How to Choose the Best Off-Road Suspension for your Full-Size Truck

Suspension for Full Size Trucks

GODZ MFG - Castle Rock, CO

Choosing the Best Off-Road Suspension: A Comprehensive Guide to Lift Kits, Shocks, and Tire Fitment for F-150, F-250, RAM, and Chevy/GMC HD Trucks

Full Size Friday: Week 7


This post will cover:

  1. IFS Trucks (F-150/1500 and Chevy/GMC HD)
  2. Solid Front Axle Trucks (F-250/F-350 and 2500/3500)
  3. Independent Front Suspension Challenges (Chevy/GMC)


IFS Trucks (F-150/1500 and Chevy/GMC HD)

I would like to start this suspension discussion with separating into two categories, solid front axle trucks and independent front suspension (IFS) trucks. All half ton trucks (F-150/1500) and Chevy/GMC HD (2500/3500) will fall into the IFS category. Ford and RAM (F-250/F-350 and 2500/3500) will fall into the solid front axle category. 

I would also like you to make a list of goals you have for the truck. I have built many off-road rigs and have seen it countless times that people don't have a full idea of what they want their truck to be when finished and end up spending twice as much on new components to make their goals happen.

Keep these few ideas in mind:

  • Is your truck going to be a daily driver?
    • What amount of miles will be highway vs dirt driving?
  • Wheel and Tire Goal? What will fit with what offset? (More on this next week)
  • Do we want to level or lift our truck?
  • What's better? A bolt on suspension kit or a custom built kit and install?
    • Shock consideration, monotube vs external reservoir?
    • 2.0, 2.5, or 3 inch?
    • Rebuildable?

With those ideas in mind let's get started! If this truck is going to be a daily driver but double as your weekend warrior then I have a few recommendations. First is going to be a setup that is soft enough for highway driving but will have enough compression for those dirt roads. These are going to be the most popular level/lift kits on the market which is great for accessibility from many manufacturers. The next biggest decision is wheel and tires. I recommend a 17 or 18 inch wheel paired with a 35 or 37 inch tire. This setup will give the best overall ride quality while maintaining off-road ability. Keep in mind that the bigger the tire the more trimming of the wheel well is required! Once you have determined these goals next you need to decide what height you need for these. A leveling kit of 2-2.5” will be great for a daily driver and 35” tire. Going higher with anything over 3” will mean bigger but will lose ride quality on the road. Lots of new full suspension lift kits have come a long way from the early 2000’s but you will notice a ride difference from factory height! Install is a huge factor in the suspension world. Are you a driveway warrior or do you want a fully custom setup from a shop? Shocks could be an entire article by themselves but to keep this short keep these points in mind. How much off-road driving will you be doing and how much fluid do you need? A monotube shock will overheat quicker and has nowhere to dissipate heat compared to an external reservoir shock that has double the fluid with it traveling a distance to dissipate heat. In a nutshell the hotter the fluid gets means a rougher ride you will have! Bigger and better shocks will be more expensive but keep in mind that you can rebuild these shocks for cheap. A monotube shock is a one time use and once it's blown you have to buy a new one. If you plan to keep this rig for a long time then the cost may end up equaling from a monotube to remote reservoir. With the rebuildable shock it also gives you options on clickers and being able to change the amount of fluid in the shock. Why do you need this? A clicker gives you the ability to make the shock softer or stiffer. This is really cool because you can stiffen the shock up for total terrain domination on the trail but then turn it softer to ride like a Cadillac on the highway!     


Solid Front Axle Trucks (F-250/F-350 and 2500/3500)

Let's dive into those solid front axle trucks! When it comes to Ford F-250’s, RAM 2500’s and their bigger brothers in the one ton market there are a few companies that are going to be the best option for suspension. I will start with Carli Suspension. Carli has been and continues to be the number one top dog when it comes to lifting solid front axle trucks. Carli has lots to offer and you definitely get what you pay for. On the lower end of the spectrum you can get their base leveling kit which will include new front coil springs and custom tuned 2.0” internal reservoir shocks. This base kit will pretty much be the same between RAM and Ford with a price of around $1200. The best part about Carli is going to be all the extra components you can add onto a base kit. For many this means you can build a custom kit that suits your driving needs. The most popular kits from Carli are going to be the Backcountry with 2.0” remote reservoir shocks and the Pintop system with 2.5” remote King shocks. These kits are going to have lots of extra options and will be on the upper end of the price spectrum and can run anywhere from $2500-$5000. This is going to be a substantial increase in price from the base level kit but I will tell you from experience that the Pintop system I drive on everyday makes driving a HD truck much more enjoyable and worth every penny. Carli is going to offer anything from 2.5” - 5.5” level to lift depending on the application. I would like you to keep in mind that once you get into the bigger lift kits with new rear coils or leaf springs that payload will go down. If a truck bed camper like a Lone Peak Overland or Four Wheel Camper is going to be on the truck then check out stiffer rear spring options to maintain factory payload. Carli has a new rear coil for the RAM trucks this year called the R2 and is going to be a game changer. This new spring will allow factory payload and maintain the factory rake while being lifted with 37 inch tires. This coil would be my recommendation for any truck and level/lift kit purchased from Carli. Also keep in mind that the higher you make your truck the geometry changes and you will need a new Track Bar and the highly recommended radius arm drop brackets. If a 3”-5” lift is your ultimate goal then I would recommend the Carli Dominator kit. This kit installed will run you around $14,000-$15,000 but will dominate every obstacle in the trail. Carli is starting to get into the IFS world starting with the RAM 1500. If these new IFS kits with coil over shocks are anything like the solid axle kits then Carli may start to dominate that market. I am very excited to see what else Carli Suspension will come up with in the near future.

My other suggestion would be Icon Vehicle Dynamics. Unlike Carli, Icon is going to sell their kits in stages. Stage one is going to be your entry level kit which would be your 2” leveling kit. As you go up in stages you are going to continue getting better and bigger parts. Icon has some very cool kits in the Ford lineup especially when you get to stage five and six. If coilover conversions are your thing then definitely check out Icon. Icon is very similar to Carli with the same idea of lifting a solid axle truck so to not be redundant I recommend just checking some of their kits out on Icon also has some awesome suspension components you can add onto their kits making it a very customizable kit. 

Synergy MFG is another company making some cool components for these solid axle trucks. They have some very cool radius arm drop brackets that are totally worth checking out!  


Independent Front Suspension Challenges (Chevy/GMC)

IFS is a very complicated suspension topic. There are few companies out there currently making kits for the HD market. If Chevy/GMC is your truck of choice I recommend contacting us and talking over options. The problem is some kits will give you new control arms and shocks but others will just give you some pucks with a shock and call that a lift kit. IFS means more components but some companies think that means they can charge three times the price. Please also steer away from torsion keys to level your truck. This is a very cheap and terrible option for your suspension components. The other problem with Chevy/GMC trucks are the square wheel wells. It means the tire choice and wheel offset must be thought through to make it fit with minimal trimming! 

Speaking of tire fitment, come back next week to learn how to pick the appropriate wheels and tires!

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