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4Runner Car Camping Build & Accessories

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

A look at my 5th generation 4Runner sleeping platform design, storage cabinet, and my favorite car camping accessories.



It's been a few years since I first set up my 5th gen 4Runner for car camping. I always knew the first build was unlikely to be perfect, so I kept it as cheap as possible while still accomplishing what I wanted. I then gave it a couple years so I could determine what worked well and what needed improvement.


Earlier this year I started over from scratch, armed with far more detailed plans for a new sleeping platform and additional storage space. I'm happy to say I now have what I think is one of the best 4runner camping builds I've seen in terms of simplicity and function without spending a ton of money.


For a complete walkthrough of my entire 4Runner camping setup and favorite accessories, you can watch my in-depth video:




If you want to understand what didn't work and what I learned from my first build, go ahead and read the first section. If you just want to see my second build, and get the build instructions, jump to the second section.


Please keep in mind that all my measurements and the final design are based on a 2020 4Runner TRD Pro with the sliding cargo tray. Aside from the tray, the design plans should work for just about any 5th generation 4Runner without a third row. If you don't have the sliding tray, you'll need to build a leveling platform, or adjust the height of the sleeping platform accordingly.


Earlier this year I started over from scratch, armed with far more detailed plans for a new sleeping platform and additional storage space

I've also removed the second-row seat bottoms. This will be a required step, if you wish to follow these plans, as their removal provides more lengthwise space for both the sleeping platform and the storage cabinet. An added bonus is that doing so also provides more storage space below deck, as it were.


Regardless, I assume no responsibility for your individual build, the safety of the build, or anything else should you choose to replicate it or use it for inspiration for your own build.



Table of Contents


 

My First Attempts at a 4Runner Sleeping Platform


My first try at "building" a sleeping setup for my 4Runner involved buying a camping cot that I could place on top of the folded down rear seats. I then bought a memory foam mattress to use on top of the cot. This would have worked fine, in theory, but the supports for the cot didn't really allow for any effective under-bed storage aside from small, random things stuffed in between gaps in the supports.


I had planned to test out the setup during a 10-day trip from Texas to Utah in March of 2020 but, well, we all know what happened right around then... I ended up cancelling the trip the morning I was due to leave.


Never really happy with how the cot worked out (I ended up just using the foam mattress without the cot on a subsequent trip to Colorado that summer), I tried my hand, with the help of my girlfriend's father, at building a proper sleeping platform for the 4Runner before a spring trip to Oregon in 2021.


I had a rough idea of what I wanted - a platform with room for storage bins underneath - but more or less winged it. I had already bought several plastic storage bins at Lowe's and made sure the platform would be high enough for them to fit... and that's about as much pre-planning as I did.


while it was usable, the first platform was too tall

I used the setup as it was built for the trip to Oregon and, while it was usable, the platform was too tall, requiring me to fold myself in half to get in and out of bed. Due to its height, I also couldn't get into bed directly from the door side of the platform, which meant I had to leave (wasted) space clear behind the driver's seat, since the platform was on the passenger side.


4Runner sleeping platform
Before I realized how quickly I'd get tired of folding myself in half to get in and out of bed...

4Runner sleeping platform
It did accomplish its two main goals: provide more storage space and a place to sleep.

Note: I do not recommend securing a 12V refrigerator with bungie cords as shown above. That was just a temporary solution for the pre-trip test run!


We also overbuilt the sleeping platform to a point where I'm pretty sure it would have survived a small nuclear explosion:


5th gen 4Runner sleeping platform
Even with the slat design - which I wanted for ventilation - it was quite hefty.

Mistakes aside, it did serve its purpose. After the trip to Oregon, I ended up removing the legs from the platform. This gave me more headroom and, most importantly, allowed me to get into bed directly from the rear passenger door, but it also meant I lost all the underbed storage.


That wasn't a huge issue as I no longer had to keep the driver's side clear for access to the bed so I could stack the bins there, but a new problem arose when I brought my dog along as his bed needed to go behind the driver's seat.


Dog sleeping in 4Runner
Doggo, or storage... but not both!

I found myself having to shuffle around bins, my camera bag, my duffle bag full of clothes and toiletries, and the dog every time I set up and broke down camp. It wasn't the end of the world, but it was an annoying dance I had to perform at least twice a day (and far more annoying if it happened to be raining at the time).


Summary of Version 1.0 Issues

  • Sleeping platform too tall with the legs installed

  • Using smaller storage bins required shuffling to access all bins as needed from beneath the bed

  • Without the legs installed on the sleeping platform, I didn't have room for the dog and the bins

  • Constant shuffling of bins and other gear when setting up and breaking down camp

  • Sleeping platform tremendously overbuilt/heavier than needed (and too bulky)

  • Slat design was not sufficient support for the foam mattress without some form of firmer bed support (I could feel the gaps in the slats when in bed)


 

Version 2.0 of my 4Runner Camping Setup


Based on the lessons learned from that first platform build, I had eight main objectives with version 2.0 of my 4Runner sleeping platform.


Main Objectives for Version 2.0

  1. Recover storage space under the sleeping platform

  2. Keep the platform low enough so I could still sit up somewhat in bed

  3. Keep the platform low enough so I could still get in and out of the truck via the bed-side rear door

  4. Design and build a far lighter and more space-efficient sleeping platform

  5. Provide hidden storage for my camera bag

  6. Provide storage for my clothes and miscellaneous items to eliminate the need for bringing my duffle bag

  7. Eliminate the shuffling of things around at any point just to access something I regularly need

  8. Retain use of the sliding cargo tray at the back of the truck


Let's take a closer look at both major components: the sleeping platform and the storage cabinet (or you can watch my full build walkthrough video).



1 - The Sleeping Platform Design


For reference, I weigh about 185 pounds, and am 5'11". This sleeping platform design is based more on my height than weight, but I did factor in my weight when determining what to use for the mattress base.


I knew this was going to be the trickiest thing to design and build as I needed a sleeping platform that was both tall enough for the storage I wanted and needed, yet low enough to easily get into and out of bed from the rear passenger door. Having to keep the space behind my driver's seat clear as with my first build would keep me from achieving some of the other goals I listed above.


Given how (extremely) overbuilt my first platform was, I knew I could go with far less material on the second attempt. I opted to use 2x6 boards for the main sidewalls of the platform, with 1x2 "footers" running along the bottom of them (more on that below). Alternatively, I could have used 2x8 boards and ripped/notched them down as needed.


I knew I could go with far less material on the second attempt

For the platform itself, after some research on van builds and other 4Runner sleeping platform discussions I found, I decided to go with 1/2" birch plywood. Several people recommended 3/4" boards but given the narrow span - only 24" - I felt comfortable that the thinner boards would be more than enough. I have had zero issues with it sagging, whether I'm stretched out for sleep or sitting up slightly.


I ended up using precut plywood boards I purchased at Lowe's: one (1) 24" x 24" and one (1) 24" x 48". The longer board went towards the back of the truck where my feet and legs would be, and the smaller, square board was under my upper body. This is one thing I would change if I built this same design again: I should have gone with three (3) 24" x 24" boards (more on that below).


4Runner sleeping platform and foam mattress
A look at the sleeping platform with the 4" foam mattress in place.

Why, you ask? I designed the platform so that the 24" x 24" plywood section would be directly behind the front passenger seat. That section is attached to the larger 24" x 48" section only (not to the support boards underneath), using hinges, which allows is to swing up and open to access a little hidden storage space below. The larger 48" long plywood board is permanently attached to the rest of the frame towards the back of the truck.


I left the bottom of this little storage cubby open but will likely add some kind of base to keep odds and ends from falling out through the gap between the end of the folded-down seat and the end of the platform frame.


4Runner sleeping platform with storage
Under-bed storage for the 4Runner sleeping platform: currently, smaller items stored within can fall through the gap at the front of the cubby. You can also see how the side support beams extend over the soft lip of the folded seat back, keeping the platform from resting directly on that less durable material.

What I didn't account for was secondary "emergency" access to my under-bed storage from the back of the truck. Typically, it's not an issue, and the current design works perfectly fine... unless I have my Coleman stove set up on the sliding cargo tray and realize I need something out of the larger under bed storage bin I bought. With the stove in place, I can't slide the bin out, which is when it would be helpful to be able to just flip up another 24" x 24" panel in the back.


4Runner sleeping platform with storage
When I have the 4Runner sliding cargo tray pulled out, I can set up my Coleman stove in front of the bed, but I also lose access to the under-bed storage. Here you can also see how the side supports extend over the plastic lip on the sliding cargo tray: this is why the 1x2s on the bottom are shorter in length.

4Runner sleeping platform with storage
Under-bed storage for my sleeping platform. The bin I found at Lowe's has a lid that's split in the middle: I can pull it halfway out and access my most used items while the back half supports the bin, even without having to pull out the sliding cargo tray.

Alas, I didn't think of that scenario until I was in Utah and realized I needed something out of the bin while I had the stove going! The 24" x 48" panel is glued and screwed down, so changing it now isn't really possible without rebuilding the entire platform. Thankfully, it's a minor annoyance and something I can account for by not forgetting to get everything I need out of storage prior to setting up the stove.


Stove setup for 4Runner overlanding setup
No access to the rear under-bed storage when the cargo tray is pulled out and I have the stove set up.

Aside from that one minor issue, the sleeping platform has otherwise been just about perfect.



2 - The Storage Cabinet Design


For this new car camping build, adding storage space in general was about as important to me as redoing and optimizing the sleeping platform (which also obviously addressed some of my storage needs).


From a general storage needs standpoint, I had a few major pain points that I wanted to solve:

  • Have storage for my clothes so I didn't have to find a spot for my duffel bag (and dig through it trying to find items)

  • Have a place to store my Jackery battery unit and solar panels

  • Most importantly, have hidden storage for my camera bag


Let's start with that last bullet first.


Prior to this build, I was in a constant state of concern or inconvenience. I either had to take my camera bag everywhere I went - not always feasible or reasonable - or hide it under my sleeping bag and blankets. Neither "solution" was ideal.


Prior to this build, I was in a constant state of concern

So, I knew from the get-go that I wanted a cubby where I could store the bag out of sight. I also knew it would have to be behind the driver's seat as the bag is too large to fit elsewhere.


4Runner storage cabinet
My initial test fitting of all the items I wanted to store in the main part of the cabinet: camera bag (bottom), solar panels (right), extra cloths (plastic bin), and odds and ends (top).

When the door is closed, it is impossible to see into the bottom cubby where I store my camera bag.


If you don't have solar panels to account for, you could opt to just have large cubby spaces for storage, or even go with a shorter design for the cabinet overall. I designed the slot for the solar panels so it can fit all four that I have, but I usually only take two of them on trips (I bought a bundle during a Jackery sale... in hindsight, two panels is enough and I rarely use even those).


With just two panels stored in the tall slot, I ended up with the perfect spot to store my Weathertech custom fit window coverings (all but the windshield and tailgate). They also work to keep the panels from knocking back and forth against the cabinet while I'm driving.


The Jackery battery unit itself goes in the cubby to the right of the panels slot.


Jackery 1500 solar generator in my 4Runner
The Jackery Solar Generator 1500 in its new cubby.

I will admit that it's not the easiest to get to the plugs and buttons on the Jackery with this setup, but I wasn't too concerned about that as I just set up the cables I'll be using ahead of time and run them where I need them, leaving the applicable ports turned on.


The biggest drawback to this placement of the Jackery battery is it cannot be removed from the truck without removing the sleeping platform. Again, not a huge concern for me as, so far, I think I've only ever had to charge it up via AC power in a hotel room once. The big advantages of its location are it's out of sight, and it can't fly around the cabin if I'm in a bad accident (I do need to add a tie-down system, though, for extra safety and stability).


A Toyota 4Runner sleeping platform and storage cabinet
The storage cabinet as seen from the bed side of the truck.

Looking at the cabinet from the other side, you can see a couple other design decisions I made.


First, I wanted a "nightstand" next to the bed so I would have a place for my phone, wallet, keys, Kindle, etc. while in bed.


Secondly, I left an open platform above the Jackery battery cubby. I knew it would be used for clothes storage, and my initial plan was to reuse the bins I already had from the first sleeping platform build. I soon realized, though, that stacking bins on top of each other would still lead to shuffling them around to access items in the bottom bin.


I subsequently tracked down the plastic drawer unit shown in the above photo. Drawers eliminate the need for shuffling bins and using them instead of building out drawers as part of the cabinet helps keep the weight down tremendously. It also gives me flexibility to use the space for something else as needed.


This design does have some drawbacks, although nothing too major:

  • The plastic bin I have on the other side, facing the door, rubs against the pull handle on the door and has worn the plastic down

  • I wish I had included a little shelf in the "nightstand" section about halfway up; that upper space is kind of wasted at the moment

  • The cabinet does limit my visibility out the back slightly (not too much since it's directly behind the driver's seat); I also have the Anytime Backup module installed, so I can flip on the backup camera if I need a better look at what's behind me while driving

  • It significantly reduces what I can see over my left shoulder to check my blind spot (solved by the addition of a wide-angle mirror in the corner of the standard driver's side mirror)

  • The first night I slept with this new setup I discovered I sleep with my elbows extended out a bit, and my right elbow was hitting the cabinet every now and then

  • I'm still searching for a two-drawer plastic storage unit that's a little taller and a little wider than what I currently have; it's a bit tight fitting some of my clothes in there right now


Overall, though, I am really happy with how this setup has worked out with real-world use so far.


I do need to figure out a solution for traveling with the dog since I've once again lost the open space behind the driver's seat. My plan is to build a small platform that can go over the front passenger seat and extend forward a bit to act as a base for his bed. He'll just have to get in and out via the driver's side instead of hopping right up into the passenger seat.


Car camping setup for a Toyota 4Runner
Elbow space is a little tight, but I learned to adapt.

Toyota 4Runner storage unit
I can also access the Jackery battery from the bed; happily (and accidentally), the flashlight on the side of the unit can be easily turned on and off while I'm in bed, too.

 

My top accessories for Car Camping in a 4Runner


This is a list from big ticket items to the small odds and ends that I've found helpful for car camping. If you have any questions about anything, please use the comments section at the end to ask and I'll get back to you as quickly as possible!


I may earn a small commission from purchases made via the following links. Please note that I've only listed items I actually use and recommend, or comparable alternatives.


Roam awning

I'm currently running the Jackery 1500, which appears to have been replaced by the 1500 Pro. I've had the 1500 for about 2,5 years (as of August 2023) and it has worked flawlessly for me, powering my 12V refrigerator, charging camera and video equipment, running/charging my laptop, and more. The new Pro models include handles that fold down, which is something I definitely wish my model had as it would be easier to stow it away in the storage unit I built. Visit the Jackery Amazon store