Truck Conversion: a passion project
Over the past decade my truck has been my literal and figurative vehicle for exploring the world around me and connecting to new places. In 2016, I decided to take this one step further and experiment with converting my truck into a functional home. The conversion process involved extensive research, design, planning, material & parts procurement, fabrication, and installation. What started as a fun side project in preparation for a summer on the road, quickly turned into a full blown obsession and way of life. I see the truck as a functioning prototype, my prototype for experimenting with new ways of living, exploring, and interacting with the world.
- Tools & Techniques used: Sketching, prototyping, trail & error, woodworking, hacking, learning by doing, voracious online forum researching, DIY video consumption
- Project length: Design & planning - 8 months; Build out - 2 weeks; Refinement - lifetime
I began my process by investigating a wide variety of mobile living environments - everything from everything from beautifully crafted, custom-made truck caps and Sprinter Van built-outs to mass produced RVs and Aistream trailers. I was particularly inspired by the work of Jay Nelson, Sprinter Van Diaries, and Nonurbia.
My design started with the following constraints:
- My truck bed is shorter than average (5ft) and does not allow for a standard size mattress
- I was not willing (at this time) to make any serious or permanent modifications to the body of the truck
I also had the following requirements for my camper setup:
- The ability to sleep comfortably inside the truck
- The ability to easily transport surfboards (up to ~8ft) and 1-2 mountain bikes at the same time
- The ability to easily remove inside compartments
- Storage for clothing, camping gear, stove, cooler, cooking equipment
I was able to alleviate the truck bed size constraint and sleeping requirement by leveraging a Flippac, a truck cap that has a built in pop-up tent. The Flippac is an elegant piece of engineering that efficiently maximizes the amount of livable space in the truck, without adding excessive weight or height when driving. However, given the fact that the top of the unit flips over to create a mattress area, a traditional roof rack would not work for storing surfboards.
Given this, I explored ideas for carrying surfboards that would not impede the functioning of the Flippac:
Due to fabrication costs, I ultimately did not proceed in this direction (yet). I was however able to find a Yakima removable rack system, which would allowed me to easily to store surfboards while driving, and remove the front rack bar for sleeping mode. I also leveraged a used bike rack, which attached to the trailer hitch and had a swing arm, allowing the bike rack to be moved out of the way when accessing the tailgate.
For the inside of the truck I wanted to ensure that a stove and cooler could be stored securely, and camping gear and clothing could be efficiently organized and out of the way. Given the small size of the truck bed, I wanted to minimize the amount of structural material used in order to maximize storage space. It was important for the storage system to be relatively easy to remove, so that the truck be could be used for other purposes when not in travel mode. I ultimately landed on an arrangement of cabinets and drawers that could be installed on a track system to be bed of the truck.
The truck bed floor, interior cabinets, and drawers were constructed out of plywood. The truck bed floor has two tracks installed on either side to enable the cabinets and drawers to be installed and uninstalled easily. The cabinetry was built to use the sidewalls of the truck as supports so that the cabinets could utilize all of the possible storage space. Drawer sliders and hinges were leveraged throughout in order to allow for multiple arrangement options for gear and cooking surfaces.
The stove is stored securely in a custom-fit cabinet that can be opened when the tailgate is down. The stove can be used directly from the cabinet or placed on the "kitchen table" or nearby picnic table. Kitchen supplies are stored directly above the stove compartment for easy access.
Expandable KitcheN table
The "kitchen" table is a hidden feature built into the cooler cabinet. The table feature was created by hacking together two sets of drawer pulls and attaching a metal bar at the end. The double drawer setup allows the table be unfolded and the cooler can be pulled out over the tailgate, creating a large cooking and eating surface. The cooler can be accessed from the top when the tailgate is closed, and from the side when the kitchen table is expanded.
The main storage compartments are located in the back of the truck bed. There was careful consideration as what direction the cabinets should open. The left side cabinets open downwards so that items can be stacked on top of the cabinets when the truck is in camping mode. The right side cabinet, which stores clothes and bedding, opens upwards for easy access when inside the truck.