Trans-America Trail in a 2020 Toyota Tacoma
Mountain State Overland Toyota Tacoma with Camper Takes on the Trans-America Trail
Adventurous spirits like to push boundaries. We were the kids jumping off the arm rest of the sofa at 2 ½ years old or sliding down the stairs in our sleeping bags mimicking the thrill of a roller coaster at age 10. We are the ones who started camping at a young age with Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts and, as we got older, still like to push boundaries—this time getting out further to explore the world around us. Exploring the East Coast brought us the opportunity to meet Jason Specht. He traveled to Overland Challenge in Uwharrie, North Carolina, with his son in their 2020 Toyota Tacoma with one of the first stateside Alu-Cab Canopy Campers.
A Quality Camper Build
We spent some time enjoying Specht’s delicious grilled pineapple while learning more about his thoughtfully built truck. A nice blend of function and form, the Canopy Camper allows him to have just about anything needed at arm’s reach. Impressed by the camper build, and the ability of his son to sleep through our evening banter, we knew we wanted to highlight this truck in the near future.
Little did we know at first meeting that Specht was part of a popular YouTube channel, Mountain State Overland. We had heard of Mountain State Overland from Instagram when he mentioned the name, but we had never watched an episode of their channel, 9 years in the making. And boy were we missing out! We have been binging episodes ever since its discovery. The guys give us a glimpse of overlanding life on the east coast, and have a lot of fun doing it.
Modifying the necessary and springing for some luxury while not overdoing it, this 2020 Tacoma proves a simple vehicle build with the perfectly curated components is worth its weight in gold. For Specht, 8 years of overlanding experience brought both efficiency and heaps of fun.
Adventurous Spirits Never Die
This former Boy Scout was lucky enough to get camping experience at a young age. Even throughout high school, Specht took trips on the weekends to car camp and fish with friends. As he put it, “That’s just what we did on weekends.”
“Once a camera joined to document their journeys, Specht and the guys were hooked and fully immersed in the lifestyle.”
Flash forward about 15 years, Specht and his college buddies decided camping near home wasn’t enough. They began to push out further and planned backroad trips in the mountains to camp. Once a camera joined to document their journeys, Specht and the guys were hooked and fully immersed in the lifestyle.
Mountain State Overland
Over 8 years, MSO has built 5 vehicles. Each one uses different gear, affording them the opportunity to fine tune the build process. Each build brought more armor, refined storage solutions and the opportunity to test different products. It comes as no surprise to us that the Canopy Camper is Specht’s favorite build yet. When you have the right, dialed-in vehicle, you’ll tend to camp more often. Once Specht acquired the Alu-Cab Canopy Camper, of course his favorite part of the build, he found himself getting out on more trips with family and friends.
The Tacoma is a true travel vehicle built for multi-day overland expeditions. It is used to host guided tours, take the family on weekend trips or stay on the road even longer for 10 to 14-day trips for filming. To tackle all those various tasks, this 2020 Tacoma needs to be capable and comfortable.
Toyota Tacoma: Smooth and Safe Travels
Dedicated for adventure and housed in the garage during down times, the Tacoma is mostly stock, with exception of the essentials. Within 3 weeks, OK4WD in Stewartsville, New Jersey, got this vehicle ready for adventure and fun.
Giving it a comfortable ride, most helpful on long expeditions like MSO’s Trans American Highway trips, are Bilstein B8 8112s in front and rear with Deaver MSO Expedition Leaf Springs in the rear. A custom cab mount chop helped accommodate the 17 x 8 AEV Crestone Dualsport Wheels wrapped in 34 x 11.50 Toyo Tires Open Country M/Ts. The Tacoma was also re-geared with a Yukon 4.88 to relieve stress on components and keep it on the road and Trans-American Trail for years to come.
Protection is always a top priority for any overland build. A Victory 4×4 Strike front bumper houses a Warn Zeon 12S Platinum winch and Rigid Industries Single Row light bar. The undercarriage is protected with Victory 4×4 skid plates while body panels are protected with Victory 4×4 Blitz rock sliders. Even the paintjob is protected with a full clear vehicle wrap with custom artwork, helping to push the MSO branding.
Inside the Cockpit
The interior remains stock, but plenty of storage opportunities are provided with Blueridge Overland Gear seat back panels and Velcro pouches. To keep connected while on the road and trail, Specht uses a Midland MXT575 radio to communicate. He also has a Garmin Overlander and InReach mounted on an Expedition Essentials TPAM.
Inside the Alu-Cab Canopy Camper, Specht gathered and accessorized all the items he enjoyed from his previous builds. There are not just one, but two, Engel MT45 Fridge/Freezers on Transit Slide Locks. An Alu-Cab 13-gallon water storage tank and 12V water pump ensures he’s got plenty of H2O to wash up and prep food.
Regulating temperature is easier in a camper than a rooftop tent. Thinsulate panels keep things cool in warm temps and warmer during cold temps. Specht paired those with a GP Factor Furnace Kit and Dickenson Heater, ensuring a comfortable night’s sleep. And when it’s warm outside, like in the summer, he can switch on the pair of 12V fans.
“Once Specht acquired the Alu-Cab Canopy Camper, of course his favorite part of the build, he found himself getting out on more trips with family and friends.”
It’s important to keep all your gear and goods organized, as any overlander knows. The camper is no different. Goose Gear provides organization with their Canopy Camper Complete Drawer and Utility Module. For other gear, GP Factor Molle Panels are used to mount other storage solutions.
And to keep power fed to the exterior lights and accessories inside the camper, he installed two Odyssey Batteries on an Off-Grid Engineering Dual Battery Tray.
Lucky enough to keep this Tacoma garaged when not in use, Specht also owns a Toyota T100 that he uses as his grocery getter. But when out filming, like for the “Hammer Down” series on YouTube, the Toyota Tacoma gets plenty of use. Each year, the MSO posse has been taking 10- to 14-day trips along the Trans-America Trail, capturing all the fun had along the way.
“Modifying the necessary and springing for some luxury while not overdoing it, this 2020 Tacoma proves a simple vehicle build with the perfectly curated components is worth its weight in gold.”
While you may be quite lucky to find Specht as his favorite destination, a secret spot in West Virginia with 270-degree views of the surrounding mountain ranges, you can most likely find him and the MSO Toyota Tacoma at various overlanding events on the east coast and beyond, often with OK4WD.
Be sure to check out Mountain State Overland on YouTube and on social media. We hope you find them as entertaining and inspiring as we do.
2020 Toyota Tacoma w/ Alu-Cab Canopy Camper
Engine: 3.5L V6
Suspension: Bilstein B8 8112 with Custom Cab Mount Chop (front); Bilstein B8 8100 with Deaver MSO Expedition Leaf Springs (rear)
Wheels & Tires: AEV Crestone Dualsport Wheel w/Protection Ring 17×8 with 4.69” backspacing; Toyo Tires Open Country M/T size 34×11.50
Interior Accessories: Garmin InReach and Overlander; Blue Ridge Overland Gear Seat Back panels and Velcro pouches; Midland MXT575; Expedition Essentials TPAM
Exterior Accessories: Safar Snorkel; Sy-Klone Pre-Filter; Rigid Industries single row light bar; WARN Zeon 12S Platinum winch; Victory 4×4 Strike front bumper, skid plates, Blitz sliders; full clear wrap with custom artwork; (4) Maxtrax; GP Factor Traction Board Latches; (2) Odyssey Battery; Off-Grid Engineering Dual Battery Tray
Camper Accessories: Alu-Cab Canopy Camper; (2) Engel MT45 Fridge/Freezers on Transit Slide Locks; Goose Gear Canopy Camper Complete Drawer and Utility Modules; Alu-Cab 13G Water Storage Tank; 12V Water Pump; GP Factor Molle Panels; Custom Camper Thinsulate Panels BedRug; GP Factor Table and Cutting Board; GP Factor Furnace Kit and Dickenson Heater; Twin 12V Camper Fans
Additional Modifications: Yukon 4.88 Differential
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the July/Aug 2022 issue of Tread Magazine.