Building the Ultimate Outdoors Truck Buyer's Guide
Author: Derrek Sigler
As outdoor enthusiasts, we mostly drive trucks that serve the basic purpose to carry/haul stuff, whatever that stuff may be. With practical modifications that we can see real benefit from, trucks turn from box-stock to outdoor machines.
So you've got your truck. It's probably a four-wheel drive extended cab. If it isn't, don't worry; this stuff will apply just the same. Where do we begin? Well, since it's a truck, lets start with the bed. You're going to want some form of protective liner
, either a spray-in or component system.
One-piece bed liners are popular mostly due to being not very expensive, and they work as long as you can get underneath them to keep water from being trapped. A component system is a better option because you can modify it as needed; plus it will not allow water to build up. As you know, water will equal rust eventually. Spray or paint-on liners are great because they bond to the metal surface and offer a great deal of protection without sacrificing any space. As a bonus, most of the time, they increase the vehicle's resale value. The least expensive option is a rubber bed mat.
Bed-rail caps and tailgate protectors are also a big plus, especially when you're throwing stuff over the side. A nice touch here is they tend to look pretty good too. You can find these in either tough plastic or aluminum. Another thing to look at are bed rails. Besides looking cool, bedrails also provide easy anchor spots for tie-downs. These are great if you're carrying a load that you've secured with a cargo net or a tarp.
For outdoor enthusiasts, storage is the name of the game, and there are many options as far as boxes. A tough truck-bed box
is a great idea for hauling loose items. They are also the way to go if you need to secure something in your bed, as most are lockable. On my old goose truck, we’d throw the decoys in the bed and then toss the guns and ammo boxes in the aluminum toolbox and lock the lid.
Of course, if you have a lot of stuff to protect in the bed, you’ll want a topper or cap
. There are a great many options for you with either a canvas topper that can be maneuvered or removed easily as needed, or a solid topper. A canvas/fold-down topper is a great choice if you need a topper but occasionally haul a four-wheeler or something large. The light-weight and ability to roll up the sides to get at stuff makes them a great option. If you’re looking for a solid topper, such as a fiberglass model, take a look at the A.R.E. Ducks Unlimited model. It’s designed with the hunter/outdoor enthusiast in mind and a portion of the profit goes to DU.
A topper can also be modified with a roof-rack system, giving you storage and carrying options for extra decoys, a gas can, or maybe an extra spare tire. Don’t overlook a contractor’s rack either. If you don’t want a topper but need some options, they can be great. If you want to carry a small boat or canoe and don’t want a trailer, take a look at a good rack system.
Tonneau covers are another option for your truck bed too. They offer a decent amount of protection for the stuff in your bed. A big plus is reduced wind-drag caused by your tailgate and this can increase your mileage. There are many options in the form of materials. Soft tonneau covers work well in that they can be rolled up when you want to put something in your bed that is too tall. A downside is they may eventually wear out and need replacing. They are fairly inexpensive though. Hard tonneau covers are constructed much like a regular topper. They basically come in aluminum or fiberglass. The rigid construction usually calls for removal if you have something too big to go in the bed, such as an ATV.
There are quite a few side-steps/nerf bars
on the market for your truck. Do they really have a purpose? You bet! They’re really nice for giving you and your passengers a foothold on the truck. They’re especially nice if you’ve gone the big tire/suspension lift route. If you’ve ever seen a rock-crawler, then you might guess another good use of nerf-bars. They work to protect the sides of your truck from hits. Ever driven down a two-track road and had to drive your rig over a downed tree? Not a big deal, unless you smack the truck’s body on the tree. A buddy of mine did $5,000 in damage to his truck that way. Nerf-bars can guide you over, much the same as they do for rock-crawler machines.
Match up those nerf bars with a brush guard
for the front of your truck. Brush guards look great and add a layer of protection to the grill and headlights, both of which are pretty expensive to replace. Most guards are available in a black finish or a chrome or polished stainless steel finish. If you want to add some shine to your rig, here is a good way to do it. Black finishes tend to be less expensive, but you need to be careful. Keep them clean and touch up any scratches, as most can get rust spots if not taken care of. You’re going to scratch them though. It’s a truck. Trucks are made to get scratched. These are also a good place to mount a set of extra lights.
I was driving around the other night, and my wife asked me why I hadn’t turned on my extra lights yet. Good question. Within moments, the covers were off and two 130-watt floodlights
illuminated the road and surrounding land. So why have extra light? Why not is a better question. Whether you’re looking to cut through dense fog, or light up a backwoods trail, extra lighting can be a huge improvement. Check your local laws however, as some states have special restrictions regarding extra lighting.
or not to winch? You know you want one, but can you justify it? Well start thinking about the things you can do with it, and it becomes a little easier. I'll freely admit that I don't have one on my truck, yet. But that's not for lack of want. If I were to start thinking of all the times I wished I had, well, we could be here a while. I once had to drive down into a swamp to retrieve a buddy and his truck because he was sure that half inch of snow would support his truck on top of a deep mud pit. It took hours of pulling and tugging and digging to get his rig out, when a winch would have made short work of the whole deal. The extra time gave me way too many opportunities to take pictures. He washed my truck several times and has filled my tank once or twice trying to buy all the copies.
With the rising cost of fuel, it sure would be nice to save a few bucks with better fuel economy, wouldn't it? Trucks tend to have bigger engines with lower gear ratios and therefore use a bit more fuel. You can do something about that though. High-flow air filters
increase the efficiency of your engine, giving you better fuel economy. You can just replace the filter element, or you can go all out with a high-flow kit that replaces the whole air-box with an open system. A main bonus here is increased horsepower, but you'll also see better fuel economy, sometimes up to as much as 5 mpg, depending on the application. This improved performance is coming from the inflow of cold air. The more air entering the fuel system, the better the fuel economy as all the fuel gets vaporized and used. Cold air also mixes better and is more combustible in the engine's chambers. Additionally, you can pick up a chip-reprogramming tool and even replacement chips for your truck's computer that you can use to optimize your vehicle's performance. If you run bigger tires or want to recalibrate for the type of fuel you're running, this is the way to go.
One thing that just about every sportsperson I asked said they've done is put on a good set of seat covers
. Protecting new seats, easy clean up and style are the main factors for having done this. I, myself, threw a set of camo seat covers on just because they looked cool and were water and stain resistant. On more than one occasion, I've driven home from the duck blind with my waders on and the seat covers kept the water and goo off my upholstery. You can easily find them in your favorite camo pattern too, and while you're at it grab a matching steering wheel cover.
Good floor liners
are an absolute must too. Many of the heavy-duty floor liners available have some form of lip or edge that keeps the wet slop from running off the mat and onto the carpeting or floor of your rig. Not only is this very protective, but it makes for easy clean up. Again thinking about those waders or even a pair of hunting boots, how often can you hop in your truck without bringing in some sloppy mud too? I know I can't. It helps too, that many of the companies that offer good floor mats make them vehicle specific. That way you know they will fit securely in the space on the floor and not have that sloppy, sliding-all-over-the-place fit that generic mats often have.
Ever been lost? Kind of fun, isn't it? Maybe I'm just weird then. But there are easy ways to avoid getting lost. Start out with a vehicle compass
. Many trucks and SUV's come from the factory with a digital compass built into the console somewhere. Get deep in the woods and it can be pretty easy to get turned around. You think you're headed west when really you're headed south. Not good. There are also many GPS units
out there, some of which are vehicle specific.
If you're like me and run a set of mud tires
, or even all-terrains
for that matter, then you're going to want to make sure you've got some kind of protection for the body. Mudflaps
are a cheap insurance policy for the lower body parts. They also help keep the thick goo the tires can pick up from getting splattered all down the side of your rig. I know it looks cool, but it is not that great for the paint job. Another really cool option is fender flares
. These come in various shapes and designs and can really accentuate the look of your rig. Another protective idea is a rocker guard
. This stuff usually comes in rolls and applies to your lower truck body parts with adhesive. Clear is a common finish and allows your paint color to shine through. Another option is a camo finish, which can really show off your outdoor passion.
Other items to think about also fall into the deflector category. But instead of deflecting away from the lower parts of the truck, these additions deflect away from the upper parts. Hood shields
not only look good, but are also great for reducing sun glare bouncing off the vehicle in front of you. But even better, they help protect against flying sand, rocks and debris being thrown up from vehicles ahead of you on the road. Then you also have window deflectors. These allow you to open your window and get some fresh air while reducing highway noise, protecting against rain and can help with window fogging. Most install without tools.
The thing to look at is what accessories will do to improve your truck or SUV for what you're using it for. OK. You can make it look good too. The manufacturers make these vehicles to do anything, but it is the aftermarket that helps us specialize them. I talked to a bunch of different people doing research and each one had done a thing or two to personalize their vehicle to be more outdoor friendly. It's all about what you want. I have a buddy who one day had his entire truck coated with that textured bed liner stuff. When I asked him why he had done it, he went into detail about how it won't rust and water just beads off. Then he just smiled really wide and said, "Besides, now it just looks mean."
Go for it man, go for it.