I've always had a 4wd for off-road use up until summer of 2008 when I sold my last 4runner and drove only my full-size Dodge ram van. We had a decent amount of snow that winter and I did tons of riding in places with pretty decrepit roads (big water bars, lots of big rocks/crawling, etc), and with meaty all-terrains, a gentle foot, and a methodical approach I was able to get the big, lumbering van through just about all of it no problem. You can get 2wd's pretty much anywhere with good tires and technique, but you have to put a lot more care into driving hazardous conditions.
That said, I decided I wanted a 4wd again just to make rowdy shuttle roads easier on the bike, and so I didn't have to be so careful when offroad. Not wanting to spend a lot of money, I crossed the Toyotas off my list and ended up with a Nissan. I really like my '99 Frontier for shuttling, road-tripping, camping, etc. It handles great on the logging roads, does pretty good in the snow, has good mid-range power for winding roads/fireroads, and it was a hell of a lot cheaper than a Tacoma.
If you go for an older Frontier, I'd avoid the 3.3l V6 if you're shopping for an older one. I searched for months for a KA24 (4cyl) and couldn't find one in 4x4 pretty much at all, so I sucked it up and bought the V6. Not only does it have a timing belt that I'll need to spend $900 to have changed in a few years, but the mileage is pathetic. I'm getting about 17mpg with stock size all-terrains, driving mostly highway with the cruise control on, though I have a hightop (albeit aero) canopy. My bud's Tacoma 3.4l gets 22mpg driving like an idiot. I also have just the regular extended cab and the room in the back is pretty limited.
Also, most importantly, absolutely no way should you buy one with the dogshit worthless 4ft bed. It's sketchy putting two dirtbikes (gotta rest em on 2x8's) in the back, you can't close skis or bikes in the back at all, and you can't sleep in it. If you need good interior space, you'll want to go for one of the 01? or newer when you could get a quad cab with a 6' bed.
All that said, for under 10g USD, if I were to do it again, I'd buy an older 4cyl hardbody Nissan, a 2wd Tacoma, or a Silverado. I have a few friends with Silverados and they can manage 20mpg pretty easy, plus you have a real backseat, and way more bedspace. The Fords seem a lot harder on gas than the Chevys, and the Chevys feel more capable off-road.