How to Turn Your SUV Into a Camper

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This post comes to us courtesy of Erin Outdoors who writes a pretty kick-ass blog full of what she calls “honest stories, advice, and inspiration from the time I’ve spent traveling and in the outdoors.” You can read the original post here and check out all of her stuff at www.erinoutdoors.com.


I want a van. I’m about to head out on a road trip for the next six weeks, and having a van would be perfect. But I don’t have a van. I have a Honda CR-V.

I really like the idea of being able to have a comfortable bed pretty much anywhere, so I decided to build one in the back of my car. Here is a step-by-step guide to turning your SUV into a camper.

Step 1
Do you need to take out the back seats? If your back seats fold down flat, skip this step.

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If you’re like me, you’ll first watch some YouTube videos on how to remove the back seats from your car. Procure a socket wrench or other tools you might need.

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Clean your car. Take everything out. All of the things to the garage! Take the seats out of your car and put them somewhere. The only tool I needed was a socket wrench, and taking out the seats took me all of 15 minutes. Have a victory beer. Or don’t, but I did.

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Step 2
Time to start thinking about your design. My design is a plywood platform in three parts, using 4x4s for legs. I placed the middle legs slightly off center to accommodate a storage bin. Because the floor of my car is uneven, measuring was a bit more complicated than if your car’s floor is completely flat.

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Things to consider: How big do you want it to be? Do you want to be able to remove the platform easily? How will you be storing gear? Do you want to access storage from the back and/or sides?

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Measure out the dimensions for the wood you are going to need. Having a friend help you with this comes in really handy. Go to Home Depot or equivalent with the measurements and have them cut it. Buy screws if you don’t have them. I used 3/4″ drywall screws.

Step 3
Assemble the platform.

For me, it was definitely crucial to have someone help get everything in the car (thank you Henry!). We put all the pieces in the car (propped up) and tried to visualize what it would look like nailed together. It became clear that it made sense to actually put everything together inside the car, rather than taking it out and trying to put the pieces back in once assembled.

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Platform assembled! Victory. Next, I put another piece of plywood near the front seats, attached with a hinge. This is an easy way to extend the length of your platform when you move the front seats forward. When you want to drive, just flip it back and move the seats.

Step 4
Before you go any further, vacuum any sawdust and crap out of your car. Next, you can start planning storage and bedding.

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I first put a mover’s blanket down on the platform. Alternatively, you can buy carpet and even staple it to the plywood. I wasn’t feeling picky about it. For bedding, I bought two foam mattress toppers (think egg crates) that were on sale and put them on top of each other. I then covered them with a full size fitted sheet to keep them in place. Sheets, blankets and pillows are up to you, but I wanted to be the coziest person in the world, so I went big on this.

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One great thing about having a platform bed is the storage space underneath. Under the platform, I am keeping all of my gear, clothes, food, cooking stuff, a folding table, a camp chair, a cooler and too many pairs of shoes. Figure out a system that is both easy and organized, and one that works for you.

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Step 5
You’re probably going to want some kind of window covering. Curtains are a good option. Instead, I used Reflectix (buy at any home improvement store, comes in a big roll) and cut it to size. This means no curtains swinging around, and no velcro or tape needed. I am really happy with how these turned out– nobody can see in my car, plus the insulation will keep me a bit warmer.


How much did it cost?
$56 for wood and hardware
$21 for Reflectix
$53 for foam
$71 for bedding and pillows
So in total, this project cost me $201, plus the cost of a cooler, folding table, and some storage bins. If you already have some extra bedding you like, I bet you could easily do this for $120 or less.

What are the dimensions of the platform?
When the hinge is extended, total length is 72″ and width is 41″. Height is 15″ from the very back of the car.

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I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I’m heading out today to start my road trip and I’m super excited! I’m supposed to stay at a friend’s house tonight, but I honestly might just park in her driveway so I can sleep in my new camper.


cta1

  • Adam Stackhouse

    How did you affix the Reflectix to the windows?

    • Erin Sullivan

      Hey Adam! Just cut them to size and they stay put as they are. A little bit bigger is good so you can trim as needed.

  • Julius P Beres

    If your platform is not attached to the frame of the car, what happens in an accident?
    Seems like a sudden deceleration will cause plywood to seriously injure the driver.

    • Brian

      I agree that it would probably be wise to affix the plywood to the frame, but in the event of a deceleration, I suspect the seats would insure the wood doesn’t move. However, if you were rear-ended at significant speed, the wood would either buckle or push forward. Perhaps it would be smart to cut the base into sections so that it can fold during transport, or change the design so it could crumple upon impact.

      • Julius P Beres

        By deceleration, I did not mean slamming on the breaks. I meant hitting a tree or something. Having an unsecured bed of plywood at mid back level could be quite hazardous. I agree there is a similar hazard being rear ended.
        Something you hope never happens and for most people will not be an issue, but figured I would point out that you are likely greatly reducing the safety of the passengers in your vehicle.
        Maybe I am wrong, and the force of an impact needed for this to be dangerous is already so great the passengers would be injured regardless. It would be interesting to have some crash test data.

        • Erin Sullivan

          This is such a good point guys. I definitely thought about it as I was designing the platform– and I didn’t come up with a solution that I was 100% satisfied with. A buddy of mine secured his platform to the car frame using D rings and rope/webbing, but I’m not sure if that would be effective at high impact. I like Brian’s point about changing the design so that it would crumple in a certain way.

          • Jo

            I love this! When we go camping, there’s so much stuff loaded into the back of our SUV, if we had a head on collision, we’d have a Dutch oven or a blow up mattress pump or a mallet hitting us in the back of the head anyway. We don’t secure all our gear, so I don’t know if this would be that much more risky.

          • Alexander Shchetinin

            Not a 100% fail safe, but I’ll be using “lattice fence” instead of plywood, maybe double layer if it feels too flimsy… The crumpling should be directed sideways and not to the driver’s back of the seat… http://m.homedepot.com/p/4-ft-x-8-ft-x-3-4-in-Cedar-Architectural-Lattice-SP-5512/100037974

            That should solve for ventilation problem too…

  • Pedro Pulido

    so where are you heading with the new camper ? what’s the destination? good luck and enjoy !

  • OutdoorSociety

    Working on doing this to my Golf. Much less room. Should be fun haha.

  • Christina Rasmussen

    We’re going to attempt this with our Ford Explorer for an upcoming vacation with our two dogs…wish us luck! Thanks so much for the great inspiration! Let us know if you have any additional pointers now that you’ve had the set up going for a bit.

  • Irishrow2

    I have Chevy uplander. Removed the third row seats and put in an air mattress with cig lighter airpump. Cheaper and easier.

    • CleverUserName

      I have done both and the biggest advantage is already having a bed set up that you don’t have to move all your great out of to get the inflatable to lay flat, and it’s also more stealthy to not have a loud pump blowing up a mattress (normal air mattress style not thermarest) if you are trying to camp on the fly. Also I’ve had blow up leaks over time and you sacrifice at least one nights sleep waking up on the rock hard bottom. 🙂 but if you don’t camp a ton an inflatable that fits in the back is a great option.

  • Robert Walton

    Last summer during a road trip, I slept in the back of my Volvo xc70 station wagon. I didn’t like having electric windows and no screens. Any solutions? I’ve thought about magnetic window screens.
    Rob

    • Joy

      I bought skeeter beaters to keep the bugs out but leave the windows down. Magnets attach to the door and the bug netting keeps the bugs out.

  • bobbin

    My parents have been talking about driving around the country after my mom retires, and they wanted to do something like this to their honda odyssey… this will be excellent for them to look at!

  • tahoehiker

    I built a similar platform structure half this sized to fit behind the seats in my Outback so I could put under bed storage units as pull outs under it for poor man’s drawers. One issue that I didn’t consider until I had a flat is that accessing the spare tire is a major operation.

  • Benjamin P Thiesing

    “Have a victory beer”. I like your style.

  • Collin McCullough

    Well I’ll be! Was just thinking about turning my MAROON CRV into a traveling van to do Kombucha tastings in Vermont this summer. If you are around the Northeast PM me and I’ll make sure to reward this incredibly helpful article with some complimentary booch.

    Thank You!

    • Collin McCullough

      Also, how tall are you? I’m about 5’9 and I was worried I might be too crunched. Thoughts?

  • cbslc

    I have a ford focus wagon and do the opposite of this setup. We have several shelves that sit on the back window ledges. We take out the back seat backs, keep our gear in the back of the wagon, then put up the shelves, stow the gear on the shelves and sleep underneath when needed. Moisture buildup is our big problem. The windows are too fogged/wet to drive until drying off.

  • Kathy Hasson Church

    Erin, this is fantastic! One thing I would add: If you find you’re getting condensation underneath your bedding, drill some quarter or half dollar size holes in the plywood; this will allow for ventilation.

    • unicycle6869

      Would the drilled holes help even if the entire plywood is covered with a mattress and blankets?

  • Blair

    So amazing!!! Interested in doing the same with my crosstrek now. Similar amount of space, I assume so looks like an awesome final product. Thank you for that.

    My only concern is that most of the spots I’ll be going is hot as can be .. I don’t want to leave my car running on a.c, for 8 hours at a time… Any other solutions?

  • beachmama

    This is a great idea for my ’94 Volvo Wagon! It’s about as long as an SUV, about a foot longer than the newer model Volvo models. I’ve slept comfortably in the back w/minimal gear but I like this plan. Your window covering idea is great as well. Our idea was two heavy duty lockable trunks (my arborist husband has gear like this up the wazoo) and bedrolls. If we don’t haul our kayaks we could use a car top carrier for any other gear. I actually like the idea of a platform on top of my racks and sleeping under the stars . . .

  • Steve LaFontaine

    get a self-inflating mattress. ps. luv dat reflectix 🙂

  • Ginger Fox

    Does the Reflectix stick to the windows, how does that work?