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!

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62 Comments

  • Reply
    Phil (London)
    September 22, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    Hey Erin, this is genius!! Love it! It just shows that where there is a will there is a way. It looks super comfy too, I’m sure you’ll have some great times ‘camped out’ in your car under the stars.

    I’m just about to head off on a year’s RTW backpacking trip through Asia, but it’s already inspired me to make sure I find a way to spend more time outdoors when I return :)

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      September 24, 2015 at 2:15 pm

      Thanks Phil! RTW backpacking is a huge adventure in itself. Have fun!!

      • Reply
        rafa
        May 31, 2017 at 8:52 am

        Hello Erin. it is a great idea! i just wanted to ask you. can 2 people sleep confortably in thins convertion? can you fit a double mattress in it? thanks a lot!

        • Erin Sullivan
          Reply
          Erin Sullivan
          May 31, 2017 at 12:10 pm

          Hey Rafa! Yes 2 people can definitely fit. I haven’t tried to fit a double mattress– I think it would be too high and you wouldn’t have much head room! But in theory, yes it would fit. Maybe just go for a thin one :)

  • Reply
    Aidan
    February 9, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Sweet set up! I did something remarkably similar but in my old subaru legacy (i.e. not nearly as much room) and it worked out pretty awesome, hinge, supports, storage space underneath. I needed mine to be easily removable so as not to sacrifice seating when I need it, so i just used a coat of poly and when it’s set up i just throw my sleeping pad ontop. If i put padding in mine like yours I’d probably sleep with my nose pressed up against the roof of the car. Though yours definitely looks a lot more comfortable! And I too am heading out on a 8 week or so road trip through the west, finishing up in AK!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 10, 2016 at 10:35 am

      Hey Aidan! That’s awesome. Mine is removable too, though I wouldn’t call it easy to remove! I hear you on the space thing, I’ve definitely forgotten where I was once or twice and sat up too fast. Have fun on your trip, sounds great!

  • Reply
    bj sbarra
    March 7, 2016 at 11:34 am

    Been looking for something simple like this. How is the Reflectix attached to the windows?

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      March 9, 2016 at 8:08 am

      Hey BJ! It’s not attached- you just trim it to size and it stays in place. I did a rough cut then popped them into the windows and traced the window with a marker, then made the final cuts a little outside that mark.

  • Reply
    carol
    March 25, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    Hey thanks for the idea. I have a 2006 CRV that is a great all around vehicle for me except I have been disappointed that it is too short for camping but apparently its not. I dont care about the rear seats as I am older and on my own. They are ususally just in the way. This is the perfect solution – I dont need a new vehicle.

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      March 29, 2016 at 4:09 pm

      Sweet! Definitely sounds like it’ll be a good use of a space you don’t normally use! Would love to see how it turns out.

  • Reply
    Peyton
    April 6, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    In the process of doing something similar to my 2015 4runner. It’s already a solid off-road vehicle being the TRD trim so I figured it would work perfectly to be able to get to odd places and then camp there without much hassle. I’m trying to make it easily removable and quickly adjustable to allow for the seating to be used, so it’s taking some engineering. One question I’ve been trying to figure out an answer to is dealing with temperatures. Would the Relectix and parking in the shade be enough to keep cool during hot summers? Enough insulation to keep warm in the winter?

  • Reply
    Nikki
    April 26, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    This is great! How do you remove it?

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      May 2, 2016 at 9:57 am

      Thanks Nikki! Haven’t tried yet, ha! But when it comes time to remove, since it’s in two pieces, I think if positioned properly both pieces will come out without taking them apart inside the car. That being said, I might take it apart before removing it just because it might be easier!

      • Reply
        Anonymous
        August 30, 2016 at 8:40 pm

        How do you sleep in these when you do this? Do you keep the hatch up? Bugs?

  • Reply
    Menna
    May 1, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    Love this! It totally inspired me to build a platform for my rav, but I’m making it retractable so I can put my rear seats up without taking it out of the car. I did have one question about the Reflectix. I have slept in my car before and have had to crack windows open to allow for some ventilation. did you find that to be an issue? I want to get my car pretty dark so I can sleep, but ventilation was a big problem last time I camped out in my car

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      May 2, 2016 at 10:10 am

      Awesome! Sounds like a great set-up! I have a sun roof, so I would use that for ventilation. I think the Reflectix would still stay put if you crack the windows though!

  • Reply
    Meg
    May 16, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    Hey Erin, -thanks for sharing this! I too have a cr-v, dream of hitting the road self contained… I’m curious- what year is your car? After reading another reader’s comments about ventilation, I’m wondering if one could create a screen to fit into/over the sunroof when open… you’ve got my mental wheels turning!
    See ya on the road!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      May 17, 2016 at 10:40 am

      Hey Meg! Mine is a 2009. I bet you could make a screen for the sunroof – I was never in a buggy situation but I bet it could get uncomfortable if you were and didn’t have a screen!

      • Reply
        Anonymous
        August 30, 2016 at 8:41 pm

        Oh the sun roof open.
        Yes a screen would be necessary. Now how to make a temporary one.

        • Erin Sullivan
          Reply
          Erin Sullivan
          August 31, 2016 at 3:13 pm

          Yep – I didn’t need a screen but I’d probably buy mesh and velcro it. At least that’s what comes to mind. If you end up with another solution I’d love to hear it!

          • Chris
            June 1, 2017 at 1:48 pm

            use a screen material and then just use many small magnets to secure it to either the door window or sunroof

          • Erin Sullivan
            Erin Sullivan
            June 1, 2017 at 3:48 pm

            Great point, Chris! I have some friends who do this– I’ve also seen velcro but would prefer magnets personally.

  • Reply
    Cade
    June 15, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    Hello – I was thinking about outfitting my 4-runner similarly for an upcoming road trip. What are the specs on the plywood you used?

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      June 16, 2016 at 9:39 pm

      Just 3/4in plywood– beyond that, not sure on specs. Just went for what worked– I think you could definitely bring ideas into a hardware store and they can make a better recommendation.

  • Reply
    Alec
    June 27, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    Hi, you’ve inspired me to convert my Jeep grand cherokee, next door neighbor is donating some 6×6 studs for my mattress in back. I wasnt going to add a second level, but i put in a 7 inch futon mattress which is so comfy, but i didnt wanna lose any headroom, but now I see I have no space for clothes. In process of saving $ for hiking equip, gas cooker etc and plan on leaving Sept 25th for 2 months, starting from Philly goin all the way north to portand and down cali coast then back south to key west and finally back to philly. reason Im leaving Oct is bc sleeping in a jeep will likely be too hot in Aug when I originally wanted to go. So when im swinging back in the southern USA it will be warm and sunny still in Oct/Nov. I want to build in battery powered fans for the inside. thabnks for all the motivation!!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      June 27, 2016 at 8:35 pm

      Sounds like a great plan! Hope you have an awesome trip!

  • Reply
    Sarah
    August 9, 2016 at 11:02 am

    Hello! This post inspired us to build a platform for my Subaru Forester to use next month for a road trip to the Grand Canyon! We are so excited and so far the platform is great! So much storage! My question is how you are able to fold back the head piece with the foam? Do you undo your cushion to allow it to fold flat?? With 4″ of foam ours just wants to pop right back up! Small problem but other than undoing the sheet and moving the foam every time, I can’t think of a way to remedy this! Thanks and happy travels!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      August 11, 2016 at 8:27 am

      Hey Sarah! That’s AWESOME and I am stoked to hear that. Great question. Usually I pull the foam up, fold the hinge, and then fold the foam under the entire platform. That way there is some cushion against the back of the seats too. Occasionally if I am feeling lazy or in a rush, I will just fold it back and let it pop up (sounds like your foam is thicker than mine though). Let me know what you end up doing!

  • Reply
    Davis
    September 20, 2016 at 1:55 am

    Hey I was wondering where you bought your foam?

    Thanks!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      September 20, 2016 at 11:39 am

      Hi Davis! I think I got it at Bed Bath & Beyond or a similar place. In retrospect I would spend more money on memory foam :)

  • Reply
    Donna
    October 5, 2016 at 11:34 am

    Fabulous job Erin! I’ve been “pinning” like crazy to find the best solutions, since my husband is a hard sell on this idea, and I may end up doing it by myself. I also have a Honda CRV. I think I’m going to go with heavy duty plastic shelving vs. plywood for the bed platform, due to the weight and ease of assembly/disassembly. Thanks for sharing your creation! I’m so inspired!

  • Reply
    nytehawk
    October 11, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    Great job, will help me when I get a vehicle. I’m undecided on whether to buy a used CRV, Ford Escape, or Honda Element and make it into a camper. I want to see the entire U.S. and Canada by camper vehicle.

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      October 14, 2016 at 10:20 am

      Thanks! Elements make really good car-campers. I like my CR-V but I might look for something that has seats that fold flat if I had to make the purchase again!

  • Reply
    Lauren
    December 15, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Hey Erin thanks for the post! Been doing a lot of research and will likely build something like this for my grand Cherokee. I’m going back and forth between a wood base or pvc pipe base to save a little bit of weight and easier removal/breakdown. I fear I’m going a little off topic with my actual question though so pardon me. When you were on the road and sleeping in your car, where did you sleep?

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      December 16, 2016 at 1:46 pm

      Hey Lauren! That’s awesome, I am sure you will figure out what works for you. I mainly slept at campsites or Bureau of Land Management land, but occasionally rest stops or Wal-Mart parking lots if I felt safe.

      • Reply
        Lauren
        December 21, 2016 at 2:31 am

        Thanks so much! I look forward to keeping in touch and reading your entries. I enjoy them.

  • Reply
    Schuyler
    December 27, 2016 at 1:51 am

    Thanks for sharing Erin! We are on a year long vacation in Australia and just bought a cheap Nissan Xtrail (SUV) to outfit for camping. I think we’ll do the same as you except make the base out of PVC pipes. Then we should still be able to dismantle half and put the back seats up in case we give friends a ride.

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      December 29, 2016 at 9:01 am

      Sounds awesome! Send pics if you get some!!

  • Reply
    Roger
    January 22, 2017 at 11:19 am

    Hey Erin, when you’re ready for more space, here are a few thoughts: I put together a “micro-RV” using a Ford cargo van (it’s huge in there compared to a car or pickup topper). I’ve been traveling the west for 3 years, and I’ve gotten addicted to the freedom. The van has 7+ inches of clearance so I go off-road more than you’d expect. (Love that “wild” camping). I put together a little book about how I did it…

    http://roger-steen.squarespace.com

    Roger

  • Reply
    Andrea Smurf
    February 5, 2017 at 8:48 am

    What did you mean when you said the height is 15 inches from the back of the car?
    I am buying a Exped MegaMat 10 that is 77.5x30x4 inches on sale (its XL so hopefully my dog can fit on it with me) and I am hoping it will fit in this car. Do you think it will? Is there a car that you know of that has seats that lay flat so you don’t need to go through the trouble of making a platform? Thanks so much and happy trails!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 6, 2017 at 7:13 pm

      Hi Andrea! Look into Subaru Forresters and Toyota RAV4/Tacomas in terms of cars with seats that lay flat. I meant 15 inches in height, because right behind the front seats the 4x4s needed to be taller. Hope that makes sense! It sounds like that mat might be a bit too tall, but maybe it can fold a bit or act as a pillow.

  • Reply
    Donovan Piper
    February 13, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    This is amazing! Very well done. I have a Mercedes Benz ML350 and decided to sleep in it while going on a snowboard trip with my bro(college student struggle). So we put my futon mattress in the back and laid down the seats and it fit perfectly. I have a roof rack with an enclosed luggage holder on top for all of our snowboard luggage, but we had no room for our regular clothes or a cooler or anything. So I definitely need to build something like this to allow me to have room for more items. Quick question, any tips on a way to “shower” when out camping for multiple days and you are in a COLD environment? Very inspiring post! Thank you!

  • Reply
    Owen
    April 4, 2017 at 8:33 pm

    I’m planning a decently long road trip out west this summer, and I’m bringing a chevy trailblazer ls. However, my seats dont quite fold down to floor level. Would a platform still be practical?

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      April 23, 2017 at 9:24 am

      Hey Owen! My seats didn’t either, so I removed them completely. It’ll just have to be a custom job– build the platform over the seats or take them out to maximize storage space underneath.

  • Reply
    Sarah
    April 16, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Liking this idea a lot! I’m going to do something similar to my Suzuki Grand Vitara, use electric hook up at touring sites for lights and microwave oven. So’s we can have overnight stays instead of day trips :)

    • Reply
      Sarah
      April 16, 2017 at 1:00 pm

      ….and use the touring site shower facilities :)

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      April 23, 2017 at 9:26 am

      Nice! And yes to the showers :)

  • Reply
    Christine
    April 23, 2017 at 7:30 am

    Hi Erin – Love your idea and thanks for the post! Did you have any trouble with the hinged part of the board folding up on you? And did you put any extra “legs” under the top portion of the board where the hinge is or just under the main larger pirtion? Thanks!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      April 23, 2017 at 9:31 am

      Hi Christine! Nope, no issues with the hinge folding up– the weight of it was enough to keep it down. Hope that makes sense! I didn’t put legs under the top because it was awkward in my car– I would have had to make them removable because of how far the seats came back when it was set up to drive.

  • Reply
    Mike Sidoti
    May 4, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    Hey Erin. Getting ready to do this with my 2002 Toyota Highlander! Excited to start. Have seen someone else use reflectix glued to foam board to use in the windows. Maybe a bit more insulated?

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      May 4, 2017 at 4:23 pm

      Awesome! Interesting – you definitely could do that but I’m not sure how much insulation it would really add. I think it’d also depend on how curved your windows are. With mine, I don’t think the foam board wouldn’t have stayed in place like the Reflectix alone did. If you’re after extra insulation, maybe you could double (or triple) up on the Reflectix– not sure how effective but might be better than foam board!

      • Reply
        MIke
        May 10, 2017 at 2:04 pm

        Cool -great alternative idea!

  • Reply
    steve
    May 28, 2017 at 6:57 am

    Erin,

    This is great info. I’m wondering if ,while SUV camping, you also used an awning, tent, etc. to give yourself some space to hang out outside of the vehicle?

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      May 28, 2017 at 12:20 pm

      Hey Steve! Great question. I didn’t, but you definitely could rig something pretty easily! Check back on the blog next week– I’m featuring someone who converted his RAV4 and he has an awning. :)

  • Reply
    Jeffrey Whitaker
    June 6, 2017 at 11:07 pm

    Cool setup Erin…simple and easy. I’m currently looking to purchase a Honda Pilot and convert it to a camper. Its shocking to me that so few people have used the Pilot as a camper. Maybe I’ll start a trend lol.

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      June 8, 2017 at 7:44 am

      Nice! The Pilot looks like it’ll make a great camper.

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