To learn about new gear, it’s tough to beat using it outdoors. Seeing it at an indoor show doesn’t give you the full picture. I got to explore some cool new gear at the 2023 Tread Overland Summit — 3 days of camping with multiple brands, where I could confront brand reps directly with questions and even complaints about their gear. Here are some of the cool things I got to try out.
Milestar Patagonia X/T
Milestar’s Patagonia X/T tire was my first test. I took a Ford Bronco Raptor equipped with the 37-inch version of this hybrid terrain tire on the 3-hour drive from LAX to my campsite at our location deep in the woods near Big Bear.
This is a budget-friendly tire, offered in 43 sizes to fit 15- through 22-inch wheels. It’s also offered on Discount Tire Direct, so you can get it with a pretty handy road hazard replacement warranty.
My trip started with about 100 miles of California freeway, not the best place for a big aggressive treaded tire. But the Patagonia X/T was surprisingly quiet, at least compared with the rest of the Bronco Raptor.
The tire lacked some straight-line stability compared with other off-road tires I’ve driven, but the Bronco isn’t exactly a hands-off highway drive with the stock rubber, either. So, it’s tough to place the blame here.
I was happy to find a three-peak mountain snowflake on the sidewall of the tire, the symbol for a winter rating. Temperatures fell to the freezing point as I wound up to higher than 7,000 feet in the mountains, but the tire kept its grip. It squealed in protest when I went into mountain bends a little bit hot. When I drove it like the off-road tire it is, though, everyone was happy.
On the sand roads from the highway to the campsite, this tire seriously dug in. It gave me loads of confidence and enough grip that I rarely saw the traction control light blink even when exercising the Bronco’s turbocharged V6.
The rubber was equally grippy on our trail run. The Bronco Raptor absolutely crushed a rocky climb where most of the rest of the convoy struggled or had to take a second run.
He said that the coolers were meant to be the most durable on the market. The biggest coolers are designed to fit perfectly in a standard raft frame, handy for on-the-river storage.
He also hyped the one-piece body, durability, and the lifetime parts warranty that will even replace a lost drain plug three times. Show evidence of a bear or shark attack, and you can get the whole cooler replaced once for free.
I liked the secure rubber latches. They’re soft, which makes them easy to use even with frozen fingers. But, they still felt secure thanks to a hidden snap.
Canyon says its coolers will keep ice for 5-12 days, depending on the model. The two drink coolers we were using (one for beer and one for pop and water) were still more than half full of ice at the end of the trip. After 3 days with highs in the 90s and constantly cycling in warm drinks for a group of about 30, I have no problem believing those claims.
Lance Campers Enduro
I spent my 2 nights in a Lance Campers Enduro. Lance brought two trailers and a truck camper up the rough road to get to the site. The Enduro 1200IK camper I slept in was well-insulted, keeping me warm without using the heater. It also had enough bathroom size for my 6’3″ XXL self. The massive truck camper had just enough height for me in the shower as well.
The Enduro had a bed big enough that I could fit turned parallel or perpendicular. Plus, the dinette seating area converts to make the bed even larger. Converted, there’s room for four to sleep — at least if you’re friendly.
The 1200EK, Lance’s other trailer unit onsite, had an external kitchen that helped make it a bit more family-friendly by letting you spread out for cooking time.
Shiftpod III Shelter
I thought that an Apollo module had landed, but it was actually a handful of Shiftpod shelters. The company’s tents look like they’ve been wrapped in a space blanket, but it is an insulated, all-season fabric. The system reflects heat from the outside to keep the space from heating up in the sun but is insulated to keep body heat inside.
Shiftpod’s tents took just a couple of minutes to set up and then take down. At $1,699, the Shiftpod III isn’t cheap, but it did keep my colleagues warm. And nobody came lumbering out to complain when things got a bit noisy around the fire late at night. So, that insulation must be working.
Tuff Stuff Overland Roof Tents
Tuff Stuff had its Alpha series rooftop tents on site as well. I didn’t sleep in the four-season tents, but I did climb up the impressively sturdy ladder for a look around. The big mattress was very comfortable, especially with one of the company’s anti-condensation mats underneath.
The anti-condensation mat uses tiny coils of aluminum that are woven together to separate your mattress (and your heat) from the cold floor. It keeps you dryer, and it should keep you warmer, but it also adds some squish to the mattress system for a bit more comfort.
The tent folded quickly, too. Quickly enough that one of the Tuff Stuff reps on site folded the Alpha II tent just to reposition the vehicle a few feet. It wasn’t meant as a demonstration, but it was a good one.
Optima Battery Orangetop
My morning on the trail started with a presentation from Optima Batteries. The company parked its 7,000-pound Rivian R1T on top of a Yellowtop battery overnight. It cracked the seam between the top and the battery case, but then Cam Douglas from Optima did something really cool.
He plugged an oscillating blade saw into an inverter and connected that to the cracked Yellowtop. He used the battery’s own power to slice it up and remove one of the six cells. The saw slowed down but stayed running until the cell was almost completely removed.
It was a cool look inside an absorbed glass mat battery, which doesn’t leak when you cut it into pieces. Douglas unrolled the battery cell he had cut out so we could see the glass mat inside. Then he connected the unraveled cell to an electric organ grinder’s monkey which banged its cymbals annoyingly for the rest of the day.
It was a cool display, but I was more interested in the company’s new Orangetop. You can read more about the lithium battery here. But, the coolest part of the ultralight powersports battery is its internal management system. The danger for lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) is running low on charge.
Once a LiFePO4 battery runs too low on voltage, it dies. The right charger might be able to revive it, but there’s a good chance that the battery is now a brick.
The Orangetop system disconnects the battery internally if it’s running low voltage. Not only will it not kill the battery, you’ll still have enough power to start your engine. It could save you both a tow and a new battery.
Morrflate Multi-Tire Inflation
Morrflate wants to make it easier for you to air down and back up at the start and end of a trail day. Dropping pressures can give you more traction by letting the tire deform around the driving surface, it can also make the ride more comfortable because of the extra squish. But it’s a pain.
The company’s system connects to all four tires, letting you drop the pressures of all four at once. It took less than 4 minutes to drop their demo Jeep’s 40-inch tires from 29 psi to 13, and all four were automatically equalized.
To reinflate, you can use your own compressor or use the one Morrflate designed specially for its kit.
What makes Morrflate’s own compressor special is the airflow. A standard valve stem can only flow around 2 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of air. Your portable inflator probably moves around 5 cfm. That back pressure makes your compressor work harder, which can make it overheat and cut into its service life.
That flow rate is also why better portable inflators don’t seem to inflate much more quickly than cheap ones. Moorflate says allowing all four tires to be blown up at once makes it easier on your compressor. The company also sells one that is specced to 10.6 cfm, just the right amount to inflate four tires at once. The company says it’ll run a set of 35-inch tires from 10 psi up to 40 psi in under 4 minutes.
The Moorflate compressor is set it and forget it. The inflation system will inflate all four tires to the same pressure because they’re linked through one large hose.
Forget trail inflation — I want this for my winter tire changeover.
Safety First, Especially Away From Paved Roads
At lunchtime, we got a talk about wilderness safety and first aid from Steve Barron of Adventure Awareness Concepts. I’m not going to try and cram an hour of his talk — let alone a weekend’s worth of proper training — into a paragraph, so I’ll sum it up: If you’re headed into the wilderness, find a training course near you and take it. Seriously.
Hitchfire Grille Serving Up Lunch
Lunch for Tread Overland Summit attendees was cooked up by the team at Hitchfire. Hitchfire’s team cooked a tri-tip and sausage lunch on the trail for 30+ with one of its hitch-mounted grills.
The F20 grill has 355 square inches of grilling space and a pair of 10,000 BTU burners. The pivoting swing arm lets you open your hatch or tailgate without removing the grill to get to your gear. You can also take the grill out of the arm and move it into the middle of your campsite if you’re going to be sticking around for a few days.
The cook station and cargo platform give you a space to prep. Plus, you can connect it to a water jug and get a functioning sink wherever you’re cooking. Hitchfire aims its grilles at tailgaters, but this is pretty sweet for camping, too. They’ll fit almost anything with a standard 2-inch hitch receiver.
Rigid Industries LED Showcase
It’s been a busy day on the trail, but just because the sun has set it doesn’t mean my day is over. Instead, it was time for Rigid Industries to light up the 2023 Tread Overland Summit with one heck of a show from its latest products.
Richie Schatz from Rigid took me blasting into the darkness in his Toyota Tacoma fitted with a whole catalog’s worth of the company’s products. A roof-mounted light bar sent its rays what seemed like half a mile down the trail, but it was the less-bright lights that wowed me.
The company’s dark amber lamps aren’t as flashy as the whiter hues (Rigid makes one that’s less amber just for that reason), but the dark amber cuts through dust and fog on the trail. I could see much further down the road through our cloud of dust with those lamps than I could with either the truck’s main beams or roof-mounted bar.
Not outdriving your lights is a big deal on-pavement or off. When you’re off the pavement and watching for animals as well as trail obstacles — or trying to find that pesky gate latch — more of the right kind of light is a big deal.
Milestar Patagonia M/T 02
After one more night in my Lance Camper, it was time to leave the 2023 Tread Overland Summit and drive back into the city. This time I was in a Jeep Gladiator instead of the Ford Bronco. The Gladiator was highly modified and fully loaded. Plus, it was wearing Milestar’s Patagonia M/T 02 tires in a 40-inch size.
Milestar sounds like a generic brand, but it’s actually a U.S. company. Some of its off-road tires are made at a plant in Tennessee, though neither tire I drove was made there.
The original Patagonia M/T had a reputation for some strength issues, Milestar’s Martin Castro admits, but says the company learned from it. The new tire has an all-new construction with three-ply sidewalls meant to fix the issue even when aired down.
While California’s terrain was dry, the Mud Terrain tire had no problems on the rocks and sand I crossed. Aired down, the tire was still confident and stable when I was on a quicker stretch of the trail.
On the highway, the tire was impressively quiet. It may have made some road noise, but that noise didn’t make a difference over the Gladiator’s usual wind noise. This wasn’t exactly helped by the light bar and roof tent.
The Patagonia M/T 02 even delivered good fuel economy, with the Ecodiesel Jeep showing 24 mpg in my on-road driving. Castro said that an extra 1-1.5 mpg is common for drivers using the brand’s rubber.
2023 Tread Overland Summit
After that, I was back at the airport. It was a quick few days in the outdoors, but for many of us, that’s the way getting outdoors works. You scramble out on Friday afternoon, enjoy Saturday, and head home Sunday night to make it into the office Monday morning. I’ll tip a Montucky Cold Snack lager (another one of the event sponsors) to toast making the best out of your weekend.
As for the event? The world needs more business meetings like the 2023 Tread Overland Summit. GearJunkie will definitely be back if they have more and send us an invite.