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The Best Sleeping Rig for Pickup Trucks

Hidden in the back of my 2003 Toyota Tacoma is super-simple, super cheap and comfy sleeping rig. It goes in and out in less than a minute, and I can get two bikes and 3 full-height ActionPackers and a cooler inside. I can hang out and cook inside if the weather blows and can hide all my gear underneath the full-width bed. Read on…

Sleeping deck in "half" mode

Sleeping deck in “half” mode

Check out the split deck configuration. You can see how it’s made in this photo. A ¾” plywood (don’t try to use ½” ply. It sags.) bed is supported by two sections of 2”X4” that are diagonally braced. The other part of the bed simply rests on top of the shell lip. The bed is held in place by 2 cam straps that pull the wood diagonally down and into the corners of the truck bed. Suck up the front one really tight, then the back one just snug enough to hold it down. I built up small ledges on the middle side of the posts on which to rest the other half of the bed. This is how I set it up if the weather is crappy. I have a low beach chair which I can slide in and then I cook and read from inside.

Full bed mode. Sleeps 2

Full bed mode. Sleeps 2

Here you can see the double bed rig set up. The second half of the bed is simply a flat ¾” plywood board cut the same size as the main deck. When it’s stored on top of the main deck, as in the previous picture, there is room for a lawnmower or two bikes. Just slide it over and you have a double bed. On this bed I stapled some scrap carpet so it’s more comfortable. In some previous beds I glued a foam layer between the carpet and boards thinking that I wouldn’t need a ThermaRest. Nope… Still needed that. I’ve talked to a lot of people who set their bed level at the top of the wheel wells, thinking that they wanted the extra headroom. BS I say. That completely cripples your under-bed storage space and—what do you need headroom for? I’m only on the bed when I’m sleeping and I usually sleep lying down.

Built-in bottle opener with cap catcher.

Built-in bottle opener with cap catcher.

Here’s a nice detail: notice the bottle opener on the center post. The old chalkbag is to catch the bottle caps. To fool the cops in Utah I bought one that says Coke rather than Budweiser. The blacked ribbed tailgate cover sucked. It was so slippery that even when flat, things would slide off of it. Sooooo.

tailgate cutting board

I took off that slippery black plastic tailgate cover and screwed on a plywood one. It’s a cutting board, knife holder and cupholder. The cutout perfectly fits a JetBoil for no-spill tailgate coffee.

side loaders

Here’s another good trick. The picture on the left shows a Yakima Side Loaders I’ve bolted through the shell. I put them on to support a safari rack I use when the Yakima cross bars aren’t enough. On the right, you can see that, inside, I hung bolt hangers from which I can hang water bladders, trash bags, clotheslines or whatever else I feel like.

General Hints:

  • If you’re buying… get a shell that is raised up above the top of the cab. It’s not so much about the headroom inside, it’s about the height of the door. It’s much easier to get in and out as well as fitting in road bikes easily, etc.
  • Again, if you’re buying be sure to get a shell with a liner. You can see it in the bolt-hanger picture. Not only does it prevent the shell from getting loaded up with condensation while you’re sleeping inside, it’s a perfect mate to hook-side Velcro. You can stick stuff all over the place, including…
  • Get a battery powered LED light bar. Glue hook-side Velcro to the back and then you can stick it anywhere inside the shell. Glue a couple of pieces of soft side Velcro to the back window (You can see Velcro circles in my half-shell picture) and you have a perfect kitchen light.
  • The side window on the front right side of the shell folds up. This is HUGE when loading the back. Be sure to get this feature if it’s an option. It’s usually called a contractor’s window.
  • You NEED a boat hook to grab stuff that’s way up underneath and pull it out. Some people have rigged long sliding drawers to make access easy but I think that’s overkill. I use my cheater clip stick and screw on a painter’s hook that costs 79 cents at McGukin’s. A broomstick works great if you’re a trad climber.
  • It’s not a bad idea to augment the cheeseball twisty latches and lock that came on your shell with a gate hasp and padlock.

Parawing

I travel with a MSR (formerly Moss) Parawing. This is an amazing piece of nylon which will keep rain and sun off, even when it’s blowing 50 mph. It’s by far the best piece of nylon I own. If I set it up carefully, I can back the truck underneath and have a beautiful and welcoming “porch” under which to hang out and drink afternoon margaritas. It’s insanely expensive and worth every penny. Get the 19’ version and buy 4, 24” pieces of rebar to use as stakes. Be sure to get the rebar “caps” or you’ll chew up your shins when you get up to pee in the night. I replaced all the guy lines with at least 30’ feet each of that cool reflective tent cord. I think they call it “Nightline”. Don’t forget to bring a BIG hammer for the rebar. I carry a 3lb sledge just for this purpose.

So if you’re out in the desert or camping at a crag somewhere stop on by for a first hand look. More than likely I’ll have a cool beer or a margarita available.

See you soon,

Mal

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11 comments

  1. I happened to be doing some work-related research in Google today and found your blog. I’ve definitely spent a bit of time here browsing and procrastinating! Great stuff here and I’m going to be around again in the future to check out more. Take care!

  2. Nice modification made in this pickup truck. I like such innovations. I have also lifted my pickup Toyota Tacoma truck with huge tires. Also planning to buy a used Ford pickup truck. But nice innovative modification made to this vehicle.

  3. I am thinking of building something similar for my Dodge Dakota. Do the 3/4″ boards flex very much with only 2 supports in the middle? I weigh about 175 and I was thinking that they looked a little thin for having only two middle supports. Great blog by the way. Very informative.

    thanks, Earl

  4. Hey Earl,

    I weigh 195 and have no flex issues. They are in the back of a Toyota Tacoma so each board is only 29″ wide. Don’t forget that they are completely supported on 2 sides so that helps. I also had one installed in a Toyota Tundra which was probably 6-8″ wider and had no issues there, either.

    Best of luck,
    Mal

  5. The 3/4″ works perfectly. Here is a link to a picture of the finished product.

    http://sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc4/hs672.snc4/61218_597860800404_40306279_34547926_5695585_n.jpg

    I wrapped the carpet around the bottom of the board to protect the back of the legs from splinters. Going to sew up some curtains attached with velcro and am thinking of adding a slide out table, along with other accessories. Now all I need is one of those bottle openers. Thanks again for the ideas.

    earl

  6. This is almost exactly the same rig i have, except I added a 1000 watt inverter and small heater for winter time….and am using an MSR zing for my wing. I have never seen the plywood setup before, but i like the idea…. i might copy it, but use a commercial restaurant cutting board instead.

  7. Love the chalk bag cap catcher, that’s pure genius. Just wanted to thank you for posting your build. It was definitely an inspiration and great starting point for what I ended up putting together.

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