The MicroCamper A.k.a "Fat Berta"

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Introduction: The MicroCamper A.k.a "Fat Berta"

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If you want to travel through a country on a budget and still sleep in a dry place while it rains, a small camper is perfect. However, I wanted to have a fuel efficient car that could be used as well on a daily basis. I decided to go for a used white Renault Kangoo 1.5dci mini van. It's highly fuel efficient (5.2l/100km - 45.2mpg / effective range around 1000km - 621 miles), pleasant to drive and if you take the seats out it is an astonishingly big transporter for sport or daily use.

I planned everything to be modular:

  • While camping you take the back seats out and are left with two seats and a camping mobile.
  • You can leave the back seats in the car and install the kitchen box and you have your kitchen with you if you want to go climbing with your friends.
  • Or you take both boxes out and your car is a normal mini van again.

The main goal was to build a small camper that is very fast and easy to put into a sleeping position.

I had 9 days between the end of my exams and the beginning of the road trip with my girlfriend. Not everything was finished by then, but it was enough to be used without any problems.

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UPDATE1:

Berta was on the road again. For a journey through southern Sweden last summer, we added or altered some items to make it even more practical. I added the instructions as additional steps and not as a new instructable to keep the whole project in one single place. I hope you'll enjoy it!

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UPDATE2:

Berta met an untimely end and rests now in the vehicle heaven. She got a too close encounter with a Ford on the highway and will not recover from her wounds. We are sad for the loss but also happy that some of her parts will live on and help other cars to survive.

Should you happen to live in or near Switzerland, the whole camping setup (without fridge, gas stove etc.) including the boxes, the matress and the inner tent will be for sale. It should fit any Renault Kangoo prior 2008 perfectly and might even fit similiar cars (VW Caddy, Peugeot Partner, Fiat Doblo, Ford Tourneo Connect, Citroen Berlingo, etc.) with some minor alternations. Feel free to contact me via PM.

Step 1: The Backside Box

All the wooden parts are made of 1.9cm (0.75inch) 3 layer wood sheets. The box is exactly as wide as the trunk of the car and reaches from the back door to the backside of the back seats. I divided the box into 3 parts. On the left side is a compartment for the kitchen box (coming later in the next steps). On the right side is an opening for the cooler. And in between is space for everything that doesn't fit somewhere else.
To be honest I would prefer the hole setup to be a bit lower to have a bit more space while sitting in the car, but space was limited due to the cooler (Waeco Tropicool TC-14FL). The cooler is mounted on a plate that rests on drawer linear bearings. Like this you can slide the cooler out to have access to it. To keep the cooler in place while driving there are magnetic locks on the back side of the plate that holds the cooler.

Step 2: The Frontside Box

The frontside box reaches from the backside box to the backside of the driver seat. But it's only half as wide as the backside box. If the setup is not in the sleeping position you can use both boxes as a sofa to read or chill out. On the ground it follows exactly the shape of the floor of my car.
The top of the box is connected through hinges and can be opened. While open it is kept in place by a gas pressure spring. It has an astonishingly large volume and I use it to store all my cloth and shoes for the trip. On top of the top of the box is a second wooden sheet mounted by hinges. While driving it rests on the box and while sleeping it is folded to the other side. Like this you'll have a completely even platform for your mattress. The second plate rests on two hardwood bars that are screwed to the backside box and to the extension board. The free end of this plate is reinforced on the free side with a hardwood bar.
The box is connected to the backside box (as well as to the extension) with 3 t-nuts. This ensures a very easy and fast installation and disassembly of the setup.

Step 3: The Sleeping Extension

Because the platform of the backside box and the frontside box only is around 1.6m in length, I added an extension. To mount it you put the two front seats in the foremost position and tilt them to the front. On the vertical extension board are two triangle shaped wooden pieces that are mounted with hinges. Once they are opened, you can put the extension plate on top of it. This gives you a sleeping platform of approx. 1.4m by 2m. The vertical extension board is attached to the frontside box with 3 t-nuts. While driving, the extension plate can be stored between the front seats and the vertical extension board.

UPDATE: The extension board is one of the weakest parts concerning proper engineering. It would be best if it would just click in place like the headrest of a bed for the reading position. However, I just made a sketch on request that shows a bit better how I temporarily solved the attachment of the board. It works, but it's not beautiful... I additionally attached two metal brackets that prevent the extension board from tilting forward if uncarefully handled. Please feel free to make suggestions about how it could be solved more elegantly!

Step 4: The Mattress

We used an Ikea mattress (1.4m x 2m x 0.1m) and cut it into 4 pieces. The backside piece covers exactly the backside box. The middle pieces are slightly wider than the frontside box to make the sleeping platform a bit wider. All the pieces are placed in covers that can be taken off to be washed (custom sewed on the sewing machine of my girlfriend). The two middle pieces are connected with a velcro strip that ensures that both pieces stay together during the night. During the day the one middle piece that isn't used can be stored on top of the other middle piece or be used as a back cushion while hanging on the "sofa".

Step 5: The Kitchen Box

The kitchen box keeps everything for cooking (gas stove, pans, plates, knifes, spices, etc....). It fits perfectly into the left compartment of the backside box and is secured with a magnetic lock. If you pull it out completely you can place it on the ground to cook on. If you leave 10cm of it inside, you can use it as a table and cook directly on top of the box.

Step 6: The Anti-mosquito Inner Tent

If you want to cook under the open back door or want to keep the windows open while sleeping you might want to consider a solution against all the mosquitos. I designed a kind of inner tent that is rolled up during the day and lowered to the ground on the inside of the car during the night. It is partly made out of mosquito nets to ensure circulation of the air. On the side entry of the car it features a zip fastener like normal tents that helps entering and leaving the car while the tent is lowered. To mount it I have sewn a small plastic tube into the upper flap that can be clipped between the metal and the beginning and the plastic headliner. Where this wasn't possible I riveted small metal hooks (folded metal stripes) to the fabric that can be attached to the backside of the overhead compartments. During the day the rolled up tent is kept in place with 8 velcro straps.
This tent has worked perfectly and gives the camper a bit of a safari atmosphere. Make sure to plan enough time for this step. It takes a lot of time to sew so many things neatly together.

Step 7: Thermal Window Screens

If the temperature is too high or too low you will need a bit of insulation. We used the standard wind shield protector that you can buy and cut them to the size of the windows. With a bit of Duct tape as a liner and two sided velcro patches we attached them to the window. During the day they fit nicely into the compartments of the side doors.

Step 8: Back Door Spacer

While having the windows open during the night is convenient, if it rains too much water will enter the car. I built this little spacer to ensure fresh air while it rains. One side can be snapped into the one side of the locking mechanism and the other side fits into the door. Like this the door is approx. 10cm open but can be locked like it is closed. We tested it during a thunderstorm and everything was still dry in the morning.
It is basically a piece of hardwood with two holes in the sides. Two carabiners are fitted into these holes and secured with two screws. 
A very easy but very useful addition.

Update: It seems these instructions were not nearly accurate enough! :) I added a sketch to make things clearer.
Make shure to check on your car what type of locking mechanisms is used. In my case, the carabiner matches the size of the metal loop that you can see in the picture. Because of this, the carabiner on the door side can snap into the closing mechanism in the door and thus secure the door when locked. To open it again, you simply unlock the door and use the door lever like you would without the spacer. Since the gap is wide enough to let air in, but small enough to prevent one to stick a hand through and open the carabiner, it keeps you safe and breathing at night. :)

Step 9: Battery Guard and Gas Alarm System

To ensure that the cooler doesn't kill the car battery, I used a standard battery guard and attached two 12V DC sockets. For safety reasons I also attached a gas alarm that detects the gas from the stove (Butan/Propan) as well as most narcotic gases. However, the battery guard begins to cycle once the battery runs low thus starting and stoping the cooler all the time. I'm in the process of building one on my own with an arduino as a CPU that will not cycle once the battery runs low. This will be featured in an upcoming instructable.

Step 10: Complete

After 9 days I have a very comfortable micro camper that keeps you dry and warm during the night and is nice to drive. My girlfiend and I tested it thoroughly during a trip through Germany and Poland and are still perfectly happy with it.. Maybe some of it inspires you to build your own driveable fort! :)

And in case of a zombie apocalypse.... you never know!

Step 11: Major Upgrade... Berta Got Even Fatter

For her second big journey, this time through southern Sweden, we made some improvements that I won't fail to share with you. Some are tiny and seem unimportant , but we learned that they make living in our Berta much more pleasant. We hope that they may inspire you. As you might have noticed, we added a roof rig and a ski box to take an inflatable kayak with us and to have a bit more space for our gear. Since Berta didn't come with the original roof rails that are needed to attach cross bars for the box and we weren't able to find any for sale, we bought a roof rack that was initially meant for constructions workers to transport their material. However, it gives Berta some expedition character and worked perfectly well for securing the box to the roof. And in comparison to some expedition vehicles we met on the road, she still has such a tiny foot print.

Step 12: Upgrade: Improved Kitchen Box

In terms of weight, the kitchen box uses a bit too heavy materials. So I cut away some sections that are simply not needed at all and that makes it much easier to handle and put into the car.

In the middle of the kitchen box, where initially there was just a plastic box, sits now a custom tailored box that carries a water container as well as all the food that doesn't need to be cooled. When you slid the box out of the slot, it stays there and you can tap water with ease. This is especially helpful when trying to wash your hands or filling a pot for pasta.

The top of the stove compartment got an aluminium inlet that makes it heat resistant when cooking as well as some foot holds for the stove to stand more securely and more stable. As you can see in the last picture we secured the whole system with some straps to the tie down points to make it more save should we ever have an accident. This will prevent the boxes from flying to the passengers.

Step 13: Upgrade: Sleeping Extension

I really wasn't happy with the way the sleeping extension has to be deployed. It worked quite well but was annoying to put in place. I changed that with two heavy duty self locking brackets. You can reach through the hand holes and disengage the locking mechanism and it will fold down flat. To put it into the sleeping position you simply have to pull it up and it will stay in place. Nice and easy.

Step 14: Upgrade: Thermal Screens 2.0

This is probably the cheapest addition, but the one we are most proud of. Initially we secured the thermal flaps with velcro points that were glued to the windows. To drive we had to remove them and store them in the door compartments.

The new system just needs some thermal foil (we used those cheap ones that should prevent the front window from freezing during winter), some small magnets and Duct-Tape. Trace the shape on the window on the foil, cut it out and line the edges with Duct-Tape. Then attach two magnets with two Duct-Tape strips to the top of the foil. The top magnets should look straight up. The bottom magnets should angle slightly outward, so they look out of the burrito if you roll the foil up to the top.

While driving the top magnets hold the foil fast and the bottom magnets keep the foil from unwinding again (second picture). Sounds a bit complicated but once you tried it you will like it. If you want to sleep simply tug on the roll and the lower magnets will secure it to the window frame. Saves precious time that you can use to watch the sunset.

Step 15: Upgrade: Direct Light, Ambi-Light and Battery Guard Switch

Having a nice source of warm light improves the feel in the car tremendously. Since I already had a battery watch dog installed, I simply attached three LED spots from IKEA to the bottom of the airplane style roof boxes. They are very flat and can be glued or screwed to the plastic nicely. They are meant for main power, but if you read the specs of the power supply they work with 12V DC. Perfectly for a car appliance.

To switch the lights on and off I installed a few tiny rocker switches that can be easily reached even when the inner tent is down.

Since I had a length of 12V RGB Led strip laying around I installed that too. I put it into the groove between the roof boxed and the ceiling. I drilled tiny holes through the plastic of the boxes and used zip ties to attach the led strip to the boxes. You can use a remote to dim the light and to make it shine in any color you want. The light doesn't come directly down but illuminates the ceiling with a very nice soft light. A bit over the top, but surely nice to have!

Finally the battery guard got his own rocker switch as well.

Step 16: All Has an End. Even Fat Berta.

Berta met an untimely end and rests now in the vehicle heaven. She got a too close encounter with a Ford on the highway and will not recover from her wounds. We are sad for the loss but also happy that some of her parts will live on and help other cars to survive.

We thought long and hard about buying again the same car but decided it's time to move on. And we already have the new one in our garage. She's still white. And we pretend that she got treated with steroids during her recovery and resembles now astonishingly a Skoda Yeti 1.6 TDI. The old camping setup doesn't fit into her and plans for a new sleeping setup are already in the sketching phase. So stay tuned for a new instructable showing how to do that:

https://www.instructables.com/id/Skoda-Yeti-MicroCamper-Fat-Berta-30/

The camping setup was sold and lives now (hopefully) happily in a red Kangoo. Different blood type didn't seem to affect the transplantation of the organs.

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242 Comments

Thank you very much for sharing your ideas. I am about to embark on a conversion and I was most impressed by your genius idea for air flow through the back!

Glad you liked it and please post pictures should you build something!

What an amazingly uplifting story - looking forward to getting my 'new' Berlingo and using some of your ideas. My old B van got written off last week and this gives me an opportunity to start again with a car version. Thanks and good luck, Nik

Thanks, and good luck with the new one.

Plans for a yeti skoda?! Yes please!!! I own one and your expierences turning into a micro camper would be awsome!

Hi brunoaco

The instructable for the Yeti Camper just went online.

Wow, that was fast! Thanks so much for the excellent new guide.

thanks a bunch!

Hi bruno

I didn't have internet for the last 3 weeks because I moved my flat and things are still a bit chaotic. I hope I find the time during winter to make that 'ible. The conversion is really nice and was already in France for a few weeks. To make the wait for the 'ible a bit nicer I added some pictures... :)

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 08.57.59.pngScreen Shot 2015-10-26 at 09.38.20.pngScreen Shot 2015-10-26 at 09.33.38.pngScreen Shot 2015-10-26 at 09.33.47.png

Any news on your Yeti camper conversion? I have just bought one, and am keen to do something like that. Maybe I'd make the back box first, but how tall should it be? And what did you do about the midsection, which had a kind of sofa in the Berlingo version?