Andrew and I sipped our finely crafted cups of coffee as we pondered the project at hand — coffee made all the more enjoyable due to the biting nip in the air of a February morning. A complete camping/sleeping/storage system for my Tacoma was something I’d wanted to tackle for quite some time. And given the traveling around I want to do this coming summer, a cold, snowy day seemed the perfect time to get started.
Over the past few months I’d literally looked at dozens and dozens of individual’s websites trying to conceptualize the perfect combination of usefulness, utility, comfort and ease of removal. And of course I’d looked at a few “professionally’ designed and built units but quickly dismissed those because they were simply too expensive, especially when I knew I could do it myself. When it finally came time to put all my conceptualizing into reality, I garnered most of my inspiration from a guy in Arizona who has totally tricked out his Tacoma for his excursions down around the Baja Peninsula. You can (and should!) check out his website at www.bajataco.com if you need inspiration for your own projects! There are some pretty cool links to other Tacoma projects on his website as well.
Since no project worth doing is complete without at least one trip to the Home Depot, we took the materials list and headed that way. I have to say, driving over in Andrew’s F-350 Crew Cab 4X4 was pretty cushy. And the best aspect of the truck came to light when we were throwing everything in the back!! Man alive, we could’ve put all the materials in the bed of that thing PLUS my entire Tacoma — and several people up front! But alas, I love my Tacoma and realistically there is no way that thing would ever fit in my garage. That being the case, I tried to keep my enthusiasm and day dreaming to a minimum.
Once we got all the materials back to Andrew’s house, we decided that the prudent thing to do would be to take the camper shell off. This would give us much easier access to the inside of the bed. Four clamps and about five minutes later, the whole thing was sitting in the driveway.
Next we pondered some alternate designs before deciding that the drop-in bed liner currently in there was just too restrictive for what I had in mind. Five minutes later, the bed liner was out too. What surprised me was just how much space was lost by having that type of liner in there! Since then, I’ve decided that I’ll have a spray-in Rhino Liner system done to preserve my space as well as protect the bed from getting any more damage in the future. What was amazing was just how much scratching and rubbing the old liner did to the paint. There are places that are actually worn down to the metal! So much for the protection to the paint that I only assumed was happening.
So, with a clean canvas, we set about determining the new dimensions sans liner. My main criteria for the design were to have storage on the sides with enough room to slide a container tub or large cooler down the middle. I also wanted to design it so that when I wanted to sleep in it, I could simply plop in a couple of custom fit pieces into the middle and voila! I’d have a nice cushy platform the size of the entire bed. Pretty simple concept actually, but I wanted to make sure that it didn’t look like some ghetto-esque project that was conceived and created over a case of PBRs. Oh yeah, and if I leave in the middle pieces, it covers stuff like my snowboard, climbing gear, backpacks and etc. I would typically have to just leave that stuff out in the open!
With the planning and measurements pretty well dialed in, it was then time to start cutting. Let me say here that Andrew is a master wood worker – literally. Next, let me say that having every tool known to mankind at my disposal definitely made this project much, much simpler. Nevertheless, we took our time and contemplated every design aspect. We even cut a piece of cardboard to create a template for the decking pieces so that we’d be sure to have it exactly right before laying a blade to any wood. In the end, everything fit perfectly around every major and minor contour of the bed.
The base units along the sides were my main concern when designing the system. I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about exactly what I’d use them for and how to best utilize the space. First, I’d like to keep my tow straps, extra oil, water jugs, windscreen wash and tools in them without them rolling around. Therefore, on one side we built boxes that can easily contain all those items. Next, I wanted enough room to put my fly rods, sleeping bags, camp table, camp chairs, stove, etc. Therefore, on the other side the box is open all the way through from tailgate to cab —with access from the back via a “trap door” in addition to the top lid. This idea was contrived from another link on the BajaTaco website so I can’t take complete credit.
The project was coming along nicely until about the time we got the initial side boxes built — then it started snowing, hard. Fortunately we were able to bring what we’d already done back inside the garage without much difficulty, a testament to the success of my requirement to keep it super simple to remove!
Next was to start covering the parts with the durable, yet stylish indoor/outdoor carpeting that I’d found at the Home Depot. However, what should have been a pretty simple task honestly turned into a messy nightmare. The industrial strength adhesive we used was just that…industrial strength. And given the adhesiveness of the glue and the amount of carpet fibers shed during the trimming process, our hands soon looked completely “furry”. That was by far the worst job ever. I’m still scraping off glue.
We unfortunately didn’t get completely finished with the project in one day, but we got pretty darn close. I have just a few pieces to cover in carpet, but that’s it. I’ll probably do that this week while I’m having the bed liner done.
Now, after all the fretting over design and the meticulous cutting and trimming, I have to admit it looks far better than I ever imagined it would. More importantly, instead of spending in excess of $1,000 on a pre-fabbed “custom” system, I have a totally customized one for only $150 for storage/sleeping system materials and about $400 for the bed liner. Plus I got to hang out for a full day and do a project with a friend which is always a bonus.
So the first field test of the new system will likely be in April when I head down to Taos, NM for a little high desert camping, climbing, mountain biking, campfire-ing, star gazing and photography. After that, I think Donna and I may head up to Saratoga, Wyoming for a couple of days of fly fishing on the North Platte River. I still love my tent but have to admit that the idea of sleeping under a warm, dry camper shell seems pretty darn luxurious — not that my North Face tent isn’t also very luxurious.
Today, I can say with all honesty that I’m a pretty happy camper.