Where is the best place to start your overland build? It’s a great question! We get asked this all the time, and we have five mods that you should seriously consider upgrading your truck with.
Deciding What You Need
There are a million different ways you can build your truck, depending on:
- What you want to do
- What kind of truck you have
- What your style is
So, every person you ask is going to have a different answer.
I’ve been there before myself, building my own truck, and have installed pretty much every mod you can do at this point, for better or worse. I’ve wasted so much time and money on mods that I shouldn’t have bothered with, as well as doing things multiple times just because I didn’t get the products that I should have the first time—so hopefully with that experience I can give you some mods that won’t let you down.
Starting Your Journey
I hear pretty frequently from many of you guys that you want to start taking your truck offroad—nothing too crazy, just want to stick to some dirt roads, some moderate obstacles or maybe a cross ditch or boulder. You don’t want to spend a ton of money, but you want a truck that’s capable, comfortable, and won’t break down all the time.
I say this a lot, but the first thing you should do before you start modifying your truck is just get out on the back roads and do the things you want to do! Your truck—totally stock—will go a surprising amount of places. I see so many people think that they need to do all these mods and upgrades before they can even go out onto a basic dirt road, and that couldn't be further from the truth.
A lot of people feel like they can’t actually go wheeling or exploring without a bunch of mods, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I even made a video about the top 5 mods you SHOULDN’T do—that’s how much I believe this!
Before I get into the list, if you find these videos helpful at all, a subscription goes a long way! But if you have commitment issues, I’m not offended, just a like or comment is amazing. I love reading what you guys have to say!
Anyway, on to the list!
The very first mod I would recommend is tires.
You want to decide right up front what size and what kind of tire you’re going for. An all-terrain, a mud-terrain, a small tire, a big tire—you want to make that decision right up front.
Despite common beliefs, you don’t need a lift to fit larger tires, you just have to be willing to do a little bit of cutting. And realistically, you need to cut whether you put a lift on or not. So you might as well just put the tires you want on it first—that’s what I think, anyway!
So up front, you want to decide whether you’re going for an all-terrain or a mud-terrain. I would recommend an all-terrain because they’re way quieter, more fuel efficient, and actually better on the road, which is where 90% of our driving realistically is.
If you’re building a straight off-road truck that you don’t drive daily, a mud tire is awesome, but not really necessary. I would also decide what size you want to go with right from the beginning, and then build around that. The bigger the tire you get, the more capable your truck is going to be off-road, but you’re sacrificing fuel efficiency, power, the strength of the components that are attached—so if you go too big, you start needing to do a lot of other work that maybe isn’t necessary for how you’re using your truck.
I would say a 33” is a really good compromise tire—it’s just big enough that you can go a lot of places and have good clearance and comfort, but without needing to get into re-gearing and crazy clearance and all that. Re-gearing will help with a 33”, but it’s not necessary. It’s totally manageable without a re-gear.
Skids and Sliders
I know that this is really two mods, but I always lump them together because they go hand-in-hand.
As you start to go off road, you’re going to find yourself in places that aren’t exactly flat. There’s going to be rocks, trees, and all sorts of obstacles. If you’re the type of person who likes to push yourself and push your truck, trust me, you don’t want to be the guy who smashed in your door before you got sliders. It’s pretty embarrassing, and it’s really sad.
Skids protect your drivetrain, so they go under your truck. They’ll protect your engine, transmission, transfer case, and that will be great if you’re driving and you don’t see a big boulder, and you smash it—or a log or stick pops up that wants to gouge out your coolant lines or something. They just protect everything so you don’t even have to think about it anymore.
Sliders go along the side of your truck and they’re meant to slide on. So as you pivot around boulders or around trees, you don’t have to worry about smashing your doors or anything like that as you’re wheeling through obstacles.
I recently bought my first ever brand new vehicle, and I took it off-road—and I hadn’t remembered how bad stock suspension is off-road. Don’t get me wrong, you can go everywhere with stock suspension, but speed and comfort are not words I would use to describe the experience.
I’m not saying you should go out and buy insanely expensive suspension, but what I am saying is that you should be realistic about what your goals are and how you want to use your truck. Use that expectation to buy the right suspension the first time around.
There are really solid budget suspension set-ups that are really great for most people. The Bilstein 6112/5160 combo is one of our most popular setups just because it’s so good for the price range. I don’t think there’s anything better in that price range actually.
But if you want to start setting harder, going faster, doing more crazy stuff, then it’s not really going to stand up to what you want to do. It’s not going to have the right valving, they’re not rebuildable, all that kind of stuff. So you’re going to want to go with something a little bit better.
In my opinion, you should just save up that extra and go to the better setup if that’s what you see yourself doing. If you’re just driving some dirt roads, then the 6112s are totally fine and you’re going to be more than happy.
The key is to just be real with what you’re doing, and not do it more than once like I did. I think I’ve installed about six different suspension setups on my truck at this point, and it’s really expensive to do that!
One mod I really wish I had done earlier on in my truck modifying journey is the switch panel.
When I first started, I thought, “oh, I’m just going to do it the cheap way—these switch panels are expensive.” So I just put switches in. It was a lot of work to feed all the wires in, do all the dash lights, modify the dash to fit all the switches—everything like that. And then, as soon as I wanted to add something else down the road, I had to redo everything. Put the wires back through the firewall, do everything again, find another spot for a switch, and it was really a pain in the butt.
I wish that I had just bought a switch panel. You just put one panel through the firewall, you have your switches there, you have eight options, everything just gets wired straight into the fuse panel that you mount somewhere accessible like the engine bay by the battery. It makes everything so much easier, and especially if you’re paying shop labour, you will save money in the long run as you add more things down the road.
There are some really nice switch panel options out there. You’ve got the S-Pod or Switch Pro, and those are super high end and they have tons of fancy features like strobes and on/off and momentaries and all this crazy stuff that’s really cool if you want those features. But there’s also more budget options like the rebranded ones that you see everywhere that everyone sells, and they work just as good too. They just don’t have all the fancy features.
So depending on what you want to do, if you just need a switch that turns on and off, then those cheaper ones are great. If you want something that has a bit more functionality, then the higher end ones that are like three times the price are really nice.
A compressor is one of those things that’s just so handy that everyone should have one.
Especially because airing down your tires is a huge part of your suspension. You can air down and have more traction and a more comfortable ride, and when you’re back on the road and you have to air up, you don’t have to rely on your friends or on finding a gas station or anything like that. You can just air up right there on the side of the road by yourself. Self reliance—it’s amazing!
Another great thing about having a compressor is that you can fix a lot of small punctures that you get on a trail. You can just plug it with a tire repair kit and fill it up without even pulling the tire off the truck or pulling out the spare tire.
You can also use it to fill up your inflatable floaties for the lake or run lockers. Lockers should definitely be on this list too, but if you bought your truck with overlanding in mind, you probably bought the one with the e-locker option anyway, so you’re already all set!
I used to run a tank with my compressor, and honestly, I wouldn’t bother with that again. The tank just filled with water, and you have to be sure you’re draining it all the time (which I never did) and I don’t think it really speeds up the air-up time much, if at all. So I probably wouldn’t bother with the tank again if I were doing it all over again.
Like I said in the beginning, the most important thing is just to get out and have fun. None of these mods are essential to doing that—you can go exploring and get to a ton of crazy places without anything. They’re just going to enhance the experience.
As you get out, you’ll start to figure out where you’re being held back, where your truck’s limitations are, and you can upgrade from there. However, when you do start to modify your truck, try to think further ahead to where you really want your truck to be and then just go straight to that point.
Trust me, you can do it in steps, but it costs way more, it’s way more frustrating, and you’re never really totally happy with the performance until you get the thing that you were hoping for in the first place. Just spend the extra three months or whatever saving up to get to the point where you can get what you really want and it will be way better in the long run.
Don’t fall into the same trap I have. Just “buy once cry once”—it’s a saying for a reason. I have spent way too much time buying and crying and I still do it. I say that I’ve learned this lesson, but I literally do this all the time trying to go for the cheaper option. And it never works out. I really just need to pound this into my own head.
If you want to check out five things you SHOULDN’T buy, then check out this video, or if you want to see what I’m talking about when I say that I’ve literally redone things over and over a million times, I just started rebuilding my truck from the frame up. Like literally, just a frame, and I’m going from there, so check it out here. Hopefully I do everything right this time! Eighth time’s the charm, right?