Overland Expedition & Disaster Preparedness Nissan Titan
We built a modern truck to perform as a daily driver, an overland expedition vehicle, and a literal life saver in a disaster scenario. We wanted the truck to be comfortable for long drives, capable of high performance on or off road, and as close to being self-sustained as possible for extended runs "off-grid". We started with a plan, went right into the testing phase, and ended with a world class Overland Expedition Vehicle. Since we tend to spend a lot of time driving, we didn't want to build a hard-core off-road use only rig that could potentially spend a lot of time broken down on the side of the trail. A super capable 4x4 vehicle that needs to be towed to the off-highway use destination wouldn’t meet our overland adventure requirements. So not a mud buggy or rock crawler. This Titan was build to be a companion to the hiker, camper, explorer, and outdoor enthusiast in general. Thereby allowing the driver to decide he/she wants to get into the great outdoors and be ready for the trip in minutes, with little or no preparation. The "disaster preparedness" moniker came from our experience in disaster zones such as the aftermath of hurricanes and tornadoes. You can't choose when disaster hits, so our Nissan Titan has everything one needs to not just survive... but to thrive.
When customizing a vehicle, it's important to develop your mission plan and strategy according to your needs and then develop your vehicle to fit that plan. For us, it was immediately apparent only a pickup truck would do (because of our storage space requirements for this build). For you Jeep lovers, we'll admit that a Jeep Rubicon is the most effective stock off-road vehicle you can buy off the lot in America today. While a jeep is simple, rugged, and easy to upgrade... They just don't have the long-term storage capabilities, size, space, comfort, or power that we wanted.
We considered the use of a pre- 1980 vehicle for EMP resistance but decided against it due to potential difficulty in finding parts, and mainly the inherent reliability problems of older vehicles, especially when traveling long distances (if interested in a an EMP proof vehicle, check out our Land Cruiser build).
A closer look at what we needed out of this vehicle helped us with the final decision of where to start the build. The list goes as follows: four-wheel drive with good off-road capabilities, an armored undercarriage, an efficient vehicle recovery system, and ample/organized storage space for weapons, ammo, medical supplies, tools, fuel, water, food, and survival equipment. We wanted 360-degree lighting for night driving and threat recognition both on and off the trail.
A sleep system that is always fully set up and ready to go rather than something like a rooftop tent was one of this build’s top features. Enabling us to stop and get rest in harsh climates or in poor weather conditions, and also be ready to move again with little or no notice.
Solid steel bumpers, frame, and an internal/external roof rack roll-cage with the ability to withstand high impacts and carry heavy loads were also a necessity. The modern sound system, completely redesigned suspension and drive-train, navigation upgrades, communication system, extra battery, and on-board compressed air completed our list. We decided to go with the powerful Nissan Titan. A bone stock Titan was nowhere close to what we needed, so we began to build the beast!
2006 Nissan Titan XE/SE/LE 4 door extended cab pickup. 4 wheel drive. 5.6 liter V8 VK56 engine, and independent front suspension this Titan is a decent starting platform for both on and off road use. Downsides to using a Nissan pickup truck for this type application include limited aftermarket parts, the high cost of aftermarket parts and related work compared to the aforementioned manufacturers, and some inherent design defects. The Titan in stock configuration is a great on-road vehicle with a lot of potential, but it needs much work to be a true performer for overland expedition. Be ready and prepared to spend a minimum of $100,000 if you want to equip a titan like ours. The manifolds are prone to cracking, the cooling system is undersized and prone to rupturing as well, the rear axle is finicky and too weak for true off-road use in stock configuration, the differentials are in need of lockers, the engine mounts and transmission mounts are weak, the stock suspension sits very low and can not handle excess weight, a lift kit, larger tires, or extreme off-road use, the CV boots tear easily, the ECM computer system is prone to failure in early models, and many of the sensors are finicky at best, just to name a few weak points. We completely removed all these faulty components, re-designed, and re-built these problem areas while making many more custom upgrades along the way which we discuss here in full.
Unbeknownst even to some off-road enthusiasts, the VK56 engine this Titan is equipped with is one of the toughest and most durable V8 gas engines around. It's even used in off-road racing. So with our VK56 as a great blank canvas, we began to modify the power-train to fit our needs. While traversing Latin America we added two 16-gallon propane tanks, and a complete bi-fuel system. Great agreed to host a seminar for the personal bodyguards of some of the guys from Tropigas, and they outfitted the truck for propane as part of the deal. This allowed us to use both propane and gas interchangeably, effectively doubling our range.
The custom-built snorkel theoretically would allow our truck to traverse waters many feet deep in emergency situations. We have accomplished this by building a completely custom snorkel system out of a cold air intake. We sealed off the cold air intake and added a float valve in the bottom so water can get out but not in. We then used turbo tubing to extend the intake up to the top of the roof rack. The deepest we've had it to date is about 4 feet (there are plenty of water crossing videos on our Instagram: @Bone_Tactical ). The alternator sits quite low on this truck, all the water crossings have led to our rebuilding of the alternator twice while on the trail. Luckily both times only required a bearing swap and a good cleaning.
JBA long tube headers were added along with resonated B-pipes from Cajun B-pipes, we chose not to run catalytic convertors. We designed a fully custom stainless steel 3" exhaust fabricated with another resonator and a high flow muffler to allow the Titan a relatively quiet idle along with maximum performance at high RPM ranges. The exhaust exits in front of the right rear tire with a nicely tucked MBRP square exhaust tip in flat black, matching the rock sliders.
A complete custom computer tune from Uprev specifically for our truck is based off of real time data-logging and allowed for a considerable increase in horsepower when in gasoline mode, along with the other modifications. We highly recommend Uprev tuning software as it is fairly easy to use, and actually reprograms the trucks computer in a highly custom and effective manner instead of just adding a generic program like the Cortex SuperChip we had used previously. The Cortex SuperChip added a small amount of horsepower and torque but nowhere near what the custom tuning from UpRev was able to add. We had our tuning done through an UpRev representative from Cajun B-Pipes who was very knowledgeable and a pleasure to work with. You start off by giving your UpRev certified tuner a list of your trucks modifications and he writes you a base tune to flash to your ECU in your vehicle via a windows laptop. After that you do some test runs while data-logging all your vehicles parameters such as air/fuel ratio, calculated load value, and turbine RPM in real time. The software from UpRev can data-log up to 20 parameters at a time. You then send the data logs to your tuner and he will write a further adjusted map based off your specific data logs that you can flash to your vehicles computer. You can also flash several maps onto your vehicle that are basically different driving modes and are easy to engage or cycle through. Some examples are valet mode to limit performance, anti-theft mode to disable the vehicle, and premium fuel only mode to squeeze out maximum performance.
The stock rear end, although it has a decent Dana 44 axle, did not hold up to our off-road use. After breaking two axles in the span of a month, we realized we had bent the axle housing. We pulled the rear end, straightened then braced the axle housing, and added traction bars.
The stock differential on a Titan doesn't engage both tires without a locker. In certain off-road situations this can lead to only one wheel spinning, and the truck getting stuck. To fix this problem we added a Detroit TruTrac limited slip differential. The TruTrac locker is a very tough design that locks the rear axle on an as needed basis (when one tire begins spinning more than the other). The large tires and excessive weight of the vehicle also called for re-gearing. We added 4:10 gears Superior Gears to return the power to where we needed it.
Nissan Titan OEM radiators are a terrible design. They're undersized and prone to cracking. We now run an all-aluminum radiator from Champion that's much more efficient. We also replaced the IDPM ECU to fix some of the many computer "gremlins" (a problem plaguing this year model of titan).
Wheels, Tires, & Suspension
We started with 18" Ultra 175 Wheels for this build. They were very light with a good amount of flex (In comparison to steel wheels), and had a greater offset than stock rims. They proved too weak for the beefy Titan and we bent one badly on a tough trail in Waterloo Alabama (the same trail that bent the axle housing). We then again decided to go all out and got a set of 20 inch "spy" wheels from KMC which we converted to beadlocks with a cut and weld conversion kit from Trail Ready. The big steel beadlock rings are heavy duty and withstand impacts very well. The KMC wheels are well-made and offer much more stability than the Ultra’s. These beadlocks not only look awesome but allow us to run single digit tire pressure numbers.
We originally went with Nitto Terra Grappler 285/65R18 tires for this build. We were unimpressed with the off-road capability of the Terra Grappler tire, especially in mud and wet conditions. They did however hold up very well and performed well at 120mph on Texas back roads, through gravel trails in the Arkansas mountains, over backwoods Kentucky hills, and even did on the slickrock off-road trails of Moab, Utah.
But we wanted something that performed better in the mud, and was still a performer on the street. The best option we’ve for a true off-road tire with daily driving street performance capability is the Toyo 35x12.50 Open Country M/T. You can find the same tread pattern from other manufacturers just be aware that the excellent rubber compound and overall quality Toyo is known for, may not be the same from other manufacturers. We run 35" Toyo M/T tires on several of our other trucks as well with amazing results. The Toyo is a great tire but not a true 35" (It's slightly smaller). We have also run Mastercraft Courser MXT 35x12.50r20 tires on the Titan as a cheaper option with good results from them as well. They are slightly more aggressive for better offroad use, a little bigger, and a little louder on the road. They are all 10 ply tires and load rated which, for us, is huge with our heavy truck.
Before we even added the first set of coilovers we snapped one of the stock struts on a trail in Moab Utah... We knew then we had to go big or go home. All mechanical devices have weak points, and this truck is no exception. We then went with a Pro-Comp 6" lift kit and completely destroyed it in a few short months. After blowing out two sets of Pro-Comp coilovers we decided to never use Pro-Comp anything again and built ourselves a custom 7" suspension. Because the truck is supposed to weigh 5,800lbs but actually weighs 9,800lbs when fully decked out on an expedition we added some custom built heavy duty 600lb Radflo coilovers we got through PRG products. These along with custom fabbed chromoly control arms give us more travel than a Ford Raptor and are a much better fit for our needs, as well as much higher quality equipment.
When you lift a Titan it causes too much stress on the transmission mount, stock struts, and sway bar end links. Luckily, PRG products makes a kit to address these problem areas as well. Their kit for lifted Titans includes an upgraded 4WD transmission mount, heavy duty heim-jointed sway bar end links, and a driveshaft spacer. We put these components on ours. Another issue we had was having four thousand pounds of gear and armor causing the truck to squat in the rear. We added Firestone heavy duty air bags in Daystar air bag cradle's with custom fabricated lower mounts and a Smittybuilt compressor to fill them. The Daystar air bag cradles are an incredible new design that is basically a cup that the air bag sits in allowing a free-floating bag for full flex on long travel suspension when off-roading. This means we only use the air bags when we need them! We then added very heavy duty custom fabricated traction bars with Teraflex joints and 2x.250" DOM tubing. The traction bars prevent axle wrap, keeping the air bags lined up correctly with the mounts, and allowing us to get all our horsepower to the ground. After breaking axle's and bending the axle housing we had to brace the axle housing as well. The Titan now sits high and proud with a better ride than it’s ever had.
"Tactical" seat covers in Multicam black from Cover King keep the leather seats well protected with their heavy duty Cordura fabric. The Molle backing allows adding organizational pouches for quick gear access. After about a year of hot rodding and fast women they started sliding around a bit and some straps and buckles broke. We pulled them off and re-sewed the attachment systems with new, heavier duty straps and buckles. We also changed the profile a bit and added a few other features like elastic webbing to compliment the areas around the velcro attachment points.
We installed a Jason Pace topper with lift up rear/side windows. The drop-down front window of the topper is basically useless since the back window of the truck impedes its function. Two of these windows have since been busted out in sketchy situations (one in South America), and we replaced them with plexiglass. The topper serves to weatherproof the bed storage and sleeping area as well as to allow for accurate fire out the rear and sides of vehicle under relative concealment (similar to a hunting blind). At first we secured the topper with clamps as many toppers are secured, but during some hardcore off-roading in Moab, Utah the clamps came loose and the topper slid off the back of the truck during on a steep hill climb (Fins N' Things was the trail). That's when we realized if we truly wanted a truck that could do it all, we had to get radical and build a full internal/external exoskeleton, tied into the frame, and integrated into the topper.
Custom built diamond plate aluminum roll out locking drawers were built to line the bed. They double as a massive storage area and sleeping platform. These aluminum drawers are also much lighter than other material locking drawers you'll see in pickup truck beds and just as secure. Building our drawers out of aluminum saved us a lot of weight that we feel is better utilized by the ability to carry more mission essential gear.
The Surco roof rack 50x60 R5300 added by All-American Truck and SUV in Bradenton Florida was cheap, under-built, and had to be thrown away. It was purely insufficient, much like the aforementioned company that installed it. It bent and warped under the weight of the spare tire and also caused the sides of the truck bed itself to spread.
We decided to fix these issues and go all out by having a roof rack roll cage completely custom fabricated and tied into the frame. Our roof rack roll cage quickly became one of the coolest and most useful features of the truck. We learned that a custom fabricated, load-bearing capable roof rack system is an absolute must for a true expedition vehicle. Ours allows us to secure virtually anything to our vehicle regardless of size or weight (aided by the air ride suspension and braced rear axle). It also triples as a roll cage and precision shooting platform. Our roof rack is tied into the frame at 12 points. Two points on the front and rear bumpers, the front and rear of the rock sliders, and four points of the internal roll cage inside the topper. This roof rack exoskeleton also features ladders on the sides of the truck for easy access to the top. We added a mount for the Hi-Lift jack, and ran wiring for our lights inside the tubes (at first KC HiLite’s, then we upgraded to light bars). There's internal red lights for when inside the sleeping quarters and a master switch for all 8 light bars for the inevitable thump in the night. The internal roll cage section inside the topper is connected to the frame through the bed and fish plated to the roof rack at the top, ensuring the topper will never slide off again. The entire build is also completely removable and held in place with grade 8 hardware.
Because every expedition vehicle needs a full size spare, we designed a sweet spare tire carrier on one side of some swing out additions to the exoskeleton and rear bumper. The other side has an external toolbox for quick access to select tools and even more storage space. The toolbox also helps to offset the weight of the spare tire.
The Titan is equipped with four NATO 5-gallon fuel cans that line the bed of the truck, along with three NATO 5 gal water jugs. They have individual slots on either side of the drawers lining the bed, and are also secured with bungee’s so they won't move at high speeds or in rough terrain. Food for the trip and emergency stores came in the form of MRE's, AlpineAire freez-dried meals, and protein/meal replacement bars in a designated food pack in one of the drawers. We keep the Greyman Operations Pack set up as “The Ultimate Survival Bugout Bag” for long term "bugout" and in it’s designated area at all times (see our write-up on this bag for details and contents). If we're in a hurry we have the ready-to-eat survival rations. If we want an "overland gourmet" meal we use our Optimus Stove stove or a fire to heat water for the AlpineAire ( www.alpineaire.com ) pre-made meals which are ready in a about 15 minutes. Super siphons also became one of our favorite pieces of gear for the sheer ease of syphoning liquids. We keep one labeled for water and one labeled for fuel.
Medical gear is extremely important for any kind of preparedness, whether day-to-day or mission specific. Not only is the equipment important, but training is equally important. Without the training the all the medical equipment in the world is useless. We have packed several kits readily available for use in emergency situations for helping ourselves, or others along the way. Our master medical bag for the truck contains bulk equipment such as pain killers, antiseptics, rubber gloves, various prescription drugs and antibiotics, an adventure medical kits grizzly pack and other more advanced medical equipment that requires professional training for use such as a field suture and surgery kit. Each scout bag in the truck has medical equipment in it, each battle belt and/or plate carrier has attached medical equipment, and there is a customized IFAK med kit on the back of the passenger seat.
Defensive Capabilities and Armor
Aside from being a rolling armory for a variety of weapons platforms capable of effective fire from point blank out to 1600m (under proper conditions for precision rifle use), the Titan features an armored undercarriage and is highly organized. The roof rack doubles as a prone shooting platform. The Fab Four bumpers are solid steel construction and will effectively protect the truck from a large variety of impacts while providing stable platforms for vehicle recovery if the vehicle is rendered inoperable. The undercarriage of the vehicle is armored, and custom rock sliders are tied in to the frame, bumpers, roof rack, and internal/external roof rack roll cage. This fully tied in setup effectively provides 360 degrees of impact protection giving the truck plenty of armor to escape dangerous situations and/or navigate treacherous off-road obstacles quickly and efficiently.
We took the opportunity of this build to design our own camouflage pattern that would be both eye catching in urban areas for advertisement purposes as well as highly effective over a variety of rural areas ranging from woodland to arid terrain. The proprietary Bone Tactical camo pattern was implemented through a 3M vinyl wrap covering the majority of the exterior of the truck.
We loaded the heavy duty steel Fab Four bumper with a tried and true Warn VR 8000lb winch that can be, and has been operated from the driver’s seat to winch and drive out of sticky situations when operating the vehicle solo (see vehicle recovery videos on our YouTube and Instagram). Snatch blocks can be used to effectively double the strength of the winch, so 8,000 lbs is more than enough if used properly despite the vehicle sitting at approximately 9,500 lbs expedition ready. You should always use straps in conjunction with winching, so we keep a variety of nylon straps in their designated bag. It's important to dig out, and place something under the stuck tires before winching whenever possible. We have Smittybilt sand tracks mounted to the roof rack that broke the first time we used them, so we're now using them in pieces.
We have a Hi-Lift jack mounted to the roof rack. Hi-lift jacks are tried and true members of the off-road community. They can be used as a winch in an emergency situation, and it's one of the only safe ways to jack up a really large off-road rig manually. If the ground is soft and wet, a jack plate is essential to keep the jack from burying itself. We keep a plastic Hi-Lift jack plate along with a complete Hi-Lift recovery tool kit (shovel, sledgehammer, axe, halligan tool) that fits nicely into its bag with a poncho, road flares, gloves, and tire plugs inside one of the aluminum storage drawers.
We wrapped the bumper with a US Military helicopter nylon cable and chain for use as a tow rope because there's no such thing as overkill! We obviously keep jumper cables, and we installed a Smittybilt compressor with lines to inflate tires, run air tools, and inflate the Air Ride suspension. After about a year we had to re-build the switch in the compressor. We no longer recommend Smittybilt products. There are attachment/hook-up points on all sides of the vehicle. For example, the rock sliders can and have been used to right the vehicle when it's flipped over onto it's side from pushing it a little too hard through tough obstacles. We also have a socket set and various assorted hand tools in a toolbox on the back of the truck. This toolbox is opposite the spare tire on a swing out style rack.
Batteries, Electronics, & Off-Road Lighting
We installed an auxiliary battery system with a secondary XS Power 12-volt AGM (absorbent glass mat) performance battery. Running two batteries is not just a good way to increase vehicle reliability, it's basically a necessity if you plan on running a lot of aftermarket electronics.
An Avital Security system was added with remote start, LED system status indicator, on-board dual zone impact sensor, various remote transmitters, sirens, starter interrupt, and multi-pin door lock harnesses. An upgraded alarm system is also a good idea for any vehicle you plan on dumping a lot of money into.
Lights and switches for the lights to be operated from truck cab or bed were added as previously mentioned in the lighting section. The Rockford Fosgate stereo system was updated with an additional 10" subwoofer and a 250 watt amp. Finally we built a custom dash around a DVD player head unit that's GPS compatible and we usually keep linked to a cell phone. There's a backup compass in the custom dash and a CB radio on top.
We installed full halo headlight units because of a problem with the stock Nissan headlights and because the aftermarket headlights were cheaper, more durable, and better looking. We started with 2 Fog lights in the bumper and 8 KC HiLights ( www.kchilites.com ) 130 watt, 285,000 candlewatte each spotlights mounted on the roof rack (2 front, 2 rear, and 2 on each side) for full 360 degree lighting. Although we had no problems out of the KC lights other than breaking the glass on one and bulbs going out on occasion. We opted to switch them out for LED light bars. We now run 8 LED light bars in a similar configuration. The LED light bars give us more light, demand less power, are more streamlined, and are tougher since the don't have glass face plates. The lights are wired to a switch in the cab as well as a switch in the bed so when the operator is sleeping in the bed of the truck, all he has to do is flip a switch to see what's going on outside.
The LED lights we ran were cheap Amazon.com specials and they've lasted 2 years with no problems whatsoever. We do however recommend opening them immediately upon purchase and sealing them with silicone to prevent moisture gathering behind the lens (common in cheaper models). If you do that you can save a bunch of money on lights for your rig.
The Initial Overland Expedition
The maiden voyage across the United States took the Titan from sunny south Florida to the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah. The Florida Sports Park in Collier County has been home of some of the baddest mud machines in the world and since many of the incredible buggies commonly seen there were inspiration for this build of our own, we figured south Florida would be a great place to start our journey. All food and water for the month long journey was completely self-contained in the vehicle and the trip was made primarily off-grid through back roads only using a compass and a few maps to simulate a grid-down scenario. The two exceptions to the scenario were stopping to refuel approximately every 700 miles and making an appearance in Flagstaff, AZ at the Overland Expo West 2014 ( www.overlandexpo.com ). Florida offered some challenges in the way of sugar sand and wetlands which can be deceptively difficult to navigate. It's easy to bog down and lose traction in loose sand and mud. It’s also easy to bust tires on Cyprus knees if you don't watch out for them or know what you're looking for. Staying off grid proved to be a challenge of its own because of Florida's relatively large populace, but we managed to make it out with no major issues.
From Florida we went to Georgia, got a little more swamp action, did some hunting, and managed to have a few game meat meals of wild hog. We went from Georgia to Alabama and stayed in the vast and isolated Bankhead national forest for a few nights. Although camping and hunting is common in Bankhead, it is large enough to remain in solitude if you know your way around and so desire. We continued from Alabama to the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas. The Ozarks proved to have some extreme four-wheeling, and taking the titan through the Mt. Magazine horse trails was indeed a thrilling experience. These narrow horse trails were the inspiration behind the cables running from the roof rack to the bumper protecting the windshield from low lying branches and limbs. The next leg of the trip brought us through the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge where the buffalo and antelope still range freely. Although we could not stay overnight in the park, rural Kansas had plenty of places for off grid camping in a camouflage truck.
The next part of the journey found us in Texas where the long country roads begged for speeds upwards of 100mph in the day, and offered beautiful sunsets over the west Texas plains in the evening. Finding a place to sleep in Texas was as easy as pulling off one of the numerous dirt roads into a dry gulch or in a patch of scrub brush and calling it a night. As we slept high winds ripped across the open country howling stories of forgotten times. Texas, home of the second largest canyon in America, the Palo Duro canyon, complete with caves, hoodoos, and steep mesa walls, is worth checking out. After a few days in Texas we resurfaced in Flagstaff Arizona for the 2014 Overland Expo. The Expo showcased some of the best rigs in the world and gave us some ideas for some of the other additions we made to the Titan.
After the weekend in Flagstaff we spent some time with a few of the Native Navajo still around, and had the pleasure of being a guest on a reservation ranch with a gentleman who still lives by the old Navajo code. An interesting man who still believed in hard work, physical fitness, and sharing with your neighbors but also a tough code of discipline. We were told about the traditional Navajo farming and ranching view of not building fences, and those who have many sharing with those who have few. He was an excellent hunter and explained that his property becomes overly saturated with wild game during hunting season because of all the white men scaring the game off of public hunting lands. His belief in telling stories rather than taking pictures was a striking contrast to our culture today, and he warned us that taking pictures is stealing from the art of storytelling. It saddened the Navajo man that most of his fellow tribesman no longer cared for the old way of doing things, and he wanted us to know that he took nothing from the government and was completely independent. We learned a lot from him and were glad to share the experiences, which he also asked us to do.
After leaving reservation land we crossed Lees Ferry into Utah where we spent about two weeks exploring southern Utah eventually ending in the Bonneville Salt Flats. The highlight of our off-roading experience was Moab and southern Utah in general. Moab is home of some of the best 4x4 trails and "rock crawlers" in the world. The National Parks and BLM land here are some of the most isolated areas in the Continental US and one could spend a lifetime exploring the wilderness in Southern Utah. Much knowledge was gained from the various terrains we traversed, and other off-road vehicles we saw along the way. We adapted the Titan to be able to travel in as many extreme environments as possible, while still feeling comfortable on roads and highways. In fact, the Bone Tactical Titan Overland Expedition Vehicle recently finished its final extended overland journey in Central America with just under 200,000 miles of hard terrain under its belt. It will now live out it’s days as a beat up and haggard shop truck with a story or two to tell. Be sure to check out the next several write-ups on our other Overland Expedition Vehicle builds that are now touring.