Van Camping Vehicle Modification

Fitting out a stealth camping van

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Remove Rear Seats

The first step in modifying a stealth camping van is to remove the rear seats. If you are lucky enough to have seats that fold down to a comfortable, flat sleeping area, then keep them, but remove all other rear seats. For the most part, you should start with a vehicle that is empty from the driver and passenger seats on back. If you don't have carpeting in the vehicle, add carpeting and lots of padding. Discount store sleeping bags can be used for floor padding and can be rolled up when not needed.

Set Up Your Bed

Once the seats have been removed, then find a way to make a place for a bed. You can go minimal with carpet, padding, and a backpacking pad, or you can build a raised area for a bed, with storage underneath. An air mattress is convenient, although you may have some condensation issues.

To make a bed platform, fit a piece of plywood on top of milk crates or other plastic crates to use as a base for your bed. You can make the plywood as small as you think will be comfortable for you. Try to tie it or jam it in against other sturdy things in the vehicle to prevent it from moving in case of a quick stop or accident. Cover the plywood with foam, either with thick, expensive bedding foam, or with cheap thin foam, and use backpacking pads on top of the cheap foam. Store your gear in boxes or bins that fit underneath the bed platform.

Some bed options:

My personal solution is to put two or three cheap sleeping bags down as pads, then use one or more backpacking pads and a good down bag to sleep in. I like the simplicity, and it doesn't take much to hide the fact that I am sleeping in the van.

Black Out Curtains

Tint the windows, and then black them out. Use quilts, reflective bubble wrap (Reflectix) or other opaque material that will allow no light to pass through. Glue, tape or velcro the window covers in place. Yes, duct tape will work. Think about how you might be able to get ventilation while still stopping all light from getting out of the van.

For side and rear windows, one way to blackout and insulate the windows is to use Reflectix (bubblewrap with a silver reflective foil). Reflectix is available from most home improvement stores. You may have to duct tape pieces of reflectix together to get a large enough piece to fit the window. Cut the reflectix to fit the molding around the windows, in other words, the size of the window plus about 4" to 6" all the way around. Spray paint the window side of the reflectix black, or spray glue some dark fabric on the window side of the reflectix. This is optional but recommended especially if you don't have tinted windows. Use double sided tape and hook and loop velcro to mount the reflectix on to the molding around the window. Make sure it is a tight fit and does not allow any light through at night. This method allows you to pull the reflectix away from the window and open the window for ventilation when needed (also see bug netting comments, below).

Hang two overlapping pieces of quilt behind the driver's and passenger's seat, so that it is easy to pass through and it automatically returns to the closed position. It is better to leave the driver's and passenger's seats in open view, because a curtain on the windshield is a little too obvious that someone is camping.

Put a view shield of some kind at the side and rear doors so you can open them without exposing your secret lair. Fabric curtains held up with velcro work well for this. If you leave a space between the door and the view shield, you can put your groceries inside without exposing your bed, and once you are inside, you can easily get to your groceries.

Ventilation, Insulation and Bug Proofing

Consider adding a vent or two to the roof of the vehicle for hot weather. Try to find a way to keep windows open for air while still preserving the black out aspect.

For cold weather, a quilt "tent" on top of the bed is a good idea. Get a pole as long as the bed and hang it from the ceiling. Take some quilts or sleeping bags and make an A-frame tent over the sleeping area. Wrap the ends around and fasten them loosely. Leave room for some air flow! For real luxury, use two poles and make a square quilt tent that covers your lounge chair and bed. Fit a light inside.

Reflectix (bubblewrap with a silver reflective foil) is low cost and can be duct taped up on the ceiling as a temporary insulating material.

Bug netting held up with velcro or tape around any opening windows will make life much better. You can use bugnet from sporting goods stores, or you can often find suitable fabric that is intended for veils and curtains at a fabric outlet. It lets air through but not insects. Bug curtains by the doors can help keep bugs from getting in while you enter and exit the vehicle.

Lounge Chair

Hey, you don't have to rough it on the road. Make sure you have a comfortable lounging seat for every person. Yes, you can use the driver and passenger seats but it is better to have a seat that is not visible from outside. One thing to think about is that most van ceilings are too low to allow for sitting in a normal house chair, so you need a low chair.

Folding beach chairs are a good solution, as long as you get a comfortable and durable chair. A beach chair is a chair low to the ground.

A beanbag chair is very warm and comfortable, although it is bulky. You might be able to use a futon for both bed and lounge chair, although it is a lot of work to switch a futon over from bed to couch.

If you have room, a small hammock is very comfortable for lounging, although it takes up a lot of room when in use. See if you can hang it from shoulder strap seat belt mounts, or any other strong, secure location. Hammocks put a lot of stress on mounting locations.

Gear Storage

The first rule of gear storage is: "Don't take much gear". Small to medium sized plastic storage bins are good, especially if they have good handles and will fit on the front seats. Cardboard boxes are free and will also work well. They need to fit easily between driver and passenger chairs. When you are ready to camp out for the evening, move them up front to make room in the back.

If you have backpacking gear, you may be able to pack it up in the pack, and hang the pack on a sidewall, maybe from a seat belt mount.

Find a way to strap down or jam in place gear boxes while driving.

Cook Box

Consider a cook box which holds basic ingredients, stove, utensils, plates, etc. and which can be used on the floor of the van or on a picnic table. If you make a simple box out of plywood, you can cut a hole in the top to mount a simple propane cookstove (the kind that fits on a 1lb propane tank), and make cleats or holes to securely hold a cutting board, washbasin and dish rack. Use a stool that allows you to sit and safely use the cook box when it is on the van floor.

Secret Hiding Place, Key Storage

Make a hiding place for your valuables. Put a spare key somewhere accessible from outside the vehicle.

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