Depending on your level of handiness, there are about a zillion different ways to turn a truck camper into a cozy, home-away-from-home living room. I’ve done multi-week road trips with just a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag thrown over the corrugated metal bed of an old Toyota pickup, but I can’t say that I recommend that. On the other extreme, lots of people build elaborate wooden sleeping platforms that wouldn’t be out of place in an Architectural Digest spread. If you have the time and the skills for that, well, I envy both of those qualities.

Here’s an easy way to build a foundation for a cozy-as-a-living-room space in the bed of your truck. This guide is based on the second-generation Toyota Tacoma longbed, which is what I have. You could build the exact same thing for the shortbed, but unless you’re about five feet tall, you’ll have a hard time sleeping back there.

I split the difference on my setup, valuing flexibility and ease of installation. I also wanted to be able to use the entire bed of my truck on a daily basis, so a full-time sleeping/storage build was out of the question. It took a bit of research in camper forums to hit on the right blend of simple and stable. Couple slats, a plywood platform, and voila: storage below, with sleeping area above. No hammering necessary. My favorite part about this setup is that when I get home from a truck camping trip, the whole thing easily pops right out of the truck, and the bed is ready for normal truck stuff again. And if everything was nailed together, you’d have to store an unwieldy contraption. This way I just have to slide a couple thin pieces of wood to the side of the garage.

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To follow my recipe, you will need:

  • One Toyota Tacoma, model years 2005 – 2015 with the six-ft bed, and fitted with a camper shell
  • Two 2″ x 8″s
  • Two pieces 3/4″ plywood measuring a total of 57″ in width, and 73″ in length (side notches are to accommodate the cubby holes in the bed. In my case, the two pieces are different widths, but they add up to 57″).
  • All-weather carpeting

The beauty of this setup is in the simplicity. It takes all of 45 seconds to remove or install the platform. Plastic gear bins, a surfboard or two, possibly some fishing poles, you name it, fits below the platform. My wife and I are both over six feet tall, and because the platform elevates the sleeping surface above the wheel wells, we can comfortably sleep up there, with everything we need for a week on the road packed neatly away below us. If I’m traveling alone, I can bring only the narrower side of the platform to sleep on, which leaves room for me to sit on the bed of the truck, my back resting against one of the supporting planks. A nice cozy place to sit out a rainstorm. We throw a three-inch thick natural latex foam mattress over the platform, and it’s as comfortable an outdoors setup as you’re likely to find.

Obviously, the customization potential is off the charts. You can install hinges toward the cab end of the platform so that you can open a little door to get to things packed far from the tailgate. If your camper shell is insulated—and it really should be—you can attach velcro strips to hang curtains, string lights, install fishing rod holders, whatever you like. These little lanterns from Black Diamond are lightweight, and can be hung from hooks attached to the ceiling, or just tossed in the corner to add soft lighting. The tailgate is the perfect kitchen counter. I like to set up a propane stove on the tailgate, and then I hang a small curtain between the stove and the sleeping area to keep frying, oily smells from getting in my sleeping bag and clothes.

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While there are some truly breathtaking truck camper setups out there, unless you’re in a place to permanently convert the back of your truck to a sleeping area—in which case, you’d be better off with a van anyway—being able to quickly throw this platform together and take it apart makes impromptu truck camping trips even easier.

Camp Notes is a big high five to the fun of sleeping outdoors and all that comes along with it. You know, camping and stuff.

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