In 1988 I bought a 4-cylinder, 5-speed Tacoma 4×4 with the Xtra cab (meaning a 6′ bed). Then in 2003, I got a new one, same model. The engine is a bit gutless going up long hills, but will run forever.
By this time I knew exactly what I wanted:
A metal camper shell made by Tradesman in Winters, Calif. It opened on all three sides, was way stronger than plastic shells. I bought an aluminum rack from Hauler Racks. It came disassembled via UPS and I bolted it together and mounted it. It rests on the truckbed sides, not on the camper roof.
At Campway’s in Santa Rosa, Calif., I got the inside of the bed sprayed with a waterproof membrane to protect the metal. Also a “carpet kit,” with storage boxes along the sides and sliding middle panels inside the bed.
You can see the pull-out drawer and side storage boxes. I shot this photo on Hornby Island, BC on one of my four trips to Canada shooting photos for Builders of the Pacific Coast. I remember one afternoon collecting oysters way out on a reef (beyond the commercial guys and cooking them for dinner on a beach fire with aluminum-foil-clad potatoes, red wine, AND blackberries with …(ahem)… heavy cream and brown sugar.
I never mounted the rooftop tent. I bought a used pull-out canopy which is great for Baja surfing, sets up in a few minutes as opposed to 45 min. for the flea market tarp. On camper roof: Yakima Rocket Box, surfboard rack. I slept inside when it was raining or really cold, otherwise outside.
This is a fantastic setup for desert travel; the 4×4 will get you just about anywhere. A 4×4 van is another option, but costs about twice as much.
I can take the camper shell off (four quick-release clamps) to haul straw, topsoil, gravel, etc.
(Interesting factoid: The Toyota Hi-Lux trucks, beefed-up Tacomas, and mounted with machine guns, were used in the Iran-Iraq war and more recently by Afghani rebels.)