Car Camping: Building the Perfect Sleeping Platform for Your RAV4

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Camping in the Rav4
Camping in the Rav4, click the image above if you want more on the whole Rav4 setup.

Guess what?

I (along with the help of a friend) built a new Rav4 sleeping platform!

As you will soon learn, it took a lot to figure out what I wanted and didn’t want in the next build.

It was a lot of work in hot temperatures and took two days to build. I also spent around $200 for parts and couldn’t be happier!

If you want to build a sleeping platform for yourself, remember that you only need to fold the seats and load up your gear.

It’s when you use your vehicle for longer weekends and road trips that a sleeping platform is a game changer.

This is the third version, and I’m so happy with it!

If you have questions, leave them in the comments below!

Change Can be a Good Thing!

With everything in life, sometimes there is a need for change. For over the last three years, I’ve enjoyed the original PVC sleeping platform I built.

It was easy, completed in an afternoon, and honestly got me on camping trips and my longest road trip to date.

I’ve often mentioned the best way to try car camping is just to go out and do it.

After all, this is when you will figure out what you like and don’t like in your vehicle. There is no reason to spend thousands until you know what you will use and do in your vehicle.

Rav4 emptied of the original platform-another view
A look at what we are starting with.

As you might have guessed, there are a few things that I wanted to change (from the PVC build).

The main change is having the platform built lower than the current one. This is because I can’t transport anything large due to the PVC platform being in the way.

Yes, I could easily remove the PVC, but that’s not so easy when you purchase a large item and realize (in the parking lot) it won’t fit.

Sadly, I didn’t plan, and this happened a few times. And when I did, there was always dealing with the large hole where the spare tire used to be.

As you can see in the image, with the Rav4 seats removed (and the spare tire), you have a huge open hole that can be a pain to deal with.

After a lot of thinking, seeing other people’s builds, camping, and a few road trips, I’ve come up with my new platform build.

Building a custom sleeping platform is required for any car or SUV due to no flat surfaces.

You also have to decide what you will build the platform out of.

I considered using aluminum Unistrut (I might use it for a future project in the Rav, though!), but it was a bit out of my price range.

See the image above if you don’t know what Unistrut is. The cool part is that you can make almost anything with it!

For this sleeping Rav4 platform, I used the following supplies for this build.

Timber in store

If you’ve been around here at all, you know I’m not very handy—one of the reasons the original sleeping platform was built with PVC.

So I enlisted the help of a good friend.

Together, we made a template out of cardboard, got rough estimates of measurements, and went to get all the supplies listed above.

It also helps that he has a huge truck that can easily hold full sheets of plywood (I would have had to have the hardware store cut it down if I only had the Rav4 for this)!

Rav4 camping with new platform

Use What You Have

I want to take a moment to reiterate that the most important part is to get outside.

When starting, use what you have and go from there.

Again, being able to build this sleeping platform for the Rav is something I’ve wanted to do for some time. But, just a few years ago, I would fold down the rear seats, pack my gear, and go!

Whether you’re embarking on a weekend getaway or a cross-country road trip, having a comfortable and convenient sleeping setup can make all the difference in turning your vehicle into a cozy haven on wheels.

Only after using that original platform did I determine what I needed and wanted in the next version.

Building the Sleeping Platform 2.0

Going back to what I mentioned above, there were a few things I didn’t like with the original PVC build.

Built PVC platform 2020
If you forgot, here is the look of the original PVC build.

As I mentioned, the main issue was moving large items. But a close second was the limited room to move around inside the Rav.

After three years with the PVC build, the main focus was comfort inside the Rav. This includes being able to sit up, access everything under the platform, and easily be able to move around (getting to the front and back of the Rav without having to get out is key).

So this new build was going to accommodate many different situations.

This also made the platform idea easy, as the plan was to cover the entire rear of the Rav4.

This will allow for plenty of room to haul items and move around inside.

Even with lowering the platform, I quickly noticed there would be lots of storage options.

I also wanted the platform to open a certain way to ensure I could access my items from inside (not having to open doors or the hatch to access items is also important for me).

Thus, thinking about what you need before building something in a small space is important.

So, grab your toolbox, and let’s begin this exciting journey of building the ultimate sleeping platform for your RAV4!

circular saw

Assessing Your Needs and Space

This goes back to testing out what you want before investing money into a car camping build.

You want to make sure you know what you will need and what you will bring along with you. A weekend camping trip is much different than a road trip or living full-time in your vehicle.

Like many vehicles, one of the challenges with the Toyota Rav4 is the absence of flat areas, making it crucial not to sacrifice any usable space.

Rav4 emptied of the original platform
The original PVC sleeping platform was removed, and Rav4 was cleaned and vacuumed. Now for the hard part.

Given the individuality of everyone’s needs, the primary objective is to create a setup that encourages outdoor exploration.

Once you’ve determined your specific requirements, it’s time to construct a more permanent and functional sleeping platform.

In my personal case, I aimed to design a platform that allowed comfortable sitting, effortless movement, convenient access from both inside and outside the Rav4, and the flexibility to remove or rearrange components when not camping.

In no particular order, here is what I wanted for my Rav4 platform build 2.0

  • Sleep comfortably inside
  • Be able to sit up inside the Rav
  • Have storage to carry all my gear
  • Be able to haul items (moving, bike, camping stuff)
  • Be able to see out all the windows (even when loaded with camping gear)
  • The ability to expand the build later (like running solar or building shelves)

Designing Your Sleeping Platform

As you read this, I’m sure you have seen many different designs and ideas for your build.

As you will see with this build, I have taken a few ideas others have done and made it my own.

I also decided that pull-out drawers (even though they would be awesome) aren’t for me or ideal for the Rav4. But that is why each build is unique.

Starting the process another look
Cardboard for the win! Still lots to do, but I’m excited to get started!

After deciding what you want (and even need) for your platform, it’s time to design it!

When conducting research, you’ll discover many options available for designing your sleeping platform. While the available space is a starting point, the possibilities are virtually endless.

You can explore various features such as folding mechanisms, slide-out drawers, modularity based on your specific needs, and much more.

The abundant choices allow you to customize your sleeping platform to align perfectly with your preferences and requirements.

It really comes down to the space that you have. And inside a 2013 Rav4, you have to use what you have.

One perfect example is to get cardboard and create a mock platform. We did this by only making a few sections before transferring the image to the plywood to be cut.

Getting the front and rear sections figured out
Cardboard helps a lot when figuring out where to put supports and customizing the build.

We discovered that separating the platform into three sections would be easier than the original two.

This would mean there would be a front section (divided in two) and a rear section.

On a side note, I’m so happy with this setup; it works great!

Tips for Optimizing Space and Comfort

If you have spent any time sleeping or camping in a vehicle, you know space is important.

You will quickly learn that maximizing storage and vertical space is essential.

Here are some tips for optimizing space and comfort in an SUV:

  1. Utilize Storage Solutions: Make the most of the available space by incorporating storage solutions such as cargo organizers, bins, and storage bags. These can help keep your belongings organized and prevent clutter.
  2. Foldable and Collapsible Gear: Opt for gear and equipment that can be easily folded or collapsed when not in use. This includes camping chairs, tables, and collapsible kitchenware. This way, you can save space and make room for other essential items.
  3. Modular and Stackable Containers: Consider using modular and stackable containers for storing food, cooking utensils, and other supplies. These containers can maximize vertical space and keep everything neatly organized.
  4. Multi-purpose Items: This is key! Look for multi-purpose items that can serve multiple functions. For example, a camping mat can double as a seating area or a picnic blanket. This way, you can minimize the number of items you need to carry.
  5. Roof Racks and Cargo Carriers: Install roof racks or cargo carriers on top of your SUV to create additional storage space. These are great for carrying bulky items like tents, kayaks, or bicycles, freeing up space inside the vehicle.
  6. Comfortable Bedding: Comfortable bedding options include air mattresses, sleeping pads, and camping cots. These can significantly improve your sleep quality during camping trips.
  7. Adjustable and Removable Furniture: Use adjustable or removable furniture pieces that can be easily configured to your needs. This flexibility allows you to create different seating or sleeping arrangements while optimizing space when required.
  8. Use Vertical Space: Use the vertical space in your SUV by hanging organizers or installing hooks for hanging items like jackets, hats, or camping gear. This keeps them easily accessible and frees up floor space. Remember, you are in a metal box. Magnets and magnetic hooks help a lot!
  9. Window Covers and Privacy Screens: Install window covers or privacy screens to block out sunlight and provide privacy during rest or sleep. These can also help insulate the vehicle and maintain a comfortable temperature. Don’t forget about mosquito netting!
  10. Regular Organization and Decluttering: Keep your SUV organized and clutter-free by regularly assessing your supplies and removing unnecessary items. This practice ensures that you only carry what you truly need, maximizing space and comfort.

By implementing these tips, you can optimize the space in your SUV while ensuring comfort during your camping or travel adventures.

As always, you must adapt them to your specific needs and preferences to create a well-organized and cozy environment inside your vehicle.

Time to Start Building

After getting the cardboard near perfect, it’s time to get the supplies you need to get to the good stuff (actually building).

This is pretty funny to me because I measured my sleeping mat for the first PVC build, went to the hardware store (had them do two cuts), grabbed some PVC and connectors, and was off.

If you read that post, you will also know I needed to return to the hardware store (maybe more than once). So having a list of what you will need, or might need, is very important.

wood from hardware store

This time was different. My friend knows building much better than me. And after getting the rough idea (with cardboard), we were off to the hardware store.

This is what we purchased. Oh, and I will mention this here: we only went once! Talk about a time saver.

  • Two 1x1s and two 1x2xUsing wood glue
  • Two sheets of plywood
  • 3M adhesive spray
  • Wood screws
  • Piano hinges
  • Wood nails
  • Wood glue
  • Piano hinges
  • Cam locks

Day One Recap

This was when we used the cardboard, got a rough idea of the build, picked up supplies at the hardware store, and created the main bones.

I also wanted to mention that we worked for seven hours and stopped because it was over 100 degrees!

My friend had all the tools needed for this build (table, electric saws, power drills, nail gun, an amazing attitude, and more).

electric sawWe then transferred the cardboard temples to the plywood and started cutting away.

Cutting wood

Or, in my case, have your buddy do the cutting (again, I’m not super handy with power tools, but I am learning).

Once the front section was completed, my buddy surprised me with some auto carpets!

This truly made the final product look amazing.

I would also like to share that this build took us two days and around 13 hours to complete. But we worked in 100* heat and could only do so much.

Day Two Recap

As you can see from the image below, this is when we completed the “skeleton” and realized there was a dip from the front to the rear.

It didn’t take long to figure out the best way to tackle this (and where we figured out the three different door systems).

Another good reminder for anyone building a platform to roll with the punches and adapt.

Overall, this day was a lot easier, and after getting the bones built, the platform’s top was fairly easy.

This was also when we decided to pull the whole thing out to put the auto carpet on (more on that later).

Getting the back section attached
Most of the “bones” are done, but still lots to do.

The Perfect Sleeping Platform

As we reach the end of our journey of building the perfect sleeping platform for your RAV4, we hope that you feel inspired and empowered to embark on your DIY project.

Remember, with a little effort and guidance. You can transform your RAV4 (or any vehicle) into a comfortable and convenient sleeping haven on wheels.

Another view of the new platform
The completed platform.

By assessing your needs, designing a customized platform, and following our step-by-step construction guide, you can maximize your camping setup’s space, comfort, and functionality.

In my case, using the plywood as support and creating storage cubbies were clever storage solutions to use as much space as possible.

If you are interested in seeing a little bit more and my quick idea for handles, check out the video below.

A short video of the building process!

With any build, it’s important to remember to prioritize safety, secure your platform during travel, and be prepared for unexpected situations.

You can ensure a safe and enjoyable camping experience with careful planning and attention to detail.

So, whether you’re planning a weekend getaway or an extended road trip, building the perfect sleeping platform for your RAV4 will enhance your camping adventures in ways you never imagined.

Embrace the freedom of the open road, immerse yourself in nature’s wonders, and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Now, it’s time to grab your tools, unleash your creativity, and embark on this exciting DIY project. Embrace the journey, revel in the process, and enjoy your custom-built sleeping platform’s incredible convenience and comfort.

Feel free to share your own build or ask questions below.

Happy camping!

Inside view of the new sleeping platform and all gear
First night camping with the sleeping platform 2.0 build!

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2 thoughts on “Car Camping: Building the Perfect Sleeping Platform for Your RAV4”

  1. Congrats on your new RAV platform build!

    All the photos and step-by-step details helped understand how amazing your project is.

    I know how much you liked your first build. Experience is the best teacher. You took the RAV on many adventures to learn what you did and did not like. It’s a small space, but you sure made the most of it!

    Enlisting a friend was a great decision. You have done great on your own on the original build. But, it would be impossible to accomplish this project without the proper tools and expertise. Friends are priceless!

    The finished product looks amazing and professional.

    It’s time for another EPIC road trip!

    • I couldn’t agree more. It’s best to just use what you have and then make adjustments later. This new platform build has been so amazing. Not only that, but it’s been much easier to haul things too!

      Friends are the best!

      As for another road trip, hell yes! I can’t wait to do something more than a weekend. But, getting time off is the tough part.


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