If you’re looking for a smaller adventure camping vehicle that will take you anywhere, the long-loved Toyota 4runner is an excellent option. This off-road-ready SUV camper will allow you to boondock in the desert, up a mountain, and at the beach. No National Park will be off-limits.
You don’t need a full-sized van to start going on wild adventures, especially if you need to save up for months or to take out a loan in order to be able to afford one. Keeping things simple means getting gone sooner and lighter, with less worries.
The 4runner is compact but tough and powerful. It will go unnoticed in the streets of a big city, so you can move across the country without spending money on hotels or B&Bs along the way.
Pros and cons
Just like with any vehicle, a 4runner camper has some advantages and disadvantages.
- Stealthy: you can sleep in cities, in regular parking lots
- It’s fairly easy to find one for sale
- Nimble: the small size allows you to drive down narrower roads
- The more recent models can tow a light trailer
- Off-road-capable: you can reach most wild destinations on it
- Decent-size sleeping area
- Many people have converted their own and posted instructions online.
- No standing headroom: you’ll need to get changed sitting down or kneeling
- You can’t fit a permanent toilet inside
- No living space
- Limited cargo area.
Weigh these points carefully to figure out if the 4runner is the adventure vehicle for you. You will be able to travel easily and quickly. This is ideal for anyone looking to go on trips in the backcountry without all the comforts of home.
What you need to camp in a Toyota 4runner
If you don’t want to convert your 4runner permanently, you can opt for a temporary conversion by taking all your favorite camping essentials with you. These include:
- A mattress (an air mattress will do)
- Portable water jugs
- A camping stove
- Rechargeable power stations or a portable solar system
- Camping chairs and table
- Cutlery, glasses, and plates
- A portable toilet (optional)
- An outdoor shower (optional).
If instead you’re going on a longer trip and you’re ready for a more permanent conversion, consider installing:
- A platform bed with storage underneath
- A small kitchen set-up
- A roof rack with a box, tent, or awning
You could do the conversion yourself, or opt for a conversion kit. Your budget and time requirements will dictate your choice.
Depending on which model of 4runner you own, you could buy one of the following conversion kits.
If you need a compact kit that folds away and takes up little space in your garage during the week, you’ll want to check the Flatbox kit out.
This box, built by Ququq, opens up to reveal a bed and a kitchenette. The bed folds out and is secured to the car via heavy-duty straps. The kitchen is fully removable, so you can cook on your camping table in your favorite spot.
For more information, head to the Ququq website.
The Bounty Hunter Compact by Freeway Camper Kit
Freeway Camper Kit makes a compact sleeping platform that fits most SUVs. It consists of a sleeping platform with storage space and a slide-out sink and worktop at the back of the car.
If you decide to buy this conversion, you’re all set: simply drive off towards adventure. The lead time for buying a kit varies depending on how busy the guys are, so make sure to check in before making plans.
Find out more on the Freeway Camper Kit website. Their products are available in the US and Canada.
Remember: make sure to check that the kit you choose fits your specific model – every 4runner has slightly different measurements.
4 fabulous DIY conversions
Are you handy? Then why not create your very own DIY conversion. You’ll be able to design every piece of equipment to suit your specific needs. You can keep it basic, or go all out.
The best bit? You can try the van life out before you commit to a full conversion. Simply chuck your favorite camping gear in the back and see how you like it.
Here are five rad DIY conversions we love.
Kendell’s dog-friendly Toyota 4runner conversion
Kendell loves sharing the great outdoors with her pup, LB the dog. Together, they travel on her 2002 4runner camper around the United States to go cycling and boondocking.
Kendell opted for a full-on conversion, which allows her to camp out in comfort. Together with her friend Zac, she built a platform bed. Under the platform, they installed deep drawers for storage. The bed isn’t always in place. Half of it can be stored away, so there’s an area where to sit inside the vehicle during the day. This is where her dog rides when Kendell drives.
At the back of the vehicle, Kendell keeps her portable kitchen and cooler. Slide-out tables provide a worktop on which to cook. To stay on the road for longer, she built a DIY solar shower and carries a portable solar panel for power.
Kendell and LB love hanging out by the car camper, under the side awning. A comfortable chair, a little mat, and a low camping table is all they need to chill out in stunning spots together.
Zach’s overlanding machine
Zach calls himself the Overland Engineer on YouTube. He’s an engineer with a passion for overlanding, who travels to the backcountry on his 2020 Toyota 4runner with his wife in his spare time.
Spending a lot of time traveling to wild places, Zach installed some extra gear to the car itself. At the front, he installed rafter lights to cruise the wilderness at night. On the sides of the vehicle, he added RSG rock sliders to protect the sides of the truck when rocking through a trail. They also come in handy as steps to get inside.
At the back of the SUV, Zach built a platform bed with a drawer system underneath. He doesn’t think there’s a good reason for sacrificing comfort when camping, so he fitted a 6-inch foam mattress. Above the drawer system, he fitted a wood insert, which he can use to cook.
Behind the driver and passenger seats, Zach can lift the mattress to reveal three compartments in the platform, where he stores clothes and other gear. He has more space for storage on the roof, where he keeps a roof box and his traction boards.
At night, Otis, Zach’s dog, sleeps in his bed at the front, in the passenger seat. On the driver’s side, he stores the cooler and bin.
If you like any of the features of this camper, head over to Zach’s YouTube channel – he published various videos showing how he created some of the features.
Joey’s full-time home
Joey lives in his Toyota 4runner camper full-time. He travels in the wilderness a lot, so he fitted all-terrain tires.
His platform bed sits slightly lower than most, so he can sleep more comfortably. He achieved this by taking out the back seats. Traveling solo, he fitted a single 75 by 28 inches bed on one side only. The platform, which wraps around the bed, looks cozy thanks to a simple solution – stick-on laminate flooring.
The lower platform allowed him to create a second tier of storage under the bed, so everything is more organized. He can access this area by lifting the light mattress. A drawer slides out at the back of the truck, so he can cook there.
Joey added rain guards to his windows, so he can keep them open any time he needs to. On the back left window, he added paneling to mount a fan, water jug, and kitchen roll holder.
Stephen and Giselle’s expedition camper
Stephen and Giselle are adventure and travel photographers and content creators. They tour the USA to go hiking, camping, and road-tripping at the weekend. In 2020, they quickly set up their 2018 Toyota 4runner for living on the road. Since then, they learned exactly what they needed from an adventure vehicle. So they upgraded their temporary conversion to add some comforts in 2021. Nevertheless, their build is economical and easy to replicate. The guys recorded their conversion and shared all the dimensions through their videos.
The couple built a box out of plywood to create a platform bed. Inside the box, they installed drawers. The result is a full-size double bed with lots of storage underneath.
Everything is removable, so on a Sunday night, they simply take the gear out of the car and use it to drive to work.
Stephen and Giselle fitted a foldable foam mattress on top of the box. They sleep in sleeping bags, as these are easy to pack away on a Sunday night. They have simple and removable window covers to make the interior dark at night.
Under the bed, they keep all their cooking and adventure gear, as well as their clothes. They also pack a portable shower, a cooler, a portable power station and solar panels, a water jug, a propane fire pit, and a camping table and chairs.
If you love adventuring in the wilderness, the Toyota 4runner makes for a fantastic vehicle choice. It’s easy to find for sale, there are many tried and tested conversion designs to replicate, and it’s off-road capable. The 4runner is ideal for weekend aways and holidays. Car camping in National Parks will be a breeze on the 4runner.
If you’re looking for a slightly larger truck, on which you can fit a toilet and a few extra comforts, look up these 7 hardy 4×4 motorhomes.