Overlanding is all the rage. That much is clear when I’m driving around San Diego, where I live, and I see dozens of roof-top-tents on trucks and SUVs every day.
Overlanding is a form of vehicle-based adventure travel that has exploded in popularity over the past decade. If you’ve noticed more and more people outfitting their cars and trucks for backcountry adventure, it’s not your imagination.
I did some digging into overlanding statistics that show that overlanding, once the purview of people trekking across Australia or Africa, has become increasingly popular in the United States. From Google searches to industry statistics on the overlanding market, the graphs showing interesting overlanding are all up and to the right over the past decade.
No doubt, this growth was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which sparked a boom in outdoors-related activities.
Growing Interest in Overlanding
One of the best ways to gauge public interest in a topic is to look at how many people search for a term in Google. Based on Google searches for the term “overlanding” the topic has rapidly grown in popularity over the past decade – see the chart below.
This trend of increasing interest in overlanding is supported by the number of people attending Overland Expo West, the largest overlanding-focused event in the United States.
In 2012, about 5,000 people attended the event, according to numbers published on the Overland Expo website. Last year, that number had grown to over 28,000 attendees. This is particularly impressive, as there are now three additional Overland Expo events held in Colorado, Oregon and Virginia. In total, the four expo events boasted 70,000 attendees in 2022.
One interesting point about the Google search data and event attendance is that they seem to have plateaued a bit from 2021 to 2022. It’s hard to know whether that’s significant or not, especially coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it does make me wonder if the market is starting to saturate. We’ll see…
Even if there is a plateau, the market for overlanding is quite large. Facebook, for instance, estimates that between 6.5 – 7.6 million people between the ages of 18 and 65 in the US have expressed interest in the topic.
Where is overlanding popular?
Based on Google search traffic, people around the US are interested in overlanding. That said, people who live in western states were particularly engaged, as the map below showing Google searches for “overlanding” by state. The darker-colored states indicate places where a larger percentage of overall google searches inquired about “overlanding.”
Again, the map is a rough indicator, but it does shed light on where people are most interested in the activity. And it makes sense that overlanding would be most popular in parts of the country with more backcountry areas accessible for camping, exploration, and off-road travel.
Overlanding is Big Business
For businesses, overlanding represents a juicy opportunity. Go to one of the many overlanding festivals or events popping up all over the country, and you’ll get a glimpse at the many types of vehicles, trailers, and overlanding gear on the market.
In its 2022 State of the Industry Report, SEMA, the industry association that represents many of the companies that make overland and off-road gear, found that more than half of manufacturers and retailers saw opportunity in the overlanding market as a moderate to high.
Have we hit peak overlanding?
If you look at the data on Google searches and Overland Expo West attendance, it might be tempting to think that interest in overlanding may have plateaued over the past couple of years. But I doubt it.
Overland Expo has launched three new annual events and those have growing attendance. Some people who previously might have good to the Flagstaff, AZ, event may now go to those other events closer to home. Beyond that, if you check out our overlanding and off-road events calendar, you’ll see that there are many other events focused on overlanding and off-roading.
The Google search data could be a clearer indication of interest saturating. But, I think you also have to take the pandemic into account. Many outdoor activities boomed during the pandemic, including overlanding. It could be that the pandemic since accelerated the growth curve for overlanding that the market is temporarily saturated.
It’s hard to know, but based on the number of number of people I see driving around with kitted out rigs – in the city and in the backcountry – overlanding is still motoring along.