4×4 Van Conversion: Sleeping in a Hammock in a Van
(Today we have a guest post by a reader who has something very unusual in his van. There isn’t a bed, he sleeps in a Hammock!)
My van conversion was very easy. I simply HATE vans that are full of stuff all over the place. If a police officer does open my van, it is designed to look very simple and much like a work van so that they cannot think that I am living in it. This has saved me a few times! It came with a third row seat which I moved to the side of the van to use as a couch. It provides a nice comfy view out of the side doors when they are open.
I started to go over the van really carefully. One thing led to another and I found that a squirrel or rat had chewed off one of the rubber plugs that was on the fuel injection intake manifold. This stopped the vacuum working for the air conditioner so air would not come out the front air vents. It cost 89c for a new plug and then the miles per gallon went up to 9 MPG. It had been sucking in air which messed up the whole air/fuel ratio. I wanted to put a new air filter in so took the whole air filter box off. The same rat or squirrel had built a nest in the intake part of the air box, so the engine was hardly getting any air. I cleaned all that out and the MPG went to 11 mpg. So far I cannot beat 11 mpg but want to try and clean the Mass Air Flow sensor when I find where it is.
I have a table and collapsible rain barrel behind the driver’s seat and some tools are also stored there. Anytime I need the table I just pull it out and pull the legs out. It fits perfectly in front of the third row seat when assembled.
Between the seats is the big old cooler which can be opened from the driver’s seat or from the back of the van. Next to that behind the passenger seat is the porta- potty which is covered from view. I am getting a 12v refrigerator like one Bob wrote about and then the cooler will be extra storage.
I think in one of the photos you can see I used plastic shelving from Home Depot (garage shelving that has round pipes between the levels of shelves). This worked great and fit right over the raised area of the wheel wells. I have 4 large containers on the shelves and they are held in place with velcro on the bottom of the shelf and the bottom of the container as well. I also use bungee cords which go around the plastic poles of the shelving to keep everything in place. Because the van is a 4×4 she bounces around a bit, so everything really has to be well stored and tied down. You can buy shelf units from Amazon.com here:
Sterilite Premium Heavy Duty 4-Shelf Storage Unit with Tubular Construction
Opposite the shelves on the other side of the van I have a one layer plastic shelf above the wheel well and lots more storage there which is also covered from view. There is also a Fantastic fan which I use at night if it is warm. It sits in the cooler and blows nicely across the van. Under the third row seat is more storage and I have hand drills and tools plus other stuff under there.
I do have roof racks for the van and can store more there if needed but have not had to do so yet. At the back of the van I have a very solid Coleman canopy. It pops right up and is 12 x 12 which I use as an awning type deal outside the van when the doors are open and it is sunny and not too windy. You can buy a canopy like his at Amazon.com:
Coleman 12 x 12 Slant-Leg Instant Shelter
I found some paper blackout blinds at home depot for around $2.00 each. They fold just like proper blinds. I have those up at the windows. They simply drop down to blackout the interior of the van. I have a privacy curtain but I prefer to just use a large fold-able sun shade to cover the front windows and that looks more normal to passers by. You can get the black out blinds from Amazon.com.You should check them out, they are a super-easy way to cover your windows:
Redi Shade 1617 Black Out Pleated Shade 36-by-72-Inch, 6-Pack
I guess you are wondering how I sleep in the van as there is no bed. I fitted rope loops, one by the driver side top seat-belt fastener and one diagonally opposite at the rear door. I have a very nice light weight 6 foot camping hammock which fits in a small bag. I pop that out at night and simply hook it up, climb in and it is very comfortable. Actually for some reason I like it more than a bed. In the morning I fold it into the bag and I have tons of space. I also use the hammock outside when a Sunday nap is in order.
I added some more photos. 2 of where the Hammock attaches to inside of the van. The one up by the seat belt has a tent spike slid down into the available hole so that the rope could go around it. There is no place up front to tie anything without the tent spike.
The Hammock is made by Grand Trunk and there is a photo of it in the bag. It holds up to 300 lbs and I am 220 lbs. As you can see the hammock is quite high off the ground when in place so it is not cold. A sleeping bag fits in the hammock if needed. It’s very lightweight and comfortable: like sleeping in zero gravity!!Because it’s made of parachute material it does not get hot in the hammock. (You can buy it from Amazon.com from here:)
Grand Trunk Parachute Nylon Hammock
I fulltime in my van. I park where other vans are parked in apartment complexes or shopping areas. I prefer being out in very under-populated areas where I do not have to worry about someone knocking on the van to see what is going on.
I have magnetic signs on it with a free 1-888 number that you can get on the internet.
I found if the van has no markings it attracts attention. If I have a company name and phone number on the van then it is left alone. I have tested this theory and last time the van did not have signs on someone called the police because I was parked by a stream in a city area where people jog and walk.
I work as I travel. I like the freedom the van offers and it really lets me go anywhere, off road or on road. It helps that I can use the 4×4 capabilities to get to areas others cannot. That is always a good thing
Oh, thanks for this. I’ve been thinking about using a hammock but thought I’d have to have hooks welded to hold it. This is good to know.
Hope it works for you LaVonne.
Oh my, a 4×4 van for $4,800! And the owner thought it was doomed! I like the tip on magnetic signs and a 1-888 number. Pretty tricky setup, and a great post overall. Made me research Quigley and Advanced conversion vans, which made my Inner Geek wonder about the advantages and disadvantages of the coil vs leaf spring setups they each use. Thanks for posting this!
Thanks Doug. Quigley appears to be the big dog now in conversions, at least they are the one I hear about most.
I love 4×4 and would prefer a van, but I think a pickup is good enough.
Your youtube etc. is wouder full. Do you have a preferred place to van camp during the hot mounths.
My brother drives a non-descript white F150 w/ a cap. He added four or five 3 inch adhesive, reflective numbers. Like the kind you’d use to stick house numbers on your mailbox.
He placed them on the front and rear bumpers to make it appear more like a fleet vehicle. He feels it prevents being pulled over or hassled when parked; the thinking being cops leave him alone if he’s “on the job.”
That’s a great idea ILDan. It also avoids some of the potential problems with a magnetic sign.
Do you think the police might get suspicious if you don’t have commercial license plates too?
Tommy, I’m not sure magnetic signs are a good idea so I have never used one. But many vandwellers use them and report success so who I am I to say?
I’m guessing that the hammock has to be strung pretty tight as to not sag too much when you’re trying to sleep…i.e.. staying relatively flat.
I’m thinking of a lift kit to get a van more clearance rather than just going straight to 4×4. The mpg difference is just so great between 4 and 2 wheel drives. I’ve noticed that out on dirt roads, many times the real issue is clearance more than having all 4 wheels engaged.
It’s kind of an individual thing…the only time I’ve ever had to engage 4x is upslope on sand or rocks/gravel on otherwise good trails/roads, and crossing mud in flat areas where momentum couldn’t be used for long enough to get through. My pickup is more nose-heavy than most. So far, clearance hasn’t come into it for me except on 2x trails that have eroded badly and are plain rough – places where my trailer couldn’t go anyway. One 2x vanner I saw got around the issues well enough by hanging a motorcycle off his rear bumper – definitely outpulled me while I was in 2x on the same steep trails. I guess it just depends on your particular rig and what kinds of surfaces/places your tires start to let go in. I absolutely must have it available and waiting. If you’ve been getting along fine without 4x where you go, there’s certainly no need to add it. Lift away! – but don’t use a cheapy “lift kit” that includes longer shackles for one end of the leaf springs. They’ll start to sag and be ruined. Don’t know why, but they do.
CAE, yes, clearance is as big a deal as 4×4 in many places. But I’ve gotten my van stuck 4 times in the 9 months since I got it and clearance has not been a problem. I also got wider, aggressive mud tires, and I already got stuck with them once. I’m going to look into a locker in the rear to solve that, but I have my doubts.
Bob – was going to suggest a rear locker for your van. For those who are unaware, your two rear wheels spin independant when they go around corners, at different speeds. prevents loosing traction, and wearing out tires. With a intermittant locker you get the two wheels spinning the same when in dirt, thus they lock up and both push at the same time.
Offroad, that is a very good idea and I am considering it. I’m just not sure it will give me the traction I want. Even worse, traction is often not the real problem. I’ve been in numerous spots where the compound low of the transfer case was required to go up or down a hill.
But I think I can live without that as long as I get the traction I need to go through mud and sand. Those are the two things I am real risk of. I’ve had this van stuck 4 times in mud or sand in the last 10 months, and if a locker would have prevented that then I would be glad to spend the $1000 for one.
When I get to Moab I am going to look into it because there are some really great 4×4 shops there.
The trick to sleeping in a hammock is not to lie straight down the middle of it (as we would think we should), but to lie in it diagonally (almost as if your head and feet were going to stick out a bit on one side or the other). Example: You’ll have one end of the hammock to the left of your head and the other end of the hammock to the right of your feet. If you lie in it that way it enables you to lie completely flat. Good luck and sleep well!
Thanks for that tip! I’ve never slept in a hammock but I have another friend who sleeps in a hammock in a mini-van and she says the same thing. She sleeps virtually sideways in hers and says its more comfortable. That’s hard for me to understand, but apparently it’s true.
They make asymmetrical hammocks which are made to allow easier sleeping diagonally. They are far more comfortable, allow you to sleep flatter, and even on your side. I won’t use a regular hammock anymore and greatly prefer the diagonal/asymmetrical ones. Far more comfortable. I don’t use it in my van (Class-b with bed), but do use it outdoors when I would rather sleep there.
thanks so much for this! I’ve been fulltiming in my van for almost six months now, and I’d really like to see it as uncluttered as yours. I’ve thunk and thunk about hammocks, but always thought they’d hang too far down in my Dodge shortie, but my girl looks about the same length as yours. You’ve inspired me! I’m gonna try it!!!
Angeli, go for it! The hammock is so cheap you have almost nothing to lose. If it doesn’t work out to sleep in it, I hung one across the side of my van above the bed and use it to store soft items like blankets and clothes. That way if I hit my head on it, no harm done.
I hope it works out for you!
Hammocks can also make great shelters if you’re without your van for some reason. Provided, of course you have a place to hang one. You can camp in many places a tent won’t work, such as rocky or uneven ground, and on hill sides. I’ve even set a (swamp) hammock up as a tent using one pole or stick.
A ten by ten foot (nylon) tarp strung above the hammock (corner to corner, in a diamond shape) provides cover from the rain and shade from the sun.
Great info on this post, thanks.
Tom, they make some really great camping hammocks that have a built in tent, but your tarp idea works just as well and is a LOT cheaper!
There is a lot to hammock technology. Lots of discussions so do your research. they will get colder in winter as no reflection of heat from underneith. but in the dead air of a van you might be okay. just like this whole bare bones setup, that might cost someone not much money.
Absolutely Brilliant Bob! I love the tent stake idea!!!
as for your backside being cd in a hammock, I use a closed cell foam pad and a underquilt. It is basicly a sleeping bag for the outside of your hammock. Ha! It works!
cleanheart, yeah, that was a great idea!! I’m also a big fan of closed cell foam and quilts, they work great!!
First of all: “Long live the Van People!” Second of all: thank you for living the dream, & 3rd; I’m gonna fix up 4 hammocks like you-ins did but in a Dodge Sprinter panel van. Anyone done that yet? Would love to hear. Thanks,
Hi Sarah, the Sprinters are so expensive that i only know two people living in ones they converted themselves. One was a very elaborate conversion and the other was minimalist but neither had hammocks. Sounds like you have a great plan and I’d love to see pictures when you get that far! Here is a page on the elaborate Sprinter conversion:
I lived in a van several times in my life and really do find it a fine way to live. I even did it an an airport where I was employed as an on call freight pilot but I did get booted out after 6 months or so. My employer didn’t like it… but it was great while it lasted. They had shower facilities and everything. Don’t know why it was such an issue. Did it a few other places, but it has been a while since I have. I am considering it again, but just wondering where you can park and sleep without getting booted out…
Linds, this is something I’ve written about a lot. Here are some posts:
Hope that helps.
I like to have your permmision to translate some of your articles in to Vietnamese. There are good information in your articles.
I use this portable folding RV hammock and LOVE it! http://rvmusthaves.com/portable-folding-rv-hammock/
Thanks for the recommendations Mike!
The hammock idea is pure genius!
I need to figure this out for my box truck and workdwelling concept.
stilldeciding, it does save a lot of space and many people say they sleep better in a hammock than any other bed.
The bubble-foil insulation used to wrap hotwater heaters comes in a 4ft x125ft roll, available as multilayer, can be used to wrap a sleeping bag or line a sleep area to reflect body heat, said to be about the same as a 100watt light bulb. Similar to emergency blanket but more versatile.
Thanks Don, great idea!
The ancient hammock is “maybe” more comfortable than a standard bed. Space conservation ? It’s WAY on top of the list. And this is important with “van dwelling”.
I’ve been a “hanger” , backpacking hammock guy for a long time. Probably the best way to get acquainted with a hammock is purchasing “The Ultimate Hang” book.
Nearly all newbies with the hammock do not lay in it properly. ie: position your body roughly in a 45 degree angle from the hammock length is the way to be nearly flat. This is assuming your hammock is wide enough. (approx 60″ wide at the mid-point)If it isn’t this wide, the hammock must be quite long. I’m 5′ 10″ and have decided 10 feet long by 60″ wide is best for backpacking . PLUS, most newbies hang the hammock too tight. Allow a LOT of sag and positioning your body at an angle is much easier.
WHEN … I become a “rubber tramp”, hopefully soon, I will definitely be a “hanger” in my rig.
Bob, YOU are the best. Thank you for all the vids and www information you provide people.