Living Off-Grid in a Toyota Tacoma Pickup with a Camper

will-toy-ground

For anyone who values getting into the backcountry in comfort and with decent fuel economy, this is the ideal set-up; a Toyota Tacoma 4×4 and a Travel-Lite camper. When you’re in an area you want to spend time in and explore, drop the camper and it becomes a base-camp. Then you can take the Tacoma for trips as your daily driver. Easy Peasy! 

Once you decide you want to live like a nomad, one of the hardest decisions you’ll have to make is which vehicle to live in. We all  have certain expectations of what we want from our new vehicle home:

  • very comfortable and roomy
  • get good MPG
  • be powerful enough to carry all our stuff quickly up hills
  • be easy and pleasant to drive
  • not cost much to buy
  • not be difficult or expensive to maintain
  • be able to take us into remote places

The problem is most of these things are exact opposites from each other and it’s literally impossible for any vehicle to do them all. If its big enough to have plenty of room and comfort (like an RV), it’s going to get poor MPG, be big and cumbersome to drive and not get into remote places. If it gets great MPG like a Prius, or even good MPG like a mini-van, it’s going to be smaller, more uncomfortable  and not get into remote areas as well.

When you're ready to go travel and see more of the country, load her up and head out!

When you’re ready to go travel and see more of the country, load-er up and head-er out!

The perfect live-aboard vehicle, doesn’t exist, they all require lots of compromise.

The result is that you have to chose your highest priorities and be willing to sacrifice some things to get it. If MPG is your top priority, you have to give up room, comfort and back road ability. On the other hand, if you want all the room and comfort you can get you must sacrifice MPG, easy drive-ability  and being able to get into remote places. The key is to decide what you need to be happy as a nomad and make sure you get it; then be willing to make the sacrifices it requires.

Loading it on and off is easy, but it does take some time. You use your cordless drill and an attachment to lift each corner. In order to lift them evenly, you go in a circle lifting each one a litttle at a time until you're high enough, then you drive the truck in or out. Then you reverse it to drop the camper. It's easier and safer than it sounds.

Loading it on and off is easy, but it does take some time. You use your cordless drill and an attachment to lift each corner. In order to lift them evenly, you go in a circle lifting each one a little at a time until the camper is high enough, then you drive the truck in or out from under it.  It’s easier and safer than it sounds.

 

Every boondocker needs some solar for those extended stays.

Every boondocker needs some solar for those extended stays. There was easily room for a 265 watt panel–which is plenty for most people. In the background is a friend who also has a Travel-Lite camper, but his is on a full-size Ford F250 4×4. He is also delighted with his camper and set-up. 

In today’s post I want you to meet a friend of mine, Will and his choice of a nomadic vehicle, a Toyota Tacoma 4×4 pickup carrying a slide-in camper. I’ve got to say, if your emphasis is on MPG and the ability to get into the backcountry, with the most comfort you can have, this is one of the very best choices I’ve ever seen!

While the Tacoma is a small vehicle, the Supercab opens up a lot of room for storage. As you can see, Will has made excellent use of it all!

While the Tacoma is a small vehicle, the Super-cab opens up a lot of room for storage. As you can see, Will has made excellent use of it all!

Do you really need 4×4? Most people will tell you no, it just adds weight and complexity to your rig and causes more problems than its worth. For most people that might be true, but certainly not for everyone. If you are a photographer, nature or adventure lover and want to be able to get off the beaten path and further back than  the normal crowd, then this is the perfect rig! I boondock 99% of the time and because I don’t like camping with crowds I generally try to find an area to camp in with no one around. Having a high clearance 4×4 like the Tacoma would make that much easier for me because RVs won’t even consider going where it can easily go! I’m not talking about hard core 4-Wheeling, just being able to go past where the crowds hang out. If it gets a little rough the 4×4 will make that easy and if I get stuck (which is unlikely because I don’t go really bad places) then 4-Wheel Compound Low will get me right out.

While he can't sit up in the bed, he still finds it totally comfortable.

While he can’t sit up in the bed, he still finds it totally comfortable. Because it doesn’t have a bathroom, there are no divider walls making it feel very open.

Let me tell you why I think it’s so great:

  1. The Tacoma is legendary for its reliability and durability. It’s unlikely to leave you broken-down and stranded.
  2. The Tacoma 4×4 is equally famous for it’s off-road capabilities. It’s true 4-Wheel Drive with 4-Low and very good ground clearance give it excellent ability to get into remote areas.
  3. With the camper he gets a surprising amount of comfort and room (especially headroom), more than most vans offer.
  4. Once he takes the camper off, he gets pretty good MPG and its a very pleasant daily driver.
  5. Without the camper, it’s outstanding off-road and  in snow, sand and mud. Even with the camper it’s still very good with all of them.
  6. Best of all it’s affordable! I might prefer a 4×4 van, but they are much too expensive and too hard to find for me. The Tacoma is so popular that there are lots of them around and reasonably affordable.
Even though it's a ver light camper, the Tacoma needed help with it. Will added these airbags to the rear axle and a compressor under the hood to fill or lower it with the flip of a switch inside the cab.

Even though it’s a very light camper, the Tacoma needed help with it. Will added these airbags to the rear axle and a compressor under the hood to fill or lower it with the flip of a switch.

Now let’s look at the numbers on his nomadic home:

  • It’s a 2004 Toyota Tacoma 4×4 with a V6 and he paid $8000 for it.
  • The camper is a Travel Lite 690 FD Slide-In Camper that weighs an amazingly light 1100 pounds dry. He bought it brand new in 2015 for $9000. See it’s website here: http://www.travellitecampers.com/models/690/690.htm

The features he got in the camper include:

  • Standing room height.
  • Comfortable bed in the cab-over
  • Propane System
  • Furnace (that he’s very  happy with)
  • 3-Way fridge
  • Hot water heater
  • Stove top
  • 8 gallon fresh water tank with sink and outside shower
  • Jacks to raise and lower the camper
  • It doesn’t come with a shower, toilet or black water tank, but that isn’t an issue for him, he just uses a bucket and warms water for a sponge bath
It's amazing how open feeling such a small space can be and still have all the comforts of home.

It’s amazing how open feeling such a small space can be and still have all the comforts of home.

As you can see in the pictures, it really is a very comfortable home to live in. Of course it’s small but as long as you can adapt to a small space it’s an extremely pleasant way to spend the time. Most boondockers spend much of our time outside, but during bad weather it’s very important that you have a place you like being in because you may have to spend quite a bit of time in it riding out a storm. This  camper does that for Will.

His camper has has lots of headroom!

His camper has lots of headroom!

His normal pattern is to travel for awhile with the camper loaded on the truck, and when he finds a place he wants to spend time in and get to know better, then he drops the camper as a home-base and takes the Tacoma to explore and really get to know the area. That allows him to live in a lot of comfort and yet also get to see many places fairly economically. It also lets him get back into the backcountry where he prefers to be.

If you too have a hunger to get away from the camping hordes in comfort and relatively cheaply, then this is a combination you should consider!

I’m making Videos on my good friends James and Kyndal’s YouTube Channel. See them here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_W_E5SFCxwpSOaqMjOOBTg

We made a video interview and tour of Wills Tacoma camper, you can see it here:

If you don’t see the video above, either click here or cut and paste it into your browsers search bar.

youtu.be/DDxU5tCtg9c

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His camper came with a 3-Way fridge, but he decided he prefered a 12 volt compressor fridge for it's energy efficiency. This is his Engle which easily runs off his solar saving him from burning propane.

His camper came with a 3-Way fridge, but he decided he preferred a 12 volt compressor fridge for it’s energy efficiency. This is his Engle which easily runs off his solar saving him from burning propane.

 

Bob
About

I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

50 comments on “Living Off-Grid in a Toyota Tacoma Pickup with a Camper
  1. Avatar Lucy says:

    Cool video Bob, well done & very informative.

    The camper on the 4X4 seems to be a winning combination, but I believe that it will work mainly for U boys I, as a woman, would prefer a van, a class B or C, something that I just jump in turn the ignition key on & go… conversely, when finding a place to set camp the most I’m willing to do is activate the jacks. The business of taking the camper on & off the truck would be not only a pain in the U know where, but a challenge in general for we women don’t possess the strength & / or the dexterity to go thru all that intricate process. I figure there may be some females that will do without problems, but I’m talking about females in general.
    Like your videos Bob, keep up the good work !!
    Loved Cody taking a break under the Tacoma, but it was a very short break, that little guy is very energetic & restless.

    My regards, Lucy.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Lucy, I agree you lose a lot of safety with a slide-in camper versus a van or Class C. That’s especially important for women. I also understand the headache issue with setting up camp, I go through it with my cargo trailer in the winter. Everybody has different priorities so it’s good we have so many options!!!

      Yep, that Cody is on the move!!
      Bob

  2. Avatar Marshall says:

    Nice set-up!

    Loved seeing the Engel refer. When we bought ours it saved our lives in more ways than one. No more running for ice and it extended our stays in the wilderness by weeks. Plus, we get to eat our leftovers now instead of tossing them.

    I’m just surprised that we don’t see more vandwellers with Engel refers. I understand that they are expensive, but when you consider the freedom they potentially give you they are worth there weight in gold. I can tell you that there is no better feeling on a super hot day with ice being many, many miles away than just reaching into that refer and grabbing a super cold drink. What it has allowed us to save on gas for ice runs has paid for the unit many times over.

    The Engel, to the best of my knowledge, is the last portable refer to still being made with a metal housing. The rest of them will break being made out of plastic.

    Oh, and did I mention that they will turn into a freezer with a turn of the dial? That, and the fact that they run on an average of 2.5 amps/hour? This amazing little appliance is a godsend for the serious off-grid camper.

    Just love seeing people prepared for life in the wilderness properly!

    • Avatar FALCON says:

      There are also Whynter refrigerators. These also have metal housing/frames and seem similar to Engels in function, performance, and price.

      • Avatar Marshall says:

        They may seem similar to the Engel, but the German Compressor and well built housing are much different. Knock-offs are NOT the same. Remember, you get what you pay for. We came close to getting the Whynter, but chose the Engel for trusted reliability. Nothing runs like an Engel.

        • Bob Bob says:

          I have to agree with that, the Engel is better than the others and has an an unequaled reputation. Whether that’s worth the money to you or not is a decision you have to make.
          Bob

      • Bob Bob says:

        I have a Whynter and it’s construction is top-notch, I couldn’t ask for more. The big unknown is the compressor. Mine is 3 years old and works perfectly but that really isn’t very long. Only time will tell.

        If you have the money, I’d get an Engel.
        Bob

    • Bob Bob says:

      Marshall, no doubt the Engle is the premium brand but their price keeps lots of people away. As of now the ARB has as good a reputation and is a little cheaper so they are coming on strong.

      If you have the money to spend up front no doubt it will pay for itself in the long run. But many simply don’t have the money and others are much too uncertain of their long term future to invest the money for that far down the road. A Dometic is a very good fridge and the ARB is outstanding.
      Bob

  3. Avatar Cae says:

    Does his fridge really run off his 265w solar panels? I’d like to get one if that’s true. My propane last awhile, but solar would be much better as I’m in the desert most of the winter.

    • Avatar Marshall says:

      Yes, that refer will run off 265W PV. Easily. If the Engel was the only appliance running off your batteries and PV I would think that 100W would be sufficient. However, I would go with at least 150W PV just for the breathing room. The Engel portable refrigerator is the Rolls Royce of portable refrigeration and at $950 new, well worth the cost. We paid $400 for ours used and regret nothing. These refers have been known to go 25+ years in the Australian Outback. Amazing. Do your research and you will feel at ease buying one.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Cae, it easily runs off 265 watts. I run my Whynter off 190 with no problems.
      Bob

      • Avatar Cae says:

        Interesting. My domestic three-way takes over two weeks to eat through my tank. It seems like the Engel with solar set-up could cost me around $1300 or more. That’s a lot of gas. I don’t mind getting the tank filled every couple of weeks at this time. So I think I’ll wait on this.

        • Bob Bob says:

          Cae, it would be easy to figure out the cost of propane per day. I don’t know anything about your system but if that’s a 20 pound tank it’s about $15 to fill and if you fill it every 14 days it’s about $1 a day. You’ll pay for it in less than 4 years but solar will provide free power for over 20 years and you should get 10 years from the Engle. To me it seems like a pretty good deal.
          Bob

  4. Avatar Chuck says:

    Bob is the porta potty or trash lined bucket approved by the forest service?

    • Bob Bob says:

      Almost always yes but in a tiny few places no. Generally no one cares, they just assume you are digging a cat hole or carrying it out. No Ranger is ever going to ask you what you are using to poop in. However, there are areas where the BLM requires built-in plumbing facilites, but they are so few that it shouldn’t impact your thinking. Long Term Visitor Areas require an RV, or if you don’t have one you have to camp within 500 feet of a vault toilet. There used to be an area near Moab where a parta potti was required, but that area has since been closed to all camping.

      Bottom line is it will almost never be a problem and I’ve never seen it in the National Forests, just a very few BLM spots.
      Bob

  5. Avatar Chuck says:

    Bob is the porta potty or trash lined bucket approved by the forest service?

  6. Avatar FALCON says:

    This setup looks like an incredible combination of price and driving capability. It makes me wonder if building a van myself is worth all the work. I guess I’ll see how much I value being able to blend easier in cities. That seems to be the main trade-off vs. a setup like Will’s.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Falcon, stealth is the big loss, you just don’t have any with a slide-in camper. Plus the loss of safety of having to get out and go around to the front seat is something to consider.
      Bob

  7. Avatar Keejo says:

    Thanks–Bob, Kyndal and James–for the great vid and stills of Will’s rig. Seeing what others have chosen and their reasons for choosing a particular rig is invaluable.

    A special thanks to Will for sharing his home with us all!

  8. Avatar Mitchell says:

    Well done!

    Thank you to Bob for putting this together, to James for filming it, and a big thank you to Will for allowing us a peek into his setup.

    A lot of good info.

  9. Avatar tommy helms says:

    Three words…”Showertime with Kyndal”. Now THAT’S how you drive traffic to this site! 🙂

  10. Avatar Doug Rykerd says:

    I spent a little time visiting Will at RTR. It is a truly comfortable rig. Now that he has the Engle I believe he has plans to redo the cabinet where the existing fridge and furnace was. Great guy and great rig.

  11. Avatar JIM PETERSON says:

    Just to keep anyone else (or at least a few) from wasting their money on air bags = bad news. If you visit *any* serious/real/legit/competent suspension shop, they’ll have a small mountain of air bags out back which they have removed! (Take all you want for FREE!) Air bags do keep your rear end from bottoming out but they do so at the expense of raising your center of gravity (making the camper feel WAY more tippy than it should) without actually offering anything more in the way of support! If you’re in the area, Boise Spring Works (Boise, Idaho) has this down to a fine art. I love truck campers and my understanding of what works best has evolved along WITH these guys. An infinitely better system adds overload springs which only engage when the camper is ON. When the camper is OFF, suspension returns to OEM original = usually more than adequate, on the softer side for a comfortable, car-like ride . . . plus it’s just simpler = no air to add; no air to let out. If you ever drive or ride in a truck camper suspension done right, your only regret will be any money wasted on air bags. They’re a cheap “fix” but not a good one. On smaller/lighter campers (like the one featured here), they might be “good ‘nuf” but on larger campers, they are a cruel joke and not nearly adequate. Sadly, some folks have been turned against truck campers for no other good reason than a cheap and/or poorly installed suspension upgrade. I’ve had small truck campers and large ones — a proper suspension upgrade makes all the difference in the world. And if you really want to have a truck camper and do it up right? Check out Stable Lift Systems for campers — makes ALL those toothpick jacks obsolete!
    JIM PETERSON recently posted…Canyon Ladder TrailMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      I’ve never owned a camper so I don’t have any direct experience. But I must say this goes against everything I’ve been told by others. Nearly universally air bags are recommended. But again, I have no direct experience.
      Bob

  12. Avatar joe says:

    This also is the overall best way to go because he does not have to give any more cash to the tax man many folks go this way in the long run some day I would like to go this way so simple thanks for the info

  13. Avatar Ming says:

    thank you Will, Bob,and James for the tour. What a lovely little home.

    The payload limit on my 2010 Tacoma is only 1200lbs so I will be looking for a lighter camper, but the idea is the same. I bought 2WD because it was what I could afford at the time and gas costs so much where I live. I’m not on the road yet, so it’s my city daily driver.

    I like the fact that once I get the rig together, I can swap out for a 4WD quite easily if I need to without having to rebuild the house part of the rig.

    And I wanted the Tacoma legendary reliability, of course.

    If you end up wanting an alternative to air bags, I think that Torklift makes a special Tacoma spring pack for carrying campers that works much better than add-a-leafs. There is a writeup on them in Truck Camper Magazine.

  14. Avatar Bethers says:

    I was wondering what happens to the truck tail gate? Does it get stored or sold or…?

    I really enjoyed the tour!

  15. Avatar WTXCal says:

    Bob,
    Can you recommend a warm, winter spot without being windy. I’m in W. Tx. and the wind won’t let up. Thanks for your site.

    • Bob Bob says:

      WTXCal, I’m sorry but I can’t. The only place that might work would be Key West or southern Florida but camping there is pretty difficult and it just isn’t how I want to live.

      My guess is the wing blows less here in southwest Arizona than it does in west Texas, but it still blows a lot. If you are up to risking Baja, then I’d say Baja was your only shot.
      Bob

  16. Avatar Will says:

    Just now watched this video….
    I agree that Kyndal in the shower would be a plus but what about me in the shower doing Yoga??? Think about it?
    And re; the air bags….they work great, I love them & makes my travels very safe & smooth.
    Thank you Bob.. James.. Savannah.. Chilly Moon & Kyndal……
    It really is the community that makes it worth it….

  17. Avatar Cindy says:

    Hi Bob. My first question has no relation to this article, but my second will. Firstly, with so many folks leaning toward this lifestyle, how long do you think it will take the big guys in government to begin taxing the lifestyle, or at all? Secondly, how does Will do yoga while out on the road?

    Thank you for your time.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Cindy, I’m not really concerned about taxation because I don’t see any practical way to target us. But there are many ways that they can hinder us. 1) They can crack down on our using Public land 2) cut back on dispersed camping, 3) Pass and enforce laws about stealth parking in the city. 4) Generally tighten the rules about needing a physical home to take part in society. I suspect some of those things are coming if we keep growing. How soon and how severe remains to be seen.

      Will does Yoga outside during good weather, and in bad weather he has just enough room in the hall of his camper to do it.
      Bob

  18. Avatar will leblanc says:

    Hi Bob,
    Hope your travels continue to be safe & good.
    I’ve landed back in Upstate NY and regrouping for my travels out west in the Fall.
    I’ve decided to sell my lovely rig as I need more room so my wife can join me.
    So if you know of anyone looking for this type of rig at a really good price, please send them my way.
    See you in the Fall!!!
    Will

    • Bob Bob says:

      Will, that’s great news about your wife! I’m looking forward to meeting her! I’ll keep a lookout for anyone who might be interested in your rig.
      Bob

  19. Avatar Mark says:

    I tried to watch the video but YouTube says it’s private?

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