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DIY Truck Camper

Open source truck bed camper for the masses.

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A fully open source, custom DIY truck bed camper. The purpose of this project is to create a very practical truck bed camper that the average hand and power tool user could make. This is a very complex project, but will yield a small, comfortable, and fun mobile home that can be taken anywhere your truck can traverse. In keeping with the open source spirit, I will be granting access to all of my notes, thoughts, plans, diagrams, and instructional materials for this project. I hope to eventually create the ultimate truck camper guide here on Hackaday.io so that all can enjoy. Check for Google Docs links further down the page that I am using to compile all basic notes and thoughts regarding this project. Simply follow the link, refresh as needed, and enjoy.

I had considered buying an old truck camper, but that would set me back a few thousand dollars to get one that isn't falling apart. Plus, the weight of those things would require me to do significant work to my 34 year old pickup truck. Work that I could do myself, but cannot afford to do. This led me to the thought of buying a truck bed cap and converting it into sleeping quarters. I decided I wanted more space and a bit of comfort. I settled on building a truck camper after saying to myself "How hard can it be?"

I am finding that it really isn't that hard. I understand the logistics of it, and am putting in a solid process to get it going as quickly as possible.

I will be sharing ALL knowledge gained, either in logs, or by request, as I understand the value of it. I support open source, and will be uploading my final design plans for anyone to use. All trucks are different, so my plans will be for Chevy trucks with beds measuring 69 by 100 inches. Basically older, 8 foot beds, maybe some newer ones.

I am designing this to be a slide out camper. I could pull it out the back and onto a custom built stand if needed. In order to have it slide out, I will need to sacrifice some space between the wheel well arches and the front of the bed, nearest the cab. These will basically be channels that will allow it to slide in and out. I am considering putting hinged panels on the inside that will allow me to access this space for tool storage.

I am framing the walls out of 3/8 inch plywood, with a 1/2 inch plywood roof. The walls will be framed similar to a house for strength and simplicity. The front of the cab overhang is going to be made angular to help with the aerodynamics and looks.

The cab overhang will become a bedroom, with LED lights, roof vent, and front and side windows.

The roof may be used for strapping things on, as well as a deck, hence the 1/2 inch plywood roof, and extra reinforcement.

I have yet to decide on the interior, but I think I want a wrap around sofa, a small TV, a small computer workstation, propane heater, vents, cabinets, counters, propane stove, and MAYBE a sink with small water supply.

All feedback is appreciated, and I will be glad to share any thoughts or knowledge. My goal is to create an open source process for creating truck campers, refine it, and watch everyone go.

  • Urinal?...Toilet?...

    Dustin04/03/2019 at 04:02 0 comments

    I realized recently that I have need for a toilet on a regular, sometimes daily, basis. I hadn't considered this in regards to my truck camper until very recently. Duh. How silly of me. The first thought that comes to mind is a composting toilet using coffee grounds and such. The next thought is a urinal that can be routed straight out to the ground. I'd only ever want to do that for short term, discreet stays, not long term where the smell would become a problem. I once made a urinal on the second story of a barn I used to have by hooking a funnel to a garden hose and routing it downstairs and outside. It worked great. Used to flush it with a Gatorade bottle full of water. Worked very well indeed. This might be useful in my truck camper to stop the composting toilet getting overwhelmed, and make it easier to pee many times a day like I down when active and chugging water all day. Trying to figure out how to integrate something like a composting toilet and a urinal into such a tiny space. I suppose I could just build a dedicated bathroom. Would be really nice for camping in urban environments when it's too cold an/impractical to find proper toilets and such. I think I may very well include a bathroom. More thoughts on this later.

  • Increasing Priority Level For This

    Dustin04/03/2019 at 03:55 0 comments

    Recently I've been trying to figure out just how to set up my life for maximum comfort, stability, mobility, and financial savings. I've experimented with living in a tent, stayed on a couch for a while, then spent a while in my own apartment. In one month, I move back to my home state, where my friendly old pickup is waiting for me. As much as I hate the automobile these days, due to waste and expense, it's easy to justify that truck when it replaces rent, power, and heating bills, while providing total mobility. I'm sick of long tent days and need something more solid and permanent. The cheapest, fastest, and easiest option is the old truck camper idea, so here I am, back at it again. I've got some big changes to make as well. 

    A big part of the design I struggle with is the overhang above the roof of the truck. I know that's where I want my bed to go, and how to make it strong enough. I struggle with the balance between aerodynamics, comfort, strength, and looks. For that part, I've decided to look into using clear corrugated plastic roofing material. It would act as a massive skylight, and make it easy to round of the nose of the camper without having to bend plywood or something. I could also just do the entire roof and nose with the stuff to make the entire ceiling a skylight, which would be pretty awesome, aside from turning the entire camper into a green house. For that, I was considering using some of that silver bubble wrap insulation looking stuff and basically making a giant awning that pulls out over head to reflect the heat out. That might not work, so I'll test it and just get some skylights if needed. Either way, I like the ideal of a clear nose.

    For the shower, I think I want to greatly simplify it. I'm thinking of gravity fed, with the water tank built into the back wall to avoid hoses running between moving panels. I may still employ an electric heater for the shower that runs off solar panels. Speaking of which, I think I'll need some of those and a few good battery banks. Those are some of the more expensive items, so I'll plan on running a secondary deep cycle battery under the hood of the truck just for the camper to start with.

    I am still deciding on how to in cook and heat the camper. I'll likely add a dedicated propane heater for heating, and either an electric stove burner, or a propane burner with a custom fume hood that vents outside for safety. The energy system is still up in the air at this point, but it is going to be important. I think insulation is going to be one of the most important aspects of the camper to reduce energy needs in winter. I'm also concerned about running out of propane. I'd like to have backup systems like a quartz radiant heater for inside the truck to use electricity to heat it if needed. I plan to tap into the engine heat at some point to heat the camper, but that requires running the engine. The system I'm thinking of would have 4 sources of heat energy: engine heat, solar electricity, solar heating, and propane. That should handle heating, even though the ultimate goal is to take the truck south every winter and work from the road.

    Another addition I considered, though entirely luxurious is an inflatable hot tub. This would be perfect for when I rent a campground for an entire season and have access to mains power. Since the truck would provide all it's own power for the rest of my needs, I could possibly get away with running an electric hot tub at a campground. I love hot tubs more than just about anything. It would sit so nicely under the awning of the raised rear camper wall. If I don't get one of those, I may just get an inflatable bath tub and set that up to do some soaking. Just a fun thought.

    For internet and phone service, I've got myself a cheap Google Fi phone and unlimited talk and text. $10 per GB of data is available if I need it, with mobile hotspot included. Good enough for me. I can use my trust Thinkpad X230 laptop for all my business needs, work from...

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  • The Camper Dream Lives On

    Dustin09/19/2018 at 23:13 0 comments

    Quite a few months ago, I left my entire life behind in search of adventure, including the truck that inspired this camper. Just yesterday, though, I got a message from an old neighbor that brightened my whole outlook on life. For the past few weeks, I've been gazing longingly at all the classic old pickup trucks that remind me so much of my beloved old truck. I had just started regretting leaving my truck behind. It truly was going to be a lifelong regret of mine. The news my old neighbor delivered was amazing though. Another of my previous neighbors had fixed up my truck a bit, and stored it safely for me this entire time in hopes that he could get a hold of me someday and return it. He's a very handy chap, and it turns out he replaced the ignition switch, and installed a fiberglass bed cover on it, as well as kept my first bed mounted toolbox for me. I'm living in another state now, about 1,000 miles away, but am planning on making the trip back to go get it and drive it back on an epic journey. It's going to cost me about $1,000 and 5 days around Christmas time to go get it, but the trip and truck are well worth it. I'm starting my first business now, and solid work trucks are kind of scarce around here. At least the ones that I could afford. I'll take a 24 hour train ride from South Dakota to Ohio, spend some time with loved ones, then start the two or three day journey home again. I could actually make the entire drive in one day with a nap, but I'd rather use the time off to slow down and enjoy the trip. It's going to be my first Christmas vacation, and I'd like to thoroughly enjoy it. Sadly, the camper is not already built, so I will probably just split the drive up into two days with a hotel stay in between. After I get my truck home, I'll start working on upgrades, repairs, and the camper itself. I'll just pick up right where I left off. Luckily, I have all my notes on here, so I don't have to start all over again. I also have much more experience with writing and documentation, as well as life experience to apply to the project. I look forward to having this done by spring of 2019 in time for powwow and camping season here in South Dakota. I'm currently camping in my tent until I get my apartment, but this truck camper would be a whole new level of camping luxury if it were completed now.

  • Revised Dimensions

    Dustin09/21/2017 at 04:16 0 comments

    Tonight I carefully measured my truck in as many places as I thought would be needed, and made a quick AutoCAD drawing of the bed. This will be used to layout the floor pan of the camper.  These dimensions also helped me define the overall size of the camper. See the "General Dimension Notes" HERE if interested. 

    All notes are just rough drafts to be refined later. All suggestions welcome, unless you suggest just buying a camper instead of building one. You can shut up, if that's your suggestion.

    AutoCAD drawings will be stored and shared in the Google Drive link on the main page and below when I get around to it, if possible. I may just take screen shots of final plans and post those as the average person doesn't just have a copy of AutoCAD laying around.

    I've decided to make the camper close to the maximum legal size limitations. I am keeping it short though, extending only about 2 inches past the lowered tailgate to keep it fairly easy to drive around. The camper is going to be 12 inches wider than the truck on each side, so towing mirrors will be required. The cab overhang is going to sit about 18 inches past the top of the windshield. I decided to go with a ceiling of no lower than 6', greatly increasing the initial estimated height. This should allow most people to comfortable stand inside. The floor is going to sit on top of the wheel well arches, raising the floor by just over 11", creating storage space under the main floor. This storage space will most likely be used to hold the water tanks, and supporting equipment.

    I've determined that the suspension, rear axle, and bed are ready to accept a camper of over 2,500 pounds, which is about double the estimated final weight. The following needs done before subjecting the truck to a constant load of over 1,000 pounds:

    - transmission flush, filter, temperature gauge installed.

    - engine tune up.

    - replace front tries, check weight capacity of rear tires.

    - perform full maintenance on brake system, except master cylinder, which was replaced a few months ago.

    - fix all signal light issues.

    - prep and apply spray in liner to bed.

    - stress test truck with load of gravel to determine weighted characteristics, install stronger engine if needed.

    - coolant flush.

    - new engine belts

    - new transmission mount bushing.

    - better flowing muffler.

    At this point, significant progress has been made on the project, including gathering of some tools, supplies, and vital information. More updates to come.

  • New Tool: Sewing Machine

    Dustin08/31/2017 at 03:33 0 comments

    Recently, I've been slowly gathering resources for this project. Just a few days ago, I scored a very nice sewing machine for $15 at a local Goodwill. It would not run when the foot pedal was depressed, but the light came on and smacking the pedal would start the machine for a fraction of a second. I took the pedal apart, and found that one of the components had 2 of the 3 leads broken off. I didn't have any solder, so I used a razor blade to bend the broken pins together. This got it working just fine and I've gotten a few hours of practice in on the machine. The machine is a White Model 1919. It came with a very nice case, all the attachments, a cover, and the original user manual. I got the sewing machine in order to learn a new skill and create a few key pieces of the camper myself. The main use for the machine is going to be making curtains, making cushions for the custom furniture, and sewing together the tarp panels. I can also use it to repair my dress pants and make all my own cushions for the couch I plan on designing and building.

    This sewing machine represents the first major investment in this project. Until now, I haven't invested much beyond my time and thought. This machine is the first major breakthrough I've had on this project. 

    I plan on building a special cut out on my future workbench to accommodate my new sewing machine. Eventually, I may invest in a computerized embroidering machine to give me even more options. Until then, I will master all the basics and start exploring the world of sewing much more often. This machine will make a great teaching tool, and could open up the chance to teach a new skill to people. 

  • Feature: Rear Hinged Wall

    Dustin08/20/2017 at 21:44 0 comments

    I moved again recently, so this project has been on hold. New job as well. The hours of my new job, plus the significantly shorter commute leave me with far more resources towards my truck camper project. My new neighbor is an awesome gentleman with tons of life experience and decades of building experience. He has been helping me brainstorm and sort out some of the details. It goes well. I even have access to a local makerspace or two.

    New feature: Top hinged rear wall.

    The rear wall of my camper is going to be hinged along the top edge to allow it to swing up, and be propped up like an awning. This will allow the creation of an outdoor room, in addition to the space inside the camper. This new back porch could have a selection of different wall panels as well. The panels would include a rear, two sides, and a panel to seal off the underside of the truck from the room. The under-truck panel could be created to form a large bag that would sit under the truck for water proof outdoor storage. A set of screen panels could create a screened in sun room. A set of waterproof, sealed tarp panels could create a darkened outdoor theater room. Window panels could be sewn into these panels as well. All panels could be neatly rolled up, and stored in a hallow compartment inside the rear wall itself. All panels would have reinforced stake points at the bottom to seal to the ground, and a zip on tarp floor could be created to seal off the rear porch room entirely from the elements. A portable shower could even be set up inside the rear room when the tarp walls are in use. The shower could even be a permanent fixture of the rear wall. A shower head, knobs, and fixed curtain could be recessed into the wall, with flexible water lines running to it through the back wall. A simple shower curtain could attach to the rear wall, in a circle to form the shower walls. This would allow you to prop open the rear wall. slide open a panel that reveals the shower head, knobs, and the folded up curtain. The curtain could be staked to the ground as well. For more privacy, the tarp walls could be put up to create a full shower room. The prop rods could have hooks mounted to them for use as coat, clothing, and towel holders. The tarp wall panels could even be elevated outwards to create 3 large awnings, creating a very large shaded hangout. This would be ideal for summer parties, and even vending events, such as automotive swap meets.

    This requires all wiring to be run from the roof down into the rear wall, with slack and strain reliefs built in. The 2 prop rods will be stored inside the walls somewhere. 

    Instead of a TV, I will be mounting a small, 1080p, 3D projector I own to the ceiling, on a track that runs front to back. This will allow me to mount a custom made projector screen to the rear wall of the camper, either above, or below the door, depending on whether the wall is propped open or not. The sliding track for the projector will allow it to be easily moved to account for the distance from the screen. I am considering mounting the projector, speakers, WiFi router, and Playstation3 in a long, thin, horizontal box that mounts to this ceiling track. This would let me take the entire assembly out of the camper, set it up on a table or some adjustable legs, and project onto the back side of the screen for all to see, or onto any other surface. 

    For the audio system, I plan to install a home theater surround sound system for movies, and a separate car stereo system with subwoofer for party music and such. A few of these car speakers may be mounted to the rear wall to act as overhead speakers when the wall is propped up. These speakers could even be mounted to a hinged panel that drops down to allow the speakers to be pointed out at any direction desired, for things such as blasting music out at parties.

    I plan on having lots of lighting in this camper. Along the inside edges of the rear wall could go small LED flood lights, angled down to light up the...

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  • Water Handling System

    Dustin04/12/2017 at 17:43 0 comments

    Desired features:

    chilled water

    hot water

    small double sink

    fresh water tank

    waste water tank

    Chilled water options:

    ice

    small refrigeration unit

    circulate water through a small radiator with a fan.

    Hot water options:

    electric kettle

    boil by the pot

    draw engine heat somehow

    black water pipes on roof with pump

    on demand water heater

    Sink Options:

    camper sink, stainless steel

    plastic camper or mobile home sink

    full size single sink

    Water Tanks:

    limited to 5 gallons for weight

    stored behind wheel arches in otherwise wasted space

    vented

    quick disconnect hoses with cut off valves

    No Shower:

    too large and messy.

    can wash from the sink

    Gym membership.
    Desire

  • Electrical

    Dustin02/26/2017 at 06:09 0 comments

    The electrical system of my truck camper will consist of 2 parts: AC and DC power distribution.

    I am still working it all out, but I know I want standard AC outlets and some custom DC outlets, as it will be more efficient to run things straight from the DC coming off the battery.

    Battery set up:

    I am hoping to run a bank of at least 4 Optima Blue Top deep cycle batteries for the camper portion, that is separate from the engine starting battery. This would allow me to run my electronics without the risk of killing the starting battery. This will all be wired up through a marine fuse block, using standard blade fuses. The batteries will be expensive, but crucial for running things such as my PC, small TV, phone chargers, water pumps, and various fans.

    AC Power Distribution:

    For the AC, I will be running a few large car batteries, and most likely a large inverter. This will keep all my electronics away from the engine starting battery to spare me being stuck in one place after a movie night. I plan to wire the outlets to the same code as home wiring, to ensure things are safe and reliable, even if it adds more work, weight, and cost. Better than burning to the ground after something shorts.

    DC Power Distribution:

    I would like a standardized DC power system in the truck, as it is more efficient than turning DC to AC, just to have the appliances convert AC back to DC again. I am considering USB Type C with the Power Distribution protocol for this. I would like to just create custom power supplies for all the permanent appliances, such as computer monitors and microcontrollers, that would allow them all to run from the USB voltage directly. This is just a fun thought to play with, but could be a very efficient and simple way to power everything from the sink water pump, to the vent fans, and phone chargers.

  • Design Day 1

    Dustin01/29/2017 at 08:45 0 comments

    After bundling up and facing the northern winter winds, I finally got the measurements from my truck needed to get the plans drawn up. I decided on a simple camper that will slide in and out of the bed, and will keep the tailgate down to add an extra 2 feet to the overall length.

    I have drawn up the basic walls so far, minus horizontal supports, and figured out a few other things.

    I am planning on building a custom couch to wrap around the back wall of the camper so I can sit comfortably with guests.

    I am using my Cricket Wireless smart phone, with 12GB of 4G and mobile hotspot to supply internet to the Raspberry Pi 3, running Openelec that will supply entertainment. I will probably keep my lenovo workstation on board as well, assuming I can supply enough power to run this stuff. I am currently using the hotspot on my phone to post this on my workstation PC. It works very very well, and I am quite pleased with it.

    I have left plenty of clearance in most of the dimensions for my camper as I can always add foam insulation or rubber mats to fill gaps in and such. Better too small than too big.

    The biggest challenges I face right now are financial, and time constraints. I am moving an hour away from my job and my grumpy old tuck does not like the drive every day. It is costing me almost as much in gas each month as my previous rent. Though I am in a much better situation now. I will be trying to work on this every day from now until it is completed.

    Windows. I have designed a few pretty neat windows for this camper. Ordering custom cut and framed windows would be extremely expensive, so I have decided to make them myself. I am experienced enough in galss cutting to turn a bottle into a cup, and make stained glass windows. I spent a day studying and practicing with a master stained glass maker a few years ago, and learned just enough to get by. You can buy a Kobalt brand glass cutter at lowes for about $4 or so. I highly recommend dabbling in glass as it can be a very valuable skill.

    I am too tired to keep rambling on, so I will leave it at this.

  • Defining The Camper

    Dustin01/27/2017 at 07:45 0 comments

    I want something comfortable that I can park at work without people thinking I'm a crazy red neck. I need something light weight to ease the stress on my 33 year old truck. Insulation is going to be a problem. The layout of all the cabinetry is going to be mind boggling. There are so many problems to face, but conquering them will give me the skills and a home I can truly be proud of.

    The Shell:

    The frame has to be very strong, but light weight and rigid. I am considering framing the walls like a house, then screwing corrugated metal sheeting to the frame. This should be pretty light and look half way decent. I would have to insulate the walls, then run an internal all of some sort. I am thinking about using a thin plywood. The part that will ha g over top of the cab will be my bed room. I think I will cut big arches out of plywood, then make a frame out of them, then simply bend the metal sheeting around the curve to make it look nice. I can cut and install all the window glass myself.

    Electronics:

    I will be running a 3000 watt or higher inverter with wiring run to code for a home. I will have a few outlets for things such as a projector and some chargers. My truck would be upgraded to a high performance alternator to handle the extra draw. I already installed an Optima battery for starting the engine. I plan on installing at least 1 Optima deep cycle battery to run my camper. All camper electronics will run off the deep cycle battery to ensure the starting battery can never be depleted.

    Heating:

    I will explore the idea of adding a second heater core to the camper, which would route engine coolant to it, then blow that hot air into the camper to warm it up as a drive. I will likely also install a 20 pound propane tank and small furnace if needed. The entire camper will also be insulated, with insulated cover panels for all windows. I also have a sleeping bag rated for -25 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Cooling:

    My truck doesn't have AC and probably never will. I am going to very carefully lay out all windows and vents to ensure the best airflow at any given time. Just like my truck, the camper will have vents that draw in air while moving, so I can keep fresh air in the camper. I will be using blower fans to keep air moving as well. I can always sleep with a wet tank top on if needed.

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Discussions

frolickingdirtchild2000 wrote 08/21/2017 at 03:08 point

not a problem.something to think about for skinning your build when you get to it you could do redneck fiberglass or poor mans fiberflass. You glue the fabric to the outside of your build then soak paint into the fabric. Its been used to create some resilient trailers and other toys. Depending on the type of paint used you could have a long lasting truck bed camper.

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frolickingdirtchild2000 wrote 06/10/2017 at 15:33 point

HI jJefferson

looks like a good project have you started building yet? Hows your truck running?

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Dustin wrote 08/20/2017 at 22:13 point

Sorry for the ridiculous delay. Haven't started building yet, due to lack of resources(money, time, energy). Have been doing a lot of brainstorming though over the past year or so. My truck is running better than ever with the Chevy 250 cubic inch straight six. I need to tune and adjust the engine, as well as redo all the brakes and shocks before I will be comfortable hauling something like this trailer around. Those upgrades and repairs will have to come first, delaying the camper construction, unfortunately. Thanks for the interest and inquiry!

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