I have been slowly working on this micro-camper build for years now, so this blog post is long overdue. This is actually my third iteration and by far the one I am happiest with. My goal was to have a setup that converted easily and quickly between bed mode and couch mode.
I find couch mode super useful because its way easier to pack and change with couch mode – really great for camping/backpacking trips. I also find it more comfortable for reading and working on my computer, which I do sometimes when I show up somewhere early and have some time to kill.
Many Element camper setups (including my second iteration) are tall simple platforms that optimize storage space under the bed platform. This setup has decidedly less storage space than most. But in exchange for storage, I get good head room when hanging out in couch-mode, and a 4″ mattress – downright luxurious in such a small space.
There are only two pieces of furniture: a shelf and a bed. Each are held in with 2 turnbuckles that attach to existing anchor points. Neither requires any modification of the car in order to install.
I wanted the shelf to fit in really well with the existing contours of the interior trim, so I carefully trimmed cardboard templates to fit all the curves before cutting the plywood itself. In addition to looking nice, the matching curves also help to make the shelf extremely stable with just two turnbuckles.
The bed platform is also secured with two turnbuckles, so the whole setup can be removed in a few minutes. Again I made some cardboard templates to match the contours of the interior trim before cutting the wood to fit. I then used these same templates to cut a 4″ foam mattress to the right shape. And then again to make a set of form-fitting sheets to cover the funky shaped mattress.
The bed platform is composed of interlocking slats that extend out for “bed mode” conversion. The sliding out motion is my favorite bed conversion mechanism because it means you can have your whole mess of stuff on top of the bed and do the conversion without clearing anything off. (This was my least favorite task when I had a hinged bed platform that could only be flipped open when it wasn’t covered in stuff).
The curtains are a sweet spot for easy and effective. I installed some hooks in the trim and stretched a loop of elastic cord to use as a curtain ‘rod.’ It also makes a good clothesline for drying stuff.
I also put bug netting on the middle windows. Future improvements include having a pop-up mesh tent for the rear door for camping in hotter places. But so far I’ve only camped in cooler situations and wanted to be more stealth, so having these windows open a tiny bit has been enough airflow.
My latest upgrade is this iPad holder that doubles as the frame that holds my insulation bubble wrap in place. Plastic tabs rotate to allow easy removal of the iPad and also easy removal of the frame. The plastic pieces and the wooden plywood frame were both cut on my laser cutter. I’m quite impressed that my 60W laser was able to go through 1/2″ plywood with a couple passes. I must say, this is a solid way to watch a movie, even when I’m parked in my driveway…
When I’m actually camping, my cook kit and some food fits in this Tupperware. There’s room under the bed for one more of these, plus some extra space. Usually, any other extra gear/clothes get put in the shelf or on the front seats and dash when its time to sleep.
Here’s a video showing the installation of shelf and bed, and how to convert it between bed and couch mode: https://youtu.be/qfIWjVnueSI