Bumper Crop: Protection and Utility Fore and Aft

Bumper Crop: Protection and Utility Fore and Aft

by Stephan Edwards

Bumper is a funny word.

It's fun to say, and it brings up images of late night carnival rides and pinball machines. But when it comes to your truck, a bumper describes exactly what you never want it to do. They are the first line of defense against collision damage and occupant safety, and if they've done their job right you and your rig will live to drive another day.

But for overlanders a bumper's potential is nearly limitless. Once, near the end of a safari in Botswana's Okavango Delta our guide stopped his Land Cruiser on a dusty pan in the middle of nowhere. He produced a number of bottles from the cooler and brought them to the front of the truck. There, he unlatched a custom-built folding table mounted to the bumper made specifically for mixing drinks at sunset.

Safari Land Cruiser with bumper bar

"Sundowners" on safari - northern Botswana.

Frivolous? Maybe. Incredibly awesome? No question.

A mobile wet bar may not be the most practical use for a heavy duty bumper, but it illustrates the far end of the range of possibilities for this hard working piece of body work. Let's spend some time thinking about why upgrading your bumpers is one of the most useful mods you can make to your overland vehicle.


Weight and Fitment of Off-road Bumpers

Weight is the enemy of the overlander for a wide range of reasons. Increased stress on vehicle components, reduced fuel economy and range, increased braking distances, and a decrease in stability are all reasons to keep your mass down as much as possible. However, there are certain components on your adventure rig that you can upgrade where you will really see huge benefits even by taking a significant weight penalty. Off-road bumpers are among the heaviest of modifications you can make to your vehicle, but also where you'll realize some of the most gains in added protection, safety, capability, and versatility.

Toyota Tacoma with off-road bumper

That said, when fitting an aftermarket bumper weight calculations will be important to consider, especially if you'll be adding hefty accessories like winches, spare wheels, or fuel and water storage. Factory bumpers, especially on newer vehicles, are generally featherweights - made primarily from plastics, composites, and foam. So a bumper upgrade may demand a reassessment of your truck's suspension and brakes to accommodate the extra load. Even aluminum bumpers can be relatively heavy in comparison to the factory items.

Jeep Wrangler with off-road bumper

Today's modern trucks also integrate a wide range of sensors, cameras, lighting, and other componentry into their bumpers, so replacing them is less straightforward than on older vehicles. Fitment is key here - a bumper upgrade is not necessarily an off-the-shelf proposition. Any bumper swap you undertake will need to take into account compatibility with airbags and other supplemental restraint systems, proximity sensors, and any other additional vehicle systems. Because of this, most bumpers for contemporary vehicles are made-to-order, so lead times on your purchase will likely be longer than for other accessories. And, due to their heft and complexity, professional installation is definitely recommended. So, plan your build accordingly.

Front off-road bumper on Toyota

Benefits of Bumper Upgrades

With the technical questions out of the way, lets dive into the some of the reasons why you would upgrade your bumpers in the first place. Just from an aesthetic standpoint, a burly bumper makes your rig look incredible. But more importantly it adds protection, critical recovery points, and a platform for additional accessories like driving lights, winches, and more.

On the safety and protection fronts, off-road bumpers, because of their increased mass, and for most models frontal area, means an extra layer of protection for your vehicle. These bumpers are designed to be abused and shrug off bumps, scrapes, and collisions that would leave a stock bumper demolished. From night time encounters with wildlife to bouncing through rock gardens, you can rest a little easier knowing your rig has an added layer of defense.

Dodge Ram with off-road bumper

Nearly all off-road bumpers feature increased approach and departure angles over the factory units, boosting your vehicle's capability in the rough stuff. When the going gets a little too rough, they also act as incredibly strong and accessible recovery points. Speaking of recovery, aftermarket bumpers also provide the opportunity for properly and safely installing a winch - a true level-up in terms of opening the door to bigger and more challenging adventures.

In terms of other accessories, bumpers are the perfect platform for a new lighting system (both for driving lights and camp lighting), as well as offering a sturdy base for heavier items. Moving your spare wheel out from under your rig and onto a swing-away mounting system makes tires changes that much easier. And, many rear bumpers can be configured for mounting trash bags, fuel and water containers, extra storage, and bike racks. The options are really endless, especially in comparison to the factory bumper.  

Sprinter van with rear off-road bumper

Bumper Questions?

A final word on off-road bumpers - they are expensive. But, with the expertise of our Overlander customer service, and the range of Trail Tested brands like CBI, ARB, and AEV offering a variety of custom-fit bumpers for tons of popular models, you can be sure to get the bumper that's right for you and your rig. It will likely outlast it.

Questions about bumpers? How has a beefy off-road bumper saved your bacon in the past? Let us know down in the comments.

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