7 Easy Upgrades for the Ultimate Outdoors Rig

by Tommy Grant

For the last dozen years, I have been committed to Toyota Tacoma pickups. But, as my family has grown and my towing needs expanded, I envied Toyota Tundra owners. Spacious seating, larger towing capacity and overall great aftermarket support had me searching online markets often. A good friend of mine purchased a Tundra CrewMax back in 2019, and when he drove into work, I jokingly told him that when he wanted to sell it to let me know.

Ultimate Off-Road: Toyota Tundra Build

Fast forward to 2023, and I got the phone call that he was going to trade it in but would rather me get the option first. I jumped at the chance, but when I drove to his house to look at the truck, it was obvious that the last three years were not kind to this Tundra. Bumper and fender damage, hail-sized dings across the panels and an interior as dusty as the Sahara Desert. My initial thought was a strong “No,” but as I sat and listened to his asking price, I began dreaming of renovating this Tundra into my ultimate hunting, mountain and everyday driving rig. My wife was not thrilled when the beaten Tundra pulled up to the house, but I was focused on turning this abused truck into a Tundra dream.

I consistently strive to find affordable products that also have purpose and raise the aesthetics of the vehicle. The purchase price gave me plenty of wiggle room on items I wanted to add to the truck and products that I mechanically needed. There have been numerous occasions with my smaller truck that I needed aggressive tread tires, a winch for heavy snow conditions, and solid front and rear bumpers for tricky trails. I spend numerous days each month in the mountains whether it be for spring and fall hunting, exploring, or relaxing to escape the summer heat. All the upgrades planned would help me spend more time in my favorite place.

Bump, Level, Winch

This Tundra has a few scars, scratches and a mild hit to the front right bumper, which caused damage to the front quarter panel but no airbag deployment. I didn’t consider this to be a serious issue because I knew a full steel bumper would be installed as soon as possible. After some research and waiting on the oversized crates to arrive, I began the process of installing Fab Fours’ Red Steel front and rear bumpers.

I was drawn to the two-piece style on this Red Steel bumper, which allowed me to have a strong winch-ready unit secured to the frame and essentially slide the ‘face’ bumper over. Sharp body lines, the pre-runner guard and fog light locations made this addition for the front bumper an easy decision. I topped off this part of the project with affordable LED fog lights and a Rough Country 12,000-pound Pro Series that fits perfectly protected behind the front bumper.

The rear bumper has straight lines and is deeper than the stock bumper, which allows for easy foot placement when climbing into the bed. As a testament of the durability of the rear bumper, days after completing the build the truck was hit in a grocery parking lot. I was devasted seeing the police lights while walking out of the store but when I approached the Tundra, I had to hold back my laughter as the rear bumper was only missing some powder coat. The vehicle that took too tight of a turn was not so lucky.

Required Maintenance

Post-purchase, I dropped off the Tundra at the local Toyota dealership for an inspection and maintenance for the 138,000-mile vehicle. They informed me that both front shocks were leaking and needed to be replaced soon. Luckily for me, that upgrade was already in the plans.

One of the most convenient things about the Rough Country 2-inch Leveling Kit is that they are shipped as loaded struts. This allowed me to not deal with the dangers of a spring compression device and focus on changing out the worn coilovers for these with the added benefit of a 2-inch level in the front. I elected to change the front and rear at the same time and was able to complete the task in my garage.

Upgraded tires for off-road driving.

Tires & Wheels

This Tundra will mainly see gravel and mountain roads but at times will be driven on the highway. I wanted to stay away from loud humming mud terrains but also wanted an aggressive tire that could get me through sketchy situations. I found the perfect mix of that with the Nexen Roadian ATX tire. Because the Rough Country Leveling Kit gave me more space in the front of the truck, I opted for larger tires with the 10-ply Roadian ATX sized at 275/70/18 mounted on RockTrix RT105 Five-Split Wheels. These wheels gave me a more aggressive offset and positioned the wheels and tires perfectly under the Rough Country Pocket Fender Flares.

The Nexen tires are aggressive enough to grab when I need them to but don’t throw too many rocks out of the lugs when I hit the pavement. What impressed me the most about the Roadian ATX tires is how quiet they are at mid to high speed compared to my previous all terrains. Once the wheels and tires were mounted and complemented with the black fender flares, I loved the stance, height and look of the Tundra.

Finishing Touches

I spent more time on the details than I did on the large upgrades. The sun-worn head and taillights were one of the first items I replaced. I found a great set of Spyder headlights on marketplace and decided to purchase the taillights to match. The LED running lights give the truck a great look during the day, and the projector lenses give me a directed beam on the paved roads. I spent significant time sanding, priming and painting the front grill surround to match the black Toyota Pro grill insert, which tones down the traditional thick 2nd Gen grill. Matching black emblems, thicker engine compartment splash guards, rolled-on bed liner and the largest battery I could fit into the engine bay were all items that finished out the build.

To say the interior was dusty and dirty is an understatement. The truck came from the factory with cloth seats, but they were torn and filthy. I was able to find a full set of Katzkin’s leather seat covers online that were compatible with seat heaters. Most reviews told me to quit while I was ahead and not attempt the DIY install. I decided to tackle the project, but only one chair at a time. There were moments when the task seemed impossible, but I was able to hog plier my way through the interior and install heated seats as well. I capped off the interior with a long dedicated detail and added a tablet CarPlay head unit with a simple backup camera. At the beginning, I mentioned that my wife was not too fond of the project. Now, I find my wife with Tundra keys more than her own.

The Toyota Tundra upgrade made a capable off-road machine.

Final Thoughts

I often tell friends that being patient often helps when looking to buy a new vehicle. There will always be another one for sale tomorrow. I am grateful I didn’t take my own advice when this opportunity came to me, I have a truck that will last me and my family many more years. Driving this Tundra is a highlight of my day, and it’s capable in any mountain or highway situation I may drive it into.

BONUS MATERIAL:

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This article originally appeared in the October-November 2023 issue of Ballistic Magazine. Get your print or digital copy or subscription at OutdoorGroupStore.com.

Dual covers for Ballistic and Skillset Oct-Nov 2023.

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