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

Step 1: 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?

Step 2: Slap It Up in the Van

Slap it up! Well, let's take our time and do a decent job. Avoiding light leaks is key, or else what's the point.

I started by measuring up and making a cardboard template - not pictured. Then I cut the reflectix to fit.

I did the next part at night so I could easily check for light leaks.
I taped it up and started sticking 1" velcro strips in the corners and working inwards to see how much would be required. The corners were not enough, so I stuck more strips in the spots where any light got out until it was completely invisible.

The second pic shows the placement of the strips that kept the light in. A bit uneven, but it was necessary to do it that way to contain the light.

Then, you will realise some of the strips aren't sticking that well. Carefully take off the reflectix, holding the van sides of the strips down while you do, and then smooth the strips down really solidly to the van.

Put the reflectix back up and don't mess with it. The strips take 24 hours to cure.

Step 3: Done! and a Few More Things You Can Do.

Here's a night-mode pic from outside the van with the dome light on. Note how no light is visible from the left side with the blackout curtains.

A few more things you can do:

You can see the reflectix in the pic here and in the first pic. It is reflecting the flash in the first, and here it is reflecting the street-light.

In real life, it's quite hard to see unless you stand beside the van and give it the eyeball. However, if your windows are less tinted than mine, you may want to spray it black on the outside. I'm leaving it shiny for now in hopes of getting a slightly higher insulation value during the day.

The inside is very shiny. While it does boost light levels inside greatly, it's a little hard on the eyes. My girlfriend claims she will paint something cool on them, so it will look more like home.

While I was working on the left side window, quite a few people walked past on the sidewalk (the right curtain was already done). I watched them, and nobody gave the van a first glance, let alone a second glance.



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    38 Discussions

    Mr. Morbid

    11 years ago on Introduction

    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!

    9 replies
    RectifierMr. Morbid

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 3 years ago

    Try attaching the velcro with aluminum pop rivits with backing washers.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    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

    PKMMr. Morbid

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    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".


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    3 years ago on Introduction

    Hi. Good work. This is what I did (just a bit different)...

    First of all, my van windows are tinted (factory default).

    Second, I found 24"x50" reflectix-style window sunshades at the dollar store and bought one for each window, except front seat driver area, which is divided with an installed retractable dark light-blocking curtain. I used mollybolt hooks on the side posts of the van just behind the seats to mount the curtains (which have all tops over the pockets to block light above the rod).

    I cut the pieces to fit snugly in each window then attached velcro. I masked the velcro then painted the outside of each "shade" a matt black (two coats) and let dry thoroughly. They are easy to remove and put up as needed. With my DVD player and the curtain behind the front seats, I have a great place to watch movies in bed.

    After installing, I added noseeum netting "screen doors" (with strong magnets sewn in) to each sliding door side for deployment whenever doors are open.

    Repurposing an old tent and screen room, I made a silnylon sleeve to attach over the open back hatch and use velcro to attach THAT to my tent and screen room onto the back of the van. I now have a stealth van, cross ventilation for when I am in a capable area, and an extra 170 sq ft of living space in my tent (my portable kitchen slides out from under the platform bed I built in the back. There is also a deployable lovable loo for necessities.

    For convenience and environmental control I have solar panels, two deep cell batteries, and a low-wattage DIY swamp cooler that stows away when not needed.

    As I have a luggage rack, there is tons of storage atop for camping purposes, keeping the inside of my van and bed clear.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    1 reply

    11 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    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.

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I am converting my 1987 Toy Van Cargo 4X4.

    The high top is now fixed (it's nice!).

    second: the interior, I am doing it during next weeks. Cargo don't have windows on the sides. I will install a removable piece of "Corroplast" easy to remove, if I want it.

    Behind the cockpit (front seats) a black piece of Corroplast (easy to cut and fold). Isolation will be with foam (1") after the aluminium isolant and finition by a thick ten-test covered with grey suede (sold to insonorisation for thin floor). Cheap materials, efficience and efficacity. When I will go on regular camping, I already renovated a small fiberglass Boler (Scamp) and add a shower and a chemical toilet, easy to tow (1000 pounds approx). Pics to come...


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    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.