Insights From ACLIM8 Ambassador and Product Tester, Kelly Varney
“My name is Kelly Varney and ever since I was a child I have been obsessed with adventure.”
When Kelly Varney (KV) and his brother were children, they spent every possible minute playing in the woods, building forts and tree swings. When they got old enough to drive, their adventures expanded to rock climbing, mountain climbing, mountain biking, and off-roading. The outdoors is their passion, and it has taken them to places that their childhood selves could have hardly imagined. They’ve even started a YouTube channel, Adventure Built, to share their experiences and help others accomplish their overlanding goals. We caught up with Kelly and asked him a few questions about overlanding — how he got started, his favorite gear, and what tips he has for those looking to master the art of overlanding.
How would you define overlanding?
KV: Overlanding is all about vehicle-based backcountry travel where the journey is the adventure. Overlanding is self-reliance, self-driven and self-paced, and obviously, it’s gear-centered. It doesn’t have to be the fanciest rig with the best gear, but it needs to get you to your destination and back with the least amount of problems. And did I mention that you also are living your day-to-day out of your vehicle? Yup, there is a lot going on.
So, what sparked your initial interest in overlanding?
KV: I have always been interested in off-roading since I bought my first 4WD, a mid 80’s Suzuki Samurai. It was a piece of crap that spent more time at the shop than on the road, but it was mine. I began having to learn how to work on it because I couldn’t afford the shop anymore. I sold the Samurai and bought a 94 Jeep Wrangler which over time I turned into an off-road beast and that is when I started exploring the abundant trails in Arizona and Colorado. My brother Trevor and I drove those Jeeps across some long trails in Colorado while tent camping. That was well before Overlanding, as currently recognized, was a thing.
I ended up buying a 2020 Toyota Tacoma to be able to share these adventures with my entire family since it’s a challenge fitting them onto a BMW 1200GSA Adventure Motorcycle. I was able to take my wife and youngest son from the Mexico Border to the Utah Border along the 650 mile Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route. It was an amazing adventure and one of the only trips where nothing went wrong. It was a huge success and really exposed Arizona’s beauty to my wife and son.
What’s your thought process while driving off road? What are you constantly thinking about, checking, re-checking?
KV: There are a lot of things happening all day long while Overlanding but in the end, it's all Vehicle-Based Travel. Your vehicle is key. All day long I’m thinking about my rig and what it’s doing. I analyze every noise, every thud, every bang. If you let something go, it could easily end your trip and strand you in the backcountry for who knows how long looking for loose bolts and leaks. I have done all the work to my rig myself so I can fix almost any issue that pops up, but preventing that issue is the best-case scenario. I will stop and diagnose any sound or feel that doesn’t seem right, it has saved the trip over and over again.
Overlanding requires a highly organized loadout. So, what’s in your kit?
KV: The ability to have multiple uses for a single tool has always been the best practice where space and weight are at a premium. The COMBAR™ has definitely allowed me to replace multiple tools with a single multi-tool of sorts. I have gotten rid of my hatchet and saw, and also gained a spade which I never used to carry but have found to be very useful. The fixed blade has always been at my side and you can never have too many good knives around.
As one of our field testers, what have been your favorite COMBAR™ features?
KV: My favorite feature is definitely the axe, it has come in handy more times than I thought it would. The real convenience is how I access it. I used to pack my hatchet under my back seat and it was always a pain to get to. I kept a small hand saw in my center console for cutting large limbs to not destroy my paint if I didn’t have to. The COMBAR™ hatchet has cut the work down since I can grab it and go. If it is a small branch, I use the hatchet. If it’s a larger branch I use the saw from the handle, after it is cut down I will use the spade to pull the branch out of the way.
What are your top three tips for people who have always wanted to Overland?
1) Start small and start today, unless it’s snowy, then wait a bit. Find a weekend trip that you can do with a buddy, something that is crazy scenic and not overly challenging. Camp in a tent, make a fire, eat canned beans and hotdogs. Make it fun, and you will crave more.
2) Have a plan when you start to build your Overland rig. Start smart with the most important parts first. For example, I have gone through 3 suspensions because I had a plan but didn’t think about how heavy my rig would get. Suspensions are set by weight, not lift.
3) Last but certainly not least, bring the people that matter the most and get them involved early. If you have kids let them help you pick the trail, show them pictures of what they will see. In that same idea, make it fun for the wife or husband. I have taken my wife on a trail that ended in Cottonwood, Arizona, which is known for wine tastings, so we stopped for a little sip.”
What does your dream overlanding trip look like?
KV: If I could go on an extended overland expedition it would be a trip from England to South Africa. I would traverse Europe for a month, then cross into northern Africa and head south until I hit the horn of South Africa. I have an opportunity to do this trip with a buddy of mine next summer but unfortunately taking 3-4 months off work won’t allow it to happen. It would be a life-changing adventure for sure. Maybe one day.
What’s next for you? What’s coming up?
KV: What’s next for me is up in the air at this point. I have lots of overland adventures that I want to do. Death Valley is in the planning phase still, heading back to Moab, and would love to do a long trip to Alaska. I am in constant pursuit of adventure, that’s just who I am. However, I’m first and foremost a husband to an amazing woman who supports all my crazy endeavors, and a father to two amazing young men who sometimes get dragged along in the endeavors.
Follow ACLIM8 Ambassador and Field Tester, Kelly Varney here on the blog, and on Instagram, Facebook, or Adventure Built on Youtube. You can leave comments, ask questions or join the conversation on our Facebook and Instagram.
Want more overlanding? Check out Overlanding? Keep These 5 Essential Items In Your Emergency Kit, and other overlanding articles in our growing blog library.
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