We wanted to sleep inside the van for safety, stealth mode and for convenience. We definitely toiled over what the best design should look like and had many frustrating moments and it took a lot of time trying to figure it out. The final design may not be perfect, but it is the best for the circumstances. We lost a bit of interior storage going with this design, but we gained more comfort for sleeping.
The variables we had to consider for the bed design included the following:
- Amount of headspace
- Interior storage space
- Fridge placement
- Ability to sit in the van while the bed is pulled out
- Ease of set up each night
- Complexity of the build out
- Mattress options
- Size of bed (width & length)
- Ability to access storage with bed open or closed
- Bed comfort
In the process of coming up with any design it seemed like we would gain in one variable and lose in another. It really came down to a game of setting priorities and figuring out what we could and could not live with. We decided that we had to have the following:
Enough head space to be able to sit on the bed and sit up right without hitting our heads on the ceiling. This must only leaves us 10.75” in height for the bed platform plus a 4” mattress. 10.75” was the absolute minimum height because our fresh water tank is 9.5” tall with all the venting and fill caps and that sits under the platform.
Room in the van to sit and open the bed with the doors closed. We need at least 12” from the back of the engine bump behind the front seats to the edge of the bed platform when it is pulled out. This means that our bed can only be 74-76 inches long from back door to the front edge of the bed.
Secondary priorities included:
A side cabinet for storage. In this priority we found a smaller fridge that will fit in a 10” wide cabinet. We already had purchased a bigger fridge, but it just wouldn’t fit anywhere in our plans. This will pull out on slides that will give us access from the slider door. Ideally, it would have been in the back, but there just wasn’t enough wiggle room to put it there. ** Update - After we received the roll over hinges we realized that we couldn’t put the fridge in that space so we move the fridge to hump behind the driver's seat.
Usable storage under the bed platform. We wanted to be able to access storage easily from the front and the back of the platform. Our new design incorporates a rollover hinge that extends our bed platform without having to move drawers or have other loose pieces floating around. It is so much better. Our friends @Couplefortheroad saved us on this one. Thank you so much for sharing where you found the rollover hinge!
Our first design looks nothing like our last design. We originally planned to have a cabinet from floor to ceiling in the back of the van that would have storage for our fridge, watering system, kitchen, and extra storage. The bed platform would have drawers that pull out the front to extend the bed to its full length. It was about 13” tall because we were trying to utilize the engine bump as part of the bed platform. This design allowed us to have a 52” wide by 77” mattress.
After building it, however, we realized that this platform left no room to stand or sit in the van when the bed was pulled out because it extended from the back cabinet all the way to the engine bump. In bad weather or rain, this would be really challenging to set up and be in the van at the same time. We also were not super happy with having to deal with loose boards floating around the van to lay over the drawers to complete the bed platform. Efficiency and ease is important in our final layout and this just wouldn’t do. Back to the drawing board.
The second platform we designed to be 17” high to accommodate our fridge under the bed platform. This design allowed us to have room to sit and move around, but only 25” of head space. We also gained more storage under the platform, but lost storage in the back. This also allowed for a 52” by 77” mattress. We built a mock up and slept on it for 2 weeks and hated it! Headspace is so important for the comfort of daily living and our sanity. We thought at this stage in the process that having a wider sleeping space was necessary, but since then have have learned that we can get by fairly comfortably with 48”.
That brings us to the next design. We were pretty much fed up with trying to fit all the components and a sleeping platform in the van that we tossed the idea of a sleeping platform altogether and started looking at hard roof top tents. We narrowed our search to AutoHome Columbus and James Baroud Discovery. We met with Pacific Overlander in San Francisco to see an Autohome in person and we really liked it. It fit all of our sleeping wants and needs. It was well built and of high quality materials. However, after researching how the additional weight and height would affect the van we decided against that option. Our van already is 84” tall and with the addition of the roof rack and the Autohome Columbus it would be 102” high. The effect on driving would certainly be detrimental as far as stopping power and acceleration. Plus we didn’t really want to have to worry about low lying branches, signs, or objects, etc causing damage to the topper on the journey. **This last bit has proved to be important for parking in safe places within cities.
And this brings us finally to our last design. This one we designed and built a cardboard model to see how the cabinet would interact with the bed platform. We meshed a few designs and found that while it is not perfect, it meets the two most important criteria we listed above: good headspace for sitting and room to lounge when the bed is pulled out. Colin cut all the wood and was getting ready to build when we discovered a new hinge that we had not seen before. It is a rollover hinge and allowed us to eliminate a not very efficient slider system. We ordered the hinge the same day we found it.
We quickly redesigned the last idea and found a system, we agreed, would make our lives a little more comfortable for the duration of the journey. Colin hiked the PCT back in 2008 and understands efficiency and quality of life more than anyone I know. His contribution to making this system essentially in the like mindedness of a thru hiker really has made this journey more enjoyable. The easier it is to set up and take down, the more enjoyable it will be to use it.
We don’t have any plans to offer or drawings for that matter. We were really fed up with the bed system at this point, we just pushed ahead. We made a final cut list and Colin started the build.
We used 5’x5’ ½” and ¾” Baltic birch plywood for the construction of the bed platform and the drawers. We sourced this from a local wood supplier because the big box stores don’t carry this material. We used Accuride slides and SouthCo pulls for the drawers.
I cannot underestimate the complexity of this project. Colin had to build the bed platform and integrate the following elements:
- Drawers on both ends
- Water tank storage
- Water pump and filtration storage
- Side shelves
- Shower valve and hose area
- Air compressor storage
- Mattress placement
- Attaching it all together
The fact that we were not building off of anything square also added to the time it took to build this project. Each element had different curvatures to follow and each piece needed to be removable in case of any repairs, leaks or electrical issues.
The simplified process looked something like this:
- Cut pieces on cut list
- Assemble, pin and glue
- Sand all pieces
- Cut holes for latches, hinges, etc.
- Finish with water based polyurethane
- Install slides
- Install latches
- Install pieces in correct order (pretty much a just like a puzzle)
We made our own stainless steel brackets to install the cabinets to the floor and the shelves to the wall/cabinet. The finished product looks great and as always Colin is a pro when it comes to woodworking and attention to details.