One look at the incredible crowd gathered for the first Overland Expo PNW here in Bend, Oregon, this summer left no doubt that overlanding is currently seeing a tremendous growth in popularity. It seems everyone has discovered the joys of independent vehicle travel through the remote and wild places on our planet, and I couldn’t be happier to see it.
This growth in popularity also raises questions about the future of our beloved pastime and way of life. What will this kind of travel look like as more people take to the back roads? How do we ensure we protect these areas for ourselves and the next generation? The words ‘responsible’ and ‘sustainable’ are everywhere in the travel industry, but sometimes they are used without guidelines regarding what they mean in practice. At EarthCruiser, we take these concepts seriously and are constantly asking ourselves how we can best play a part in securing the future of travel and the outdoors.
So, what does responsible overlanding look like? It means taking care of the environments we travel through, respecting landowners and other land users, and supporting the people who live in the areas we visit.
Taking care of the land we overland through is perhaps the easiest way to way a difference. If you grew up scouting, you probably learned the principles of leave no trace:
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Pack out your garbage.
- Respect wildlife.
- Put out fires completely.
- Leave each campsite better than you found it.
When overlanding, we can expand this list to include consideration of the impact we can have with our vehicles. We can reduce our footprint by ensuring we understand and follow the rules for the lands we visit and by sticking to established trails and roads. It also means thinking about how our vehicles travel over roads and taking care not to degrade them. This can look like traveling over obstacles rather than around them, which can widen roads and erode or damage the environment. It looks like traveling through water only when necessary and only at established fords. Sometimes winching vehicles over obstacles or up steep inclines rather than driving up them can reduce the impact of your vehicle – besides, it’s our idea of a fun challenge. EarthCruiser is proud to be a partner with Tread Lightly! who has put together an excellent resource on responsible practices while overlanding.
At EarthCruiser, we believe in pitching in to clean up areas that have seen negative impacts from motorized vehicles and irresponsible use. We have been able to offer the use of our demo CORE vehicle, affectionately known at headquarters as “Clifford,” to aid in public land cleanups. It’s a small way in which we try to give back and has the added benefit of serving as a fantastic proving ground for the capabilities of our trucks.
A second way to ensure continued access and enjoyment of public lands is to respect landowners and other user groups. By carefully planning our routes, we can ensure we’re following local rules and regulations and not having a negative impact on private lands. Navigation services like Garmin and OnX offer overlays that tell you the exact boundaries of public and private lands. When traveling through places where livestock is present, we can help ensure future access by returning gates to the same position in which we found them.
By knowing what other types of vehicles and traffic we may find along our route, we can plan for how we’ll handle encounters with other groups. We can be on the lookout for horses, pack animals, ATVs, and bicycles and have a plan to share the road in a manner that doesn’t spook or endanger them. By taking good care of our fellow road users, we help to ensure those roads are kept open for everyone.
During the recent EarthCruiser Adventure through our home state of Oregon, we worked with officials from the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife, and Forest Service to obtain permits to operate our trip. Along with providing financial support to these groups, our permits meant we worked directly with these agencies. By doing so, we showed them how we responsibly use our lands and the benefits our type of travel provides.
Finally, one of the great things about overlanding is that it allows you to be self-sufficient, particularly if you’re traveling in a vehicle like an EarthCruiser. In one of our vehicles, you can comfortably go days, or longer, without the need to visit a town to recharge, refill water, or resupply. And that’s pretty fantastic. At the same time, this can mean that the people living in the areas we visit may not directly benefit from us being there.
This is why I believe in making an effort to spend money at local businesses and support non-profits in the places we visit. Each EarthCruiser Adventure supports a non-profit that gives back to the local communities or environment. Our recent trip through Oregon supported Tread Lightly!, and we will contribute to Terra Peninsular while visiting Baja in the fall. The pre-departure meal for our Oregon trip was prepared by a local indigenous business operated from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation, just north of our headquarters in Bend. We visited an incredible vineyard just outside of Baker City and made sure to resupply at small businesses in rural communities. Doing so not only shows local communities the benefits of keeping their lands open to our group of users, it enriches our experience by forming a deeper understanding of our destinations.
These are all little things, but if we can all commit to them, they can really add up. By taking care to minimize our impact while respecting and supporting others, we help to ensure the places we visit today are available for the next generation of overlanders.