The modern pickup truck market caters mainly to two categories of buyers. Workers who plan to use their truck for everything a pickup was made for—from hauling lumber to towing out tree stumps—require vehicles that can haul significant payloads, run for hundreds of thousands of miles, and carry a team of five in comfort. Meanwhile, families increasingly select pickup trucks to schlep the kids to school and pick up groceries on the way home; manufacturers have to release models with a focus more on luxury, technology, and economy for this growing customer base.
But even families will occasionally toss a couple of motorcycles or an ATV in the truck bed or possibly even tow a boat down to the river now and then—so their light-duty pickups still need to be ready for a few days of fun every month or so. Luckily, the pickup market abounds with a range of features and drivetrains available on every model, including crew cabs, diesel engines, extended beds, and even amenities like full-length sunroofs and air-conditioned ventilated seats.
However, there is a smaller, niche market that has also gained ground lately: buyers who love to go off-roading. Sadly, outside of a select few models like the forthcoming Jeep Gladiator, there aren't many pickup truck options for this crowd and they find themselves basically selecting between different iterations of the Jeep Wrangler.
Luckily, the internet has opened up a whole new world of truck customization to the masses, many of whom have discovered that they can create awesome, rugged trucks in their garage with little more than a basic set of tools. But knowing which pickup trucks are ready for off-roading and which should stay on the asphalt is crucial before beginning any build.
20 Mall-Crawler: So Custom
The world of street-sport pickup trucks has grown all the more intense in recent years thanks to the amazing quantity of supplies, knowledge, and inspiration available on the internet. This pickup has been slammed to the ground over racing slicks and a couple of snails poking out of (what remains of) the hood suggest it could boast serious power upgrades, too. But even with Ken Block at the wheel, this truck isn't likely to do any of the truck stuff that pickups are built to perform; it can barely clear the tiniest of pebbles, nevermind an actual boulder or rock-littered trail.
19 Rock-Crawler: Classic Beef
The current Power Wagon may just be an options package on the Ram 2500 (Ram having spun off as a separate brand for reasons understood by absolutely nobody) but the original Power Wagon is just about as legendary as a pickup truck can possibly be. First off, there's the quintessential styling that looks stout and utilitarian but still period-perfect. Starting in 1945 because of Dodge's experience building for the war, the Power Wagon was as rugged as it got in those days short of actual military surplus and was the first civilian-oriented four-wheel-drive pickup truck. Today, plenty of off-roaders like to restore Power Wagons—immediately before taking them on the trail and destroying them once again.
18 Mall-Crawler: Folded Taco
Toyota's pickup trucks are legendary for their reliability. Odometer readings over 300,000 are standard fare for both the Tundra and the Tacoma (provided head gaskets get replaced now and then) and the relatively smaller iterations of the early-2000s are even fairly capable off-roaders, especially when equipped with TRD goodies. But with 200k-mile Tacomas still fetching over 10 grand on the used market, the lurking fears about rust issues for the model somehow have managed to get swept under the rug. Every pickup that's about to go on a trail run should be thoroughly checked out for frame rust—especially trucks that are so notoriously sturdy that they typically go decades between oil changes.
17 Rock-Crawler: Rough And Tumble
Land Rover Defender builds that are completed in the US can fetch ridiculous prices—well above six-figures these days—but just about everyone opts for the classic 90 and 110 SUV models. But the rest of the world knows the Defender equally as well in pickup truck guise and it's only here that the UK-built model really doesn't have quite the name recognition. Much like the G-Wagen, the Defender is a stalwart institution in the world of rugged off-roading, regardless of whether a specific example was built before Land Rover even started calling them Defenders (instead just using a number, which represented the length of the wheelbase).
16 Mall-Crawler: Ranger Danger
One little detail that newbies to the truck world don't realize is that four-wheel drive isn't necessarily a standard feature on every pickup. Plenty of trucks come in a two-wheel-drive layout, as well, for drivers who know they're never going to see snow, mud, or sand. (Today, some even come with only their front wheels powered—heresy!) Capable little pickups like this Ford Ranger are the most likely to fool potential buyers into thinking they're getting a deal on a truck that's ready to hit the Playa but despite the 'Sport' decal on the tail end, this Ranger only drives with its rear wheels and would definitely get stuck in the Burning Man dust.
15 Rock-Crawler: Not A Woody
Older pickup trucks have an aura that new trucks simply can't replicate. This diesel-powered pickup truck is almost rat rod in concept—and is actually a product of the team behind Vegas Rat Rods. While the wooden front bumper might be taking things a little too far—especially given the winch mounted above it, hopefully to the frame rather than the wood itself—the fifth-gen Ford F-Series that lies beneath the faux-rust paint is one of the trucks that helped solidify Ford as this country's most successful pickup truck manufacturers. To this day, some off-roaders remain Ford guys and they'll remain that way til the end.
14 Mall-Crawler: Ram It
Perhaps one of the most awesome trucks of all time, the Dodge Ram SRT-10 only brings some subtle exterior details to suggest what lurks beneath its shell. Sure, it's got a pickup bed but this vehicle is closer to a Dodge Viper than anything else, right down to the 500-hp V10, six-speed stick shift, and rear-wheel drive. It might be fun to take this thing out onto the salt flats but the idea of taking a Viper onto a dirt track should sound just as ridiculous as doing the same with an SRT-10. These are street trucks that should only rarely carry lumber, much less hit the rugged outdoors with any sort of vengeance.
13 Rock-Crawler: For Their Eyes Only
This customized Toyota looks ready to take on the world. From the snorkel up top to the all-terrain tires underneath some clearly lifted fender flares, it's a truck that's about as minimalist as possible while still staying as useful as possible. Somehow, it's got a Colorado license plate despite the fact that this is very clearly a ROW (Rest of World) Toyota Land Cruiser—and not even one exempted from import by the 25-year rule, at that! The build was completed by Colorado-based company Slee Off-Road and they essentially cobbled together everything great about Toyota that doesn't quite make it to this country's dealers in one unified package.
12 Mall-Crawler: Carry The Clubs
Volkswagen's old pickup truck was based on the Golf but with a slightly longer wheelbase that helped it feature what was, essentially, a teensy tiny truck bed. While useful for city folk who wanted a small, efficient truck to run to the hardware store with, the Caddy was definitely never intended to go off-roading. One look at the wheels and tires should tell anyone that this truck might not even be able to handle the camper shell that has been mounted on it—the bed isn't long enough for a full-grown adult to stretch out without putting the tailgate down or sit up without bumping their head.
11 Rock-Crawler: On Safari
Mercedes-Benz has built the G-Wagen for over three decades, with that span including input from brands like Puch and Steyr, as well. (Only the Unimog boasts a longer production run among Mercedes' lineup.) But while celebs in the US spend their time blasting around mall parking lots in their AMG G 63 6x6 models, the G-Wagen is still a rugged off-roader straight from the factory. The rest of the world even gets the option of pickup truck layouts from the factory, though builders here in the States can definitely chop up a classic G-Wagen without hesitation and turn it into a world-class off-roader.
10 Mall-Crawler: 6 Wheels On Tarmac
The Hennessey VelociRaptor 6x6 is yet another monstrous creation from the maniacs responsible for the likes of the world-beating Venom supercar and the twin-turbo Viper Venom. As rough-and-tumble as it looks, thanks to an additional axle bolted onto the rear end of Ford's already impressive F-150 Raptor, under the hood lies a 600-hp engine upgrade, as well. The truck even comes with locking rear axles, off-road tires, and a light bar—but anyone willing to take their $350,000 pickup truck onto a real overlanding trail has more brawn than they do brains. This beast is more appropriate for scaring moms in the Whole Foods parking lot.
9 Rock-Crawler: Flatbed Mutant
For many pickup truck fans in the United States, this off-road build may seem exactly like what its license plate suggests. It's a mutant combination of a small cab, a flat bed, a roof rack, and a lifted suspension setup solid enough to carry it through just about any terrain. It's a Holden 1-Tonner, a model that isn't sold here in the US (though is related to GM, the two brands having released cars like the 2000s-era Pontiac GTO and G8). There are a ton of pickup trucks that will never make it to these shores because of a number of reasons including the domestic consumer's preference for larger, Detroit-built pickups and the infamous Chicken Tax restriction on smaller pickups built overseas.
8 Mall-Crawler: Working In Style
It remains unclear whether the Mercedes-Benz X-Class will ever make it to the United States. The decision may be a tougher one for Mercedes given that they'd be shipping a luxury, high-priced pickup to the true home of the world's best trucks. Competing against larger, more powerful, and more established truck brands like Ford, Chevy, and Ram may seem intimidating, especially as Detroit's brands have increased their own creature comforts to cater towards family-oriented consumers as much as work-oriented buyers. Regardless, though, the rest of the world should probably hesitate to take their X-Classes off-roading, as they share a platform with the Nissan Navara and don't even have true four-wheel drive.
7 Rock-Crawler: Endless Summer
Toyota's lineup of pickup trucks is popular here in the US but the prevalance of Tacomas and Tundras on these shores is absolutely nothing compared to overseas. Known as the Hilux in foreign markets, the Tacoma (and the 4x4 that preceded it) may very well be the most popular pickup truck ever made. Toyota Racing Development has released some nice off-roading iterations over the years but there's no comparing their factory models to custom builds like this one, which is perfect for spending time on beaches, where soft sand can be a real issue for ill-equipped drivers. A mild lift and high-quality tires—plus a set of locking hubs—should be all that's necessary.
6 Mall-Crawler: A Nissan
Nissan has been in some hot water lately about the reliability of their Titan and Frontier pickup truck models. However, in the 1990s, Nissan had just their small pickup on the market, known as the Hardbody here in the US and sold as a Datsun in many other markets. There was no doubting the simple pickup's reliability and it made for a perfect small truck. But an off-roader it was, most certainly, not. The leaf springs at the rear alone should have been enough to keep anyone on the asphalt, where it could easily be expected to spend a lifetime hauling little loads in its relatively good-sized bed (on the more desirable two-door models).
5 Rock-Crawler: The Mountains Are Calling
A little-known pickup truck that should really be pulling in more of a customer base is the current Ram Power Wagon. It offers many of the features that off-roaders require, including coil springs at all four corners, a crew cab, locking differentials, and disconnecting sway bars, all with a respectable bed. A factory Hemi V8 makes it all the more desirable compared to a contemporary Jeep Wrangler, though its longer wheelbase is a bit of a detraction. Regardless, with the right customizations, the Power Wagon isn't too much wider than a Wrangler, keeping the narrower sections of the Rubicon Trail within the realm of possibility.
4 Mall-Crawler: Not A Nissan
The predecessor to the Nissan Hardbody bore the brand's previous name even here in the US. Datsun is, as a whole, receiving a bit of a collector's resurgence lately and their stellar car, the 510—especially in two-door form—is quickly skyrocketing in price as enthusiasts rush to transform them into tribute rally builds. But during the 510's production run, Datsun also produced a little pickup that has gone down as one of the most perfectly styled small pickups from the late-1960s and early-70s. No, it doesn't have quite the presence of a Ford, Chevrolet, or Dodge from the era. But the cute little truck has a style of its own, though it should definitely avoid going on any roads tougher than packed gravel driveways.
3 Rock-Crawler: Ready For A Swim
Just because a pickup truck has received a camper shell—even one that's built around the frame in more of a serious installation than just the average bed cover—doesn't mean it's not a pickup anymore. This Jeep Wrangler looks to be based on an actual Wrangler (by the length) or it could be an early tester concept for overlanding-equipped Jeep Gladiators. The platform for the forthcoming pickup will be similar to a Wrangler but with a longer wheelbase to accomodate a crew cab and a bed. Whether the off-roading community will flock to the truck or not because of its stretched length remains to be seen but builds like this one are likely to give Jeep a leg up once the Gladiator hits showroom floors.
2 Mall-Crawler: Caught In The Whirlwind
GMC's Syclone still defines the sport-truck market. Every few years, a manufacturer or two will come out with a street-sport model that sits a little lower, rides a little tighter, and has a bit more power than the rest of their lineup. But that trend was truly started by the Syclone (even if it did carry on the legend of Dodge's Lil Red Express). The Syclone was a high-powered Sonoma produced only for the 1991 model year and featuring a turbocharged V6 sending power to all four corners. Although it only came with a four-speed automatic transmission, the truck still compared favorably even with sports cars of its era, though like the coupes and convertibles it competed against, the Syclone was definitely not meant for off-roading.
1 Rock-Crawler: Built Ford Tough
If there's one pickup truck that can deliver both rock-crawlers and mall-crawlers some serious fun, it has to be the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor. For years now, the Raptor has enjoyed its own market segment, and only recently have other manufacturers started to realize that they, too, should probably release an up-rated, powerful, trail-spec pickup. The Raptor that began production in 2017 is a step up even from its 2010-2014 predecessor, with long-travel suspension and a 450-hp, 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 under the hood paired to a ten-speed automatic transmission. Unlike SVT's earlier Lightning F-150 variants, the Raptor is inspired by Baja 1000 trucks and is definitely ready to hit the trails ASAP.
Sources: 4 Wheeling In Western Australia, Car and Driver, and Wikipedia.