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Maximising space and storage in a small campervan is the most important, but also one of the trickiest things. After spending the best part of a year in Australia sleeping in the back of a Honda CRV, Tom and I had decided to upgrade and picked up a 2001 Toyota HiAce. After doing a lot of research, we decided the best campervan layout for us was to make a campervan sofa bed.
There are loads of small campervan bed ideas out there, but a pullout campervan sofa bed gave our tiny space some versatility, and boy were we grateful to have that when the weather was bad! This design allowed us to have a sofa in the day and a sturdy bed at night.
Our Toyota HiAce actually came kitted out as a campervan but it had a fixed bed and the storage was difficult to get to. As with most things we do, this was a budget van conversion. We recycled as much wood as we could and became best friends with the staff at the hardware store who gave us no end of advice.
If you’ve never done anything like this before, it’s one heck of a challenge but it’s so rewarding. So if you’re looking for ideas on how to convert your van to a camper van, here’s how to build a pull out bed for your camper.
You might also like:
- How to build a platform bed for your SUV
- 20 budget campervan essentials we couldn’t live without (under $20)
- What to pack for car camping
- My WikiCamps review: How to find cheap and free campsites in Australia
Watch our DIY Totota Hiace campervan conversion here:
Details of our van
We converted a 2001 Toyota Hiace. It’s a short wheelbase (SWB) but the tall model meaning that it’s a little taller than some other Hiace’s but it’s still not tall enough to stand. Toyota Hiace do make long wheelbase (LWB) models as well which would be great for that little extra bit of room. Of course, the size of your van alters the amount of room you have to play with. As we had the SWB version, we knew it was going to be fairly tight in there which is why a pull out campervan sofa bed was perfect. Here’s an approximate design of the full layout of our van just to give you a better picture.
From doing a lot of research we found there to be 2 main design options for DIY pull out beds for campers. 1) the whole bed is a pull out bed or 2) an L-shaped bed with the L part being fixed and the remaining length of the bed being the pullout part. As I’ve mentioned, we went with option 2 as it gave us extra lounging space as well as extra storage. We wanted the bed to be as close to a double bed as possible so designed it to be 120cm wide when pulled out and 180cm in length.
We also decided to have the bed at the back of our van with the L shape going across the boot and have our kitchen storage at the front of the van behind the front seats. Both Tom and I were keen to have a clear view out the back of the van so we felt this was the best way to lay everything out for us.
Just so you are aware, the below images are not to scale and not accurate in terms of the number of slats etc. They’re just to show you the general design.
Tools you will need
- Tape measure
- No more nails/Wood Glue
- Wood screws
- Spirit level
- 10 x L brackets
- Circular Saw/Hand saw
- 12mm Plywood
- 70x35mm wood for the legs
- 70 x 22mm wood for slats and frame
- 4 x small hinges
** If you’re looking to do a real budget campervan conversion, you could look into re-using old pallets that you can often get for free. We opted to not use these as they can get hard and time-consuming to take apart and sand down.
Measurements you will need to take
There are a few factors that need to be considered when taking measurements for the bed. You will need to think about your overall van layout, where the wheel arches are, the curves of the van and the size of the underneath storage you want to have. I recommend you measure, re-measure and re-re-measure because it’s so easy to make mistakes. It’s also super helpful to draw a diagram and add the measurements as you go so it’s super clear. Here are all the measurements broken down.
The length of the bed will be a bit of a compromise between what’s going to be comfy and how much space is it going to use up. My top tip for measuring your height is to have someone take when you’re laying down on your front to account for foot space. This will ultimately determine the length of the bed, which we decided would be 180cm for us.
Height of the bed
As the pull out bed also functions as a sofa, it was important that it was at a height we could both comfortably sit. Taking this measurement can be a little tricky but the easiest way would be to put a normal chair in your van, sit on it and see whether the height works or not. Remember to account for the cushions as well as the frame height + slat thickness when you come to actually build your campervan sofabed.
Width of the bed and your van
The width of your bed is always going to be restricted to the width of your van but that doesn’t mean you have to use the whole width. Tom and I wanted to create more storage above the other wheel arch so our bed could only go as far as that. This will also determine how long the sliding bed slats will need to be to make the bed the right width when pulled out.
The size of the storage for the L-shape
The fixed storage part of the bed needs to be taken into consideration as this will also form part of the bed. This part was one of our main storage sections so it needed to be super functional. It needs to be the same height as the bed and the same width as the bed so when the slide-out section is pulled out, it forms the complete bed.
How to make your campervan sofa bed
Step 1: The fixed part of the campervan bed frame
- 2 x 180cm 70 x 22mm pine (or whatever the length of your bed needs to be)
- 10 x 70 x 35mm pine for legs
- Extra wood for frame support
- 6 x L-brackets
Cut a piece of wood the correct size to match the width of the bed when it is in the sofa position (minus the width of the wood for the frame that will be on the pull out section) and attach 2 legs to it. Use 2 x screws per leg and some wood glue to make the frame strong and stop the legs from twisting. Repeat these steps. These 2 frames make the end of the pullout part of the bed.
The top of the frame
Now you have the 2 end frames, you need to attach them together using the 2 x 180cm pieces. These will go across the top of the end frames and then an additional leg will go roughly in the middle of each (depending on how it works with the wheel arch).
At the other end of the 180cm pieces which will form your L shape, you will need to attach 2 legs side by side to each. This is because you will need to attach additional wood to these legs later for the rest of the l shape frame.
Adding support to the frame
To strengthen, cut some extra pieces of wood that fit between the legs. Use wood glue to fix them in place and then screw in L-brackets along the top and bottom inside the frame to make it extra sturdy.
Step 2: The pull out part of the bed frame
- 3 x 70 x 35mm pine for legs
- 1 x length of 70 x 22mm pine
- 4 x L-brackets
The frame for the pullout part of your campervan seat bed needs to reach from the end of the bed up until the L shape section. Cut 3 more legs and make sure the legs are the same height as the fixed part of the bed frame. Again, use wood glue and 2 x screws in each leg to make sure they don’t twist. Screw in the L-brackets to make the frame strong as you’re going to be pulling this in and out a lot.
Step 3: Create the L shape part of the campervan sofa bed
- 2 x 70 x 35mm pine for legs
- 2 x lengths of 70 x 22mm pine
- Extra wood for frame support
- 12 mm ply for the sides and lid
- 4 x hinges
We realised it would be easier to make the L shape part of the sofabed before we put the slats on the bed as It we had to get underneath it to attach the ply. So my advice is to leave the slats to last! remember when making this section of the bed to make sure it’s the same height as the pullout part.
The L shape frame
To finish off the shape of the frame of the L shape, get 4 pieces of 70 x 22mm wood cut to go across the width of your bed. You will need 4 pieces as the 180cm part of the bedframe cuts across it (shown by the black lines in the diagram above). This pieces will be attached to the legs already attached to the 180cm pieces. Secure the final 2 legs to the frame with glue and screws.
Measure, cut and glue extra wood for the frame support at the bottom of the legs. These pieces will also be used to secure the plywood to.
The sides and lid
Cut the ply for the back of the L shape, the ends and the inside section. We had to cut the inside section into 2 parts so we could slide it in around the bed legs. The back part was easiest to do in one piece. Screw the ply in place to the bed legs and the bottom supports.
To make the hight match the pullout section, we had to glue on some thinner pieces of wood where the lids would be attached. Cut more 12mm ply to make 2 lids and attached them with the 4 hinges.
Step 4: Arrange and attach the slats
- 70 x 22mm pine
This can be a little bit confusing but as long as you remember the slats need to alternate in terms of their fixture, you will be fine. Slats need to alternate between being attached to the fixed frame or attached to the pullout frame. I’ve put my diagram below again as it makes it easier to visualise!
Your slats need to be close together so large gaps aren’t created when you pull out your sofabed, but there need to be gaps between them so they don’t rub. An easy way we found to do this is to use large screws as spacers between the slats.
Lay all the slats out in the correct alternating order and with the gaps between them and use the wood glue to secure them. Wait for this to dry and then secure them with screws. We tried to screw them down without glue and they kept slipping out of place which made things a lot trickier.
Once they’re all attached, you should have a complete campervan sofa bed!
Step 5: The best mattress for campervans
There is a lot of information about the different types of foam to use for you van mattress, but there’s no right answer. Your van mattress is down to personal choice, and if you have the budget to buy the foam from new, I would recommend speaking to the staff in the shop for advice.
As Tom and I were on a budget, we reused the foam mattress that came in our van. I measured out a piece to go on the bottom of the sofa bed, a piece for the L shape and another piece for the backrest. To cut it, I used a breadknife which went through the foam no problem.
Covering the van mattress
Upholstery material was not in our budget so instead, I simply bought large flatbed sheets from Ikea in a dark colour. I placed the foam in the middle of the sheet and the wrapped the sheet around it, just as I would for a parcel. I then hand-stitched the fabric to hold it all together. It’s simple but worked well for us!