By Isaac Marchionna
Let’s talk Long Travel Suspension
Suspension is the separation and connection to the ground below us, and (like most things overlanding) can be upgraded. These upgrades provide more lift and more ground clearance, and give us more adjustability and comfortability on the road and trail. Suspension upgrades run the gamut of simple spacer lifts to absolutely bonkers pre-runner style mods that leave little of the original vehicle left. Somewhere in the middle is long travel suspension, which is becoming more common on expedition style vehicles. I currently run a LT set up and I’ll be sharing the advantages and disadvantages.
So what’s long travel suspension and why is it different?
Normal suspension lift involves adding either spacers or coil-overs to achieve added height while still retaining the same suspension geometry of the stock vehicle. It’s pretty simple to do. It’s bolt on and it doesn’t fundamentally change the mechanics of the suspension.
Long travel suspension redefines those mechanics by using longer lower control arms in front, and lower links in the rear. (Those with leaf springs in the rear, I know you just rolled your eyes.) These lower links allow the wheels to be pushed out and down, and allow for more vertical travel over terrain.
More vertical travel means that the wheels and shocks can cycle a greater amount, absorbing hits that would otherwise push beyond the limits of a normal travel suspension. Long travel also increases the track width of the host vehicle, providing more stability side to side.
Nick DeLuca (Overland Bound Member #1069) currently rides long travel on his 2014 Toyota Tacoma. “Off-road the ride is significantly different. Additional wheel travel and truly independent front suspension will soak up most of what you can throw at it. It’s been the right choice for us as we have been able to take it for several 350 dirt mile trips across Death Valley and feel how smooth it can be compared to more stock suspension setups. The additional wheel travel also helped me keep 4 tires on the ground through much of the Rubicon Trail.”
Most long travel comes in two varieties: +2 and +3.5. These numbers refer to the length of the axles and how far each wheel is being extended out.
“But wait,” you say. “So, I need longer axles?”
Yes. Yes, you do.
And they’re not parts you’ll find at the dealer if you snap one. So here’s something to consider: Will you snap an axle on the trail? Hard to say. It’s better to have a spare axle and not need it, than to need it and not have it. You’re not just going to find a +2 axle at a dealer.
Maintenance is something to keep in mind, as your local mechanic will be hesitant to touch a system way outside of the original manufacturer’s specs. Also prepare for the world’s most aggravating alignments. If you find a good shop that specializes in off-road vehicles then cherish them and shower them with love. Because getting a long travel vehicle in alignment spec is an art in and of itself. It’s just different.
Be Prepared for Maintenance
If you break and axel in the middle of nowhere without a spare? That’s a serious problem, because spares don’t exist through normal parts channels, or local shops. Remember, these systems are not “like a race truck”. They fundamentally ARE race truck suspensions. Because of this, the system feels like butter off-road, but it also means I’m under the truck every few weeks or less, and parts are hard to come by. I lubricate uniballs and joints to keep my vehicle from doing its best impression of a neglected Ford Pinto – including the squeaks and rattles that go with it.
To achieve as much down travel as possible one of the components that’s deleted during the upgrade is your sway bars. Sway bars are great on road, but they restrict the amount of flex a vehicle can achieve off-road.
Why should you care? Because what most of us do is not thousands of miles of off-roading, but rather thousands of miles of road driving before we hit that dirt road turn-off. Sway bars keep body roll to a minimum on pavement. By deleting them the vehicle will sway during turns. Nick mentions, “If you are currently trying to decide if LT is right for you, I suggest removing the sway bars on your truck and drive it around. This will give you a taste of what it is like to drive on pavement with LT, but keep in mind that with LT the sway is twice as much. I have compared it to the way a speedboat drives.”
The Final Say
Rarely is an upgrade going to yield all positives without any negatives. Cost being a major factor at $2800 to $5500 in parts alone, and if you change something, something else has to give. “If you are looking to upgrade to long travel, be aware that there is a significant amount of work involved with installations,” Nick adds.
For long travel you’re knowingly taking on a suspension system that will require more maintenance, a more critical eye and ear to spot issues, and maybe a bit more attention on the road to keep under control.
The benefits are a suspension system that is extremely capable, softer on road, and allows you to move over harsher terrain with greater confidence. It’s not a cheap upgrade (welding and a lot of shop time is certainly required), but the results can be awesome if you’re prepared to pay the price.
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