Schoby’s Truck

By Mike Schoby

There was once a time when the perfect overland vehicle was my American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) JK Wrangler. The wife and dog would hop in and we’d head off for a destination that was often unknown. We would pack minimal camping essentials and always a few fishing rods. Nights were spent around an open fire, grilling hunks of S.U.A. (some unfortunate animal), while drinking enough bourbon that sleeping under the awning seemed like a better idea than navigating the ladder to the rooftop tent.

Then came a daughter (the logical result of enough bourbon and sleeping under an awning next to the wife) followed by a son, and all that changed. Try cramming car seats, diaper bags, toys, books, Anna and Elsa dolls, and iPads into a Jeep. It’s possible, but it’s not comfortable. Our temporary solution was an overland trailer, but it barely had enough space. Kids alone in car seats in the back of a Jeep isn’t pleasant, and honestly, towing a heavy trailer behind a light SUV up mountain roads is not my idea of a good time.

I had to admit it: My over-extended youth was long gone. I needed something more practical—but hell no, not a minivan! I’m not completely giving up! Most likely a full-size truck. So with heavy heart, I washed the JK one last time, parked it at the end of the driveway, and hung a “For Sale” sign in the window. It didn’t take long to find the JK a new, starry-eyed, twenty-something owner, and I take some solace that it went to a good home.

When a dog dies, they say the best cure is to get a new puppy. And that was my plan: to replace the JK. But what to get? Ford? Toyota? Chevy? Ram? There were pros and cons to each, but at the end of the day, the choice was easy: Ram—for three reasons. Ram makes an excellent pickup; Ram has consistently supported the hunting community (something that cannot be said for its competitors); and, last but not least, AEV does a helluva build on them.

Honestly, I probably only needed a 1500, but why not get the extra capability of a 2500? And if you are stepping up to a ¾ ton, why not get a diesel? Even though it costs considerably more, the torque, tow rating, and longevity are worth it. After much deliberation and fantasy building on Ram’s site, a 2021 Ram with a Cummins diesel and a Mega Cab (6 inches larger than the standard crew cab) was calling my name. 

The 6.7 inline six-cylinder Cummins produces 370 horsepower and a whopping 850 lb-ft of torque. With a towing capacity of 16,870 pounds and a payload of 2,380 pounds, the Ram is pretty damn capable right from the factory. But why not make it even more capable? That’s a large part of the fun of getting a new vehicle, right? Luckily, AEV has perfected the Ram with their Prospector build.

The Prospector Package

The AEV Prospector is available in “Standard” and “XL” versions. I opted for the Standard with some à la carte additions. The main difference between the two versions is 37-inch versus 40-inch tires and larger wheel wells on the body of the XL. The 37s would provide more than enough ground clearance while the 40s would just make getting kids into the truck that much more difficult. So what comes standard in a Prospector package? For starters, AEV’s notoriously well-engineered and tested 3” Dual Sport Suspension System featuring a better ride and control; more suspension travel; the added lift for larger tires; plus AEV-tuned Bilstein 5100 shock absorbers.

After the suspension, the truck received AEV bumpers front and rear. On the front I opted for the high bull bar protection instead of the low bar as elk and moose are real highway threats in my home state of Montana. To help avoid putting the front bumper to the “critter collision test,” I added four AEV 7000 Series LED lights—impressive.

Like all AEV products, the bumpers are not just welded-up sheet steel, but highly engineered, stamped 4mm steel that perfectly fit the body contours and work with factory sensors and air bags. While the front bumper offers unmatched collision protection, the rear bumper maximizes departure angle and offers superior protection to the underside of each corner. For camp set up or backing up at night, two Baja Designs LED lights reside in the rear bumper. Both  bumpers incorporate one-inch, heavy-duty recovery attachment points.

Rubber Meet Road

AEV equips the Prospector with BF Goodrich tires. They are great, but I am really partial to Toyo and have used them on numerous personal vehicles over the years. They’re long-lasting, quiet for their size/tread style, and offer fantastic off-road capabilities. I ordered a set of Open Country MT 37×12.50 R17 for this build.

Prospector Options

As I mentioned, one can add onto the standard Prospector package in an à la carte fashion. I chose to add a full-size matching spare in the bed of the truck with a vertical mount to save bed space and accommodate a topper. 

A recent addition for AEV is an upgraded interior option. While they offer different levels, including a full leather trim package, I selected the leather and Cordura combo for the best of both worlds, leather for looks on the sides and Cordura in the high-wear center. In addition to the upgraded material, when redoing the seats, AEV adds more padding and support, making for a plush ride. I also added the AMP power side steps. They deploy when a door is opened and make entry and exit so much easier.

Getting Unstuck

On any vehicle designed for use in the backcountry, some thought needs to be given to when things don’t go right. It’s bad enough getting stuck by yourself, but the vision of walking a few miles out with crying kids in each arm made me ponder recovery gear even more.

I have traditionally used Warn winches and have zero complaints with them. But this year was crazy for every manufacturer, and Warn was backordered on the specific winch I needed for this truck. It gave me the opportunity to try something new (to me): ComeUp SEAL Gen 2 16.5 with synthetic rope. The setup is impressive, with a unique braking system, battery monitoring, and overheat protection—plus the ability to use either a wired hand control or a wireless controller. As a plus, it fit perfectly within the AEV bumper. 

Instead of using the factory winch hook, the guys at AEV talked me into getting a Factor 55 ProLink XXL. Like all Factor 55 ProLinks, it is 100 percent made in the USA from 6000 series billet aluminum and a ¾-inch titanium double shear pin. With a working load limit of 24,000 pounds and an ultimate failure rating of 63,000 pounds, the XXL is much more than what’s required for even the heavy Prospector.

While ComeUp will be the primary winch, Warn didn’t get completely excluded from the party. I have always thought a winch mounted on the front of a vehicle is only half the equation. Often, a front winch’s sole function is pulling you farther into shit. Don’t get me wrong: It is a prerequisite if you have to complete an expedition and the muddy track in front of you is the only way through or if there is a mudhole that you need to get through and the road is fine on the other side. But most hunters, me included, will often use a winch to extract myself from a snow-packed ditch, and sometimes pulling straight back is ideal. Luckily, Warn did have a 9.5 XP winch available along with a cradle mount. Ultimately, it is not quite big enough for the nearly 10,000-pound gross vehicle weight of the Ram, but it can help get us out of a ditch or pull an elk carcass up to the truck on the rare instances when you kill one that is vehicle accessible.

A Place to Sleep

An entire feature article could be written about the topper I chose: RSI’s SmartCap EVOa Adventure. It is as cool as it is unique. 

First, it is a direct-to-consumer product. How you ask? Well, it is completely modular. Made in South Africa out of 100 percent powder-coated stainless steel, it is composed of five main pieces: top, front, back, and sides. They come packaged exceptionally secure, padded in individual boxes, and strapped to pallets. Follow the instructions and you will have it assembled in a couple of hours. All the pieces link easily and stainless-steel nuts and bolts every couple of inches around the seams secure it together.  

Construction is exceptional, and fit and finish perfect. Being constructed of steel it has a 330-pound moving and 770-pound static weight rating. Double-walled stainless gullwing doors with interior MOLLE panels allow instant access to the bed or you can use the factory insert bins. The accessory bins are available in full-length or half-length and tray configurations.

On the passenger side is RSI’s pre-made, full-length kitchen unit, and it is one of the best-designed overland kitchens I have ever seen. Precision cut into rigid foam are rattle- free spots for a set of four plates and bowls, beer and wine glasses and coffee cups. Fold out the two-burner propane stone (with an easily removable cutting board located underneath) and you can access all cutlery, tongs, spices, and the coffee pot. It truly contains everything but the kitchen sink. 

Other fantastic features of the EVOa are Integrated roof rails that accept load bars or RSI’s platform rack and a positive pressure roof vent to keep the truck bed nearly dust free. RSI nailed it with attention to details such as flush bonded glass windows (front and rear), a third brake light, and a super-durable, fade-resistant matte-black automotive paint finish. As you might expect of something of this quality, it comes with a three-year warranty.

On top of the RSI, I added a 10-gallon Yakima Road Shower, which provides pressurized, sun-heated hot water for washing dishes, dogs, or you while afield. Keeping with the Yakima theme, I also added a Double Haul rod holder. At an overall length of 12 feet, it is nice to know I can keep up to four rods rigged and ready.

My relationship with sleeping in trucks dates back 40 years. It started in open beds, then under toppers, and when I finally discovered rooftop tents nearly 20 years ago,
I thought I had found Shangri La. 

The soft, fold-out variety do have a large sleeping area and are sometimes inexpensive, but quick deployment/takedown and lightweight/robust construction are not their strong points. Plus, if they are wet, frozen, or snow-covered, you’ll teach the kids new and colorful four-letter words trying to get the cover back on. 

In my opinion, a clamshell style is the only way to go, but my James Baroud is at least seven years old, and knowing that the technology of rooftop tents advances faster than computer chips, I decided to do some research on what is currently available. 

I’m glad I did. I “discovered” Go Fast Campers (GFC). After spending a day with owner Graeme MacPherson, I was simply blown away. In 2018, MacPherson launched GFC with Wiley Davis with the goal of creating a camper that’s tough enough to take serious off-road abuse, while remaining lightweight and comfortable to sleep in.

By utilizing structural honeycomb panels top and bottom instead of aluminum, the GFC is stronger and, at only 135 pounds, one of the lightest in its class. It has a roomy sleeping area of 50×90 inches and measures only six inches high when closed. Its Beef Rack crossbars attach to the side utility track and are capable of supporting 500 pounds with the tent closed and up to 75 pounds while allowing the tent to still open. Other niceties include a translucent ceiling panel, locking hinges to keep it secure, three-way entry, bug screens on all windows/doors, and a two-inch dual density foam mattress with fitted sheets. 

When they founded GFC, Graeme’s desire was to “bring back good-paying American manufacturing jobs.” To that end they succeeded. The team crafts nearly 100 percent of GFC products in Bozeman, Montana, on a host of high-tech CNC machines and robotics run by skilled craftsmen.

Next Chapter

While it is always sad to close a chapter and leave the carefree, uncharted overlanding days of the Jeep, another chapter in my life has begun. I look forward to seeing the kids’ faces when they wake up in a rooftop tent high atop some Montana mountain road—with toys, playsets, and other wonders of childhood strewn about under the awning, rather than the debauched detritus, including empty bourbon bottles, of my well-spent youth littering the camp.

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