The Toyota Tacoma is an incredibly versatile vehicle. I have a 6-cylinder 2002 Tacoma with an extended cab and the TRD off-road package, and I absolutely love it. It can tear its way up steep mountainsides, power across rushing streams, and cruise along nasty, unkept dirt roads all day long. Plus, with its small size, it can fit between tight trees and up strange slopes where larger trucks would be useless. The Tacoma is a beast.
Which is why I decided to drive it over 5000 miles to Alaska.
I have the 73” bed, compete with plastic bed liner and raised fiberglass topper, so naturally I have decided to convert the back of the truck into a small, portable home. However, I didn’t want to give up the ability to haul bikes or couches or large cargo in the future. After a long period of Internet searching, and a good bit of sketching, nail-biting, and shopping, I have come up with the following sleeping platform system.
I decided to construct this platform using three 8-foot 1x10’s and two 4x8 sheets of ¾ inch plywood. Since 1x10’s are actually ¾ inch thick, this means that all of my lumber is the same thickness, so I could use the same 6 x 1.5” wood screws at all stages of construction.
This platform is completely removable, and breaks up into 3 large pieces. It can easily be stored in a garage or enclosed porch, and can be installed or removed in about 5 minutes.
My bed cover has ¾ inch grooves running from the front of the truck to the tailgate, and the platform is supported by three 1x10 boards cut to 73” long. These sit vertically into the grooves of the bed liner, so they don’t move side-to side at all.
The first part of construction was to build two “side-benches” over each of the wheel wells, running the length of the truck. Each side-bench has a hinged lift-up door at the front and rear of the wheel well, to store various camping gear. I’m afraid I don’t have any plans or blueprints to tell you how I did this. I pretty much just made this whole thing up as I went, making adjustments as needed. Hopefully the photos are self-explanatory.
Once the side benches were complete, I cut a big center-platform out of ¾ inch plywood, with a 1x6 support running down the center. The center-platform is about 3 feet wide, but I discovered the Tacoma bed (as well as my bed liner) has about an inch of variation from front to back, so it was really important to measure everything twice, and be prepared to re-cut and re-cut everything until it fit just right.
The center-platform has a hinge about 1/3 of the way into the truck bed, so that it can be lifted up and out of the way so that I can reach way back under the platform to get at gear stored deep in the truck. I also cut a little lift-up hatch near the back of the center-platform so I would have multiple ways of getting to this hard-to-reach area.
I then coated everything in Spar Urethane sealant and let it dry for 24 hours. I really didn’t want the wood to rot when it gets wet.
After everything was sealed and dry, I added small metal hinges to all five of the lift-up doors, and three larger hinges to the big lift-up section of the center-platform. I also added small magnetic cabinet latches to each of the little hatches, so that they wouldn’t rattle around while I’m driving off-road. I drilled a finger-sized hole in each hatch door so that I can stick my index finger in the hole and pull it up an open. I also attached two eyelets and a removable metal wire to hold the big lift-up section of the center-platform in place in the evenings while I’m cooking dinner, etc.
Unfortunately, the spar urethane smelled really bad, and I had to let the whole project sit for about three weeks before the smell diminished enough that I could stay comfortably in the back of the truck with the platform for any length of time. Luckily, the smell has now completely faded, and the sealed wood has taken on a really nice color and appearance. Best of all, water beads up on the wood surface.
I went down to the local carpet store, and bought a big 8’x10’ piece of scrap carpet for about $25. Interestingly, it is the nicest, most expensive home carpeting they sell. Brand new, this amount carpet would have cost over $100, but you can get quality carpet for real cheap if you ask for the scraps they have in the back of the warehouse. Just be nice to the salesman, and act like you know what he’s talking about.
I attached the carpet to the platform using a staple gun, making sure to carefully cut each piece with a razor blade. I was especially sure to cut around the raised part of each hinge, so that the carpet lays nice and flat on all parts of the camping platform. I chose staples over glue so that I replace the carpet in a couple years if it gets too dirty to sleep on.
I went down to a local army surplus store, and bought a 4” thick foam mattress that fits perfectly in the back of the truck. With the topper and foam mattress, the whole system sits right at the level of the top of the tailgate. It is really comfortable.
I had a lot of extra ¾ inch plywood, so I constructed a pull-out table for camping. It fits under the right half of the center-platform. It is 1.5” thick in the truck when collapsed, and when you pull it out a big support falls down to the ground – it makes me think of the stretchers used in ambulances. I use a two-burner white-gas Coleman stove, and I screwed on wooden guides to keep the stove in place on the table, even when I push the whole thing back under the platform.
On the left side under the center-platform, I bought two plastic bins to hold dry food and cooking gear. I store two camp chairs and a collapsible awning on top of the collapsed pull-out table. Water and a cooler go on top of the platform when we are driving, and are the first thing to come out when we stop to make camp for the night.
My wife and I lived in this for about a month while driving to Alaska. It was really comfortable – (although a shower is nice every few days).
As a final note, I have to give credit to all the websites I consulted before building this platform. If you are thinking about building your own platform or custom truck camper, you should definitely check out these links before getting started:
These links were all working as of May, 2010. Good luck!
Search terms: Truck bed sleeping platform, truck camper, carpet kit, custom camper, truck platform.