Trying to select the correct vehicle for first overland build

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nuclear_runner

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Without getting too long winded (n.b. looks like I failed, sorry), here is my quick story on how I ended up here. Got ultrarunning, adventure cycling and backpacking while I was in grad school, and now that I'm done my postdoc, have stable work, and am living in a pandemic where I can't fly, overlanding kind of seemed like the next logical step for me. I have a tendency to go all in on my hobbies, so I wanted to try it out on the super cheap and so built a plywood sleeping platform in my '04 Honda CRV and drove to Big Bend National Park to run the Chisos Mountain Trail. Since this was my first time ever doing anything like this, I just booked sites in state parks along the route. Turns out, I loved it, just enough adventure to keep it exciting (mind you, this is just with SP campsites, nothing special) but you sleep well enough that you can recover well from running/cycling. I've also taken several weekend trips and am pretty excited about a slightly more capable (or confidence instilling) vehicle!

Looking to buy a truck I can grow into; something capable on mild to moderate dirt/gravel routes more or less out of the box, but can be built out as needs come up. My only other requirements are I'd like to be able to carry a single bicycle at least, sleep 2 people with minimal setup, and I'd really like something that can eventually make it out to The Maze in Canyonlands NP (I fully understand that this is a very challenging place to drive, and I obviously won't be trying to make it out there for a long time, but I figured dream trips were worth mentioning).

Looked hard at the Tacoma DCLB, and a camper shell/platform in the bed, but it seems this truck is nearly impossible to get in off-road trim and a lacks a lot of aftermarket support (and even support from Toyota, see new lift kit). The other options I was looking at were the DCSB and maybe the Nissan Frontier (but am nervous due to 1. a new generation year and 2. bad prior experiences with Nissan). I'm 6'3" and so the only real option for sleeping in the short bed midsizes is a RTT. I understand a lot of the pros and cons to the sleeping solutions, but am not sure what I really lose by going to the long bed due to lack of any experience with trucks. I'm also open to other trucks.

Edit to add some requirements and budget:
-4x4 (prefer stock rear locker to get started)
-Automatic
-Server as daily driver for the foreseeable future
-Quick and easy to set up for sleep
-Carry at least 1 bicycle
-Good aftermarket
-Good reliability, I intend to have this vehicle 15-18 years
-Storage for normal equipment plus extra running/cycling gear, 2 weeks food, potential to upgrade to refrigeration
-New

Perfer:
-Leaning midsize truck but am open to full and SUV as well
-Decent gas mileage such (inasmuch as any of these get decent mileage)
-Am open to both RTT or camper shell
-Lower maint costs
-Some self driving features like lane assist and smart cruise control

Budget:
$40k for vehicle but I'm flexible for a few k higher.
$1-3k for a sleeping solution, again slightly flexible.

Trip style:
Frankly, I'm going to be mostly a weekend warrior, going out to NF or similar in VA, MD, WV and PA several times a month. I will take multiple longer trips ~1 week long up and down the east coast. I'll drive this thing cross country 1-4 times a year for 2ish week trip. I'd like something that could potentially be upgraded take on more challenging routes in the future.

TL;DR: Trying to decide between Tacoma DCLB + camper/sleeping platform, DCSB + RTT and am looking for advice from those who have way more experienced than I do

Thank you in advance. This will easily be the biggest investment I've made in outdoor equipment and so forgive me if I'm overthinking things a little too much!
 
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uncompromise

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Hey there - sounds like you‘ve been bitten - welcome to the club! I strongly recommend you read this post I made recently about how to document requirements, then edit your original post with a little more information. As it stands, this raises more questions than anything; better quality information on what you need your vehicle to do, how much you’re willing to spend, whether or not it’s going to be a daily driver, how long you want to spend in it at any point in time, where you intend to drive it etc etc all ensure that the community can best support you. We all have a lot of informed opinions, but whether or not they‘re relevant to you is hard to know without some more information.
 
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MidOH

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Your travel plans seem open enough for a fullsize truck. If a fullsize fits, it's almost always the best choice.

F250xl, regular cab, short bed, fx4, 7.3l gas, 4.30 axle, e locker. Add 35'' tires and a front locker, and you're as capable as can be. My f250 reminds me of my 1st gen Tacoma, just bigger, meaner, and indestructible (compared to the yota solid front axle). Takes more effort to drive, but it's worth it.
 

tony chatman

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grab some camping gear and go out several times .try different areas. take notes on what you needed and would like to of had. and what you had that you did not need or use. every trip will be different .do to area\ weather .camping some where in summer is a lot different then winter at same location. only you can figure out what works for you. and what your needs are. i would suggest find some one to go with buddy system .for first couple of times. they can observe and help out if you run into some situation you are not sure best way to handle.. safety and self recovery are top priority. the rest just makes it more enjoyable .
 

nuclear_runner

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Hey there - sounds like you‘ve been bitten - welcome to the club! I strongly recommend you read this post I made recently about how to document requirements, then edit your original post with a little more information. As it stands, this raises more questions than anything; better quality information on what you need your vehicle to do, how much you’re willing to spend, whether or not it’s going to be a daily driver, how long you want to spend in it at any point in time, where you intend to drive it etc etc all ensure that the community can best support you. We all have a lot of informed opinions, but whether or not they‘re relevant to you is hard to know without some more information.
Thanks for your helpful follow up! I have updated my original post. I still left some things a bit more open than you, but I have hopefully help constrain things a bit.
 

BensonSTW

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I am a diesel guy so most of my recommendations tend to steer that direction. But the first thing I thought when I read you requirements was a power wagon with a topper on it. I’m 6’ and sleep good in the 6.5 foot short bed. I sleep on a 4” thick queen size foam mattress pad. I roll it up length wise shove it to one side and then throw my bed roll on top of it when traveling. Wife and I both sleep great in it. Leaves the rest of the bed for gear. Power wagon comes with front and rear lockers. Will get as good of mileage as a Tacoma.
 

eriefisher

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Personally I find a lot of the aftermarket equipment is geared towards specific vehicles with limited options on others. Much of it is universal fit or uses specific hardware kits. This isn't necessarily a problem if you willing to modify/adapt something yourself. Even a total custom build if you have the skills and facilities, maybe friends. This can be a problem if you don't have any experience with fabrication/woodworking etc. or maybe you just don't the tools or simply apartment bound. This just increases the out of pocket expenses but a good plan is usually the place to start. Sounds like your getting there though.
 
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bgenlvtex

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Ram Rebel(or up fitted Tradesman) , Chevrolet Trail Boss, Ford Fx4

If you want a mid-size Jeep Gladiator, Tacoma, GM Colorado, Ford Ranger

If you want to build it out over time (which is wise, wise, wise) look at aftermarket parts availability and the cost of those parts as well as what it is going to cost to install them if you lack the tools, time, expertise to do it yourself.

I have a Gladiator, have a Power Wagon on order. If I was doing what you are today I would buy out of the first category above and I would try real hard to make it the Rebel. The next stop would be a shell ARE or Leer. That will put you in the 98th percentile of what you want to do and provide a lot of comfort in doing it.
 
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nuclear_runner

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Ram Rebel(or up fitted Tradesman) , Chevrolet Trail Boss, Ford Fx4

If you want a mid-size Jeep Gladiator, Tacoma, GM Colorado, Ford Ranger

If you want to build it out over time (which is wise, wise, wise) look at aftermarket parts availability and the cost of those parts as well as what it is going to cost to install them if you lack the tools, time, expertise to do it yourself.

I have a Gladiator, have a Power Wagon on order. If I was doing what you are today I would buy out of the first category above and I would try real hard to make it the Rebel. The next stop would be a shell ARE or Leer. That will put you in the 98th percentile of what you want to do and provide a lot of comfort in doing it.
You know, I kind of scoffed when I saw people recommending full size trucks, but several people did, so I took a quick look and was a bit surprised at what I found. Milage (especially real world mileage) is basically the same as the mid sized offerings. Ram Quad Cab or F-150 gives me 4 door cab and a 6.5' bed (perfect for my height, though slightly tricky to find). I will say, I do like the idea of a super agile midsize with RTT, but as you say the full size gets me to 98th percentile and will be more comfortable without giving up much off road (or so it seems to me, with zero personal experience).

I think the time to make a spreadsheet has come.
 

MidOH

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Half tons are pretty agile.

3/4-1 tons do have heavier steering and more truck like ride. Jeep, Defender, and FJ fans would have no issues with a 1 tons ride. The pay off is the Ram and Ford 250/2500+ have locker friendly front axles. And huge tires fit them box stock.

Keep in mind the f150 is as big as a f350.
 

Built By Fluffy

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I'm going to continue to be that guy... 4x4 or AWD fullsize van guy!

Plenty of van-builds that are out there that are centered around bike/garage-like storage in the rear, easy instant bed in the back, and can be simple or super comfy.

Not that my van is a typical build thus far, and there honestly isn't any need to be as DIY as mine, but so far I have well under your $40K budget into the build and it's already shaping up to be as off road capable as a decently built Jeep. If you wanted to weigh MPG over offroad capability the newer vans w/ AWD (and the addition of a rear traction device) would likely be a great fit for what you described.
 
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SquishBang

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maybe the Nissan Frontier (but am nervous due to 1. a new generation year and 2. bad prior experiences with Nissan).

Edit to add some requirements and budget:
-4x4 (prefer stock rear locker to get started)
-Automatic
-Server as daily driver for the foreseeable future
-Quick and easy to set up for sleep
-Carry at least 1 bike
-Good aftermarket
-Storage for normal equipment plus extra running/cycling gear, 2 weeks food, potential to upgrade to refrigeration
-New

Perfer:
-Leaning midsize truck but am open to full and SUV as well
-Decent gas mileage such (inasmuch as any of these get decent mileage)
-Am open to both RTT or camper shell
-Lower maint costs

Budget:
$40k for vehicle but I'm flexible for a few k higher.
$1-3k for a sleeping solution, again slightly flexible.

Trip style:
Frankly, I'm going to be mostly a weekend warrior, going out to NF or similar in VA, MD, WV and PA several times a month. I will take multiple longer trips ~1 week long up and down the east coast. I'll drive this thing cross country 1-4 times a year for 2ish week trip. I'd like something that could potentially be upgraded take on more challenging routes in the future.

TL;DR: Trying to decide between Tacoma DCLB + camper/sleeping platform, DCSB + RTT and am looking for advice from those who have way more experienced than I do

Thank you in advance. This will easily be the biggest investment I've made in outdoor equipment and so forgive me if I'm overthinking things a little too much!
The requirement for "new" will make finding a Full Size truck more challenging, but I'd strongly consider a FS truck. 12-13 years ago I went to go buy a Tacoma and ended up bringing home a 2007 Nissan Titan instead. They were the same price, the Titan gets 2mpg less, can tow 9200 pounds.
In 12-13 years it has been the most reliable vehicle I have ever owned. I am curious what was your bad experience with Nissan?

In the 12+ years we have had it, we have made several changes to our camping/overlanding approach, and a few years ago settled on a LEER camper, suspension upgrades and a HLSD rear differential. The truck is now so capable, far more so than I have the guts to push it beyond it's limits. And it pulls our boat or other trailers with ease, something a Tacoma would struggle with.

In 2021, $40K won't get you much. But, the latest Titan is a seriously underrated, under appreciated truck and can get very good discounts. I'd look at a Pro-4x because it has the locking rear diff, skid plates and shocks. Check the MPGs against a similarily equipped Tacoma, I'll bet they aren't far off from each other.

Speaking of Tacoma, have you driven one yet? If you are 6'3" you definitely want to take one on an extended test drive. They have a seating position peculiarity that some people find almost unbearable. I heard the floor is high and roof is low, causing you to sit with your legs out and seat tilted back a bit.

Me, personally, I am looking to replace my Titan as it is now almost 15 years old. I would consider the Tacoma, but the 3.5 V6 and the seating position are a no-go, also considered a Ranger but Ford will be updating that soon. The Colorado is a hard pass as a few co-workers had them and they were unreliable, even when brand new. I can appreciate the smaller trucks for tighter trails, and I have the 2022 Frontier in my sights now. Going forward we may no longer have a need for such a big truck, but it sure has been nice so far!
 

Built By Fluffy

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No affiliation with the link, but as another plug for a van

These sprinters are getting popular for a reason. Apparently there are three up for auction now: all 4x4, low mileage, and 2017 yr model. Could do much worse as the beginnings of an overland project
 

bgenlvtex

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One would hope they didn't have to get under the hood of their rig under adverse conditions, but my experience with working on vans (which in all honesty is not current) is that vans absolutely suck rat peckers when it comes to working on them.

For that reason, they would be a haaaaaaaaaard pass for me.
 
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SquishBang

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No affiliation with the link, but as another plug for a van

These sprinters are getting popular for a reason. Apparently there are three up for auction now: all 4x4, low mileage, and 2017 yr model. Could do much worse as the beginnings of an overland project
Man I would love a van! My wife would give me serious stink eye over it, though!
Another option is to get a Nissan NV2500/NV3500 tall/long van with the V8, and convert it over to 4WD myself. The NV is based off of a Titan and the Titan 4WD stuff bolts right up. Then I'd build my own interior for it.
Another benefit of the NV chassis is that it has a typical long truck hood making any necessary repairs easier. However, these vehicles are very durable and reliable, you likely won't need to get under the hood very often for anything other than maintenance.
 

M Rose

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@nuclear_runner i started out with a 1985 Ranger, moved up to a 1985 Bronco 2, I found them to be small so loved over to a 1960 Willys Wagon (great rig and the only one I have ever missed), then came several jeep wranglers (YJ-TJ-JK) and a couple of ZJ/XJ, then I relasized they were all too small, moved over to a Ford F-150 for a bit, then a couple of Second Gen Rams, and finally on a 1989 Full Sized Bronco. I find that the Rams were the most capable factory wise with very little mods needed. The overall best is my FSB, but it needed to be heavily modified for my needs.
 

egilbe

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I have a Ranger FX4 that I'm now building up to be as capable as a Ranger Tremor, that Ford just released. I picked the Ranger over the Tacoma because of the godawful seating in the Tacoma, the Nissan was old and dated and I don't like GM or Chrysler products. Coupled with a pullkitchen and a Go Fast Camper, it should be a very capable adventure buggy.

edit:

I should also add why I didn't get an F150. It is huge, too big for some of the forest trails I typically drive on.
 
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The Roach ...

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No affiliation with the link, but as another plug for a van

These sprinters are getting popular for a reason. Apparently there are three up for auction now: all 4x4, low mileage, and 2017 yr model. Could do much worse as the beginnings of an overland project

If you are headed the 4x4 van route... there are better places to source a van for less than that auction will close at. personally, I would NEVER buy a military vehicle .. or rather a civilian vehicle operated under military contract. Think 18 year old kids driving them like rental cars.. and you'd be pretty close. Best you might find is a recruiter van... and those DON"T get maintenance at all