Go Truck Yourself: How to build a truck camper you can live in
Full Disclosure: I no longer live in the back of a truck. I live in a cozy 2 bedroom apartment with my wife and dog, and I don’t plan on giving any of those away. However, I didn’t always think that way.
Why I Did It
I used to be a whitewater raft guide in Colorado. If you don’t know anything about raft guides, we are quite the rugged(dirty) and adventurous(crazy) bunch. At our company, Acquired Tastes, we all lived in the owner’s backyard. Home was either a vehicle, tent, and if you were lucky, one of the broken down buses that has sat idle since the 70s. My first year was spent with my girlfriend and her dog at the time in a rusty old van that had been gifted to us by an Australian who had to return home. Things were pretty great.
Then things changed. While finishing up my degree at the University of Wyoming, my girlfriend and I broke up and she took the dog and the van with her to California. I was heart broken and lost. I spent the next few months wandering around the house in a daze. I decided to make use of this newly acquired time by addressing my living situation for the following summer in Buena Vista. That winter I built my new home— a camper in the back of my truck.
The bed of my 2002 Ford Ranger was just long enough for me to lay down in, but I needed to make it more comfortable. I called up the best handyman I know to help me with the project — my mother. With our family’s inherent determination and stubbornness, we completed the project in just 2 days. Living in the back of my truck that summer healed me and it was one of the most enlightening experiences that I’ve had so far in my short life.
Why and When To Do It
If you’re anything like me, from time to time you feel stuck. You’re stuck with paying the rent, which means you have to stay at your shitty job, which means you can’t pick up and just leave town.
The thing is—you can leave. You can quit your job,stop paying rent, and sell all of your things. There are sacrifices to this decision, but what you gain is freedom and mobility. Which might be just what you need in your life.
Yeah, you’ll be breaking the status quo and your friends and family will think you’re crazy. But that doesn’t mean you are leaving everything behind. In a weird way, you actually create more security for yourself. When you have everything you own in your vehicle, you can live wherever you want that’s within driving distance. You don’t have to be worry about finding a new place to live or even a job if you work remotely. You can just fuel up, pick a spot on the map, and go.
So, are feeling a little stir crazy and are ready to make the leap over to pure freedom? If you are, I’ve provided the nitty gritty details on how I built my custom truck camper so that you can get off on the right foot.
How to Build It
The camper I built could be set up in two different ways. The first model was for shorter camping trips or when I was stationary long periods and could store my things in the cabin. This allowed me to sit up and live quite comfortably. The second model was used to haul everything I owned when I was traveling to a new location. I could still sleep in there while I traveled, but had limited head space.
Usually, truck campers have the first OR the second model. I knew that I didn’t want to compromise(remember the stubbornness), so I figured out a way to have them both. Here are the steps I took to get both models.
Step 1: The Planning Phase
It actually took me longer to figure out how I was going to build the camper than to build it. Before you dive into a project like this, it’s important to understand what your finished project should look like. Here was my final blueprint before starting:
Step 2: Frame and Cabinets
The frame consisted of two 2x4s on each side—running parallel of the bed. They were supported by three 2x4s that ran perpendicular and a large piece of plywood on the inside of the bed. The frame was then attached to the bed of the truck using hooks and industrial zip ties.
The cabinets were cut using a hand saw and were given a plywood bases that were drilled into the 2x4 frames. Two hinges held each cabinet lid in place.
Step 3: Bed base for both models
(Please see picture for number reference)
A large piece of plywood was drilled into the bottom of the frame. This created a stronger foundation and allowed the bed base to be slid on a flat surface.
A 1x1 plastic edge was drilled into to the plywood to provide a shelf for the elevated bed base.
Due to the weight of the polished plywood that was used as the bed base, we had to cut it so it could be moved easier while on the road. To do this, two identical pieces were added to the back end of the truck bed. The bottom base was drilled into the frame, the top could be removed or slid to create a desk while sitting up.
The remainder of the bed base was cut to fit in both bottom and elevated bed positions.
Step 4: Making it a Home
A leftover piece of plywood was drilled to the tailgate. This was used to sit and cook on. I painted that piece along with the cabinets and then coated it with sealer. Curtains were installed and a cut up foam pad was used as the bed.
I only lived out of the truck for one summer, but it was one of the best that I’ve ever experienced. Rafting season came to an end and I decided to move to China. As you know, you can’t drive there. So I decided to sell the truck in order to travel the world for the next few years.
Even though I would never trade the life that I have now, I still think about the truck that I used to call home. It taught me so many things— to live simplistically and to love unconventional ways of life. It allowed me to let go of material life and to focus on things that really matter. If you ever find yourself longing for freedom like this, I encourage you to go truck yourself!
All together, this camper cost less than $250. You could definitely do it for cheaper with lower quality materials, or even better, you know of someone that has free wood laying around. The overview of materials that I purchased went something like this:
3 - 1/2 in sanded plywood– The frame and the top shelves.
1 - 3/4 in sanded and finished plywood– The movable bed frame
1 - Bag of extra strength zip ties
8 - Hinges for the four drawers
Alotta - Screws of all sizes
1 - 12ft 1x1in plastic edge for the bed to rest on
25 ft - 2×4’s
Acrylic Paint and Polyethylene Sealer
Curtains and Curtain rods