advocates say Wednesday during this week’s Summer Festival of Automotive web conference.
“This is not a blip on the radar,” says Pearse Umlauf, president and CEO of Jeep Jamboree USA, which sponsors gatherings of camping- and off-roading-minded Jeep owners in various locations around the country. “You’re seeing people trend to the outdoor world.”
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Jeep brand has been at the forefront of the overlanding movement in the U.S., boosted in part by its Jeep Jamboree USA events held in different parts of the country. Aftermarket suppliers of everything from rooftop-mounted tents to electric cookstoves, some of the items so elaborate that the alternative term “glamping” (glamor camping) has arisen, are joining the trend as well.
Jeep owners engaged in overlanding invest an average $20,000 on aftermarket components for their vehicles – “whatever creates value for them,” Umlauf says.
Mark Allen, head of Jeep exterior design for FCA, lists the key elements of overlanding: Solitude matters, exploration is central, the journey is more important than the destination and the emphasis is not on “easy.”
“There’s nothing sexy about taking an RV going camping,” Umlauf notes. “People are wanting to get out of the cities with their families.”
Interest in overlanding has been spurred by COVID-19, says Umlauf, who cites statistics showing 80% of Americans have spent time outdoors since the pandemic began earlier this year, 32% of them first-timers.
But interest in overlanding was well under way before COVID. Umlauf says FCA’s introduction of the 4-door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited gave consumers who had drifted away from the brand an opportunity to re-engage with it because the 4-door offered room for their growing families.
“This single-handedly changed the entire industry. The 4-door Wrangler allowed you to bring your family along with you. It allowed you to pack more gear with you,” he says, adding the model also had become more robust and reliable.
Suppliers connecting with the overlanding trend include Auria Solutions, whose products include a new flooring product called Armorlite, says David Ladd, senior director-aftermarket and corporate communications.
While the carpeting typically found in vehicles isn’t practical for the rigors of off-roading, Armorlite is durable, cleanable and provides insulation, water management, mold and mildew resistance and scratch-and-mar resistance, he says.
Allen says Jeep has expanded its overlanding-ready lineup by adding new trim levels to Wrangler and Grand Cherokee as well as the Gladiator pickup. These vehicles have added interior space and payload.
The addition of aftermarket equipment is the owner’s personal choice, but Jeep designers take the vehicle’s potential for overlanding into account.