Pickup truck bed sleep and storage systems have been around for a while now, especially among people in the outdoors community. If you are looking to travel and adventure then you have to cut costs in one way or another. Most often it’s housing costs and those can be cut by using your vehicle as your housing. Even better, pick up trucks have long been regarded as one of the better vehicles to live out of (aside from a van) because you can build a sleep and storage platform in the bed. Forget making that reservation at a Motel 6, or checking Couch Surfing to see if there’s a place you can crash on your way to your destination. Just sleep in your vehicle.
My friends and I recently did a cross-country trip from Upstate New York to Sedona, Arizona. Along the way we visited my friends from study abroad in Washington, D.C. and slept in our cars in Walmart parking lots. I like to think of the option of sleeping in a Walmart parking lot as the only good thing about Walmart.
In preparation for the trip, my friend Jon knew that he would have to build a sleeping and storage system in the bed of his 2000 Ford Ranger. I had mentioned that I had a cousin who’d built a platform system in his Ranger and that I knew many other people in the outdoors community have done the same thing. Since he had gotten a used truck bed cap for a hundred bucks off of Craigslist when he got the truck back in the fall, he already had a roof over his head. Jon looked up ideas, sketched out a design, and I showed up with tools in hand ready to get some work done. Despite the 25 degree weather with a chance of snow, we simply flipped the bird to the weather and set out to make a kick-ass sleeping and storage system in the back of his pickup. As we pulled out the saws, drills, squares and all of the supplies, flashbacks from when I was younger and built a tree fort in the back yard surfed through my head. The hours I spent watching home improvement and DIY shows also floated around in my head, and I will admit that I was somewhat stoked to put some of those tips and tricks to use.
We started with the main sleeping platform and storage area. Jon scored some extra ⅝’’ plywood that was laying around from his employer and ended up with enough to build out the entire system. All he had to buy was the hardware and extra sheet of plywood in case we ran short. With two vertical plywood boards running the length of the bed (from cab to tailgate), we fastened them with ‘L’ brackets to a backboard at the cab-end of the bed and a horizontal stability board along the tailgate-end of the bed. Next came the two dividing walls, cut to height so that the lids would lay on top of the walls and lay flush in height with the two main bed-length walls. After some trial and error–truck beds have many curves and uneven areas to account for–we were soon on our way to installing the lid system. Plywood strips served as supports for the lids. Two hinges on the lid closest to the truck cab would allow Jon to later install a lock so that he could secure his valuables. The other two lids were designed with finger holes cut into them to be removable for easy insertion and removal.
Now, I must take a moment and say that I just made this all seem very easy. But don’t let my play-by-play deceive you, because this actually took us a good 4 or 5 hours. We battled the cold, and confronted our lack of experience and the irregularities that can be found when building something in a truck bed. It’s always easier in your mind and on paper, I guess.
The following weekend we hit the garage again with the mission to finish the build out. After we ate some greasy diner food to cure a hangover from too much beer, tequila, and wine the night before, we began to build out the sides of the main platform so that the entire truck bed would be covered and not just the middle section that we built the weekend before. At this point in the project, the bed of the truck began to win the battle against us. We came up with a couple of designs to create a support system for the lids that would still allow for maximum storage space. We twiddled our thumbs in the complexity of those ideas and then almost threw in the towel. We decided to start from square one after we threw out our second idea and we realized that our solution had been in front of us all along. Two hours of fiddling and cursing, and it was right in front of us. Truck beds are engineered to hold cross boards in them. Few people choose to use them, but there are ledges that can hold two-by-fours in the bed to span from side to side. Once we realized that we could have a vertical support perpendicularly extend from the main platform to the support ledges of the bed, it was like we had just rounded a bend of a trail and saw the summit of the mountain in sight. We immediately switched into work mode; we cut the boards to length and customized each support with an angle cut that attempted to match the angle of the support ledge of the bed. A couple of hours later and a few inches of snow on the ground, with temperatures that were too cold for the drills’ batteries to charge, and us with cold fingers and feet, the support system for the sides of the platform was in place. We had moved along at a good pace but we still finished in the dark, too cold and tired to finish the lids for the outer sections. Jon finished the lids later that week.
He topped off the platform with a scrap piece of memory foam that he was able to get at a local foam supply company. Some R-Tech insulation Jon picked up at the local hardware store fastened to the inside of the bed cap with velcro offers some insulation and privacy curtains. Those were some clever ideas on his part.
On the Road
A couple of weeks later, Jon dropped his tail gate down, and badabing-badaboom, we had our kitchen for cooking dinner that first night of the road trip. In the lights and shadows of the Walmart parking lot in Nashville, Tennessee, Evan, Jon and I enjoyed some chili with rice and beans. We found ourselves in a similar situation the two nights that followed–in Oklahoma City and Albuquerque.
The system served Jon well on the cross-country drive and continues to serve him well, because he just slept in his truck last night so that my aunt could have the guest room. He’s able to store nearly all of his stuff in his truck bed or truck cab, including a two-burner camp stove, 5-gallon water jug, 5-gallon gas tank (for those long stretches across the west that it just might come in handy), his clothes, shoes, fishing poles, and other possessions.
The Radness Factor
I feel that it is awesome how a vehicle can serve as a home; a home that’s comfortable and practical. It may be even more awesome to realize how you can come to live a simpler life. Life may have fewer creature comforts, but the places you can see and the things you can do could be pretty epic. A sleep system does not have to be as intricate as Jon’s either, it could be a simple platform that is high enough to slide plastic containers underneath. There’s no need to go super extravagantly in design or spend copious amounts of money on the project. Have fun building something that meets your personal needs. Who knows, you might just love it enough to live out of your vehicle for quite some time.
Adventure on, my friends. Adventure on.