Building a car camper – the bed

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After a month in England it was time to drive back to Spain. Fran was going to fly back, but I needed to drive with the dog and all the bits and bobs that would not fit on a RyanAir flight. I had sold my campervan a couple of months ago when we moved to Spain, so I was also missing vanlife a lot. I had seen car campers on the internet and YouTube so I thought I would have a go at creating my own car camper for the 1500 mile road trip back home. The drive back would take four days, three nights and would involve crossing the Pyrenees in late November so I needed something that would keep me warm and allow me to camp anywhere. I also had the dog with me so I did not want to be messing with booking hotels etc.

The single most important thing in a car camper is making something comfortable to sleep in. Not getting a decent night’s sleep just makes the journey a miserable ordeal.

Most cars can fold the back seats down, but there is usually some kind of lip, gap or the back does not fold completely flat. The idea of a bed platform is it fits over all this to even things out. As well as being more comfortable, it is warmer than sleeping straight on the floor of the car as you are higher up above the really cold parts. In addition the space under the platform can be used for storing your camping things.

In the description below you can see how I went about making this. In part two of this I will show you how I went about insulating the windows to keep the heat in and give some privacy.

What you need to make the bed platform

  • A car (obviously). Preferably a longer one like an estate, MPV or SUV. The more interior space the better.
  • Plywood or foam poster board. At least 180cm x 60cm. This will vary depending on what you can fit in your car, and how tall you are. I had access to some old foam board which is used to make rigid posters. The foam board was only 5mm thick so I glued several peices together to make it 15mm which was plenty strong enough for my weight. I think if using plywood, 12mm would be ok, possibly 18mm if you want something stronger.
  • 34mm x 34mm wood or similar to make legs.
  • Some hinges so you can make the whole base fold in half for easy storage. Also the hinges are useful to allow the bed base to fold slightly to allow the front seat to slide back. If you have a large car this might not be an issue for you, but on my Seat Exeo ST (same as an Audi A4 Estate) I need to push the front set forward in order to get the bed fully flat and have enough room for my head at the top. If I wanted to put the seat back I could fold the bed platform slightly to allow enough space for the seat to move.
  • Brackets. I bought a pack of 20 small right-angled brackets for joining the bits of wood together. If you are good at joinery, you could skip these and use pocket holes.
  • Screws. I got a pack of 200 decent 30mm wood screws. These ones did not need any holes pre-drilling and worked really well without splitting the wood.

Using the 34mm wood I made two frames of 60cm x 90cm. I then screwed on the foam board which made a rigid structure. The foam board worked well as it is also a natural insulator so felt warm to the touch.

Next I used the hinges to join the two frames together. This made a solid unit that was easy to fit in and remove from the car.

Now, the fiddly bit. I opened out the bed platform in the back of the car, and used some storage boxes to support the platform to get the level I wanted. I started at the end where the back seat was, and only needed to raise the platform about 5cm. After doing that I refitted the platform and worked out the height in the middle section (about 20cm). Then finally I fitted the legs at the end of the car which needed about 25cm.

I used plenty of the brackets to make everything really solid – would not want this to collapse under me in the middle of the night!

I can easily fit two 20cm x 50cm plastic storage boxes under the bed platform. These can be slid out to access their contents and are where I keep all my camping gear and food.

The process took about three hours in total. All the parts came from Wickes and ScrewFix and cost less than £50.

On top of the bed platform I have an inflatable sleeping mat from eBay. Some people might not find these very comfy. In that case you could use some memory foam cut to size. The only thing to remember is to leave enough head room so your nose is not touching the ceiling of the car!

I will be using a double sleeping bag folded over to actually sleep in. Hopefully all this should be warm and comfortable enough to get some good sleep!

In the next part you can read about how we went about making the car warmer with some insulated screens for the windows.

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