“I bought this pickup truck because I needed more space than an SUV,” is what you might have heard me say about a year ago when I bought a used 2017 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab, Short bed TRD Off-Road. (DCLB TRDOR). And that’s a good reason to get a midsize pickup instead of an SUV like a 4Runner. Even with the 5 foot bed, you get a lot more cargo space.
But having a big box to put stuff in isn’t always that convenient. Things bounce around in the bed if it’s not full and if it is full then you’ve got stuff stacked on top of other stuff and you almost have to take it all out to get at any of it out.
Of course you have this same problem with an SUV as well and that’s why I built this simple Drawer-less drawer system with a slide out table for my 4Runner (https://allterrainfam.com/diy-suv-cargo-deck-slide-table/). Once you get two tiers of storage for your gear, the ability to load stuff in and out gets a lot easier.
But with a 5 foot space to load into, you really do need a drawer, so I came up with a system for putting drawers into the Tacoma with a platform to organize our camping gear as well as my professional videography gear.
What makes this Minimalist?
Good question. Minimalism isn’t about going without, it’s about only having what is needed. One could argue that ultimate minimalism is just a plain truck bed. But then you have complications when you try to unpack all your gear to get to the backpack that’s at the bottom. Not very minimalist. So adding some simple organization may add complexity to the bed, but it adds simplicity to the use of the bed.
This sleeping platform and drawer system has no fancy connectors, or hinges, or drawer slides or locks. It has no electricity or lights, and no hidden compartments. It is simple a deck and two drawers.
What makes it Ultra Light?
First off, let’s talk about why you would even care how much this weighs. The Tacoma weighs about 4400 pounds and the gross vehicle weight rating is 5600 pounds. That means it is only designed and guaranteed to be safe to operate with about 1200# of additional weight. That includes the occupants and all their gear of course, but it also includes any and all after-market mods like Camper shells, gerry cans, extra batteries, bumpers and armor and storage organization systems.
Every pound of drawer system you install is gear you can’t bring, OR risk and liability you incur if you go over the GVWR.
Drawer systems you can purchase for your truck or SUV are heavy. You can get a fairly simple sliding drawer system from Frontrunner that weighs 187#. You can get one from Iron Man 4×4 that weighs 196# and is only 48″ long. Heaviest of all is the Decked drawer system that weighs in at 235# for the short bed Tacoma.
Many of these systems give the deck a load rating equal to or exceeding the load rating of the truck. But that’s deceiving because that would put you well over the GVWR.
So this system as it sits weighs 114 pounds. I used 18mm plywood for the deck and 1/2″ plywood for the drawers. There are no heavy drawer slides that add mass and subtract storage space. I accomplished this weight by designing a deck that uses as little material as possible.
You could save a little weight by using thinner wood for the deck. If you don’t intend to sleep on it, you could use 19/32″ panels. You could also cut away material from the center support panel and also cut it shorter. It only needs to bridge the two deck panels and doesn’t need to extent the full length of the bed.
Design and Construction
I started with a deck to split the vertical space of the bed into two levels. And this is where I got the most weight savings. Many designs will use 3/4 plywood to fully box in the system with panels on top, both sides and the bottom. This creates a sturdy box that is removable. It’s heavy though, and cuts your drawer size down by 1.5 inches.
Instead I mounted the deck to the T-Slot tracks that come in the Tacoma with 6″ steel angle brackets. This creates an incredibly solid deck without any side supports. I added one panel in the center screwed in to the top to act as support and a divider for the drawers.
The drawers are simple boxes made from 1/2″ plywood and fastened together with pocket hole screws and glue. These slide on runners glued into the channels in the bed. I had originally planned to have them slide on the bed, but the hardware that holds the bed to the chassis prevented that.
The drawers are held tight by two things. In the back of the bed closest to the cab, they are tight to the center divider and the wheel wells. In the front closest to the tailgate, they are held in place with aluminum angle screwed into the deck from the bottom.
Fully loaded the drawers don’t slide around much. But they can move about 2 inches because I ended them at the Total Chaos Bed Stiffeners (https://www.chaosfab.com/accessories/2016-2020-Tacoma-Rear-Channel-Bed-Stiffeners-48676). Had I extended them tight to the tailgate that would have been the end of it.
To keep the drawers from sliding in and out, I drilled through the aluminum angle and the drawer and use a cotterless pin to hold them in place on rough roads and 4 wheeling.
A lot of the overlanding drawer systems you see have many permanent dividers installed or pop ups, or double slide outs, and what not. Since this is both my daily driver and the vehicle I use for my video production business, I need it to be fairly modular.
On one side I have a compartment in the front of the drawer set-off with a plywood divider fastened with pocket hole screws but no glue. This lets me move it in the future should my needs change. In that compartment I have commonly used items like a first aid kit, gloves, bungees and garbage bags.
Behind that is a large compartment that I keep camp chairs in. With all the activities we do we use those a lot so they stay in the truck most of the time.
Behind that compartment is another divider that separates the tools and recovery gear. Since it’s a Toyota, we don’t need those often, but they’re easy to access for our friends with jeeps, and still out of the way.
In the other drawer I have one divider creating a small compartment for a small lunch box, a camp dining set from REI and a few guide books.
Behind that the drawer is open allowing my to use the entire space for video production gear. I can fit a light kit and my camera bag in there. When the drawer is closed, and the tailgate is locked, that gear is a lot more secure than it was before.
I did want a way to have another divider that was temporary without taking up much extra space. What I came up with was a couple of Husky tie-down loops that I mount to the sides of the drawer and connect with a bungie. In this temporary compartment I have several Bathroom Organizer trays from Target. These plastic boxes have thin straight sides and come in three sizes that let me divide this compartment to hold food and camp kitchen gear.
The space beside the drawers isn’t wasted either. I stuff shoes on one side and on the other I keep a cheap horse blanket that we use as a ground cloth or a door mat for the tent. I also have a toilet kit that lives in the truck that we affectionally call the Poo Pocket.
Camper Shell Organization
There are a few other things that you can do to efficiently organize the area above the deck.
The easiest thing to do is to buy a bunch of cheap rock climbing bolt hangers. Mount these on the bots that hold the shell to the bed and the bolts that hold the roof rails to the topper. Then you can string them together with bungee or paracord to make a place to tuck longer items out of the way and secure.
So that’s my minimalist ultra light drawer system and sleeping platform. I didn’t talk much about the sleeping platform part because I don’t intend to sleep on mine. But if you do, all you need is a pad and a sleeping bag.
I admit that I don’t have a lot of time with the build, but I see no reason yet why this won’t function well over time. I do however have a couple mods that Intend to make soon, so stay tuned for those.
Drawer System Materials
Wire Basket: https://amzn.to/2QDFREu PAID LINK
D-Ring Tie-Downs https://amzn.to/3e5dE20 PAID LINK
6″ Angle Bracket https://amzn.to/3e76JW2 PAID LINK
Kreg Pocket Hole Jig https://amzn.to/3xCruRc PAID LINK
Mad Rock Bolt Hangers https://amzn.to/3xy7vDv PAID LINK
Paracord https://amzn.to/3t29IDy PAID LINK
Accessory carabiners https://amzn.to/3xEolAj PAID LINK
Toyota T-Slot nuts https://amzn.to/2SgMrkG PAID LINK