With a 10 day Colorado road trip looming and an early 2017 three-week epic family adventure in the planning stages, Molly and I thought it might be a cool idea to turn our 2005 Toyota 4Runner into an off-road camping machine. In the past, we have driven by countless picturesque backcountry campsites near and on 4WD roads and thought about how nice it would be to stay at them – all the conveniences of car camping without any of the crowds!
After checking out some well thought out ideas online (1, 2), we drew up some rough plans and the build began… well, sort of. With summer in full swing and a VERY busy toddler running around, our first “build” got as far as a futon mattress in the back of the 4Runner and a cheap cargo net stretched across the ceiling for gear and fishing rod storage. We decided it would still be a good (read: free) way to test if we even liked sleeping in our vehicle before investing time and resources into doing a full build.
On our Steamboat Springs trip, we got an opportunity to see what the whole “van life” thing was about on our way from Steamboat to Denver. We drove up the 4WD County Road 202 in Arapahoe National Forest, found one of the plentiful camping spots, cooked dinner, piled our gear into the front seats and on top of the truck, and cozied with a book. On the drive east the following day, Molly and I both agreed that this version of camping was much faster, cheaper, and warmer than the tent option. The full build would commence!
The following month, I roped my dad, an experienced woodworker and amateur engineer, into helping me build the platform. He came to the table with some nice improvements on my rough design and we knocked it out in about six hours. The platform is split as follows: laterally along the back seat, and longitudinally along the 60/40 split of the seats. We hoped this would allow for maximum versatility while still remaining stable enough to sleep on. See attached pictures, dimensioned sketches (will upload when I find them), and instructions for detailed info.
To provide insulation and privacy, we cut Reflectix to fit snugly into the rear windows of the SUV and even fashioned some netting to cover the rear window and sunroof for bug deterrence. We found using cardboard to template the windows before cutting into the Reflectix worked pretty well, but was also very time consuming. To affix the netting to the vehicle, we used a system of magnets and good old fashioned duck tape. The pictures show a Rubbermaid tub underneath for storage, however, we may replace that idea with our North Face Base Camp duffel bags (1 XL and 1 M) to add versatility. Finally, we found a great cargo net available at Cabela’s, and rigged it up on the ceiling for extra gear storage. To see how well this system works for three weeks, look for upcoming posts from our epic road trip in May!