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SUV Camper Conversion
I love our SUV camper conversion, it’s been one of our best DIY projects yet!! It takes “glamping” to a whole new level and it makes our weekend camping trips so much easier. We no longer have to set up camp once we arrive because we’re sleeping inside our SUV, super convenient.
STEP ONE: SET YOUR PRIORITES
To determine your priorities, ask yourself some of the following questions:
- Is your SUV camper something you plan to use as a hobby or a part-time living situation?
- How often will you be using the SUV camper?
- How long of a trip do you plan to take in your SUV camper? Weekend trips, week long trips, month long trips? The duration of your trips will determine the items you’ll need to invest in and the overall layout of your SUV camper.
- Is camping a new hobby or something you’re already dedicated too? If you’re brand new to camping, it may be harder to determine you priorities and level of dedication to this new found hobby.
- What’s your budget for your SUV camper conversion? If camping is just a hobby, then you may want to keep this project budget friendly.
- What are some of the benefits of camping in an SUV (verse tent or backpack camping)? Everyone is looking into SUV conversions for different reasons. I personally just wanted a comfortable bed to sleep in, so that was my top priority.
- Have you ever camped in a campervan before? If you’ve never tried a campervan, then I suggest renting a campervan before spending a ton of money on your conversion. We rented from Escape Campervans and it inspired us to move forward with our SUV camper conversion.
Our SUV campervan is a hobby and not a lifestyle, which is our main priority. Since it’s a hobby, we focused on keeping our SUV camper conversion budget friendly. SUV camper conversions can go from budget friendly to expensive very quickly. Some people spend thousands of dollars on their SUV camper conversions and we just don’t have that kind of cash laying around. If we were living out of our SUV, then we would definitely invest in the extra items and upgrades.
Since our SUV camper conversion is only used as a hobby, we wanted our SUV camper to easily transform back into a regular SUV. We didn’t want anything permanently attached to the SUV because we use it on a regular basis (as an SUV not a camper). The ability to transform back into a regular SUV was a major factor in our design and plans.
STEP TWO: RESEARCH AND DESIGN
There are a million different SUV camper conversions available online. Research using google, youtube, tiktok, instagram, pinterest, etc. Start making a list of all of the ideas that interest you and then keep searching. Research is going to be the most important part of this process. You don’t want to commit to an idea and then find an awesome youtube tutorial a week later. You can even search for your specific vehicle (example: Yukon camper conversion) to find some inspiration. I got a ton of my ideas from the Facebook Group SUV/Car Living & Camping Women Only. Unfortunately it’s only for women, sorry gentleman. There’s also the Facebook Group DIY Campervans but I found better ideas in the women only group (probably because it’s specific to SUV and Car Camping). Once you’re added to a group, search the group for your specific vehicle or question for inspiration.
Once you’ve done plenty of research, start designing your SUV camper conversion. Get some basis sketches done and remember your priorities from step one. You may want to have phases for your SUV camper conversion depending on time and money.
STEP THREE: MEASURE, MEASURE, MEASURE
Now that you have a general design, it’s time to start measuring your SUV for the build. Measure, then measure again, then measure again. You need to maximize the space in your SUV, you don’t want any “dead space”. To maximize the space, you’ll need to take very careful measurements.
STEP FOUR: BUILD
We only built a bed for our SUV camper conversion. Just a bed, that’s it. Remember we wanted our SUV camper to be able to transform back into a regular SUV. We didn’t want a kitchen or couch or drawers or anything. We kept it basic and if we ever decide to upgrade later, then we always have that option.
Our bed is amazing and I’m so glad my husband found this design online. I wanted something different but I’m glad we went with his idea instead. Our bed completely collapses down and is easily stored in our garage when not in use. It’s so easy that I can set it up by myself, check out this video below:
Here is a photo of our bed design:
Start with a simple rectangular frame that is half the width of your overall bed. Cut another piece of wood (same length) and lay it next to the frame. This second piece of wood will be the “movable” piece with the red screws (see image below). Cut boards for the width of your bed and space them apart using a scrap piece of wood (see image below). You don’t want the boards to be touching because they’ll need to move easily as you’re setting up the bed.
Notice we attached the boards to the frame with the following pattern: red screws on the movable piece only, purple screws on both sides of the rectangular frame. It’s so hard to describe, honestly the pictures and videos are probably easier to understand than my ramblings.
Once we had the overall frame set up, then we attached the legs to the base using these foldable leg brackets. We ordered several different types of foldable leg brackets but we felt like these were sturdy and easy to use.
Once we had the bed frame complete, we ordered our camper mattress and set everything up. Our SUV camper mattress isn’t a normal mattress, it’s much thinner since we’re trying to save on space. Remember researching, planning, and measuring are super important in your SUV camper conversion. You probably don’t have room for an 8 inch mattress, plan accordingly. We love our camper mattress, it feels like a hotel mattress. It’s not as comfy as our regular mattress but it’s 100 times better than a camping cot or air mattress.
STEP FIVE: WINDOWS
There are four reasons to cover up your windows: one is for privacy, two is for insulation, three is to keep the bugs out, and four is to block out the sun as you’re trying to sleep. We have a few different methods for covering up our windows and I recommend investing in all of them. They’re fairly inexpensive and help make your camping trip much more comfortable.
In the summer we use window mesh shades over the doors as we open the windows to let in a nice breeze. It can get super hot with the windows up so rolling down the windows can help with temperature control. We don’t want to let bugs in while the windows are down so we use these window mesh shades to keep the bugs out.
The mesh shades don’t block out the sun (or creepers), so sometimes we use black out curtains to block the sunlight. You can order black out curtains and cut them to fit your windows or you can go to the fabric store and order black out fabric. There are several different methods to attach the curtains to your SUV. You can use suction cups or velcro or wires. We used binder clips, no joke binder clips. We didn’t want to make anything permanent in our SUV conversion and the binder clips work like a champ. We just clip the curtains in place at night and take them down while we’re on the road.
In the winters we want to keep the SUV insulated so we cover the windows with reflective foil insulation. I taped a piece of reflective foil insulation to the outside of the SUV window and traced around the window using a sharpie. I was be able to feel the indentation of the window to trace along the window frame. I then cut along the outline I’d drawn and placed the cutout on the inside of the window. Once I had all of the cutouts complete, I numbered the cutouts with my sharpie. I started at the driver window (number 1) and worked my way around the SUV. The numbers help me know where each cutout goes, otherwise it can be hard to match up.
STEP 6: ORGANIZE
Keeping things organized is super important when camping out of your SUV. You need to be able to get to things easily and know where everything’s located. We use two plastic storage bins to hold the majority of our camping supplies. One bin is for cooking supplies and the other bin is for general camping supplies. Some people prefer several smaller storage drawers so it’s whatever works best for you.
One of my favorite things we use for organization is our cargo net. We use it for all of those last minute items we forgot to pack! “Don’t forget to grab some extra batteries and my cell phone charger before we leave.” We also use our cargo net for items we want to get to quickly, like paper towels or snacks.
While you’re deciding how to keep everything organized, let’s talk about the cooler situation. We would’ve loved to pack up a yeti in our SUV campervan but it wouldn’t fit under our bedframe. Remember planning and measuring are the most important steps! We finally found the Reylou cooler and it fits perfectly under our bed frame. We’re able to fit the cooler and our two storage bins under half of the bed frame. The other half we use for camping chairs, clothes, groceries, etc. We try to keep the top of the bed empty, so it’s easy to climb into bed at night.
STEP 7: PLAN A PRACTICE TRIP
I always recommend taking a small practice trip when you’re trying out new camping gear. We wanted to do a test run to see how we did in our designs and determine what we needed to fix before planning a big trip. The main thing we learned on our practice camping trip was that our bed was way too high. It was really hard to get into at night so we came home and chopped an inch off the legs. It’s a million times better now!
STEP 8: CONTINUE TO UPDATE
Every time you camp, you’re going to learn new things about your set up. You’re going to reorganize things and learn from those around you. Keep updating your setup and over time you’ll find the perfect system that works for you.