A great experience is often more about the voyage and not the destination. For those of us who believe in truly immersing ourselves in the “doing”, the emerging activity of Overlanding is catching our attention.
Overlanding is about travelling across the land in a fully-equipped off-road vehicle for several days. You have everything you need to be completely self-sustaining while in the wilds. The bonus is this – you can get to places other people can’t, giving you a unique, private experience in the environment of your choice.
We spoke with Max Webster, Founder and Operator of Hastings Overland, to give us the goods on this emerging activity. Listen to our podcast episode here, or read our conversation below with images.
Steep Magazine: Tell us about Overlanding and self-reliant adventure.
Max Webster: Overlanding is classically defined as self-reliant travel literally over land to remote destinations. The journey is the principal goal and amping is primarily the principal lodging. But that being said, a lot of people define it as being all off-road. But really, in our definition of the term, as long as you feel like you’re in an adventure, you’re overlanding.
If you’re going to go to upper Squamish or out into Jones Lake or just anywhere in the interior of BC and you’re going to go camp for one night, two nights, three nights, it essentially means you’re going to be okay. If you get stuck, you’re going to be able to get yourself out of that situation. You’re just completely self-reliant in every sense of the word. You’ve got extra water. You’ve got gasoline. You have a cooler, a stove, all the camping gear. You’re there and you’re going to be okay.
Steep Magazine: What about things like first aid or are you prepared for an emergency? What sort of gear do you have on board to deal with it?
Max Webster: In Hastings Overland Jeeps, we have jumper cables. We have a first aid kid, fire extinguisher, hatchet. All of the necessities for those situations, because the worse thing that could happen to us is something that could happen to our customer.
Steep Magazine: How long could somebody be self reliant just on an average overlanding trip?
Max Webster: In the late ’40s when overlanding started, the first trip the Land Rover Series I made was from the UK to Ethiopia. There’s a lot of people that pride themselves on being able to go as long as possible. That being said, with our customers, we’ve had up to 17 days. Our rooftop tents, they come equipped with mattresses so you’re very comfortable up there. It’s not like you’re waking up with a stiff back every morning. As long as you’re okay with not having all of the comforts of home like you would with a 30-foot RV then you could go for really as long as you like.
Steep Magazine: So, you were saying, “The late ’40s.” So, where did it start? What was the genesis of overlanding? Where did it begin?
Max Webster: That’s a good question. It was a farming term in Australia in the early 1900s. They used it for opening up new territory for livestock. Then in the ’40s, overlanding really started to come about in Australia as well to kind of open up access to the outback. Since then, currently, it’s Australia and Africa are the two most popular places for overlanding, plus those are also the two most commercial available places to hire a vehicle or take a trip with multiple other people and have a guide.
Steep Magazine: So, this is a pretty new … Is it a pretty new sport in North America and old in other places? I’m just trying to visualize how fresh it is in North America.
Max Webster: In North America, it’s definitely fresh. Currently, Hastings Overland is the first in BC to be doing rental operations. But, that being said, it’s still a hobby for individuals to go out and do and there are many stories and retailers that sell overlanding accessories and have done so for 10 to 15 years. It’s just now becoming something that you can hire.
Steep Magazine: Tell me then what does it offer that’s unique and different than other types of adventures into the wild?
Max Webster: From an adventure perspective, we think it’s unrivaled. Personally, I’ve driven through the Atacama Desert. I’ve ridden motorcycles through Rajasthan in India and Northern Vietnam. I just got back from doing the Trans-Mongolian Railway. I think that this is the type of experience where it’s all about in between your destinations and that’s where you’re going to get the true adventure. A normal tourist is going to go from location to location and the destinations are what they’re focused on whereas for us, it’s the encounters with locals in a small village and having to find lodging for the night. It’s about seeing travel in a completely different way.
So, for example, if you’re going to go up to Squamish. We’ve got suggestions for river rafting and mountain biking and all those things that you can do from the locations that you’re camping at as well. It’s not necessarily all about the journey – there are definitely aspects that include the destination itself. We think that overlanding is typically thought of as more so about the journey in between destinations and the destination itself.
Steep Magazine: That actually differentiates it for sure, because typically you’re right. We just focus on where we’re going, and almost want to get there as quickly as we can as opposed to enjoying the voyage there, right?
Max Webster: I find that a lot of our customers right now, when they first make their inquiry, they’ve got these huge agendas and they want to go from here to Whistler to Lillooet to Jasper down to Banff and around to Revelstoke, Kelowna, Vancouver, and they want to do that in 10 days.
Steep Magazine: That’s a lot.
Max Webster: That is a very common way of tourists to come through BC. We really try and slow our customers down and say, “Well, there’s 15 things to do between here and there. So, you might want to take a couple days,” and just showing them the way that we like to see it.
Steep Magazine: I guess one question that pops into my mind is, where can you stop without somebody coming out and telling you to get off their private land or not being able to legally park on a piece of municipal property?
Max Webster: That’s a great question. We are spoiled when it comes backroads and access into the true wilderness. So, we’ve partnered up with Backroad Mapbooks, an incredible Canadian company. They give physical copies of regions with all the backroads, all of the gates. Everything that you need to know about how to access these areas. When we send a customer out, we’re not saying, “Camp at this provincial park and this provincial park.” We’re telling them all of the different areas that you can go that aren’t necessarily a campsite or their BC rec site, which are largely maintained by the users or by BC Hydro. There’s a lot out there that a large majority of people don’t really know about and are completely legal to camp at.
Steep Magazine: Very nice. Talk about special locations!
Max Webster: Absolutely! In the three months that we’ve been operational, I’ve found at least 10 new spots that I would’ve never known about and I’ve camped all my life. Once you take a look at all the resources that we have, it’s truly incredible what people in BC can do.
Steep Magazine: So, who’s the ideal candidate for overlanding trips? I mean, the people that you come across that seem to have enjoyed it the most?
Max Webster: So far as an age group, we haven’t really narrowed that down yet. We’ve had customers all the way from 25 to early 60s. So, the way we look at it is as long as you like to get out and explore, we don’t need all the comfort so much. We equip our customers all the knowledge through extensive orientation. We provide them with a manual so they can navigate situations that they encounter and so they can enjoy their experiences rather being stressed out. So, as long as the customer has a sense of adventure, then this is for them.
Steep Magazine: What do you do in preparation for an overlanding trip?
Max Webster: We really pride ourselves in our communication. We show our customers what’s included, what to expect. We give them video tutorials on how to do all the gear. As well as when they show up, we open the tent up. We open the awning. We show them how the winch works and we do all of that with them so that they can leave feeling prepared. If you’re doing it on your own and you’re not doing it through a company like ours, it’s a considerable undertaking. You need to have a vehicle that’s prepared for the off-road. You need to have all the camping gear. Almost most importantly, you would definitely need to have local knowledge in order to find these places. So, there’s a considerable amount of preparation, but as long as we can have our customers leaving, feeling like they’re prepared for that, then all they really need to do is bring clothing and some food.
Steep Magazine: You sound a bit like concierge service where you get everything ready and send them on their way. Do people come to you with, let’s say a bit of a loose itinerary? In other words, “We’d like to go hiking,” or, “We want to go and see … We want to go swimming or we want to see wildlife.” Do they come to you as that? If so, how do you develop an itinerary for them?
Max Webster: That’s actually ideal. When our customers come to us with an idea and some must-sees and must-dos, that’s perfect us. With us being a small business right now, we’re still creating all the trip plan. So, if we’re hearing that five out of 10 people really want to see Whistler then we want to throw them through Whistler. If they want a mountain bike, then we’re going to start creating relationship with a rental company there so they can show up and their gear is ready. I would say about half of our customers show up all ready with a trip plan so they’re not requiring one, but when they do, we’re all ears. Tell us what you want to do and we’ll do the best to accommodate that.
Steep Magazine: You were mentioning Whistler. Obviously, that’s a four-season resort. Do you find that people like to overland in the summer, fall, and spring only? Or is it a four-season sport?
Max Webster: Our open season is from April 15th to October 31st. In the winter, we strip our rooftop tents and we put ski racks on. We re-organize the back of our tailgate kitchens to be more guided toward ski storage. Then we send our customers out more so on ski safaris where they have lodging so they’re not sleeping in the tents themselves.
Steep Magazine: Be a little chilly out!
Max Webster: Yeah, it would be very, very chilly.
Steep Magazine: So, when you say, “Lodging,” what type of lodging? I mean, are they rolling up to Hyatt at a big resort or are they finding more unique places along the way?
Max Webster: That’s completely up to them. I mean, we’ve helped with that before, but more so when it comes to our trip plans, we guide that more towards our summer stuff just because it’s really easy to find a hotel, not necessarily easy to find a backroad camping site. So, we don’t find that we actually have our customers asking us for suggestions when it comes to lodging in the winter.
Steep Magazine: Give us a couple of examples and some stories of how people explore places and some really epic trips that were taken either by yourself or one of your clients.
Max Webster: I would say the most epic part so far of this whole business is just seeing the type of people that show up. You’ll have someone from Australia book two weeks in advance and they’re going on a two-week trip. That is a cool person that I want to meet first of all. For example, we have some Dutch clients out. They sent me a video of a grizzly encounter that they had this morning. They’ve decided that they were going to take a seaplane up the coast and then go on boat tour to see some grizzlies and that’s what they did. It’s not necessarily all in the jeep that they’re finding these places. It’s more so half the time they’re using it as a vehicle to get them places that’s kind of far out and away.
Last week, we had a French client that was exploring some backroads on a trip plan of ours. They’d stumbled upon an absolutely epic mountain valley, which they had all to themselves. They stayed there for three days and there were just three mountain peaks surrounding them. This is near Lillooet and they just ended up hiking each mountain, one per day. That wasn’t even part of the trip plan. So, what I want to stress to customers is that here’s the trip plan, but you’re on an adventure. We’re not telling you that you need to stick to this. If there’s a road that you want to go and check out, do it.
Steep Magazine: These sound like really cool trips and certainly I bet on the case of the Lillooet, they probably encountered pretty much nobody else, right?
Max Webster: Absolutely no one. They showed me this place on the map and I went and checked it out. Man … incredible, absolutely incredible. You can’t even find that stuff on the internet.
Steep Magazine: Well, that’s what I’m thinking. I mean, you’re certainly opening up the opportunity for people who want to get away from other people or the crowds and all the usual vacation spots and really allowing them to experience nature really the way it should be, which is in the quiet and away from everyone else, right?
Max Webster: A lot of the places in BC that are known for their tourism are known for their tourism for a reason. So, there are some incredible spots that you don’t really want people to miss. I had been sending some of our customers up to Wells Grey Provincial Park, and you’re going to be camping right next to somebody, because it is a provincial park and there isn’t forest service roads that allow for that type of camping. But man, if you haven’t been up there, the waterfalls are next level. None of my customers have come back complaining that they had neighbours at night because it’s that nice. So, there’s a definitely a mix between … you might find that one night you’re in a place that’s just you and then the next night, you’re in another place. There’s others because that’s just the way it is.
Steep Magazine: Your jeeps – where can these jeeps go that other vehicles can’t? I mean, more than just a rental car or somebody’s regular car.
Max Webster: The nice thing about our jeeps is you can go to these places that you don’t know. Maybe another vehicle could get you, but the nice thing about ours is you’re getting there comfortable and you’re knowing that it’s going to make it because we have 33-inch tires with 10-ply of rubber. So, a normal tire would have four-ply. We’ve got three-inch lift. We’ve got aftermarket front and rear bumpers. So, these things are really, really durable, and they can take pretty much anything. That was the whole point. Most of our customers aren’t going to use that to the full extent and we don’t necessarily want people using that to the full extent. If they do encounter a situation where they need to go a little bit further, they’re able to.
Steep Magazine: Sometimes you get to some place and you go, “I wonder what’s around the corner,” and the road isn’t, but you are.
Max Webster: Or you get past a place and you go, “Maybe we shouldn’t have done that,” and you can get back, right?.
Steep Magazine: Tell me about maybe some of the most coolest things you’ve ever done personally overlanding, because obviously you’ve done some pretty epic trips.
Max Webster: I would my favorite trip would’ve been renting out a Royal Enfield in India and biking through Rajasthan. That was incredible. That’s still overlanding, because I had all my gear on my back and my satchels. We just did it. It was so incredible, because in India, it’s a place where you go to these big cities and you can get completely turned off from the place because they are loud, they are hectic. They are stinky. They are all of the above. They are just … every single sense is on full the whole day and then you get out into the little towns and villages in India and it is a completely different place. You don’t get there unless you go yourself.
Steep Magazine: So, what’s next in overlanding?
Max Webster: We can kind of look towards Southern Africa and Australia for indications of what’s to happen next. One of the biggest things that happens in overlanding is it becomes a huge hobby within hobbyists groups, but then companies like Hastings Overland start to come in, because people start seeing these. They go, “I want to try that, but I don’t want to put 15 grand into a setup.” So, then, they start becoming commercially viable and you start having things like the BC Overland Rally, which happened in June and it’s the first ever. And you start retailers starting to sell overland accessories. Then, you start seeing in downtown Vancouver, you can’t go a day without seeing a new rig with a rooftop tent. In BC, I definitely think it’s in its infancy. I just think that it’s kind of a global industry where you try at one place and then you just want to go and try at another. So, we want to work with all of our competitors in other regions and kind of build a whole movement around it because … I mean, as soon as I did these setups with Hastings Overland, the next thing I want to do is I want to go and try out, check for adventures in New Zealand. It’s just a natural next step. So, I don’t really think that overlanding is specific to a region. It’s more so a worldwide thing.
Steep Magazine: What about the actual vehicles? I mean, certainly there’s going to be some electric drivetrains coming along. Where do you see … How could that affect the opportunity and maybe make it more exciting and more environmentally friendly?
Max Webster: I think that’s probably a little ways away, because the electric vehicles are more so guided towards where the populations are, which are the urban areas. If you look at the demographics of the globe, everyone is moving into cities. So, I don’t know if that will be a huge factor in overlanding in the short term or even for long term, but we’d be all ears to that, because, of course, there’s an environmental impact to this and we pride ourselves on being environmentally sustainable and taking care of the areas that we visit. So, if could be less invasive with our carbon footprint, that would be better.
Steep Magazine: And certainly, all the gear too, all the cool new gear that will come along that will fit into these-
Max Webster: Absolutely. I mean, there’s a company out in Delta called Kakadu Camping. They sell overlanding gear from all the different regions in the world. I was out there just a couple weeks ago checking out the new tailgate kitchen that was from Australia. Just the sophistication that’s coming along with it and being able to really just fit more into a vehicle and being able to bring more and be more efficient with it and having trunk liners that are filled with water and pressure showers and all the things that make it even that much better.
Learn more at Hastings Overland