Soon after I bought the Toyota Tacoma I now live in, I spent six months tooling around the woods in it: using it for off-roading, and to access trailheads for backcountry skiing, running, mountain biking and whitewater paddling. Frankly, I was pretty happy.
Compared with my previous car, a Subaru Forester, the stock Tacoma’s ability to crawl over rocks, float over potholes and clear other obstacles was a night-and-day difference. Still, I invested roughly $1,000 into the rig — primarily in the form of better tires, as well as some recovery tools I discussed in the previous installment — and as a result was able to safely go further into the backcountry. If you take the time to improve your skills offroad, a Tacoma will get your surprisingly far.
But far never seems to be far enough. Once you get hooked into driving on dirt, the slippery slope begins. A few epic weekends on the trail often lead to longer trips in more remote places. These require higher clearance, more body protection and brighter lights to keep yourself out of trouble — a much larger investment, albeit one that quickly pay dividends on the trail.
So if you’re curious what’s around the next bend, here are my suggestions for upgrading your Toyota Tacoma in order to make sure you get there.
Tacomas are, as their reputation suggests, made to last. They hold their value well — and if they do break down, nearly every mechanic has spare parts for them. That said, durability can come at a cost of versatility, especially when it comes to driving on dirt.
The first big step you need to take is a suspension upgrade. After hours of research, I decided the best bang for my buck was a ToyTec 3-inch lift kit with Total Chaos upper control arms for added travel, and additional leafs and airbags in the rear to compensate for my heavier load. This setup rides well on the highway and performs impressively well offroad.
ToyTec 3-Inch Lift Kit
Total Chaos 2nd-Generation Toyota Tacoma Upper Control Arms
Firestone Ride-Rite Kit
Racks & Lighting
After years of using lighter and more flimsy racks, I recently upgraded my Tacoma with Front Runner Slimline racks. I’veve been hugely impressed with their build quality, strength, and ease of use. Frankly, I wish I had switched to them long ago.
On the racks, I’ve mounted two Lightforce Nightfall lightbars and a pair of Genesis driving lights to my front grille, which offer much more visibility (and therefore safety) at night. Lightforce makes some of the best products on the market; they’re bright, waterproof and durable.
For most Tacomas, it’s also worth upgrading the stock headlight bulbs. I’d recommend BeamTech LEDs.
Front Runner Toyota Tacoma Slimline II Roof Rack Kit
Lightforce Nightfall 50-inch Dual Row Light Bar
Lightforce Genesis Driving Light
Beamtech LED Headlight Bulb
Even the best drivers, those that go slow and know all of their trucks “angles” eventually run into a rock, stump, or scrap the side of the tree. It’s part of the offroad experience. To protect your Tacoma from real, non-cosmetic damage, there are a few key upgrades to install.
The first: a decent grille guard, like this Westin. Also important: a skid plate to protect the underbelly of your truck. The last, for those inclined to go all-in, are high-clearance bumpers — like this one from CBI.
Westin Sportsman Tough Black Steel Grille Guard
CBI Offroad T3 High Clearance Rear Bumper
Heavy Duty Brakes
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention your brakes. If you’re consistently carrying a lot of weight in your truck, it’s important to upgrade the full brake setup — rotors, calipers and pads. I installed BBK brakes from StopTech soon after I bought my truck, and I’m never going back. They’re strong, yet still offer a smooth feeling when I hit the brake pedal.
StopTech BBK Brakes
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