(Photo Credit: Barry Andrews via Carli Suspension. Used by permission)

Overland generally comes in 3 sizes: small, medium and zip code. “Small” range from Subaru XV’s and such all the way up to vehicles as large as the Nissan Patrol/Armada which, at nearly 3 tons and 18 feet, is hardly “small”. I recently compiled a “best of” list for this category and you can read about it here. On the other end of the scale are the big trucks; heavy duty chassis where you need a winch to get the spare wheel down and appear to be the unholy lovechild between an RV and a DAKAR truck. Earthroamer, Boklet DAKAR and others come to mind and while they have their fans...I’m not one of them. In between the worlds of “livin’ in a tent” and “off road house” is the happy medium of rugged off road campers. This category includes half and 3/4 ton pickups equipped with campers or trailers, as well as vehicles like Sportsmobile and Quigly and topping out at medium duty cab overs like the Earth Cruiser. The idea of the medium category is to have a healthy portion of capability, be small enough for most trails or to be put in a container for international travel but with the ability to tow or haul a comfortable live IN solution.

For this list, I’m ignoring the custom solutions like the Vans and Fuso based trucks and focusing on dealer ready pickups to be used as platforms for various camping solutions like a 4 wheel pop top or more traditional pickup based shells.

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Overlanding, expedition travel, heavy touring whatever you call it, has different requirements than what you might consider for a traditional “4x4”, and I ranked the vehicles based on these requirements and not according to which one is the best “off roader” since that means so many things to so many people. All categories are 1-5 with 5 being score all the rest are curved to with the exception of trail score which is normalized at 10 in an effort to weigh that aspect above the others. The categories are:

  • Load Capacity - Payload and towing
  • Fuel Economy/Range - City/Highway/Offroad/Combined
  • Trail Worthiness - Stock capability
  • Reliability - Will it leave you stranded?
  • Durability - How soon until is starts to fall apart
  • Value - All scores factored into the price

For a detailed account of the scores, figures and price click here.

1. Toyota Tundra TRD PRO

(Photo: TRD Pro Tundra. Toyota Press room)

Hur durr “Turd PRO” yeah, yeah. Think about this though, a current gen Tundra is one of less than 10 vehicles EVER to reach a million miles. That’s a pretty powerful statement on its own. As someone with an admitted Toyota bias it makes me happy to see it here, but I was a little surprised when I crunched the numbers to be honest. However, with factory tuned bypass suspension system, aggressive AT tires, heavy skid protection while keeping a decent payload and tow rating, not to mention of the biggest fuel tanks in the group...it adds up to a very well rounded vehicle to take off the beaten path. Yeah the frame is open C in the back, but hilarious twerking meme’s aside, its not going to hold back this dated but capable truck from dancing its way into the top spot.

SCORES

Load Range Capability Reliability Durability Merit score Value score ~MSRP as conf.
3.89 3.92 6.24 5.0 3.5 4.51 5.00 46755

2. Ram Power Wagon

(Photo: Modified current generation Power Wagon. Credit Barry Andrews, used by permission)

Its the only vehicle here with: Locking front and rear differentials, disconnecting sway bars, 33 inch AT tires, an integrated winch. Add in a 3/4 ton chassis that’s built around solid, proven components and you have an effective heavy hauling weapon. The only trouble with the power wagon is that for all its toughness and capability, its hamstrung but a so/so payload and the worst in test range and mileage. Shortfalls that, combined with a high base price, mean that the most capable of pickups, plays second fiddle for value. Note: 2016 model reviewed, 2017 model not available yet.

SCORES

Load Range Capability Reliability Durability Merit score Value score ~MSRP as conf.
3.77 2.60 10.00 3.0 5.0 4.87 4.94 51160

3. Ford F150 2.7 ecoboost FX4

(Photo: F150 Lariet FX4. Ford pressroom)

If you’ve made it this far without jumping down to comment on the lack of a Ford Raptor, congratulations. The sad truth is: there is not 2016/2017 Raptor and while we know one is coming for 2018, there are no firm details that would work for this roundup, that being said, the standard F150 (included 3x in this test) is a solid performer whose inclusion on this list is a testament to the excellent qualities that have made it Americans best selling vehicle. Combined with an optional extended range fuel tank the 2.7 EB has outstanding range and economy. An electronic locking rear differential and a healthy aftermarket will ensure that it will be a good platform to start tuning from. The 2.7 suffers mainly because its payload is only midpack here.

SCORES

Load Range Capability Reliability Durability Merit score Value score ~MSRP as conf.
3.79 4.84 4.99 3.5 4.0 4.22 4.89 44800

4. Chevy Silverado Z71 5.3

(Photo: Chevrolet Silverado LTS Z71. Chevrolet pressroom)

When I was younger, a Z71 Chevy was a pretty big deal and while it seems Chevy has let the Z71 moniker gather dust...or rather, not gather enough dust...the base truck is still a solid performer. Best payload, second best towing, a standard locking differential (though not user selectable) and well proven engines and basic hardware that tends to go the distance. This truck needs the most work to get trail ready but if off road capability is a lower priority over heavier camping systems this truck is worth a look.

SCORES

Load Range Capability Reliability Durability Merit score Value score ~MSRP as conf.
5.00 3.37 3.99 4.5 4.5 4.27 4.89 45270

5. Ford F150 5.0/3.5 EB

(Photo: F150 Lariet FX4. Ford pressoom)

These trucks are, more or less, tied with the 5.0 edging out the 3.5 mostly due to price. These trucks were all a surprise to me that they fared better than trucks on this list that I thought would trounce them. Choosing between the two version of this truck is mostly down to preference, with a nod going to the 3.5 for high altitude performance where the 5.0 gets the pick if you prefer the V8's noise and ease of maintenance. The 3.5 gets better range score, even factoring in the turbo penalty off road, but be advised that the 3.5 has a tendency to be a much heavier than advertised drinker when hauling or towing.

SCORES (top is 5.0, bottom is EB 3.5)

Load Range Capability Reliability Durability Merit score Value score ~MSRP as conf.
4.95 4.06 4.99 4.0 4.0 4.40 4.83 47175
5.00 4.19 4.99 3.5 4.0 4.33 4.67 48090

6. Nissan Titan Pro 4X

(Photo: Titan XD Pro 4X. Nissan pressroom)

I was actually expecting the brand new Nissan to do much better here. Being a “light-heavy” truck it should have the payload and towing categories locked up, combine that with the diesels economy and the Pro 4X package that includes a driver selectable rear locker sound like a winning combo. In the end there is too much “light” duty and too much “heavy” truck. In order to sneak into class 2b where its cummins V8 is subject to looser emissions targets the Titan XD had to bulk up and while it hit its goals it wasn’t the kind of bulk that helped it. At 7257 lbs dry, the Titan XD is a lardass and its 14/17 mpg reflect that, combined with a small 26 gallon tank and you aren’t getting much range benefit from the triple nickle engine. That being said, its likely to actually deliver on its promises of economy when its loaded up heavily, since it will represent a smaller mass increase as a percentage and because of diesels efficiency with high load. All in, the “5/8th ton” truck doesn’t even break into 5th place in this comparo.

SCORES

Load Range Capability Reliability Durability Merit score Value score ~MSRP as conf.
4.51 2.85 4.83 3.5 5.0 4.14 4.21 50970

7. Ram Rebel 5.7

(Photo: 2017 Rebel. FCA pressroom)

This truck, on first glance, seems like this truck should be on the top of this list, and certainly not at the bottom but here it is. ...in this case, both payload and clearance are right at the bottom of the list, and like the outdoorsman above you can thank the suspension that has the 2nd worst payload (1254 lbs. About the same as a Tacoma and nearly 300 lbs less than a ridgeline) as well as so/so clearance and angles, and yes that includes the raised “off road” setting. The Ram is testament to myth that stronger springs automatically increases payload...it doesn’t. The light duty ram also suffers more than its heavy duty compatriot in terms of reliability. Add in the price of the vehicle and you have a truck that would make for a very comfortable and capable weekend warrior truck but a poor overland choice.

SCORES

LoadRangeCapabilityReliabilityDurabilityMerit scoreValue score~MSRP
as conf.
3.503.924.363.04.03.764.0348280

8. Ram Outdoorsman 3.0 EcoDiesel

Outdoorsman? EcoDiesel? Of course this truck is going to be on this list! Who knew it would be so far down on it though. When the ram 1500 line was introduced, it was seen as a revelation in its use of coil or air(!) springs for the rear axle that improved ride quality to an astonishing level but what people don’t mention is what was sacrificed for that ride quality - Payload. The 2 bottom of the listers are well bellow par in that regard, the Ecodiesel at a paltry 1240 lbs. On the plus side, the range is amazing and its not even that expensive given the much more costly VM Motori 3.0 diesel V6 under the hood. If you can pack light...its worth a look.

SCORES

Load Range Capability Reliability Durability Merit score Value score ~MSRP as conf.
3.30 5.00 2.79 3.0 4.0 3.62 4.02 46650

*Caveats and disclaimers - I compared the cheapest versions of 4 door 6 foot beds (where I could or the closest available) that were available as the off road model or with the best off road options. Could I have included a different variation of the truck you like? Yes, you bet, but with literally millions of permutations I can’t compare them all. By keeping this comparison limit in scope to popular sizes and off road configurations it gives a broad comparison on the strengths and weakness of each truck generally.

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Also I think its fair to say that with effort, creativity, money or all three any of these trucks could be modified from their factory configurations to make up for shortcomings (within limits) and that is something you will have to account for on your own.

All-in-all, this is just a guide for you to go out and find the right truck to get you out in the back-country.

Originally published Friday - republished today due to it being quickly buried. Enjoy your weekend.