Instructables
Picture of Homemade Camper Van: Simple, Easy Curtains
This is the first of a series of instructables about the construction (in progress) of my stealth Toyota camper van.

The object of a stealth van is to be able to park anywhere, and blend in with other on-street vehicles. This way you can live in your van, and travel from city to city without paying for anything but gas!

The first thing about a stealth van is, you can't be able to see that someone is in it. And that means you need blackout curtains, so that you can have a light on at night without people seeing you.

Another important thing is keeping heat in in the winter, and out in the summer. So there are 2 main criteria for curtains in a stealth van:

- Good insulation value
- 100% Opaque

I do not want to hide in a dark van all day, so there is a 3rd I will add:

- Easy to install/remove
 
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Step 1: Gather materials

Picture of Gather materials
There's a material that suits these criteria perfectly! It is called "Reflectix" and is pretty cheap: $15 for a 10' x 24" roll. It's available at any Home Depot or similar store. The pictures on it even show uses that involve putting it in your van!

To get them on and off quickly and easily, nothing beats Velcro. At first I worried that Velcro would be considerably more expensive, because it has to go around the perimeter of the windows, but luckily, it turns out you don't need much. Save yourself a hassle and get the sticky-backed kind.

I got Velcro at Michaels', a craft store for $3.50 for 3 feet. I bought 9' because I didn't know how much I'll need to do the whole van. The 2 rear windows so far took about 1 and a half feet... looks like I overestimated?
yweller312 months ago

Here was an idea. I did it to two of my windows, but it won't work for back window of my van is black poster board. It makes it impossible to see in.

kretzlord11 months ago
I'm starting a conversion on a 93 gmc g2500 vandura. for curtains, i got some medium weight felt and some poly batting used in quilts. Cut to shape, spray glue together, and presto! We'll see if the adhesive on the velcro sticks once it gets warm out. 'ible coming soon! Nicely done, btw!
Seksay11 year ago
Here's what I've done with my windows. I have a 1999 Dodge Grand Caravan with some odd shaped windows. I went to Lowe's and bought some 4 mil black plastic sheeting, cut it to the shape of my windows, and when I need to go stealth, I apply it to the inside of the windows just like window tint. When I'm ready to take off again, I move to another location, remove the plastic from my windows and go. I don't use adhesives on them, just a spray bottle with a little baby shampoo and distilled water along with a squeegee to make it stick better. If I leave the plastic on the windows, it will stay on for about a day or two, depending on the temperature. The longest I've had it stay on is four days. The rear window is very difficult to make the plastic stay because of the angle so I tuck a large piece of the plastic into the plastic trim that runs across the top of the rear entry so that it hangs down covering the window. I then put pieces of tape in all the right places to block any light. For the front, I put the front seats all the way forward and upright, then hang another sheet of black plastic behind the seats. I'm considering replacing the hanging pieces of plastic with black felt material or something that is a little harder for prying eyes to distinguish. I hope this was a helpful contribution.
I've noticed many posters not hip on the foil quilt window treatment. Here's my stealthy two cent tip.

Get the blue foam camp pads from walmart. It's that dense, thin foam you put under your sleeping bag.. Cut the foam to the exact shape of the window cavity but just a hair larger with an exacto knife. Use thin black felt, or thin black velvet to carefully cover the foam forms, applying spray adhesive to both cloth and foam as you go. Make neat, secure seams on the inside edges. These babies will see a lot of action. They stuff in the window cavity and need no additional support.

Benefits: Looks clean and neat in and out. Draws no attention (looks like dark tinting). Blocks 100% of light. Damps sound and helps retain heat on cold nights. Easy and fast blackout if you do your cutting accurately.
Mr. Morbid7 years ago
Good instructable! This might help me a lot acctually. But, I am considering a no-window panel van. They are sometimes bigger and wouldnt be prone to getting broken in to.. but no sunlight, ugh. Still undecided! But, get those other camper van instructo's up. Can't wait!
Rectifier (author)  Mr. Morbid7 years ago
There is one problem to note with this method that I came across. If it gets very hot (trip through the prairies in summer hot) the velcro adhesive will melt and the curtains will be hard to keep up. I ended up redoing them with small rare-earth magnets, but have not gotten around to updating the instructable. I am actually working on a whole van website, but the website is coming along slowly because I'd rather work on the van, and I don't want to put up a disappointing unfinished site, so it's not even up. So far I have built these side curtains, a front shelf/curtain divider, a countertop with sink, water tank and propane stove, roof vent, drop leaf table/bed into that van, and done insulation. working on flooring, cushions and a micro pellet stove for heat. Trying to document it all in pics as I work, so I believe the site will be very helpful to van builders.
Correct. eventually even in L.A. Ca, where the weather is not extreme but the inside of a van can still get hot, the adhesive Velcro I used for a curtain in my van to separate a part of the vehicle for stealth living and false wall started to peel off at real in-opportune times. It will fall off just when you do not want it too.

Avoid using adhesive backed tapes or velcro. unless you put a small screw or tack in the center to keep it in place. You can always use a wooden dowel [ dont know what the flat sided types are called] and then screw the thin wood piece down at the center and ends and then line it with velcro and use a stapler or staple gun to secure the velcro.

Dont just block, deceive instead using optical tricks.

As far as those wanting a stealth van to live in and be inconspicuous. I knowsomeone that lived in van for 2 years and the neighbors;rent-a-cops and police just never knew or could confirm someone was actually in there.

ha ha even a few times the police circled vehicle looking in and could not see inside we'll enough [ but see just enough to convice them they are wrong and its probably empty. ]

The things I learned were, in big van use only a portion of vehicle for living space. This was a extended 15 passenger. To confuse and deter idiots that may look in while passing by 1st part stays empty or has empty utility shelves, lawn rakes, empty trash cans, empty boxes, fake fertilizer bags on floor etc.. or other things that make you think its a work van, but not anything expensive and worth breaking in to steal.

Blocking all the windows is a sure sign that your trying to hide something. and a key indicator that a vehicle is being lived in. Dont block everything, just use optical deception techniques.

Front windows and side driver/passenger windows, use opaque film that is pull across and retractable to stop anyone even during day from being able to look directly in , but yet maintaining the appearance that its just normal glare on the windows with a natural look. Dont just block, deceive instead using optical tricks.

Be consistent; . If your going to be parked in the same place many times; consistency is important. Black one day and light the next makes it obvious something has changed about the vehicle and draws attention.

Windows that are black one day and light the next is a problem unless vehicle is empty and nothing seen inside gives the appearance of being lived in. This can be used as a deceptive technique but can work against you also.

False walls. if you have a van create a false wall for your living area in the back; this is where you block windows. When you have tinted or opaque windows a false wall or stiff curtain is hard to spot especially when its deep in the back, same color as interior; or gray/white, black etc and has a seat, empty shelving rack etc in front of it that gives the appearance that is the back of the van or one of a row.

dogs: spray or get satchels of chemicals / herbs or other stuff that deters local dogs sniffing around the vehicle. This was a big problem as someone walking their mutt may come up on you when you do not know it and have the dog detect your presence and alert owner/walker someones probably inside.

anything that burns the nose or irritates it , but don't sniff around electronic methods work well too. Cant think of how many times a dumb mutt on a leash, coulda blew cover.

Blcking out windows if living in vehicle is a bad idea; onve again it reveals you have something to hide. using curtains or such not directly on the window creates a reflective surface that looks natural.

I could go on but those were some hints from experience.
Hi there, thanks a lot for your explanation of this project! I'm planning on using Neodymium magnets in lieu of velcro as well because we'll be x-country touring through hot summer months in our van. Would you mind explaining how you affixed the magnets to the car and insulation for easy removal? Ideally, we'd like to take them completely off during the day and put on for night time only. Thank you! ~Melissa
Hey Rectifier....didya ever get your website up and running? Just wondering!
Yeah, thats awesome. Send me a link once its up =]
PKM Mr. Morbid7 years ago
Could you install a flat sunroof into a panel van? Not visible from street level, little break-in risk, you could put a removable panel on the inside to block light at night. I'm just wondering if cutting a bloody great hole in the roof of your van makes it structurally unsound or will invalidate your MOT/DOT/whatever "roadworthiness".
wysiwyg99 PKM3 years ago
I realize your post is almost 4 years old, but no one else ever replied. Your questions have little to do with the subject of stealth vans and really don't make a lot of sense. First of all, why would you NOT be able to put a sunroof on a van? If they can be put on cars, why not vans? And how would such a small area jeopardize the roof's integrity? And why would you need to cover a sunroof at night? Maybe a street light is directly above it? I'm assuming you don't even have a van but if so, a sunroof would be impractical and a waste of money and time. In a van that you're living in, either part-time or permanently, a roof vent should be used, or preferably, a Fantastic roof vent with a fan. that blows in both directions and acts as a vent and a cooling fan.
Don't cut the roof supports, haha. I'm planning on undertaking exactly this project in a month or two before I do the interior of the cargo van I plan to purchase.
If all goes well I'll have pictures here.
PIman2 years ago
As a private investigator I can tell you curtain are as are the way to go. I have used Velcro and I have used clips. I have had people stick their noses against the van window and think it is very dark tint. I am now working on a mesh version for summer use. Good idea and looking forward to your updates.
wysiwyg993 years ago
I guess if you're wanting to block light and don't care how you do it, Reflectix would be the best, cheapest way to go but a shiny material like Reflectix isn't suitable for a true stealth van. To keep people from seeing any light inside your van at night, first of all, you need dark 5% tint and secondly, your curtains or other window covering material should be black, at least on the side showing on the outside. Anyone looking at a van's windows at night and see nothing but black would think nothing of it and just think they were looking at dark tint at night. Shiny aluminum would be a dead giveaway that someone might be staying inside. We're talking about STEALTH here, not energy conservation.
I'd like to see someone come up with an ingenious way of doing this to a modern minivan, like a Chrysler Voyager. The windows are odd shaped and very difficult to block out all light from peeking out at night. Hanging curtains is very complicated and not effective. I tried cutting pieces of corrugated plastic like is used in yard signs. Painted them black. It tucks into the window channels very well but it's difficult to cut the exact shape and it's hard to find corrugated plastic quite wide or tall enough so you can do an entire window with one piece instead of two. And when you paint the plastic black, you can still see the outlines of the sign's letters. My solution would be to find black corrugated plastic large enough to fit each window. The reason I would choose black because it would look like the window tint. Anything lighter in color would not look right in a minivan. A reflective surface is not needed.
Canoejim4 years ago
HI: We have been building our own campers since the 1950's. In all that time we have camped just about everywhere. We have never blocked out windows (we do have curtains) and in these years we have never been bothered or even asked what we were doing. I do admit we go to bed early. Not knocking black out windows, just saying how things have changed. Good camping ...Canoejim
qwertzui5 years ago
Dont use MDF, its over twice to three times heavier than Plywood. Wantthe best option, but not the cheapest. (but will be in the long run byfar from fuel savings)  marine Plywood. 
When you think camper conversion......think boat technology.

same for batteries... use AGM batteries for dual systems, much betterfor many reasons than normal. , use led lighting.  etc etc

i am on my 3rd conversion and have travelled most of Australia.
7-10 mm for plywood is more than adequate, even thinner if it is braced.Use wire baskets underneath .

Chipboard MDF 19mm normal  20-30kg /sq/m
Plywood 10mm normal     8-10kg/sq/m.


Enjoy Trev downunder from eire :-)
I know this is off the subject a bit, but I've just bought a Vauxhall Movano which I'm making into a stealth camper. However, I'm getting conflicting info from all the carpenters I know about what to panel the van out with. Some say plywood, others say I could get away with MDF. They all disagree on how thick the material needs to be, and they all have different ideas on the best insulation to use. My priorities are: 1. doing the job well so it lasts, 2. keeping the costs down as low as possible; and 3. keeping the weight down as I have to use this van as my everyday work transport too. Petrol costs in the UK are horrific at the moment. Any advice appreciated!
cathyb595 years ago
A stealth van is a great idea. The ability to live economically and anonymously seems sound to me. Stove, water storage, sleeping room. An urban camper!
I would love to see more pictures, or the website you mentioned! I have a 1986 Toyota Van that I'm turning into a camper van and there aren't that many of the Toyotas that have been turned into camper vans that I can find online... so it would be awesome to see more of yours. Even if you wanted to email them to me, that would be cool!
jvilter6 years ago
I just googled for "van curtains" today and found your Instructable. It sure beat the way I was going to do it, with cotton fabric and hooks. I bought a roll of Reflectix and some velcro and didn't even need the velcro, just cut the Reflectix a hair bigger all the way around and it tucks in nicely. Thanks for the idea.
Rectifier (author)  jvilter6 years ago
Great! The reflectix curtains are still sturdy in my van to this day. I redid them with magnets instead of velcro for the ones I want to put up and down - the magnets are way more durable. I think you'll find that tucking them results in them falling down on you at night - that happened to me when the velcro failed and I was just tucking them up. But, maybe you have something better to tuck them into. I really need to post some more van stuff, but I'm all caught up working in my trade these days and don't spend much time in my van anymore. Now it's just a weekend camper van instead of a lifestyle - a lifestyle which I rather miss, actually. But gas is just too expensive to live in a van these days!
I'll get back to you in about six weeks, when we return from our vacation. I'm taking the velcro along with us if friction proves not to be our friend, long term.
safarijoe6 years ago
Check out www.cheaprvliving.com. This site has several articles on campervans and stealth living. You can add your own page . some cool ideas.
I look forward to reading more of your camper conversion instructables.
nfceagles7 years ago
Or you could just buy a VW Eurovan Camper. Curtains already installed. I drive one daily.
Rectifier (author)  nfceagles7 years ago
This is instructables, it's not about buying pre-made vans! Haha. Also, all the handmade mods on this van to make it livable are looking to come in at a total of under $500. That's much cheaper than the premium paid to get a pre-camperised (especially VW) van, especially because my time is currently worth much less than my money (I'm injured and on worker's comp.) Also, when stealth vanning, you want your van to look like just an ordinary parked minivan or work van. The Volkswagens... well, they look like a camper van. And with the lights on at night, you will light up around the van pretty well despite curtains - not the complete blackout of Reflectix curtains. By the way, coming soon, an instructable on the rear counter/stove/sink unit that I am working on! Also, 12v fluorescent lighting on the cheap!
lebowski7 years ago
Good start. I'm looking forward to more campervan conversion instructions. I was just looking that the bus conversion from the steampunk guy. It's pretty impressive and he has a the skills to pull it off.

http://www.vonslatt.com/bus-main.shtml

I did own a '88 toyota cargo van for a while that I would sleep in after windsurfing. It's pretty hard to beat those old 4 cyl. toyota engines, they'll run forever. It wasn't the most comfortable ride I've ever had, but the turning radius was awesome.

Can you take pictures during the day next time? That would help a ton.
Myself lebowski7 years ago
Tweaking the monitor contrast (tilting my laptop screen) pulled details out of the gloom and made the image make a lot more sense. Try it! I've gone so far as to tape bits of mosquito netting over the windows of my Toyota Matrix so I can car-camp with some ventilation. Windowscreens! One of these days, I'll sew some magnet strips into the sides of the netting so I can stop wasting gaffer's tape.
Anyone else wondering why?
Rectifier (author)  cinstructable7 years ago
Why the curtains, or why the stealth van? The reasons for both are explained in the text... As for why I am doing it, because I want to see the continent without getting ripped off at motels and campgrounds...
I think this is a wonderful instructable. And the idea of a "stealth van" is very cool and close to my heart. I hope you post more in your stealth van adventures.