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Outdoor Retailer turned a new page this past July as we saw its last show in Salt Lake City. It was a bittersweet trip for me as I drove over to Utah from Wyoming. Krista and I have been covering both OR’s Summer and Winter Markets since 2010. I know this pales in comparison to the 21 years Outdoor Retailer has graced the halls of the Salt Palace Convention Center but one cannot help but be a little nostalgic about the whole thing. We “grew up” in this outdoor editorial field while attending the shows in Salt Lake so part of me feels like we will be leaving home when the shows move to Denver, starting in January 2018.


Outdoor Retailer Summer 2017

Those manufacturers that chose to attend did so with some phenomenal gear. Although there wasn’t a clear ‘must have’ item, as we saw when standup paddle boards first came to the market, there were several items that caught our eye. Here are our top products from this year’s Summer Market.

LifeSaver Jerrycan 20,000UF

A robust and portable water filter capable of filtering 20,000 litres/5,282 US gallons of clean drinking water, removing viruses, bacteria, cysts and parasites instantly. The LifeSaver Jerrycan holds up to 18.5 litres of water at any one time and is designed to support those with a greater demand for clean water such as group expeditions, adventurers embarking on overland travel, families or those setting themselves up for off-grid living. MSRP: $224.96 URL: https://www.iconlifesaver.com/product/lifesaver-jerrycan-20000uf

Gerber Center-Drive w/ Bit Set

Gerber’s new multi-tool offers uncompromising performance through revolutionary design. The innovative center-axis driver opens to align like a real screw driver, yielding maximum torque and rotation. No productivity is sacrificed with the addition of a 30% longer outboard blade and one-thumb opening sliding jaws. Full size, real tools - the multi-tool just got a reality check. MSRP: $132URL: http://www.gerbergear.com/Activity/EVERYDAY/Center-Drive-w-Bit-Set_30-001194

Thermacell Backpacker Repeller

The Backpacker Repeller will be powered by camping gas canisters, such as butane propane mix, and will work with all leading brands. It uses an integrated Piezo lighter to heat the allethrin inflused Thermacell repellent mats, creating an odorless and invisible Zone of Protection. Allethrin is a copy of a natural repellent found in chrysanthemum flowers, which repels mosquitos, black flies and no-see-ums and is an alternative to DEET, which can ruin gear and irritate human skin. MSRP: $39.99URL: https://www.thermacell.com/products/mosquito-repellents/backpacker/backpacker-mosquito-repeller

Coleman Northern Nova

Fill your entire campground with light with the brightest Coleman® lantern, the Northern Nova™ Propane Lantern with Case. The patented tube-mantles shine brighter than standard versions, and this lantern doubles up on that brightness technology to produce 3000 lumens of light that reach up to 32.5 meters away. When you're ready to head home, the legs fold up for more compact storage in the included case until you're ready for your next bright adventure. MSRP: $149.99URL: https://www.coleman.com/northern-nova-propane-lantern/2000023099.html

myCharge AdventureUltra

The AdventureUltra is myCharge’s largest battery bank with the highest power output. Designed to replace the heavy and bulky generators used when tailgating or camping, the AdventureUltra is a more streamlined power source option that can run a 42-inch television for up to three hours. The compact device weighs 1.05 pounds and measures just 1.2 X 5.8 X 4.1 inches. The AdventureUltra has a maximum power output of 45 watts, enough to run a laptop or recharge a drone battery. MSRP: $129.99URL: https://mycharge.com/collections/adventure-series/products/adventureultra

Pelican 24-Can Soft Cooler

Offering a convenient and lightweight alternative to hard coolers, The Pelican™ Elite Soft Cooler is ADVENTURE READY. This 24-Can Soft Cooler is durable, easy to carry, waterproof, leakproof and keeps ice for up to 48 hours. Strap it on your kayak, stand up paddle board, ATV/UTV or take it with you on your next hike to the beach or lake. All Elite Soft Coolers feature a quick access dual-lock buckle system, 100% Leak proof TIZIP® Zipper, compression molded anti-slip base, and stainless steel tie-down and bottle openers. MSRP: $279.99URL: http://www.pelican.com/us/en/explore/soft-coolers/

CampMaid 12” Outdoor Cookout Grill Set

Quite possibly the Swiss Army Knife of Dutch oven cooking. Outfit your Overland vehicles with the CampMaid cooking tools pack - the ultimate compact outdoor camp kitchen that transforms into multiple uses - a smoker, pizza oven, grill, griddle, steamer, baking, & more! The 12” Outdoor Cookout Grill Set includes CampMaid’s patented 12' Lid Holder & Serving Stand, Flip Grill, Charcoal/Wood Holder Heat Source, KickStand, Charcoal Chimney, pre-seasoned Dutch oven and carry bags. MSRP: $215.99URL: https://campmaid.com/collections/campmaid-overland/products/8-piece-complete-outdoor-cooking-system

Watershed Yukon Duffle

The Yukon duffel is the ideal size bag for 2-5 day river expeditions. There is room for a summer-weight sleeping bag, tent and some gear, or it could be used in tandem with other Watershed bags for food storage on a group trip. The bag also makes a great comprehensive ditch bag for long range marine use. MSRP: $159 URL: http://www.drybags.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Session_ID=e0868dd6a425fe6e0154f7ce644fce92&Screen=PROD&Store_Code=D&Product_Code=FGW-YUK&Category_Code=Duffels

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    With a constantly growing show, we’re seeing more and more new companies emerge in the aftermarket industry.  Around every corner we’re seeing new innovation pushing the boundaries of the automotive industry.  

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    Both inside and out, we been seeing some impressive builds and great new product at this year’s SEMA Show.  Big, small, new and old these builds can give even a seasoned SEMA attendee some serious whiplash!

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    Although Toyota strayed away from displaying any off-road vehicles this year, exhibitors around the show still had a good showing for Toyota enthusiasts to flock around.

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    As I surveyed the dirt roads of the BLM land surrounding the Castle Gardens Petroglyph site, I took note of the variety of numerous camping rigs sprinkled across the land. It was as if Overland Expo was sharing space with a Retro Glamping event, and first-time-ever campers. The total eclipse of 2017 attracted an unprecedented amount of attention. The plentiful public lands in Wyoming made it an ideal target for eclipse chasers. With a population of just over 585,000 people, some news sources speculated that the population number doubled on the day of the eclipse.


    2017 Total Solar Eclipse

    Picking out first-time campers was quite easy:  no shade, no table, tent set up right next to the road, and car parked partially in the road. Some people didn’t even bring chairs, so they sat on the ground and leaned against their vehicles. Seems it took an eclipse to get people to leave their comfort zone and experience the great outdoors. Hopefully they took note of the gear used by others and will want to pursue natural escapes. 

    2017 Total Solar Eclipse

    A group of fellow Toyota off-roaders started organizing an eclipse gathering back in 2012. Castle Gardens area was the chosen destination. I received my invite in 2016 and started planning the telescope situation. Despite all the planning and the multiple eclipse photography tutorials and articles I endured, my preparation was still inadequate. I didn’t capture the eclipse quite how I envisioned. Fortunately, I learned my lessons and have 7-years to prepare for the next total eclipse.

    2017 Total Solar Eclipse

    I arrived at Castle Gardens on Friday, August 18 found one of the organizers, Bob Devereux, and his wife sitting next to their 80-series Land Cruiser enjoying the setting sun. My friend Stan Gibson was the next to arrive. When the last bit of sunlight vanished, I treated my camp mates to an evening of deep space objects viewing. Using an 130mm aperture apochromatic refractor, we examined galaxies, nebula, and star clusters. We finished with the Andromeda Galaxy—an object so large that it fills even the lowest power eyepiece. I always enjoy sharing views through my telescope with people who have never experienced a telescope in dark skies. Hearing the expressions of amazement make it worth the effort. 

    2017 Total Solar Eclipse

    2017 Total Solar Eclipse

    The next day, as more friends arrived, I set up the Hydrogen-Alpha dedicated solar telescope (Lunt 60THa). This filtered telescope displays surface detail of the sun, as well as solar flares at the edge of the sun. A set of sun spots across the middle resembled the Caribbean Islands. Two large solar flares, each capable of holding 5 to 6 earths, were visible. 

    2017 Total Solar Eclipse

    On eclipse day, the human presence was strong. Dead rattlesnake carcasses were scattered across the dirt roads—evidence of the numerous vehicles that drove into the Castle Gardens area the previous night. Reports of a rave party was shared by frustrated amateur astronomers, who lost their dark skies to the glamping and party lights. Roadside rookie campers were subjected to dust as vehicles sped down the dirt roads as though they were shooting a Mad Max scene. 

    2017 Total Solar Eclipse

    Fortunately, the organizers for the gathering I was with had found us a spot up on a hill next to a cliff. Accessing this area required high clearance. We thought we were safe from the herds of rookie campers. While most vehicles that attempted to come up in our direction were defeated, a little AWD Subaru wagon with paper tags managed to conquer the high clearance road, take a left and drive right into the middle of our campsite. Realizing we were not the droids he was looking for, he turned around. 30 minutes later, he was back, and this time he tried driving through the middle of our campsite. One of the guys sprinted past the Subaru and stopped the lost and confused driver before he damaged his new car and our camping gear. 

    The cookie-bite look of the sun greeted us after breakfast on eclipse day. It wasn’t long before the morning sunshine was more yellowish-orange than white and people were looking up with their ISO-certified cardboard specs. I was feverishly shooting bracketed photos through 2 DSLR cameras attached to 2 different telescopes. One was equipped with a dark ND filter, the other with a white light solar filter. Totality came too fast. I removed the filters and started capturing the corona and solar flares. After 2 minutes and 20 seconds, totality was over. People were cheering. It was truly a moving experience. Light increased and I tried to capture the diamond ring effect. Turns out, it is better to shoot that through long focal length camera lens than through a telescope. Lesson learned. 

    2017 Total Solar Eclipse

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    A few years ago, sitting at my desk job playing on the internet; I stumbled upon the blog of a couple traveling south on the Pan-American highway in a first generation 4Runner. The more I read, the more excited I became at the possibility of such a trip.  I went home and shared the dream with my girlfriend (now fiancée) Leah. That evening we became lost in the magic of an adventure of this magnitude, and our minds began to whirl as our future goals changed. Over the next couple of months, as the enormity of the trip sunk in, we realized that we would need a lot of time to plan and save to pull off such an endeavor. Leah was just about to start a two-year MBA program, and I was nearing a career change. We forecasted our budget, crunched the numbers, and realized that we could be debt free and have our required funds ready by the end of her MBA program. After a few months of intensive research and the beginning stages of saving; we were well on our way to our Pan-American Highway adventure that would take us from Denver to Ushuaia.


    Adventure Travel South of the Border

    Earlier that year I had purchased our 2004 Toyota 4Runner for camping, off-roading, and as my daily driver. Since the 4Runner is such a reliable and well-built vehicle, we knew it would be the perfect vehicle for an overland trip. As our budget allowed, I started to purchase the desired suspension and various other upgrades that we would need. Since the 4Runner had just over 100,000 miles, I rebuilt most of the front suspension and changed the stock front shocks to 2.5” Sway-A-Way coil-overs and SPC upper control arms. The rear suspension was changed to MetalTech4x4’s version of long travel suspension with custom built control arms. Since much of our driving would be highway, we decided that a tall, skinny tire would be the best option to help with fuel consumption while still performing well off-road. The tire of choice was the 33” Cooper S/T Maxx because of the unique size and the semi-aggressive treadpattern that would be able to handle any type of terrain.

    Adventure Travel South of the Border

    At times building an overland vehicle on a strict budget can get very frustrating; such as the large price tag on a rear bumper with a spare tire swing out. With prices hovering around $2,000, we had to discard the dream of the new beautiful steel bumpers.  Instead, I drew up some plans and custom made one specific to our needs, saving us $1500. I also made and installed a full set of drawers with easy access from the back that would also allow us to sleep inside if necessary, all the while keeping an extra seat for a third traveler.  We did invest in a Tepui rooftop tent, which has made for a very comfortable home in nearly all types of weather and has been by far one of the best investments we have made for this trip. I built and installed a 100W solar and dual battery system to power up our 43-quart refrigerator and to keep us self-sufficient in remote places. The build turned out to be a reliable and comfortable setup, and hopefully tough enough for the grueling 30,000 miles of paved, potholed, dirt and sand roads ahead.

    Adventure Travel South of the Border

    The 4Runner has been a great vehicle for us on this trip. Except for Mexico (which doesn’t sell 4Runners), we have felt confident that in the event we encounter a problem, we would be able to find and replace parts. We have come across all types of roads and all types of weather along this trip. The 4Runner has powered through every type of terrain with such grace that it almost makes the trip seem, dare I say, easy. Mudslides that have stood in our way, hundreds of miles of dirt roads & sandy beaches, there was even a road in southern Mexico that had in excess 300 speedbumps in 150 kilometers! All of which the 4Runner has made its way through with relative ease. 

    Adventure Travel South of the Border

    We have been to some pretty amazing places so far on this trip, but there are really a handful that stick out in our memory. In Mexico, Chichen Itza was a great visit. We also enjoyed just about every cenote that we dove into, especially the one in the town of Valladolid.

    If you were to ask us what beaches we would recommend, well we would have to ask, what are you looking for? If you’re looking for the surf culture, then the Pacific beaches of El Salvador are for you.  If you’re looking to scuba and snorkel, we would point you in the direction of the Caribbean coast because of its clear blue water and tremendous reefs. One of the most clean and beautiful countries in all Central America is Costa Rica. The parks are very pretty and full of wildlife, the beaches are clean and free of trash, and the lakes are top notch since there are not hundreds of speed boats zipping back and forth all day long. The greatest city that crossed our path in Central America was undoubtedly Panama City, Panama. The cityscape is one of the most amazing scene from the docks of Panama Bay, which is south of the city off a small strip of land. This city was very clean and well planned, which is something every trip navigator will appreciate, although traffic is an absolute nightmare. 

    Adventure Travel South of the Border

    One of the best aspects of this trip that was unexpected was the relationships that we would forge with other overlanders. When you meet another overlander – the connection is automatic.  You immediately fall into deep conversation and form a bond as if you have known each other for years. It is these spontaneous relationships with other overlanders that has given shape to our trip. Prior to leaving, we believed that we would have a plan of what and where we would be a month out.  This view changed very quickly.

    The best example is how we spent this past Christmas. We were headed across the border to Belize, when we started talking with another overlanding couple and, decided on the spot to join them for the Holiday.  This involved driving three days to Lake Atitlán in Guatemala, where we celebrated with eight couples from eight different countries. We came together, shared our favorite dishes from home and shared stories until the early hours of the morning. Since then we have traveled on and off with these same overlanders.

    Adventure Travel South of the Border

    The only regret we have is that both of us should have taken our Spanish lessons more seriously. Don’t get me wrong, we have made it a long way with our broken Spanish, but we completely miss out on being able to connect with locals on a deep and meaningful level.  We have had to rely on our overlanding friends who speak fluent Spanish, or the grace of the locals with whom we are trying to communicate. 

    Adventure Travel South of the Border

    For those who dream of a trip like this, we have but one piece of advice for you... Do it! If we have learned one thing on this trip, it is that the world is continually changing and not always for the better. Experience it while you can, learn to explore and adventure will unfold at every turn, including learning a lot about yourself.  If you are afraid of what lies beyond our borders, let us tell you that we feel just as safe on the road as we would in any national park in the United States. People south of the US border have been friendly, helpful and generous.

    A major topic around the overland campfire is the issue of bribes. We do our research prior to entering a new country; we try our best to follow the letter of the law and are respectful to any officer that we come across. We are firm believers that being polite and giving a big smile are all you need, and of course the proper documents to get out of any situation bribe free. Early in our trip we had the pleasure to meet a couple that has been on the road since the early 90’s; the best advice I took away from our lengthy conversations was that the best tool you have in non-ideal situations is time. As an overlander you must be patient, and willing to go with the flow.

    You can follow their adventures on their website and Instagram site: 

    https://4runner4adventure.com

    https://www.instagram.com/4runner4adventure/

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