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.

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Step 1: 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

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

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

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

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

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.



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    43 Discussions


    3 years ago

    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!!


    3 years ago

    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.


    3 years ago

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

    Doc Holliday

    4 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    4 years ago on Step 6

    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

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Step 6

    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.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    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?


    5 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    6 years ago on Step 6

    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!

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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?

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    6 years ago on Introduction

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


    7 years ago on Step 6

    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?

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Step 6

    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 ....


    6 years ago on Introduction

    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.

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


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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.