How to Convert Your Vehicle for Overlanding

Camping, Camping Gear, Outdoor Activities, Overlanding, Traveling Tips -

How to Convert Your Vehicle for Overlanding

If you’re active in the world of camping, then you know that the overlanding trend has taken America’s roads by storm. The 2022 KOA Annual Report listed the  overlanding explosion as one of it’s major findings. Are you interested in converting your vehicle into a house on wheels?  

If you’re not familiar with the trend, overlanding is used to describe self-reliant, off-the-beaten-path travel by vehicle. There are many variations of this practice ranging from pop up tents that go on top of your vehicle to fully converted sleeper vans.

When it comes to having a enjoyable overlanding experience, a comfortable and reliable vehicle can make all the difference. If you’re in the process of converting a van or SUV into a camping vehicle, check out this list of the most important steps to create the perfect rolling home for your next adventure.

Choosing the Right Vehicle

The first step in any van or SUV conversion is choosing the right vehicle. When it comes to overland camping, you'll want to look for a vehicle that has plenty of cargo space and good ground clearance. Popular options include the Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, and the Toyota 4Runner. If you're on a budget, you may also consider older models of sport utility vehicles like the Ford E-series or the Toyota Land Cruiser

Building Out the Sleeping Space

When you’re considering what kind of spaces to set up in your overlanding vehicle, the most obvious is the sleep space. When it comes to building out a sleeping space in a van or SUV, you’ll want to consider a couple of things. First, you'll want to make sure that you have enough room to stretch out comfortably. This may mean installing a custom mattress or sleeping platform that fits the dimensions of your vehicle. 

Next, you'll want to consider ventilation. Proper ventilation is essential to a good night's sleep, especially in warm weather. Installing windows or roof vents can help circulate air and keep your sleeping space comfortable.

Finally, consider privacy. You may want to install curtains or shades to keep out direct sunlight or prying eyes.

Adding Storage

It’s no surprise that overlanding often requires bringing along a lot of gear, so storage is key. There are a variety of ways to add storage to a van or SUV, depending on your needs and budget. Some popular options include:

  • Roof racks: These are a great way to add extra storage space for things like bikes, kayaks, or camping gear, or even to create additional living space. 
  • Custom cabinets: Custom cabinets can be built to fit the specific dimensions of your vehicle. Though this might come at a premium cost, it can provide ample storage for clothing, food, and other essentials. For a portable option, our Out-In-About Box™ makes a perfect overlanding accessory.
  • Under-seat storage: If you're working with a smaller vehicle, consider adding storage underneath the seats. This is an often overlooked nook that you can optimize for storage.

Installing a Kitchen

The one space that will take your overlanding vehicle to the next level is a well designed kitchen space. Whether you're cooking up a simple breakfast or whipping up a gourmet dinner, having a kitchen in your van or SUV can make mealtime a breeze. 

Many overlanders opt to cook outdoors over an open fire, butane lighter, or a portable camp stove. However, creating an indoor kitchen space for your new home is what differentiates overland campers from those who are simply living out of their car!

There are a variety of ways to add a kitchen to your vehicle, depending on your needs and preferences. Some popular options include:

  • Slide-out camp kitchens: These are compact, self-contained units that can be installed in the back of your vehicle. They typically include a sink, stove, and storage space for cookware. Just remember to think about protection from the weather when installing a slide-out kitchen.
  • Portable stoves: If you're on a budget, a simple portable stove can be a great option for cooking on the go. Just be sure to use it in a well-ventilated area to avoid carbon monoxide buildup if you choose to use it inside the vehicle. 
  • Custom-built kitchens: If you have a larger vehicle and want to create a more elaborate setup, consider building a custom kitchen. This could include a refrigerator, sink, and plenty of storage for food and cookware.

Adding Power

Power is of paramount importance. You'll want to make sure that your van or SUV has enough power to support all your camping needs. This may mean installing a secondary battery system to power lights, a fridge, and other electronics. Solar panels can also be a great option for generating power on the go.

  •  Install a secondary battery: A secondary battery system can power lights, a fridge, and other electronics without draining your vehicle's starting battery.
  • Use solar power: Installing solar panels on the roof of your vehicle can provide an eco-friendly source of power.
  • Use a power inverter: A power inverter can convert DC power from your secondary battery to AC power, allowing you to charge your laptop or other electronics.

Insulating the Vehicle

Insulating your van or SUV is another essential, yet often overlooked step in creating a comfortable living space. Insulation can help keep the temperature consistent, protect against moisture, and provide soundproofing for a good night's sleep. There are several options to choose from when it comes to insulating your vehicle:

  • Spray foam insulation: This is a popular choice for those who want to achieve the highest level of insulation. However, it can be expensive and may require professional installation.
  • Reflectix: Reflectix is a reflective insulation material that is affordable and easy to install. It can be cut to size and applied to walls and ceilings with spray adhesive.
  • Foam board insulation: This is another affordable option that’s also easy to install yourself. Foam board insulation comes in large sheets and can be cut to size with a utility knife.

Adding a Water System

If you plan to spend a lot of time on the road, having a water system is a must. These are a few popular water system options. 

  • Install a water tank: A water tank can hold freshwater for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. A 5-gallon tank is typically sufficient for most overland campers.
  • Use a hand pump: A hand pump can be used to draw water from your water tank and distribute it to a sink or other faucet.
  • Install a gray water tank: A gray water tank can hold wastewater from your sink or shower. Be sure to dispose of gray water properly and follow Leave No Trace.

Setting Up the Exterior

Finally, it's important to consider the exterior of your van or SUV when converting it for overland camping. Here are some tips:

  • Attach a bike rack: Adding bikes to a bike rack gives you a second mode of transportation to explore around the area you in which you're camping.
  • Add exterior lighting: Exterior lighting can be useful for setting up camp after dark and for safety.
  • Consider a pop-up roof: A pop-up roof can provide additional headroom and sleeping space.


If you’ve followed us to the end, you’ll understand just how complex it can be to convert a vehicle for overland camping. If you’re like us though, you’ll find this process riveting! What could be more fun than retrofitting a vehicle to survive in America’s great outdoors! These are the kind of adventures we live for, and we hope you do as well. As you prepare, you’ll also want to check out Renlicon’s lineup of outdoors products, including our Ultimate RV Camping Checklist. Though RV camping is a bit different than overlanding, many of the same principles apply, and for $19.95 you can get our exclusive checklist downloaded straight to your device. Don’t launch out on an adventure, only to realize you forgot something crucial to your overlanding journey. Trust us, we’ve thought of everything! Download the list today!