With millions of miles of roads running all over America, you can pretty much go “overlanding” in any vehicle that can pass a stringent state inspection—most of the journey will be on pavement, after all. But if you’re looking to buy and build a rig specifically optimized for long trips way out there in the wilderness, there are a few tenets to keep in mind.
As Zach Motes of MW4 Outfitters in Humble, Texas says: “The better you can define how you’re going to use a truck, and what you need from it” … the more optimized your machine will ultimately be for you. Everything in car modding has a give/take factor—bigger tires increase ground clearance, but at a cost of fuel efficiency. Softer shocks can give you a smoother ride off-road, at the expense of responsiveness on pavement. And before you even get into modifications, you have to figure out what the best vehicle type will give you the best starting point.
In this case, the shop turned a 2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road into a light-touch overlanding rig with a few simple mods: a 2-inch Rough Country leveling kit, General Grabber A/TX tires, a Sky Bridge rooftop tent, lights, and a Jackery power station to juice up a few creature comforts.
Where to Begin With Overlanding?
Motes describes overlanding as a way to reconnect with being human; getting off the main roads of life figuratively and literally. When it comes to choosing a vehicle for such a task, the main features to look for are four-wheel drive and high ground clearance.
Picking gear is largely about how to have yourself covered for whatever could go wrong wherever you’re going, since overlanding is all about self-rescuing and isolation. If you run a rooftop tent, which people seem to love using on car-camping adventures, a small-footprint one is the move and anything made for more than two people is not going to be practical. In this case, Motes tossed a Body Armor 4×4 Sky Bridge two-person tent on the Tacoma.
If You Can Only Upgrade One Thing, Get Tires
Tires are the most critical functional part of any car or truck, really. After all, your choice of tire is the only singular setting that affects traction, acceleration, deceleration, braking, fuel economy, ground clearance, and how the car feels in your hands. So getting a tire with the tread for the work you want to do (something knobby for mud, a lighter one for over-the-road hauls, an all-terrain for a mix of surfaces) will have a huge impact on the performance of your overland vehicle. Assuming you’re following in the footsteps of most overlanders, an all-terrain tire on the lighter side is probably the move. That will get you max traction when you need it with a minimal performance penalty on the road.
As far as vehicle configurations, having a solid-axle Jeep Wrangler can be advantageous for its durability. But when it comes to trail running and riverbeds, Mr. Motes says “the best thing you can have is a pickup truck.” You do indeed get a lot of versatlity in your camping layout with a whole cargo bed.
Multi-Use Accessories Can Be the Most Valuable
Versatility is key when it comes to building an adventure vehicle. While you always have to pick priorities and make some commitments at certain points of a build, giving your future self the bandwidth to make easy adjustments is always smart.
As such, many of the accessories that Motes and his crew bolted onto this Tacoma have a range of uses—the bed rack can carry all kinds of things, Jackery power station can be put to work in any power-necessitating situation, and the lighting setup can illuminate the road ahead or a campsite around.
Quality lighting pays off big time when you’re driving some place really isolated—it gets dark out in the world, and driving around without streetlamps or sunshine can be fatiguing. Just remember to shut your LEDs off and enjoy the lack of light pollution once you’ve reached your campsite.