Overlanding Basics – Spontaneity & the Great Outdoors

November 3, 2015 | Corrie Murguia |

This is the type of text exchange I have with my husband on a regular basis:

text(That’s me in blue. I’m an outdoors pusher.)

This was my 38K foot question to the husband-unit on a flight home from a business trip. It was Friday. I landed at 10AM, home by 11AM, Michael was home at 12:30PM and we were on the road by 1PM.

IMG_4568-683x1024Michael talks ALL THE TIME about getting out of town as fast as possible. And it’s for a reason: He powers through his weekdays in the SF video game industry (Fun fact: He was one of the original team members on SimCity!), and his sense of work/life balance comes from his ability to get the F* out of dodge on a dime.

When my husband gets to the mountains, his entire demeanor changes. His face lightens. He breathes deeper. He is a new person as soon as the air turns fresh and the drone of traffic falls away. There is nothing better than seeing his face brighten up with the suggestion of a last minute overlanding excursion.

There is a strong element of planning and prepping with every new overland journey we take. But when spontaneity strikes, we use the following guidelines to seize the moment, load up and explore!

1. If You Fail to Prepare…


At the end of each trip we take inventory of what we used, what we discovered we needed, and what we can cut from our 3 Plano cases.

Once we have everything on a list, we execute on it. We don’t wait for the next scheduled adventure. We always have the core essentials on the ready.

For example, our dry foods plano will *always* have spaghetti, sauce, and packets of parmesan. We know we have one solid meal option with our outdoor kitchen setup wherever we land.

I also keep a duffle bag fully loaded with clean outdoors clothing. When we get home, we wash our dirty gear, and it goes right back into the ‘adventure’ duffle. No running around trying to find the merino wool shirt or the green adventure pants Friday afternoon. Just grab and go! (I swear, Michael would live in those pants if I didn’t immediately pack them away.)

We aren’t perfect at this! Sometimes we grab from the pantry to restock the cases; however, we’re conscious that the more we do at the end of a trip, the faster we are able to launch into the next one.

2. Stay On Your Maintenance Game

I HATE wondering (and worrying) about anything technical or mechanical while overloading in the 1996 FZJ80. I am the one scheduling oil changes, tune ups, tire/brake checks, WHATEVER. We stay on maintenance when we’re grinding pavement so we don’t have to think or worry when we’re off-road. And the last thing I want to ask just as we’re pulling out of the driveway is, “Hey, when was the last oil change?”

3. Familiar Routes

Spontaneous trips = Familiar routes. We know the ins-and-outs of the Slick Rock Trail in Lake Alpine, CA and the off-road camping sites available along the trail.
When we take off down the spontaneous trail, we KNOW the terrain and final destination. Spontaneous trips aren’t for new trails. We allow plenty of time for planning and research before hitting a new region.

IMG_5200-e1431810226379-1024x7681-1024x7684. It’s the Spice of Life

When asking each other what we’re going to do on a Friday night, we always have the option of shaking up our
scenery and driving away from the crowds! Having the ability to pick up and go reminds me to seize my time and make the most out of life. And it’s always fun to watch my husband reconnect with his deepest passion: the outdoors.

Make the time between your spontaneous ‘YES’ and getting outdoors as short as possible! It doesn’t matter what you do to be on the ready for adventure. Have a pre-packed bag, have a case, have several cases, have everything, have nothing, do your thing, but always remember that adventure is only one ‘YES’ away. Only always.

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Traction Jack review by Ruston Smith

November 24, 2015 | Ruston Smith |


When it comes to gear for the off road enthusiast, many people opt for bigger tires, new metal bumpers, lockers and roof racks.  After these individuals spend hours waiting for a buddy with a tow rope or a winch to come extract them from inevitably getting stuck, they decide that recovery gear may be necessary!

When the discussion of recovery gear is inevitably brought up, one of the first things that come to mind are recovery boards.  But what kind should you get?

For those that need something more rugged and reliable there are Traction Jacks!  Founded in 2010 by Jeffery Brown each basic kit comes with 2 complete units, two leash ropes to pull it out from the ground, instructions, and replacement warranty info. Ohh and did we mention they are made 100% in the USA!


 Overlanding USA set out this weekend to give you our comprehensive review of Traction Jacks from our point of view!

 Traction Jacks utilize a very unique design in the world of recovery boards.  Folding in half and having a flexible hinge in the middle of the board gives them inherent advantages on uneven surfaces.  This unique design led to them being named one of “4WD Toyota Owner Magazines” top 10 new products at this years SEMA convention.

 At 4.3 feet Traction Jacks has the market cornered on sheer size when unfolded, being 15% longer and 10% wider than their closest competitor in MaxTrax.  Their size and construction also allows them to be effective and stable at weights up to 30,000 GVW.

 Beyond its advantages on uneven surfaces the fold in the middle of the boards allows for some serious space saving when it come for storage! When they are collapsed Traction Jacks are only 2’ 2” long, or 40% shorter than MaxTrax.  This is, by far, one of my favorite features.  The ability to simply and safely store them on the back of our Gobi ladder! Make for a fantastic product!


 Like most recovery boards Traction Jack does recommend that you limit wheel spin on the boards, we have found however that they have a much higher tolerance to wheel spin than most recovery boards, due to the fact they are made of tougher polycarbonate composite!

 That being said, there is a slight lack of initial grip when trying to first gain traction on the boards.  This can become problematic, however, it does allow Traction Jacks to shed dirt more effectively in extremely mud situations. The overall ability to tolerate more wheel spin combines with a no clog design on the tracks makes for a very reliable and solid gripping surface for your tires.

 In conclusion Traction Jacks is a unique way at looking at the recovery board game, all in all I would say the unique design gives them an advantage over the competition. Entering the market at $189.99, the value in these boards is there for sure, costing almost half the price of their competitors.  Traction Jack is leading the way into the new American built 4×4 products, giving the Australian competitors a real run for their money! Overall we would recommend a set of Traction Jacks for sure! Traction Jacks gets the official #Overlandingusaapproved seal!


Expedition Alabama by: Freddy Taul

November 4, 2015 | Freddy Taul |

At approximately 4pm on Friday October 23 the Overlanding USA team embarked on Expedition Alabama (XAL).

It was the first of what will be multiple trips in an effort to create a back roads route around the state of Alabama. The idea for XAL began months ago after I first learned of the Trans America Trail. I quickly found some roads close to the house but never made much progress after that. As Ruston and I were trying to plan a trip in October I pitched the idea of working on this project. We both agreed this was what we needed to do, which meant I had a lot of work to do!

58034e_e29077592d54417781d8af27d527644aHours upon hours went into searching for roads to piece together a route as far north as I could take it. After all was said and done I had mapped from my house in Saraland up to a small town called Eldridge, AL. There was no way to know how long it would take us to drive that distance and we had to hope there weren’t many obstacles along the way. I recruited my friend Austin to navigate for us knowing he would enjoy the trip and be a huge asset to the team.

Friday came and it was time to hit the trail. We all met at my house to do final vehicle prep and loading. An awning needed to be installed on my vehicle and Austin had to set up his computer and other equipment to navigate. We were ready to roll by 4pm and soon we were on the VERY dusty trail as there had been little rain in October.

We pushed through to Silas, AL where we made camp at Service Campground, a well- maintained camp ground built by the Army Corps of Engineers ($16/night fee).58034e_344db654905749f6b922780d69ff0ed8

 Saturday was going to be a big push to cover as much ground as possible. We crossed the Tombigbee River into Coffeeville and headed towards the Scotch Wildlife Management Area.

From there we rolled on towards Demopolis arriving in time for lunch. After fueling up and eating it was time to get moving again. Just east of Demopolis we encountered the worst stretch of road during the trip, and it was paved! I later told Austin to remove that section from the route. It was really that bad.

The next major section we were looking forward to was the Oakmulgee district of the Talladega National Forest.

Here we found some nice trails winding through beautiful fall colored trees. You could spend a weekend exploring the roads through that place but we had to stay on mission.  Tuscaloosa was next, and thankfully we passed through just after kickoff of the Tennessee/Alabama game. By now we realized that reaching Eldridge was not just a possibility but a reality.

The roads from Tuscaloosa to Eldridge were definitely the most scenic roads we drove all weekend. One section took us past several fields with old barns sitting below some large hills. Wildlife was in abundance too as we saw several turkeys. We encountered our only obstacle all weekend when we came upon a “Road Closed” sign. Curiosity demanded we check it out and the road was gated off. Austin found us another way and the journey continued.

Next stop: Eldridge.

 We were losing daylight by the time we reached Eldridge but thankfully there was enough left to take some pictures in a neat tunnel running under some train tracks just south of town. This was a big milestone for the team. My only regret was not mapping out more, but like I said, there was no way to know how long it would take to reach Eldridge. After so many hours of planning I was thrilled we made it that far by Saturday evening with barely any issues.


The Bankhead National Forest was just up the road so that’s where we made camp Saturday night. We all enjoyed a relaxing night after a long, successful day of driving. Sunday morning was slow going.

We took time to view the sights around the lake and make plans for the day. Ruston took the lead out that morning as Austin was navigating on the fly. We drove until lunch time and found some nice roads but I will be going back to the maps to find a better route from Eldridge. The Bankhead took us farther east than we would like. We parted ways in Muscle Shoal58034e_4b47e1ebf90a4b5682b8eee0339cd900s. Ruston was off to Tuscaloosa while Austin and I drove on to Florence for lunch and to visit the Alabama Outdoors store there. We then headed south to Saraland.

XAL is off to a great start and we look forward to the next trip. In the mean time I have a lot of work to do. Route planning is very tedious but very rewarding in the end. As we cover more ground we will update the route on our website so you can check it out for yourself.

In all that we do with Overlanding USA we hope to inspire others to get out and explore the world around them starting right outside your back door. That’s how this all began. So, load up your car, hit the trail, and find places you never knew were there!

Semper Explorandum,


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