Monday, October 24th, 2022

I have spent another weekend cutting up lumber to make what I hope will be improvements to the camping thing. I’m still blinking sawdust out of my eyes this Monday morning.

At it again …

When I built the first iteration of the camping thing, I was inspired by a design I saw in a video on YouTube. I tried to get as close as I possibly could to that design, but the guy who built his camping thing shot a lot of video of his final product but didn’t shoot any video showing how he built it. I had to take a lot of screen caps and make a lot of guesses, but I think I came pretty close to his design.

What I liked most about his was that it looked simple enough that I could build it. It was a bed frame made to fit the floor in the back of the van, two cargo compartments on stilts that fit into the rear windows on either side, and an arch that reached across the width of the van just behind the driver / passenger seats.

The bed frame was made of two straight slabs of plywood screwed to a couple of 2 x 4s which anchored it to the floor — there’s more framing to it than that, but that’s the gist. It was topped by two pieces of plywood, hinged across the middle so I could lift up the front or lift up the back to access the space for storage underneath.

With the two cargo compartments on either side of the bed, there was so much storage space that there was no need to block the view out the rear by installing a kitchen, the way most people do when they adapt their minivans to camping. I could store all the pots & pans and food in the well where the rear seats used to go. I liked this very much because I bought a tent which encloses the back end of the van when the hatch is open, allowing me to look out the screened-in back when I’m inside.

This design also left a space between the bed and the first row of seats, which I thought would make it easier for me to get in and out. After a couple of camping trips, though, I discovered that most of the time I get into the van by simply climbing up onto the bed. Also, there’s only enough of a gap between the bed and the seats to sit hunched over facing forward, which isn’t really that useful.

When listing the pros and cons of this design, the feature at the top of the list of cons was that the bed frame was 52 inches from head to foot, requiring an extension which was stowed under the front lid, eating up a lot of valuable stowage space. The extension was a piece of plywood 48 inches long and 20 inches wide. After installing legs and reinforcing it with a rail underneath it was at least five pounds too heavy. I never did figure out a way of getting it in and out of the stowed position that wasn’t awkward and because of that, once it was in place I tended to leave it for the duration of the camping trip, so it might as well have been permanent.

I never did work out a way to sit up in this bed. I tried several different ways to prop open one lid or the other, thinking I might be able to recline on it, but I could never get comfortable. So with this particular design there was just no way for me to sit. There isn’t enough headroom between the ceiling and the mattress to sit fully upright, so if I wanted to write I had to stretch out on one side or the other, propped on an elbow, and if I wanted to read it was that or lay flat on my back.

Having an unobstructed view out the back turned out to be not as desirable as I initially thought. The only way I could see out the back was to lay on my stomach and prop myself up on my elbows, which is none too comfortable so I didn’t do it often. And my position in the van was higher than the screened opening in the tent, so mostly all I could see was the ground immediately outside the van. Even if I managed to lower the bed an inch or two, I can’t imagine I’d spend much time looking out the back.

And whether or not I wanted a chuck box / kitchen blocking my view, the back end of the van is pretty much the natural location for a chuck box or kitchen. That’s the only place in the van that makes sense for the fridge I bought. The minivan I drive, a Toyota Sienna, has a very deep well just inside the tailgate for two seats to disappear into. I yanked out the seats so I could stuff a fridge in there, with lots of room left over to stash food, pots, pans, plates & utensils, a cook stove, etc. So naturally whenever I was preparing for a meal or cleaning up after one, I worked out of the back of the van. Might as well put a chuck box / kitchen back there because it’s there anyway.

Even with all those drawbacks I was reluctant to give up on this design. If I’m honest, I felt that way mostly because I had already spent a fair bit of time building it out and didn’t want to spend even more time starting over from scratch. I tried a couple of really desperate modifications to avoid starting from scratch, like I tried sleeping on a 24-inch-wide mattress, thinking if that worked out I could carve out a place from the other half to sit up, but after trying to sleep on a 24-inch-wide mattress I learned that was a great big nope.

So I’ve started over. And just as I came to this decision, YouTube recommended a video of another design for a minivan camper thing that looked interesting. Stay tuned …

little boxes | 8:31 pm CST
Category: camping, hobby, play | Tags:
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