My Honda CR-V Camper Setup
Once backpacking season is over, I turn to my Honda CR-V for camping adventures during the rainy season. This one-person setup is easy to install without removing any of the car seats.
Planning the setup
This is our only vehicle, so I was looking for a camping setup that is simple and easy to install – and just as easy to remove. After watching quite a few YouTube videos on how to convert a SUV into a camper, I found a setup that didn’t use a full platform. Since I plan on being the only person sleeping in it, I don’t need space for two people and the setup shown in the video was exactly what I was hoping to do in my car.
Simple DIY bed platform
The seats in older model CR-Vs don’t fold down flat, and since I didn’t want the hassle of taking them out and storing them, I needed to figure out how to keep them in and still have a bed platform. For the top of the platform, I used a 25″ x 72″ board. To make it easier to to get the board in and out of the car (and for storage), I cut the board into three pieces and added hinges to allow it to fold accordion-style. This also allows me to raise up the top board section to access gear under it.
To make space for the bed platform, I move the front passenger seat forward as far as it goes. Then I fold down the middle and right back seats, which go under the bed platform. I leave the left back seat up and slide it back as far as it will go. This provides an easy way to get in and of the bed, as well as a place to sit inside. For more leg room, move the driver seat forward.
Because the bed platform folds, we could only attach legs permanently to one of the boards, so we did this on the back section. For the other two sections, we drilled holes into the platform board and into 2×4 boards placed under it for support legs and put drop pins (which are just bolts without washers) in them. This way, the bolts just hold it together but can be taken out to store it. I added a bit of felt on the end so the wood doesn’t scratch up the interior of the car.
For the ultimate in comfort while sleeping, I use a 4″ thick self-inflating foam mattress. With an R-value of 6, this mattress helps me stay super warm at night. I like not having to blow it up, and I don’t worry about punctures like I would if using my backpacking air mattress. I also like the outer fabric… it feels durable but it’s also soft and feels similar to a flannel sheet. Since the board has hinges on the top, I use a yoga mat under the mattress to protect it.
Sleeping Bags & Pillow
For cold weather trips (which is when I primarily plan to use this camper), I use a down sleeping quilt and a synthetic blanket for warmth. I don’t want to rely on using the car’s heater to stay warm, so I’d rather bundle up. I’m used to cold nights on backpacking trips – and I find that sleeping in my car is much warmer than in a tent. My favorite pillow for camping, whether in a tent or in my car, is a compressible foam pillow from Therm-a-Rest. I have a medium-size and love how cushy it is while still providing support when I sleep on my side.
- Outdoor Vitals StormLoft Quilt
- Eddie Bauer Synthetic Throw (no longer available)
- Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow
For me, one of the most important items in my camper setup are the window coverings… I wouldn’t want to sleep in my car without them. Not only do they provide privacy, they add a thermal layer on the windows to help retain heat. I found window coverings that are two-sided and custom-fit for the model of my car. One side is black and the other is reflective gold.
For use in cold weather, place the black side out and while the sun is out, it will help warm the interior. The reflective side helps to retain heat inside the vehicle. In warmer weather, place the reflective side facing out to keep the interior cooler. The coverings are sized so you can press them into the window frame to stay put, although mine also come with suction cups to keep them in place.
Since condensation can build up inside overnight, I use a window screen over one of the passenger windows so I can keep it open partway while keeping bugs out.
Instead of using my car’s interior lights and risk running down the car battery, I prefer to use a solar lantern and two light strings for lighting. I hang a solar lantern from the back seat grab bar. This LED lantern has four modes of light: high (120 lumens), low (50 lumens), amber nightlight, and amber candlelight flicker mode, and can be charged via solar or USB. The silicone globe collapses into the base to take up less space.
I add two light strings for soft light throughout the interior space. I love the fairy light ambiance that they provide. The lights I use can be powered via 3 AAA batteries, or by plugging into a USB power bank device. I hung them using Command hooks made for light strings.
- UST Gear Spright Solar Lantern (no longer available, but this lantern is similar)
- Big Agnes MtnGlo tent light strings (I use two sets of these fairy lights)
Back Seat Lounger
The back seat ‘lounger’ is one of my favorite features of my camper. I use it to get in and out of the bed, and it gives me a place to sit up and relax inside. I added a backseat organizer with multiple pockets and a tray to the back of the driver seat – good for keeping all of those easy-to-lose items like car keys, eyeglasses, or a smartphone. On my first trip, the lounger came in handy when it was dark and raining and I sat inside journaling and then watched a movie before going to bed.
Packing for a trip
Space is limited when camping in a vehicle, so it helps to keep the gear you take organized for easy loading and unloading. I use plastic bins and duffle bags to carry everything I need. The bins are for smaller items that I need regular access to, while the duffles hold gear for setting up once I arrive at my destination.
The photo above shows everything I pack for camping in my car. From top left to right: two plastic bins for smaller items, a small table, window coverings (in the green duffle); bottom left to right: car awning, camera tripod, duffle for sleeping bag and pillow, duffle for clothing and outerwear, day pack for hiking. In the front is a camera bag.
I use two plastic bins (23″ x 13″ x 9″) to store most of my gear: one for camp kitchen gear, and another for my camper setup gear and other miscellaneous items. Keeping everything organized saves a lot of time at camp since I know where everything is. One of the bins fits under my sleeping platform, and the other goes beside the bed platform behind the back seat.
Miscellaneous gear bin (on the left in the photo above)
- day pack with pack towels and water shoes for use at campgrounds with showers
- fire starter
- first aid kit
- backpacking chair
- hatchet, lighter, and fire poker for campfires
- fan for air circulation in my car
- toiletry bag
- dustpan and brush
- repair kit, extra batteries
For a full list of what’s in my kitchen bin, see the post: Kitchen Gear for SUV Camping.
Additional storage space
I stash extra items in the floorboards and front seat for items such as my backpack and camera gear. Larger items such as my cooler and water container fit in the space behind the back seat.
Overall, I’m very happy with how my SUV camper turned out. I like having an option for camping in inclement and cold weather, and I love how easy it is to load and unload for quick adventures.
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