Toyota RAV4 Overland Guide

The Toyota RAV4 is a popular compact crossover, and it’s now being used for a combination of remote travel, off-roading, and camping.

Also known as… overlanding!

RAV4 overland travel is becoming increasingly popular. If you’re ready to hit the road and utilize your RAV4’s ample storage, excellent comfort, and off-road capabilities, keep reading. Here’s everything you need to know about diving into RAV4 overlanding as a beginner.

lunar rock rav4 offroading

What Is Overlanding?

Overlanding is a type of travel that is entirely self-reliant. People use overland travel to go to remote destinations where the journey itself is the principal goal.

In many cases, overlanding uses mechanized off-road transport like bicycles, trucks, etc. The main form of lodging in overlanding is camping. People may overland for days, months, or even years and sometimes span international boundaries in the process.

Overland Builds

Overland RAV4s are created to accommodate living out of the vehicle. This set-up is usually not compatible with extreme off-roading, four-wheeling, and rock-crawling because of the balance and weight loads of the car.

There’s a variety of basic materials that everyone overlanding should have, including (but not limited to) remote communications, mapping and navigation tools, medical training and equipment, bug out bag, tools, spares, recovery essentials, proper recovery points, proper tires with a full-size spare, loading and lashing points, proper straps, minimalist camping gear, etc.

We’ll cover more details about what you need in the sections below. However, if you’ve never seen an equipped Toyota RAV4 overland build, check out these photos!


rav4 overland build
rav4 overland build
rav4 overland build
rav4 overland build


Check out these cool YouTube videos about RAV4 overland builds for a more in-depth look!


Are RAV4s good for overlanding? Thankfully, the answer is YES. The Toyota RAV4 is a great choice for an overlanding vehicle.

It provides all the necessary components of a well-equipped overlander. These include:

  • Cargo space
  • Comfort
  • Affordability
  • Off-roading capability

It’s also fairly easy to modify the RAV4 to become a well-equipped overlander. If you’re wondering which RAV4 to purchase specifically for overlanding, the first, second, and fifth-generation Toyota RAV4 models are the best choices.

All three models feature AWD systems that are essential for tough terrain you may see while off-roading. They also offer good ground clearance and ample traction because of their rugged construction.

While the third and fourth-generation models are decent, there are some consumer reports of rear differential overheating and some other minor issues. I recommend sticking to these three models if you’ll be driving on a variety of terrain types.

Getting Started

The most important thing to prepare for an overland trip is to equip your vehicle with the necessities and comforts.

This typically includes adding off-road modifications and camping accessories. The modifications and accessories you select will depend on the terrain you plan on driving on as well as how long you plan to adventure.

I’ve broken down my recommendations into the best modifications for the RAV4 as well as the best camping accessories.

Overlanding Mods & Accessories

Here are the best modifications for your RAV4 to ensure your vehicle is prepared for overlanding.

1. Lift Kit

lifted white rav4 with offroad tires
Image courtesy of @gregg.feinstein

A lift kit increases the ground clearance between your vehicle and the road. Increasing the suspension and clearance of your vehicle can make a significant difference in the look, feel, and capability of your RAV4.

If you’re interested in learning more about lift kits and how they’ll improve your overlanding experience, read my article – Lift RAV4: How a Suspension Lift Can Make a Big Difference.

2. All-Terrain Tires

rav4 with all terrain tires

All-terrain tires are a stellar off-road modification. They increase traction on all kinds of surfaces, including on and off-road drives. All-terrain tires combine the open-tread design of off-road tires with the solid handling and functionality of street tires. If you’re looking for great All-Terrain Tires, consider the Falken Wildpeak A/T Tires. I have these tires on my 2021 Toyota RAV4 and couldn’t recommend them enough.

3. Roof Rack

toyota rav4 with prinsu roof rack

A roof rack helps you hold all the gear you need for your overland adventure. This modification consists of a base and crossbars that allow you to securely stow your gear while you drive. Check out the Prinsu Roof Rack that’s been able to handle all my gear during my adventures. It’s aluminum, which means it won’t rust (a common complaint of cheaper racks). Note that this roof rack doesn’t work with any RAV4 models that are equipped with a panoramic sunroof.

Another option is the Front Runner Slimsport roof rack kit.

And on the more affordable side, you can opt to do cross-bars. These offer more functionality than the stock roof side rails. The trade off is they don’t allow you to hold nearly as much weight as the roof racks above. BrightLines cross bars fit the 2013-2018 models and the Autekcomma cross bars fit the 2019-current models.

4. Lightbar

rav4 with lightbar and other accessories
Image credit:

A light bar is used to illuminate in front or behind the vehicle. It’s a great install for people who often find themselves wishing they had more light. For overlanders, it makes sense to install a light bar because you’ll often be using your car in the dark. It can even be useful when navigating, especially when roads aren’t well-lit or marked.

The light bar from LASFIT offers various sizes at an affordable price.

5. Rooftop Tent

A key RAV4 off-road modification is a rooftop tent, which allows you to sleep comfortably on top of your vehicle. Many people prefer this solution for accommodations when overlanding because it’s so much cheaper than a trailer and more convenient than a ground tent. With a few tweaks, your RAV4 can become a mobile home transported by your car.

Most rooftop tents can be deployed quickly. With bedding stowed away in the RTT, this means quick setup and a huge reduction in frustration that can come with setting up a tent (especially last minute).

Additionally, having the tent on top of the car also frees up storage space inside the vehicle for other gear. Being high up means you won’t be easily accessible to people or animals, and this greatly aids in feeling secure.

Having a strong base for your rooftop tent is key for an enjoyable overlanding experience. See the above section on roof rack recommendations. These are going to be stronger and flatter than the OEM options.

6. Water Tank

Since you’re essentially living out of your RAV4 while overlanding, you may wonder how you’ll gain access to water. Water tanks are an ideal storage option during overland trips. They’re relatively inexpensive, durable, and portable — holding between two and seven gallons, depending on the tank.

WaterPORT is a reputable brand that I recommend.

7. Retractable Awning

If you’re planning to overland regularly, a retractable awning is one of the best RAV4 camping accessories. You’ll be spending a lot of time hanging out and around your car or truck, and a roof awning is a great way to add shelter and shade to your setup.

This ARB Retractable Awning with LED Lights is perfect for camping, road trips, or long-term expeditions. It’s a self-standing awning that takes just 30 seconds to deploy. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, you can camp out of a RAV4. Check out our RAV4 Resource article Sleeping Comfortably in a Toyota RAV4 (Car Camping Guide). This can help you transform your vehicle for maximum comfort.

Yes, if you’re driving in the mountains, we recommend using Sport Mode. Read everything you should know about the RAV4’s sport mode in The Toyota RAV4 “Sport Mode” Explained.

Yes, you can fit a small air mattress in a Toyota RAV4 with its 73.4 cubic feet of space. You’ll need to move the front passenger seat as far forward as possible and tilt it toward the dashboard. You’ll also need to lay the seats flat. However, you can fit an air mattress about the size of a twin in this space, which helps make car camping more comfortable if you’re planning to overland for a long period.

Luno Air Mattresses are a great option as they’re specifically intended for use in cars.

Yes, although it does depend on your definition of off-road. The RAV4 does well in inclement weather and on unpaved roads, but its off-road capabilities aren’t extreme. That said, it does have good traction, and it’s well-equipped for adventuring.

Yes, the Toyota RAV4 can handle a rooftop tent. The RAV4 roof’s footprint is small and the factory roof rack may not be strong enough (if yours came with one).

Investing in an aftermarket roof rack such as the Prinsu will give you a stronger, flatter surface for your RTT. Having a RTT that can deploy quickly is a major win when overlanding.

Final Thoughts

Now you know whether or not the RAV4 is a good overlanding choice for your situation. We think it’s a great option because of its cargo space, comfort, affordability, and off-road capabilities.

Remember that equipping your RAV4 with the right mods and accessories is important to ensure a smooth, safe, and comfortable trip.

Overlanding may sound intimidating initially, but outfitting your RAV4 properly can help you get over the initial hump and love the freedom that comes with this style of travel. The tips above can help you create a RAV4 overland build that you love and use.

Let us know about your planned RAV4 adventures in the comments below!

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  1. Which RAV4 trims do you recommend? Would a hybrid do well in overlanding? I ask because I am a fan of the higher mileage. Thanks!

    1. RAV4 Resource says:

      In terms of ground clearance, your best options are the XLE Premium, Limited, TRD Off-Road, and Adventure which have 8.6 inches (21.8 cm) of clearance. The last two are also equipped with some better drive modes that would be useful for overlanding as well. The TRD has upgraded suspension.
      The Hybrid trims are 8.1 inches (20.6 cm) of ground clearance which isn’t too much lower. The suspension isn’t too terrible to overlanding. It can still get the job done.
      Ultimately, I would recommend the TRD Off-Road.

  2. JG Berson says:

    Overland is one thing, but how deep can the “normal” RAV4 ford water, before the doors leak, or the engine or electrical system quits?
    Storm flooding is becoming far too common these days. I’ve seen lots of pictures of cars stranded in 1 or 2 foot deep water. Never saw a RAV4 in any pictures.

    1. RAV4 Resource says:

      I personally would stop if the water started to reach the bottom of the frame.