Increasing the utility of our vehicles is what the sport of four-wheeling is all about. Adding larger tires, flexy suspension, lockers, and the like all help us get farther down the trail and away from the cellphone and email stressors of modern life. Retaining a little comfort is always nice and makes the time away from home more enjoyable and restful. Sure, many of us would love to have a half-million-dollar motorhome to drag our trail rigs to the trail head, but that’s just not a reality for most off-roaders.
Getting back to increasing utility and things that work and work well is what we do. Owning a 4x4 tow rig that sees duty as a parts getter and a mild off-roader is not something rare for a true wheeler. We have one, and know many who do. Why not improve the functionality and comfort of a vehicle we already own and use before taking out yet another loan on something we can’t afford? Sounds like a plan, and since the popularity of overlanding continues to grow, we thought we would take advantage of that side of the aftermarket to make your next wheeling trip a little more comfortable borrowing parts and ideas. With a little custom fab, a few cool parts, and novel ideas, we can help you turn your tow rig into a more comfortable and better-equipped base camp for any and all outdoor adventures.
Our idea started with a plan to make our 1998 Dodge 2500 4x4 tow rig more usable at trail rides and camping areas. To get an idea of what we should do, we started researching what others had done to make their overland rigs better, safer, and easier to use. Add in some cool parts from our friends at ARB and some aimed fabrication, and our tow rig’s utility grows by leaps and bounds.
We started by building these legs made of 1.75x0.120-wall DOM tubing that would connect the headache rack to the floor of the bed. The headache rack will protect the cab from items in the bed and will provide a little more rollover protection than just the factory cab structure. The feet of these legs, made of 1/4x2x2 angle iron, bolt to the bed just aft a large crossmember of the bed that is bolted to our truck’s frame.
The top rails of the bed will be plated using 1/8x3-inch plate steel bolted in place. Along the front of the bed we added some 1/8x2x2 angle iron that will be bolted to the bed and welded to the plate running along the top of the bedrails. The headache rack will be welded to this and strengthened with gussets as shown.
With the main structure of the bed rack tacked in place, we unbolted it, raised it, and finish-welded it together. The 1.5x0.120-wall DOM welded to the headache rack will allow a removable rack to bolt in place to hold the rooftop tent.
Once painted, Grade 8 hardware holds the headache rack in place on the Dodge’s bed. The seven 5/16-inch bolts along the front and each side make sure things stay in place. The removable tent rack is retained with six bolts, one on each runner and two per side foot plate.
With our new-to-us used truck bed box bolted in place, we took the truck out to the desert for some fun. There is still plenty of room in the bed for camping equipment, a fullsize spare for the truck, an extra spare for the trailer, coolers, firewood, water, whatever. Items that might grow legs and walk off, like tools, can be locked in the truck box.
The ARB Series III Simpson Rooftop Tent (ARB 3201, MSRP $1,569) is made of durable and heavy rip-stop material with cotton and polyester fabrics. The tent is easy to unfold and sets up with an extendable bow and a pullout veranda. It also comes with mounting hardware (to mount to a rack), a polyester rain fly, a sturdy ladder, props that help hold open the window vestibules, a comfy high-density chip-foam mattress, and more. It really is a home away from home.
The tent is spacious. There are closable peak vents for fresh air circulation even when the windows are closed. The windows and door all have insect screens as well as solid closures for those cold or rainy nights. All of the screens can also be zipped open for unimpeded airflow. Two adults fit in the tent with room to spare. On our truck the tent feels very stable and solid without any weird rocking motion or excessive give under weight.
Four internal bungee cords help the tent fold up. We have found that tucking in loose material around the edges helps keep the stowed tent looking tight.
Three heavy-duty straps of nylon webbing help secure a UV-stabilized and laminated PVC cover that zips around the lower perimeter of the folded tent. D-rings and Velcro ensure that the webbing is tight for transport and prevent fabric from flapping in the wind as you drive down the road.
Our 1998 Dodge truck doesn’t have a ton of miles on it, but it has been used over the past 18 years. We mainly use it to move parts and tow a trailer with a trail rig on it. It has had a few different hitches (including a gooseneck) and a few different bed toolboxes. Our buddy grabbed this large low bed box from an old work truck and gave it to us for free. It provides lockable storage for the truck. Our plan was to add a headache rack with a removable surface for a rooftop tent that would allow the toolbox and a lot of the bed to remain usable.
We designed the tent rack to be removable so we could take the tent off during the summer and use the full length of our 8-foot bed, but if you need to do some parts running just before a camping or wheeling trip (even taking several large-sized tires to the tire shop), there is plenty of space in the bed of the truck. We’ll take that as a win!