Issue 56 Do’s and Dont’s of Overland Truck Modification Chris Denison Join the Conversation 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. Suspension & Handling 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. The Total Chaos Fabrication Upper Control Arms and Elka suspension components are the heart and soul of this build, providing a solid platform to begin adding weight. 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. The first phase of work on the rig was done at Toytec Lifts, a company in Denver that specializes in overland projects. When the Tundra rolled out of Toytec’s service bay with the upgraded suspension, components, and tires, the vehicle looked somewhat unassuming compared to the excessively outfitted #overlandtundras you see on social media. However, we now had a ready-to-modify platform that was so functional, it could've easily pounded sand whoops down the Baja Peninsula. Given the performance gains that we’d earned by preserving the factory handling ability, this massive first step was well worth the effort. 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. Wilco Offroad’s ADV Chase Rack 2.0 allowed us to mount the KC Hilites light bar, C2 work lights, Pelican iM3200 case, and Tred GT Recovery Boards. Notice the lack of tent. 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. Possibly the toughest mod added to this whole truck are the White Knuckle rock sliders. These puppies protect the actual body and frame of the vehicle from rocks, and the crazy-solid mounting means that you can also put a jack under the sliders to get a wheel or two off the ground. Not to mention, they make a nice step bar for use when entering and exiting the truck. 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. Lights 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 KC Hilites Pro6 LED light bar: 13,800 raw lumens of UFO-level illumination. 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. Interior 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. The sPOD mini six-switch panel and SourceLT power and control the array of lights. 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. Finding tidy places to stash loose bits of kit can keep clutter-related cursing to a minimum. 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. Accessories 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. In all conditions, the Bullet Liner by Tuff Skin helps keep loose items from shifting around in the bed. 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. At this point, we can feel the scorn welling up inside a few of you. “Where’s the Hi-Lift jack?” you ask. Much like firearms, Hi-Lifts are useful tools that can be deadly if used incorrectly. Plus, they’re heavy. If you choose to include one on your vehicle, good for you — just make sure you know exactly how to operate it, otherwise you’re merely hauling a 30-pound accessory. “OK,” you say, “but what about the utility can racks? The portable shower? The folding table?” These things and accessories like them, in our humble opinion, belong in the bed of the truck; they need not be permanently affixed to the vehicle. Every bit of weight you add will affect the handling of the truck in some way, and it’s our belief that going slick is vastly preferable to overdoing it. 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. By keeping the accessories to a minimum, the Tundra’s handling isn’t the least bit negatively affected by excess weight. 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. Aftermath 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. Parts List Company: Total Chaos Fabrication2nd Gen Tundra Upper Control Arms: $9181-inch Stainless Steel Uniball Replacement Kit: $198Polyurethane Bushing Kit: $60URL: chaosfab.com Company: Elka Suspension2.5 DC Reservoir Front and Rear Shock Kit: $3,400URL: elkasuspension.com Company: Toyo TireOpen Country A/T IIURL: toyotires.com Company: ToyTec LiftsLaborURL: toyteclifts.com Company: Wilco OffroadADV Chase Rack 2.0: $1,350TireGate RaceRunner: $1,664Quick Fist Mounting Brackets: $52URL: wilcooffroad.com Company: White Knuckle OffroadRock Sliders: $910URL: white-knuckleoffroad.com Company: KC HilitesGravity LED Pro6 LED Light Bar: $1,300KC Flex LED 10-inch Light Bar: $495KC Flex LED Ditch Mount 2-Light System – Spread Beam: $606Gravity LED G4 LED Fog Light Pair: $3102-inch C-Series C2 LEDs: $1322-inch Cyclone LED Lights (Clear/Amber/Red): $174URL: kchilitexs.com Company: sPODSourceLT with Mini6 Switch Panel: $580URL: 4x4spod.com Company: High County Performance 4X4Light WiringURL: hcp4x4.com Company: Bullet Liner by Tuff SkinSpray Bed LinerURL: bulletlinerbytuffskin.com Company: BushwackerPocket Style Fender Flares: $499URL: bushwacker.com Company: PelicaniM3200 Storm Long Case: $274URL: pelican.com Company: TredGT Recovery Boards: $200URL: arbusa.com Company: Krazy BeaverShovel: $85URL: krazybeavertools.com Company: Greyman TacticalVehicle Rifle Rack – Rubber Clamps + 15.25 x 25 RMP: $250URL: greymantactical.com Company: Wet OkoleSeat Covers: $544URL: wetokole.com MORE VEHICLES FROM RECOIL'S TRANSPORT 1979 Bronco Redux: The Ballistic Bronco. 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