Gear and SkillsVehicles

DIY The $100 SUV Sleeping Platform

I’ve slept under the stars a couple times. Couldn’t see them since I had to remove my contact lenses, but I’ve slept under the stars. I love the idea. It’s primitive. It’s pure.

It’s also mildly terrifying. Here in Arizona, there’s no shortage of creepy-crawlies eager to join you in your sleeping bag. You know, if they don’t decide your mouth or nose is a better option.

Tents offer some protection from wildlife and the elements, but not much. They also don’t do much for keeping noise out (or in). For that, you need solid walls. Fortunately, we have a variety of options for that.

If, like me, you can’t afford an EarthCruiser, or an adventure trailer, or a roof top tent (RTT), but want more protection than a tent (on the ground), you’ve probably been considering a sleeping platform inside your vehicle. Have you reached the point of being so inundated with potential designs you can’t pick one?

diy_mits_pajero_fezzik_sleeping_platform_1_sketchDo your homework.

That’s where I was. First thing I did was scour Google Image Search to get a basic understanding of materials, designs, and techniques. That lead me to—sigh—Pinterest, where I found some more examples.

I really liked the designs that used lightweight, square aluminum tubing and plastic end caps a la Erector Set, but they were more than I was ready to pay. Besides, the majority of setups I saw were constructed from wood, my father-in-law has been into woodworking for decades, and I had a $100 Home Depot gift card left over from Christmas.

Take your measurements.

Once I had an idea how things went together, I yanked the third row jump seats out and got after it with a tape measure. There are four basic measurements you need to consider—height, headroom, footprint, and platform.

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How low can you go? I needed to keep my second row seats because there are three of us. Folding them all the way forward meant I’d be too tall for my platform, so I could only go as low as the second row folded flat. If you know you’ll (almost) never need a second row, you can probably remove them, though.

You may also wish to consider the height of any kit you’d like to store under the platform. My primary concern was maximizing sleeping comfort—I built for three people in a Mitsubishi Montero, after all. The larger your space, the more options you have.


Things go bump in the night. Namely, your head on the ceiling if your platform is too high. Once you know how low you can go, measure the distance from your proposed platform surface to the roof. Compare that to how tall you are sitting upright.

Foreshadowing a bit, lack of headroom is what most disappointed me about my first (and second) sleeping platforms. Before you buy any materials, I’d recommend sitting on something—or a small stack of something—simulating the height of your platform.

Be honest with yourself about the low ceiling if you have one. Will you be able to do what you want without getting out? If not, you’ll probably need to rethink a few things and accept some compromise like I did.


All your base are belong to vehicle floorplan. Doesn’t matter if you’re planning on elaborate sliding drawers, dollar store plastic bins, or just shoving things in there loose, your platform needs a solid foundation. Think: footprint. You might have anchoring options, power outlets, or access panels you don’t want to block.


Wide open spaces. Once you know your lowest possible platform height, you can measure the full length and width of your potential sleeping platform. Get measurements between the narrowest width and shortest length. That’s going to be the largest—simple—dimensions of your actual platform.

I didn’t worry about the complex, contoured curves in the walls. You might not, either. There are ways to map the curves for precision-cut panels, if you don’t remove the interior trim altogether. To be honest, I was considering of just hanging mesh pockets down the sides for loose pocket items.

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$100 Sleeping Platform 1.0

Having measured my height, headroom, base, and platform spaces, I went to Home Depot. I bought a single 4×8-foot sheet of 1/2” plywood (that seemed reasonably flat and crack-free) and had them cut it three times. I walked out the door with four sheets of plywood, a bucket of wood screws, and a Coke for less than $50.

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One of the pieces served as a spine down the center. I placed the main platform sheet on top of that and measured for legs and spacers to tie it into the jump seat mounting points on the rear wheel wells. Then my father-in-law and I used his chop saw to cut down a couple pieces of scrap lumber he had to fit for legs out toward the corners.

I crudely lined things back up in the truck and ran one or two wood screws through to hold it all together for some test fitting. At least, that was the plan. I ended up using the incomplete platform like that the entire summer.

Overall, I’m very pleased with how my first sleeping platform turned out. I’m glad I didn’t finish it out, either.

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A technicality

Sometimes the biggest delay in projects like these is our pursuit of perfection. Do it right or do it over, after all. Considering I didn’t—technically—finish the initial installation, I like to think I’m off the hook on a technicality.

I had to remove my platform and reinstall the jump seats to get six people to the Grand Canyon the day after Christmas. Seemed a perfect opportunity to re-think the whole thing to take advantage of hindsight. Fortunately, I was able to re-use 100% of my supplies at this point.



Lessons Learned

As I started designing Sleeping Platform 2.0, I tried to remedy some of the things that bugged me about version 1.0. I hope sharing these issues with you will help you with your first sleeping platform.

1. I needed to preserve access to my daughter’s child seat anchor. 1.0 had to be completely removed to adjust this, which is required, as the seat must come out for two to sleep in the back.

2. I needed to figure out how to get into bed while still wearing my boots—without getting into bed while still wearing my boots. It’s tricky enough changing clothes when you can’t sit up completely straight. Last thing you want to do is track dirt or mud into your bedding.

3. I need to design for non-camping gear cargo back there when the platform is in place. I’d open the rear door with a cart full of groceries, only to find the space under the platform was filed with gear, forcing me to set plastic bags on a flat, relatively smooth surface (the platform). Stuff just went everywhere at the first turn.

$100 SUV Sleeping Platform 2.0

As I type this up, I’ve already been living with version 2.0 for some time (pictured at right). Look for details on that one in the near future. Suffice to say it was all a matter of more circular saw, a can of spray adhesive, and some interlocking foam gym mats.

This solved a number of my headaches, but not the worst of them all—lack of headroom. For that, I’m already sketching up version 3.0. Maybe I’ll combine the two into a single feature. Depends on when I finalize the design and get it done. I’ll keep you posted.

Leftist dissident.
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