Feb 142011

When buying a car they say you always want to be flexible about the color. One is not supposed to get caught up in the aesthetics. I just couldn’t help it. I wanted BLUE! (Form over function…) Also, I’m a Subaru guy; they have been my favorite for a long time. So why am I showing pictures of a Toyota Tacoma? Well, I needed function. Subaru doesn’t make trucks and Toyotas last forever.

Still shiny on its first climbing trip.

Roadside Attraction required a long approach from the truck.

Over the past many years our Toyota Rav4 has taken us many places. However it is too small (for road-trips with four people) and doesn’t have as much clearance as we would like.  With these requirements in mind I set out to look at trucks.

Lizzy takes measurements for another board.

I wanted to be able to sleep in the back and fuel economy was important. This left me with the many variations of the Tacoma. What I truly wanted is quite a mouthful and something that doesn’t exist. There is no Double Cab, Long Bed (73”) , TRD Off-Road Tacoma. You can either get the TRD-Off-Road package OR the Double Cab with Long Bed. I lucked out and found next best thing, a TRD, Double Cab Long Bed in Speedway Blue.

Luke figures out how to angle in the new plywood.

The first step towards making the truck road-trip ready was was getting a camper shell and after looking at A.R.E., Snug-Top and Leer I settled on the Leer 180. This looked to be the largest (tallest) shell on the market and had quality construction and the options I wanted. All brands offered color matching and were about the same price with a 3 week delivery time. I also considered the Flip-Pac but wanted something a bit more weather proof (snow camping).

One of the salesmen at Custom Truck was really helpful with the different window options for the shell and enlightened me on proper placement. If you plan on having a dog, or other living thing, in the back of the truck you need to have vents. It is important to have the vent on the opposite side as your exhaust pipe. So if you are stuck in traffic your puppy can breath good air. Useful advice!

Halfway done with the platform.

On the opposite side, the one with your exhaust pipe,  I choose a a “win-door”. This option was suggested to me by my friend Hartley and it is an easy way to get things out of the bed without opening the gate or rear window.  I also opted for a removable sliding front window. This helps getting stuff out of the cab, and vice versa. A removable window is also useful for for cleaning the outside of the cab window.

Final assembly in the under-platform "coffins"

The bed of a Tacoma is not wide enough for two people to sleep due to the two wheel wells. A “small” construction project was started to build a flat platform across the bed that would sit on-top of the wheel wells. It was a simple design with two pieces of plywood on for the main surface and a board underneath to support our weight. After a few rounds of shopping and many many hours of thinking, sawing and carpeting we were done! The biggest challenge was that it was a very snug fitting platform. It was hard to get the pieces in and out of the bed. We ended up using the win-door on the side to slide each piece into place since the back of the truck bed has a slight taper.

Lizzy applies glue to our platform in prep for the carpet

We carpeted the top with blue indoor/outdoor carpet and glue and stapled down edges of the carpet for extra security. Ikea makes a 55 by 78 inch folding foam mattress which just fits in the back with a little squishing. The plan is to cut off a bit of foam on the end so that it fits the 57 x 73.

Lizzy enjoys "snow camping" in the back of our Tacoma

The final project is to add some weather proofing around the tailgate to make sure dust and water doesn’t get into the bed. We’ve bought some industrial strength Velcro and will use some carpet scraps to seal it up! Curtains will also be in the works to keep out light and reduce condensation buildup.

Killer Yosemite view from the bed of the truck - Priceless!

Enjoy the photos! Have you built a road-trip mobile? What is your favorite car-camping accessory? Tips are welcome!

– Luke

  29 Responses to “From Truck to Camper, One Tacoma’s Journey”

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  1. I think my favorite car camping accessory is my truck itself! I also have a Tacoma almost exactly like yours. I’ve had it for over three years and it’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made. Good choice. It gets us everywhere in style and its rugged durability is always dependable. While camping I’d say the electrical outlet in the back is one of the best perks anyone could have… charge a battery, run a boombox, food processor, blender? Very cool. Besides the transportation though, I’d say I appreciate our “kitchen” kit the most. Everything you need to set a table and hold extra cooking supplies in something the size of a small Jansport backpack. Our BOB stroller is pretty slick too and good for more then just moving the kid, but of course… you gotta have a kid! Great work on the truck; next best thing to a place for our husky to sleep in the back would be a place for ourselves like you’ve made. -Cheers!

  2. That’s pretty neat what you did with your truck! Looks comfier than some camping setups I’ve seen.

    I’m actually looking at buying a Rav4 so I was wondering did you guys ever camp in yours? Was the fit ok? Also, you mentioned that it didn’t have such great clearance. Anything in particular you weren’t able to take it on b/c of that?

    Great article. You should post any other tips or tricks you guys have for camping out of cars.

    • We’ve never slept in the RAV. I do have an older (2001) model, where you can take the back seats out, which we often did for just the 2 of us, but it’s not long enough for Luke to sleep in, and it’s super tight for 4 people for a climbing weekend (I think the newer ones are a little bigger, though). The main issue with the RAV is that it’s built on a car platform (I’m pretty sure) so it just doesn’t have the clearance/suspension of a truck. We have taken it on a decent amount of “off-roading”, but we’ve also had to turn back from a couple of places (Utah in particular is not RAV friendly). I think our friend’s Subaru Outback actually has more clearance than the RAV (and I don’t think of the Outback as a high-clearance vehicle, so that gives you an idea of how the RAV also is not). Luke and his friend Stein actually found Stein’s old 2wd 4Runner to be somewhat more versatile off-roading-wise, just because of the extra clearance. But then again, if you’re not looking to be needing to drive on gnarly desert roads much, it may be less of an issue.

    • If you are looking at Rav4’s I think the older ones 2000 or 2001 until 2005 are best since the seats are removable. The new ones are nice, and bigger with the seat that fold flat instead of coming out. Like Lizzy said sometimes clearance is more important than 4wd. We had issues around San Diego and the Rav4 wouldn’t make it to Clark Mountain. A small lift kit is in future for our Tacoma.

      I have friends who camp in the back of a Subaru outback… So it all depends on how much you are willing to cuddle/sleep in fetal position. I like to sleep stretched out on my back which I can just do in the Tacoma.

      • Based on my experience and from what I gathered from several off-road fanatics, here are the factors that most noticeably impact off-roading ability, in order of importance:
        1) Clearance (some — no need to have a super jacked up truck)
        2) Locking differential (after-market kits are available for many vehicles)
        3) 4 wheel drive
        4) Automatic transmission (transfers power more smoothly to the wheels than a stick shift)

        Apparently 1+2+4 will get you virtually anywhere a 4×4 can go.

        • So as I said in the beginning of the the post, I really wanted to get the TRD Off-Road package which has the Manuel Locking Differential. They don’t offer it in the Double Cab Long Bed so I was stuck with the TRD Sport which has an electronically controlled differential. The salesman promised almost equal performance and I have yet to get the Tacoma totally stuck or have to use 4WD-Low.

          Excited to take the Tacoma to Indian Creek! Maybe a rest day will be spent off-roading!

  3. This is great, Luke! We just bought our Tacoma yesterday and are planning on doing a similar setup then taking it across the states climbing this summer. We got a white one though I am a bit jealous of your blue.

  4. Nice Luke! That’s the same color as my Corolla actually. 🙂 The camper idea is great!

    At least you didn’t go for a salmon car and end up with pink. 😉

  5. That looks so fun!

    I usually do climbing trips alone, so I wanted a very fuel-efficient vehicle that I could haul a lot of gear in and sleep in in a pinch. I figure you multiply your gas mileage by how many people you’re hauling, and since I’m usually alone I need very high gas mileage. I’m also partial to manual transmissions, which limited my options a lot. I ended up with a Honda Fit sport which has served me very well until now. I’m 5’9” and I can sleep in the back with the tailgate open. I’ve taken it up the Needles access road and a couple other similar dirt roads with no problem. But, for example, I don’t think it could have taken me to Holcomb…

    However, I recently adopted a lab mix pup, and his crate takes up 2/3 of the back. So the options are to come up with some other way to keep the pup comfortable (e.g. with the rear seats up in “tall” mode), or get a bigger car, this time one with high clearance (it’s also been my experience in my old Rav4 that clearance matters more that 4×4).

    Thank you for sharing your setup!

  6. I love it! Years ago, I lived on Hawaii out of a van for 6 months, and installed a similar system. I also had mesh “gear lofts” hanging from the ceiling of it that were very useful.

    I am presently looking for a used Tacoma and this post is making me so jealous!

    • Very cool. I too once had a van. Loved it until the day it died. The Tacoma is great for it’s 4WD. We are still trying to figure out how keep the back less messy. How did you attach the gear-lofts to the ceiling?

  7. Sweet truck Luke! Can’t wait to hear about all the adventures you two will have in it!
    @ Teri – I have a Honda Fit Sport as well (automatic though) and one of the main selling points for me was being able to sleep in the back and/or haul lots of stuff. I haven’t actually tried sleeping in the back yet, but it’s good to know that it can be done! (I’m only 5′ 4″ so perhaps I can even mange it with the tailgate closed) So far I’ve mainly been using the cargo space to haul garage sale finds and help people move, but my friends are always amazed at how much it can fit for such a small car. Plus the mileage is great for my 60 mile/day commute (40mpg anyone?).

  8. Cool! That’s a very practical idea. Looks good too. The great thing is that you can disassemble it and have your truck back.

  9. Just set up my RAV4 for camping 10 days ago in a super easy way. First I have a 2010 and the rear seats do come out but I didn’t do that. When they say the seats fold flat, it’s really “flat”, i.e. you will notice the downward slope sleeping in the back. The quick fix which only took a couple of hours and $50 was two 1′ x 6′ planks with a single stack of wood halfway and double stack on the end (the gate end). Voila. Fits with the seats down and if you drop the front seats forward a bit a six foot person can definitely sleep, flat on their back legs extended (two six footers if I add another plank and a half). Admittedly this was a quick fix and a platform like this: http://www.rav4world.com/forums/98-4-3-interior/77783-has-anyone-built-car-bed-inside-their-rav4-camping.html
    would be the long term plan. 🙂

    RAV4 definitely is a car and not meant for serious off road driving. The clearance for it and the Outback is the same: 7.5″.

    Tacoma was my second runner up vehicle when I was shopping last year. But I couldn’t stomach going from a 2 door coupe getting 29 mpg with city driving to little more than half that. On my recent trip (all highway driving) I got 25-26 mpg in the RAV4.

    I’m impressed by the simplicity of your design, how the single support + two tire wells create the platform. Easier than screwing and gluing together the supports for my planks!

  10. Great post, very instructive! I’ve read that you can velcro curtains directly to the carpet you glued to the inside roof of the shell…

    • Meant to ask if you’d tried that and if it worked…

      • Velcro definitely sticks to the inside of the camper shell. We’ve been busy so the curtains never got finished. So I’m unsure if the removal and re-application of the Velcro will cause any lasing negative effects on the camper shell. However the bed is doing great and we still love being able to stay dry in wet weather!

  11. Awesome conversion man! Although the color (also awesome) is maybe not the most conducive to low-key dirtbagging haha.

  12. Great read! I am currently deciding if I should go with the Rav4 or Tacoma. The MPG’s of the Rav4 look nice but I am in need of the same things you mentioned. Thanks for helping me make my decision!

  13. Awesome setup, but that looks more like a Leer 122 than a 180. Am I missing something?

    • Think you are right. Will change the post. Thanks for catching the typo!

      • No problem! I know because I had almost the exact situation (but with a Honda Element instead of RAV): live in Utah, great roads to explore, faced the same dilemma about the Double Cab Long Bed not having a locker (got it anyway for the same reasons you did), and just ordered the Leer 122 w/ windoors with screened sliders so I’d have room to camp. All I have left to do is build my platform, so your info will be helpful. How did your weather-proofing work out? Any pitfalls I should be aware of? Thanks for the post… nice to know the truck will look good when the shell comes in!

        • One more quick question: Do you know the height from the top of your platform to the shell ceiling (or from the floor to the ceiling)? I’ve looked everywhere, but can only find info on the 180. Thanks!

        • The shell has a angled ceiling. I will try to grab a measurement.

        • Got my shell (Leer 122) installed today. Looks like about 44″ headroom or so at the tall end and maybe 42″ closer to the cab (measured from bed ridges to ceiling). The height at the door is about 41″. Plenty of room above the platform!

        • Thanks for following up!

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