Introduction: Build a Bed in the Back of Your Van

Picture of Build a Bed in the Back of Your Van

So you've got a road trip planned, maybe you're even headed to Burning Man like we were, and you want to make the most of the space in your vehicle.

Building a raised platform in the back of your van (or truck) will let you make the most of your storage space and also give you a comfortable place to sleep when you don't want to bother with setting up a tent or finding a motel.

Step 1: Measure (maybe Even Twice)

Picture of Measure (maybe Even Twice)

The first thing you need for a road trip is a good vehicle. We used Bertha, our 2000 Ford E-150 van - a somewhat reliable automobile.
We decided to keep one bench seat (so she could still carry up to 5 people) and remove the last row of seats to give us more room for the bed.

Measure the space you have available in the vehicle for the bed and make careful notes about any obstructions including the wheel wells, seat mounting brackets, etc.

If you already have storage bins, measure their height and width. You really don't want to build the raised bed and then find out your stuff won't fit under it!

Step 2: Plan

Picture of Plan

Take all those measurements and decide how big your bed will be and how high you'll raise it.

Sketch out a plan - we used SketchUp, but drawing on a napkin would work just as well. Basically you want a flat bottom, two risers on either side and a top. While you might be tempted to skip the bottom, it adds structural stability and prevents the whole thing from sliding around. A flat plywood bottom is also preferable to 2x4 bracing as it makes it much easier to slide the storage bins in and out.

Things to consider:
  • size of the bed (we fit a double mattress with room on all sides)
  • how you will fit in the storage bins (we made sure the openings were wide enough to utilize the most space possible)
  • best use of lumber - you'll want to minimize the number of cuts and scrap

Step 3: Build

Picture of Build

Buy the lumber that you'll need (according to your plan). You can ask the hardware store to cut it for you.
If you don't have a pile of screws at home, purchase them as well. You'll want to use screws and not nails to make taking the whole thing apart easier after your trip is over.

Start with the risers first. Layout one of the long 2x4s, the top plate, and attach the shorter 2x4s for the studs and jack studs (see Plan). You can reinforce the middle section by doubling up the 2x4s. Repeat for the second riser.

Attach the bottom to the two risers. With a jigsaw, cut out holes for brackets or other obstructions. If you have measured properly these holes will not only let the bottom fit in your van but will also prevent the bed from sliding around. Keep in mind when you are cutting the holes that the bottom is upside down.

Flip the bottom over and slide it into the vehicle. You may need to tilt it to fit it through the doors.

Attach evenly spaced joists to the risers.

Trim the top with a jigsaw, if necessary to avoid speakers or other obstructions, then screw the top to the cross bars.

Step 4: Enjoy!

Picture of Enjoy!

You're ready to hit the road!

Some tips for making the most of your van's new bed:
  • Store everything in labeled clear plastic bins. This is especially important if you plan on crossing borders, as police and border guards will be less suspicious of your hidden storage if you can quickly show them everything you've got under there. It will also make finding things much easier!
  • Buy a cheap carpet or rug to throw over the top. Having the rough wood covered with carpet will save you from splinters without you needing to worry about sanding and finishing the wood.
  • Use a cheap futon mattress instead of an air mattress. No one wants to pump up a mattress after a long day of driving or worry about patching it if it leaks.
  • Create some window coverings that you can put up for privacy when you're sleeping in the back.


allangee (author)2016-05-04

Great job! However, you overbuilt it (unless you plan on putting some REAL heavy stuff on the platform. With the thickness of the OSB/plywood that you used on top, you could have easily gotten away with a crosspiece 2x4 on each end and 2, or at the most 3, more crosspieces evenly spaced. If the extra crosspieces make you feel better, you can rip your 2x4's lengthwise and use the same number of braces but at half the weight.

altmarc (author)2015-03-30

where did you get that sketchup mock of the van?

I did a super fast install of a similar platform in an e150 but with a headboard for smalls storage and lifting side panels for access to the under area

I am rebuilding now and actually designing it this time - thus the interest in the files

cheers and thanks for sharing!

ModMischief (author)altmarc2015-03-30

We found the van on the SketchUp Warehouse and modified it to match the real dimensions of our actual van.

You are, of course, welcome to use the SketchUp file included with this instructable. To see the full van, uncheck "Section cuts" under "View"

animedubbedonline (author)2013-09-09

that's good

donkeyknee (author)2013-07-18

Its really good

SteveAlaska (author)2012-03-28

Hi there. Great job with the conversion. I am curious though... could there be a way to shave the weight off a bit more?Seems like if you did this as a bunk bed it would make more sense to brace as you have.
I am a lightweight hiking junkie and I love the idea of all my gear weighing next to nothing and everything must serve more than one function as well! I can see where this would work but, I wonder if using lighter materials would get the same results?
With gas prices climbing ever higher by the day, weight equals more money spent at the pump. That's my driving force behind my questions and I hope you don't take offense to me asking them.
Happy trails!

KwartzKitten (author)2012-01-05

Wow, what a great idea!I would have never thought of that.

greybunny (author)2011-11-13

My dad did that when I was young. The van only had the first two seats, so he built shelving on either side, and a bench opposite to the side doors, and the bed. He did not use the bottom wood, just two 2x4s along either side. He also carpeted the top, it's much easier to clean than a mattress.

bernardroth (author)2011-08-24

Nice! Any chance you could post the SketchUp files?

ModMischief (author)bernardroth2011-08-24

Is it possible to upload a SketchUp file directly to Instructables? I tried using the upload tool and it converted the file to .tmp

bernardroth (author)ModMischief2011-08-25

I think if you zipped the file, and uploaded the zip, it would work?

totszwai (author)2011-08-25

I think you could improve the design by cutting the plywood top (bed surface) in half, this way you can install a hinge and just close it. Making it much easier to dissemble and to take it out.

ModMischief (author)totszwai2011-09-13

Our top was actually two pieces (it was easier to purchase that way instead of one massive sheet).

I really like the idea of adding a hinge and only screwing one side down to make it easier to get items stored below.

arightsell (author)2011-09-11

lol my mom has a van named big bertha

Avatar_I_Am (author)2011-09-11

I did this in a 1986 Isuzu Trooper when I had 5 Dogs to travel with, (Imagine a 5 Dog Nite!!!). Nice in Winter, not so nice in the Summer.
Needed PLENTY sturdy as the combined weight of the 6 of us was almost 500 pounds!
I had more top room, and three storage "bins" on the bottom, accessible through seperate doors from the back.
Yours looks MUCH nicer than mine. Nice!

jonpersonals (author)2011-08-28

Nice art.. I did something like this bed once in north Minnsota at 20 below ,and had my 2 dogs sleeping below me in a cabin. The bed was suported by concret blocks with foam insulation on the outside and under us. I only had one electric blanket for us all, so when it got real cold I invited them to sleep with me. Thats when I figured out what a 3 dog nite was. ....................................
NOW I am in Ca, and making a camping Van bed. Im thinking a water -bed bottom foundation and a top of foam is perfect The water bed will be self -leving 4" bed = 4" of leveling maybe 2" or 3" will be enuf. This will surely make sleeping a lot more comfortable .. ..,.... Do any of you see a problem with this? I will keep the bed on the Van floor, it seems to involved and heavy to make a platform under the bed, when it seems cabinets above the bed or shelves and or drawers will be fine .. I will only need a single bed for now and plan on using the outer frame rail as a bench or seat too . Did this seat before and it worked really well, but must be 8 or 10 inches and padded dto be comfortable.
Please write if you have any other sugestions or thoughts. The bed is 6 by 8'.

Ole bally (author)2011-08-26

You'd save quite a bit of space underneath the 'platform' by making the frame outta 1" square tubing. 4 The top surface, I used 19mm Marine Ply for rigidity..then carpeted it to keep the whole thing quiet! I made one for my Land Cruiser S/W to 'hide' suitcases underneath so that 'perps' couldn't window shop! The other benefit is that you just get the cases out without unpacking the whole vehicle!

AT (author)2011-08-25

Nice project! I did something similar for my pickup truck. It had places on the inside of the bed where you could put a 2x4 or 2x6 across the bed just above the wheel well height. I build a three piece platform that then sat just over the wheel wells. It was about the size of a queen bed. Under was storage. I build in trap doors for easy access to that area. It was an 8 foot bed so at the end of the platform was room to hang your feet a night.

jackthursby (author)2011-08-25

i likes what i seez. i have a eurovan im thinking of doing draws in the same position you have your storage bins. me and the miss just did a month long trip. and the storage bins we got from k-mart lasted all of 5 mins before it started disintegrating. To add insult to injury, i peered in the back of a rental camper at these very useful looking draws .

gladys45 (author)2011-08-24

Does the van come with Free Candy?

Pinkly (author)gladys452011-08-25

You're thinking of windowless vans...

yaha (author)gladys452011-08-25


totszwai (author)2011-08-25

For the joists, you could perhaps go to IKEA and just buy their premade joists, they are lighter and easier to deploy as well.

johncar (author)2011-08-25

Several years ago I went to USA from Europe, for a holiday of a lifetime.

I bought a 2 year old, but never used Gulfstream, RV, 29ft, 76,000 $. SDtill had the plastic on the carpets. Problem was it out of guarantee of course and I had all the teething troubles (lots and lots).

I also found you can't go shopping or sightseeing in a 29 ft RV, so I bought a Ford Fiesta, 3,000 $. Guess it was the only one built with auto transmission, 1,000 $ for a lub pump so I could tow in, maybe 1,000 $ more for a TEE bar. I had to buy bedding, kitchen utensils, a spare tyre (can't get them when you are miles from anywhere) and of course club coverage for breakdowns etc. The Issuance full comp on the RV was 500 $ for 12 months, and 500 $ min cover on the Fiesta for 6 months,

OK, it got worse but enough for now.

Moral of story.

If you wanna travel in USA, Buy a van like the one in this article, fit it out for emergency use as described and when you enter a State go to the Welcome Station. Pick up the magazines that advertise all the motels and have all those handy dandy discount coupons and travel staying at motels. On the 3rd or 4th day do the washing and hang, and store all your stuff in the van.

When I finally called it a day on my trip, 5 moths and 15,000 miles later and sold the RV I had spent about 60,000 $ on the trip, and it was a nightmare.

ModMischief (author)johncar2011-08-25

Great story. I hope you enjoyed your trip and that the nightmare was only how much it cost.

We bought our van for $2000 and while we did spend a couple thousand fixing her up along the way, she made our month-long, 11911 km journey affordable.

yaha (author)2011-08-25

well done if ur cash striped. I have 93 dadge with bed that folds down to make bed. Have 3 large wolf dogs and there is plenty of room for all five of us. good job

circle_u (author)2011-08-25

My wife and I used to do this with a pickup topper too. Don't be afraid to bring along an extention cord for 110v appliances. Coffie pot, phone chargers, decent light in the camper. Most campgrounds allong the way have tent sites that have outlets. Also remember that some campgrounds will make you stay in a camper site for more money if you dont have a tent. (See Branson, MO.) We started carrying a tiny tent that I had for my motorcycle trips just for that reason. Love your instructable. Have fun.

dahut (author)2011-08-25

Man that is some classic 70's stuff right there. Every hippie worth the name had a bed-in-back van back in those days.
Pretty cool resurrection. Brings back some memories... well, whats left of 'em after the 70's, anyway!

caitlinsdad (author)2011-08-24

You are missing the DOT warning label "Don't come a knockin when the van's a rockin". Required by law in the continental 50 states.

Hmmm, maybe the back section could be hinged to fold down so you have the back for a tailgating bench seat.

ClaudiaRN (author)caitlinsdad2011-08-25

Good tip / LMAO!

kuato (author)2011-08-24

I love this, but is it wrong that I'm most impressed with the use of SketchUp? Please tell me you didn't model the van...I'm hoping you were able to download it, otherwise I'm going to need a lot more practice with SketchUp :)

ModMischief (author)kuato2011-08-24

No, we did it the easy way, the van was found on Google's Warehouse.

Cpt. Caleb (author)2011-08-24

Very Nice! I have that same Van, thought I'd let you know, you can unbolt the seat brackets, they pop in and out pretty easily just gotta make sure they're on tight once you're done. Great Mod though,

dimtick (author)2011-08-24

looking at ythe pictures, I don't think you need the bottom piece of plywood. platform should be plenty stable without it. you may want to add some diagonal braces on the side frames to stabalize the platform front to back.
I'm not sure how the top platform is attached to the frames. it looks like you can attach it with some door hinges. that way when you take it out the frame will fold in to the middle so it won't take up much garage space and set up will be simpler.
I think if you remove the bottom plywood you can convert it into a slide out platform to simplify cargo loading. from a quick search I found this. I think you should be able to adapt this to your configuration.

bertus52x11 (author)2011-08-24

Nice one!

trispark (author)2011-08-24

My top plate is in multiple parts. The first and last are hinged so I have easy access to the storage space under the bed.
For extra safety, I also bolted the frame to the old seats screws.
I use a 3" memory foam mattress topper which is very thin and still comfortable to sleep on.

l8nite (author)2011-08-23

thanks for sharing !

skiedra (author)2011-08-23

Simple, practical and well done!

jtmax24 (author)2011-08-23

Great instructions.

I remember back when I was growing up we had a large brown Dodge Van back in the 70s up to the early 90s. I remember my father did something like this and he built a bed in the back of the van it was a permanent installation though. I remember he made it so the top of the bed lifted with on both the front and back for easy storage. And he added a spot for a portable toilet where we'd have to lift the front part up to access the toilet. It didn't get used much on the road, but came in handy when spending the night somewhere. Since it was a permanent installation he built a hanging shelf that held a TV and VCR for me and my brother to watch movies while he drove. I don't know if we have any pics of the inside of that old van, but Thank you you brought back many memories of that bed he built in the van.

SeamusDubh (author)2011-08-23

Question is this a permanent installation or is it removable?

ModMischief (author)SeamusDubh2011-08-23

It is easily removable. We wanted to make sure we could take it all apart and put it back together quickly just in case border guards wanted to thoroughly inspect our vehicle.

sunshiine (author)2011-08-23

Hey! Welcome back! Have fun! Nice work!

jessyratfink (author)2011-08-23

This is awesome! I like that is still leaves you with a lot of storage space. :)

I bet it takes a little while to get used to not sitting straight up right away, though, haha.

About This Instructable




Bio: For more about my costumes, crafts and general craziness, check out my blog:
More by ModMischief:Making a Duct Tape CloneQuick Bamboo Skewer BBQ BrushKevin From Up
Add instructable to: