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Trucks 101

How to Trick Out the Ultimate Tacoma

Presenting 11 tested (and totally excessive) parts for the dream ride

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Photo: Nick Kelley

The stock Toyota Tacoma is a reliable, practical rig. But you’ll want some aftermarket upgrades if you want to do more off-road. Two of our editors recently emerged from the overlanding rabbit hole with two totally transformed trucks. They’re rugged, safe, capable, and totally overkill for the majority of us. But, hey, we can dream! 

Built from steel, the Bull Bar replaces your flimsy factory bumper and adds important protection to the front of your truck. Why it’s needed: you won’t ruin your radiator if you accidentally brush a tree or hit an animal, and it still fully integrates with your airbags and headlights. It also acts as a platform for extra gear, like a winch.

Photo: Nick Kelley

Better tires are a simple, essential upgrade, and the K02 has been a favorite for a couple decades. Why? Because they’re just as good on the road as they are off. You’ll often find all-terrain tires that can handle the muck but get squirrely and loud on the pavement. Not so here: the K02 will float over sand better than any other tire out there, but it’s also smooth, quiet, and safe on the freeway.

Photo: Jakob Schiller

Just like the KO2, the Wildpeak is a great all-terrain tire, but it’s also winter rated and designed for the snow, thanks to siping, or small grooves, in the outer lugs. Those sipes split open just a little as they make contact with the ground and grab onto snow and ice, creating significantly better traction and braking when you’re headed up to or down from the ski hill.

Photo: Jakob Schiller

This Australian-made Old Man Emu kit provides a 2.5-inch lift on a Tacoma, so you can get bigger tires on the truck, and thus clear bigger obstacles. The shocks are significantly more durable than what comes stock, and their vehicle-specific valving improves handling when flying down washboard roads. Finally, the springs can carry more weight, so your truck won’t sag after you’ve added those custom bumpers, back drawers, or rooftop tent.

When getting a new suspension system or other aftermarket products installed, look for a shop that specializes in off-road vehicles. We worked with New Mexico’s Tactical Application Vehicles, one of the country’s leading spots for these kinds of modifications.

Photo: Jakob Schiller

The Stealth 6 wheels will take a beating off-road, but they won’t weigh your truck down if you also want to use it as a daily driver. They start at 21 pounds—comparable to what comes stock.

Photo: Jakob Schiller

The Trail Rider 2.0 bumper upgrades the back of the truck in several ways. It’s made from steel, offering significantly more protection than the stock option. It also improves the truck’s departure, preventing it from scraping when you hit a steep grade. The swingout arm gets everything out of the way so you can easily get into the bed. In the version pictured, this arm also has an attached fold-down table, which makes a great cooking station.

Photo: Nick Kelley

These seven-inch halogen lamps are a relatively inexpensive way to add extra lights to your rig without turning it into something out of Back to the Future. This setup creates one spotlight and one driving beam.

Photo: Nick Kelley

Warn has been making winches and vehicle recovery tools since 1948. Built in the USA, these tools are your best bet for getting unstuck. They come in a variety of sizes and strengths: the general rule of thumb is to get something with a pulling power that’s 1.5 times the weight of your vehicle. The VR10000, shown here, is an entry-level model suited for most big trucks. It comes with a remote control on a 12-foot tether—so you can get out of your truck and watch what you’re doing—and either a synthetic or steel rope.

Photo: Jakob Schiller

If you just want to haul bikes, skis, or even a rooftop tent, go with regular rooftop bars, but the Pioneer provides a more versatile platform with several wide rails running the entire width and length of your shell or cab. You can attach a rooftop tent, ski and bike carriers—or a spare tire, jerry cans with extra gas or water, and a shovel for getting unstuck.

Photo: Nick Kelley

TruckVault’s drawer systems act as gear organizers and safes for your adventure mobile. Made from medium-density overlay, a durable combination of wood and resin, the drawers lock and are customizable: you can configure them to hold anything from camera gear to rifles to fishing rods. Up top, there’s room for large objects like coolers or skis. Get weatherproof rubber instead of carpet on top—it’s far easier to clean.

Photo: Jakob Schiller

Built from steel with a powder-coated finish, these drawers are about as safe as a bank vault. They’re also cavernous. Each drawer is more than ten inches high and runs the full length of a five-foot bed. Thanks to a weather-resistant build, the drawers can be used without a camper shell and hold up to 2,000 pounds of gear on top.

Photo: Nick Kelley

Caps, toppers, campers—whatever you want to call them—come in dozens of configurations from a handful of reputable brands. After testing a bunch, we found we prefer ARE and Leer. Both offer styles and setups that can be fine-tuned for a specific use—think additional storage or access through the side windows.

Photo: Jakob Schiller

You sacrifice performance when you add larger tires and more weight to your truck. The best way to improve that performance is to regear, which means adding a different gear ratio to your front and rear differentials. Adding these new ratios prompts your engine to run at a more efficient RPM, which ensures you get full power on the freeway and off.

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