A Guide to Sleeping Platforms for Truck Shell Camping


Before Lindsey and I decided to turn our 84 Toyota Pickup - the predecessor to the modern Tacoma - into the ultimate DIY truck camping rig, we looked at a wide variety of options for creating a sleeping platform for our truck shell camping adventures.

There are literally hundreds of inspiring and unique builds out there!

But In this post we’ll walk through the most common approaches we’ve found to building a truck bed sleeping platform, while weighing some of the pros and cons of each.

You can use this guide to help choose which basic approach is right for your build, and then customize to best fit your own truck shell camping needs.

Determining your budget is a pivotal part of deciding which sleeping platform will be right for your truck shell camping adventure. But the great thing about truck camping is that there is virtually no barrier to entry - provided you own a truck with a shell.

let’s go through the options in order of least to greatest expense, so you can stop reading when your wallet cries uncle.

Just a Truck Bed Mattress and Storage Bins

  • Cost: Under $30 (for plastic storage bins)

  • Weight: Virtually Nothing!

You can literally just throw an air mattress, a sleeping bag, and some plastic storage containers filled with gear in the bed of your truck, like our friend at #opt4scenic. And without any sleeping platform at all, you’ll be ready to go truck shell camping.

This is obviously the cheapest option, and one I’m very fond of - as I grew up doing this with my family.

For weekend camping trips and short-term travel this is a great solution since you can just as easily pull everything right back out and go about your daily life.

However, this is not an ideal solution for long-term travel, overlanding, or extended truck shell camping trips.

For one thing, setup time is greater than other options because you have to remove or at least rearrange your gear every time you stop to sleep or set up camp.

Also, dragging your gear out in bins poses increased challenges when trying to stealth camp.

And things get disorganized FAST. This leads to lost or misplaced gear, and abounding frustration - especially when you can’t find that choice bag of coffee in the morning that you swear you packed and the ONLY thing in the world you need is a cup ASAP!

For our purposes, this just was not the way we wanted to go down. Plus with a toddler and all things that go along with them, this amount of disorganization would inevitably lead to marriage counselling.

PVC Truck Bed Sleeping Platform

  • Cost: Under $150

  • Weight: appx 100 lbs

This is the second cheapest option for building a truck bed sleeping platform, depending on how you build.

You simply go to your local hardware store and pull the 2” PVC pipe and fittings you need, cut, and assemble. Then top with a sheet of at-least ½” plywood.

Though a PVC sleeping platform like the one above - built by TacomaWorld member Drainbung - does require the use of storage bins to store and organize your gear (we won’t rehash the down sides of that), this does allow you to store your gear under the platform in a slightly more organized fashion while truck shell camping.

This is a great option when weight is a concern, because, unlike wood truck bed sleeping platforms, PVC is light. It’s also very easy to deconstruct and remove when not needed.

Despite our strong desire to play an adult version of K’nex in the back of our truck, this just wasn’t the option for us. We needed something more substantial, and because of our dual battery setup plans we needed fixed storage options for our equipment.

Basic and Modular Truck Bed Sleeping Platforms with Storage Bins

  • Cost: $100-$300

  • Weight: 100+ lbs

This is definitely the most common option for creating a truck bed sleeping platform, and can provide a good mix of sleeping and storage solutions while truck shell camping.

You can build something as simple as a frame using 2x4s with a piece of ½” to ¾” plywood over the frame to create a basic truck shell camping platform that provides a space beneath for storage bins, like the above example built by jhydro.

Or you can build a more flexible modular setup with built-in storage along the bed rails and an easily removable platform that spans the distance between the built-ins, like Ryan from desktodirtbag did.

When in platform mode, your storage bins can easily slide underneath. When the platform is removed or lowered, you gain increased headroom to make your truck camper a more comfortable place for all things non-sleeping related.  

The build cost of this option is variable. You can spend less than a PVC sleeping platform build if you scrounge scrap materials from construction sites, or the scrap bins at your local lumber yard, or use materials you already have lying around.

But cost will increase when you begin buying plywood and integrating built in storage. This may also, depending on build design, make the truck shell camping platform slightly more difficult to remove if needed, and is heavier than the previously discussed PVC truck bed platform option.

Though we were inspired by many of the modular truck bed sleeping platforms that utilized a mixture of wood sleeping platform build and storage bins, we wanted something more organized and built in.

We also needed a wide enough (and strong enough) sleeping area to comfortably fit two adults and a growing toddler, and most transformer style builds didn’t allow for this.

Plywood Truck Shell Camping Platform with Drawers

  • Cost: $300+

  • Weight: 250+ lbs

By using cabinet grade plywood for the construction of a truck bed sleeping platform, you’ll be able to completely customize the build, strength, and storage options.

We used long drawer slides and custom built-in storage to house all our gear and equipment in a fixed and organized fashion.

This sleeping platform also allows us to take advantage of the entire width between bed rails in order to sleep our family comfortably.

Though this truck shell camping platform sacrifices some headroom compared to other build methods, we were able to minimize this by making sure the platform was built to rest just at wheel-well height.

However, using this amount of cabinet grade plywood does add a bit of extra weight to the truck, and it is a bit of an ordeal to remove it all if needed.

This is definitely the most expensive of the truck shell camping platform options, and the most technical to build (you should know that we had virtually zero carpentry experience going into our build though). But in the end, the result was definitely worth the extra time, work, and added expense!

If you’re interested in building a similar platform of your own, check out our detailed post on How to Build the Ultimate Sleeping Platform.

Truck shell camping is an incredible way to travel and experience the outdoors; we hope this guide has helped you choose the best sleeping platform for your own truck camping or overland travel build.

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As always, thanks for reading!

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