Gear Essentials: Bumpers, Armor, Winches & Recovery

Sure, a roof rack and a fridge will make your 4×4 look and feel like an overland rig. But no overland vehicle is truly complete and ready for extended, remote travel until it’s outfitted with armor and recovery equipment.

We combed through all kinds of items, for trucks and vans alike, and compiled our favorites for November. Like every month before it, this list is in alphabetical order.

Backwoods Adventure Mods — 2019+ Mercedes Sprinter Front Bumper with Bull Bar

We’re kicking this list off with a product for our van-based overlanding friends. So, van folks, you can stop sending us letters questioning our devotion. We love you. And we hope this proves it.

We’re starting this month’s essentials with a pretty bad-ass product: Backwoods Adventure Mods’ Nomad front bumper for the 2019 and on Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. And, yes, you can get it with or without the bull bar, if you’d like. That means you can either butch up your Sprinter a bit while adding some front-end armor or you can leave it a bit more under-the-radar. It’s your choice.

No matter which design you pick, the bumper is made from both aluminum and steel. The rust-free outer shell is shaped from 3/16-inch 5052 aluminum. Behind the face of the bumper is a rib system composed from 3/16-inch that adds reinforcement to the whole structure.

The mounting brackets and winch mount are made from 1/4-inch steel. So, you know it will be able to withstand whatever you accidentally bump into it.

Other steel components include steel shackle mounts and a two-inch receiver, which are both integrated into the winch mount, giving the Nomad bumper a hybrid design that is lightweight but strong.

The designers carved four light pockets into the face of the bumper as well. These perfectly accommodate two-inch Pathfinder LED pods.

Did your Sprinter come with Adaptive Cruise Control? This bumper can be built to accommodate that. Are you worried about damaging the diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) tank up at the front? This bumper gives it full frontal protection. Worried a bumper might block much-needed airflow to your engine’s cooling system? This bumper exceeds Mercedes’ airflow requirements.

There you have it. It’s strong but still lightweight. It’s not too aggressive or shouty in its appearance. But it’s decidedly mean looking (in a gentlemanly way), and it works to enhance your vehicle’s performance while at the same time protecting it from the hazards of an active overland lifestyle. That’s why we love it.

MSRP: Starting $2,750 to $2,950


Backwoods Adventure Mods — Aluminum Cabinet Box

Building on the van love, let’s take a look at another product from Backwoods Adventure Mods: The Aluminum Cabinet Box. It sort of rides the line between bumper, armor, and storage. So, you could say it sort of lives in its own universe, which is one of the reasons we like it. But we’ll get to that love-letter rationale later on. For now, let’s talk specs.

The Aluminum Cabinet Box is formed from 0.125-inch thick aluminum, which is both lightweight but also strong. The cabinet measures 30 inches by 15 inches by 24 inches. It is a great bolt-on addition to Backwoods Adventure Mods’ swing-out bumpers for both Ford Transit and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter (hint, hint).

When all secured to your van, with the supplied stainless steel hardware, it’s sturdy as heck. In fact, despite its relative light weight, it can hold lots of gear — a 46-pound Honda 2000-series generator, for example.

That’s not all it can hold, though. The cabinet features mounting flanges that make quick work of bolting up your favorite accessories to it, like a 4.5-gallon FuelpaX.

The Aluminum Cabinet Box is opened with a T-handle latch. Want a little more security for your stuff? Specify the optional built-in padlock when you order. The cabinet door stays open thanks to the gas strut. And, inside, the shelf is adjustable. Gear remains as dry as possible thanks to the automotive-grade gasket. Should things get a bit damp inside, the bottom features drain holes and plugs.

We love this cabinet because it is tough. How tough? Here’s how Backwoods Adventure Mods put it: “Our cabinet box is built to handle any abuse you throw its way … except buses. Don’t hit it with a bus.”

That’s sage advice for any overlander.

Even more sensible advice is to add Backwoods Adventure Mods’ Aluminum Cabinet Box to your overland van rig. Just sayin’.

MSRP: $672


Body Armor 4×4 — 2016-2020 Toyota Tacoma HiLine Series Front Bumper

The third-gen Tacoma has an infamously complex fascia — one that is not easy to marry an aftermarket bumper to. That’s because it doesn’t feature a traditional flat-top bumper. The bumper blends almost seamlessly into the front fascia. This makes it look cool in stock form but difficult to develop off-road bumpers for.

Despite its tricky front end design, the Tacoma might be the most popular starter overlanding rig around right now. That means if brands want to offer a bumper solution for those millions of Tacoma owners, they have to be additionally clever with their designs. The old ‘roo-bashing bull bars won’t suffice here.

Enter Body Armor 4×4 with its HiLine Series front bumper for the third-gen Tacoma.

Body Armor 4×4’s designers were determined not to ruin the undeniable attitude of the Tacoma but rather enhance it with their HiLine bumper. And we think they succeeded. 

The bumper is shaped from 3/16-inch steel. However, the winch plate is cut from 1/4-inch steel to ensure it can withstand up to 10,000 pound of pulling force from a winch. Speaking of winch, despite following the factory bumper lines, designers found enough room behind the bumper to fit a WARN ZEON winch (or a winch from another brand with similar dimensions).

The bumper is finished with a two-stage powder coating. The first is an e-coat base that prevents corrosion. That’s topped with an extremely durable black coat that can withstand scratches and demanding conditions. Body Armor 4×4 believes so strongly in this two-stage finish that the brand backs it with a three-year finish guarantee, which corresponds to the brand’s Armor Guard limited lifetime warranty.

Customers can specify additional options on their bumper, including 20-inch dual- or single-row LED light bar, 3/4-inch D-rings, and factory Toyota TRD skid plate to finish off the HiLine bumper.

We love how the HiLine blends perfectly with the factory bodylines of the Tacoma. Granted, this is achieved with some cutting of the factory bumper. But Body Armor 4×4 provides more than just detailed instructions with the bumper. The brand also includes edge trim to ensure the finished product comes out looking as close to factory as possible.

We also love how it doesn’t impinge on the standard Safety Sense suite of active safety technologies. We love that because it means overlanders get the best of both worlds: off-road capability and toughness with modern advanced safety technology.

MSRP: $599.99


Body Armor 4×4 — 2016-2020 Toyota Tacoma Pro Series Rear Bumper

Everybody thinks about front bumpers — they’re the add-ons that give you most off-road protection because, most of the time, you’re going forward. However, overlanders don’t always think about protecting the tailend of their rig. And they really should. From turnarounds on tight, tree-lined trails to descending rocky hills, there are plenty of reasons to add some armor to the rear of your vehicle. But what rear bumper is right for you? We have a suggestion.

You’ve bolted up a Body Armor 4×4 HiLine from bumper to your Tacoma. Now, it’s time to complete not only the visual and capability upgrade of your rig. You need to also step up to the Pro Series rear bumper from Body Armor 4×4 as well.

Just like the HiLine front bumper, the body Pro Series rear is made from 3/16-inch steel. However, the reinforced mounting plates are cut from 1/4-inch steel.

Just as with the HiLine, the Pro Series bumper is finished with a two-stage powder coating. The first is an e-coat base that prevents corrosion. That’s topped with an extremely durable black coat that can withstand scratches and demanding conditions. Body Armor 4×4 believes so strongly in this two-stage process that it backs the finish with a three-year guarantee, which corresponds to the brand’s Armor Guard limited lifetime warranty.

On both the left and right side, there are square holes that can fit square auxiliary lights from most brands — and the holes are cut to accommodate both flush mount or standard mount.

What’s more, since the Pro Series utilizes the placement, mounting points, and factory hardware, there will be no fitment issues. To that end, designers include solutions for both rigs with and without original trailer hitch receivers. This allows those with factory hitches to retain the receiver and factory tow rating.

The bumper even works for models fitted with backup sensors from the factory. However, the Pro Series rear bumper will not work for those Tacomas with blind-spot monitoring.

Despite that forgivable gap in Tacoma trim application, we love the Pro Series rear bumper for the third-gen Tacoma because it both continues the factory bodylines and designs while at the same time enhancing them and adding much-needed trail toughness.

This is the kind of bumper you can bolt up relatively quickly and add a ton of strength and protection to the back of your Taco. It’s a Toyota, after all. It’s going to run virtually forever. You’ll be well advised to protect it, so it looks good — and remains undamaged — for the long haul.

MSRP: $552.99


CBI Offroad Fab — Third-Gen Toyota Tacoma Covert Bumper

“CBI Offroad Fab,” “CBI Offroad,” or simply “CBI” — whatever you know it as, if you’re into overlanding, you should know the company and its vast line of products.

Distinguishing itself in the marketplace, CBI is best known for seamless designs. That’s why it’s been chosen to create products for discerning brands like Lexus and Expedition Overland.

Perhaps one of the best examples of its design prowess is the Covert Bumper for the third-generation Toyota Tacoma.

Before we get into the specifics of the bumper, let’s back up a second and recognize that not everyone wants a huge Australian-style bumper and bull bars dominating the front of their rig. While that look is good for some, it’s not for others. This realization, combined with the intricacies of modern automotive design, led CBI to create what it calls the Covert Bumper.

Unlike bumpers from other brands, CBI’s Covert Bumper is cleverly integrated into the fascia of the rig. This enables the vehicle to retain as much of the factory aesthetics as possible, while increasing the approach angle and underbody protection. This is how it got its name. If you didn’t know to look for it, you might not notice the Covert Bumper.

No Covert Bumper better exemplifies the cleverness of the design better than the one for the third-gen Tacoma.

Despite its covert design, the Covert Bumper is frame mounted thereby ensuring its robustness. However, it’s also low profile and relatively lightweight. It features fully a gusseted and reinforced winch mount. D-ring tabs are also integrated into the design in order to aid in recovery. And, for those who want additional auxiliary lighting options, it includes a space for a 30-inch single-row light bar.

All Covert Bumpers are finished in satin black powder coating and include grade eight hardware. It’s as tough as can be, right out of the box.

And that’s why we love the Covert Bumper. It gives overlanders an opportunity to add some much-needed protection to the front end of their rig — and a winch — without ruining the factory visual aesthetic. What’s more, it sets them up nicely to further increase their vehicle’s underbody protection by mating the Covert with some CBI skid plates as well. Sure, installing the Covert requires some cutting of the factory Tacoma bumper. But it’s absolutely worth going under the knife for.

MSRP: $799.99 – $949.98


ICON VEHICLE DYNAMICS — ICON Impact PRO Series Front Bumper

Unless this is your first time out of the house in 20 years, you’ve heard ICON VEHICLE DYNAMICS and you’re familiar with its reputation for designing precision-engineered wheels suspension systems. Now ICON has taken that impressive reputation and engineering prowess and applied it to armor, bumpers, and accessories.

One of the latest from that new line is the Impact PRO Series front bumper for 2018 and up Jeep Wrangler JL and 2020 and on Gladiator JT.

Let’s say you picked up a Wrangler or Gladiator and you’re ready to start outfitting it for more than just everyday excursions on dirt roads. One of your first moves will be to bolt up some front-end protection and a winch. The Impact Pro Series front bumper is an ideal choice. Let’s explain why.

First off, it is CNC laser cut from precision brake-formed 3/16-inch steel. It’s then topped with a low-profile impact bar, further protecting the front end, shaped from beefy 1.75-inch heavy-wall Drawn Over Mandrel (DOM) tubing. Behind that bar is a winch mounting spot. Unlike other bumpers on the market, the winch is not nestled in or behind the bumper. This is not an oversight. Rather, it’s a benefit. Having it up high atop the bumper keeps it further from water, mud, and rocks. What’s more, it gives great visual and physical access to both the winch rope and drum. Believe us, you’ll want to have a good line of sight on your winch rope when you’re using it.

The design of the Impact Pro Series front bumper follows both form and function. It’s both great looking but also designed with utility in mind. For example, the narrow width protects the lower grille and the vitols behind it while also giving the front wheels maximum space for articulation. And you’re going to want to have as much articulation as possible when summiting technical obstacles — that’s why you got a Jeep after all, right?

On the face of the bumper, designers left room for either your stock fog lights or some aftermarket LED lights of your choosing, which is a really nice touch.

The whole thing is finished in a semi-gloss black powder coating that is covered under the brand’s limited lifetime warranty.

That’s why we love the Impact Pro Series front bumper. It’s not only incredibly functional and obviously stout (it has to be, to be bolted to the front of a Wrangler or Gladiator after all). But it’s also well thought out and carefully designed. What else would you expect from ICON VEHICLE DYNAMICS? You know, rely on, and trust its suspension and wheels. It stands to reason its other equipment will be equally as esteemed. From what we’ve seen, the Impact Pro Series front bumper definitely is.

MSRP: $734.95


Rugged Ridge — Jeep JK HD Front Bumper

Continuing our Jeep Wrangler love, we’ve added a hardy but affordable front bumper designed for Jeep Wrangler JK to the list from the venerable Rugged Ridge. The name of this bumper says it all — it’s heavy-duty.

It’s made from 2.55-centimeter (around one inch) thick steel plate. It has built in recovery hooks, which feature drilled holes to accommodate both 3/4- and 7/8-inch recovery shackles (no, the shackles aren’t included). Additional holes with built-in grilles were cut in the face of the bumper for auxiliary lights.

Behind the face of the bumper is a recessed winch plate. This can fit most winches from major winch manufacturers. That means you’re not pigeonholed into just one winch brand — you can have the pick of the litter. What’s more, having the winch recessed ensures plenty of air gets to your rig’s radiator.

The shape of the bumper may look a bit moustache-like. More than to add some visual machismo to the front of your Wrangler, the shape was driven by the goal of both increasing ground clearance while retaining full-width front-end protection. Plus, there are integrated lifting points for hi-lift jacks at each corner.

Although Rugged Ridge designed the HD front bumper to get muddy and bounce off rocks and trees, it still backs it with a limited five-year warranty.

We love this bumper because it is tough but affordable. With pricing starting below $450, the Rugged Ridge HD front bumper is a great addition to any budget-minded or starter overland rig. It looks sharp, it’s burly as all get out, and adds much-needed recovery points for your Wrangler.

MSRP: From $439.99


Superwinch — Talon Series Winch

Now that we’ve covered off bumpers that feature winch mounts, let’s turn our attention to the winches themselves.

Superwinch’s Talon Series of winches is an impressive example offered anywhere from 9,500- to 18,000-pound variants. The Talon Series features two-stage planetary and two-stage spur gears with ball and roller-bearing construction. These design features make the Talon both efficient and reliable no matter the weight rating you chose.

Plus, all seals on the Talon boast an ingress protection (IP) waterproof rating of IP67, which can prevent immersion up to one meter for 30 minutes. So, even if you get stuck in a bog, your Talon will remain unphased.

More than reliable and waterproof, the Talon is fast. It has been fitted with 5.2- and 6.0-horsepower motors. With these high-speed motors onboard, Superwinch claims the Talon is capable of the fastest line speed in its class — 25 feet per minute while only drawing a scant 75 amps. It also has an ingenious Dual-Stop feature that is capable of 100% load hold braking.

The geometry of the Talon is such that you can mount it with the feet down or feet forward. So, it is ideal for any number of vehicles or bumpers. That means you’re not relegated to just a few bumper options, if you choose a Talon.

Operating the Talon is easy, too. The chrome-plated aluminum spool knob turns effortlessly. And the winch remote is both ergonomic and sealed. That means it’s comfortable to hold and, just like the winch itself, won’t be susceptible to water ingress. If that weren’t enough, the coiled remote cable easily stretches from four to 15 feet. And it connects to the winch with a military-style twist lock, which — you guessed it — also prevents moisture from getting through.

To recap, the Talon is tough, waterproof, fast, and easily fits a ton of different applications. If that weren’t enough, Superwinch backs it up with a Limited Lifetime Warranty and an industry first three-year warranty on all electronics.

That’s why we love it. It’s designed to withstand virtually anything you can throw at it. And, should it fail, Superwinch will stand behind it.

What more could you ask for? 

MSRP: Starting at $989.99


Superwinch — Tiger Shark Series Winch

Superwinch’s Tiger Shark Series is like the Talon, but a bit more entry-level. Despite its more accessible price point, it is nonetheless impressive.

It can pull up to 9,500 pounds. It features a three-stage planetary gear powered by a weather-sealed solenoid that is circuit-breaker protected. Load holding is performed by a mechanical brake.

The standard rope is wire, however, a synthetic rope can be optioned. Either rope is supported by a heavy-duty steel four-way roller fairlead. The automatic load holding brake design is located on the end of the motor away from the drum’s center to eliminate heat transfer to synthetic rope.

The Tiger Shark’s clutch is operated by an ergonomic pull and turn knob. The sealed rubber remote is attached to the winch by a 12-foot cable. And despite its impressive bona fides, the Tiger Shark only weighs 90 pounds. So, it won’t add too much weight to the nose of your rig.

We realize that not everyone has thousands of dollars to throw at a winch. That’s why we love the Superwinch Tiger Shark. It’s tough, affordable, and backed by a limited two-year warranty.

MSRP: $748.00 – $1,232.00


WARN — HUB Receiver & App

Do you have an older WARN winch? Do you look at your friends with envy who can control their winches remotely with a wireless controller? Well, you can go ahead and strike envy from your vocabulary. That’s because WARN’s new HUB Receiver and App turns your older wired-controller winch into a cutting-edge Bluetooth-powered winch.

Perhaps best of all, installing only takes around five minutes. Let us explain.

The HUB Receiver is a six-foot long cable that is rated at IP68 waterproof rating. On one end of the HUB Receiver features is a D-plug that connects to your WARN winch exactly where the wired controller goes. On the other end is a Bluetooth-enabled wireless receiver with built-in multi-colored LED lights.

Simply connect the D-plug to your winch and secure the six-foot cable to your rig. Once it’s powered on, pair it with your smartphone through the free and custom-designed app — available for both iOS and Android.

Then you’ll be able control your winch through Bluetooth from up to 100 feet away. Since it’s a Bluetooth connection, you don’t have to worry about being out of cell signal. The Receiver’s LED lights give quick visual indication of its state — from ready to operational.

The app itself has big, easy-to-see buttons. And there’s no delay between the app and the winch operation. More than control your winch from the app, you can monitor your vehicle’s battery voltage. That will help you ensure you don’t run out of battery out of juice while winching.

Smartly, the app has a lockout feature that prevents you from accidentally powering up your winch, too.

We love the WARN HUB Receiver and App because it enables overlanders with less tech-y winches to easily, and relatively inexpensively, bring their winches into the 21st century. So many pieces of overlanding kit are Bluetooth and smartphone enabled. Your winch should be, too.

MSRP: $112.49


WARN — Medium-Duty Epic Recovery Kit

You’ve got your bumper and your winch. Now you need a recovery kit to put that winch to safe use. You need WARN’s Medium-Duty Epic Recovery Kit. It is designed to work with winches up to 12,000 pounds.

The kit includes virtually everything you need to execute a successful self-recovery, including two forged 3/4-inch Epic screw pin shackles, forged Epic snatch block, two-inch by 30-inch Epic tree trunk protector with forged metal ends that is rated to 14,400 pounds, premium two-inch by 30-inch recovery strap rated to 14,400 pounds, winching gloves with Kevlar reinforcement and synthetic leather, and the Epic backpack itself. All of this, of course, fits nicely in the backpack, which can double as a winch-line damper.

We love the WARN Medium-Duty Epic Recovery Kit because the designers kept an eye on both form and function. Each one of these pieces is durable and great looking, which is pretty rare in the recovery kit market. Think about it. When was the last time you laid eyes on a pair of shackles or snatchblock that looked this high-tech?

What’s more, the kit is relatively affordable, considering everything you get. Sure, you may never need or use the kit. But that afternoon when you’re stuck up to your axles in muck in a remote track hundreds of miles from the nearest cell signal, let alone another human, you’ll be glad you had this kit onboard. Think of it as an insurance policy — one that looks as good as it functional.

MSRP: $499.99


WARN — Semi-Hidden Kit for 2014–2020 Toyota Tundra

The current-generation Toyota Tundra is becoming ever more popular in the overlanding community. Now, the name in American-made winches, WARN, has a bumper solution for those running a 2014 to 2020 Tundra who both want to mount up a WARN winch to their rig but also want to retain much of the factory visual aesthetics.

It’s called the Semi-Hidden Kit and, well, the name says it all: It’s a semi-hidden steel winch-mount with a low-profile grille guard made from two-inch thick tubing.

The Semi-Hidden Kit is relatively easy to install on your Tundra with what WARN describes as “minimal cutting.” It’s designed to house any mid-frame WARN winches up to 12,000-pound rating, including the VR EVO, ZEON, and ZEON Platinum. And, because it was designed by WARN and with WARN products in mind, the winch control pack doesn’t need to be relocated during installation, as is common with a lot of other similar products. Just bolt the winch up and you’re set.

The  Semi-Hidden Kit has some other cool features as well. There are ports cut into it that makes accessing the clutch lever easy. And there are two welded eyelets that accept 3/4-inch shackles for additional recovery points.

The whole thing is covered in a state-of-the-art powder-coating that undergoes a five-stage pretreatment with zirconium nanotechnology. Admittedly, we don’t know exactly what that means. It sounds impressive, though. And the corrosion-resistance rating lives up to the formidable-sounding process. It can withstand a 408-hour salt-spray test. So, it’s fair to say the powder coating should be able to withstand whatever you can subject it to.

Perhaps best of all, it’s produced here in the USA in Clackamas, Oregon.

We love the WARN Semi-Hidden Kit because it was designed and constructed to be aesthetically pleasing, easy to install, and — just as with your Tundra — last a lifetime.

MSRP: $949.99


Header image: WARN

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