It’s no secret outdoor recreation is experiencing a historic boom as the pandemic wanes. According to the Outdoor Trends Association’s yearly Trends Report, about 7.1 million more Americans participated in outdoor recreational activities in 2020 than in 2019. That figure is expected to rise again when the new report is released later this summer.
While nearly all outdoor recreational activities have seen a rise in popularity, one hobby that’s seen especially rapid growth is overlanding—a form of vehicle-reliant travel to remote destinations in nature. Purists of the hobby often have robust, highly-equipped vehicles loaded with enough gear to camp for days off-the-grid. They're easy to spot—often involving tents perched on top of vehicles, food and grilling stations, portable shower pop-ups, and the occasional set of mountain bikes or fishing gear.
There's also a more casual subset of overlanders, who fill mid-size SUV's with friends and family and traverse mountain trails in the early morning—stopping to marvel at the breathtaking scenery—before returning in the afternoon. Even those quick jaunts can have serious benefits to your health: Studies have found that more time spent around greenery can lower the risk of developing respiratory diseases, and a 2020 study suggested more time in nature correlates to feeling more relaxed and focused.
Regardless of what type of overlanding you choose, the drive is likely to last longer than the actual time spent at your destination. That's part of the appeal to serious overlanders: They enjoy witnessing the scenic landscapes from the comfort of their vehicles, and spotting rare wildlife and foliage along the way, if they're lucky.
In overlanding, it's all about the journey, and few people know that journey better than Humberto Rivera. The 32-year-old professional Xterra athlete has spent the better part of a decade training in the wilderness and camping out nights before big races. Some of those races include the Xterra World Championships, the Snowy Mountains ITU Cross Triathalon World Championships, and the Sardegna ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships.
Rivera is also the face of Honda’s new “It’s Always a New Goal” campaign for the 2022 Passport Trailsport, a mid-size SUV perfectly equipped for newcomers to the hobby. Here, he shares some of his best advice to help you get started.
Prioritize Your Prep Time
Any time you're traveling into the wilderness—especially if you're off-roading—you want to be prepared. First, check the weather and make sure the conditions are safe, then plan on how you're going to get acclimated to different elevation levels and climates.
Rivera recalls a time he misread the weather conditions—and how he paid for it when he wasn't dressed appropriately. "In San Diego I miscalculated how cold it would be. It was warm at our house, but once we got to the mountains, it was freezing. That trip was not very fun."
Make sure you pack enough food and drinks for everyone, too. Even for a day trip, it may help to err on the side of bringing more than you might think you'll eat. Don't overlook essentials like bug spray, sun screen, and accessories like rain jackets and sunglasses, either. And if you anticipate going really far out there, consider buying a small power generator with spark plugs and an emergency satellite beacon.
Finally, check for updates and Google the latest headlines from the parks you're visiting. At the very least, you'll get a sense of what kind of wildlife you might encounter, as well as rules such as any no-burn mandates being enforced. That's also a good time to educate children on basic principles of safety and preparation—including exactly what to do if you get separated.
Choose the Proper Vehicle
Sure, this may seem like a no-brainer, but it's true: Overlanding is all about the vehicle. Contrary to popular belief, though, you don't need some rugged, tricked-out rock climber. These days, most major trails are safe and maintained frequently by the local, state, and national parks.
An all-wheel drive vehicle is a must, and it should have quality suspension and tires. A small truck or a mid-size SUV is even more ideal. "Two other characteristics you want to look for are a vehicle that sits high enough off the ground to get over rocks, and one that has a spacious interior that's easy to clean," Rivera says.
Leave Room for R&R
One of the primary benefits of overlanding is the opportunity it affords for exploring the outdoors in new ways. For instance, Rivera enjoys hunting for new mountain biking trails. For you, it might be trail running, or a more chill activity like wildlife photography.
Some of the most memorable experiences, though, involve doing nothing at all. Rivera says he finds the hours of quality time spent with his most frequent adventure buddy, his wife, the most enjoyable aspect of overlanding.
Rivera told us he and his wife are planning to add one more member to the group, as they just welcomed their first child, Raul, this week. Rivera tells us he's looking forward to bringing Raul with them on their overlanding travels, and that he hopes he will pass down a love for the outdoors to Raul—just like his parents once did for him. "Recently I found an old picture of my parents out camping," he says, "and it brought up many great memories."
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