Introduction: Convert Your Truck Into a Camper

Picture of Convert Your Truck Into a Camper

If you have a truck with a topper, this instructable will show you how to design and build a sleeping platform for the bed of your truck.  The platform will allow you to store your camping supplies underneath your bed and eliminate the need to set up a tent.  Having a camper in the back of your truck provides you the gas mileage of tent camping with some of the organization of hauling a trailer and you won't get as wet when it rains.  Because the requirements for everyone will be different and all truck beds are different I wont provide you any specific measurements. 

This project can be completed in a weekend or take several weeks depending on how complicated your design is. 

Basic woodworking skills are required and previous project design experience would be beneficial.  Cutting a 4' x 8' sheet of plywood can be difficult to do with a table saw by yourself, so I would recommend finding a friend to to do this. 

When complete you'll be able to take a quick camping trip whenever you want.

Step 1: Designing the Platform

Picture of Designing the Platform

Measure your truck bed and supplies
The first step is to accurately measure your truck to figure out how much space you have to work with.  The size of the supplies you want to take should also be determined to see what will fit where. 

The bigger equipment that I designed for included 
     portable grill
     battery for charging my cell phone and laptop
     toolbox in case of emergency
     winter clothes because I am using this for spring break in March.

To fit the grill and my toolbox underneath I needed the bottom compartments to be 12" high

Draw Layout
Since I'm an engineering student I have access to several different Computer-Aided Drafting software for free, but Google sketch-up is a free program that can be used or the old school way of pencil and paper can also be implemented.

How you choose to layout your compartments is up to you, I laid mine out like a boat with several small compartments to keep the gear from sliding around and can be accessed from above.  If you need to fit longer equipment, like skis or snowboards  underneath your bed, the center board can run the full length of the truck bed. 

     •    For ease of installation, design the platform in 3 sections.
                2 Outer boxes to go over the wheel wells
                1 Center section to tie the outer edges together

     •    You need to have a support board in the middle of the bed otherwise the boards will sag and possibly break.

     •    Leave a little extra space around all of your supplies to ensure they will fit

Step 2: Gather Materials

Picture of Gather Materials

Once you have settled on a design you need to gather your supplies.  3/4" plywood is what I used and would recommend for all designs.  I used angle brackets to secure the boards together that I will separate when I remove the platform from the truck.  I had access to a sheet metal break and a CNC plasma cutter so I had metal boxes made to save space.  A local metal fabrication shop should be able to make the metal boxes if you wnat to go that route.
   •  Plywood
         2 sheets of plywood should be enough for mid-sized trucks with a 6' bed
         3 sheets should be adequate for a full-size truck
   •  Fastening Supplies
       •   Angle brackets and bolts make the platform easy to install and remove
       •   If space is a concern, T-nuts work great and also eliminate the need to hold the nut
       •   Screws can be used for more permanent joints
       •   Hinges
   •  Carpet
   •  Duct Tape

   •  Saw
          I suggest a circular saw with a guide, although it can be cut using a table saw
   •  Electric Drill
   •  Ratchet and Sockets for bolts
   •  Staple Gun

Step 3: Cut the Boards

Picture of Cut the Boards

Plan how you are going to cut the boards
          Planning is important to minimize the amount of waste and reduce the cost
          Leave a 1/8" gap around cut edges to account for the saw blade width

Cut the boards
         1 - Cut the all boards length wise first into strips.
         2 - Cut to length using a radial arm saw to help ensure they are cut square.
         3 - Fit the boards around the tie down hooks and any other obstructions

        - Check how the boards fit in the bed of the truck after cutting the boards
        - Once all boards are cut set up the boards to ensure they all fit together

Step 4: Fasten Together Using Brackets and Screws

Picture of Fasten Together Using Brackets and Screws

To make it easy to install, remove, and store, fasten all boards to brackets with bolts and T nuts. 
          TIP - It is easier to assemble the entire platform outside of the truck bed, where you have more room to work, for the first time.

If the top center boards edges don't rest on the support boards, you need to add some supports.
     Cut a 1" strip off of the scrap to attach to the side of the outer boxes closest to the center of the truck
     Secure with screws
          TIP - I used 1 1/2" angle iron for added stiffness and to take up less space

Step 5: Add the Finishing Touches

Picture of Add the Finishing Touches

Cover the top boards with carpet to provide a finished look
       If you secured any of your top doors with hinges like I did the carpet will keep you from tearing the mattress.

   1 - Cut the carpet to fit each peice on the top of the platform
   2 - Secure the carpet with staples
   3 - Cut out the finger holes
   4 - Finish the edges of the carpet with duct tape

Sand all visible edges
      Sand the edges to eliminate the possibility of tearing your mattress or clothes

     TIP - The boards should also be finished to extended their lifetime.

Step 6: Install Into the Truck

Picture of Install Into the Truck

Once the platform is assembled and you are happy with the results, you can dismantle it and reassemble it in the bed of your truck.  By fastening the different sections together with bolts it can easily be assembled inside the confined space of the truck bed.  After the platform is installed in the truck you can add your mattress and your ready to go camping. 

     TIP - If you use a foam mattress instead of an inflatable one, you may find it easier to access the under bed cubby holes by cutting the mattress into several cushions.


SamP87 (author)2016-05-07

Hi, I am from the UK and thinking of kitting out a pickup truck similar to this but we are quite limited here in terms of what we can buy (no f150's, dodge Rams or Silverado's on our roads) I want a to buy a double cab pickup either a Mitsubishi L200 or a Nissan D22 the truck bed size of these are 1500mm approx

I want a sleeping shelf like this, plus enough room for a waeco fridge, hob and propane heater, having never even sat in a truck bed of this size (I am travelling abroad atm) would this be achievable? No info online of anyone doing this... Thanks!!

buildandsewandstuff (author)2016-02-09

This might go without saying, but for safety's sake please don't let a passenger ride in the back while travelling! Sometimes you have an unknown leak in the exhaust system and gasses can infiltrate the truck bed, causing carbon monoxide poisoning and death.

EdwinO3 (author)2015-10-30

Any links or tips for water proofing the bed of your truck/cap before hand?

Doc Holliday (author)2015-04-25

Remember, by adding a serious trailer hitch, you can mount an entire kitchen, table, chairs and a porta-potty in an enclosed, fold down box. Did this in the '60's behind a station wagon.

clay3 (author)2015-02-18

I'm designing my truck bed for a long road trip/truck camping and really appreciate your step by step process and ideas.

Where did you find the foam mattress to fit the width and length?

Thanks, Casey

nmartens (author)clay32015-02-19

It's been awhile, but I think I ordered it from Wal-Mart, but you can order foam mattress from anyone just give it a day or so to flatten out if it comes folded up in a box. As for the size just check your measurements against those of standard mattress to figure out which one to order. I believe I ordered a queen for my s10.

kamhunter (author)2014-08-25

Oh that is cool. extra storage i want to get a jeep wrangler. i wonder if there is any way to do this on a jeep?

nmartens (author)2014-06-02

Once I designed the boards i needed to cut, i drew them on a 4x8 sheet of plywood to determine how many sheets i needed and which cuts i needed to make. I compared them with my plans to know where they go. Since the beds of trucks vary, I purposely did not include any dimensions or prints so you could design it to fit your specific truck.

ratgirl13 (author)2013-10-07

Where do you put your ice chest?

nmartens (author)ratgirl132013-10-08

Ideally the cooler would go underneath the platform, but that didn't work. I moved the rear portion of the mattress and put the cooler there while traveling so it was easy to access if I wanted a drink. When I get to where I'm going to be staying the cooler either sits outside or I put it in the cab. I'm still trying to build a 5-day cooler that would fit in the opening.

chipacles (author)2013-02-28

Great work! I really like the use of CAD to layout your plan (and appreciate the suggestion of Sketchup for those of us who don't have that access). Really well done design, and I like the modular technique! Also a fan of the use of sheet metal to maximize space!

I was wondering if you had considered using the angle iron crosswise on your bed platform to (maybe) eliminate the need for the support board down the middle... Not sure if it would weigh too much or be too expensive...or maybe the angle iron isn't strong enough... I would appreciate your thoughts on this idea!

Thanks for posting!

nmartens (author)chipacles2013-03-27

Angle iron would work if you wanted to have a larger space underneath. I don't believe the weight difference would be noticeable. I like having the board down the middle because it allows for a little more organization. That way when I get where I'm going I only have to deal with half the stuff to find what I need.

aphesia (author)2012-04-02

I did this to my Chevy LUV, and I'm currently living out of it. What I would like to see more of is the problem i'm dealing with: lil truck can only handle so much weight. I made my false bottom with thin pine boards and created doors that are set into the frame towards the cab. I'd like to add more instruments of organization but I can't find a material strong enough and light enough (and moderately free!). Any ideas?

jeanicrowe (author)aphesia2013-01-10

Try cardboard! Lots of cardboardibles here, but as a hint, if you laminate the pieces in threes with the inside piece channels running opposite the two outer layers you really increase the strength. Or for real strength, accordian the inner layer. I have seen beds made entirely of cardboard this way. Check out the 'ible' on cardboard lumber. In addition you can make it really fancy with a layer of scroll work and paint it anyway you want, even a faux wood grain or tortoise shell. Or decorate it with decoupage pictures. You can make tiny little cubbies or big ones and with a little skill you can make drawers. The weight will be minimal.

stncilr (author)2013-01-07

working on the same thing, this is my setup up to now.

harthoppy (author)2012-06-30

You could ( maybe?) make a box with a rail or rollers to slide in and out under the center area therefore being able to pack more and retrieve more things?

ToolboxGuy (author)harthoppy2012-10-03

Agreed, or at least a pull out countertop with a flip leg and some chairs, or a set of pull out stairs perhaps - also good to sit on outside ....

mncamper (author)2012-09-06

Cool. My dad had something like this in his pickup when we were kids. We'd often spend the night in the truck when on camping or fishing trips.

zachaquack1987 (author)2012-08-08

Nice. I'm Thinking of trying something similar with the back of my Tracer wagon.

dimdiode (author)2012-07-04

I am so envious of the trucks you have in The States (I lived in Houston for 3 years and had a full size Chevy Blazer, mmmmmm) Anyway, I have never seen it done, but I don't think it would be too difficult to add a low profile pop-up roof to your truck topper. This would make for a much nicer environment to sleep in, reduce condensation, add ventilation, and reduce headaches from bashing your head on the roof when you sit up. This is only practical on American full size trucks, as I guess compacts and European/Japanese pickup caps are too small for such an addition.

Just a thought, and not too expensive.

Similarly, there may be roll-out awnings (the sort attached to the sides of campers and RVs) made short enough to add to the topper.

Adding those two items, I reckon, would turn a topper into a virtual camper,

Well done anyway, on a good 'food for thought' ible.

harthoppy (author)2012-06-30

great 'Ible by the way . I am looking at it thinking how easy it would be , and why i did not think of it sooner.

Great job !!

quiet1 (author)2012-04-22

Would you be able and willing to post a link to your Sketchup files?
Either way, thanks for the ible!

nmartens (author)quiet12012-04-25

I used Solidworks to design this since I am an engineering student and have free access. If this will work for you let me know and I can get them to you or tell me what file format you want and I'll see what I can do.

quiet1 (author)nmartens2012-04-25

Sketchup will take .skp, .3ds, .dwg, .dxf, .dem, .ddf files.
If it's possible to post your plans in one of those formats...great!
If not, thanks for posting!

Xamu (author)2012-04-16

Nice work! Very well thought out.

If I may, I have some ideas to share.

It occurs to me that if you replaced the plywood for the bed platform with a pair of 20" (YMMV) hollow core doors (connected with hinges) you might 1) save some weight, 2) you could pull them out and (add some inexpensive Ikea table legs to) have a handy dining/work table that is easier to get in and out of the truck without any help, and 3) if you ever needed to haul something slightly big, the doors could be folded up and moved off to one side. (I could be wrong but I think maybe your plywood is too wide to stand on edge off to the side.)

Hollow core doors, being torsion boxes, would also be much less prone to sagging than ¾" plywood and may provide an extra bit of insulating airspace under the mattress. :o)

The doors would need to need cut to the desired length (of course) and would still need to be supported in the middle for use as a bed (just as you're doing) but might increase the versatility of your rig. With regard to length, I would probably stop a foot short of the front of the truck bed to make it easier to access the front compartment.

Also, some home centers sell unclaimed or slightly abused doors for $5-10 a piece.

ariekaptein (author)2012-04-05

In 2000 I did a similar thing; I did add a coocking drawer though, so I (or in this case my wife) could coock standing upright.

CementTruck (author)2012-03-19

I did this in my old Nissan Pickup. Just be careful that you don't forget where you are and get out of bed quickly with your eyes closed. I did it twice...within minutes of each other the first time I went camping with this mod. I got a couple of decent sized goose eggs on my forehead.

My buddy's wife crawled out of their tent and pounded on my camper window to ask me to fetch some firewood for breakfast. I jumped up with a start and banged my head on the ceiling of the camper, which was less than a foot away from my face. I lay back down to ease the throbbing, and a few minutes latertried to get up again, but my eyes were still closed and I did it again.

georion (author)CementTruck2012-03-31

your buddy's wife ?? what was wrong with her ?? was she Handicapped ? and what about your "buddy"---i went went camping with my brother and his wife---------------they didnt EAT till they contributed to the work--never would go with me again !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

scotth61 (author)georion2012-04-01

Maybe she was the cook, and the author couldn't eat until he contributed to the work by gathering the firewood. :-)

CementTruck (author)scotth612012-04-02

1) scotth61 is correct, She was the designated cook.

2) There was a lot of Tequila abuse from the night before and she knew from experience that she'd never be able to get her hubby to wake up after that much libation. She decided to rouse me as her next option for obvious reasons (see #3).

3) bruce.desertrat is correct, She knew I was a light sleeper (Tequila or not) and was deathly afraid of Grizzlies (known to frequent the Quartz Lake campground - Central Alaska). Luckily for all of us my sidearm was out of immediate reach.

georion is correct, She wasn't the sharpest light bulb in the shed.

bruce.desertrat (author)georion2012-04-01

Maybe, the "jump up and bang the head" was the intended outcome of the request in the first place....:-)

mcusick (author)CementTruck2012-04-01

I would add padding to the roof because I know I would be the one to bump my head as well.

mad hatter503 (author)2012-04-01

Kinda like a Kenner "Easy Bake Oven" camper...Personally, I have always been impressed with that bed John Lennon had in the movie, "Help" where the bed was sunken down into the floor. Why not do the same here, with the bed, a tad narrower than the full size shown here, resting on the truck bed, with a set of cabinets along the sides? You would still have plenty of room to stretch out, with ample storage, up to the top of the camper? Then you would just need a moon roof on the top of the camper top to peer out from! Just wondering...

nmartens (author)mad hatter5032012-04-02

I thought about doing this first, but didn't want to have to empty the bed of my truck to sleep. I plan to do more road trips than camping trips with it so I don't want to have to set up camp everytime I stop.

tim_n (author)2012-04-02

Is this connected to the truck sides in any way?

nmartens (author)tim_n2012-04-02

No, the boxes sit on the bed.

dropkick (author)2012-04-01

Much snazzier than what I did. I like yours much better.

I built a simple 2x4 frame and put a sheet of 5/8 plywood on top of it. I keep my equipment and supplies in plastic totes (boxes) underneath it.

- quick hint to anyone who thinks to use plastic totes under theirs: Make sure they will all fit before you build (I measured a single tote, thought I was golden, and than came to find that all the other totes I owned were sized differently and didn't fit under the frame - AAARGH!).

The only thing I did that was anywhere close to clever in my build was to cut the plywood into 3 sections so I could access underneath easier (and even that's kind of a pain).

ricroz (author)2012-04-01

I did a similar project almost 30 years ago. Great minds think alike! ; )

hammer9876 (author)2012-04-01

My father did something like this back in the 1970s. He and Mom went "camping" all over in the thing, sometimes putting up a tent, too, but most times not. The problem was always getting to the stuff in the furthest corners. And yes, once while traveling with them, I was in the back needing a break and my father never looked in the rear view mirror to see me. A flashlight to hit him in the eyes would have been a solution.

BamaBob (author)2012-04-01

Back in the late fifties, when we moved from one duty station to another or traveled long distance to visit family, my dad would place 3/4" plywood sheets inside the truck resting on top where the canopy attached to the truck. Everything was bolted down. A mattress/sheets/pillows/books were on the top, luggage and food in the lower section. A flashlight with paper/pen was used to communicate with those in cab - "Gotta go to the bathroom" was a standard request from both my brother and me. The ice chest was readily available in the back.

It's nice to know that the same spirit of Ingenuity is still alive and well for those that own trucks! Good work!

ssleeper (author)2012-03-28

You mention fabricating metal boxes but I don't see any reference to them in your build? Can you explain where they went and how they were used? I too have access to these fabrication tools and would like to know how and where you used the boxes. Were they for the sides by the wheel wells?
I have two small kids who are total bed hogs! I was thinking of a shelf (I have a tall topper) across the bed by the back window as sort of a bunk for them.
Thank you for a great idea.

nmartens (author)ssleeper2012-03-28

The boxes were used to support the top doors behind, in front, and over the wheel wells. They also blocked the holes that are drilled in the bed for drains so my stuff would stay clean. They can be made from the 3/4" plywood, but the metal helped me save space.

l8nite (author)2012-03-19

Nicely done "ible". My brother did something similar several years ago and has been talking about doing it again (he's a wanderer) he had a sliding shelf/drawer under the bed for ease of access (he had a full size truck) I like your idea of the hatches, I'll have to mention it to him. Thank you for sharing your project and welcome to the crazy world of instructable posters !

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