Introduction: Building My Primitive Camping Truck

Picture of Building My Primitive Camping Truck

So if any of you guys keep up with my blog or have seen some of my other instructables you probably would see that I am a pretty avid camper. I prefer camping more on the primitive side. IE no AC/heat, in a sleeping bag or cot and in a tent. I also love to go exploring and do a bit of 4wheeling where permitted.

Anyhow enough of myself, this is just a general guideline as to how I built my current camping rig. Ive had a few people on here ask me about my Toyota and how i built it so I figured Id do a quick instructable. I currently drive the truck daily and use it virtually everywhere. I have built it as a multipurpose vehicle for camping, hauling stuff, tailgating and even the occasional nap in the back on campus. YES I sleep in the bed of the truck in the parking deck sometimes during my breaks and its damn comfy. Kinda like my own lil portable fort.

Step 1: Choosing the Correct Truck

Picture of Choosing the Correct Truck

So for this build I was pretty picky about the vehicle I was going to use for the build. After all it was going to have to get me around town daily yet be rugged enough and capable enough to drive me to remote destinations. Here is the general list of criteria I followed when I looked for my truck:

-within my price range (college student remember?)
-small/compact size
-manual trans (incase the battery died I can pop the clutch and start it)
-carbed (easier for me to work on in the field)
-6ft bed (wanted adequate hauling space)
-decent gas mileage

Quite frankly the criteria I had set proved harder to meet than I had generally thought. Finding a reliable carbed truck in my price range was next to impossible. I finally settled on a 1984 Toyota Pickup. 4cylinder and manual.

Step 2: Converting the Bed Pt1

Picture of Converting the Bed Pt1

So in preparation to turn my truck into a camping rig I decided to line the bed with some sort of liner. I didnt want something too rough since I have herculiner in my other truck and it was rough. i decided to go with duplicolor bedliner with the kevlar in it for a change. It actually turned out great and applied well. The finish was nice and durable yet not too rough. This was added more or less since the rig was a multipurpose rig I use for occasional hauling. If it was a truly dedicated camping rig Id line the bed with a carpet or something.

Basic prep work was done before applying. Just sanded the bed down, washed it, masked off what I didnt want to get the liner on. Wiped down with acetone, allow to dry, and then apply 3 coats of liner.

Step 3: Converting the Bed Pt2

Picture of Converting the Bed Pt2

So now is the fun/expensive part. Buying a camper top!

So for my build I decided to go with a soft top. This is more of a preference thing than anything. I just love the look of soft tops and think it looks more tent/fortish. Its not quite water proof as a camper shell, but its about as good as any tent I have ever used. I ended up picking one up from a TTORA member locally.

The soft top provided a good place to store items out of the rain when making errands. For camping it provided a nice place to set up a cot and sleeping bag.

The soft top I have in question is a can-back for those who are wondering.

Step 4: Setting Up Rear Lighting

Picture of Setting Up Rear Lighting

So camping in the woods at night can get pretty dark sometimes. So I decided to light up the rear of the camper top with some lights. I chose to go with some LED lights that I purchased off of ebay that are more commonly used for rock lights. They do a great job or lighting up the rear at night so I can find stuff. They are also water proof and run off of 12volts. Perfect for what I need. I put the lights on a toggle switch near the rear of the bed so I can activate them when at night without having to be in the bed itself.

Step 5: Getting a Cot

Picture of Getting a Cot

So one of the main reasons for getting a 6ft bed was to get a soft top for it. They really only are commonly found in 6ft bed configurations. But the other reason for the 6ft bed was so I can sleep in it. After all it is a bed! Anyhow I talked to a friend of mines during dinner one night about sleeping arrangements and turns out a 6ft coleman cot fits perfectly within the 6ft bed. So off to walmart I went to get a cot.

As you can see int he photo Ive got the cot setup in the back with my sleeping bag ontop. Makes for a pretty comfy camp bed.The picture was also taken at night so you get a general idea of how bright those lights are. 

Step 6: Building a Roofrack for Additional Storage

Picture of Building a Roofrack for Additional Storage

So with the bed being occupied during trips, I needed a place to store my tools and or other gear other than in the cab. So I built a fairly simple roofrack. It is made of EMT Conduit welded together and then attached to the gutters on the truck. NOTE: When welding galvanized metal always grind down the zinc coating and wear a good respirator or you will get VERY sick.

Step 7: Comms, Navigation and Other Electronics

I don't have any pictures of any of the following things, but this being a camping rig I wanted an alternative means of communication aswell as a way to allow me to talk to other people that may be in the same group as me when out and about. Trust me sometimes you dont have cellphone reception in the mountains no matter who your carrier may be. So I opted for adding a CB radio. I got a Cobra 29 with weather scan to keep tabs on the weather. I also picked up a garmin navigation unit to mount on the dash and installed a power inverter for 120v electronics.

Step 8: Conclusion

Picture of Conclusion

So yea thats basically about it. Sure theres a few things I missed here and there like tires, lift, bumpers etc. I didn't think these were real pertinent to the purpose of the instructable so I left them out. I hope you guys enjoy reading about it. I will entertain any questions you may have about the truck build etc.

So just a basic summation:

I am a broke college student. I love camping and wanted a cool reliable truck to do it in. Everything is pretty primitive, but I plan to add to the build and make it more homey soon. Its nice I can just drive, park setup camp in 3 minutes and go to bed. No tent to setup or pack up. Also the bed is nice and level. Anyways Happy Campng!

Also to those who are offroaders remember to tread lightly!


Gordon Pienaar (author)2015-08-09

Awesome rig man. We have lots of Toyota's running in south Africa. Your truck is fondly refered to here as Toyota 'hips'. They're powered by the 3y or 4y gas engines or the 2L diesel engine. Great truck!

JoelB130 (author)Gordon Pienaar2017-04-24

If we could only find the diesels here in the states without gaving to spend a small fortune...

mcfunworld (author)2016-03-21

I wonder could I rig something like this and still fit storm chasing equipment?

TrulyM (author)2015-10-07

Sweet! I have a '94 Bronco and would like to make it a camping rig. The bed space isn't as large but its cool because I can take the seat out and its all carpet and cozy

Ben Eby (author)2015-08-13

I just wish I could find an 80's toyota that clean here in WI!

to'bryant (author)2015-04-08

Sweet Rig! I have had my fare share of Yotas, they are great. Currently have a 1997 T-100. I ended up building an off road custom trailer but I thought heavily about doing a canvas camper top like yours. Thanks for sharing!

austin.gaetano (author)2015-01-02

Thank you so much for this. I actually saw a picture of your rig a while back and loved it. I have the same exact truck and am slowly fixing and improving things on it to make it into my perfect off-road truck. Living in the sierra-nevada foothills, camping is a must and this build gives some great ideas for how to make my rig more mountain friendly. I was wondering if you, or anyone had any ideas on a convenient removable storage system to keep cargo organized and from moving around while driving. I've looked into boxes that wrap around the wheel wells but I plan on getting tool chests that fit over the wheel wells so I am still brain storming. Any help is appreciated. Again, badass build.

rangerweavere (author)2014-11-04

love this instructable. it inspired me to make mine!

rangerweavere (author)2014-10-06

Love it!

RangerJ (author)2014-09-15

I like it.

kamhunter (author)2014-08-25

sweet!! Ive seen those tents that pop out of the back. but this will make me feel more sucure in bear area. though it is not fully sucered its a lot more protected than some fabric.

bakdrft (author)2013-12-26

Primitive? You mean semi-comfortable. I primitive camp and i dont bring along a cot or truck. Im happy with a pack sleep pad and bag highlghted with a camp stove.

wbannister (author)bakdrft2014-07-27

I was thinking that too! I go with my dad and all we take are sleeping bags, stove and bivi bags/tarps

TigerNod (author)2014-03-29

I think you may drive the coolest car I've seen in a while :D

loafers (author)2013-09-17

Beaut choice of truck mate! I've got a YN65 Hilux like yours but with a trayback, tough, simple, reliable and of course good looking.
You said fuel economy was a priority, what economy do you get? Because mine is anything but conservative on fuel..
I love seeing how people in other countries set up their camping rigs. Camping setups here in Australia are quite different to the stuff I see on overseas rigs. You've done well keeping it functional and simple.

sam24th (author)loafers2013-09-17

Oh I love these lil trucks. Actually looking to pick up a matching 4runner now. Anyhow the truck is far from being a prius but on the same note is much more efficient than any jeep I've ever driven/owned. I get a steady 20mpg city and 24ish highway. My jeep on a good day gets 13-14 to a gallon. I do have to say though that I am quite jealous of some of the rigs you guys have over in Oz. I'm dying to get a long range aux tank for it.

Rainh2o (author)sam24th2013-09-17

Wranglers will get 20 MPG. I drive mine 89 miles roundtrip to and from work everyday and it has the 4.0 in it with a manual in it. The secret is pumping up the tires (mine I set to 10%over the rating) and keepin git under 60, closer to 55 mph and shifting as soon as you can without bogging it and keeping the RPMs down around 1800-2000 when you shift. It can be done. Thats highway miles (20mpg) you get better mileage though on the highway.

sam24th (author)Rainh2o2013-09-17

Well thats a manual wrangler that sees mostly highway driving. I mostly see city driving. My jeep gets 14mpg city with 33s beign an auto. My yota gets 20 city with it being lifted on 33s and loaded with gear. I don't think there are gonna be anything else that gets much better plus as stated I need a truck bed which a wrangler is kinda lacking. Not saying I dont like them, Ive actually had an older YJ, but just not what I was looking for in a vehicle when purchasing.

UFT (author)sam24th2014-03-03

I have had a 4x4 yota with hard top and manual lockers. to bad I ruined engine with fuel emission liquid in gas tank. I'm looking at a small 6 cylinder astro passenger van extended and most importantly all wheel drive awd. thinking of turning it into camper van just don't know how good gas mileage it's going to get. I looked at odysee surveillance van website and they installed the tower portable a.c. units in there astro vans with auxiliary second house battery to power lights and a.c. I like the hard tops esp the metal ones. just my preference though. but I'm thinking about getting a pop up top for it by Colorado canyon camper tops. YouTube has videos on the installations.

sam24th (author)UFT2014-03-04

Shame hearing about the toyota. I actually thought about a van type of build, but I wanted something I could wheel offroad also as this is my primary wheeling rig. I did take a gander at the Colorado Camper tops and wow they look freaking awesome, if I had a van I would go that route with the conversion. I have done a bunch of extensive upgrades lately though on the pickup. Added lockers, new Tcase for lower gears, chromo shafts so I dont break them. Also am adding a roof top tent to it soon and may be getting rid of the soft camper top. Not so primitive anymore haha. Might do an instructable on mounting my RTT once I get it.

loafers (author)sam24th2013-09-18

I haven't had mine for long, but at the moment it gets 12mpg on the highway doing a steady 55mph and unloaded, and actually gets better economy in town, it doesn't feel like it has the strength to fight the wind at highway speeds. I'm gonna see if a carby rebuild, some new plugs, leads and gaskets and a good tune up make much difference. I give it some leeway seeing as it has 300,000 miles on it though. Mine has a Carbed 3Y motor in it, how about yours? Have you done any engine upgrades to yours?

sam24th (author)loafers2013-09-18

Engine was rebuilt and bored .20 over when I purchased it. Its got an LCE head with new valves, LCE header and full exhaust system. Also the 22r in the truck has a bit more displacement than the 3Y. It has an aftermarket cam from LCE aswell. The engine itself has less than 35k miles on it documented. I bought the truck from a former Toyota tech.

loafers (author)sam24th2013-09-19

Well that would explain it, my mate's ute with a 22R has far more go than mine with the 3Y, and uses a bit less fuel too, fortunately they aren't expensive motors over here so I might look into getting one later in the year, thanks mate.

Pbonito (author)2014-01-31

You wouldnt still have the design plans for the roof rack

sam24th (author)Pbonito2014-02-03

I didn't write down the measurements or anything when I made the rack. I just started cutting and welding.

Ryan L. Natschke (author)2014-02-02

I had a very similar setup with an 80 Toyota. Only difference was a hard top cap. I miss that truck, but ended up cracking the frame being stupid with it! Nice set up!

Zwhiz (author)2014-01-28

Sweet set up! Love the old solid axle yotas.

DELETED_kdiesel (author)2014-01-07

All you need now is a girl in it n your set

sam24th (author)DELETED_kdiesel2014-01-08

Ha, wish I could actually find a girl willing to come camping with me around here.

astral_mage (author)2013-12-17

there are instructables on that alrdy. if u they (the commenter if bother to look 4 them)?

astral_mage (author)2013-12-17

u should also go 4 a pass thro window on the truck. so u can get in there in case of a problem.

astral_mage (author)2013-12-17

look in to using flexible solar panels. to charge up yr battery during the day. being flexible they can take some twisting.

djwoodbutcher (author)2013-09-23

I like the CB. Days before the web I listened to shortwave. Still have my Kenwood shortwave.

GPS is way over-rated. Folks need to learn map & compass. Does GPS stand for General Public Stupidity?

that and how screwed up we are to put our trust and our lives in some elses hands that we never met!!!!!!

Harly9 (author)djwoodbutcher2013-11-17

A GPS allows you to keep your eyes on the road while traveling alone. It also saves time since you do not have to pull over to keep checking the map. Perhaps MAP stands for Massive Assbag Personality.

Juklop (author)2013-11-27

Is the cot attached to the bed somehow? or do you fold it up when driving around?

sam24th (author)Juklop2013-12-01

It folds up when I am driving around and strapped down or up on the roofrack.

e1mann48 (author)2013-11-21

Hey I really like the roof rack you have goin on there, is there any way that you could post a DIY? Or an explanation on how you did it? Or just some closer pictures for me of your rack so I can figure out how I mount and weld it on my truck

sam24th (author)e1mann482013-11-21

I will try to post up a DIY for the roof rack sometime. I am currently planning a similar one for my 4runner but it will be a full length rack. Just been busy with school and work. and trying to get the pickup built up this winter for next season.

ShadowJesus (author)2013-10-16

This is badass!

chrisandamanda (author)2013-10-07

Nice rig. Sure miss my old Toyota. :( I totally would have done something like this to it.

gpavlovsky (author)2013-09-25

Love your truck man! Looks very Mad Max-y.
Can you tell me more about the LED lights you used? Do you have a link to eBay?

spylock (author)2013-09-20

I wouldnt call it primitive,Id say its a nice,well equipped,go just about anywhere kinda truck,great job,Id be proud.

spylock (author)spylock2013-09-20

By the way,if you dont mind my asking,where did you get your camper/tent shell for the bed,and do the come to most popular truck makes and models.I really like.

sam24th (author)spylock2013-09-22

The camper top is made by can-back. Unfortunately the company is limbo right now. You can still get soft tops from soft-topper as well as best top. They make them for most popular truck models.

stephenf (author)2013-09-20

Looks like lots of fun. So many possibilities for add-ons ...
How does the soft top hold up at highway speeds?

sam24th (author)stephenf2013-09-22

Soft top holds up great at highway/freeway speeds. Ive drive it to Atlanta and Virginia beach aswell as the outer banks with it on. No problems thus far.

snoopindaweb (author)2013-09-19

Nice surface. Kind of a rougher version of the old Black "Heat Crackle" paint like used on a Sportster's Drag Pipes during a hungry Man's rebuild..?

spylock (author)snoopindaweb2013-09-22

I put the same stuff in the bed of my truck six year ago and its held up well,I have two spots about the size of a quarter where it popped off due to my lack of prep.on a couple of bolt heads,but its good stuff for the money.

snoopindaweb (author)spylock2013-09-22

Thank You.

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