Build a Bed in the Back of Your Van




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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.

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Step 1: 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

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

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!

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.
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    46 Discussions

    Phaedra Chaney

    Question 1 year ago

    Do you recommend making any rear end adjustments to accommodate the extra weight of the wood and a futon?

    1 answer
    ModMischiefPhaedra Chaney

    Answer 1 year ago

    I don't think the bed is any heavier than the passenger seats we removed.


    3 years ago

    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.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    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!

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    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"


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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.


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


    8 years ago on Step 3

    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.

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Step 3

    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.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    8 years ago on Step 2

    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

    8 years ago on Introduction

    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!