One of the most capable and well proven SUVs still currently made would be the Toyota 4Runner. After being around for decades, Toyota has crafted the 4Runner to be the best on and off road that it could be. However, to meet the demands of the masses, the serious off-roaders will need to make a couple modifications to the proven platform, especially when it comes to overlanding.
What makes a good overlanding vehicle depends on many factors. What works for you may not work for someone else. Terrain, climate, duration of your journey, and budget are just some of the factors. This guide will help you point you in the right direction to make your Toyota 4Runner the ultimate overlanding machine.
WHAT IS OVERLANDING?
Overlanding is a journey to remote destinations across the open land. This isn’t your typical weekend rock crawling. This is a journey where you are one with your vehicle, your lodging is typically camping, and nature is all around you. The destination is the journey. It is one heck of an experience!
WHY DO 4RUNNER OWNERS LOVE OVERLANDING?
Ask them! If the owners actually take advantage of the “sport” in “sport utility vehicle,” then they realize how good these SUVs can be at braving the wilderness. 4Runners are long lasting, they are relatively inexpensive to own and maintain, and extremely durable and reliable. While they may not share as many aftermarket parts as their truck brothers the Tacoma and Tundra, there still is a vast market. It’s easy to turn your 4Runner into an overlanding campsite on wheels! Let’s find out what you need.
WHAT OVERLANDING EQUIPMENT DO YOU NEED?
The 4Runner is a great SUV, but if you’re going to be out on the open land for days or maybe weeks at a time, there are a few things that you need to do. What you get will depend on the terrain and how long you will be gone for. Will it be rocky, snowy, sandy, muddy, or flat? Do you have to worry about rivers? Will you be driving at night? There are a few key things to get dependent on the answers to those questions.
Suspension is huge as it’s usually always good to have a little extra clearance. You’ll also want to protect your vehicle, especially if you’re in rocky conditions. Rock sliders, push bars, and cages are excellent additions for that. Snorkels help for river crossing and aggressive tires help for the terrain, but don’t forget about you! Where are you going to sleep and eat? What about gas for your SUV and lights? These are all things to consider.
There are a good number of suspension upgrades for the Toyota 4Runner, but it’s important to remember that when overlanding, you’re generally not attending a rock crawling event. Clearance is always a good option if you have some bumps or rivers to get through, but you don’t usually need to get too carried away.
I cover this topic heavily in my Ultimate 4Runner Lift Kit Guide, but it would be a good idea to start out with a basic lift kit. A coilover kit would be your best option overall for overlanding.
Coilover kits are one unit (piston and spring) that are plug and play. Simply take your stock spring and piston out, and place the new one in. While these are more expensive over spacer lift kits, which simply stretch your stock spring and piston, coilover kits are far more durable. Durability is what you are after for overlanding, hands down.
Coilovers can be ordered in various heights including adjustable heights, and there are plenty of name brand options to choose from. You can expect to spend anywhere from $1500 to $3000 for a complete kit, but it’s worth it.
Your ride will get beat up and get dirty as your overlanding life continues, but there are steps you can take to cut down on serious damage, especially if you’re dealing with rocky and hilly conditions. Rock sliders, push bars, and cages take the impacts so your body panels don’t have to.
Rock sliders bolt to your frame and are designed for protection. The average cost is going to be around $700 to $900 depending on brand and material. Some sliders offer built-in steps as well, which will aid you in getting in and out of your lifted ride. Keep in mind that when you’re shopping you’re getting sliders and not steps. Steps are usually just meant for your feet and don’t offer the same protection that sliders do.
Push bars/grill guards go on the front of your SUV and can be as simple as a small trapezoidal tube in the middle, or a complete network of tubing and mesh designed to protect all your lights and grille. These range from $230 to over $850, but the average cost is generally in the middle.
For ultimate front end protection, replacement bumpers will be your best options. Front bumpers generally replace the lower part of your front bumper with a much more aggressive and durable metal one instead of the factory plastic bumper cover. These are generally far more expensive but can include things like winches and light bars. Rear bumpers replace the factory bumper with metal ones. They are far more durable and can even include extra features such as LED lighting.
If you’re at risk of rolling, you may want to look at a cage for your SUV. This is most likely a rare occurrence for overlanding, but know your environment. This generally has to be custom made, so do a search around your area for someone who offers that kind of service. While not as easy to get for an SUV compared to a truck, it still can be done, but if you’re concerned about looks, you could look into an internal cage. This would be far more expensive and very cumbersome for a daily driver, but hey… it’s another option!
If you think you might be crossing some rivers, a snorkel might be a wise investment. Snorkels move your engine’s air intake closer to your roof. While you will need to cut holes in your truck’s body to make the modification, it’s better than hydro locking your engine (seizing your engine because water gets sucked in). These will run you about $300 to $700.
Tires and the amount of air in them depend on where you are going. Mud, snow, sand, and dirt might all need different tires. Don’t forget about driving to and from your start point on the highway! A while back, I did a post called The Ultimate Toyota 4Runner Wheel and Tire Guide that covers all this in depth. Know where you’re going, and plan accordingly. A good set of off-road tires these days will run you over $1000.
There will be no streetlights where you are going. Stock headlights and high beams work well, but you’ll need more in the pitch black darkness you’ll experience. I cover lighting terms and options in my Ultimate Toyota 4Runner LED Lighting Guide, but in short, it would be wise to invest in an LED light bar. LED light bars are extremely efficient, durable, and bright. They will flood the area in front of you with bright and clean light, which is terribly important if your overlanding trip requires you to drive at night.
It won’t hurt to look into ditch lights as well if you find yourself driving at night a lot for maximum illumination.
CARRYING YOUR GEAR
If you’re going to be gone for a long time, you need supplies: spare parts for the 4Runner itself, tools for any repairs, food, water, first aid, survival gear, and extra fuel. While our SUVs can hold a lot, space runs out fast when you’re getting all of your supplies together.
Roof racks are an essential upgrade to your 4Runner for any type of outdoor activities. The rails your 4Runner comes with from the factory (even the rack with the TRD Pro trim) leaves a lot to be desired. A quality and extensive roof rack will allow for almost limitless storage options for all of your big and bulky stuff: spare tires, canoes or kayaks, fuel cans and water tanks, and more. Need a bigger place to sleep? Roof racks make excellent mounting locations for tents!
No surprise, we have a full article on this: The Ultimate 4Runner Roof Rack Guide.
The 4Runner has a lot of storage space in the back. After all, that is what it’s designed for. However, you pretty much just have to throw everything back there and hope for the best. Thankfully, there are a number of Molle style organizers that mount over the rear windows and hatch on the inside. These allow you to fasten whatever you want to a place you can always be sure to find it.
If you need a couple layers of storage, there are storage trays and baskets that split the back of your 4Runner into two layers. This gives you better control over storage of smaller items instead of just throwing everything into the back.
Molle Seat Covers
While you’re not going to be storing spare tires on your seats, first aid supplies, flares, fire starting equipment, extra magazines, and other small items will be right at home. These covers offer plenty of storage possibilities and are one of the best ways to keep your small and loose items at hand. These range from $100 to $300.
KEEPING YOURSELF COMFORTABLE
When overlanding, there are no resorts, no hotels, and no cabins. You are on your own, so you want to be comfortable. Regular old tents are an inexpensive and easy option. They are tried and true, and they don’t take up much space. However, if you want to be fancy and camp in style, there are options made specifically for our 4Runners.
Roof Top Tents
When you want the ultimate amount of personal space, luxury, and room on your SUV’s roof, roof top tents are the best option. While they can be pricey ($250 - $2000), they are amazing options if you’re serious about overlanding. You sleep up high, which not only gives you better views, but it keeps you safer from any lurking creatures. Some come with an annex room that goes from the ground to the sleeping section. They are great for a multi-person party, or a “living room” if you want it. Some of these annex rooms have “backdoors” that allow you to access the inside of your truck (through your side doors) giving you an incredible setup.
If you are going on a long trip on flat land, you might need a trailer. Trailers are a great option to carry a bunch of other gear for an extended journey, but only on flatter land. You can get a specific overlanding trailer, and while more expensive, they are designed for harsh off-road environments.
Trailers can be your tent, leaving your roof available for more storage, or they can hold all of your extra gear and leave your roof available. A good overlanding trailer will cost you over $2000 and can be as high as $12000. If you’re all about the overlanding life, it could be a wise investment, but most weekend warriors won’t have a need for the extra space.
While fuel mileage isn’t the main concern while overlanding (beyond making sure you have enough), pulling a heavy trailer will result in the use of more fuel. You will also limit where you can go.
WHERE TO FIND OVERLANDING GROUPS
Going out on your own or with people that you can fit in your truck can be a lot of fun, but sometimes hanging out and going on an adventure with a convoy of like-minded people is a lot of fun. Not only can you form bonds with people who share your passion, but someone could save you or your SUV if you’re in trouble. If you’re a novice, or this is your first time, I would highly recommend going with other people.
Facebook is a great way to find like-minded people/groups. There are many overlanding groups, and even some 4Runner/Toyota specific ones. Forums also have diehard fans when it comes to overlanding with 4Runners. Reach out to these people through these mediums and find out what’s happening next and where. Go out and have some fun with some like-minded people!
While an incredible experience and lots of fun, overlanding is a serious and potentially dangerous adventure. However, rest assured knowing your Toyota 4Runner can be up to the challenge with some light modifications. Remember, a good overall, mid-range priced package to get your truck ready would consist of the following:
Moderate height coilover lift kit ($1200)
Rock sliders ($800)
Push bar/grill guard ($600)
LED light bar ($350)
Roof rack/tent ($500)
Fuel cans, water cans, and other incidentals/extras ($250)
All in all, you could be looking around $4700 for a complete kit. Keep in mind that this is mid-range. You can get much more expensive gear, or cheaper. Most of these things are one time investments as well. The only things you would need to replace are your tires. Anything else just needs to be replaced if it gets damaged.
You also have to determine what you need. If you’re driving through the Sahara, you probably don’t need a push bar or rock sliders. That’s $1400 taken off right there. If you are only going on weekend trips, you probably can get away with an inexpensive tent set up independently from your truck, and you won’t need a roof rack. That’s $500 gone.
There is no this-is-how-you-have-to-do-it way for overlanding. There are two rules to overlanding: get from Point A to Point B, and have fun doing it. How you accomplish it depends on how much money, time, and effort you want to put into it. Determine where you want to go, find out the best way to do it, and build and plan accordingly.
The Toyota 4Runner is a safe, durable, and reliable SUV. Use it, be safe, and have fun.
Overlanding 4Runner - Courtesy of Trail 4Runner
Suspension - Courtesy of Total Chaos Fabrication
Rock Sliders - Here at Empyre Off-Road!
Bull Bar - Courtesy of Fleet Safety
Roof Rack - Courtesy of Victory 4x4
Cargo Basket - Courtesy of Victory 4x4
Molle Cargo - Courtesy of Victory 4x4
Tent - Courtesy of Victory 4x4
Overlanding Trailer - Courtesy of Toyota-4Runner