In this week’s feature article, we shine the spotlight on our friends at Tern Overland. We love this Arizona-based company for two reasons: the quality products and superb customer service. Founded in 2017 and owned by David Soza and Aimee Higgins, you won’t find an easier group of people to work with than Tern Overland. The company specializes in making doors, roof hatches, and windows and the newcomer is already one of the best in the business with over 100 manufacturers using its products as OEM. But you don’t have to be a manufacturer to buy Arctic Tern products; DIYers can buy their products too. To learn more about this exciting new company, we spoke with David and Aimee.
Thanks, Aimee and Dave, for taking the time to talk with us. Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
David – I’ve been involved in the Overlanding world since the mid 70’s, long before “Overlanding” was a thing. In 1982, one of my creations won the “Best Engineered” award at the very first FourWheeler Magazine Top Truck Challenge. There wasn’t even a category for what I brought to the party, LOL. Since then, my career as an engineer, entrepreneur, and traveler has taken a winding path that eventually led to the creation of Tern Overland. Tern Overland has been a huge success, but it certainly has not been an overnight thing!
Aimee – I’ve been a traveler since I was a small child, my three sons have followed a similar path. I’ve traveled to 16 countries so far and have many more I want to explore. Most of my overlanding experience has been in North America, but I have sailed as crew on a catamaran and traveled in many countries with only a backpack. I’ve traveled solo and with friends or family. Lately, I’ve been doing more off-road driving and training in anticipation of competing in the Rebelle Rally someday.
When was Tern Overland founded?
David and Aimee: January 2017
What services and products does Tern Overland provide?
David and Aimee: Tern Overland has two divisions. One has been devoted to engineering and development of new camper building technology. The other has been to importing, and developing the very best components for camper/trailer builders. Actually, this division was formed out of necessity, since the proper components for our own camper designs simply did not exist!
What obstacles were encountered along the way?
David and Aimee: Many! It is always a huge challenge when you enter the market with products that no one has ever seen. Getting word out about what we had, and the benefits has been a huge challenge, but now it is carried on the wind! We were hit hard by the Trump Tariffs, which landed on all importers without warning. If not for the momentum that we had at that point, we would not have survived. We also survived COVID-19. Very few start-ups would have survived those two torpedoes, but we did!
We’ve noticed a large number of companies are now using your doors, windows, and hatches? How many are now using your products as OEM?
David and Aimee: Tern Overland currently partners with over 120 OEM builders. They are listed on the partners page of our website. You will also notice that these builders are top echelon, custom builders! The inclusion of our products has become a hallmark of quality among top builders.
Wow! That’s an impressive number. What makes your products better than the competition?
David and Aimee: They are better by design, and tailored specifically for North American adventurers. They feature high durability, high thermal efficiency, and all the features needed for comfortable North/South American travel. Add to that world class quality and unmatched support, and you have a winning combination.
Where are Tern Overland’s products made?
David and Aimee: Our products are truly world sourced. Our manufacturer is in China, but the components to build them are sourced from the best suppliers worldwide. For instance, all of our acrylics are sourced from Eastern Europe, and we use genuine GE Perspex acrylic resins. The locks and latches come from Italy and Austria. The powder resins used to coat our products are imported from Akzo-Nobel in the Netherlands. The final manufacture and assembly is in China. This combination produces a product that is truly world class quality for a very high value!
You recently released an improved, electrical version of your excellent roof hatch? How well has the updated hatch been received?
David and Aimee: The new Deluxe roof hatch was launched September 2021 after months of collaboration with our manufacturer. It has a remote for ease of use and a rain sensor with an override. Our customers have been excited about these new options, especially our van builders. This spring the hatches have taken off and we can barely keep them on the shelves.
How difficult is it to replace a faulty 700x500mm Dometic Midi Heki roof hatch with the Arctic Tern roof hatch?
David and Aimee: Great question, Mike! Our hatch is a drop-in replacement for the Dometic Midi Heki. Many people have done this, including you, Mike, with your truck camper. Our hatch is not only a better product but unlike the competition we offer support and parts for our products. We are currently working with our manufacturer to offer our outstanding Wildlands doors in a variety of custom sizes to fit into teardrop and larger trailer doors. We understand there are supply, quality and support issues with another big manufacturer in the RV industry that has builders frustrated and looking for better solutions.
Are there any plans by Tern Overland to release any new products in the coming year? Any plans to release an Arctic Tern DC refrigerator or DC air conditioner?
David and Aimee: There are many innovative options out there and currently Tern Overland is staying focused on what we do best and most uniquely; windows, doors, and hatches. We are always looking to see what the industry is missing and if there is an opportunity for us and our manufacturer to fill the gap then we investigate.
What recommendations do you have for the care and cleaning of your acrylic windows?
David and Aimee: A light water rinse will get most of the dust off, an air compressor works well too if you have one. We highly recommend, use and offer Novus cleaning products for the care and maintenance of our windows. The Novus Kits we sell can polish out light to medium scratches and the #1 reduces static and dust. Novus also works well on our powder coated doors and cargo doors for streak free surfaces. Avoid using ammonia-based products on all acrylic as it causes cracking in the surface and can cause a hazy—cloudy look.
We absolutely love the Aterra flatbed camper that Dave designed and that AT Overland is now building? What was the inspiration behind the design?
David and Aimee: The reason we took this on is that camper building technology has advanced very little over the last 75 years. Mostly, the same materials are being used with modernized design work, but the resulting functionality has been pretty stagnant. The biggest issue for modern use is weight. As vehicles downsize, this has squeezed many smaller platforms out of the camper / trailer market altogether. They simply cannot carry them or pull them and stay within manufacturer load ratings. Something had to give. Our designs, using the materials and assembly techniques that we developed, have in many cases cut weight in half! The very spacious and well appointed Aterra XL weighs in at just 1,200 lbs! That does not represent an improvement, but a paradigm shift. We have reset the bar, and we expect that what we have done will push the entire industry to get moving in this direction.
You are using smaller Aterra mounted on a Toyota Tacoma. Are there any plans to build a smaller mid-size Aterra?
David and Aimee: This is a question best answered by AT Overland, but I believe the answer is yes. Work has been done on the production model. It is mainly a matter of timing, since demand for the XL has already taxed ATO to the limit.
This has been great talking to you both. Do you have any final advice or words of wisdom for our readers?
David and Aimee: Well, it is such an exciting time to be involved in this industry! Tern Overland has worked very hard to improve both the industry and the experience that people have in this pursuit. We are working alongside so many outstanding builders and designers! I can’t wait to see what is next, and the overlanding public will be the ultimate benefactor of all this talent!