Car Camping: Top Things to Consider When Building Your Platform Bed

Table of contents

1. Back Seats or No Back Seats?

2. How We Designed Our Platform Bed

3. Car Organization: Planning the Platform Bed Footprint


You have decided to go on a road trip, and you want to build a platform bed in the back of your car. Do you know where to begin? One thing I can tell you is to not start with building the platform bed first. There are other things you need to consider before the build.

The problem, though, is that if you don’t build the bed first, you may end up maneuvering your stuff like a really frustrating jigsaw puzzle. Where to place everything and how to get it all in and out of the car must be at the forefront of your build. The worst thing you can do is create the perfect platform bed and then realize you can’t fit all your stuff inside. However, there are things you can do to ensure that you have a good system in place to live happily out of your car. You can also read our Essential Guide to Car Camping: 8 Things to Consider to give you some ideas of what life is like on the road as it will help with your planning.

The design of our platform bed was based on our 2002 Honda CR-V. If you have a different car, don’t worry – the concepts are the same, but you may have more or less room to work. Fortunately, after reading this blog post, you should get a better sense of how to design it before you build it.

Car camped in the desert

Back Seats or No Back Seats?

One of the biggest decisions is to decide if you will take out the back seats of your car. We knew from the start that we would take our seats out. For us, since we are two people and we were going to live out of our car for at least five continuous months, it didn’t make sense to keep them in. You don’t have to remove them, but that means you will have less room to store your belongings, which is okay if you plan for it.

The other possibility, if you are only one person, is to take out the larger rear seat and leave the smaller one in (our car has that 60/40 split, like most). Fold the smaller rear seat like you normally would and you can put your stuff around it. The bigger seat that you remove will become the place where you build your platform bed. Maybe you even remove the passenger front seat and just have the driver’s seat and the rear passenger seat.

By the way, it was super easy to take out both seats. I think there were a total of eight bolts. YouTube it first as the bolts are spring loaded and you need to be prepared for it.

Another reason we took out our back seats was to bolt the platform bed directly into the car using the rear seat's existing holes. We knew it needed to be able to handle the open road for thousands of miles and we wanted to have the platform bed bolted into the frame of the car for safety. We also wanted it to last the distance from California and back to NY. Spoiler alert: We drove 12,000 miles over five months and loved sleeping in our car and living out of our car.

With that decision out of the way, here are more things to consider when planning your platform bed.

How We Designed Our Platform Bed

Our platform bed design was broken down into three sections: front, middle, and back (boot). We used piano hinges bought at Home Depot to separate the three sections to make it easy to access our storage containers from the front and the back as well as take advantage of the full length of our car.

Drive Mode

When in drive mode, the front section is folded completely over onto the middle section. Because we need to adjust our front seats back and forth, you need to make sure that the middle section doesn’t get in the way of allowing your front seats to go back.

Building platform in car

Sleep Mode

When in sleep mode, the design requires us to push our front seats all the way up with the seats leaning forward, so we can’t drive this way. We unfold the front section of the platform bed and attach the legs by pushing large bolts, used as pins, to take the legs on and off every time. Of course, this means that we must set up our bed every night to use the total length of the car. For more information on how to get a good night’s sleep, check out our post: A Beginners Guide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep While Car Camping.

The middle section was bolted into place using the bolts where the rear car seats were located. For this section, we used four legs to hold the bulk of our weight and to balance the platform.

The back section of the car also has a piano hinge that is lifted to gain access to our things from the back. Our car has a back door that swings open from left to right, so we needed to position our legs not to interfere with the opening and closing of our back door. Most cars these days have back doors that lift from bottom to top, so this may not be an issue for you.

Once you know the dimensions of your car, you can start planning the footprint of where everything will be placed. I would suggest that you sketch out the car, keeping in mind that you will have legs on your platform bed that could get in the way.

Car Organization: Planning the Platform Bed Footprint

Here are the big items we had in the bottom of our car: seven storage containers, a mini-fridge (or cooler), a large lithium battery power station, 3qt Instant Pot, and a water unit. It’s easy – and much more fun – to rush into building the platform, but having this stuff planned out will ensure that you can maneuver your things in and out of your car.

Placement of Our Storage Containers

The first thing we did was create a system where we had a place for everything, and everything went back to the same place. Being organized is the reason for doing this as it’s not like living at home where you have room to maneuver. When you wake up in the morning or when you are getting ready for bed, there are dozens of things you need to do, and having a good system memorized will make it less frustrating for you.

Here is how we placed our containers, starting from the front to the back:

  • The first two containers were side-by-side in the back seat footwells with a slim container that acted like a garbage can in the middle of them. These two containers were filled with Liza’s clothes on the driver's side and my clothes on the right side. We used travel packing cubes to organize and hold all our clothes, including purchasing shoe bags to hold our shoes.

  • The next two containers were accessed by opening the back doors and pulling the containers out. The driver’s side container held cleaning supplies, extra toiletries, bungee cords, and tools. The right side held cooking tools like our collapsible grills, aluminum foil, cast iron pan, collapsible mixing bowl, and colander.

  • The next containers were accessed from the rear of the car. To access these containers, we lifted the back section of the platform bed on the hinge and hooked it to the interior roof of our car. These containers were the most difficult to access because there were things in front of them and they were partially under the middle of the platform bed. Both containers held all our dry food, some booze, and plant-based liquids. The purpose of the plant-based liquids is that they don’t require refrigeration prior to opening, like coconut milk and creamer.

  • The last section of our platform bed had our top-loading refrigerator, our everyday food bag, a large lithium battery that powered the refrigerator, and our five-gallon water container with a spigot. The everyday food bag was a large reusable supermarket bag that had a box inside. Because we often went into this bag, we set it up so we could pull it out easily at the campsite. It held the following items:

  • reusable plates

  • bowls and cups

  • cutlery, knives for cutting meats/vegetables

  • Tupperware containers and reusable storage bags

  • breakfast food like oatmeal, almond butter, and coffee

How to Puzzle Everything in the Car

Now that you know where we put our containers and what we put in them, you need to decide how you will organize your car from a fit perspective. One thing you can do is find cardboard boxes that are the same size as your storage containers and place them in your car. If you can’t find the exact size, then cut and create them. This includes creating cardboard boxes that will mimic your refrigerator (or cooler) and everything else. Practice getting things in and out of your car a couple of times to ensure that you have the right heights mapped out for your platform bed design.

Once you know these measurements, don’t throw out those boxes – bring them home and place the stuff you are considering taking on your trip to make sure that they fit your stuff.

Living out of our car was one of the best experiences we’ve had together. And planning and building our platform bed was fun. Figuring out what stuff to bring isn’t easy because you want to find things that don’t take up too much space and you need to fit everything. To help you out a little more, look at some of our other posts on car camping like A Beginners Guide to Car Camping Cooking: 4 Things to Consider When Cooking Outside. This post helps by going over ways to make it easier to cook and clean. Have fun building your platform bed!

Couple on front of car with platform

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