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Nissan’s Destination Frontier Is Your Budget Overlander— Overland Under Budget

Overland and under budget

We saw the Nissan Destination Frontier at Overland Expo West in Flagstaff, Arizona, and needed to get a closer look at the company's budget overlander. Instead of simply walking around the impressive rig parked at Nissan's booth, we decided to take it on a whirlwind three-day backcountry trip of our own and see how the automaker did at outfitting its midsize truck for off-grid exploration.

Testing the Budget Overlander

Nissan's goal in building the Destination Frontier was to begin with a budget of $40,000, put roughly $30,000 of that toward an SV Midnight Edition 4x4 crew cab Frontier, and with the remaining funds, deck out the rig with appropriate accessories to make it fit for backcountry travel. In short, building an overland vehicle doesn't have to put you in the poorhouse. Here's a tease: Nissan did a great job; however, we think we could do it cheaper—and with more trail capability.

We loaded the Dometic CFX 50W with a few days of food and drink, filled the auxiliary tanks with fuel, strapped down our Trance 29er from Giant Bicycles, and started driving. We'll hit you with our first tip for cruising the backcountry on a budget: We planned our route using a gazetteer (read: collection of paper topographical maps in book form with on- and off-highway routes, geographical features, and more). Yes, there are GPS units, mobile apps, and other gadgetry available for navigation and route planning, but our gazetteer never loses reception or battery power. We left the pavement in our rearview mirror around St. George, Utah, late at night, Baja Designs LP6 lights blazing.
As soon as the sun lit the red cliffs of southwestern Utah, we unpacked the mountain bike for some early morning singletrack riding before continuing our journey.
Dropping the air pressure in the 285/70R17 Nitto Trail Grapplers made sure the next few hundred miles of dirt would be much softer.
We traversed the higher elevations, giving us views into Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and the small peaks in the distance.
Trails wound through twisted canyons, climbed up the sides of steep cliffs, and then dropped back down into narrow drainages again, eventually funneling us toward Lake Powell, where we made camp in the waning daylight.
With a few more people, we'd enjoy a side-by-side competition of what can be pitched faster—the CVT Mt. Shasta rooftop tent, or a common backpacking-style ground tent.
As the stars flickered in the velvet sky above, it was time to enjoy an evening reveling in the silence and solitude.
Before sunup, we had breakfast sizzling on the tailgate and more miles of dirt in the plans.
We hauled between the walls of more canyons painted in ochre hues and garnished with crumbled talus, traversed more highcountry plains, and followed a dry river drainage back to pavement, where our dirt journey came to a close.

Exploring the Backcountry in Comfort

Before digging into the Destination Frontier, let it be known that the journey in this truck was made exponentially more pleasurable by the Frontier's sofa-plush seats. This line of work tends to put our posteriors in an array of driver seats, some with massage functions, others clad in cowhide and embroidered with fine thread, and many capable of freezing or steaming our cheeks at the touch of a button. The seats in the Frontier immediately took the crown (or throne).

With the payload of gear, larger tires, and the rooftop tent plowing the air like the blade of a motor grader, we were thrilled with the average fuel consumption of 14 miles per gallon, highway and trail combined. We'd be safe estimating the 21.1-gallon gas tank would get us about 300 miles of dirt before even needing to touch our auxiliary rack-mounted fuel tanks.

Nisstec's coilovers, upper control arms, rear leaf springs, and rear Bilstein shocks were specifically selected to handle the weight on the truck, and we made sure to give 'em a little push, just to see how they handled exuberant off-road travel. Combined with aired-down tires, the suspension was free of bottom-outs while traveling at 15 to 30 mph. When more shock travel was necessary, the movement of the front and rear was predictable without any unexpected bounces. This truck certainly was not built for high-speed whoop whomping, but the majority of higher-velocity encounters with bumps was nothing short of satisfying.

How We Would Build on a Budget

While Nissan did a darn good job outfitting the Destination Frontier for backcountry travel, we think that by rearranging the buildsheet in a few places we could wring a bit more off-road capability out of the platform and save a few more dollars. Here's the plan:

Lights
For an estimated $56, we could walk out of Harbor Freight with a pair of 3-inch LED cubes and a 22-inch LED lightbar, which would shave $400 from the truck's off-road lighting budget while still delivering reliable lumens.

Winch
We'd also snatch a Badland winch with 12,000 pounds of pulling power for one quarter of the cost of the Frontier's current winch, saving us an estimated $1,200 and gaining some pulling power.

Refrigeration
We are quite familiar with the benefits of electric cooling power while on the trail; however, if it means shaving about $700 from our "keep the cold stuff cold" budget, we'd choose a Canyon cooler with 45 quarts of interior capacity and spend a few dollars on ice.

Sleep
Leaning into the budget-minded challenge could also mean letting go of the rooftop tent and trading it for one of our favorite methods of sleeping in camp not involving spinal columns touching the cold ground—a hammock. ENO sells everything needed to suspend a sleeping parachute between the Frontier and another stationary object for around $50, trimming about $1,800 from our slumber budget.

The Truck
If you're really building on a budget, it will be easy to justify saving over $3,000 on your build by choosing the Crew Cab S model instead of the Crew Cab Midnight Edition. The Midnight Edition gives you additional badging and blacked-out wheels and grille; but since none of those items really pull their weight in the backcountry, they won't be missed on our budget build.

Traction, Recovery, and More
If our math skills hold up, the above changes would save us about $7,000. Spending a fraction of those savings on a rear locker would greatly increase the capability of the rig in low-grip conditions. For another negligible sum, we would also add skidplates and rocksliders to keep our bodywork and underpinnings intact. With the leftover cash, turning the receiver hitch into a recovery point would make a self-recovery, or the kinetic recovery of a trail partner, much easier.

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