My earlier post about sleeping in my van reminded me of a series of images I took when I was using a  For Explorer as my adventure vehicle. I used to work at summer camps, which involved living out of my Ford for a few weeks at a time each summer. I thought I’d share the solution I created for car camping with this setup. This wouldn’t work for sleeping and driving, but is great for MicroAdventuring and sleeping in your car. It’s a great way to stealth camp in parking lots and side streets.

The basic problem that I needed to fix is that the bed of the Explorer is just a couple inches too short for me to stretch out all the way and sleep (I’m not quite 5’7″). I needed a sleeping platform that would lift me up over the barrier of the back seats (the part that sticks up when they are folded forward). There are a ton of really cool projects online for how to do this all stylish-like (search for “truck sleeping platform” if you’re curious) but I needed something really easy and low-tech because I can only hold two numbers in my head at a time and I get frustrated with a project if I have to, like, plan it out ahead or anything. (Just one of the reasons that Preston and I don’t work well together on projects like this.) I also wanted my platform to break down really easily so that I could still fit passengers in the truck if I needed to. So I created two simple boxes, sized so that, when stacked up, they fit into the very back of the truck with all the passenger seats available.

The legs are just 2x4s, cut to be the same length as the height of the edge of the bed in the front (you’ll see in future pics). The top is 3/4 inch plywood. Note that the top box has two layers of plywood on top. That’ll make sense in just a minute. Each leg is attached from on top of the plywood with two screws. The odd leg arrangement on the top box is to accommodate the wheel well on that part of the bed. The platform fits over the top of the wheel well, increasing usable space a little bit. Clothes and books fit nicely under the box, and the space under the second box is used to store the Thermarest and sheets and what-all when the boxes are arranged all compact-like. Laying the bed out is as easy as putting down the back seat and setting the top box down in front of the bottom one.

At this point, it’s only about 4 feet long, which obviously won’t do. And that’s where the second layer of plywood comes in.

There are hinges on the front of the top box that allows the top layer of plywood to swing forward and rest on the edge of the back seat. That’s why the legs of the boxes need to be the same height as that barrier. I’m actually using that edge as another set of legs to support the hinged piece of plywood. I know it’s hard to tell in the following picture, but the platform is now 6 feet long, and plenty long for me to rest comfortably and kick the covers around and what-all. The driver’s seat has to be tilted forward in order for the whole thing to fit, so I can’t drive with the bed down, but I don’t have to break it down completely. I can just fold up the hinged piece and have plenty of room for the driver’s seat to be comfortably arranged.

Because I am very lazy, I didn’t want to deal with sanding down the plywood, but I was worried that it would poke a hole in my thermarest, or scratch me up in my sleep, so I covered it with a warm, fleece cape that I made years ago and never use. Looks almost legit, doesn’t it? Also helps keep clothing and other items that are stored under the bed out of sight and looking a little tidier.

So then I roll out my Thermarest, throw a sheet over it all, and my pillows and sleeping bag on top of that, and it’s one of the more comfortable places I’ve ever slept, once I figured out how to manage parking spots. This one you pretty much have to click on to see the details.

I specifically designed the platform to be narrow enough that the other passenger seat could be up without breaking down the bed. That passenger seat is where my spinning wheel rides, buckled in for safety. 🙂

Then, I don’t have pictures, but the floorboard in front of the spinning wheel was where the food and cooking supplies (backpacking stove and nesting pots) went. There was plenty of room to keep a week’s worth of food in a box there. Coupla jars of rice goulash that I canned up one weekend and used to make burritos, a bag of mixed oats that I heated up for breakfast, some dried fruit, some pb and honey to put on tortillas, some canned fruit, a handful of biscuits that I made at home before I left, and let’s not forget the coffee singles! That left both front seats for whatever I needed to have out (books, my backpack, whatever), or to drive around with a passenger.

It was totally freaking awesome and I will never again be really all that stressed about being able to make the house payment 😉 Seriously, I could totally live this way semi-long-term and I would love to travel around the country with this setup. It would take a little more planning to get it to work for two people (and I’d probably have to stick with a drop spindle and leave the wheel), but it’s definitely do-able. If I was going to do it longer-term, i would make a couple simple adjustments to the platform:

1) Add braces to the legs. Any of you with any carpentry skill at all are probably cringing at the sight of those 9 inch long legs spindling around with no support but a couple of screws, and you’re right. While I didn’t have any middle-of-the-night disasters, the legs had started to work loose after two weeks, and there would have been a collapse eventually, when one just tipped sideways. Just a simple 45 degree connector from each leg to the plywood would make it last a lot longer.

2) Cut the cape down to the right size. You can’t see it in the picture, but it is oddly-shaped (you know, like a cape) and it was hard to keep it from bunching up awkwardly under the platform.

3) Add some way to attach the top box to the lower one when they are stacked in the back. It has an annoying way of tipping over when going around corners. If I was really using that as a shelving system while it was stacked, the constant tipping would be inconvenient.

3a) Add some sort of lower shelf to the top box, so that if I want to use it as a shelf, all the stuff can stay with it, whether it is stacked or extended. This could be as easy as attaching another piece of plywood to the four legs at floor level.

As far as the overall set-up, separate from the platform, I would invest in some sort of curtain set-up, and a sunshade for the windshield. The night that I spent in the Walmart parking lot, I felt like I was sleeping in a display window, since the platform is pretty much level with the bottom edge of the windows. For the most part, that wasn’t an issue this time, since I was sleeping in places like the private property that belongs to Wilderness Awareness School.

But obviously, if I was driving across the country, it wouldn’t always be possible to park in beautiful secluded cedar groves. And I would invest in some sort of system to keep the mosquitos out with the windows open. Some sort of velcro system and screen. Pretty simple fixes, all in all. I highly recommend it.