What type of camper van bed you want in your home on wheels will be one of the first decisions you’ll make in your conversion. Maybe you want a platform bed so you can store mountain bikes and other gear. Or perhaps you want a convertible folding bed so you can have a dinette during the day and a bed only at night when you need it.
In this post, we cover the pros and cons of different types of van beds, some options for utilizing your space as efficiently as possible including custom mattresses and/or flares, and share some van bed examples to give you inspiration for your own build.
Van Bed Styles Video
Deciding on a Camper Van Bed Style
Deciding on the type of bed you want for your van should be one of the first choices you make because the rest of the layout will revolve around this.
The two primary styles you’ll see in vans are a platform-style bed and a convertible bed. Platform beds are fixed (although some can be moved up and down and can even fold back when not in use) while convertible beds are basically folding van beds that can transform from couch or dinette by day to bed by night.
There are two major initial questions to consider to guide you in this process:
- Do you want to be able to store bikes or other gear that requires a lot of space under the bed?
- Are you okay with setting up and putting away a convertible bed every day?
Think about what your day to day life and travels will look like in your van to get an idea of what will work best for you. Below we cover the pros and cons of fixed platform beds vs convertible beds to give you some more insights to help you decide what’s right for you.
Fixed Platform Van Beds
Having a platform or fixed bed in your van provides ample storage underneath for bikes, gear, water tanks, a toilet – you name it. We call this area under the bed “The Garage.” This is the setup and the bed I have in my current 4×4 Sprinter van.
Fixed Platform Bed Pros
One perk of the fixed van bed is that you can build the bed as high as you want, creating even more storage space underneath. Plus, you don’t need to open and close your bed every day and you don’t need a place to store your bedding and pillows because they just stay on the bed at all times. I have to say, I appreciate being able to hop in bed every night without the hassle of converting it. The bed is always ready for rainy afternoon naps and after a long day on the trail.
Also, if you decide to plan a platform bed into your van build, you may be able to make a regular mattress fit (likely a queen size), although you’ll probably have some extra space around it. Below we cover a custom option so you can use your bed space as efficiently as possible.
Fixed Platform Bed Cons
The only real con of a fixed platform bed is that it takes up more space than a convertible bed and you don’t have the flexibility to use that space for another purpose when you’re not sleeping. A convertible folding van bed, on the other hand, can serve multiple purposes like a dinette/office space during the day and a bed at night.
Platform Bed Layout and Dimensions
In this overview of the best vans for van life, we shared the dimensions of different panel vans.
In the Ford Transit and Mercedes Sprinter, the width of the van once you’ve installed insulation and paneling is about 5’5”. The Dodge Promaster is slightly wider. So unless you are shorter than the width of the van, you will want to set up your platform bed so you sleep the long ways down the van (front to back), rather than across (side to side). This long ways orientation also allows for easy storage of mountain bikes under the bed since they’re a similar length.
Custom Van Mattress Option
If you’re not able to find a mattress that will work with the space you have in your van, or you want to make the most of the space you have, a custom mattress is an option that’s actually pretty affordable. Custom Mattress Makers, a long time US-based mattress maker, produces high-quality, custom mattresses. What’s neat is you can order a mattress to the exact dimension of the platform space you have in your van so you can utilize every inch. They can even make mattresses with angled or notched corners in case there’s something you need to work around. Another great feature is that they make mattresses anywhere from 6″ thick all the way up to 13″ thick, so if you’re limited on headspace and want a mattress that’s on the thinner side, you’ll find what you need.
Flares as an Option for Added Space
If you want a platform bed and want to be able to sleep across the width of your van (rather than front to back) but you’re too tall, then you might consider installing flares. Flares are made for Sprinters, Transits, Promasters, and the Nissan NV, and when installed, extend the width of your van in the bed area. This allows you to comfortably sleep across the van rather than down the length of the van. By changing the orientation of your bed, you gain a couple of feet inside the vehicle for living space that can be used to add seating, a larger galley or even a bathroom. The downside of flares is you do lose some insulation, and even more so if you decide to put slider windows in.
Convertible Folding Van Bed
The other major bed type is a convertible or folding van bed, which is what I had in my first van.
Generally, when a convertible bed is in sofa form, it offers more living space and serves a dual purpose. For example, if you have a dinette in the rear of the van that converts to a bed, you can seat 6 people easily at your table or have a huge workspace. This also makes for nice photos out the back of the van if that’s something you care about.
While the folding or convertible van bed design sacrifices some storage, for example – you won’t be storing mountain bikes and bigger gear items in the van – it makes up for it in open living space throughout the day. So if storage isn’t your top priority and you don’t mind opening and closing your bed every day this could work for you, but you will need a place to store your bedding during the day. Also, with convertible beds, you’ll typically be sleeping on multiple cushions and might feel the creases when you sleep, so if you think that’s something that might bother you keep that in mind when making your decision.
You can place your convertible bed in a couple of different positions in your van depending on your situation. Here are a few examples.
This raised dinette in @wearewanderinghome’s van offers a convertible place to sit along with a “mini-garage” underneath.
This raised dinette in the back of @drivingmevananas‘s van converts into a bed and has a garage for smaller items below.
This convertible dinette and workspace in @asobolife‘s van folds into a bed with expansive views out the back.
In my first Sprinter van, the convertible bed was across from the slider door, creating a sofa that looked out the door to a wide-open view. It was basically half of a dinette. When I was traveling solo, I could stow the table and the couch was large enough that I didn’t even have to pull the bed out, so that was a plus. What I didn’t like about it was when the bed was in bed form, it took up the entire area next to the slider door. When my partner was traveling with me, if we didn’t have the exact same sleeping schedule, there wasn’t really anywhere else to go when the other person was sleeping and moving from the front of the van to the back of the van required climbing over the bed. You can see more in this video of the bed in my first Sprinter van
These are just a few convertible bed examples that we’ve seen in vans, but the sky (or ceiling!) is the limit. Check out the @vanlife_roadmap on Instagram for more inspiration.
We hope this has given you some ideas and inspiration to help you design or find the perfect bed setup for your van!
What type of bed are you building in your van? Share your questions, tips, and experiences down in the comments, and make sure to sign up for course updates here.