I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few different #adventurevehicles over the years. I’ve tried everything from an open top Jeep with a solo backpack for supplies all the way to the full blown Chinook Baja 4x4 RV with heated leather seats. I’m still searching for the ultimate adventure vehicle. But, I may have found a great solution for our present family adventure vehicle. At least until the next generation of vehicles catches my fancy and we hit the lottery.
Our latest vehicle comes from my previous experience with a 1990 Toyota truck. After losing many of my possessions by owning an open top Jeep, I settled into an older Toyota SR5 Extended Cab Pickup. The vehicle was mechanically superior to almost everything else I’d found. The hi top camper shell gave me room for a carpet kit and good place to escape the elements. So, I had a pretty good setup for myself, my girlfriend, plus two dogs. However, that extended cab was far from comfortable for anything but the smallest of beings. And, one trip home from Las Vegas found me in that small jump seat. That’s when I knew that I needed a bit more space for passengers.
Thankfully, Toyota noticed the popularity of their double cab pickups around the world and finally started offering their Toyota Tacoma in a double cab configuration here in the USA. My prayers were slowly being answered. Now, I just had to find one that would work well for myself and my expanding family.
After a quick online search, I found the model that I wanted available locally in South Lake Tahoe. I knew that I would prefer a manual transmission, as well as some future armored protection from nightime wildlife on the road and the occasional trail bump. And, 4x4 was a necessity. I wanted the 6 foot bed. But, that’s not an option with the manual transmission. As is often the case, the vehicle online was a bit different than what was actually on the lot. I expressed my frustrations at the differences and the “bait and switch” deception. But, that just helped with my negotiations. When all was said and done, I was the proud owner of a 2009 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road edition 5’ bed with a 6 speed manual transmission in the New Speedway Blue color for $27,500. Time to start looking for the rest of those #overland accessories that I wanted.
The original build was pretty simple. I wanted a small suspension upgrade that would handle mild trails, not necessarily rock crawling. So, I put in an order for an Old Man Emu set of shocks and struts with the 886 coils. And, I knew that I would need a solid front bumper to mount a winch and provide valuable protection from the occasional daredevil deer crossing at night. I found an ARB bumper on clearance pricing, a Smittybilt XRC 9.5k winch on sale, and I even added a CBI Bushmaster rear bumper for additional protection. But, this would only manage the nuts and bolts. What would I end up doing to make the vehicle more appropriate for our camping adventures?
We had a sweet Sierra Designs ground tent. But, those don’t always work well when sheltering down in the High Sierra winter storms with a large family. So, we found a Little Guy Five Wide Rough Rider Teardrop Camper. Teardrops are seriously awesome campers, unless you’re considering how to fit a family of 5 plus a dog. So, we made due with our four season Sierra Designs tent, an EZ Up, and the teardrop for quite awhile. But, something eventually had to give
Eventually came sooner than later with a Spring Break, waterlogged, adventure that would lead us to reconsider what other options were available to keep us dry, comfortable, and sheltered from what Mother Nature can deliver. We needed something that was more a part of our vehicle and not towed behind. There are plenty of times a trailer is just too much of a hindrance. So, we looked to see what options we had for the bed of our Tacoma.
We just happened to see a review about an upcoming product called an AT Overland Habitat Camper. I had run into someone with a Habitat on a Yosemite trip. His Habitat was attached to a Jeep Wrangler. But, I wasn’t ready to go back to Jeeps. I really wanted to keep my Tacoma until it was dead and buried. We kept searching and looking at every additional resource that we could find. YouTube videos, Expedition Portal forums, Instagram feeds, and Tacoma World forums finally convinced us that an AT Overland Habitat could be a great fit for our lifestyle. And, they were making them for the Gen 2 Toyota Tacomas. So, we reached out to AT Overland, specifically Mario Donovan, to learn more.
Mario helped us through the information and ordering process. These aren’t your typical pickup campers. These are constructed of an all aluminum shell mated to a strong Nemo tent. It’s possible to add all sorts of options to suit your needs. But, each of these Habitats take time. And, each option takes additional time, too. We really wanted ours for a Spring Break adventure and hoped that our Christmas order would be ready in time. But, we weren’t the only ones with the idea of getting a new Habitat by spring or summer.
Our deposit didn’t make it in until after the beginning of the year, because of the busy holiday season. So, our completion date got pushed back until May. Unfortunately, with our responsibilities, our pickup date would have to wait until June 19, 2017. So, we had additional time to make sure everything was prepared on the truck. And, we could also have some additional time to research for power add-ons, bed insulation, windows, etc. The extra time would actually be a blessing. We could save money and have everything paid off before delivery, so we’d have more money in our pockets for family adventures.
The time finally came for us to head to Prescott, AZ for our Habitat install. I confirmed we were on schedule, arranged for the time off, and hit the road for a quick 13 hour drive straight through from Tahoe to Prescott. We didn’t have much time for sightseeing or delays. So, off we went.
Our arrival was quite a shock to the system. We left Tahoe, still blanketed with snow, and arrived to 90 degree Arizona heat. We met with Martyn Davies and he guided us through the installation process. We confirmed that all the platforms, windows, sliders, power, etc. matched what we had ordered. I closely inspected our Habitat that was waiting on the pallet. We discussed the “seasoning” of the tents to help waterproof them. And, then I left the vehicle at their shop for them to complete the install. I jumped on my bike and rode back to the cool comfort of our hotel down the street waiting for the call that our Habitat was ready.
The install was very clean, meticulous, and thorough. They took off the plastic cap from the bed rails, installed double bubble seals, and made sure that the Habitat could handle everything that their adventurous clientele might throw at it. They utilize the existing Tacoma bed rail system to secure the Habitat. We were walked through the deployment of the Nemo tent, as well as how to properly put it away. AT Overland was very good at walking us through every possible scenario. They even reiterated how to keep the poles organized and even to double check securing the latches before heading down the road. We made sure all the lights, 12v ports, and USB ports worked properly. And, it was a very thorough installation process. But, it was also a quick install. More importantly was the attention to detail. We were both convinced that we had made the correct decision in purchasing an AT Overland Habitat. Our confidence was high that this would be a part of our family for a long time.
So, off we went for our quick return to Tahoe. Our first night was at a quiet campground off Route 66 near Williams, AZ. We posed with the sun setting behind our new home on wheels. And, we toasted our first night with a celebratory beer. We were a bit like kids on Christmas Day.
This would be the beginning of a new chapter and lots of adventures with our new Habitat.
So far, those adventures have taken us through the heat of the desert, high into the mountains, through rain-soaked coastal adventures, and even through snow filled nights at the base of our favorite splitboarding areas. We look forward to many more adventures with our Habitat and think that we’ve found an amazing #ultimateadventurevehicle to welcome to our family.