DENALI D7 Off-Road Lights First Impression Review|1986 Toyota 4Runner

1st Gen 4Runner Off Road Lights

These Lights Are Ridiculously Bright

We had the opportunity to test the DENALI D7 LED Auxiliary light set and spoiler alert, we were blown away by the performance. I (Zach) had heard from friends and coworkers that the D7 was a powerhouse and to watch out for blinding reflective street signs when rounding corners with the lights on. I was a bit skeptical initially, but my first impression of the DENALI D7 confirms all of it!

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Building a Roof Rack for a 1st Generation Toyota 4Runner

FULL DISCLOSURE: Rachael and I had about 0% to do with the construction of our 4Runner roof rack. Rachael’s dad Vic is the mastermind behind most things that are custom on our vehicles and he knocked this one out of the park. 

As we bought the truck, NWOR rack barely holding on
New custom roof rack supporting our tent in Alamogordo, NM

In the article below we will walk you through the planning and design and the building of the roof rack that we use on our 1st Generation 4-Runner. The 1st Generation 4Runner is an iconic SUV, mostly because of its classic style and removable hard-top camper.

The topper section is fiberglass and slides off to allow us to still use our 4Runner as a truck when needed. The fiberglass topper presents its own set of challenges as the topper is not designed to support a lot of weight. Horror stories circulate the inter webs and 1st generation owners groups about cracking toppers from adding roof racks and additional storage up high. For these reasons, we designed a roof rack that avoids contact with the fiberglass and relies on the strength of the bed rails for its support.

The Design

We sought to imitate the mechanics of a contractor ladder rack with uprights that are bolted to the bed rails. The design involves 3 uprights from each side, following the lines of the topper to maintain some of the character from the classic sliding windows that are so recognizable on our truck. We had some conditions for our rack that we wanted to make sure the design addressed:

  • No contact with the topper- While cruising down a dirt road in Baja, the last thing we want to worry about is a fiberglass failure causing a leak or structural deterioration. The design needed to wrap around the topper in an upside down “U” shape with the only contact being the bed rail mounts. 
  • Strength- The rack had to be stable enough to hold our gear kinetically: roof top tent (100 lbs) and our rooftop gear box (50lbs). The rack also had to hold the weight of Rachael and I statically in the tent at night. 
  • Retain stock functionality- We wanted to still be able to remove the topper and retain our rack and still be able to access all of the stock functions of the topper such as the side windows, rear window, etc.

The Build

Vic set off with the idea in his head as we watched patiently, trying to remain helpful by holding metal or grinding cuts. Vic came up with the idea to retain the use of the middle section of the rack that was on the truck when we bought it. The rack was made by Northwest Off Road (NWOR) and although the gristly man that answered their customer service calls was really convincing when he said “It can hold tons of weight,…roof top tent no problem!” I doubted the structural integrity of rubber grommets inside 20-year old nutserts. The middle “H” section was completely stable and rather robust and made for a cheap and easy way to tie the two uprights together.

“H” Section remaining from the NWOR rack

The uprights were made in three sections: bases, posts, and tops. The tops were simple square tubing sections that provided a flat area for the H section to attach to.

The bases and posts were quite complex. The bases started as flat stock that was cut into skinnier sections then welded together at an offset to account for the ridge of the bed rails. Once those were cut and welded, the posts could be measured and tacked on to test fit the angles. Once the angles were confirmed, all of the pieces were tacked together to ensure fitment and function.

Everything looked good, so Vic went to work on welding the structures together for each side. After he was finished, Rachael and I made ourselves useful by grinding the welds and prepping for paint. After a coat of flat black, the rack looks like it was made by Toyota. 

Once painted, the uprights were slid under the topper and secured to the bed rails using the existing hardware. We made sure to drill a hole for the stock “pin” that sticks up from the bed rails and gives the topper a place to sit. The NWOR H section was bolted to the new uprights using some hardware laying around the shop and everything fit really well. We bolted the tent on and secured our roof top box for a winter full of adventure.

The Finished Product

The result is a fully functional and visually appealing rack that has served us well thus far down the road. It has endured rough roads, rock crawling and crazy winds and it still holds together and does its job. Due to the required flat bar needed for the topper to sit flush on the bed rails, the rack “racks” a little side to side. We have remedied this by installing pipe insulation on all 4-corners and it seems to have mitigated the tippiness quite a bit.We will likely add more pipe insulation to 2 other posts to further protect the top. 

An area that we might improve on later is adding some expanded metal to the area in front of our tent so we can stack firewood, camp chairs, or whatever else comes up. Other than that, we plan to really enjoy the functionality of a usable roof on our 1st Generation 4Runner. 

As always, thank you for reading along on our travels and adventures. Hopefully you were entertained, enlightened, or otherwise felt like the last few minutes reading this post was a worthwhile investment of your time. If you enjoyed our content, there are a few ways that you can help promote what we do and keep us on the road a little longer:

  • Follow us on social media platforms likeYouTubeFacebook, and Instagram. The more viewers, subscribers, likes and comments, the better our pages rank. 
  • Share this article or our website with others that you think might enjoy it. 

First Impressions of Full-Time Living in a Roof Top Tent

The nomadic lifestyle is so glamorous! Cruise Instagram for long enough and your feed will be flooded with mint condition $50,000 Land Rovers with $5000 tents on top and a half-naked woman seductively watching the sunset over a beautifully pristine landscape. Although there are some positive aspects of sleeping on the roof of your truck, if you travel full-time, a roof-top tent is likely not where you want to sleep more than a couple of weeks each year. We began living in our roof-top tent full time in December and these are our impressions early on.

Some Assembly Required

Most roof-top tent (RTT) manufacturers and YouTube reviews tout the simplicity and speed with which a standard RTT can be erected. While the construction is simple in design, setup can take 5-10 minutes depending on conditions. If it is cold, the tent cover and zipper can be much more difficult to open and take a considerable amount of time. If the wind is high, you will likely want to guy line your tent to keep the rain cover from flopping around in the breeze all night. If it is raining, it might not take any longer, but you will be wet and mad when you finally get inside. On the contrary, compared to most inexpensive ground tents, setting up a roof-top tent is very easy in most conditions.

86 4runner roof top tent
Windows down and closed to minimize setup time and exposure in near freezing temps

Some folks simply avoid popping up the windows and doors and minimize the time required to setup, but aren’t all of those breezy doors and windows why you wanted to camp on top of the truck in the first place? Also, most suggest a more expensive pop-up or clamshell style tent such as the James Baroud to minimize the amount of time involved in setup. But for the $4500 cost, you are halfway to a used hard-sided camper with a sink and a heater.

Roof Top Tents are Cool

 Everyone knows it, that’s why we buy RTT’s. Having your camping shelter attached to your vehicle not only saves on interior storage room, but looks really cool. Although we think vehicle based travel and “overlanding” should be about the journey, most travelers will tell you that it’s still really nice to drive a cool rig. What’s cooler than driving to a remote campsite and simply flipping open your tent and climbing in. It’s not always that simple (see above), but it is a really cool concept.

Want to see which RTT we chose to live out of full-time? Check out our video review here!

Fair-Weather Domicile

This point is fairly biased as we have only camped in our RTT between the months of November and January in the Southern US and Mexico, but if you encounter cold temperatures in your roof-top tent, prepare to be cold. You are not only cold in the tent, you are cold when you go to the bathroom, when you wake up in the morning, and you are cold when you cook your food. We are working on installing a separate annex room the attaches to the underside of our tent to block out some of the cold and wind, but so far we have absolutely frozen in our tent. 

Sleeping has been moderately comfortable as we carry our backpacking sleeping bags and several blankets. However, there is no cuddling in the RTT unless you have a 2-person sleeping bag. 

Rain slows us down, but our RTT keeps us dry inside

Rain is a tricky enemy of the roof-top tent and we have had approximately 20 nights of precipitation in the tent and it makes everything more difficult. Humid air creates condensation at an alarming rate in a RTT and even with windows and vents open, water on the walls is inevitable. Pack a towel and dry it daily as you will need it to wipe down the moisture inside your tent. Alternatively, after a rain, the outside of your tent is wet as well. A decision has to be made to stay put and wait for the tent to dry out or pack up a wet tent and open it as soon as possible to avoid mold and water damage. 
Snow is as likely as rain in the Western United States and snow will make closing your tent a challenge. We have found that carrying a window scraper with a brush (the telescoping kind made for truck drivers) and sweeping off as much snow as possible before trying to pack up makes a huge difference. Still, there will be residual snow that melts and causes the same paranoia as rain. 

Camp Setup and Selection is a Chore

This point is comparative, maybe unfairly to our time traveling in our school bus conversion, but setting up and tearing down a campsite is a pain. In a hard sided camper like our bus or a pop-up bed camper, you pull into a spot (sometimes in a sketchy location), block out the windows and you are in your kitchen, bedroom, and living room. With the RTT, Rachael and I both have our assignments when we arrive at a spot including setting up the tent, digging food out of the back, setting up chairs, making dinner, climbing into the tent to cook dinner, climbing out to do dishes, brush our teeth, and pee, and climbing in a final time to sleep. 

Selecting a campsite for a roof-top tent is much trickier than a hard sided vehicle or camper. In a hard-sided vehicle your site needs to be slightly level and only marginally incognito. With a roof top tent you must consider a level spot for your ladder, wind direction and speed, and probability of drawing attention to yourself. Also keep in mind that most urban camping areas (Wal-Mart Parking Lots anyone?) are not RTT friendly. We have seen some folks pop their tent in the parking lot, but it seems to be considered bad form in most areas. 

The Views are Fantastic 

Waking up with snow on the ground near Alamogordo, NM

The feeling and sight of being in a tent and off of the ground is a lot of fun. The feeling is similar to camping out in a treehouse as a kid. The views are great as you are approximately 6-8 feet higher than the area around you which makes for a great perspective in most campsites. While camping on the Pacific Coast of Baja we were treated to some great starry nights that were enhanced that much more by being able to law down in our tent with the doors and windows open and watch the stars shoot across the sky with the waves crashing below. It can be simply sublime.

Overall Impressions

After traveling across the US for Overland Expo EAST and driving from Oklahoma to Baja California, Mexico we are convinced that the Roof Top Tent is a practical, fun, and affordable way to travel. When you consider the relative ease of setup compared to a ground tent and the extreme difference in comfort compared to a ground tent, a roof top tent makes a lot of sense for a lot of people. 

We will likely be continuing our search for ways to integrate a hard sided pop up style camper such as a Four Wheel Camper into our 4Runner only because we spend a lot of time in our truck. If we were planning on traveling on vacation a couple of weeks per year and being a weekend warrior the rest of the time, a Roof Top Tent is PERFECT! For full time travel we really miss the warmth, comfort, and convenience of a fixed living space. 

Until that day comes, we will continue to enjoy the freedom, coolness, and simplicity of traveling with our roof top tent!

Baja Bound-Crossing A Turbulent Border into Mellow Mexico

If you are on social media or routinely turn on your TV, you have seen the news stories of crisis at the border between Mexico and the United States with armed military on one side and a mob of angry Mexicans on the other side hell-bent on crossing the border and ruining the American economy. For a lot of folks on the border and for us, this simply wasn’t the case when we crossed in the first week of January 2019. 

We crossed into Mexico at the Tecate border crossing mid-morning on a Saturday. The border area was small and only two lanes of traffic were open to incoming traffic. We were waived over, our rig was looked over and we were given permission to pass into Mexico. We parked our truck on the street near the town square and walked back to the border to complete paperwork for legal entry for the 4-months that we planned to be in Mexico. 

In the immigration office was a Mexican border agent that requested our FMM (tourist visa), FMM receipt showing payment, and our passports. Then it hit me, I neglected to print the Visa. I printed the receipt and never went back to my e-mail to print the actual Visa that I needed to stay in Mexico for the rest of the Winter. I explained that I didn’t have the Visa and he instructed us to walk back into town to the nearby copy shop, print the Visa, and bring it back to be stamped. So we did. The copy shop was right where he said it would be, the shopkeep was friendly and helpful, and the border agent stamped our Visa and Passport quickly and efficiently. Easy as pie! 

This would have been a perfect opportunity for the “ruthless savages” of Mexico as described on Fox News to take advantage of the gringos that aren’t familiar with the process, don’t speak much Spanish, and are clearly vulnerable. But that wasn’t what happened. Everyone was extremely helpful, gracious, and friendly.

Two Happy Americans After a Smooth Border Crossing into Mexico

Once we crossed into Tecate we pointed our rig West and headed for the coast, Ensenada specifically. We are housesitting at a home in the mountains of Baja Norte and we planned to meet the owners of the home in Ensenada the next day for Tacos de Pescador and instructions on the house. We explored a bit and found a sweet camping spot near the beach with excellent views of the city and the ocean.

The campsite at La Jolla Beach Camp was a little expensive, but it seemed to be the only beachside camping in Ensenada and it gave us a secure place to hunker down for the night. There were hot showers, bathrooms, and trash service.

We met with the home owners the next day, loaded up on as many groceries as we could fit in our 4Runner and drove South. Driving in Mexico is interesting as speed limits aren’t real. They are posted, but no one follows them. Most locals pull over and drive on the shoulder if you are traveling faster than they are. It takes some getting used to, but we feel like we have it down pretty well. 

We arrived at a campsite near our turn off for the house and drove the 15KM road down to the beach for a beautiful sunset and great shrimp tacos. Our first few days in Baja are turning out to be okay after all.

The next morning we drove the 70KM’s to the driveway and another 6KM up the drive way to get to the house. From when we turned off on the “driveway” to when we pulled in the gate at the house it took nearly 45 minutes. The road is gnarly and super vulnerable to the weather and nature. We are definitely looking forward to more trips down this thing in a couple of weeks.

Off grid Mexico estate
House Sitting Home for the Winter

We are so excited about this stage in our adventures and we hope you will follow along as we learn as much as we can about off-grid living, remote ranch living, and Baja in general. As always, thank you for reading along on our travels and adventures. Hopefully you were entertained, enlightened, or otherwise felt like the last few minutes reading this post was a worthwhile investment of your time. If you enjoyed our content, there are a few ways that you can help promote what we do and keep us on the road a little longer:

  • Follow us on social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. The more viewers, subscribers, likes and comments, the better our pages rank. 
  • Share this article or our website with others that you think might enjoy it. 

We are Quitting Buslife!

We are quitting #buslife and parking the bus! Our Skoolie has provided us thousands of miles of adventure and exploration through some of the coolest parts of the Western US. If you haven’t seen our bus, you can catch up by checking out our Bus Build Page!

Okienomad’s Skoolie Bus Build

Our Skoolie will stay around and will eventually tow our new adventure rig to future destinations. Until then we will be traveling in a new-to-us 1986 Toyota 4Runner! The 4×4 will allow us to see more of the backroads and off-road trails that the world has to offer. We loved traveling in the bus, but having a small, nimble, and capable truck will allow us flexibility to travel farther. Without delay, here is the new truck!

The ’86 will obviously need some work before we take off on the road again! Plans include a new paint job, new bumpers, suspension refresh, rear platform build out, and a roof top tent. The goal behind this build is to have a capable, reliable, and rugged off-road machine to explore deep into the wilderness.

Here are some of the ways you can follow along with our build:

We have worked tirelessly on the truck to make it as reliable, capable, and fun as we could on a limited budget. The result is a great truck to get us into the wilds of Baja. 

’86 4Runner South of Ensenada

Rachael and I will be spending the Winter in Baja housesitting at an off-grid ranch. We have always really enjoyed this lifestyle and hope to learn more about how we wish to setup our future off-grid home. We will be shifting a lot of our content to off-grid living topics like solar power, aspects of ranch life, and the realities of living in remote areas. We hope you enjoy the new content and we look forward to sharing the next leg of our adventures.

As always, thank you for reading along on our travels and adventures. Hopefully you were entertained, enlightened, or otherwise felt like the last few minutes reading this post was a worthwhile investment of your time. If you enjoyed our content, there are a few ways that you can help promote what we do and keep us on the road a little longer:

  • Follow us on social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. The more viewers, subscribers, likes and comments, the better our pages rank. 
  • Share this article or our website with others that you think might enjoy it. 

1st Generation 4Runner Suspension Replacement│Old Man Emu Dakar (MED)│Bilstein 4600

The suspension on our ’86 was tired, rusted, and inappropriate for the type of travel that we enjoy. The previous setup was an old heavy leaf pack, a 4-inch lift block, and really worn out shocks. The shocks were so rusted that you couldn’t tell if they were Old Man Emu’s or Monroe AutoZone specials. The leafs were flat and miserable to drive. We are planning to have quite a bit of weight in the rear cargo area of the 4Runner, the new springs should really make a difference with a full load.


The simplicity of these old trucks makes for a really easy suspension replacement. The front torsion bars are still in good shape and have already been cranked to compensate for the rear lift. The lift height on the rear should end up really similar to the previous height only the new setup will be much more comfortable and will work much better off-road.

I got to work pulling the front shocks and getting the new Bilstein 4600’s swapped in. This process was very straight forward and went off without a hitch. Remove the bottom shock mounting bolt and the top bolt and the shock slides right out. I am confident that you could still pull the shocks from the front of this truck with the wheels on the ground.

The new shocks are in up front and the temporary wheels are thrown on for the time being. Once we get a chance, we will switch all of the 31″ tires to the black wheels. Until then, they will be mismatched.

A little word on the shocks that we chose for this build. I have run Bilstein shocks on all of my previous builds for good reason. They are well made shocks with impressive support. The shocks offer a slightly stiffer ride over stock with much better rebound over rough terrain and they have a lifetime warranty.

The rears were a little bit more involved, since we are replacing the rear leaf springs and shocks. It is still overly simple, but the bolts are a little rusted and the suspension has been extremely mistreated. We soaked the bolts for a few days leading up in penetrating oil to try and loosen them up. I suggest having access to an impact or at least a breaker bar.

I don’t know what the previous owner had in mind with the yellow brake drums, but they had to go quickly. I used flat black paint to protect most everything under the wheel wells from further rust and deterioration. Getting the old shocks off was a breeze and removing the springs from the rear shackles was painful. Literally, blood was drawn while trying to get the springs out of the seized bushings. A big hammer and some patience and the rear suspension was in pieces.

The shackles were almost impossible to get off without dropping the rear tire. I went to drop the tire and found the bumper installed by the previous owner hindering my access to the spare.

We got to work pulling the bumper and setting it aside for our swing-out bumper project. Once the bumper was out of the way, the spare came down with ease, hopefully to never be hung in that spot again.

The new suspension went in without much issue and looks so much better already. The spring angle is 100% better and the 4600 shocks are perfect for the mild OME lift with one small issue. The OME lift is advertised as a 2″ lift. It is more like a 3-4″ lift and as of right now (empty truck, no topper) the shocks are the limiting factor on the rear. This is not ideal and we are going to keep an eye on this moving forward.

There is a reason that when you speak to Toyota gear heads that they all recommend Old Man Emu/ARB for suspension components on these rigs. They are proven, reliable, and tough. Short of installing a custom spring combination, this setup is hard to beat. We will see how these springs hold up on the road, washboard forest service tracks, and off-road trails.

New shocks all around and new springs in the rear make for a really good ride height and hopefully a really solid setup to build on. The beauty of this setup is that if the rear proves to be lacking, it’s easy to add an Add A Leaf (AAL) to the rear pack. We will report back with real-life results from our time on the road and update our impressions of this setup once we have had a chance to use it a bit.

One way to stay up to date with our adventures is to follow us on social media. We share photos, videos, and travel updates about where we are going and what we are doing.

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As we always strive for transparency when displaying aspects of our nomadic lifestyle you should know that all of the links included in this article are affiliate links through For every purchase that you make from one of these links, we receive a small amount and you don’t pay any extra. These links are one way that stay on the road longer, so thank you for your support of our adventures!


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