I spent the summer of 2018 living a truck camper that I custom built in a first generation Toyota Tacoma. Since 2015 I’ve lived in a Honda Element, an old VW Westy van, and out of my backpack, but after countless failed attempts to explore the wild off-road backcountry of Western North America, I knew it was time for a capable 4×4 adventure rig.
Living in a Truck Camper – Film
I’ve been eyeing Tacoma’s for years, and while sipping a bottle of wine in New Zealand I stumbled upon a truck for sale on Craigslist in Denver. It was half way around the world, true, but my brother lived there, so once the sun rose in America I called and asked him to go buy it for me. A few days later I booked a flight back, arrived in Denver, and picked up my new ride, a 2002 Toyota Tacoma with nearly 200,000 miles on it.
I wanted the off-road capability of the 5-speed 4×4 Tacoma TRD, but an added benefit was that it came with a bed cap that would be ideal for a living space. The first step in building my new home was resealing the shell, so I pulled the cap off the truck, popped out all the windows and frames, cleaned the surfaces, and used RV butyl tape to make everything water tight.
Of course, no project is complete until you make it more difficult. So, in addition to resealing the windows, I actually cut a new hole in the perfectly good shell in order to install a roof vent. During the summer this would prove to be necessary, but at the time cutting a new hole seemed like a potential step backward!
Next I drove back to Indiana to do some real work. It helps to have a few welders in the family, and they fired up their torches to give the truck a face lift. In the front we removed the stock bumper and replaced it with an ARB Bull Bar and a Smittybilt winch. We bought some steel and my step-dad and step-brother fabricated rock sliders for the sides and replaced the stock rear bumper a custom steel bumper with built in reverse flood lights.
While the professionals were working, I tried my hand at custom mounting a roof basket above the cab. The first gen extended cab Tacoma didn’t include rear doors, so the Yakima door frame clamps weren’t an option. No problem, I figured I could easily drill through the roof and mount the rack directly to the frame. I was wrong, oh so wrong…
After my first two holes missed the mark I called in the experts. We were able to drill through the roof directly into the frame of the truck, run bolts through, and cut pieces of thin coffee can plastic to shim up the open space. Once we (and by that, I mean the experts) were done, the roof mounted basket was rock solid and ready to carry some serious weight. Before working on the living space I buttoned up the exterior, mounting auxiliary lights, a shovel, Hi-Lift jack, and traction boards.
I wanted to keep the living space in the truck bed simple, and we ended up with a welded steel frame bolted into the bedrails, with plywood sheets to create a lofted bed. On top I used a 3 inch memory foam pad for a single mattress, and next to it a plastic 3 drawer storage bin from Walmart for all my clothes.
Under the platform I bought 7 plastic bins to store my kitchen (camp stove, pots, pans, utensils), food, running gear, shoes, camping gear, tools, recover gear, and other odds and ends. While planning I divided the truck bed into sixths, and I purposefully left the rear driver’s side sixth open, no platform and no storage, so I had a space to get dressed in the morning and could also lounge back and read a book at night. Once we were done everything I owned fit cozily into the Tacoma and I was ready to hit the road!
While I was finalizing my new Tacoma home, I actually still owned my old VW van home. After doing the majority of the work on the truck in Indiana I drove all the way back to Southern California to finally sell the van. I’ll miss Tantor the VW van, but owning two homes was kinda a lot of work!
With cash in my pocket from the van sale I drove the truck back to Denver to get the last upgrade, a 2.5″ Bilstein lift, new black Pro Comp wheels, and BFG KO2 all terrain tires. And finally, after several months, a few thousand dollars, and road trips between California and Indiana, my new home was complete and I was living in a truck camper. The 2002 Toyota Tacoma officially became part of my family as Terk the Tacoma, named after Tarzan’s friend Terk. My old lumbering brown VW van was perfect as Tantor, Tarzan’s lumbering brown elephant friend, but Terk is his is spunky, high energy, silver ape friend, which which seems to fit this silver Tacoma adventure rig perfectly!
Terk the Adventure Rig, spotted in the wild!
For more stories about living in a truck camper, click HERE.