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RAV4 Camper Conversion for Minimalists

Some prefer it fancy, I like it simple. I used to tent on the way. Now I sleep in my Toyota RAV4 which I converted into a mini-camper. What an immense improvement in camping quality. I will never go back to tenting unless it’s during a multi-day hiking trip.

On my recent road trip to the Canadian north, Northwest Territories and Yukon, I travelled in my RAV4 mini camper to places not many people have. The most remote places are the ones I like best and those are the ones I will always remember. Partly it’s because of the uniqueness of the places, but mostly because of the local people I met.

They are the best, don’t leave home without them.

What did I miss as a minimalist traveller in the north?

Not much. All I needed I had with me in my converted Toyota RAV4 camper. Everything I had with me I used. After a few trips to the Canadian North, I know what I need and what I don’t, and I travel with a minimum of gear. And still, I live comfortably in my converted RAV4 SUV.

A Toyota RAV4 SUV conversion makes a comfortable mini camper with lots of space for one person. It’s just about perfect.

It would work for two people as well. You would need a larger sleeping platform and perhaps a storage box on the roof and you would be totally fine. A bit crowded but okay.

For a single person, a RAV4 is the ideal vehicle for an extended road trip. Actually, you can convert any car into a mini camper, just adapt the layout to the size of the car.

Living in the small space of my RAV4 camper has taught me to be organized. Everything has its place and I only carry with me what I need.

I bring along a camp chair and table in my RAV4 camper
I bring along a camp chair and table in my RAV4 camper

Experience helps

I am a minimalist road-tripper who learned during previous road trips what works for me and what doesn’t. This time, the trip was pretty much perfect.

You don’t need a campervan to enjoy van life. My miniature home on wheels might look lost between the enormous rigs on the road, but I’m not jealous of any of them.

With my 4×4 SUV, I can go anywhere, it’s cheap on gas and easy to manoeuvre. It’s comfy and cozy and gives me enough space, even on a rainy day.

Check them out for sleeping bags, tents and other outdoor equipment.

My camper conversion design

Simple and cheap were my priorities. To be able to sit in my RAV4 comfortably and have lots of headspace was important as well. My bed had to serve as my couch and I wanted space for a portable table.

Many plans and instructions I found on the Internet were too fancy for my taste with drawers, built-in cupboards and platforms to accommodate a double mattress. I spent quite some time sitting in the back of my RAV visualizing the design. What I came up with was much simpler than I ever expected.

The steps I took to convert my 2009 RAV4 into a camper

1. Take out the back seats

Toyota RAV4 back seats removed
After the backseats are removed in a Toyota RAV4

The back seats had to come out. Unfortunately, the seats were connected with an electro cable and bolted in. Not like my old RAV4, where the seats easily slid out.

I inquired at Toyota, but they wouldn’t take the seats out for me, because of safety and liability reasons, they said. It was easy to find a mechanic to do it.

You could also inquire at a car recycling place to help you with that.

2. Build a sleeping platform on the passenger side

Piece of plywood with cutout for the sleeping platform
Piece of plywood for the sleeping platform

For a one-person sleeping platform, you need a piece of plywood approximately 96 cm long x 76 cm wide, and 1 cm thick. This works for the 2019 Toyota RAV4 which comes with the storage compartment. Please note: Measurements are only approximate.

The sleeping platform is adjacent to the storage compartment

The plywood touches the storage compartment. If your car is flat all the way to the back, you will have to extend the platform to the back.

Cut out a rounded piece to fit the plastic moulding that covers the wheel.

Screw on four or five legs cut from a piece of 2” x 4” to keep the platform in place and to be parallel with the storage compartment.

Attached legs on sleeping platform for RAV4 camper conversion
Attached legs on the sleeping platform for RAV camper conversion

Cover the plywood with a beautiful piece of material and attach it with a few table clothes clamps to keep it from sliding.

Sleeping platform covered with fabric and fastened with clamps
Cover the plywood with fabric and fasten with clamps

The gap towards the front of the bed when the passenger seat is pushed forward I built up with two storage containers and a couple of pillows on top. This can easily be removed if I want to put the passenger seat back into a seating position.

3. Buy a memory foam

Buy a memory foam mat, 8 – 10 cm thick to put on top of your bed platform. I cut my foam to my height. The space below my feet on the passenger side I use to store my water bottle and my coolbox.

If you are tall, you will need the whole length of the car for sleeping.

Cut out the rounding for the armrest.

Foam mattress for RAV4 camper conversion
Foam mattress on top of the sleeping platform

Cover the foam with a nice bedsheet. Bring your pillow and your feather duvet and you will never be cold. My sleeping bag I carry just in case of extremely low temperatures or if I stay at someone’s place.

Below the sleeping platform, I store my Colman Stove, my backpack, my foldable camp chair, and cans of food for an emergency.

Comfortable bed in my RAV4 camper conversion
My comfortable bed in my RAV4 camper conversion

4. Install Rain Guards

Rain guards for Toyota RAV4
Rain guards for Toyota RAV4

For my last extended northern road trip, I invested in a set of rain guards, also called wind deflectors, for my Toyota RAV4. This was a worthwhile investment and it made my trip much more enjoyable. The set I bought had to be mounted above the windows and attached with the included tape. Just clean around the window and apply, an easy no-drill application.

The mounted rain guards keep the rain out when the car windows are open a couple of inches. There is no dripping down the inside of the windows anymore

Rain guards also reduce wind noise and allow windows to be cracked discreetly when parked.

5. Mount a Basket Roof Rack

Roof rack for my RAV4
Roof rack for my RAV4 SUV conversion

A basket roof rack is the best solution to carry extra gasoline and a second spare tire if necessary. You can get extended racks as well, but the small one gives me plenty of space for what I need.

6. Mosquito net for windows

Mosquito net for SUV conversion
Attach the mosquito net with magnets

I bought half a metre of mosquito netting at the fabric store and cut the width in half. The pieces are large enough to cover the front or back window. I attach the netting on the outside of the windows and use magnets to keep them in place. It’s easy, fast and works great. In Canada, sets of magnets are available cheap at any of the Dollar Stores.

Now I can open the window from the inside of the car and mosquitos and other bugs stay outside.

Most times I only use the netting on the passenger side front window. That’s also where I keep the window open a crack during the night.

7. Window curtains

I didn’t like the idea of permanent curtains on the car windows. My car windows are tinted and most times I don’t use any curtains when I camp. Still, if I have to stay in a Wallmart parking lot or in a campground with big rigs on both sides, curtains come handy. In the far north, where you have the midnight sun, the curtains keep the sun out and help me fall asleep.

Attached wire to hang curtains in suv conversion
Attached wire to hang curtains

At the fabric store, I bought a bag of curtain sash cord with eyelets. I attached the cord around the inside of the car, using the eyelets to fasten the wire at various places. The sash cord stays in there permanent as long as I use the RAV4 as my camper.

At a Thrift store, I picked up a new, dark blue bathroom curtain with blackout material on the back.

I cut three panels about 80 cm wide and sewed a seam on all sides. At the Dollar Store, I bought a couple of bags of office clips which I use to hang up the curtains. All it takes is a couple of minutes to get the curtains up and a few seconds to take them down

8. Storage for the RAV4 camper conversion

For storage in my RAV4 camper, I use plastic crates, plastic storage bins, string bags, and nylon pouches for some of my clothes. All the containers I bought at Walmart.

  • 1 plastic storage bin for dry food storage, approximately 43 cm x 30 cm x 35 cm h. This container fits in between the fitting from the removed seat. The container narrows at the bottom. It serves as my night table where I put my solar lamp, flashlight etc. during the night.
  • 3 black crates approximately 46 cm x 43 cm interlock, which keeps them from moving around. (Interlockable is not necessary) One container stores all my kitchen equipment, pots, pans, dishes, cutlery, another store all my camera and electronic equipment, in the third crate I keep more food, cans, etc.

Please Note: Measurements are only approximate!

Maybe a better option would be to use solid containers with lids instead of crates to keep the dust-out.

Back shelve Toyota RAV4 with net and storage below
Back shelve RAV 4 and storage below
  • The Toyota RAV4 netting storage shelf – If your car doesn’t come with this, you might want to build a shelf in the back. I love this simple addition to my RAV4. On this net shelve, I keep the rest of my clothes, rolled up jackets, tripod, plastic container for dishes and whatever else needs a space. During the day I store my solar lamp on the shelve to get charged by the sun.
  • My Cellar – The spare tire for the RAV for is mounted outside the back door. Therefore the RAV4 actually has cellar storage. To get to it I only have to remove the black crate and coolbox. Keep this in mind if you decide to build a shelve in the back. Make sure you can get to the storage below.
Toyota RAV4 Cellar Storage
Toyota RAV4 Cellar Storage

Keep safety in mind

Make sure to build the structure to prevent injury in case of an accident. Also, consider that with everything you add to the RAV4 camper conversion and when you load it up with your equipment. Use straps to tie down equipment if needed.

RAV4 Camper for minimalists
My Mini-Camper and home away from home for minimalists

Power Source I use in my RAV4 camper

One of the most useful gadgets to take along on a road trip is the one that lets you power up all the other gadgets. An inverter changes the 12-volt direct current from the car’s battery into the 115-volt alternating current used by most appliances.

Inverters come in all sizes. Smaller ones, like the Energizer I have, fit into the glove box and plug into the lighter/power outlet. In addition to giving me AC power, it lets me charge my smartphone through a USB cable.

What else to pack for a road trip

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Are you planning to convert your car into a miniature home? Do you have any question on my simple design? Please leave a comment below!

Yrene Dee

Yrene lives in Lumby British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover. I write about things I love. Mostely.

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