Function, meet form. Matt’s 2021 Taco blends rugged style with impressive off-road capabilities. (Image/Matt Maier)

Several years ago, Matt Maier really got into overlanding.

He liked the off-roading aspects, the serenity of primitive camping, and the challenge of building a vehicle to handle it all. So, after learning all he could from some new overlanding pals, he set out to transform his 2017 Toyota Tacoma into his own personal expedition vehicle, complete with a roof top tent, off-road suspension, and a host of other rugged upgrades.

Then, once it was finished and ready to go…

…it got T-boned.

Back to Square One

Thankfully no one was seriously hurt. But the poor truck was summarily totaled.

Undaunted (and with a fresh insurance check in his pocket), Matt headed back to the Toyota dealership.

“It was an unfortunate situation but, through insurance, I got a new Tacoma and was able to fit my old stuff on the new truck,” Matt says.

Despite being a total vehicle loss, Matt was able to salvage a lot of the bolt-on accessories from the wrecked 2017 Tacoma to install on his new one, pictured here. (Image/Matt Maier)

“I was able to salvage a lot of stuff,” he continues. “This accident happened in December, so I had already taken a lot of stuff off, because I don’t do a lot of winter camping.”

So, at the time of the wreck, some vital overlanding gear like his rooftop tent and bed rack were safe in storage. And some of the other components simply needed a few small replacement parts or a repaint over some scuff marks.

“For the most part, all the other things that were bolt-on were salvageable.”

In fact, one of the silver linings with the incident, Matt explains, is that he was able to take his experiences from the first truck build and apply it to the new one. “I took advantage of this unfortunate situation by doing some of the things I wish I had done on my 2017, and did it on my 2021 Tacoma.”

Upgrades to the 2021 Toyota Tacoma Truck

Matt had assembled a pretty good suspension setup on his first Taco, but he did make a few minor tweaks for the second go-around.

Up front, the new 2021 Tacoma is running Bilstein 6112-Series shocks and coil springs, along with upper control arms from Specialty Products Company. Out back, you’ll find a set of Bilstein 5160-Series shocks with remote reservoirs. The original leaf spings have been swapped out for a pair of leaf packs from Old Man Emu.

The Toyota Tacoma rides on a set of 285/70-17 Nitto Ridge Grappler tires.

Matt says the suspension and tire combo works wonders in maintaining the truck’s on- and off-road drivability, even when fully loaded.

He also points out the importance of extended brake hoses when you’re doing these sorts of upgrades, as the increased ride height and suspension travel can stretch the stock hoses to their (literal) breaking point.

The larger tires and suspension upgrades give the Taco about a five-inch lift over the stock setup. (Image/Matt Maier)

The Tacoma also wears an off-road front bumper made by Southern Style Off-Road. It features a high-clearance design and boasts hidden mounting locations for a winch and light bar.

Overlanding Accessories for the Tacoma

What really makes Matt’s new 2021 Tacoma a serious overlanding rig is the care he’s taken in selecting functional accessories that work together on his truck.

For starters, he’s upgraded to a three-man rooftop vehicle tent that’s got plenty of room for his wife and young son. “Open it up and you’re ready to camp in less than five minutes, with a three-inch memory foam mattress,” Matt describes. “You just toss your pillows and sleeping bags up there and you’re ready to go.”

The rooftop tent is made by Cascadia Vehicle Tents and, when folded up, features a rigid top that can be used as a flat surface to store even more gear. (Image/Matt Maier)

While that sounds pretty convenient, wait until you hear about his kitchen setup. Custom-made by Finn Fab, it’s a robust drawer system that slides out of the Taco’s bed about 10 feet, and contains everything a top-notch camp cook would want: pots, pans, stove, prep station, and cutting board. “It makes it incredibly easy when you get to camp,” Matt tells us. “You don’t have all these totes you gotta take out—you just open up the tailgate, slide it open, and you’re ready to cook within a minute.”

And when you’re done, it all slides back into the bed like a nesting doll.

With the tailgate folded down, you can see the series of drawers that house the Tacoma’s built-in overlanding camp kitchen. Note the swing-away tire carrier and auxiliary fuel can too. (Image/Matt Maier)

What’s Next for Matt & His New Taco?

Over the past few years, Matt travelled all over the Ohio and Pennsylvania area, and he’s really fond of the Allegheny National Forest. But now with a freshly-built 2021 Tacoma, he’s setting his sights out west, particularly anywhere where he can do some primitive camping—away from everything.

“That’s one of the things I enjoy about this…going to a place that’s not a pre-put-together campground,” he describes. “Where you’re not bothered by the loudness of a busy campsite, it’s just serenity I guess.”

So Matt’s making plans for a few bucket-list destinations like Moab, Utah and the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.

And we asked him bluntly, after the unfortunate circumstances behind the demise of his first 2017 Toyota Tacoma, if this new 2021 Taco will be his last build—and he responded with an enthusiastic yes.

“I’m gonna drive this thing ’til the wheels fall off.”

“This is my 20-year vehicle.” (Image/Matt Maier)

Ready to Start Overlanding? Here’s Matt’s Advice for Getting Started

“Buy once, cry once,” Matt says with a smile. While he admits that overlanding can become an expensive hobby, his experience has taught him to buy quality parts up front to avoid purchasing (and re-installing) better-quality components later. In fact, Matt stresses that “quality difference is a big deal.”

Researching overlanding online? OnAllCylinders has a series of Overlanding Essentials articles that offer a trove of informative resources.

He also says the best way to learn about this stuff is to become involved in local clubs and groups. Matt assures us that the overlanding community is closely-knit, yet eagerly welcomes newcomers to the adventure. He explains how he learned from the shared experiences of fellow overlanders and does his best to transmit his acquired knowledge to others, particularly those who are just starting out in the hobby.

Most importantly, he reminds us that the whole point is the adventure, so you don’t need to buy a new vehicle or spend a jillion bucks to become an overlander. Research a bit, meet some overlanding folks, and start simple.

“It really doesn’t matter what your drive or where you go, just get out there and have some fun.”

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Author: Paul Sakalas

Paul is the editor of OnAllCylinders. When he's not writing, you'll probably find him fixing oil leaks in a Jeep CJ-5 or roof leaks in an old Corvette ragtop. Thanks to a penchant for vintage Honda motorcycles, he spends the rest of his time fiddling with carburetors and cleaning chain lube off his left pant leg.