1. home
  2. news
  3. features
  4. Can you overland in a Nissan Xterra?

Can you overland in a Nissan Xterra?

Paul Cameron’s 2015 Nissan Xterra Pro-4X can pull a Smittybilt trailer into the backcountry and keep going.

Paul Cameron bought a 2015 Nissan Xterra Pro-4X for overlanding and to haul his Smittybilt Scout trailer, and his story answers the question of whether you can overland with an Xterra with a resounding 'yes!'

Why Outfit a 2015 Nissan Xterra Pro-4X for Overland Travel?

"I didn't want to be part of the herd," Cameron says. "I wanted to prove other cars could do these sorts of things." These things, to Paul, mean getting way out into the expansive New Mexico backcountry with his 2015 Nissan Xterra Pro-4X. But that's not the beginning of his off-road journey.

"I was with Land Rover for 15 years, and I was the Service Advisor at the company's store in Austin, Texas," Cameron says. In addition to his Service Advisor duties at Land Rover, he worked on the company's "wheels events," where he spent time on a 3,500-acre ranch designing, cutting, and maintaining trails for Land Rover owners to experience their vehicles. "We laid the trails, cut back the brush to where we wouldn't scratch up the paint, and we'd even camp out at the event while getting everything set up," he adds. The quarterly events connected Land Rover owners with the capabilities of their vehicles, and Paul's "unstoppable" '97 Discovery was well-equipped and demonstrated its competence off-road with a pair of pneumatic lockers, a 3-inch lift, and 30-inch tires. "Another way to pronounce Land Rover," as Paul told us, "is finesse. You don't need to bull anything through a trail; you let the truck do its thing and it'll get you through it."

Transition to the Nissan Platform

So, how did the Land Rover enthusiast make the transition to a 2015 Nissan Xterra Pro-4X? Moving from Texas to New Mexico helped the decision-making process, in part, because his hometown's out-of-the-way mountainside locale wasn't close to any Land Rover dealerships. Paul was also drawn to the similarities between the Xterra and the Series 1 Discovery when viewed in profile, namely that the back seat area is a bit higher than the front. He decided to outfit the Xterra in a comparable manner to his Disco—just not as extreme. "I had no intentions of getting into that kind of terrain at my age, so I built the Xterra to go on forest roads and cross streams without making me worry," he says. This included adding bumpers and armor to the Xterra, upgrading the suspension just enough to smooth out the bumps in the trail, and maintaining the same tire size as he had on his Discovery.

Overland Trailer

When it came to sleeping arrangements while on the trail, Paul used to haul a teardrop trailer behind the 2015 Nissan Xterra. "I loved it, and the trailer did everything I wanted it to do. It was a base model, no pretty wood kitchen, and very simple. However, I went on an off-road trip once, and the washboards on the trail darn near beat it to death." This prompted a bout of research that led him down the mountain and into El Paso, Texas, to pick up his Smittybilt Scout trailer. Paul loaded and organized the trailer to suit the needs of his adventures and added a C U Off Road coupler to make sure the trailer could follow him through even his most twisted trails. We met Paul during Overland Adventure 2019 and got the full walkaround of his overlanding setup. Read further for how he outfitted his 2015 Nissan Xterra Pro-4X for off-road adventure.

Recovery Gear for Overland Adventure

Paul's recovery shovel and Hi-Lift jack stay attached to the roof of the Xterra, and aside from those, the roof doesn't get much use—at least until Paul pursues his roof-mounted solar panel dreams.

Tires and Wheels

Paul's 2015 Nissan Xterra Pro-4X relies on 265/75/R16 Dick Cepek Fun Country tires and the factory aluminum wheels for contact with the trails. His normal tire pressure is 35 psi, but when the pavement turns to dirt, he runs as low as 18 psi without any worry of tire damage.

Overland Armor

Rock sliders from SkrockWorks keep the Xterra's sheetmetal protected from bumps and scrapes while exploring.

Paul's plans for the 2015 Nissan Xterra Pro-4X didn't involve much rockcrawling; however, if any wayward geology did contact his rig's underbelly, he wanted to be prepared, and as he described it, "I decided to protect the entire underside." His skidplates are all from ShrockWorks, and they cover everything from the radiator to the gas tank in the rear. They're also made from 3/16-inch steel. "Unless I'm insanely stupid, I won't hurt the truck," is how confident Paul is in the armor.

Bumper

Paul knew he needed a bumper to serve as a solid mounting point for his Smittybilt 9,000-pound winch and keep it out of sight, and ShrockWorks had the solution. His bumper is 3/16-inch steel, which increases the approach angle of the Xterra and interfaces cleanly with his radiator skidplate. The bumper had space for him to retain the factory foglights and a mounting surface for the CB antenna, as well as the 20-inch LED lightbar.

Engine

The 2015 Nissan Xterra Pro-4X's VQ40DE has been left alone, aside from routine maintenance, and it has never hesitated during its mountain-traversing duties. Paul frequently engine brakes with the V-6 as he descends long grades with and without his trailer, where regardless of the payload, the Xterra hovers right around the speed limit. When towing the trailer on flat ground, he achieves fuel economy of roughly 15 mpg. The Optima battery has also been enough to keep his SnoMaster fridge powered while exploring and running down into town for grocery restocking.

Suspension

Paul's goal with the 2015 Nissan Xterra's suspension was to tame the bumps but not lift the vehicle high enough to require replacing the A-arms. He decided on upgraded Bilstein struts set to 1.5 inches of lift in the front and 440-pound overload Old Man Emu leaf springs in the back, which also produce 1.5 inches of lift. This gave him the confidence to carry speed through rougher trails while hauling a full payload of adventure gear.

Interior

Although the Nissan Xterra's cabin still enjoys its factory appointments, Paul has added mounts for his CB and GMRS radios, as well as an iPad and a Garmin inReach. The inReach is paired with the iPad and affords Paul GPS reception as long as he has a view of the sky. He also makes use of unlimited pre-programmed messages to the civilized world for status updates as he's exploring the backcountry.

Smittybilt Scout Overland Trailer

With a load capacity of over 1,700 pounds, the Smittybilt Scout trailer has more than enough space for Paul's overlanding gear, and the trailer's independent suspension makes sure everything remains stable over the trails. Between the Xterra and the trailer sits an 18-inch extended hitch and the C U Off Road articulating coupler. Paul tells us the coupler "basically gives unlimited articulation and doesn't rattle or pop like a pintle hitch." He also told a story of an unfortunate encounter with a pothole while on the trail where the coupler setup and his suspension both endured a rather harsh G-out. "If the coupler and the Bilstein shocks can survive that hole hit, they can survive anything!"

Slide-out compartments give easy access to Paul's Canyon Cooler and other storage containers, as well as his mobile kitchen gear, Goal Zero 400-watt battery pack, and more. Staying clean in the backcountry is no sweat with the Road Shower and its 7-gallon capacity of pressurized water.

"One of the things big explorers preach is having an inventory of everything you have onboard, including where it's located. This is especially important for traveling across international borders—I can clearly show anyone what I have and where it's stored without even opening a drawer," Paul says about his system of dry-erase boards mounted to the back door of his trailer.

Paul's future plans for the Xterra include outfitting the vehicle so it can operate independent of the trailer on trips where he does not need a basecamp. His goal is to rebuild the cargo area with more tiedowns, a sliding drawer system, MOLLE organizers, and a more accessible placement of his electric fridge. If the expedition includes switchbacks where the trailer is no longer feasible, he'll opt for his ground tent and cull the packing list to fit inside the Xterra.

More Videos