We’re now just about 6 weeks out from the beginning of our first trip as The Adventure CRU and we’re nearly finished with one of the most important preparatory steps: our CR-V conversion!
One of the biggest expenses to consider on a trip of any length is accommodations. The nightly rate for a decent hotel can range anywhere from $30 to well into the hundreds of dollars depending on location and time of year. There are cheaper options like hostels and campsites, but these more modest expenses still add up over time and bring their own challenges, like finding pet-friendly quarters or setting up camp in the rain after a long day.
When Lizzy and I dreamt up the idea for The Adventure CRU and our first trip out west, converting our 2005 Honda CR-V to a camper was one of the first things we talked about. We knew we wouldn’t want to worry about camping outside every night, but we couldn’t imagine paying for 30 days of hotels, either. Why not take out the CR-V’s back seats and build a platform to sleep on with space to store our things underneath? This way, we could park and sleep comfortably anywhere with minimal setup/break-down time and we’d never have to pay for camp sites (unless we wanted to)!
I’d wager that most of us have slept in a car at some point, whether for a short nap or a night on the road. And while the shelter of a vehicle provides a convenient place to bed down, it’s typically not very comfortable. Passenger vehicles simply aren’t made for long-term living, which is why we decided to make our CR-V a little more like home so we can get the quality sleep we’ll need as we travel the country.
If you google CR-V camper conversions, you’ll find an abundance of options for doing the project yourself. Some display a level of ingenuity and skill that we found frankly intimidating. And it seemed there was no single best way to go about it. Every SUV is slightly different inside, and depending on your needs and interests, storage solutions vary wildly. In other words, we had to find what worked for us.
In the end, we decided to base our design on this one by fellow blogger Erin Outdoors. We started with a piece of ¾” plywood (probably thicker than we needed, but better safe than sorry) and ten 4 x 4 supporting columns. We bought the materials, hardware and a circular saw at Lowe’s and the total came to about $120. For the price of 3-4 nights in a hotel, we bought the freedom to camp anywhere we could park the CR-V overnight — a pretty good trade!
The first order of business was to remove the back seats. This video was a great help. The whole process took about twenty minutes, or would have if I hadn’t used the wrong socket and gotten it stuck, requiring a trip to the hardware store. Once the seats were out, we could take measurements and get cutting!
Fortunately, the standard 4 x 8 foot plywood sheet was the perfect width for the platform. We just needed to saw it down to a length of about 6’1”, the longest it can be with the seats moved all the way forward. But since we have to actually use those seats when driving, we had a 15″ portion cut off the sheet at Lowe’s and attached it to the main platform with a hinge so it can flip up and out of the way during the day. Currently, an extra support beam props up the hinged panel but we intend to use paracord to attach it to the front seat headrests for added support. Now on to the columns!
Since there will be two humans plus a whopping 8 lb dog sleeping here for a month, we wanted as much support as possible. The trade-off is, the more supporting columns you put underneath the platform, the more storage space you sacrifice. We found that by using eight columns spaced about 18”-22” apart, we still had ample space for storage (we’ll test that theory when we actually get packing!). The columns at the front and back of the platform were the easiest as they were on two even planes. We first measured and cut the back columns, then set them up with the platform on top to measure the distance to the floor from the front of the platform.
Once we had six columns supporting the front and the back, we could find the best places to put the remaining supports. This was a process of discovery, as there are all kinds of unusual topographical features on the floor of the CR-V, including important mechanical structures such as the fuel pump. We chose places that were level, maintaining that 18”-22” spread between supports.
Once everything was in place, we drilled screws down through the plywood into the columns, two for each support, and tested it out. It easily held our weight, but the motion of climbing on top of the platform caused some strain on the joints. We decided to add extra support to all the columns with brackets. That significantly improved stability, and now the platform feels strong enough to support us for as long as we choose to use it. Due to a slight warp in the plywood (and imperfect measurements), some of our columns required shims to be perfectly level. I simply shaved off narrow slices of 4 x 4 with the circular saw and affixed them with wood glue to the bottoms of the wobbly posts.
As you can probably tell, we haven’t built a lot of things like this before. We didn’t even own a saw before this project. If we were intending to use this long-term, we would have opted for a stronger frame so we could add slide-out compartments and really optimize the storage underneath. In our case, we already knew this would be a transitional setup for us so longevity wasn’t an issue. We want to have adequate space to work during our travels so we’re already considering more spacious mobile accommodations, but for this first trip, the CR-V will get us where we want to go!
Next steps include making the platform more comfortable, installing a roof cargo basket and creating a shaded outdoor space. We’ve got a lot to do in the next few weeks, but we’re loving the empowering feeling of doing it all ourselves. Check back for more updates about our preparations and the ongoing conversion. It turns out preparing for an adventure feels a lot like an adventure itself!