My GMC Safari Camper Conversion Design
I haven’t seen my new van since buying the it over two months ago, but I have been thinking a lot about how I will convert it into a camper. During this time all I have had to go on are the measurements I took before leaving. Next week I will be flying down to Victoria where the van is being stored and will have a week to work on the conversion. Carly will then be flying down to join me, and from there we will spend a week driving the van back up through British Columbia to the Yukon. I plan to spend most of the summer living in the van, so I really wanted to get the design right.
I have had plenty of time to think about the layout of the van, and have considered many different options. I decided to stick with something fairly simple, building on my experiences from the last conversion.
My main design considerations were:
- A bed for two – having a bed comfortable for two people was a top priority. The last van bed (125cm wide) was a great size – huge for one, and comfortable for two.
- Sitting up – it is important that we are able to comfortably sit upright. From my measurements, I couldn’t make the bed any higher than 30cm if I wanted to be able to sit upright.
- More storage – the last van just about had enough storage for one. With two people, things got pretty cramped (and messy!)
- Keep it simple – I have a week to convert the van and get it ready for our road trip, so I wanted the design to be as straight forward as possible.
The new van is bigger then the old one, but not by that much. This meant I had to give a lot of though to the bed size:storage ratio. I was looking for the minimum bed width that could sleep us both comfortably. To determine this I decided to run a couple of experiments: I piled up boxes and whatever else I could get my hands on one side of the bed and covered in a sheet to reduce the overall width. Me and Carly then slept on the reduced size mattress for a night to try it out.
I first tried a width of 115cm and we found this to be a bit too narrow. I then tried 120cm which we found to be cozy, but not too cramped. It’s surprising what different 5cm can make. This is the width I went for in the end, which happens to be exactly two pillows wide. This means the bed will be a bit narrower than a standard double mattress (137.2 cm)
With the bed width sorted, it was time to think about storage. I had a couple of conversations with JR from OffTrack Travel, and he had mentioned that he was thinking of changing his van layout to incorporate storage along one side of the van. To begin with I thought this would be too narrow, but referring to my handy tape measure (which has been sitting on my desk for the last two months!) showed that this was not the case.
After a couple of iterations I came up with the following rough sketch:
I then decided to have a play with SketchUp, an excellent free 3D modelling tool which I found really easy to learn. This was really, really helpful. It allowed me to digitally ‘build’ my design using pieces of wood and ply which were the exact dimensions of the lumber I will be building with. This helped me refine the design and identify a few issues, which otherwise would of needed to be resolved during the build, and may well have meant wasting time and materials.
This is the design I came up with:
Some points about the design:
- This is both a ‘bed’ and a ‘sofa’ at the same time. My last van had a bench, which allowed you to put your feet on the floor like a proper sofa, but I found that I always put my feet up. So I decided to skip this this time around. This also means one person can lie and one can sit at the same time.
- There is lots of storage under and beside the bed, doubling the storage of the old van.
- The bed base and sofa back have hinged boards to give access to storage.
The back of the sofa is slightly sloped and will be hinged, to enable access to storage.
The base of the bed will also be hinged at both ends to allow easy access to storage underneath.
There will be a separate, detachable piece of foam which will reveal a ‘kitchen’ work surface, accessible from the rear doors of the van. This is where I will place the stove and prepare food, as with the last van:
The depth of this work surface will mean that someone can still sit on the ‘sofa’ when the kitchen is in use.
I’m sure there will be plenty of small alterations when it comes to actually building the design, but building the 3D model was a really useful exercise. Due to some logistics I will be ordering the custom cut and covered foam before work starts, so hopefully the extra effort has paid off.
I’m looking forward to starting work next week and I’ll be sure to document it here once I have.