Lots of people have found my truck canopy camping build online and have replicated it themselves. But many have also reached out asking for more detailed plans or designs about how to build my DIY truck bed camper setup, which is something I couldn’t really provide… Until now!
I took advantage when I had my truck emptied out for cleaning and shot a video explaining how to build this DIY truck bed camper setup. I’ve also got the step by step instructions below and a decent (hey, I’m no artist!) sketch up of the layout that I used.
Hope you’re able to get a clear picture of everything… If not, ask away!
How to Build the Ultimate DIY Truck Bed Camper Setup
For just about $100 in lumber and an afternoon worth of work, you can build this DIY truck bed camper setup in the transformer style.
If you’re not familiar with the transformer style truck camper approach, it basically means allowing either the backshelf mode to maximize livability or the elevated sleeping platform mode for stealth camping and secure gear storage.
But I highly recommend building in a way that maximizes livable space.
On to the details… (Click for larger photos)
Here are my original brainstorming ideas prior to the build:
A rough sketch of what I actually ended up doing:
More detail of the overhead view:
More detail of the 3D view:
Building the Vertical Side Bins
Cut a 2×4 to fit the length of the truck. Hold the 2×4 up inside the truck where you want it to sit, mark out where the canopy clamps are located, and any other possible obstructions (the bedliner was slightly raised near the wheel wells).
Using a skill saw, notch out where the canopy clamps will sit, along with any other obstructions. The 2×4 where the canopy clamps sit were notched down to only one quarter of their original size. This has not been a problem in 52+ years.
Attach the notched out 2×4 to the side of the truck with the truck canopy clamps.
The 2×4 now attached to the truck may not be vertical. Take another 2×4 and mark the angle of the wood using the back wall of the truck (near the cab) as your guide to horizontal.
Measure how wide you want your vertical side bins to be… I made them as narrow as possible to maximize sleeping space. That meant measuring to just beyond the wheel well.
Cut the 2×4 which you marked to correct the angle to the appropriate distance. These will act as your vertical side bin braces.
Confirm that the angle and length of the 2×4 is correct. Then use that piece to trace out 2-3 more 2×4 cuts.
I used 3 short 2×4 braces through the length of my 6′ bed. One at the back, the front, and the middle. Screw these short 2×4 braces to the long 2×4 running the length of the bed.
Measure how high you want your vertical side bins. I’d recommend them being flush with the 2×4 height, or basically the height of your bed. Remember, if you’re doing the transformer style and want to sleep with your feet below the shelf that means you need sufficient height for the thickness of your bed and your feet.
Cut a length of 1/2″ plywood at that height and to run the length of your truck bed.
Using the 1/2″ gaps in my plastic bedliner, slide the sheet of plywood into the appropriate groove, and then screw the short 2×4 braces into the plywood.
Finally, measure the length of your truck bed, cut a 2×2 to that length. If using 1/2″ plywood for the sleeping platform (recommended), offset the 2×2 half an inch below the top of the vertical side (so the sleeping platform will sit flush). Screw the 2×2 to the vertical side bin.
Repeat this process for the other side of your truck. Boom. You’ve got two side bins that can support an elevated sleeping platform–the ultimate DIY truck camper setup, in my opinion.
On the side of my truck where I had electrical access (cigarette lighter adapters connected to my truck battery–ideally a dual battery and isolator setup), I decided to install a tabletop that runs nearly the length of the truck bed.
I highly recommend a tabletop. With that decision though, you may want to cut out a small access panel in that vertical side bin so you can reach things that otherwise might be inaccessible.
DIY Truck Camping Sleeping Platform
Measure the length of your truck and the width of your bed between the vertical side bins. Cut a sheet of 1/2″ plywood to fit. Pro tip: the width near the cab and the width near the tailgate might be slightly different. Measure twice, cut once.
Hopefully, you’ve got a little bit of plywood laying around. Cut a sheet of plywood that reaches (at minimum) the vertical side bins. I cut mine with about three inches of overlap on each side.
You can attach this if you like, but I prefer not to. Just leave it free and movable back there. You can put in a small nail or screw into the side of the 1/2″ plywood vertical side bin which will keep your shelf from sliding toward the tailgate. It’s a stopper, it’s not actually screwing the two pieces of plywood together.
That’s really all there is to it for a basic transformer style build. You are now able to sleep in either the elevated mode with gear stored below, or place gear on the backshelf and/or in the cab in order to maximize livable space.
It’s a pretty simple build, but it’s really quite awesome, which is why this is the ultimate DIY truck camper build thanks to its flexibility.
Having the flexibility between both modes is highly recommended and something that I can’t fathom living without after being on the road for 2+ years.
I would next recommend that you take out the entire truck camping setup… Again it’s really easy. Just take off the four canopy clamps and the vertical side bins will pop right out with a wiggle.
Treat the lumber with sealer… You will experience some condensation, undoubtedly. Treat the lumber now so it will last you a long time. Leave it out for a few days or a week before reinstalling it. It will probably still have a strong order for a bit, but that will subside in time.
Additional Steps for Your DIY Truck Bed Camper
I highly recommend replacing your tailgate liner with 1/2″ plywood. It makes a great cooking area or place to grab a quick seat.
Remove your plastic tailgate liner.
Measure the length and width of the plastic liner, replicate that size on a 1/2″ sheet of plywood.
Using the plastic liner, place it flush with the plywood and trace out all the screw holes. Drill those out.
Given the thickness of the plywood, you will probably need longer screws than those used by the plastic liner. Hopefully, you planned ahead for that, if not head to Home Depot.
I also decided to carve out two holes–one the diameter of a large fuel canister for cooking, and the other slightly smaller. Not necessary, but it comes in handy sometimes when parked on an area that isn’t level. It can keep other things from rolling off the tailgate (not the stove per se, but other things you might be working with).
Attach the plywood to the tailgate.
My tailgate did not have a separate lock. It was basically just the cheap canopy locks that would be protecting all my valuable gear inside.
Therefore I decided to beef up the security a little bit for my truck camping setup by being able to lock my tailgate to the elevated sleeping platform. This prevents the tailgate from opening. I’m not saying it’s 100% thief proof. But it’s a pretty good deterrent against quick ‘smash and grab’ jobs, which are the vast majority.
Prior to attaching the wooden tailgate, you need to place the hinges for the hasp locks. Close the tailgate and mark where you want them on the tailgate in relation to the sleeping platform. I recommend placing them as close to the corners of sleeping platform as is practical.
You can use a skill saw to carefully shave off a thin layer of the underside of the wooden tailgate platform where you will place the hinges. This is to ensure that the wooden tailgate can sit flush with the metal brackets underneath.
Screw the hinges into place on the underside of the wooden tailgate.
Attach wooden tailgate to the truck (as before).
With the sleeping platform in the elevated position, close the tailgate. Place the hasp locks in the hinges as if they are locked.
There will likely be a little bit of play or wiggle room with the hinges so try to find the sweet spot in the middle. Trace the outer edge of the hasp lock onto your sleeping platform (both sides).
Open the tailgate, remove the hasp locks from the hinge, and now screw the hasp locks into place on the sleeping platform.
Close the tailgate and ensure you can successfully lock the hasps to the hinges. If not, try again.
In order to ensure that the sleeping platform doesn’t move (if someone were to open the tailgate even though it is locked to the sleeping platform), I recommend attaching two metal L-brackets to the underside of the 2×2 rails.
These will be sandwiched between the tailgate and sleeping platform and provided there is a slight overlap, it will make it impossible to open the tailgate when locked to the sleeping platform.
That’s pretty much all there is to it in terms of building the ultimate truck bed camper setup. You’ve now got a best of both worlds approach.
Anything unclear about this truck camper setup? Any questions for me? Sound off in the comments below or shoot me an email.
Once you’ve got the DIY truck bed camper build done, then you’ll need to outfit yourself for some new adventures…
Read Next: The Gear You Need to Start Truck Camping
Essential Truck Camping Gear
- Teton Sports Foam Sleeping Pad
- 15 Degree Down Sleeping Bag
- Two Burner Coleman Stove
- Aeropress Coffee Maker
- Hard-Sided Water Container
- Collapsible Camp Chair
- 800W Power Inverter
- Cooler for Food Storage
Road Trip Essentials
- Get a truck if you don't have one! 🙂 I've traveled all over the world in my 1991 Toyota Pickup. The bigger the truck bed the better. Short beds have workarounds but they are not ideal unless you are quite small.
- Find a new or used canopy for your truck. Read this guide on what to look for when buying a canopy. My top recommendation is to find an elevated canopy like the Leer 122 (what I use).
- Decide on what sort of truck bed sleeping platform you want to build. The two most common are an elevated sleeping platform or the backshelf (and side-shelf) approaches. I did a transformer setup for the best of both worlds, here is my step-by-step guide building the transformer style setup.
- Purchase essential gear to start truck camping which includes a sleeping pad or mattress, sleeping bag, two-burner stove, cooler, storage boxes, etc.
- Go on a test truck camping run at a free boondocking campsite without amenities to test your setup. Read more about finding free camping in the USA.
- Consider your electronics system and how you will charge devices while on the road. You could get an outside system like the GoalZero Yeti but I recommend using a dual battery and isolator under the hood.
- Join the Pickup Truck Camping group on Facebook for an amazing, like-minded community where you can ask questions and get answers from experienced truck campers. Be sure to pick up your #PTC stickers, shirts, and swag!
- Review the detailed truck camping gear and accessories (plus a packing list) and start planning your epic truck camping adventures. Might I suggest this national park road trip, the most scenic drives in the USA, or this west coast USA road trip? Here is more info on road trip planning for you, based on 10s of thousands of miles of adventures.
- Sign up for more truck camping tips, tricks, and info delivered straight to your email inbox from yours truly.
I hope this helped you get started with truck camping! I know it can be confusing when you are just getting started, which is why I started writing so extensively about it.
If you have any questions about truck camping, road trips, budget travel, or anything else shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(I love getting questions! That is how I get ideas for my blog posts and what to write about!)
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