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Sizing Up For Adventure: Is a Full Size Overland Rig Right for you?

Updated: May 7

Full size rigs can go a lot more places than you might think-- but is sizing up right for you?

As the open road beckons with the promise of adventure, many overlanders turn to trusty companions like Land Cruisers, 4Runners, and Jeep Rubicons, valuing their blend of capability and comfort. But a new trend is emerging. Imagine cruising down a remote dirt road, dust swirling behind you, with enough gear to conquer any challenge – the overlanding dream! Traditionally, nimble SUVs have ruled the scene. However, a new contender is rising: the full-size truck. These imposing rigs offer a unique set of advantages and limitations, forcing overlanders to ask – is a full-size truck the right match for their next epic adventure?

Increased Capacity & Payload Overlanders, whether single adventurers or families, often find themselves quickly running out of space in a packed mid-size vehicle. This is especially true for families with limited storage space (hello Rubicons, 4Runners, GXs) and more gear with each additional passenger.  Additionally, many SUVs have limited payloads (typically in the 1200-1500 lb range), and their handling suffers significantly when overloaded. If you find yourself wondering about more payload and space to carry gear, improved driving performance, and the ability to escape elements, perhaps it's time to start considering a full size rig. The biggest advantage right off the bat is the ability to carry more gear. Passengers won't feel cramped, and there's peace of mind knowing you have space for that extra kayak or whatever gear you desire. While we're not advocates of bringing everything and the kitchen sink to go camping, there's a certain piece of mind that one gets knowing you have the extra space to carry that extra kayak, Gazelle tent, or whatever piece of gear you'd like to bring. Most ¾-ton trucks with a diesel engine and crew cab offer payloads in the 2,500lb lb range, and most one-ton trucks reach around 4,000 lb (add 500-1000 lb for gasoline motors). This extra payload allows for larger tires, bumpers, rock sliders, and other modifications without sacrificing space for passengers and gear.  In contrast, overloaded 4Runners and Tacomas frequently suffer from breakdowns (blown axle, drivelines, transmissions, differentials and even broken frames) due to the stress of exceeding the listed gross vehicle weight.

The author's Ram 3500. As long as the blue beast has room to maneuver, it's an incredible capable vehicle.

Improved Handling & Performance

Ever driven a Jeep Rubicon, 4Runner, or Tacoma TRD Pro loaded down with gear?  These vehicles don't need much weight to start squatting – the rear end sags noticeably.  This can severely impact how they handle on both paved roads and off-road trails. And until the most recent generation of Toyotas and Jeeps, and overloaded Jeep or Toyota typically averaged around 11-14 MPGs going down the highway, and considerably less off road (the latest models tend to be more fuel efficient).

Full-size ¾ or one-ton rigs handle payloads of two thousand plus pounds much better. You won't feel like you're drifting off the highway or scraping your bumper on every dip along the trail. Full-size rigs with diesel engines typically boast better fuel efficiency, especially on highways. For instance, my Ram 3500 with a lightweight camper and a multitude of vehicle modifications (around a 3,000 lb payload) can average 18-19 mpg on the interstate at speeds under 70 mph. However, efficiency advantage typically shrinks once we hit the trails, especially if there's a lot of stop and go, or driving in 4-low. But let's be honest, for most of us, the majority of our miles are racked up on the pavement.

Campers & Creature Comforts Another big advantage of full size rigs, especially 1 ton rigs, is the ability to carry a slide in, or even a flat bed camper. If creature comforts are high on your list, or perhaps you enjoy cold weather camping, it's hard to beat the advantages of a mobile home on wheels. While Four Wheel Campers certainly set the bar for campers designed to withstand the rigors of off road driving, there are dozens of recent upstarts that are building compact campers designed with off road travel in mind. Many of these campers can comfortably sleep 3 adults, or two adults and two children. And since many of these campers feature built in running water plus sinks, stoves, heaters, and toilets (some even have showers), it's hard to discount the creature comforts they offer, especially for extended periods on the road or during cold or wet weather.

Another perk of full-size rigs, especially one-ton trucks, is the ability to carry a slide-in or even a flatbed camper. If creature comforts are important, or you enjoy cold weather camping, a mobile home on wheels is hard to beat. While Four Wheel Campers are known for their off-road durability, many recent campers that have come to market are purpose built for off-road travel and can comfortably sleep 3 adults or 2 adults and 2 children. With built-in features like running water, sinks, stoves, heaters, and toilets (some even have showers), it's hard to discount the creature comforts they offer,, especially for extended trips or harsh/cold weather.

Providing a respite from inclement weather, who wouldn't want to hang out in a nice, cozy, camper?

The Tradeoffs of Going Full Size

Everything in life has trade-offs, and upgrading to a full-size rig is no exception. And going from a mid-sized vehicle to a full size rig is certainly no different. Many of those tight, technical trails that modified 4Runners, Tacomas, and Rubicons handle with ease may no longer be accessible in your full-size rig. Your favorite jeep track in the Sierras, Moab, or the Rockies may become a relic of the past. This is simply a fact of life – one of the things you give up when going bigger. If you're a person who finds yourself off the beaten path, exploring seldom driven trails that often lead to a dead-end, you may want to reconsider going to a full size rig. Turning a full size truck with a crew cab around on the trail can be impossible at times, and you may find yourself in dangerous situations where you're forced to backup your rig on tight and technical trails. I've found myself in this situation more than once, and it's not fun! I've had to tamp down on these random explorations since converting to a full size rig. For many, their overland vehicle is also their daily driver. Depending on your lifestyle and location, driving around in a heavily modified full size truck may not be the most enjoyable experience, especially if you live in/near the city. Speaking from experience, I'd much rather drive around something like a 4Runner around town, as opposed to my hulking Ram 3500.

There's no way a full size truck would make down this tight jeep track in the Sierras without significant damage.

A Few Words about Oversized Rigs This section touches briefly upon oversized rigs (bigger than full size) Sprinter 4x4s Earth Roamers, Mitsubishi Fusos, and oversized trucks meant to carry payloads that can exceed 10 tons. While offering many benefits (especially creature comforts), most struggle off-road on anything but easy trails (what we'd qualify as softroading, and this is a generality that isn't always true). And you can forget taking full size on many heavily forested trails in places like the Pacific Northwest, Ozarks, or Appalachian Mountains. Many of the trails featured in these regions are too narrow with low hanging branches that are likely to damage to your camper or van-- and good luck turning around if you find yourself on an impassable trail. However, they can be fantastic options for those who enjoy softroading, beach camping, or full-time family travel, provided the budget allows.

The author, with his full size "pig" in the Black Rock desert of Nevada.

Final Words As outdoor recreation, camping, and overlanding continue to grow, and with more families coming along for the ride, we expect to see a rise in full-size truck adoption, with some overlanders bypassing the mid-size market altogether.  These larger vehicles offer undeniable advantages in space and comfort. However, before you invest in a full-size rig, be sure to write up your own lists of pros and cons to determine if the switch is right for you. As much as I love my Ram 3500, for tight and technical trails, I wouldn't mind having a 4Runner or GX470 parked in the driveway next to the Ram!

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Unknown member
May 06

Great post! I am considering a full size truck camper in the next couple of year for my family of four . It would be great if you could indicate trails or routes that would be more difficult /impossible with a full size . Obviously , ymmv depending on the full size setup, but I have found it a bit difficult to find out where trails may be too tight for a longer rig.

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