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Honda CR-V sleeper and storage platform conversion, aka, how two people can live for a week in a CR-V and not kill each other

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
9 min read

So, I spend days on my trip report, and what do you guys really want? Pictures of the freaking Honda CR-V. Oh well. I try. Here, the long-awaited Extrememobile post. Or, if you prefer… how to make a CR-V into a C-RV.

The backstory… Climbing Partner bought a Vanagon camper earlier this year, but she — literally — tried to kill him (brakes went out) so “Bitchface” ultimately found a new home. With Climbing Partner’s eight grade history teacher, Mr. Short, through a random Craigslist interaction. The transaction was complete with a little free career counseling and life lessons from Mr. Short. And, Bitchface actually somehow seemed to made an attempt on Mr. Short’s life even before he picked her up, delaying his acquisition of said Vanagon while he was “in the hospital.” Wisdom from Climbing Partner…

“Lesson learned: never make a camper a car. Instead, make a car a camper.”

After looking at various roadtripmobile options, he decided to built out his Honda CR-V with a sleeping and storage platform. Since I get to benefit from the additional comfort without any of the expense or work (spare a few loosened nuts during the seat-ectomy stage) the least I could do is document his fine handiwork here (especially since y’all want to see it so badly. Jesus. I thought I was the only one who devoted this much brainpower to how to sleep comfortably in a car.).

Here’s the before:

Step one was a full 2nd row seatectomy. Talk about fun. We pulled the entire rear seat out one day in a matter of a few minutes in his apartment parking lot. Here’s during:

and here’s after completion of the seatectomy:

Climbing Partner’s design basically involves a box in the middle for support, custom fit to the CR-V’s interior. On top of that are pieces of plywood “platform” attached with hinges, so that the storage is easily accessible. That’s what fits behind the front seats, in “driving” mode. In “sleeping” mode, the two front seats push forward, and there’s a driver side extension and passenger side extension. The extensions have plumbing pipe legs that screw in, and are attached to the “box” through a tongue-and-groove system (L-brackets into a receiving bracket fashioned by Climbing Partner and his dad). The two extensions connect by a doorlatch (aka, “crappy outhouse latch — or, I hope this latch matches up with the hole, latch” according to Climbing Partner) for a little extra support and to avoid having a fourth leg (one of the extensions has two legs, the other only one).

I don’t have photos of the rest of the “process” since that took place at Climbing Partner’s Dad’s house… so here are some pictures so that you can visualize the setup, and then I’ll let Climbing Partner just tell you the story in his own words.

Here’s the rear storage:

Here are two shots of the “center storage,” the first with the sleeping extensions off (“drive mode”), and the second with the extensions on (“sleep mode”).

Here’s the shot from the back of the setup in “sleep mode.”

And, this one shows the setup in “passenger sleep” or “contact insertion” mode.

I’ll put more pictures of “happy accidents” at the end, but first, here’s the whole story on construction, told by Climbing Partner.

“The first thing we did is find some cardboard, and mocked it all up with cardboard. We cut out a model with a boxcutter, since the CR-V has a lot of curves and isn’t just a box, and eyeballed it all out so that it fit together perfectly. We cut out cardboard pieces with notches, notched it all together, and used steel duct tape to get all the hinge positions right and operating. The model was fully functioning before we made the first cut in plywood.

The actual supplies we needed were two 4×8 sheets of 1/2 inch plywood, assorted screws, fasteners, and Dad’s garage and tools to do the construction. I saw platforms made with heavier plywood, but thought this design would be solid enough that it would be fully supported and strong enough with 1/2 inch plywood to save weight. Anything Toyota Forerunner or smaller, you’ll want to use 1/2 inch.

Anyway, we mocked it u
p in cardboard, took it all apart, and then cut the pieces out of the plywood with a jig saw, and smoothed the corners with a sander. We put it back together like the model, customizing where it didn’t fit, sanding and jig sawing until it was a perfect fit on all sides. The CR-V isn’t a square setup, so you have to work with what’s there. It doesn’t hurt that my Dad has a degree in Mechanical Engineering. It also doesn’t hurt that I was a liberal arts major when it comes to not working with measurements.

The brackets that hold the extensions on are off the shelf steel plates, that we drilled holes into for mounting, then we used washers as a spacer for the tongue in groove system. The screws go through the washers, and through the metal plate, then the L bracket goes into the space created by the washers.

Half the fun is coming up with your own design, this design just worked perfect. Any kind of tongue in groove setup would work for attaching the extensions. I had an idea from another guy’s setup that used footman loops to receive the L-brackets, but the approach we used was stronger.

What holds the extensions up is just plumber’s stuff. Pipe that screws in, as legs.

The inspiration was from the Toyota FJ forums, really. I took all the best sleeper platform ideas from Teton Gravity Research and those Toyota FJ Forums, and made my own. So, this is state of the art, as we speak. And, it holds more than a roofbox, as an unbeknownst happy accident.

It only took about twelve hours to build it. Total cost was about $100. Actually — it net saved me about $500, because of the $600 I would have spent on a roofbox and rack, minus the $100 spent on the setup. It might save me more, since I’ll never have to worry about getting a DUI.

The vision was perfect — it was built without any hangups, which is the first time I’ve experienced that in a project. We just pushed through, and finished it in that weekend.

My next addition is a camelback water dispenser/CB-hanger (as pioneered by Peter Haun). Looks like we’ve got ourselves a convoy.”

Um, that’s enough. I want my blog back.

Anyway, Climbing Partner and Dad did an awesome job. Aside from the fine engineering, there are a number of unbelievably happy accidents in the setup.

First, two bouldering pads fit PERFECT as an insulation/base when in “sleeping” mode. As much as I think he’d like to claim it’s by design, that was a fantastic surprise when we started “test packing” for our trip.

Second, the storage is RIDICULOUS. It was as if every piece of gear necessary for a two person climbing trip was planned for. His man bag goes behind the driver seat. My girl bag goes behind the passenger seat. Inside the rear driver side door, his “kitchen box” (laundry container in picture) fits perfectly, and inside the rear passenger side door, two ropes fit perfectly.

In the middle storage area, in “sleep” mode, two climbing packs fit like a glove.

In “road” mode, the sleeping stuff all stuffs under there like so.

We got the “sleep” to “road” mode conversion (and vice versa) down to a science after just a few conversions. It was a wee bit easier, and made better use of two sets of hands (by far) than trying to “team” pitch a tent.

“It really shines places where you don’t really want to sleep in a tent — truck stop, Index, Exit 38…”

And, the original idea was triggered by Climbing Partner’s “extracurricular activities,” which in the past lead to some… eh… sketchy car rides you might say. Parked, stealth-like, outside a local watering hole, sleeping it off reduces the risk of any run-ins with, for example, the law.

Anyway – we spent more than a week living quite happily as hermit crabs… wherever we went, we had absolutely everything we needed (except, maybe, Hanabanana) and an efficient system for the “conversions” between modes. It was easy for the passenger to sleep on the road, clipped in to the seatbelt by a weight-rated biner to the seatbelt. Getting necessary supplies in and out when needed was really easy (no boulder problems necessary to reach the back of a packed roof box). We slept comfortably in it (more comfortably with the bouldering pads as insulation than without them for more headroom) as long as we had a level camping spot. Headlamps hung perfectly from the “oh sh*t” handles, and eyeglasses stowed handily within reach on the dashboard/mantel or tucked into the visors.

“And, at no point in the trip did we have a “where the f*ck did you put the… [fill in the blank]” moment…”

because everything was just there, where it belonged, in each of the available storage spaces.

The Extrememobile definitely made re-entry into normal life harder for both of us. Once you have a week plus of time on the road, climbing and camping, playing and living and
eating outside, and sleeping comfortably with everything you really need to be happy (“in a paid-for car,” Climbing Partner adds… “going back to reading off a lightbulb sucks.”)

It definitely gave me the “on the road” bug in a way I haven’t had it before… the whole trip home I thought through logistics of an extended period of living on the road. I thought through a lot of logistics, but kept coming back to that little detail of not being able to actually *tell* anybody, lest they report me to Adult Protective Services. So, we’ll see. No plans to depart for the great blue yonder yet, but stay tuned.

Enjoy, and please share your own stories of car-dwelling in the comments. I have a much less sophisticated setup for my little beloved Volkswagen Jetta Wagon… with the rear seats folded flat, a bouldering pad opens up just perfect with two rope bags just inside the rear hatch. It’s not room for two, but one (or, one plus a snuggly labrador retriever) fits comfortably. Especially with my now outrageously-expensive seeming roofbox. Sigh.

Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis.