I have been building out my 4Runner for vanlife. This vehicle is reliable and capable off-road, but quite a bit less comfortable than a van - no standing up inside. But on a 2-month, 6000 mile road trip last year, it performed well. I’m currently working on improving its cold weather capabilities and adding some features.
To sleep two people, I took out the 2nd row seats and put plywood directly on the vehicle floor. After removing the large lower plastic trim panels along the sides of the cargo area, I used OEM bolt holes behind those panels to secure a wood shelf above each rear wheelwell. These two shelves in turn support a large main shelf that spans the rear cargo area. The main shelf is positioned 19" above the floor and does not obstruct the view out the rearview mirror while driving. The storage space above it is about 48" wide, 32" deep, and 19" high. We move gear and supplies from the floor to the shelves at night, so that we can sleep on the floor, with our heads towards the front of the vehicle and our legs under the main shelf. This arrangement allows us to sit up at night when sleeping inside the vehicle. Before driving the next day, we move everything from the shelves back to the floor. A hard-sided cargo case on top of the roof rack provides additional storage space. MaxTrax recovery boards can also go on the roof rack.
A recent tweak on this shelf design is that the main shelf is now in two parts. The rear part, made of 3/4" plywood, is removable and can be mounted securely on the rear bumper, using two stainless steel brackets that I installed in the rear bumper, along with a homemade support bracket that plugs into the 2" rear hitch receiver. In this table mode, the rear shelf becomes a useful platform, approximately 48" x 14", for outdoor food prep and cooking.
To power things, I put two 92Ah LiFePO4 batteries in the 2nd row footwell just behind the passenger seat. This battery bank is charged by the alternator, and connects to a 1200W inverter. The DC-DC charger can also accept solar input. This system powers several useful appliances:
(1) 12V Engel MT17F refrigerator. It fits in the “garage”, next to the rear hatch.
(2) Induction cooktop. At medium-high heat setting, it uses 1100W.
(3) Travel Buddy 12V Marine Oven. Surprisingly spacious, with a maximum temperature around 350 to 375 degrees F, using 10A.
(4) Zojirushi Panorama Window Micom 3-liter water heater, for running hot water on demand. 3 liters of near-boiling water mixed with a similar amount of cold water makes enough hot water for an indoor sponge bath. If about 6 liters of hot water is not enough for a full bath, shampooing hair and washing the rest of the body can be done in two separate sessions, each with its own batch of hot water.
(5) A ventilation system using four computer cooling fans. These are 120mm, 12V Noctua fans, and are extremely quiet and use almost no electricity.
In the ventilation system, two fans bring in fresh air from the front of the vehicle, and two fans exhaust stale air out the rear. This provides a constant but unnoticeable flow of air from head to toe while we are sleeping. The two fans in front are mounted on a plywood board that fits tightly into the opening of the glove compartment. Each night, I empty the glove compartment and remove the cabin air filter behind it. Then I plug the computer fan wiring into a 12V socket that I installed in the side of the glove compartment. This brings in fresh air through the grill at the rear of the hood, near the windshield wipers. It’s very stealthy.
For equal stealth, I removed the two audio speakers in the rear hatch and replaced them with computer cooling fans. They draw air from the cargo area and blow it into the interior of the rear hatch. I then modified two OEM plastic plugs in the bottom of the rear hatch to allow air to exhaust downwards, to the top of the rear bumper. Then I cut matching holes in the plastic rear bumper to allow the exhaust air to escape to the outside. While driving, these holes in the bumper are covered by simple pieces of sheet metal, to prevent road dust from entering the rear hatch. But at night, I simply remove the sheet metal covers from the rear bumper.
This ventilation system avoids having to open the windows at night for ventilation, and provides an unnoticeable but effective flow of air throughout the night to remove water vapor from inside the vehicle. My wife and I have woken up on cold mornings (25 degrees F outside) with very little or no condensation on the insides of the windows.
For privacy, I made window covers from 1/4" Foamular XPS sheets, with dark fabric attached to the window side using 3M 77 Spray Adhesive. These are for all the windows from the 2nd row rearward. They stay in place on the windows by friction fit. A blackout curtain hanging from a piece of paracord pulled from one side of the vehicle to the other, just behind the front seats, provides privacy from the front, leaving a gap of about 3" at the top, where the headliner curves upward.
I made a portable toilet out of the aluminum tubing frame of a folding camp stool and some 2" polypropylene webbing to support a standard round toilet seat, and it works very well. But we will be trying a Trelino Evo S portable toilet, only 11.7" high. When in use, it will go on the 2nd row seating area floor, behind the driver’s seat.
With sleeping bags, two layers of wool socks, and a wool hat, our bodies are warm enough in the winter. The main issue at this point is trying to keep the air that we breathe warm. We don’t have a diesel heater or propane heater. I am experimenting with a 3’ x 3’ reflective aluminized panel on each 2nd row door and a 3’ x 4’ reflective panel on the headliner above, to reflect heat back towards our heads while sleeping.
I am also working on a folding table to place in the 2nd row footwell behind the driver’s seat, to use for multiple purposes: food preparation, cooking, and working with a laptop. I am considering cutting a 4" hole in the roof above this space and installing a 120mm Noctua fan to exhaust cooking fumes - a scaled down version of a MaxxAir fan, for a scaled down space.
I admire the many creative and beautiful van builds that people have come up with. A 4Runner as the base platform has certain advantages, and the build can serve two people well with good functionality, but at a definite cost in the level of comfort due to the much reduced interior space.