Like many outdoorsy people, I’ve long trusted a Toyota Tacoma to deliver me and all my gear to my adventure du jour. The Tacoma has been a staple of outdoor cool and my garage-away-from-home, thanks to its rugged build, reputation for reliability, and a plethora of available accessories. Yet, when it came time to replace my trusty Taco, I did the unthinkable—I bought a van. No, not some tricked-out four-wheel drive Sprinter with a lift kit, indoor shower, and solar panels on the roof, but a minivan. More specifically, a Toyota Sienna.

minivan as an adventure vehicle
Credit: Luke Foley

Why the Minivan is the Ultimate Outdoor Vehicle

While I’ll admit that Sprinters have become the symbol of outdoor adventure and look super cool, for most they’re just not that practical—just how many times are you really going to need a kitchen or indoor plumbing? Not to mention their price tag. I, for one, would rather spend six figures on adventures, not an adventure vehicle.

Below are just a few reasons why the minivan is the ultimate adventure vehicle.

1. Space

Minivans offer a ton of space for everything from hauling people to gear. With all its seats installed, my minivan can seat seven adults comfortably. A pickup with a 4’ x 6’ bed and a standard cap has roughly 72 cubic feet of storage space, not including the rear seat. Comparatively, my Sienna, with the second-row seats folded forward and the rear seat stowed away, has more than 100 cubic feet of storage space.

2. Adaptability

When I pull the seats out, I have plenty of room to roll out a sleeping bag to catch a quick nap, stash oversized ski gear, give my dogs room to spread out, or change after a surf session. As a long-time Tacoma owner, I can’t tell you how amazing this is—with a truck, there’s simply no good way to get out of a dry suit in winter on the side of the road without inevitably standing in a puddle.

3. Convenience

Not only do minivans have a ton of easily adaptable space, but it’s easy to create more. My Sienna came with factory side rails, so I can easily put everything from a cargo box to a ski rack to a kayak carrier on its roof. And, unlike a pickup, I can load gear onto the roof of my minivan without needing a stepladder.

The height of the minivan also makes it easier to get in and out of the vehicle—whether it’s my pups or aging adventure buddies after a climbing session at the Auburn Ice Canyon.

Dogs love an adventure van
Credit: Luke Foley

4. Driveability

Sure, I appreciated the high clearance and “off-road” capabilities of my Taco when pulling into the unplowed lot at Mount Watatic or when navigating a poorly maintained access road, but the reality is that the minivan is nicer to drive day to day. It’s peppier, handles better, and is generally more comfortable. It’s also way easier to park—fitting into everywhere from tight spaces at trailheads to crowded grocery store parking lots to the drive-thru.

My minivan is also way more fuel efficient than my old truck, letting me devote more of my money to adventures than my local gas station.

5. Stealthy

No matter how many racks, cargo boxes, or stickers you put on a minivan, it will never scream cool. But the understatedness is one of its best virtues. You can park it virtually anywhere without it drawing attention—ideal for stealth camping—and trailhead thieves are far more likely to be drawn to splashier-looking rigs than my soccer-mom-mobile.

6. Amenities

My minivan is built with comfort in mind. It has navigation, surround sound, and even a DVD player. It also has heated leather seats, which are pure indulgence following a cold winter paddle. There are also cushy second-row captain chairs, tons of cup holders, and an abundance of USB chargers to ensure everything from my phone to my GoPro is adventure-ready.

Minivan mighty adventure vehicle
Credit: Luke Foley

The Disadvantages of a Minivan as an Adventure Vehicle

1. Zero Cool Factor

No matter how much you preach the benefits of a minivan as an adventure vehicle, it’s simply not very cool to drive. For whatever reason, people are just ingrained to think of minivans pulling into suburban garages, not ski areas, trailheads, and landings.

2. Stealthy

As mentioned above, I love that my minivan blends exceptionally well into suburban environments and is super easy to park at busy places, like the grocery store or my local EMS. That said, inconspicuousness isn’t always an advantage. It’s not always easy to locate my van in busy parking lots and I’ve been reduced to attaching a gnome to its antenna so I can tell which van is mine. Oh well, my cool factor was blown the second I drove the Sienna off the lot anyway.

Minivan, Mighty Good Adventure Vehicle

In the end, I couldn’t be happier with my purchase of a minivan and while I miss my Tacoma, my dogs are rising to the challenges of filling all the extra available space with sand and fur.