Sharing the Hobby

One of the most rewarding aspects of Overlanding is that it’s a group hobby. In my case, my son is also interested in Overlanding, and he also has a 4Runner he plans on off-roading with.

On Monday, my son helped me install my rock sliders. I’m glad he did; I couldn’t have done it without him. The sliders are heavy, and requires two people to lift into place. Additionally, he’s adept at working on cars, and his help enabled us to get the sliders mounted quickly.

I have a group of friends I met over a decade ago when we were all into VW’s. Now, all of us have moved on to Overlanding, and we will be making trips out West to go off-roading and to go camping together.


The Modding Has Begun

With my new 4Runner comes the many modifications that I will be adding to make this vehicle suit my needs and my personality. Some are cosmetic, but most are functional.

The first modification was LED lights. I swapped out the headlights, daytime running lights/high beams, and interior lights. The 4Runner comes with incandescent light bulbs and halogen headlights. These all have a yellow cast to them, and in the case of the headlights, are notoriously weak. My new bulbs are all much brighter, but not so bright that it blinds me or anyone outside the car. This was important, especially in the case of my headlights. I don’t want to be a nuisance or a safety hazard to anyone coming towards me in the opposite lane.

The second modification was the old TRD badge on the grill. It’s a splash of color on an otherwise all green and black vehicle, and I think it looks really nice there as well as being a throw-back to the old Toyota Racing Development days.

The third modification was mounting Rago storage panels inside the cargo area of the 4Runner. This process was very easy, and has added some much-needed storage capability for things like my first aid kits, an axe, a machete, and other items.

As I plan on taking this vehicle off-road with my son in his 4Runner, I added a bow shackle mount to the trailer hitch receiver to enable me to pull him or anyone else out of trouble if necessary.

Modification number 5 was the addition of an awning on the right side of the cargo rack on the roof. This will allow us to have shade or protection from the rain while out and about. As an added bonus, when I go flying my RC airplanes, it will give me a shaded area under which to store my planes while I’m flying.

The sixth modification was adding rock sliders to the vehicle (as can be seen on the grass in the previous picture prior to their mounting). Rock sliders differ from steps in that they are designed to protect the vehicle from rocks on a trail. Steps are not structurally strong enough to protect the vehicle; rock sliders are. They can support the weight of the vehicle and will keep the 4Runner from being impaled onto a rock from the side. They double as steps, however, and will be useful for Sherry to get in and out of the vehicle more easily.

This is how the 4Runner looks today. I had to remove the awning at the parking garage at work today, however, as the total height of the vehicle exceeded the safe clearance height in the garage. Fortunately, I had the forethought to bring the keys to unlock the awning’s mounts from the roof rack, and I was able to store the awning inside the cargo area of the vehicle until I get home. I’ll put the awning in the garage and put it on the 4Runner only when I will be needing it. It’s too bad. I rather liked having it up there.


Welcome, Gunship

Meet Gunship. Gunny, for short. Gunship is my new 2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro in Army Green. Gunship was made at the Toyota factory in Aichi, Japan, and arrived in the US on February 6th. Gunship spent a long time at sea to get here, and now, it’s getting additions to make it even more overlanding capable.

My plans or this 4Runner are many. Rock sliders, internal storage improvements, recovery points in the front, a winch, LED headlights, LED internal lights, Ham and GMRS radio, and more.

I can now start documenting the changes, the updates, and the adventures we’ll be having. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you, and I’ll be launching my video series on YouTube shortly. I hope you’ll follow me and subscribe there for my experiences with this 4Runner and overlanding.


Adventures are coming

My wife and I on vacation with a rental vehicle in New England in 2019.

2020 will be the year of more adventures for us. My wife and I enjoy taking weekend trips and vacations, but in the past, they’ve involved mostly hotels, classic bed and breakfasts, and Air BnB’s. Soon, when the 2020 4Runner TRD Pro arrives, we’ll be adding camping to the list.

My wife and I had a discussion the other night about my motivations for overlanding, as she was concerned we were going to leave behind the world of comfort in hotels, B&B’s, and Air BnB. I told her that nothing could be further from the truth, but that I wanted to add another dimension or element to our adventures. I wanted to open up more parts of our amazing country to our trips. Mountain biking or trail biking, hikes in remote areas, and visiting and exploring outdoor areas that would otherwise be inconvenient to travel to without camping on-site.

Overlanding, to me, isn’t just about camping. It’s about adventure. It’s about freedom. It’s about having options to choose where you will spend the night without limitations. Want to spend the night in a hotel? Go ahead. No hotels around but want to ride on the trails in the morning at first light? Camp in the park (if it’s legal/allowed). Want to visit that small town with the cute Bed and Breakfast? Do it! Having an overlanding vehicle doesn’t mean I need to camp everywhere I go. It just means I’m more ready for anything than I was before.

Side note: I was told yesterday by my dealer that my 4Runner is again delayed until February 12th through the 17th. Sometime within that window, I should finally receive delivery of my 2020 4Runner TRD Pro in Army Green. By that time, it will have been a five month wait since I put a deposit down on this vehicle. I’m very anxious to finally take receipt of this vehicle and start working on all the mods and add-ons I have already purchased in anticipation of this project.


Getting Ready

My 4Runner arrives in less than two weeks, and already, I’ve created a “Pile” (as my wife calls it) of equipment, add-ons, mods, and other items for it already. I want to be ready on day one for this amazing vehicle.

Taking from my experience with military vehicles both on active duty in the Marines and in the National Guard, I’ve put together a list of items I knew I was going to need, so I started purchasing these items to be ready.

Recovery Points

I talked about these yesterday, but they are probably the biggest/most permanent mod I’ve purchased so far. I got these from Apex Overland, and I will be putting them on the first weekend I have the 4Runner

Yakima SlimShady Awning

This will be another mod that I will attach very soon after I pick up my 4Runner. This will be mounted on the passenger side and will give my wife and me shade from the sun and protection from rain (as it’s waterproof) when we are out and about on the trail and settling down for a break or for the night. I’ll also get use out of it when I go to the flying field for my RC planes. I will have my own protected area for my planes to sit under to protect them from the sun if all the tables are already taken when I arrive at the field.

Air Compressor

I purchased a dual-pump air compressor to keep in the 4Runner for those times I need to reduce pressure in my tires for rocks/sand and then need to refill the air in my tires. The one I purchased isn’t inexpensive, but it’s on the less expensive side of compressors that don’t require permanent affixing within a vehicle. It will require connecting directly to the vehicle’s battery, though.

Large Vehicle First Aid Kit

Being ready for anything is important when you purposely leave a populated area and head into the wild. Things happen. Sometimes, these things are bad things. I purchased a large first aid kit that is well laid out and labeled while adding some additional items I felt were good to have.

Shovel and Axe

These will both be mounted to the roof rack when I head out for overlanding. I will likely not keep these on the vehicle when I’m not overlanding because they are easy to steal and can even be used as implements to get into the 4Runner or (in the case of the axe), as a weapon. On the trail, however, both tools are indespensible and every Pioneer Kit in the military on every military vehicle has these items.

Winch Cable/Tow Strap Blanket

This is a small piece of heavy (possibly weighted) plastic that drapes over a winch cable or two strap to keep it from flying wildly in the event of a break/snap. I purchased two of these and will never snatch/pull without them.

Recovery Boards

My son gave me a pair of recovery boards for Christmas, and I’ll be mounting those to the roof rack on the left side when my 4Runner is finally home. I will make my own mounting hardware, as the prices for pre-made recovery board mounting hardware is exhorbitant (well over $175 US). I’ve watched numerous YouTube videos where people have fabricated their own mounting hardware for under $20 US, so I will go that route. Besides, I prefer the custom mounts as they will be guaranteed to work with my rack.

Internal Storage Organizer

I purchased some inexpensive storage organizers that are used for the center console and glove compartment. The 4Runner has large open spaces that can be better organized by using storage organizers to compartmentalize these spaces. My one concern with these is any noise they may make after they age a bit, but time will tell, and I’ll report back on my findings after I have some experience with them.

LED Lights

I purchased LED lights to replace all incandescent lights on the vehicle. The headlights, brake lights, backup lights, and all internal lights will be traded out with the LED lights. My son did this on his 4Runner, and the difference is staggering. This will likely be the very first mod I do (after putting in the internal storage organizers, only because they’re so easy to install).

Key Fob Cover

This is a funny one, and not really on the vehicle, but the fobs the 4Runners come with are very basic, boring, and honestly, rather cheap. The company AJT Designs makes a very nice Injection Fob, and I purchased one of each version. Version 1 holds the keyless entry internals as well as the physical key, while version 2 is slightly smaller and does not hold the physical key. They are available in a variety of colors and you can even customize the color of the buttons and screws. I think these look much nicer than the stock ones. I even purchased the Army Green version of the fobs to match the color of my 4Runner!


This one doesn’t seem too intuitive to many people, but if the military has instilled anything in me regarding off-road vehicles, it’s that wheel chocks should always be in place when the vehicle is parked. In the Guard, we always complain about having to do it, but I’ve seen it actually come in handy when a vehicle was allegedly in park but started to roll. Turned out, the person driving left it in neutral on accident. That wheel chock saved the day. There are many practical uses for wheel chocks, and I won’t have a large vehicle without them. I won’t use them in parking lots, but I will always use them off-road.

LED Battery Powered Shop Lights

These are too useful and affordable to not have. They are like normal shop lights, only LED and battery powered. These are great if you ever have to work on your vehicle in the dark or change a tire at night. When I had a blow out a few months ago in my Audi A4, I was fortunate to find a well lit location to change my tire. Otherwise, I’d have been changing my tire in the dark. Having a light or two like this one would be very welcome. They also have a red/blue flashing feature which is great for use as an emergency light if pulled over on the side of a busy road as a warning to other drivers.

Tool Roll

I have a lot of tools, so I didn’t buy any specifically for the 4Runner, but I did purchase a tool roll that I will be able to put tools into and wrap it up to keep them from making noise in the vehicle. This is another trick I learned from the pioneer kits in our military vehicles; keep the tools in a roll and they won’t clatter and make noise. I have a list of the tools I’ll be carrying that I will post about later.

Recovery Straps/Bow Shackles/Trailer Hitch Shackle & Pin

I received a very nice bag containing a recovery strap, a trailer hitch shackle, and a locking pin from my wife for Christmas. I purchased two additional bow shackles that I’ll mount to the front recovery points after I get them on the 4Runner. These are incredibly important, and I covered their necessity in the previous post.

There are still a few more things I’m going to be purchasing in the lead-up to receiving the 4Runner, but many more things will be purchased and added to the vehicle post-receipt. Some of these are the roof-mounted water container, 5 gallon water containers (2), gas cans, shower tent, and more. I will not only post about these items in more depth, but I will be getting video of me adding them onto the vehicle to post onto YouTube with links from this blog for reference.



If you plan on doing any off-roading, then you need to have recovery gear with you. This is not a “Nice to have,” but a “MUST have.” Someone will, at some point, require recovery, and that person might be you.

In the 4-wheeling community, it’s customary to use the recovered person’s gear for the actual recovery. The reasoning is that recovery gear is stressed a lot through the recovery process, and there is always a chance that the recovery strap can snap. The risk of this happening during a recovery should be taken by the person being recovered, not by the person helping you (unless they offer or insist).

There are different levels and types of recovery gear used in different situations. We’ll go over some of these by situation.


Sand recoveries are very common here on the Texas Gulf Coast. We have a lot of beaches, many of which are open to 4 wheel drive vehicles. Unfortunately, not many people know how to properly handle sand, and many get stuck, or worse, bogged down and bottomed out.

It’s not always necessary to pull someone out with a strap or with a winch. Using a recovery board, it’s possible to self-recover. That’s why my rig will have a set of recovery boards strapped to the top. I also have some recovery straps, bow shackles, soft shackles, and a shovel.

In many ways, snow is just like sand when it comes to recovery. Self-recovery is possible using shovels and recovery boards, and also much like sand, sometimes it’s necessary to be pulled out of a spot with a recovery strap or winch. The only difference, really, is that on the beach, it’s likely you’ll see more girls in bikinis and shirtless guys.


Getting stuck in mud can be a really tough situation to recover from. Depending on how soft and watery the mud is, a recovery board may not even be an option due to inefficacy. In this case, it may be necessary to go straight to a strap or winch. I have seen extreme cases where an off-road wrecker has to come in and exert extreme amounts of effort to extract a vehicle from mud. Personally, I try to avoid lots of mud, as I rather dislike the possibility of having to trudge in it and wreck the interior of my rig with it, but I don’t discount the possibility of a random rainstorm turning a trail drive into a mud drive.

My section’s stuck LMTV having the tow line attached. We all cleared out prior to them beginning the actual pull in case the cable snapped.

On my last annual training in the National Guard, my section got an LMTV stuck in some mud when they let their speed get too slow traversing a bog that other vehicles had no problem getting past. We had to call in a wrecker to pull them out, and I remember that the effort required was quite large.


If you find yourself getting high-sided or stuck somehow on a rock, a winch or recovery strap may be your only way off. I’ve seen some people grab large rocks and put them under wheels in an attempt to give the vehicle some traction to self-recover, but I’ve never seen this be successful. I have seen people grab a large piece of wood to pry a vehicle off of a rock with success, however.

Don’t Go Alone if You Can Help It

Not all of us have winches on our vehicles. I won’t have one on mine, and I’m still unsure as to whether I will attach one or not. It’s not the expense that worries me; it’s altering my vehicle in a non-reversible way. I will have to cut parts of my bumper to make the change, and I’m still not sure I want to do that yet. Maybe I’ll look back at this post one day and laugh at my reticence, but for now, I plan on being winchless. I plan on 4-wheeling with my son or with friends. There are definite benefits to having a winch, but I think 4-wheeling with others is of more importance.

Not only do you have the friends there to recover you, or to assist with recovering you (or helping a tow truck find you when you need extreme recovery), but if there is a medical emergency, you have someone else there with you to help. If your vehicle is disabled out in the middle of nowhere, you have someone else to take you back to civilization, get the supplies/help you need, and take you back.

Going alone maximizes the risk you’re taking. I don’t mean going alone in the vehicle. Even a family of four is at great risk if they are a solo vehicle. It’s always best to go with at least one more vehicle. There is safety in numbers.

You Don’t Need to Spend a Fortune

Recovery equipment can be had for a reasonable price. You don’t need the most expensive gear. There are shackles, straps, and hitches available for a reasonable price. I purchased a kit that had basic recovery equipment for under $200 that makes me feel much safer when I’m off-roading. Knowing I have my own basic recovery gear (strap, shackles, and hitch) will help if I need someone to pull me out of a tough spot. I also received two recovery boards for Christmas that cost under $100 and are really good quality. I will likely not be able to use them to bridge obstacles, but they will be useful in actual recovery situations. As with anything, you get what you pay for, so don’t go bargain basement on your recovery gear, but you don’t need to spend a lot for some peace of mind and gear that will actually assist in your recovery, if you need it.

Once my 4Runner arrives from Japan, I will be posting videos detailing my rig and all the things I’ve equipped it with. I’ll show you what that equipment is for, and I’ll even show you where I got it from in case you want to get the same stuff.


Recovery Points

I’m new to Overlanding in the civilian world, but not in general. What we do in the military can be considered overlanding: we ride in off-road vehicles, and we spend the night either inside, on top of, or around the vehicle in a tent. My last annual training was a prime example of overlanding.

My National Guard Overlanding steed: the “FDC Vehicle.”

You can see the cots stacked at the right-rear tire of the HMMWV; these belonged to my section, and we camped in one-man tents known as “Lightfighters” close by. This is pretty standard for us in the Field Artillery, and for most of the combat arms of the military. Note something else on this vehicle; multiple bow shackles.

Those bow shackles are used for recovery and towing. The recovery points on military vehicles are hardened to be able to sustain very large loads. If one of these heavy vehicles gets stuck, those recovery points will sustain a very high load and they have to be reliable to both recover the vehicle and to ensure that nobody gets injured or killed by a flying shackle.

Too often on civilian 4WD vehicles, I see people put a bow shackle onto a transport tie down. Transport tie downs are the little bows of steel that look almost like a recovery point, but not quite. They are typically located near the front and rear of a vehicle on the frame. They are used to tie the vehicle onto a ship or a truck when being transported from the point of manufacture to its final destination. They can also be used when transporting the vehicle on a flat-bed wrecker to tie the vehicle down for safety. Those are the sole uses of these transport tie downs.

Image borrowed from Apex Overland (

If you try to recover a vehicle using the transport tie-down, you run the risk of, at a minimum, damaging your vehicle, and at most, death. When a transport tie-down is subjected to the extreme forces of a recovery, it will fail, and when it does, depending on how much energy is in the strap and shackle being used, it can fly back towards people or even the driver of the recovery vehicle and cause serious damage, injury, and even death.

This is an image I took from a 4Runner forum and shows bow shackles attached to transport tie-downs on a 4Runner.

I’ve seen some people attach bow shackles to these transport tie-downs, and it scares me. I’m hoping, at the most, that these people are putting the bow shackles on these transport tie-downs for show; to make their mall crawler 4Runners look more authentic, or off-road ready. In fact, it’s very dangerous, and shows that they don’t know much about off-roading or safe recovery.

A properly attached recovery point (directly to the frame with bolts rated at over 20,000 lbs each) and a rated bow shackle.

Use the right tool for the job. A rated bow shackle or soft shackle and rated recovery points. The recovery points I chose for my 4Runner come from Apex Overland. They are priced well and are built to withstand any forces required to recover your 4Runner safely.


My Choice for Vehicle: Toyota 4Runner

Once I decided to get a 4WD vehicle for overlanding, I had to decide on the make/model. I considered the Landrovers, but their lack of reliability and dismal resale value coupled with exhorbitant repair costs steered me away from them. Are they capable 4WD vehicles? Absolutely; among the best in the world. But, I’m not made of money, and I don’t have wads of cash to throw away after a prestige brand.

I also considered Jeep for a brief moment, but many things kept me from considering it for long. First and foremost was my own experience with a Jeep CJ-5 I owned many years ago. It was fraught with problems, and it was a money pit when I could scarcely afford to throw money away. It was also not reliable when I needed a reliable vehicle. Was it great off-road? It was stellar! The times I took it off-road, from streams to trails to rocks, the CJ-5 was the off-roading king! But, I couldn’t rely on it, and I couldn’t afford the upkeep. As for other reasons, now that Jeep is owned by FIAT, their quality has declined and reliability and resale value are also lacking as compared to the king: Toyota.

I have owned only one Toyota before: a 1987 Celica. It was a great car, and it ran well after it should have quit on me. But there’s no killing a Toyota. I also sold it for far more than I’d ever sold any other vehicle of its age, and that holds true today with Toyotas. My sister has a Corolla she’s been driving for over 200,000 miles, and it still looks, rides, and runs great!

I have never been a huge fan of the 4Runners, yet I’ve respected their ability and utility. Much like spiders, they are beneficial, are capable, do a great job, and while some think they are scary looking, I see the beauty in them. They are an old design: body on frame. That’s how cars have been made since the Model-T, yet for off-roading, it’s a necessity. It allows for more strength and rigidity in the frame, and keeps much of the forces encountered balanced in the frame without relying on sheets of metal for strength (like body-frame vehicles).

4Runners are now in their fifth generation, yet the most recent generation is over a decade old. The vehicles have been so perfected and well-suited to off-roading that Toyota has seen no reason to make any serious updates to it aside from adding some technology updates to the 2020 models.

As compared to Jeeps and Landrovers, the 4Runner is a great compromise between the strengths of the other two, but excel in some areas that are as important, if not more important: reliability, cost of upkeep, and resale value. 4Runners have consistently remained in the top 10 vehicles in the US that hold their value the best. They are also consistently ranked among the top 20 vehicles for reliability.

I ordered my 2020 4Runner TRD Pro in Army Green back in October, 2019, and it’s expected to arrive in the first week of February 2020. It was made in Japan, and as I write this, it’s on the seas coming “Home” to Houston. I already have a plethora of gear, equipment, add-ons, and supplies ready for it. “The Pile,” is how my wife refers to it, as it sits in my home office, grows almost daily in anticipation of the 4Runner’s arrival.

Finally, one funny bit of trivia. I name all my cars. Ever since my 1970 VW Beetle named “Mathilda,” or my 1975 Chevy Impala named “MOM (for Make-Out Machine)”, my cars have all had names. My 2008 VW Hi-Def Passat was named “Heidi,” and my current 2017 Audi A4 is named, “Spaceship” for the futuristic all-LCD cockpit. In that vein, I’ve decided to name the 4Runner “Gunship” due to it’s utility and green color. It looks mean and ready for action like any good gunship.