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We have had an on-again, off-again relationship with Cooper Tires ever since we purchased our 1998 4Runner in 2006. We initially ran a set of their Adventurer A/T and a set of their Discoverer S/T tires before embarking on a five-year, 82,000 mile fling with remolded tires. That fling ended tragically last July with a sidewall failure and blowout as we were traveling through Montana. It was then that I reachedout to our readership to ask which tire you would want us to review. Much to my surprise, you overwhelmingly asked for us to review the Cooper Tire Discoverer S/T MAXX. So, we reached out to Cooper Tire, and three weeks later I had five brand new 285/75R16 tires sitting at my house.

Published in Summer 2017

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I am of the opinion that aftermarket roof racks, like those sold by Yakima, are an under-rated system that really should get a lot of respect from the offroad community. Sure I often dream of installing a full-length platform on our 4Runner, but truth be told, a set of aftermarket cross bars can be a great, low-cost, way for many entry-level offroaders and travelers to equip their pickups and SUVs for outdoor adventure.

Published in Winter 2017

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The larger-than-life 7-inch HD screen of the TRX7 GPS Navigator may seem burdensome, especially compared with rival units that typically hover in the 5-inch realm of screen size. The overall dimensions of the device are 8.5” x 5.25”. This takes up a serious amount of real estate space when attached to the windshield. Start driving on a trail while the new TRX7 is displaying the route, and the seemingly inconvenient size is soon replaced by the easy-to-see screen. The included heavy duty RAM mount securely holds the TRX7 as the vehicle bounces down the trail.


Magellan TRX7

I had the opportunity to use the device on two separate off-road trips. For an overland trip across NM and AZ en route to Overland Expo, I accessed the Magellan eXplorist TRX website for route planning, and stored the routes on the device. For the Big Bend National Park trip, I recorded trail routes.

Functionality and features:

-Wifi
-BlueTooth
-Web browser with tabs
-Email -Contacts storage
-File Manager
-Music player and storage, complete with organizer
-Calendar -Sound recorder
-Ability to toggle open screens
-Rugged design
-Searchable OHV trails database
-Social media connectivity for sharing travels
-Off trail warnings and return-to-start safety features
-Preloaded with 44,000 designated OHV trails from forest and public lands
-High-res 3D terrain view and 2D topo view with contour lines display U.S./CAN land features


From a visual usability perspective, the map contrast and color schemes surpass other navigation systems and apps. The helpful geography texture really stands out. The layout of the map and route details in a split screen mode is quite useful.

Magellan TRX7

Magellan TRX7

For planning routes, using the Magellan eXplorist website, mytrxjournal.com, was easy to figure out. Upon completion of route planning, syncing the device over wifi loads the maps onto the device. Already have a GPS file you want to load? Just upload the GPX or KML file to the mytrxjournal.com website, then sync the device.

Magellan TRX7

Crowdsourced route submissions will expand the trail database over time. The data set is still young, but with the recent release of the tablet/smartphone app, the database should grow exponentially as app adoption increases.

Magellan TRX7

Several options are available for making updates to routes: mark observations using audio, photos, or waypoints; record track conditions and difficulty ratings. Achievements can be earned for recording off-road miles, visiting locations, and hitting certain OHV trails.

Magellan TRX7

I usually navigate with a Garmin Nuvi 50LM mounted to the windshield and a full-sized iPad held by a floor-mounted RAM mount, placing the iPad just above the shifter. The tablet-like functionality of the TRX7 certainly separates it from the Nuvi. The question is, does the TRX7 replace the iPad? The TRX7 large screen and ease of touchscreen usage are what I deemed most helpful. However, with a limited storage of 13GB, this device is barely a tablet. Now that the Magellan TRX app, complete with access to the Magellan database, is available for tablets, the TRX7 may not fill a void for the off-roader who prefers a device with more functionality, map app options, and LTE data connectivity.

For the off-roader who is content with wifi-only and requires a serious navigation system with limited tablet-like functionality, rugged construction, and the ability to plan and record routes, the TRX7 will suffice. With the ability to notate route details and difficulty ratings, incorporate GPS files, and enjoy a large screen, the TRX7 rates higher than the other dedicated navigation systems available. No other device on the market today is OHV oriented like the TRX7.

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    Published in Summer 2016

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    There are a lot of portable fridge/freezers on the market these days, with more seemingly being introduced each year. With such a saturated market, it can be tough to decided which is the best for your needs.

    Published in Spring 2016

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    While attending SEMA 2015, I stumbled across the Wavian booth and was immediately captivated by this product. I’ve heard the stories of people discovering rust inside their fuel can, or dust finding a way into the fuel. With a can cut open, the Wavian representative explained how the inside lining with fuel resistant Rezol enamel not only prevents rust, but if the can gets dented, the internal lining doesn’t crack.

     

    Published in Winter 2016

    In January 2015, I had the opportunity to borrow a fully loaded XVenture XV-2 for a multi-day expedition on the 4x4 roads of Big Bend National Park (see story in April 2015 issue). I was quite impressed with the trailer – so impressed, that I decided to buy the lighter weight version:  the XV-1. In the first 2 months of ownership, I used the XV-1 at Lone Star Jamboree, on a weekend expedition in Oklahoma, and again on the Ghost Divide Expedition to Overland Expo.

    Quickie tie-down ratchet

    Auto part and giant retail stores offer tie-down ratchet straps at varying lengths and colors. While these certainly work, there are some constraints and issues. Try to shorten the strap by winding it too tight, and you’ll quickly discover the frustration of trying to unwind the jammed strap. The range in length is limited, so you need to own multiple sizes. The mechanism to loosen the ratchet feels like a guillotine against your fingers. 

    ARB drawer system

    From day one, safety was a primary factor in the build of our 100 series. Having been indirectly involved in several roll-overs or flops, I’m all too familiar with the effects of a small object becoming a projectile. From tools to recovery gear to phones and tablets, all of these can become dangerous to vehicle occupants. With long distance travel a primary application, I knew that I would be traveling with a lot of gear. My search for a more useful replacement to the cramped third row had begun. Initially, I looked at simple, removable storage solutions such as action packers, aluminum boxes and the always handy, milk crates. While these options provide a fair amount of utility, they are often hard to secure. In one rear end collision, the driver doing the rear ending experienced an impact hard enough to move a “well secured” spare tire into the middle row of seats hard enough to break the mounting brackets and bend the seats forward. Had a passenger been in the middle row, this impact could have injured an occupant.

    The search for a more permanent, secure, and useful alternative was on. The first consideration was material. Wood, offers some warmth, often lower cost, ease of repair and the potential to self-build. Unfortunately, every wooden drawer system I had experienced to date had fitment issues due to swelling and shrinking and were very heavy. Not being a woodworker meant that building my own system, even a simple one, was out. Polycarbonate systems were not available in my application, so this option was dismissed. Poly is also known to suffer from strength to weight issues making systems very heavy.

    I had heard rumblings in 2010 that ARB would be bringing the Outback Solutions line of drawers to the US market along with several vehicle specific fit kits. Having used ARB products in the past, I knew that this wasn’t something that they would skimp on. I immediately gave them a call to discuss options. Wanting a level platform in the back, I purchased two medium depth (RD1045US) drawers along with the 100 series fit kit (100AIRFKUS). I found out that I had ordered one of the first sets of drawers to be imported and no one had any experience with the install. Installation was initially accomplished by Safari-Ltd in Grand Junction and was fairly straight forward. Instructions included several photos but at times some guessing had to be done. I’d estimate it took the guys two hours to do the install.

    The construction of the drawers is top notch. Made of galvanized steel with integrated slide rails, the drawers are rated to hold a hefty 220lbs each!  The frames are also steel and feature integrated rollers that slide smoothly. The drawers feature the best handles in the industry. They are large, easy to operate and can be operated with the heaviest of gloves or mittens. The ability to lock them also adds some peace of mind. The fit kit is one of my favorite features. With dozens of vehicles to choose from, a clean, professional and custom solution can be implemented. The fit kit features removable storage panels and handy locations to mount accessories. I’ve mounted a BlueSea battery disconnect, USB and 12V power outlets, fuse block and inverter.

    The drawers aren’t without a couple of negatives. First, the drawers only extend approximately 80% when open. This hasn’t been a major concern but could make larger objects a little harder to install. Second, and the biggest frustration I have had with the system are the locks that hold the drawer open. While convenient, they are designed with a miniscule plastic tab to hold things open. This part (RDSTP) has failed four times in four years. Removal of a drawer to replace is acquired and time consuming. Thankfully, ARB has provided these replacements at no cost but a better solution needs to be implemented.

    My initial configuration was two like sized drawers and the fit kit. For my refrigerator, I’ve been struggling with a love hate relationship with the Tembo Tusk drop slide. If you have seen this device, you will understand. On a personal level, I love the drop slide. The engineering, the build quality and the customer support of Tembo Tusk are exceptional. In practice, the slide is imperfect. When the fridge is filled to the perfect level, the slide can operate with one hand. When full, it’s tough for me, impossible for my wife. Therein lies the problem, and my wife is buff so it’s not a brute strength issue. To counteract this, I decided to change things up a bit. I ditched the Drop Slide and purchased the short roller drawer (affectionately called the map drawer) with the roller top (RF1045). The roller top is stable, will easily facilitate an 80lb, fully loaded fridge (if fact, it’s rated to hold 165lbs!), and is only moderately annoying in that I now have to reach an extra 4-6” for a beverage. Overall, it’s been a great change with more storage space and more convenience. I will note that the top drawer now touches the middle row seat. Over time this could potentially wear through the leather, so use this configuration at your own risk. The safety, reliability and utility of a drawer system has made it one of, if not my favorite upgrades to the 100 series.

    Outback Solutions Drawer Systems (Prices Vary)

    http://store.arbusa.com/Storage-Solutions-C75.aspx

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    Cooper Discoverer STT

    28,000 miles and countless memories later, I finally have a time to look back at my time with the Cooper Discoverer STT.  With 170,000 miles now on the clock, I’ve had some great journeys with my Tacoma and have had a handful of different tires on the rig throughout that time.  Not trying to sound bias on my opinion, but so far these Coopers have worked their way to the top of my list of tires.

    From the factory Rugged Trail to BFG AT, then to Duratracs and finally MT/R before making the move to these STTs, I’ve had a variety of tires on the Tacoma over the years.  Coming from the Duratracs and their outstanding winter handing, they had a high bar set for comparison in the winter time.  The Goodyear MT/R made a great name for itself in the dirt, rocks and mud in the time I had them installed and also set a high standard in those categories.  These tires, however, still had their drawbacks and kept me looking for a better overall tire to hold its own in a variety of categories and not just excelling in a few aspects.

    Enter the STT into our lives.  We’ve taken these tires from the streets of Denver, to the high alpine roads in the San Juans of Colorado and on many back roads throughout Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona.  In every condition, I’ve seen favorable outcomes with the STT.  Take that statement with a grain of salt as mentioned before, previous tires set high standards in winter and off-road conditions in my opinion.  

    When it comes to winter conditions, were the STTs the best?  No.  When it comes to off-road handling and durability?  Almost.  How about tread life and wear?  Not really.  That being said, they are nowhere near bottom of the list, far from it.  In those categories, the STTs are a close 2nd in the list of tires I’ve tried on my 2006 Toyota Tacoma.  With the needs I demand of my truck, I’ve been very pleased with the overall performance of these mud-terrains.  

    Through the rocky terrain of Colorado, their sidewall has proven their worth time and time again. They did show their mortality on a tough climb on Grizzly Lake. Angling my truck up a tough ledge, the wet rocks didn’t provide enough traction and I slid my sidewall into a nasty rock that pinched my sidewall between my FN Wheel and the rock.  The tear wasn’t significant, but it did enough damage to warrant swapping out and later replacing the tire.  Besides that, the STT airs down great and they still feel plenty sturdy even at 12-15psi where I typically run them.  They aren’t the stickiest tire out there, but they hooked up great on a variety of off-road conditions and through all the abuse, they did not show any major signs of chunking.

    Last fall, we took the truck into the backcountry of the San Rafael Swell and we saw some muddy conditions in areas near Fuller Bottom, but it didn’t take much to get the STTs and us over muddy river banks and push us effortlessly through muddy washes.  On long trips like those through backcountry areas where a reliance on your equipment is crucial, I began to appreciate the comfort my STTs gave me over an assortment of terrain and weather conditions.

    Having a winter under my belt with the STT, I can also say they hold their own on a variety of winter conditions.  Again, are they the best?  No, but they really do kick some serious butt for a mud-terrain.  I’m sure if I had the tires siped, their performance on icy/hard pack would improve, but I never felt that uncomfortable with them to warrant that step.

    Tread life and wear are a couple categories that I was surprised and pleased with.  Coming from the MT/R right before the STT, I did not see favorable tread life in the short time I had the MT/Rs.  They were great when they were off the pavement, but I daily drive my truck and see a lot of highway miles on some of our journeys.  This is where the full package of the STT really comes into light.  The STT comes new with 20/32nds tread depth and so far I’m still showing 11/32nds with over 28,000 miles on them.  Longevity coupled with great (given not the best, but a close 2nd) off-road and all around handling, the STT has made its way to the top of my list on an overall tire standpoint.

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    2014 4Runner Trail Edition Test Drive | TCT Magazine | Photo by Phillip Jonesdownload_now

    After climbing into the 2014 Trail Edition 4Runner and sliding onto the seat, it takes a minute to soak in the rather lavish interior. Starting the engine brings the colorful gauges and a mid-console screen to life. Gripping the steering wheel is a treat. A glance across the dash and console assemblies and one quickly realizes that Toyota has upped the ante with interior treatment. Toyota has brought elegance to off-roading in ways that were previously experienced only in the upscale Lexus models.

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