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Toyota Tacoma Camping Rig

Updated on June 15, 2016

My Starting Point

I started with a stock 2009 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road. This is a pretty common vehicle to use for this kind of purpose and has quite a few desirable features.

  • Known to be durable and dependable
  • Factory rear locker
  • 6 foot bed (long enough to sleep in)
  • Huge amount of aftermarket support
  • Fairly capable off road in stock form (with the right tires)

My Tacoma as it sits today

My 2009 Toyota Tacoma as it sits today, May 14 2016
My 2009 Toyota Tacoma as it sits today, May 14 2016

What is Overlanding?

Wikipedia says:

Overlanding is self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal. Typically, but not exclusively, it is accomplished with mechanized off-road capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping, often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and spanning international boundaries.

My goal is to build up my Tacoma with this in Mind with an emphasis on camping and outdoor sports as well. I will share My experiences good and bad. Hopefully this will help and or inspire you to take on some adventures of your own!

Enjoying the view a book and a coffee from the back of the Tacoma
Enjoying the view a book and a coffee from the back of the Tacoma

Setting Up The Truck

I will break down my blog into a few categories:

  1. Things that make your truck more capable off road (larger tires, better suspension ect)
  2. Things that add to the camping experience (awnings, Canopies, roof tents ect)
  3. Things that make your truck more comfortable (seat covers, audio upgrades ect)
  4. Things that make your truck look better (this is subjective, but if youre going to spend a lot of time and some money on your truck. Whynot make it your own)
  5. Adventures and Trips

Landrover FJ40 the grand daddy of overland vehicles
Landrover FJ40 the grand daddy of overland vehicles

1A Tires

Tires are the only thing on your truck that touches the ground. In my opinion this gives them the biggest impact on how your truck performs.


I am currently using Goodyear Duratrac size 285/70R17. If you're going to have less than 3" suspension lift and you dont want any rubbing or trimming most people stick with 265/70R17. I am using Bilstein 5100s set on position 3 for 1.75" lift in front and had only slight rubbing on the back of the drivers side wheel well. I was able to eliminate the rubbing with a little bit of trimming to the plastic wheel well and removing the front mud flaps.

Because I use my truck for work in the oilfield I needed to have tires with a "snowflake" rating. This narrowed down my choices somewhat. I have to say, after about 8 months of use and abuse these tires perform quite well in a wide range of situations.


The difference between 265/70R17 on the truck and 285/70R17
The difference between 265/70R17 on the truck and 285/70R17
The 285/70R17 actually fit with 1.75" lift and only minor trimming
The 285/70R17 actually fit with 1.75" lift and only minor trimming

1B Suspension

In my opinion, when it comes to bang for your buck it's very hard to beat the Bilstein 5100 front shock upgrade on these trucks. Up here in northern BC I paid 151.99CAD each plus tax.

They were easy to install with a floor jack and stands in my garage. I had an impact gun and this saved a little time but probably isn't necessary. If you're going to install these yourself do a you tube search on installing coil overs without a spring compressor. If you understand what you're doing you can do this completely safely at home.

The spring pre-load (and therefore the ride height) is adjustable by placing the snap ring in the grove of the shock body that corresponds with the height you're after. The options are 0", .75", 1.75" and 2.5". Many people feel that the ride at 2.5" is too stiff and this height will often mean you need to get new UCAs (upper control arms) in order to keep your alignment numbers within spec. I went with the 1.75" setting and when comparing before and after measurements, that's what I got.

After a few months with these shocks in all sorts of conditions I couldn't be happier. The ride is great, the extra ground clearance is exactly what I was after and with the increased control that these shock provided I felt comfortable removing my front sway bar and have left it off. This further improved the ride and also helps articulation.

The only downside I've found is my truck sits very close to level now (stock rear suspension). With only about .5" of rake it doesn't take much weight the make my truck look a little "squatty". I plan on a shackle flip and longer rear shocks in the future so hopefully this won't be an issue for long.

Before: Stock suspension
Before: Stock suspension
After: with Bilstein 5100 front shocks
After: with Bilstein 5100 front shocks
Side by side stock (yellow) and 5100 (silver). You can see the difference in body diameter and the snap ring groves.
Side by side stock (yellow) and 5100 (silver). You can see the difference in body diameter and the snap ring groves.
Stock
Stock
Bilsein 5100
Bilsein 5100
flexing out the suspension. The 285/70R17 Duratracs just barely fit
flexing out the suspension. The 285/70R17 Duratracs just barely fit

Tire Size

What size tire do you run on your rig?

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2A Canopy (part I)

Adding a Canopy is a great way to expand the capabilities of your rig. They keep your gear dry, clean and safe. You can sleep in them and they are a good place for dirty pets. I picked up a used canopy very cheap ($75). It will require a fair bit of work, paint, new screens, roof rack ect. However because its old and kind of ugly I won't be to worried about scratching it and I'll be more likely to modify things to fit my needs. The canopy will be a work in progress so look for updates.

The colour doesn't match and the home made wood and abs roof rack got cut off  as soon as I got home.  But it was really cheap and with a bit of work I think will fit my needs well.
The colour doesn't match and the home made wood and abs roof rack got cut off as soon as I got home. But it was really cheap and with a bit of work I think will fit my needs well.
Taken on the drive home after picking the canopy up. You can see the fit isn't perfect. it sits in a little over an inch on the bed rails.  This might be ok though as I'll have room to fabricate a cage for it without it sticking out too far.
Taken on the drive home after picking the canopy up. You can see the fit isn't perfect. it sits in a little over an inch on the bed rails. This might be ok though as I'll have room to fabricate a cage for it without it sticking out too far.

Where to Sleep?

Where do you sleep when camping?

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3C More Ground Clearance

On many vehicles you can gain ground clearance or improve the approach and departure angles by simply moving or slightly modifying some stock components

Here you can see the vulnerable location of the factory trailer plug.  Its the lowest thing on the rear bumper and almost guaranteed to get damaged off road.
Here you can see the vulnerable location of the factory trailer plug. Its the lowest thing on the rear bumper and almost guaranteed to get damaged off road.
Here I moved the license plate over and used a hole saw to cut a hole in the bumper for the plug.
Here I moved the license plate over and used a hole saw to cut a hole in the bumper for the plug.
Plug bolted to the bumper in a much safer location. I my opinion this also makes for a cleaner look on the rear of the truck.
Plug bolted to the bumper in a much safer location. I my opinion this also makes for a cleaner look on the rear of the truck.

2A Recover gear box

If you travel off road eventually you will get stuck. When this happens there is no replacement for recovery tools


Where I live (Northern British Columbia) snow and mud can and do happen at any time of the year. I like to always carry a tow strap, jack, shovel, axe and come along with me. If youve ever gotten yourself stuck and then fought with a tow strap that had gotten wet and then frozen itself into an ice cube or had your recovery gear go missing out of the back of your truck, it can be very frustrating. With this in mind I build a box for my recovery gear that also acts as a shelf for jerry cans or coolers.

I wanted something cheap, functional and easy to build. Here is the result of an afternoon, some 3/4" plywood and a can of spray on bed liner.
I wanted something cheap, functional and easy to build. Here is the result of an afternoon, some 3/4" plywood and a can of spray on bed liner.
The box consists of 3 pieces of plywood and a piano hinge. It rests in the notches formed into the composite bedside. This makes it very easy to remove if I need more bed space.
The box consists of 3 pieces of plywood and a piano hinge. It rests in the notches formed into the composite bedside. This makes it very easy to remove if I need more bed space.
20l jerry cans and coolers fit nicely on top. I've added a lock to the top since the original build.
20l jerry cans and coolers fit nicely on top. I've added a lock to the top since the original build.

3A Audio-Head Unit

I'm on my 2nd Aftermarket head unit now. It is a Kenwood KDCX300 Single DIN unit. The audio performance is great and there are a ton of tuning options. There is one short coming with this unit however. Unless you have the color set to bright blue the display is very hard to read in the day time. In bright sunlight or with sunglasses on it is almost un-readable. Some of this may be due to the design of the Tacomas dash, regardless it is a problem.

Great audio performance from the KDCX300, hard to read the display though
Great audio performance from the KDCX300, hard to read the display though
Fused main power connection. It was probably not necessary but I ran 4ga wire for pos and neg connections
Fused main power connection. It was probably not necessary but I ran 4ga wire for pos and neg connections

3B Add Some Bass

The stock stereo in the Tacoma wasn't very good. With an aftermarket head unit it was quite a bit better but still very lacking in the lower frequencies. With the downturn in the oil industry there is lots of high quality used stereo gear for sale right now so I took advantage. I was able to pick up a JL audio XD600/1v2 amp and CP108LG-W3v3 micro sub for under $300 locally. Space is at a premium with an access cab so I had to cut some plastic and be a little creative with my mounting. Overall I think the install is fairly un-obtrusive and has made a huge difference in the sound. I have always liked JL audio products but this is the first time I've had any in my own vehicle. I couldn't be more impressed with their quality and performance!

Running the wires
Running the wires
Finished install. I'm still impressed with the amount and quality of sound that comes out of that little enclosure
Finished install. I'm still impressed with the amount and quality of sound that comes out of that little enclosure

4A Less Chrome

Looks are personal and subjective. You should make your truck look however you like it. However I am not a big fan of chrome. Here is the result of about $30 at the hardware store and a rainy afternoon.

Before: I never liked the chrome grille and decided I'd had enough
Before: I never liked the chrome grille and decided I'd had enough
The grill and emblem are easy to remove. Just a couple push pins and a few screws
The grill and emblem are easy to remove. Just a couple push pins and a few screws
I'd used the rust-oleum box liner before with good results and thought flat tan would look good for the emblem.  Lots of people seem to be using plasti dip for these kind of things as well
I'd used the rust-oleum box liner before with good results and thought flat tan would look good for the emblem. Lots of people seem to be using plasti dip for these kind of things as well
Finished: This was quick, cheap and easy. I sanded to scuff the chrome before painting and between coats. Total time maybe 2 hours plus drying.  I'm quite happy with the new look
Finished: This was quick, cheap and easy. I sanded to scuff the chrome before painting and between coats. Total time maybe 2 hours plus drying. I'm quite happy with the new look

Update

I have gotten a few rock chips in the black since i did this. Its not bad at all but it bothers me. I may try taking the grille off and re painting and then adding several coats of clear at the end. I live in a place where ridiculous amounts of rock chips are common so I doubt this would be a problem for most people.

4B LED Lighting

With the exception of the headlights and fog lights I've replaced all the rest with LED's. Due to my job I've been able to try a bunch of different brands and so far I like Phillips the best. Installation is pretty straight forward, however if you are replacing any lights that blink you'll need to either install resistors or replace the flasher relay with one designed to work with LED's. I went with resistors, in my case I needed to install 4 (one foe each corner). I would definitely recommend you solder them in and definitely don't use the "vampire" connectors that come with them. Generally I've found the LED's to be brighter than incandescent bulbs. They don't really make any heat (this doesn't apply for headlight/fog lights). They come in more colors. Most of the time they'll last much longer than regular bulbs. They also draw much less power, I'm not sure if that still applies if you factor in the resistors too though.

When mounting resistors remember they get very hot! so mount them in an appropriate place where they won't damage anything.  I'd also recommend solder and heat shrink tubing over crimp on type connectors.
When mounting resistors remember they get very hot! so mount them in an appropriate place where they won't damage anything. I'd also recommend solder and heat shrink tubing over crimp on type connectors.
One nice thing is the range of colors LED's come in.  I used red for the drivers side because I've been told that red light doesn't mess with your night vision as much.  It seems to work for me
One nice thing is the range of colors LED's come in. I used red for the drivers side because I've been told that red light doesn't mess with your night vision as much. It seems to work for me
One feature I liked when driving heavy trucks was foot well lights on a separate switch.  I used 2 LED strips with adhesive backs and wired them to a switch on the center console
One feature I liked when driving heavy trucks was foot well lights on a separate switch. I used 2 LED strips with adhesive backs and wired them to a switch on the center console
LED's are nice and bright. I have also been thinking about adding some 3/4" marker/signal lights in the bottom of the mirror housings.
LED's are nice and bright. I have also been thinking about adding some 3/4" marker/signal lights in the bottom of the mirror housings.

5A Exploring

Here are some pictures from camping trips with the Tacoma, enjoy

Checking out the cliffs and caves on frozen Charlie Lake B.C.
Checking out the cliffs and caves on frozen Charlie Lake B.C.
I found this spot while exploring around Hudson Hope BC. It overlooks the Peace River Just downstream from the WAC Benet Dam
I found this spot while exploring around Hudson Hope BC. It overlooks the Peace River Just downstream from the WAC Benet Dam
I had to use my chains to make it up a steep hill on the way in.  The DAC was a very useful feature on the way back down the hill as well
I had to use my chains to make it up a steep hill on the way in. The DAC was a very useful feature on the way back down the hill as well
Beatton River, near Fort St John BC
Beatton River, near Fort St John BC
Sunset on the Peace River near Fort St John B.C.
Sunset on the Peace River near Fort St John B.C.
Wright Lake rec site, near Hudson's Hope BC
Wright Lake rec site, near Hudson's Hope BC
First camping trip this year! Just a quick over night trip this time.  Overlooking the Peace River.
First camping trip this year! Just a quick over night trip this time. Overlooking the Peace River.
Lookout at Bear Mountain, Dawson Creek BC 3619380
Lookout at Bear Mountain, Dawson Creek BC 3619380
Bear Mountain wind farm, Dawson Creek BC
Bear Mountain wind farm, Dawson Creek BC
Loaded up for a camping trip to Carbon Creek
Loaded up for a camping trip to Carbon Creek
Our campsite at Carbon Creek
Our campsite at Carbon Creek
A cool waterfall near our campsite at Carbon Creek BC
A cool waterfall near our campsite at Carbon Creek BC

Your own Build

What is the main goal behind your own build (excluding daily driver)

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Any suggestions for my truck or experiences with your own?

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