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SUV CAMPING

Guest Post: How to Turn Your Subaru Outback into a Camper

A few years ago, I converted my SUV to a camper by building a platform bed in my 2009 Honda CR-V. It’s still a super popular post on this blog– see the original post here. Every so often, folks reach out to me with their own stories and how-to’s on how they converted their car or SUV, so I decided to start featuring them… and they’re even better than my original post!

Here’s Nicole Aichele on converting her Subaru Outback into a camper. All photos courtesy of Nicole.


After a year of health issues leaving me unable to camp, hike, or do many of the outside activities I love, I became deeply depressed and frustrated about my future. As I slowly regained my mental and physical strength, I found both a new gratitude for my health and a new determination to set my old dreams into motion… one of those dreams is to car-camp the entire western US.

After many months of researching, planning, and saving, I finally set the wheels in motion (literally) this past June. Here’s how I did it.

DECIDING ON DESIGN

Ideally, the design of your bed set up should reflect your own personal needs and preferences.

I also will say that if I can leave people with one thing when it comes to building a bed in your car, or really building anything, it’s the importance of taking good measurements. As my dad says: “Measure twice, cut once.”

The first thing to figure out is how long you want your bed. Having a long bed (6’2) was a top priority for my boyfriend and I because we are tall…but everyone is different. If a bed can fit without pushing the front seats forward that’s great, but in our Subaru Outback it would be impossible to have the length we wanted without having the front seats forward.
We also chose not to remove the seats since the car is new and we didn’t want to risk ruining it, and found it unnecessary anyway.

The second thing to determine is the width you want your bed. For us this meant measuring wheel-well to wheel-well. We made the bed platform flush with the top of the wheel well, so in reality there is a bit more space (roughly 5’’ on each side) beyond the platform. In total we have about 51” of space (almost exactly the width of a double bed) which snuggly fits our two large single Therm-a-Rest Mondo King mattresses, side by side.

The third element of the design is determining the height. We wanted to raise our bed as minimal as possible in order to avoid being completely cramped against the ceiling while sleeping, but still allowing for storage underneath. Raising the platform to 6” fits the under the bed storage containers, but also leaves room to have our legs up while sitting in bed, (just over 2 ft. at the tallest point and just under 2 ft. at the lowest).

The last thing to determine about your design is whether or not you want the bed platform to be foldable. We had no choice but to make ours foldable because we couldn’t keep the bed straight and drive at the same time, because the seats are completely forward.

THE BUILDING PROCESS

Supplies:

  • ¾” plywood, 42” wide x 74” long $33.00
  • Wood Glue $8.00
  • 2 Heavy duty hinges $16.00
  • Nuts, bolts, large washers, lock washers $15.00
  • Outdoor utility rug $20.00
  • Multi- floor adhesive $5.00
  • Legs (two 2x2s) $20.00
  • Pins and Brackets $5.00
  • U Bolts $6.00

Total: (NOT including our mattress) $128.00

For wood we used a ¾” piece of plywood that was over 74” long. The pros of using ¾” plywood is that it’s sturdy and can hold 2 adults without bowing, and also very easy to work with. However, it’s heavy and can be cumbersome, so if you’re making a bed for one, definitely not as necessary.

We had the wood ripped (cut) to fit the width we had previously determined to be 42” (distance from wheel-well to wheel-well) to simplify all the construction at home. However even so, we completed a lot of additional cutting and drilling at home, because we have the equipment. If you don’t have access to a skill saw or other tools, then you’ll have to go back and forth to the hardware store, which is not uncommon. Some hardware stores even let you rent tools.

Step 1: Construction of the box platform

The box component is 42” wide x 36” long x 6” tall and has 3 sides. It purposefully takes up the entire back area of our car before the seats start (which is also where a slant starts). It maximizes storage and sturdiness while remaining level. Building the box was straightforward: we cut wood for the 3 sides, (2 sides are the same and are 6” tall x 35 ¼” long, and then there is a back piece which is 6” tall x 42” wide). We then glued the wood pieces to the 36” plywood piece and screwed them for ultimate stability.

Step 2: Construction of the hinged component

The hinged component is two pieces of 19” long x 42” wide plywood, hinged together. When hinged together the piece measures 38” long in total (38” plus the 36” of the platform box is 6’2”). We offset the hinge, in order for this component to be weight bearing. If the hinge is not offset, it would literally bend in half the moment enough weight was applied and would not work as a bed. In addition to offsetting the hinge, we reinforced it with oversized washers and lock washers along with the nuts and bolts. It’s important to note, the hinged component rests on a ledge that we attached to the box platform. We attached a 3” x 42” strip of the plywood, ¾” down from the top of the platform, on the back edge of the box.

Step 3: Applying the carpeting

The main reason we wanted to carpet the entire bed is to eliminate having splinters of wood all over the car, our pillows, and our foam mattress. We didn’t use fancy outdoor carpet, instead we found a multi-purpose outdoor utility rug for $20 at the hardware store and used a razor blade to trim it at home. We glued the carpet using “general use multi-floor adhesive” on the main faces of the wood (although I don’t know how necessary the glue really is) and then we wrapped the carpet around and tacked it securely underneath. Folding the carpet completely underneath the base component is aesthetically pleasing, and also adds a tiny bit of height to the storage area.

Step 4: Attaching of the legs

The legs serve as the main support for the hinge component, which supports our heads… so it was really important we made them sturdy and stable. We used two 2x2s and cut them to fit securely underneath the hinged component at 26” tall. They’re attached by a pin, to a bracket on the underside of the wood of the hinged component. We had to drill a custom sized hole through the brackets in order to fit the pins. The pins and brackets are awesome for easy removal, while also making it possible for the legs to pitch slightly forward for some added resistance to bending.

Step 5: Installation of the U-bolts

To secure the box platform to the hinged component we used two 4” U-bolts. We drilled a hole on each side, one through the box platform and one through the hinged component (through both the carpet and wood), 2 ½” from the edge. The U-bolts are then dropped into the holes in order to secure the two components together while sleeping. The U-bolts come out easily when folding the bed platform up in the morning.

I hope this guide encourages other people to be less intimidated by the idea of building a bed in their car, especially women. As I write this from a campground in the middle of nowhere in Utah, I can assure you it’s worth it.

Also, a big thank you to my boyfriend who traded in his car for this Subaru and then let me build a bed in it…and to Erin for supporting me these past months and giving me the tools to take on risks and adventures like this one.


 

I’m Nicole. I currently write, photograph, and live out of the back of a Subaru Outback with my boyfriend. Although I’m only on the road for summer, I’m always looking for rad adventures and new opportunities in the outdoor industry.

Follow Nicole’s adventures on Instagram at @nicoleroams, and comment here or DM her for any questions on this conversion or her trip!

OUTDOORS SUV CAMPING

Guest Post: How to Turn Your RAV4 into a Camper

A few years ago, I converted my SUV to a camper by building a platform bed in my 2009 Honda CR-V. It’s still a super popular post on this blog– link to the post here. Every so often, folks reach out to me by email or Instagram DM with their own stories and how-to’s on how they converted their car or SUV, so I decided to start featuring them.

Here’s Aric Sparmann on converting his 2008 Toyota RAV4 into a camper. All photos courtesy of Aric.


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Four years of sitting behind a desk for sixty hours a week starts to make you wonder what you’re missing after awhile. The idea of waking up someday as an old man with nothing to show but a lifetime of paperwork is sort of terrifying to me.

I spent most of my time staring out the window, so I decided that’s where I was headed.

I work as a kayak guide on the weekends now. A slow transition away from the dealership I still work at on the weekdays. When I have more free time I prefer to bicycle tour. But the location of the kayak shop is almost two hours away! There’s no sense in driving back and forth everyday, and it’s tiresome to do anyways. Hotels are expensive after awhile. What else could I do?

I’ve literally been driving the answer around every day. I became inspired by Instagram posts of people traveling full time in conversion vans or busses that they’ve made into homes. I didn’t see any reason I couldn’t manage something similar with my 2008 Toyota RAV4.

THE HOW

I removed one of the backseats and laid the larger of the two down flat. Old comfortable couch cushions wrapped in sheets make up the bed. A sleeping bag and pillows on top. Sitting where the other seat was, is a wooden shelf. There is plenty of storage for towels, books, and clothes underneath. A fan, some silverware, obligatory bottle opener, a candle, and an iPod speaker are on top of it. The warm glow of Christmas lights strung around the headliner make it even more cozy. My surf board fits along the side and reaches back between the shelf and the door. My kayak rides on top of the vehicle, with the seat and paddles stored in the lower storage area in the trunk next to back up survival gear, first aid, water jugs, jumper cables, and dehydrated food (ya know, just in case). There’s even a Playstation Two under the seat that plugs into my cars radio unit for rainy days.

Most campsites don’t cost more than $20-30 a night and offer power and water. An extension cord and a power strip light up the interior and charge my devices. The car battery gets disconnected once I park as the rear gate being open keeps the BCM awake and drawing power. But campsites aren’t always available and sometimes I get to rough it with no luxuries. Sometimes that just makes the weekend more exciting!

It’s a tight space, but a cozy one that I call home on the weekends. It makes the weekday drag more tolerable, and has only provoked a strong desire for more.

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Check out Aric’s adventures on Instagram at @asparmann. Questions for Aric? Email him at asparmann@me.com. Have a car or SUV to camper conversion you’d like to submit for me to feature? Shoot me an email at info@erinoutdoors.com.

ON THE ROAD OUTDOORS SUV CAMPING TRAVEL

How to Turn Your SUV into a Camper

This conversion is specific to my 2009 Honda CR-V, but principles can be applied to any vehicle.

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 an SUV. A Honda CR-V, to be exact.

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.

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.

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.

No seats no problem!

No seats no problem!

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.

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?

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.

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.

how the hinge works

how the hinge works

STEP 4

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

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 eachother. 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.

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.

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.

Maybe I can put my car on Airbnb.

Maybe I can put my car on Airbnb now?

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.

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.

Questions? Let me know in the comments!

UPDATE: Do you have an SUV or car to camper conversion you would like me to feature on my blog? Shoot me an email at info@erinoutdoors.com. I would love to hear from you!