Pedal Commander Overview

We ended up with a 2016 SR5 4Runner to replace our Chevy Suburban this past September. Not only as my daily driver but also as our primary adventure rig. One thing I read about and was noticeable right away was the delay in the pedal. It wasn’t terrible, but there was some room for improvement. This was the reason for purchasing a Pedal Commander.

The whole Pedal Commander unit and harness.

My usage of the Pedal Commander was done with the vehicle being driven entirely on the pavement. I have not had a chance to see how the Pedal Commander is going to change off-road driving. I do a lot of city driving and use the cruise control every chance I get to try and save fuel.  It’s not a huge delay, but it is noticeable. Is it a deal-breaker on driving a 4Runner? No. Will it cause some problems when you start adding heavy stuff? Probably.

If you don’t know what Pedal Commander is, it’s a small controller box that plugs into the pedal and the pedal wiring harness. Once plugged in, you can adjust the response on the pedal by selecting four different options; Eco, City, Sport, and Sport+. You can also change the sensitivity up or down for each selection as well.

Pedal Commander plugs into the pedal, and the pedal harness plugs into the Pedal Commander.

Each mode makes the throttle response markedly different. I was pleasantly surprised using the city mode to find how much it changed the response on the vehicle. On average, it didn’t change my MPG much from the stock pedal. I was still getting 16-17 MPG in and around the city.

The control box makes switching between settings easy.

I tried the Eco mode for about a week. Pedal Commander claims that it can help save you fuel; however, I would disagree with that. Driving in this mode cuts the response by 50%, which is a noticeable change in the pedal response. I found myself pushing the pedal down more in response to the vehicle not moving as quickly as it would in stock or city mode.

You have to be generous with not having a heavy foot to see any savings. My mileage was almost worse because of this. Honestly, I found that driving in the city with this setting was a terrible idea. If you live in a smaller town or city, then this might work for you. In major metropolitan areas, where people are always in a hurry, this setting is not a good idea.

I briefly tried sport mode for a couple of days. It was considerably different than city mode and is not something I would continue to use. And as far as sport plus, haven’t even given it a thought. Pedal Commander’s instructions on that one state that it should be used at the track. I’m not planning on taking my 4Runner to M1 Concourse anytime soon.

The controller I bought can also be app-controlled from my phone or tablet. The box itself is super easy to use, but the app makes it even easier. Especially if you mount the Pedal Commander somewhere, it becomes non-accessible. I installed the control box where I could get at, but found I was using the app just as much.

If you find your Toyota, or whatever vehicle you drive, has poor pedal control, then the Pedal Commander might be right for you. It’s not a cheap option at roughly $300, but it makes a difference in response time.

The Gear Box: The Coffee Edition

Coffee is one of those things that can mean the difference between a good morning and a bad morning at camp. Just because you’re out on the road doesn’t mean you should sacrifice sound quality, homemade coffee for a packet of instant coffee. There are plenty of options when it comes to selecting how to brew your favorite coffee in the morning.

Gear You Deserve is a quarterly rundown of specific gear you might be interested in. The series highlights gear that runs from small to large, cheap to expensive, and basic to advance. We leave it up to you to decide what a good fit for your needs is.

The Oxx Coffeeboxx

We’ve highlighted this piece of gear before early on when we were just getting started. It’s worth mentioning again because of the appeal it may have. Oxx offers a ruggedized coffee maker they’ve dubbed the Coffeeboxx ($230). What sets this coffee maker apart from others, other than its need for power, is the ability to use standard K-cups like you would at home. The biggest downside to going this route is its cost at just under $300. Granted, is it a ruggedly built coffee maker designed to withstand abuse.

Coleman Drip Coffee Pots

Coleman makes a couple of different drip style coffee pots. The Grill-Top Coffee Maker ($40) sits nicely on your camp stove, and the QuikPot ($110) is a propane powered machine. Both provide that simple set up for anyone who has a drip coffee maker at home. Their ease of use means you don’t need to have any available power source.

A Percolator

Percolator’s, before the invention of the drip coffee maker, were and still are a popular method for making coffee at camp. Percolators work by heating the water in the pot and cycling it through the grounds in the top basket via the tube in the center. The water runs through the coffee, providing a usually aromatic scent when brewing but often a weaker cup of coffee.

Several companies still make good percolators, including Stanley, Coleman, and Cabela’s. We have a percolator from Cabela’s and can attest to its quality. It’s what we used early on to make coffee, before converting over to a French press, which we’ll take about later on.

French Press

Coffee is inherently not hard to make. It just depends on how strong you want it and your preferred taste. Using a French press is probably as easy as using a drip coffee maker in terms of setting it and forgetting it for a few minutes. We currently carry a Stanley Mountain Vacuum System which has an integrated thermos and press all in one neat package.

GSI offers a few options for self-contained travel mug style presses. Snow Peak has its stainless steel version ($56). And Jetboil provides a lid that can be used on their cooking system to create that perfect cup of coffee.

Single Serving

Pour over coffee is an easy method to gravitate towards when camping because of its ease and the small footprint pour over systems have. The Primula single cup ($7) is a K-cup style filter that sits over a mug with grounds in it. You pour your water over it and let it steep for a bit. The GSI Java Drip ($10) is the filter and sits on top of your mug of choice. Snow Peak also offers a folding drip ($30) that would work nicely for a single serving.

The AeroPress is an interesting piece of coffee technology that offers a rapid cup of joe. Add your grinds and steep the coffee to your preferred strength. You then press down on the plunger over your coffee mug. The end product, according to the manufacturer, is an espresso-like output. It’s a great coffee maker for some lightweight trips or if you are short on space.

GCI Slim-Fold Cook Station Review

In 2015, sometime before we kicked off Michigan Overland as more than just an idea I surveyed the gear I had. One thing that was missing was a good table to cook off of. I did my research and looked at several different variations of tables at varying prices. What I ended up with was the GCI Slim-Fold Cook Station that I managed to snag on sale and with a discount at REI.

Cooking up some tasty burgers at camp.

Eventually I concluded that, while cool, I did not want a table that required a lot of assembly. Something that folded up. Had a low profile. And would pack easily into the back of my Suburban.

The cook station itself unfolds with ease and has four fold-out plastic side tables. The main middle section is made of aluminum, unfolds up, and locks into place. I can say that I have not had any issues with the main section or the side sections folding back down once they are up and locked. There is also a lower section that folds out by itself and can be used for storage.

The GCI Cook Station almost completely unfolded.

Folded up it only takes up about 4 inches of space. It’s till pretty tall folded up at just under 35 inches. It fits in the back of my Suburban behind the third row with no problem, but something smaller might have issues. I will say that despite its weight at 20 pounds it does not feel overly cumbersome. The counter section will hold up to 48 pounds and each side shelf will hold up to 30lbs.

Packed up and ready to be deployed or stowed.

There is really only a few small drawbacks I’ve had with this table. Adding a stove makes cooking easy at a manageable and comfortable height.

However, cutting on the side shelves is a different story. You end up hunched over in an uncomfortable position whatever you are cutting up. Along with that, the shelves feel flimsy when cutting on them. To the point where it almost feels like you are going to slip or the shelf itself is going to collapse.

Overall this has been a solid table and cook station. It packs up easily and is small enough to be out of the way in and out of the vehicle. For the price, either bought on Amazon or directly from GCI, I would recommend this to anyone in the market for a folding cook-station.

Purchase Links: GCI | Amazon

DIY Fishing Rod Storage for $30

One cool thing about overland camping is the many other activities that can be done in conjunction with it — hiking, swimming, fishing, kayaking. The list is endless. And while there isn’t anything much better than camping next to a stream or lake, there isn’t anything much worse than watching fish swim back and forth and not having your fishing pole with you.

When packing for an overland trip, bringing a rod and reel, isn’t as high on the list of importance as other things. Poles are long, fragile, and hard to store easily, especially if they aren’t two piece rods. When pre-packing for an upcoming trip, I was trying to figure out how to fit a couple of rods into my Jeep Unlimited, without breaking them or having them be in the way. My favorite rods don’t break down, so I had to opt for my back up rods, which are two pieces and easier to transport. I decided to try and make a rod holder than instead of being inside the vehicle, was outside. To have a way they would be safe, and I could have them at easy reach without lots of unpacking.

I decided to start with some 3″ PVC pipe. I bought a solid end cap for one end and a threaded/screw type cap for the other end. I also picked up some PVC cement. I was only able to buy the pipe long enough in a 10′ stick, so there is enough left over to make a couple of these depending on how long you want to make yours. Total cost was about $30.

I measured my longest rod (broken down to two pieces) to get an idea of how long I wanted it to go. I can also store marshmallow cookers and my fire poker in it as well, so keep in mind for extra space, if you would like to use it for other things. It also doesn’t have to go on a roof rack. It could easily be adapted to a trailer, or even inside your rig!

I had some aluminum clamps I got off eBay for fairly cheap, sitting around, which worked perfectly for this. Drill a couple of holes in the PVC to bolt them to it. I used some 3/8″ bolts with washers. IMPORTANT!!! Remember to bolt these on before cementing the ends (like I did) which makes it very hard to tighten them up.

I scuffed the outer surface, then coated the entire thing in spray on bed liner. We will see how well it holds before having to recoat it.

 

Brand Spotlight: Hi-Lift Jack Company

brand spotlight hi lift jack company

You’ve probably seen them around. Especially if you’ve been to an off-road park, an overlanding get together, or even on a show on YouTube. They seem to be everywhere. And despite imitators, competitors, and innovators trying to supplant them, they’re still the go-to jack. We’re talking about the workhorse jack of farmers, truckers, and off-roaders — the Hi-Lift jack. There are thousands of companies creating products for people who love being outdoors. The Brand Spotlight series focuses in on companies you may not be familiar with but should be and some of the products they sell.

For over 100 years, the Bloomfield Manufacturing Company has resided in Indiana as one of the oldest manufacturing companies in the state. The Hi-Lift Jack Company, and its sister company, the Kant-Slam Company, fall under the Bloomfield umbrella. The company was started by Philip John Harrah in 1895 and is still run and operated by a fifth generation Harrah currently.

While the company does offer other things than the hi-lift jack, it remains their most popular and stable selling item. Ranging in size from 36 inches up to a staggering 60 inches the hi-lift jack has become the go-to tool for trail repairs and self-recovery in the overlanding and off-road community.

brand spotlight hi lift jack company jacks
The many variations of the hi-lift jack offered by the Hi-Lift Jack Company.

The versatility of the hi-lift jack lies in its ability to perform a multitude of roles. It’s the ability to lift, pull, push, winch, and clamp that has given it a reputation that needs nothing beyond mentioning of its name (ITS Tactical has a great short series on using the hi-lift jack). With minor changes made through the years, the design of the jack itself has not changed much since its inception. Early motorists could even count on the Automatic Combination Tool (as it was known then) to be part of the vehicle compliment.

Overall the history of the Hi-Lift Jack Company is an easy one. They did not attempt to re-engineer or update the jack and bring it forward into modern times like other companies (cough “ARB” cough). Instead, they’ve made the same tool for the last 100 years with great success. You can probably expect them to continue for the next hundred years making the same great tool that can be found strapped to most overlanding rigs.