The rugged Toyota Tacoma is like a blank canvas for off-road customization. Its solid rear axle and coil spring suspension provide a flexible foundation for upgrades. Yet with so many options, deciding what to add can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve compiled examples from five Tacoma builders to inspire your next adventure-ready build. From lift kits to armor plating to traction aids, this article will showcase proven modifications with real capability.
As an avid off-roader and Tacoma owner myself, I aim to provide thoughtful recommendations rooted in hands-on experience. By learning from these Tacoma truck examples, you can plan smart upgrades to conquer your favorite trails. So let’s dive under the hoods of these mean machines!
Toyota Tacoma Off Road Builds
1st Generation Tacoma Build
I’ve always loved the idea of getting out and about and spending time with people that matter most!Jordan Santos
Jordan Santos, a Texan who now lives in North Dakota, bought a 2002 Toyota Tacoma 4WD in 2019. It was bone stock with over 200k miles, but its potential was clear. Thus began an almost two-year journey transforming the truck into a capable overlander. Jordan made budget-friendly upgrades, fabricated components himself, and retrofitted existing parts into a lifted rig ready for adventure.
Key mods include:
- 3” bilstein lift with toytec coilovers and a AAL rear shocks
- 285/75/16 BFG KM3’s wrapped around
- 2019 Tacoma TRD Off-road wheels
- Trail gear front tube & homemade rear bumper with tire swing
- Yakima roof rack with pelican vault case and traction boards
- TheRetrofitSource headlights built at home
- Cali raised LED ditch lights
- DIY built camper shell
- Rago Fabrication Ditch Light Brackets and bed stiffeners
- 3 x 7” ProComp HID spot lights
- Back seat delete with homemade platform
With the truck now prepared for off-grid excursions, Jordan and his wife plan a move to Kansas to be closer to exciting trails. They know their Tacoma will safely carry them into the wilderness and back.
2nd Generation Tacoma Build
It’s always been a hobby of mine since high school. I used to be bug into dirt biking and had too many broken bones. So I sold the bike for an adventure rig. Built it up myself!Jake Ingolia on his passion for building this 2008 Tacoma into the ultimate overlanding machine.
Jake chose the Tacoma for its reputation, snagging this TRD Sport example for a deal despite its access cab. He’s since piled on nearly 40,000 off-pavement miles over years of customization – with no plans of stopping!
Lift Height: A 6” lift from RC provides plenty of room for 35″ Nitto Trail Grapplers on 17″ VTX Rogue wheels, while SPC upper control arms augment steering. Air bags assist hauling heavy loads when needed.
Armor & Protection: DV8 Offroad bumpers bookend Tyger Rock Sliders and skid plates for diff and transfer case to handle impacts while bounding over rocks.
Additional Upgrades: Lighting comes courtesy of LED head- and taillights plus Rigid Industries pod spots – critical for finding gorgeous backcountry camp views! Prinsu racks carry the Tepui rooftop tent and other gear needed for multi-day excursions while an ARE shell keeps things locked up.
“Make sure to build a truck that meets your wants and needs. It’s not about what others have. Make it unique to you!”
says Jake, and it’s clear this Tacoma’s custom touches reflect their adventurous personalities. Read more about his build in our special feature!
3rd Generation TRD Pro Overland Tacoma Build
Coming from the lowered stance scene, Lee surprised himself by choosing a brand new Tacoma TRD for his first 4×4 project. But he quickly realized the stock suspension posed limitations for the adventures he envisioned. Now, his dedication to customization from his previous builds has transformed this truck into a highly capable overlander ready to tackle remote trails.
Lift: Up front, King 2.5″ shocks with 700 lb springs pair with Total Chaos upper control arms for increased articulation. Out back, the same King shocks join an OME HD Dakar leaf pack and Relentless Fabrication’s U-bolt flip kit for ample flex.
Wheels & Tires: The 35” Goodyear Wrangler MTR tires mounted on 16” Stealth F5 wheels offer an aggressive tread to grab terrain once thePressure us dropped for off-roading. The lifted suspension makes room while limiting the need for spacers.
Armor & Protection: Relentless Fabrication components shield the body, including rear bumper with swing out tire carrier. A Warn Zeon 10s winch up front aids recovery when needed.
When asked what he loves most about the truck, Lee said “I love the capabilities and the head-turning factor.” Clearly the custom touches make this Tacoma stand out from the crowd! Read more about this truck in our special feature.
Sam Webster’s 2016 Toyota Taco prerunner
3rd Gen Toyota Tacoma Pre Runner style Off-road Build
Sam Webster made his childhood dream come true by customizing this 2016 Toyota Tacoma into a prerunner style desert racing truck. Starting with a salvaged example, Sam wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty teaching himself bodywork and repair techniques right in his driveway.
Once roadworthy, the custom touches began. But Sam kept the efficient 3.5L V6 engine stock underhood.
Suspension: Up front, a Dirt King +3.5” long travel kit with remote reservoir 2.5” King shocks lifts the truck while maximizing wheel travel and ride comfort hitting whoops at speed. The rear remains stock for now, with a 2” block giving a slight rake, but a 4-link coilover setup is on the horizon.
Wheels & Tires: 17″ Fuel Vectors wrapped in 35″ BFGoodrich KO2 meats plant the power and provide ample traction in varied terrain.
Exterior: Fiberwerx 6” bolt-on fender flares at both ends match the C4 Fabrication front bumper to give an ultra-wide stance. The vinyl wrap, Raptor-style grill, and other touches like the Spyder headlights cohesively modernize the entire aesthetic.
Interior: Besides carbon fiber trim accents, Sam kept the cabin fully stock for cruising comfort on and off the trails.
Sam’s proudest touches were transformed a stock body into a full fiberwerx widebody setup, then wrapping the whole truck himself in Satin Dark Grey.
There is something so mind-bending about seeing the suspension going crazy underneath the truck and the body nice and level and hardly moving.
This prerunner build clearly captures the spirit of Baja through both form and highly specialized function!
Extreme Off-Road Rock Crawler Build
This heavily customized 1996 Tacoma leaves no question about its rock crawling capabilities thanks to a laundry list of upgrades specifically tailored for conquering rugged terrain. The original owner had a vision to create an unstoppable machine built for the toughest challenges.
The stout 3.4L engine gets additional grunt via a header/Flowmaster exhaust system, while the transmission has been swapped to a 5-speed manual for better control. But it’s the highly specialized solid front and rear axle conversions that enable this truck to scramble up rock ledges that would stop less equipped rigs in their tracks.
Lift: Both ends sport All-Pro leaf packs for flexibility along with the correct tuning to prevent bottoming out with its ample 37” Yokohama tires. Those meats have plenty of sidewall to absorb obstacles as well.
Armor: Trail Gear steel bumpers protect each end and provide winch points. A snorkel also allows deeper water crossings. Inside, Recaro buckets keep occupants firmly planted.
Additional capability comes from re-geared axles featuring air lockers, upgraded shafts and components, plus the custom dual transfer case setup for ultra-slow rock crawling speeds when needed. This ’96 Tacoma clearly exemplifies going to extremes in pursuit of 4×4 glory!
Key Off-Road Upgrades Proven Effective on Tacomas
After reviewing numerous real-world examples of upgraded Tacoma builds, clear modification patterns emerge that I can confidently recommend based on their proven performance abilities across multiple truck generations.
- Lift Kits and Suspension – It’s evident that the most essential starting point is increasing ride height 2-6 inches via lift kits and coilovers. This enables clearing larger tires, improving critical ground clearance, and upgrading suspension components to traction and articulation abilities.
- Wheels and Tires – Owners almost universally gravitate to more aggressive all-terrain or mud-terrain tires sized 33-37” for amplifying grip over varied terrain. Wheels spacers help ensure proper fitment.
- Armor and Protection – Protecting vital components is non-negotiable for serious off-roading, making steel bumpers, skid plates, sliders, etc equally crucial investments across generations for surviving impacts from rocks and trails.
- Recovery Gear – The experiences of seasoned Tacoma builders clearly shows that carrying ample winches, straps, shovels and other rescue equipment like on-board compressor is mandatory for maintaining self-rescue capabilities when far from help.
- Storage and Camping – Those pursuing multi-day overlanding adventures know through experience the necessity of shells, racks and gear boxes for packing enough equipment into their Tacoma. Luckily spacious bed is what makes Tacos one step ahead Jeep and 4Runner. A bed rack makes a big difference in
|Popular Lift & Suspension Upgrades
|2-3″ lift kits Bilstein, OME ToyTec coils/leaf packs
|33-35″ BFG, Nitto, Goodyear
|Trail Gear, homemade bumpers Skid plates
|4-6″ lifts RC, Icon SPC control arms
|33-35″ BFG, Nitto
|Sliders, skids DV8, CBI bumpers
|2-3″ King shocks, Icon, Fox shocks Tacoma Beast, All-Pro leaf springs
|33-35” Nitto, Goodyear wheels – Method, Fuel
|Relentless Fab, CBI bumpers Demello, Ricochet skids
The recently released 2023 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road comes well-equipped from the factory for tackling trails with its rear diff locker, Multi Terrain Select, and an array of skid plates.
But many owners are hungry for more off-road upgrades. Popular early modifications include adding UCAs and adjustable 2.5” coilovers to enable lifting for bigger tires, plus supplemental armor like front runner skid plates and rock sliders for the short bed.
In conclusion, certain upgrades repeatedly equip Tacomas to more fully embrace off-road travels, whether gradual enhancements or extreme rock crawling builds. Hopefully these real-world modification examples provide inspiration for your next adventure-ready Tacoma project!
Matt is a professional mechanic, experienced off-roader, writer and founder of Offroadium. With over 15 years immersed in the off-road community and 100,000+ miles logged on rugged trails across the Americas, Grabli shares extensive real-world knowledge. He previously worked as an automotive technician before shifting focus to specialty off-road projects. His passion is prepping capable rigs for off-roading and helping others to build the 4x4s of their dreams.