September 21, 2022
A truck says a lot about its owner by providing a glimpse into what motivates that person. When I boil my life down outside of work, there are three things I enjoy most: adventuring with my family (a lot), hunting (a lot), riding motorcycles (not as often as I wish). These hobbies take me all over the western United States. So I set out to build the ULTIMATE ADVENTURE RIG, and I think I have it almost where it needs to be to keep up with my active lifestyle.
I wanted a truck that can comfortably haul four people with a bunch of gear and is able to access remote areas with relative ease. A truck I can rely on to get me out of the woods after seven days in the backcountry when there may be a fresh coat of snow on the ground. I wanted a truck that could haul a trailer full of motorcycles. After lots of contemplation, one option rose to the top.
My search for a new truck began right as Toyota began teasing the new 2022 Tundra. I’m a pretty conservative guy, so buying a brand-new truck makes me nervous. I’m happy to let others work out the bugs. But I’m a big fan of Toyota’s 5.7 Liter V8. They just work, and the way they deliver power is awesome. And that sound! I decided to get a 2021 TRD PRO—I couldn’t let the last year of the 5.7 slip through my fingers. As it turns out, picking the Tundra was the easy part. In stock form, the truck is okay for what I needed it to do, but I wanted it to be purpose-built as the ultimate, most comfortable truck to hunt out of with a spot for everything I need for adventure.
Here’s a rundown of how I built out the truck and the reasons why I set it up the way I did.
Let’s be honest, the Tundra is an awesome truck. It is fairly capable of doing off-road duty in stock form, but it is not a Jeep; the Tundra is a heavy, full-size truck. I added a full set of undercarriage protection with skid plates from CBI Offroad, along with a set of their super-solid sliders. They are tough and are also some of the best-looking rock sliders out there.
For front-end protection, I went with the Adventure Front Bumper from CBI because I wanted full coverage with a better-than- stock approach angle. I do a lot of driving in deer country during times when they are most active, so a deer strike is bound to happen at some point. I like the big, sweeping front end protection the Adventure Front Bumper offers.
I’m running stock-sized KO2 tires from BFGoodrich right now, but I do have future plans to run 35-inch tires after adding a lift kit. When I make that switch, the spare would no longer fit under the bed, so I added a Rear Bumper from CBI Offroad that has a swing-out spare-tire carrier. I just wish I had gotten that particular piece of protection sooner. During an elk hunt in Idaho last fall, I got onto a trail that was fairly gnarly and hit my stock rear bumper on the passenger side. The original plastic bumper did nothing to protect the truck’s bed, and I deformed the rear quarter panel slightly. That’s the first of many dings this truck will take, I’m sure.
Packing It In
Having ample storage was paramount for what I needed this truck to do and where I needed it to take me. One of my pet peeves is having a ton of gear in the cab of a truck with four guys fumbling around with muddy boots getting everything dirty. I wanted a system that would allow me to carry at least four firearms and lots of other gear, too.
After seeing it in action, I decided the Decked Drawer truck-bed storage system was a must-have. Each of the two massive drawers easily fits four to five scoped rifles, and they are secure and lockable, so I don’t have to worry about bringing guns into a hotel when traveling for a hunt. Plus, I still get access to the cargo bed to use for storage space for the cooler and other gear.
I looked at many bed-rack options and ultimately settled on the Leitner Forged ACS system. This has turned out to be one of my favorite products on the truck. Installation was relatively easy, requiring drilling four holes into the bed of the truck. The rack installation does delete Toyota’s adjustable track system due to how the clamps for the ACS system work, but I haven’t missed it.
In addition to the rack itself, I opted for the cargo boxes, Rotopax mounts, and Leitner’s new water tank setup. I love knowing that I can easily wash my hands, or gear, when I get back to the truck. I use the bigger ACS cargo box for tripods, spotting scopes, and other shooting accessories. I keep one of the small cargo boxes empty for passengers to bring along extra gear, and I use the other small ACS box for recovery gear.
If that’s not enough space for gear storage, I added a Prinsu Roof Rack over the cab, and it has room for two Pelican hard cases. A custom mounting solution uses rubber cooler closures, so I can quickly and easily remove the cases when needed. The Pelican cases are large enough to hold just about anything, including three scoped rifles carried in soft guncases. Inside the cab, on the backs of both front seats, I rigged up Grey Man Tactical MOLLE rifle holders and accessory bags.
Light Up The Night
I spend a lot of time driving in the dark on the way to an early-morning adventure or after an evening hunt, so I like being able to see everything. My current lighting setup is powered by a Switch Pros’s SP-9100 unit that makes wiring a breeze. I ran a single wire through the firewall, and everything else was pretty darn simple.
For the actual lighting, I went with Diode Dynamics lights because I really like their TIR optics. Years ago, I was a product man- ager for LED flashlights, and the best way to get maximum efficacy out of a lighting system with even light distribution is to use an Internally Reflective lens designed to spread light out where you want it instead of relying on a parabolic reflector that is notorious for parasitic light loss. In the Prinsu Rack on top of the cab, there is a white 42-inch spot beam that is amazingly bright. When it comes on, it pretty much turns night into day.
In the front bumper, I have CBI Ditch Light Brackets holding Diode Dynamics’s amber SS3 PRO LED pods combo. I’d hate to hit a deer after all the time and money I’ve put into this truck, and a good set of ditch lights allows me to see animals so much better. Up front there is an amber Combo 30 light bar, SS3 white fog lights, and a pair of amber SS3 fog lights. I wanted to have the amber light bar mounted low so that I could still use lights in inclement weather. Winter driving in Wyoming can be challenging and low-mounted amber lights don’t blind you as much as white lights do in the snow.
At the rear of the Leitner Designs Bed Rack, I mounted a pair of SS2 white flood lights that allow me to see what’s going on when gearing up at the tailgate. I also have a set of SS1s facing forward at 45-degree angles so I can use them when getting ready in the morning. Another cool thing about TIR optics is that you can backlight them. The rear-facing SS2s have red backlighting, and the front SS1s are amber, so it increases my visibility to other drivers at night, which is nice because I often have so much gear in the bed that the third brake light on the back of the cab is blocked.
When hunting, I’m often alone—or at least the only vehicle—so I wanted to make sure that I could get out no matter what. I carry a Hi-Lift jack on the Leitner rack and have a Rough Country 12,000-pound winch in the front bumper with shackles on the front and rear. I think I’m ready for just about any situation. To my Recovery Kit, I also added a 30-foot, 20,000-pound tow strap, tree protector, Hi-Lift off-road base, traction boards, and a heavy-duty snatch block.
Additions and Deletions
Future plans call for more ground clearance. I’m planning to add a bit of lift to the Tundra so I can run 35-inch tires to get the truck a little further off the ground. Toyota’s ESP traction control is great for on-road, but pretty much worthless when off-roading. In weird off-camber obstacles, the power is sent to the wheel with the least traction, so lockers will be added as well.
My goal for the build was to make the ultimate hunting truck, not an exclusive overlanding rig. Most overlanders these days are rocking a roof-top tent. While they are cool, they don’t meet my needs. If I’m camping, I’m also using the truck to hunt or explore, and I want to leave a base camp behind. Plus, roof-top tents add some unnecessary weight, to the already heavy load I’ve saddled the truck with from all the other accessories.
I’m not going to mention the bad fuel economy. I really don’t care about it until someone inevitably asks me about the gas mileage. Then I realize how thirsty the truck is. I’ve also had some mysterious rattling sounds since day one. It took the local Toyota dealer months to figure out that it was coming from a faulty windshield seal. I think all modern vehicles are too smart—sometimes you just want to rip it down a dirt road and drift around a turn. Without defeating modern traction-control systems, really putting the truck through the paces can be difficult.
In the end, I’ve set this this truck up to be ready for just about anything, and I love it. Hunting from it is a blast. There is a spot for everything and everything has a purpose. This is no mall crawler. It’s a purpose-built rig ready for the next hunt.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.