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  • Writer's pictureMax S

Building an overland vehicle on a budget

Updated: Jun 2, 2023


San Felipe - Baja California

So you want to start getting a truck or van ready for relative comfort for the weekends off in nature or maybe even long term travelling. You search up "Van builds" or "Overland build" on YouTube and you're hit with a plethora of people either stripping a van or 4x4 down and filling it with $100k worth of gear. Not to mention the $100k+ cost of the vehicle beforehand. And there's nothing wrong with that! If you can afford it. But I definitely couldn't. I bought the Land Cruiser for under $12k USD, and I definitely couldn't warrant things like ARB air compressors, WARN winches, or an AluCab roof cutout and pop-top. Not to mention at this point driving the Pan-American was a pipe dream.


I knew one thing though, I didn't want to leave Vancouver Island. So I made it a goal to leave the military, I found a job in Airborne Maritime Surveillance off the coast and long story short got it. Then began a long tumultuous battle to release from the military, wherein the contract I had signed seemed to have an error. I was allowed to leave, but I shouldn't have been. After a nerve wracking few months I was finally out. I got the job and being in a flying position meant long days but few days per week, usually 3-4. So I started doing longer trips and going further into the bush. Looking for little streams to fly fish or the most remote backcountry hiking or camping spots. I ended up with a roof basket, then like most 4x4 owners I realized airing down was my best friend so I picked up an air compressor. My tool box was building slowly as I encountered more issues and regular maintenance with an old truck, like blowing out wheel bearings and U-joints, and I was starting to feel comfortable working on the vehicle.


Eventually the new job, though fun, was starting to have an effect on me. Running sensors in a patrol aircraft is a double edged sword. On one hand, since it's a niche profession, if a job opens up, you'll likely be one of very few candidates. On the other hand, since it's a niche profession, you're unlikely to find any jobs opening up. Plus, I was saving up for my first piece of property and I wanted some real progression. The furthest you can go really with running sensors is to become an instructor. Being 21 at the time meant I could maybe see an all-time 20% raise over my career. We were short on our crews and the annual raise that last year didn't cover inflation.


The drawers with fridge and table setup

Suddenly it hit me. I had enough. Enough of the job but also enough money, what I had saved up as a down payment for a condo should last me a year on the road I thought to myself. I started crunching numbers and sure enough it seemed doable. I decided to start planning the trip. I went on a road trip around BC with my partner at the time, and bought a Chinese knockoff aluminum clamshell roof tent. Man the first time you camp in a roof tent you realize what luxury camping is. I installed a Racor

diesel pre-filter with a clear bowl to my fuel filter

(which would later save the truck in

Mexico) and searched up some ideas for drawers online. I didn't

Installing the solar panel

really have any experience wood working but drew up a blueprint, went to Home Depot and got to work. The drawers turned out way better than expected considering I only used a jigsaw to cut the wood. Next after doing a lot of research I ordered an Iceco VL45 Pro fridge/freezer, and built a fridge slide with a drawer for cutlery. The solar setup was as simple as it gets, a flexible Renogy 100w panel silicone taped to the roof of the tent with the wiring running down the a pillar, under the hood and through the firewall to the back of the truck. I also bought a fold out 100w Renogy panel. The solar panels initially ran to a Jackery 500w, but I quickly realized it was nowhere near enough battery and upgraded to a 1500w. I removed the back right passenger seat and screwed a wooden platform into the drawer system. Instead of building drawers or cabinets for my clothes I got a plastic drawer system from Canadian Tire and drilled 2 d rings into the wooden platform, the ratchet strapped everything down.


I bought a front runner ladder for the back door that quickly wrecked the hinges, so It became a storage rack instead. I used MonkeyFists to hold a shovel and axe to the side and got a 5lb propane tank with a propane Canvas bag to strap it to the back ladder. I also picked up an ALL-TOP spare tire bag, this holds the garbage and anything else I don't want in the truck, rags, funnels, etc. And finally some traction boards I just ratchet strapped to the tents roof rails. For a stove I got a simple knockoff 2 burner propane stove and that was pretty much it, all in I spent about $3500 more on everything, maybe a little more. But in the grand scheme, and especially now after 7 months on the road, I can honestly tell you a sub $16k USD build is pretty much as budget as it gets. There are the guys like KombiLife on YouTube and the guy in the jeep from the Road Chose Me who have done this trip in a cheaper vehicle however. So don't be discouraged. For me the choice was either buy nice things or do the trip, not both.



I'm going to do a separate post on the build itself, and how it has changed over the last half year, and how it continues to change. Because from the photos on this site you may have noticed the truck has picked up a steel front and rear bumper. But this was how it started, I deemed this was good enough to live in, and the rest is history.


Looking for gear? This is what I'm using:


VIAIR 400p air Compressor: https://amzn.to/42qapIu

ALL-TOP Spare Tire Bag: https://amzn.to/3C7MUcH

Traction Boards: https://amzn.to/3IW3gca


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