Toyota 4Runner exploring Baja
April 12, 2023

Baja Betty

From Pavement Princess to Overlanding Rig

It’s been said many times that overlanding vehicles are built, not bought. Sure, you can buy one built by someone else but building one that’s unique to you is a huge part of the overlanding experience. This is my story. 
Years ago, it all started with weekend car camping trips. My gear was basic – a cooler, camp stove with a camp pot set, food box, tent, sleeping bags, chairs and a table. That’s it! Weekends turned into week long trips then into months off-grid. My first Toyota 4Runner was a 1998 two-wheel drive SUV – what? Yes, a two-wheel drive and I drove it all over the deserts and mountains in California, Nevada, Arizona and Baja, Mexico for years.  
I led group camping adventures in that 2WD 4runner and knew nothing about recovery boards because they weren’t invented yet. In those days, I drove around with a 2-inch-thick board in my 4Runner, just in case. I used that board only twice when getting stuck in sand near San Felipe, Baja Mexico. Ahh the good old days.  
Around 2006, I bought a meticulously maintained 2002 Toyota 4Runner. And so, it begins…the build. Introducing Baja Betty. Betty was a bone stock 2002 Toyota 4Runner Sport Edition 4×4 with no modifications. Each time I went to Baja I felt drawn to continually improve the efficiency of my off-grid adventures. Then one day, I found out there’s an entire community of folks called overlanders that enjoy exactly what I love to do!  The more I looked into it, the more I was determined to upgrade this 4Runner and gear. 

2002 Toyota 4Runner with Bajarack
Baja Betty in her early days of overlanding in Baja

In 2011, the first thing to change on Betty was to install a new Bajarack roof top storage basket. This addition afforded more room to haul the gear needed to live off-grid for several weeks. However, with the additional weight added, I realized the suspension needed to be upgraded. In my experience, this is the very first step in setting up an overlanding vehicle. I had heavy duty front coilovers installed as well as the rear springs and shocks. This made a tremendous difference in the way Betty handled the additional weight going over the rough terrain. Good tires are a must too. 
Over the years, more equipment has been added to be more self-reliant in the back county. Here’s a vehicle specific list: 

Off-road and overlanding equipment upgrades:

  • Fox 2.0 front coilovers 
  • Bilstein rear shocks 
  • ARB Old Man EMU rear coil springs 
  • White Knuckle Off Road no drill rock sliders 
  • Sherpa Equipment, Princeton no drill roof rack 
  • CVT Mt. Shasta roof top tent, recently upgraded to iKamper 3.0 Mini 
  • ARB refrigerator 
  • Redarc battery management system 
  • Deep-cycle AGM auxiliary battery to run the refrigerator 
  • BFG KO2 10 ply tires 
  • ARB on-board air compressor 
  • Maxtrax recovery boards

After each adventure, I create a wish list of improvements of possible ways to increase the efficiency of systems used during an overlanding trip. It’s a never-ending process since we all learn something new from each trip.  
The point of this entire article is to start somewhere. It’s okay to gradually build your rig in accordance to how you prefer to travel and within your budget. Sure, it’s nice to have the latest and greatest gadget or high-tech gear but ground tents and coolers with frozen ice bottles are perfectly fine when starting out. 
No matter what you have, just get out there! The more you go, the more you’ll know. Join us on a Baja adventure trip and see what gear everyone else is using and ask questions. We support community spirit and camaraderie in the great outdoors. Get out there, get lost and find yourself off-grid. 

2002 Toyota 4Runner with CVT tent
Baja Betty with first roof top tent camping at Bahía Concepción, Baja California Sur


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