Behind the Feed: Koda’s Tacoma

I love Instagram for so many reasons. It gives people an open view to the world, breaking down borders and barriers through the universal language of imagery. It inspires people to see new things, try new hobbies, and witness sights they would otherwise never be able to experience. Most of all, it is full of wonders that bring us together, instead of the polarizing content we find in so many other mediums of entertainment today. Of course, much of what you see on Instagram depends on your feed and the people you follow. Mine is usually populated by travelers, rock climbers, photographers, mountaineers, and, of course, some pretty cool vehicles, all of which inspired this latest series called Behind the Feed. In these articles, we will be looking at the people and stories behind the Instagram pages, diving into what they do, why they do it, and how you can get started. For today’s piece, we’re starting close to home with a page based on vehicles, camping, and one very cute pup named Koda.

Many of us have seen your feed before, and of course, your truck, but let’s move past that for a moment and talk about you. Tell me a little about yourself, what you do for work, and how long you’ve been into off-roading, camping, and photography.

Well, for starters my name is Jason Turner. I was born in Australia, and a few years later moved to the Philippines where I lived for about eight years or so before coming to California. It was during my time in the Philippines that I really became aware of how much I loved being outdoors. Playing with sticks, fighting spiders, running around the farm—it didn’t really matter as long as I was outside. The few times I went camping and fishing were probably the best memories I have as a kid.

I finally got to experience off-roading in high school with my neighbor who had ATV’s and dirt bikes. I distinctly remember the feeling of how awesome it was to kick up dirt and go places you wouldn’t normally experience in a car. As long as you had the skill to traverse what lay ahead, you could go almost anywhere. Unfortunately, it was short-lived, because after high school I discovered a new type of adventure that was easier to access every day: sport bikes. For a while, I was restoring bikes and selling them, which eventually landed me an e-commerce job working for the suppliers I purchased my parts from. I’m actually still doing the same thing more or less, but life has a way of changing things. After losing a few friends, the appeal of sport bikes has waned, and my passions shifted toward off-roading, camping, and photography.

I actually started photography shortly after I got into camping, so around two years ago now. When I started shooting photos I didn’t think much of it, other than to have better pictures to look back on, but it has evolved a whole lot since then. Now I’m excited to get out as often as possible to enjoy our public lands. We really have some truly amazing places here in the US and I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. There are so many places I want to explore in the coming years, and I hope to capture and share all those journeys to the best of my abilities. Now if I can only learn to write better. Ha, ha.

Well you’ll find no complaints about your writing here. I’m impressed thus far. Now, since your main Instagram page is called Koda’s Tacoma, let’s talk about Koda.

Well, I picked up Koda rather unexpectedly from someone I met at Starbucks. They were trying to give away their Siberian Husky puppy, and it was a point in my life where I finally felt like it was a good idea to get a dog. It wasn’t. Turns out that he was, and sometimes still is a rascal! Thankfully, he has calmed down a lot after I started taking him outdoors. I feel like he really bonded with me there, and was able to run out his seemingly endless supply of energy. He goes to work with me and quickly became a warehouse dog, where it is an ongoing joke that everything I own, or rather previously owned, is now Koda’s property. Ever since he was a pup, he would take something of mine, run away with it, and basically never bring it back. So everything from the name of the Chromecast TV to the WiFi SSID at home is Koda’s [insert item here].

That’s how he wound up with a Tacoma. Ever since he was a pup he would sit in the driver’s seat when I’d leave him in the truck. It just really looked like he was driving the rig, so I guess when it was time to make an Instagram handle, it was the first thing that came to mind and it stuck.

Koda is very talkative, silly, and quite frankly, a punk, but on a positive note he’s also very loyal, sweet, and growing up to be the best dog I could have ever asked for. Some of his favorite things are riding in the truck, running, eating meaty treats, and hanging with other dogs.

Koda seems like an awesome dog, and he is undeniably cute, but let’s talk about his Tacoma for a moment. Tell us how long you’ve had it and what drew you to the platform.

I’ve had this Tacoma for around two years now, and the Tacoma before it for just half a year. The first Tacoma I purchased was going to be my work truck that I would pick up and drop off motorcycles and parts with, but one day I decided to take it camping. It was the first time I’d gone off-road since high school, and the first time I had slept under the stars since the Philippines. The nostalgia was almost overwhelming, I felt as though I had found the most awesome thing in the world. In many ways I did! What I remember most from that trip, and the things that really got me amped to build this platform was being out in nature with Koda—the sound of gravel crushing under my tires, and getting somewhere awesome that most vehicles can’t reach. I couldn’t get enough. It was actually a similar feeling to why I liked riding sport bikes so much, but without dropping my life expectancy by 50 percent. I discovered a side of me that loved the outdoors, camping, exploring, and best of all, I could do all of that with my dog. After that day, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

It wasn’t long after that camping trip that I sold my 2WD Tacoma and purchased this 4WD beast to expand where my adventures could lead. I had a pretty tight budget to get a 4WD, and knew I wanted to modify the truck. I also wanted a double cab, and as most people know they are hard to come by these days in good condition, so the search took some time. After a while though I found the truck I have now. It was recently listed and had mods I eventually wanted to add but was definitely above what I wanted to spend. I was also worried about buying used modified vehicles, as many can be driven too hard, or have improperly installed accessories. My girlfriend, Isabel, urged me to check it out anyway though, so we did.

I met the owner and we talked for at least a few hours going over all of the well thought out modifications he added to the truck. I was genuinely interested and also impressed because we went over nearly every inch of that truck and I could not find any reason to pass on the vehicle. The only reason he was selling it was because he had purchased a 2nd gen Tacoma to tow his FJ40. (I really lucked out on timing.) I managed to work something out with the owner and we still keep in touch. Best vehicle purchase of my life!

It certainly sounds like it! Looking at your Instagram page, it’s clear your build has evolved over time. Tell me about how it sits now, what parts you used, and why you chose to build it this way? How does it support your hobbies and lifestyle?

My purpose for the truck isn’t to be the #1 rock crawler or to be the most efficient “overland” rig. In fact, I don’t claim to be an overlander by definition. I weekend camp and go off-road, but someday I hope to do some real overlanding. For now though, my rig is built to support a few days of comfortable off-grid use at most without revisiting a town. It is also built to tackle most trails, not all trails, and meant to be comfortable enough to drive daily. Besides the obvious camping, I wanted it to get me places that would be fit for beautiful scenic photography as well, but not have it crowded by other people or passenger cars.

I really dislike hikes, as I’ve fractured my ankle from riding sport bikes and prefer to get there by vehicle instead of by foot these days. For my needs, this is the perfect in between for all the things I need. If you can’t tell by my photography, I’m enjoying the heck out of this truck! I got it with a substantial amount of work put into it, but I changed a few things to fit my needs. The truck came fitted with 33s, gearing, suspension, and other mods, but let me go over what I replaced a bit.

I got the truck without a rooftop tent and I knew that was something that I would make a lot of use out of, especially depending on the type of weather and terrain I might camp in. I went with the iKamper Skycamp tent, and got it on their kickstarter deal. I got so much use out of that tent that it was definitely worth the purchase. It was fast to set up and tear down, and also had a ton of space. We’ve camped almost every weekend, or at least every other weekend since I’ve owned the truck! Recently I’ve made the change to a Go Fast Camper, and unless somehow they make a new improved version of it (not sure how that would be possible), I will be sticking to this indefinitely.

The truck is fitted with full steel skid plates underneath including the differential. The sliders have seen better days, but they are still doing their job and can handle the full weight of the truck as I’ve tested many times. The front bumper is one timeless piece I don’t plan on changing anytime soon. I love the ARB for many reasons, but mostly for safety. They are one of the few crash tested bumpers, and also, ‘straya! I’m half Australian, so I’m biased to Australian stuff sometimes.

As far as suspension and wheels go, I’ve replaced the rear 12-inch Bilstein shocks with reservoirs that are custom mounted and changed the Camburg UCAs to SPC UCAs. During that time I also added Wheeler’s Off-Road Bumpstops to the front. The rig came with Icon 2.5s in the front, with Dakar leaf packs and an add a leaf in the rear. I replaced the OEM Toyota FJ style wheels with Stealth Custom Series F5s. I also replaced the 33 x 10 Maxxis Bighorns with 35 x 12.5 Goodyear Duratracs. These tires would help with a bit of clearance and also give the truck a wider stance for more stability. I picked this tire because it’s not too heavy, is snow-rated, and is pretty aggressive for an all-terrain. After the switch, the truck didn’t want to tip over as badly, and also handled better on the trail. I wouldn’t have done this swap if the rotational mass was too much, and would’ve gladly swapped back to a smaller lighter tire, but I’ve come to learn that this is just right for me at the moment. The only other tires I’ve been considering are the Cooper STT Pros and the BFG KM3s. They are heavier, but after replacing the 199-millimeter tundra brakes with 231-millimeter tundra brakes to make up for the additional rotational mass I’m not as concerned.

When I changed the brakes, I also added dba rotors, Australian brand again, and some EBC yellow pads. I also removed my sway bar before doing all of this for more articulation. I’ve been meaning to find some extensions and/or maybe even install a quick disconnect to re-add the sway bar for safety reasons.

Of course, there are a few other additions I’ve added to the truck, all the small stuff that seems to just accumulate. Owl Cam, Yaesu FTM-100DR, custom retrofitted headlights, new speakers, stealth sub, an amplifier for the speakers, and in-dash stereo for some road tunes. I added window visors because I love that fresh smell of rain in the air, a Gamiviti Racks spare tire hitch accessory mount, Warn 8000-S winch, and a twin ARB air compressor. Lighting is provided by an Xprite 32-inch Sunrise light bar on the front of the GFC, Xprite chase lights, and Xprite rock lights which are used inside the camper in red most of the time. For additional shade in the sun or rain, I added a 6-foot x 8-foot awning and recently added a Dometic CFX 50 to keep our food and drinks cold. I’m sure there’s more to add to this list but can’t think of them at this time…

Some of my decisions are based on what I can afford and how useful it is. If I had the money for it, I would pick some better-branded parts, but to be honest, sometimes you just have to get what you can. I should note that in my opinion there are some things you cannot skimp out on as far as quality goes, so don’t get me wrong there. Anything where safety is concerned especially.

Man, that’s a decent list! I couldn’t agree more on your philosophy of quality where it counts though. So speaking of quality, what’s it like going from a rooftop tent to a Go Fast Camper? What are your favorite aspects, and is there anything you would change?

Ah, my favorite question to be asked! Bear with me as I try to explain my feelings on the matter. For me, going from a rooftop tent to a Go Fast camper was like going from a ground tent to a mini RV—the difference is night and day. Setup time is nonexistent. You pop two tabs, and BAM it’s done. I can even store my sleeping bag and down comforter up there when it’s closed, somehow. A lot of people complain about not being able to store more than the basics up there, but I’ll take lifting my pillows a whopping 3 feet for the benefit of fitting in a garage.

The next big benefit is being able to stand up inside. It changes everything for me when I think about camping. It’s so much more comfortable, and I feel like it permits me to camp in worse weather. It could be bad weather outside and I can do what I need to inside my space and move things around. I know this isn’t a new thing, but in many ways, placing it in a package this small, light, and strong is. And I do mean light. I shaved off over 200 pounds of weight switching from the canopy and roof tent to the Go Fast Camper. For an older truck with less power than modern vehicles, it’s very noticeable.

I guess my favorite aspects of the GFC, besides how fast it is to use, is the sheer ingenuity of it. It’s a roof rack in itself that can support 500 pounds when not using the tent portion. It also has mountable channels along each side for all sorts of accessories. You have full access to the sides of the bed, which allowed me to drop the 150-pound bed slide, and my truck is now 6’ 10” whereas it used to be 7’ 10” with my previous setup. Also, it’s 100 percent made in the USA, which is always a plus for me.

Changes to the GFC? I can’t think of any at this time. The only change I wanted was an external tent door entrance to be able to use my GFC as a rooftop tent if I needed to have everything closed up and fully loaded inside the bed. They have an option for that now though.

It seems like you have your setup pretty much dialed into your liking then. What else is in the future for it? Is there anything you’d do differently?

I actually love everything about it currently, but I’m always trying to find ways to lower its weight, pack smarter, and be more organized. I want to get the most out of this truck without adding a supercharger or changing the gears to 5.29s. Gears and a supercharger are still options I would consider doing, but I only see that happening if the weight of the truck has to increase. The only other thing I’ve thought about is long travel, a natural instinct with my go-fast background. I just think that if that happens it will be far into the future because the rig already does everything I need it to. It’s just not necessary.

Alright, so now I get to ask my favorite question. If you could only camp and off-road in one section of the world for the rest of your life, what area would you choose and why?

That is one very hard question, my friend. I still have too much to explore to give you a definitive answer, but as of right now I really can’t complain about where I am in California. Being somewhere that I can reach the ocean, dunes, desert, and snow in one day is pretty amazing to me. I also can’t get over how our weather here is. I do have to say that Utah is a very very close second to me right now. Moab blew my mind last year, and I should be seeing Montana and Colorado this year to explore those states a bit more. So as you’d expect, my answers could change.

If you’re talking about one section within 100 miles though, for now, I guess the HWY 395 is my absolute favorite. I’m sad to say it’s a lot busier there now than when I used to visit, but it’s still overflowing with beauty and I haven’t had any issues finding places to camp. I have a lot of faith in our community to leave these places better than we found them.

So are there any big travel plans for 2019 or dreams for a future big trip?

The big plans for this year are the trip to Montana I mentioned previously, and I should be making it out for FJ Summit in Colorado. Those are the only two trips that I currently have planned, excluding all of my weekend trips, of course. Dreams for a future big trip for me would be going to Baja, Alaska, and Banff.

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Chris didn’t receive a real taste of the outdoors until moving to Prescott, Arizona, in 2009. While working on his business degree, he learned to fly and spent his weekends exploring the Arizona desert and high country. It was there that he fell in love with backcountry travel and four-wheel drive vehicles, eventually leading him to Overland Journal and Expedition Portal. After several years of honing his skills in writing, photography, and off-road driving, Chris now works for the company full time as Expedition Portal's Senior Editor while living full-time on the road.