Do’s and Dont’s of Overland Truck Modification
Many hunters and recreational shooters (two groups that spend a ton of time outdoors) have successfully used functional, camping-related modifications to turn their personal vehicles into mobile base camps. What started out as simply sleeping in your truck has turned into “overlanding,” an entire industry centered on self-reliant adventures in kitted-out rigs.
However, much like the well-meaning firearm enthusiasts who head straight for the fancy bolt-ons without first doping in their iron sights, so too do countless aspiring overlanders begin by adding hundreds of pounds of furniture to their trucks or SUVs without ever addressing the performance ramifications — wasting wads of money in the process.
In this article, we’ll walk you through RECOIL’s top five areas of consideration for overland truck modifications. Using our 2011 Toyota Tundra project truck as an example, we’ll share key recommendations to consider and pitfalls to avoid, plus one huge money-saving tip.
Do: Consider upgrading the suspension.
Don’t: Screw up the stock geometry!
We see far too many decked-out overland truck rigs that are precariously perched upon stock suspension, the four-wheeled equivalent of putting a $3,000 rifle scope on a $30 mount. Worse yet, many of these trucks have been lifted to the moon, which creates a wealth of problems if done incorrectly. You see, when a vehicle like this Toyota is lifted (with either a spacer lift or aftermarket shock), the suspension is slightly extended and will no longer be aligned to factory specifications. Driving with this stock geometry out of whack typically leads to handling issues and premature tire wear. Not only that, but a spacer lift makes it impossible for the stock bumpstops to contact the frame when bottoming out, meaning that the suspension cannot properly disperse the bottoming force as it was originally designed. This can permanently damage your vehicle, including the frame.
We knew that for serious off-road use, our project Tundra would require aftermarket coilover suspension that was designed with the correct collapsed and extended measurements to optimize the truck’s performance, particularly with added weight on board. Step one of our build was to link up with Total Chaos, a California-based fabrication shop that handles everything from Baja race vehicles to top-secret military contracts. We opted to go with Elka’s 2.5 DC reservoir front and rear shock kit for the truck, using Total Chaos’ aftermarket upper control arms (UCAs) to make all necessary geometry changes so that the Toyota would be aligned back to factory specifications.
Along with correcting the geometry, the powdercoated Total Chaos UCAs replace the stock rubber bushings with polyurethane to reduce suspension flex under braking and articulation. Swapping the stock ball joint out with a 100-percent stainless steel, 1-inch uniball not only gave us something that was far stronger than the stock joint, but also allowed for more suspension travel — a big plus in rough terrain. To round things out, we chose to install new LT285/65R18 Toyo Open Country A/T II tires all around — a super grippy tread pattern that’s also incredibly durable on- and off-road, along with some Bushwacker pocket-style fender flares, which help minimize the amount of excess roost that flies off the tires in nasty terrain.
ARMOR & RACKS
Do: Protect your investment with quality components.
Don’t: Sacrifice practicality for trendiness. The final build needs to be usable for you.
Before you spend a dime on armor or racks, make a list. Like, literally, sit down with a pen and paper, and identify what you’re trying to achieve from the start. In this case, the vehicle’s owner routinely hauls motorcycles in the bed, so a topper or bed-mounted rack was a non-starter. Protection also ranked high as a “need,” as did easy access to the spare tire. As such, we installed a TireGate Racerunner and ADV Chase Rack 2.0 roof rack from Wilco Performance.
Relocating the spare adds a bit of clearance underneath and makes the tire ultra-easy to get to on the trail. Up top, the ADV Chase Rack allows for numerous options for hauling gear when the bed is full of motorcycles. You really must see this rack in person to appreciate the ingenuity behind the design; everything is super-reinforced, but also adjustable. Depending on the terrain, the rack is designed to handle between 150 and 300 pounds of gear. A fabricator friend whipped up the custom front bumper and rear bumper guards to protect both ends of the truck from major impacts.
At the gun range, the bed of your pickup truck is a valuable workspace, yet many of us put up with the stock, plastic bedliners for way longer than we should. A quality spray-on bedliner is a luxurious upgrade that’ll protect your bed, while wildly increasing grip. We opted to go with Bullet Liner, the most durable and UV-resistant spray-on bedliner that we could find. Bullet Liner by Tuff Skin in Orange County, California, did an immaculate job spraying down the bed and while they were at it, we had them coat the Tundra’s front grille and mirror caps as well. Both were suffering from a bit of normal wear and tear, and the Bullet Liner finish ended up looking awesome.
Do: Illuminate in all directions, not just out front.
Don’t: Be fooled by cheap, unreliable knockoffs.
Although many aftermarket lights aren’t suitable for street use, the benefits off-road are huge. Lights with powerful throw can make traveling at high speeds a vastly safer affair, while well-positioned ditch and work lights can make low-speed crawling or even hanging out in camp immensely more enjoyable. After much research, we approached KC Hilites and explained that this Tundra would be used for year-round forays into the high desert and mountains to access remote, private shooting ranges and off-road trail systems. These adventures rarely conclude before sundown. The KC Hilites crew immediately threw a slew of recommendations our way.
The first light to go on was a 39-inch Gravity LED Pro6 light bar, which is insane for high-speed dirt roads and dusty conditions. This roof-mounted illumination was augmented by a 10-inch FLEX LED center lightbar and a pair of G4 LED fog lights, that offer low, ultra-wide illumination that’s also street legal. For low-speed scenarios, a pair of KC FLEX LED two-light systems, mounted roughly 25 degrees off to each side, serve as ditch lights with a nice spread pattern. Out back, we fabbed up some custom mounts for the 2-inch C-series C2 work lights, which can illuminate the truck bed or light up beside the vehicle for gun or game cleaning. This was all topped off by a series of three 2-inch Cyclone lights mounted on each side of the tire carrier that we linked to the turn signals, backup, and brake lights, respectively; these little guys are mild enough to not be a hazard to other drivers yet are universal and compact, making them a popular choice for all things overland.
Of course, all the added lighting needed to be driven by a power distribution system. Our choice was an American-made sPOD SourceLT — basically a small, solid-state six-circuit control system that offers a super clean way to power and control all the lights. There’s only a single cable that goes into the cab, and everything is controlled via a mini six-switch panel that we mounted just in front of the shifter. The SourceLT units are wicked cool, and they can be set up to operate lights, radios, snowplows, fans — pretty much anything that originates from the battery. There’s even an app which allows you to dim, flash, and link the lights via Bluetooth!
Now, a word to the wise: Good lights can be pricey, but just like the optics on your rifle, you get what you pay for. We’ve seen numerous truck and Jeep owners outfit their vehicles with cheap, foreign-made copies of popular lights, only to have them burn out or fail altogether within weeks of installation. Don’t be fooled; these knockoffs are a massive waste of cash and can potentially fry critical components on your truck if you’re not careful.
Do: Reduce clutter and plan for big messes.
Don’t: Overcomplicate things. It’s not a helicopter!
Most shooters hold these truths to be self-evident: that following a weekend of camping and shooting/hunting, your vehicle’s interior will look like a bomb went off inside, and your seats are going to need some serious cleaning. The antidote is as simple as adding a little organization and finding durable seat covers.
On the organization side of the house, we can’t say enough good things about Greyman Tactical’s seatback organizers and rifle racks. Essentially a mounting place for all things MOLLE, these rigid panels can be removed from your seat in seconds, yet they firmly hold ridiculous amounts of weight and clutter (including long-guns) keeping your cab infinitely better organized than if you just stack stuff on the floor. In the case of this Tundra, we found that we’d travel to the back country with our rifles in locked cases, and then transfer one of them to the seatback for quick access while traversing through the boonies.
The question of seat covers had us somewhat stumped until we discovered Wet Okole, a company out of Los Angeles that makes crazy-durable covers out of wetsuit-like materials; that is, nylon-laminated neoprene. We’ve chucked everything from wet dogs to filthy snow gear onto these covers, and they clean up laughably well no matter what the mess. While seat covers aren’t the sexiest of overland truck modifications, you’ll be super glad that you went with a quality choice here.
Beyond the organization and the protection sits a bit of a rabbit hole, if you aren’t careful: additional pouches, radios, tablet cradles, drink holders, and electronic accessories can amount to maddening clutter when met with a standard camping load-out. Keep your interior simple and clean, and you’ll avoid the frustration of having all your crap go flying the first time you barrel through a ditch too fast.
Do: Remember, ounces equal pounds.
Don’t: Waste your money!
In keeping with the theme of performance, this Tundra sports a minimalistic spat of bolt-ons: first, there’s the Pelican iM3200 Storm rifle case, which we hard-mounted to the roof rack. Yes, rifle cases scream “GUN!” and sure, if a thief wants this badly enough, they’re going to get it. But considering this offers weatherproof long-gun storage on the exterior of the vehicle, we had to include it. Truth be told, if there’s a rifle inside, the truck won’t be left unattended, and if the case is empty then it’s going to remain unlocked (to show would-be thieves that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze of removing an empty case). For camping trips, this is an excellent place to toss loose gear that’d otherwise roll around in the bed of the truck.
Next, we went with two overland-specific accessories: a Krazy Beaver shovel and a pair of Tred GT Recovery Boards. The shovel is a great all-around tool that’s lightweight and works awesome; as for the boards, these are invaluable when stuck in deep sand or snow, and we’ve found them to be a Godsend on vehicles that don’t have winches. And these, ladies and gentlemen, are the extent of the trendy overland truck accessories that we included.
Which brings us to our final point, the money-saving tip that we teased earlier: There’s a lot of buzz surrounding roof-top mounted tents within the overland space, making this one of the first accessories that new overlanders gravitate toward. Our advice? Don’t do it. Even with hardy aftermarket suspension, adding that much weight to the top of the vehicle results in body roll and wallowing. Plus, rooftop tents catch a ton of wind and usually cause your fuel efficiency to plummet. Many rooftop tents run upward of $2,000, while a quality six-man, four-season tent can be found for under $400, and you can set it up anywhere — not just where you park.
As a bonus, if someone in your group badly cuts themselves chopping firewood, you don’t need to first wrap up your tent before hauling butt to the nearest urgent care for stitches. Yes, we realize that speaking out against rooftop tents is sacrilege in the overland world. But unless you routinely camp in swamps, you use a tent more than 200 nights a year, or you’ve just got money to burn, a rooftop tent is probably not the best solution, even though they look cool.
Whether you have a 10-year-old truck or a brand-new vehicle, we hope you’ll use the above information to help guide your overland modification decisions in the future. This Tundra’s configuration is by no means the definitive overland rig; it’s merely an example of one of the countless ways you can set up a truck. Yes, we dedicated a ton of space to the handling and suspension — because it’s that important. No, this truck doesn’t look half as Gucci as the decked-out rigs you can find on Instagram. But when it comes to pure function and performance, this vehicle and those that have been modified in a similar fashion will provide a high degree of usability to the outdoor-hungry end user.
Company: Total Chaos Fabrication
2nd Gen Tundra Upper Control Arms: $918
1-inch Stainless Steel Uniball Replacement Kit: $198
Polyurethane Bushing Kit: $60
Company: Elka Suspension
2.5 DC Reservoir Front and Rear Shock Kit: $3,400
Company: Toyo Tire
Open Country A/T II
Company: ToyTec Lifts
Company: Wilco Offroad
ADV Chase Rack 2.0: $1,350
TireGate RaceRunner: $1,664
Quick Fist Mounting Brackets: $52
Company: White Knuckle Offroad
Rock Sliders: $910
Company: KC Hilites
Gravity LED Pro6 LED Light Bar: $1,300
KC Flex LED 10-inch Light Bar: $495
KC Flex LED Ditch Mount 2-Light System – Spread Beam: $606
Gravity LED G4 LED Fog Light Pair: $310
2-inch C-Series C2 LEDs: $132
2-inch Cyclone LED Lights (Clear/Amber/Red): $174
SourceLT with Mini6 Switch Panel: $580
Company: High County Performance 4X4
Company: Bullet Liner by Tuff Skin
Spray Bed Liner
Pocket Style Fender Flares: $499
iM3200 Storm Long Case: $274
GT Recovery Boards: $200
Company: Krazy Beaver
Company: Greyman Tactical
Vehicle Rifle Rack – Rubber Clamps + 15.25 x 25 RMP: $250
Company: Wet Okole
Seat Covers: $544
Originally published on recoilweb.com