Choosing an expedition overland vehicle is probably one of the most important decisions anyone has to make when planning for an extended trip. There are many excellent vehicles now available so we set about defining both the type of lifestyle and adventures we were seeking before determining what features we wanted in a vehicle.
Our plan this time was to drive from Alaska to Argentina, and be on the road for 18-24 months.
Having already driven a total of 16 months and covering some 80,000km (50,000 miles) around Africa in a Land Cruiser with a roof top tent we were ready for more comforts, yet we still wanted be able to travel to remote corners and off the beaten track.
Our goal was to purchase a truck that required minimal modifications and that would give us the opportunity to travel in different environments, weather, cultures, road conditions and countries for an extended time. We decided that a pick up truck and with a pop-up camper would best meet our needs and it also made financial sense since once the trip was over we could use the truck as a family vehicle.
After much research, we decided on a Nissan Titan Pro 4X King Cab, as it required the least number of modifications to meet our purposes, included all the features we required and had the largest payload of its class so that it could support the camper.
The Features we required in a vehicle included:
- A reliable and safe 4X4 vehicle
- Capable of handling serious off road conditions if required
- Capable of withstanding severe corrugations and bad roads
- Weight and size appropriate so as not to restrict us from traversing small bridges or accessing local ferries
- Versatile, able to handle both highway and off road conditions with comfort
- Must be able to support the payload of all the modifications, additions and goods we need to transport with us
- Weight to power ratio is important
- Spares and maintenance services available domestically and internationally
- Uses regular and widely available fuel
- Easy to maneuver through narrow streets and alleys
- Size, able to fit into a 20 foot shipping container
- Able to pass through the rear window into the camper in case of emergencies
- Left hand drive
- Locking rear differential (electronic version standard on the Titan as well as front and rear limited slip differentials)
- Safety features such as airbags, ABS etc.
Features of Nissan Titan that we liked:
The Nissan Titan has a storage locker on the outside of the bed where we store our ropes, chains, shovel, shackles, etc. for vehicle recovery. Great for easy access and yet out of the way.
Rear cab doors cannot be opened unless the front door is opened first as it has no exterior door handles. We had several occasions on our Africa trips where locals attempted to get access into our Land Cruiser while we were inside the car by trying to open the back doors; fortunately, we always travel with the doors locked.
We purchased the Titan a full year before our anticipated departure date so that we could complete any modifications in time and on budget.
It was an exciting day when we got our truck and began the process of modifying it for our trip. We had learned a lot on our Africa overland expedition and felt quite confident about knowing what we really needed to make it a great overland vehicle.
Safety is always one of our prime considerations when traveling so we focused on features that would make our travels safer.
Additional Modifications Completed to the Nissan Titan:
- ARB Bull Bar bumper with high lift jack points - We had used ARB products on our previous vehicle and were very impressed with the quality. Rear high lift jack points were added.
- Winch - 12,000 lbs Warn winch.
- Spot lights - LightForce spotlights with covers attached to the bull bar. We found on previous trips that lights placed on the bull bar give us the best lighting when additional visibility was required; especially when driving in poor light conditions on bad roads as they help see potholes, debris, etc. on the road.
- Rear view camera - The sunglass holder was removed and a rear view camera screen was installed to enable us to back up safely since once the camper was loaded onto the truck the rear view mirror was not useable. The rear view camera was installed on the camper.
- Ride-Rite Air Springs - Since we would be carrying extra weight air springs were fitted.
- Tires - Goodyear Wrangler E rated tires were installed.
- Locking fuel cap - The Nissan does not have a locking fuel cap so we purchased one.
- Side window visors covers were added.
- Rear extra fuel carrier details.
- Table - A removable table was fabricated which fits onto the back fuel carrier; very useful for brief lunchtime stops.
- Rear high lift jack points - Installed on the back of the truck.
- Extra fuel carrier - We wanted the ability to carry additional fuel. Adding a second fuel tank did not seem to be a viable option on the Nissan so we had a fuel carrier fabricated and mounted on the rear of the truck. We decided to build around the existing bumper rather than attach the fuel carrier system to a new bumper, which is the usual method.
Fabrication of Extra Fuel Carrier
Two holes were cut through the stock bumper on each end, which allowed 2” square steel uprights to pass through the bumper. These were attached directly to the chassis using a specially designed attachment assembly on each side. The chassis attachment assembly simply bolts onto the stock chassis with four bolts and the steel uprights are held in place with two 4” bolts. The uprights are very simple to remove and reinstall should we have to. Rear high lift jack points were also attached onto each of the specially designed attachments.
The tricky part was making this all fit since the uprights had to be positioned so that the rear lights were still visible and the camper door could be fully opened. The rear fuel carrier can be either locked when closed or opened. This was a safety feature that would prevent anyone from locking the fuel carrier while we were inside the camper.
In the end, it worked out very well, providing us with a very effective solution. The key was finding a skilled and creative welder who could design and manufacture all the necessary parts. Don Kuntz of Arrowood, Alberta did an incredible job. When completed we had the assembly powder coated. The assembly also adds additional security to the camper.
Truck Cab Interior
When organizing the interior of the truck cab we incorporated our learnings from our Africa overland trip. One needs easy access to gear that one requires on a daily basis as well as gear that maybe needed in emergencies.
- Seat covers with pockets - We had seat covers installed in our previous overland vehicles. They protect the seats and are easy to wash and clean. The extra pockets are great for storing manuals, etc. We purchased Seatsaver™ made by Covercraft, which are easy to care for.
- Lockable storage system - Storage is always an issue for extended travel so we removed the bench seat in the king cab and installed a customized Adventure Trailers ( http://www.adventuretrailers.com/) lockable drawer system. On top of the drawer, we have stackable (ammo) boxes and an open day box in which we keep such things as bottled water, day snacks, cameras, maps, tour books, etc.
- Passenger seat - We retained the single flip up rear seat so that if needed we could transport a passenger. We found on previous trips that it would have been useful to have a seat for a guide when we wanted one. However, the seat is kept flipped up and it is not obvious that we can take a passenger as we store boxes and the medical aid kit in front of the flipped up seat. Our experience in Africa was that military and police would often request that we take a person and we would just say we have no room for a passenger, which then was true.
- 1500 watt power inverter - There is a great little shelf on the passenger side and our inverter fits in there as if it was made for it. We use the inverter for charging phones while driving and can plug in the computer if necessary. We had a special charging shelf installed in the camper for charging all our computers, camera batteries, etc. so it is not as critical as it was when we were traveling across Africa and all our charging was essentially done while driving.
- Storage space for high lift jack - We keep the high lift jack inside the cab behind the drawer system as we have found that keeping it outside results in it jamming up with dirt and dust no matter how much we covered it and when one needs one it has to be working properly.
- GPS - We use a Garmin 276C and we installed a mount on the dashboard and had it wired in.
- Safety - A fire extinguisher is mounted above the storage system on the side of the cab. Warning triangles and illuminating vests are stored behind the flipped up seat and are easy to access. We have been asked to show all this safety gear during our travels. We also keep the medical aid kit easily accessible; in an emergency it needs to be ready to grab.
- Window covers - Heat reflector window covers were made to fit all windows. This is both a security precaution, as people cannot see into the cab when the truck is parked, and they keep the cab cooler in sunny locations.
- ARB Portable Compressor - On our last vehicle the compressor was installed inside the engine compartment. For this trip we wanted it portable. It is stored in the camper.
- CanOBD2 diagnostic solution meter - The Nissan Titan has many computerized components, unlike the 1997 Landcruiser (80series) that we drove through Africa, which had none. Hopefully, this will help us diagnose any problems should we have any in remote/rural locations.
Janet and Tom have completed both East and West Africa overland expeditions and are currently traversing the Americas. Learn more or follow their adventures at Adventurous Spirits.