How we converted our 4Runner into a Camper

Camping is a main component of our U.S. National Parks journey, as we travel to 27 parks over four-and-a-half months. In fact, we plan to camp over 100 nights while driving round the United States. While planning this trip, Sandy and I discussed whether to buy a motorhome or 5th-wheel trailer. The problem was that we always returned to where we were going to store it when we aren’t traveling. As a result, being able to fit a vehicle into our garage became part of our criteria.

Both Sandy and I love the Mercedes Sprinter (also sold by Dodge). This vehicle has tons of room and gets great mileage to boot. But it won’t fit in our garage. The Ford Transit Connect also caught our eye. It was far cheaper, got even better mileage and it would fit into our garage. Then we realized that one thing we love about our current 4Runner vehicle is that we have the ability to go off road with its 4×4 capability. If we selected a Transit Connect, we would lose the 4-wheel drive capability of our 4Runner. In the end, we decided to simply convert our 4Runner into a camper van (of sorts), giving us the best of all worlds.

The first step in converting our 4Runner was to create a platform. The idea was to trade off headroom for storage space. This meant that we wouldn’t have to pull everything out of the car when it was time to go to sleep. Instead, we theoretically could leave the bed made up. Pots and pans and all our other gear would be stored underneath the bed in plastic storage containers.
In terms of construction, our design was simple. We would build a frame out of 2 by 4s and then added legs. Simple! As a final step, I used screws to attach some plywood to the top and finished the whole thing with some paint and scrap carpet. Our design called for the platform to rest on top of the wheel wells. It is just high enough to allow storage containers to side underneath. To make sure that the platform didn’t move around, I purchased additional hardware and attached one side to the car and the other side to the platform.

The entire contraption cost less than $200 to manufacture. We are excited about using it when we leave in just a few weeks.

Basic framework for platform. We used metal hardware to increase strength. It also allowed us to make changes easily.

Securing the platform. We used a screw eye, quick link and a turnbuckle on each corner to secure the platform to the inside of the 4Runner’s cabin.

Refreshments inside. We cut a hole in the platform to gain easy access to cold drinks and food. Here, you can see the top of our Koolatron P-20.

The final product. Here, you can see our luxurious platform in action. We’ve since add a 4-inch foam mattress. We’ll be spending over a hundred nights in our 4Runner this summer.

Tons of storage. Here’s a photo of our storage system. We used these storage containers in the back. We also have some that can be accessed from each of the side doors.

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5 comments on “How we converted our 4Runner into a Camper
  1. Nora Sarsons says:

    Very clever. That will make a nice, cozy sleeping place, better than a journey. Nora

  2. Anne says:

    You two inspire me! The adventure never ends!

  3. Jacque Frazzini says:

    You two are so creative! Hope we get to see this amazing vehicle next week!