Turn a car into a campervan – Berlingo stealth camping

Berlingo mini campervan

Testing out the stealth camper on the Honister Pass in the Lake District.

We know from experience that there are lots of you who just can’t make the jump from tent to campervan. So, we’ve come up with a smart solution for a compromise mini-camper that has cost us less than £350 (minus fridge!). It’s perfect for quick overnight stops between campsites and wild camping.

How to turn your car into a camper

  • Take one Berlingo Multispace car and remove all the back seats and parcel shelf.
  • Take four large storage boxes with lids (ours are Ikea’s largest Samla boxes – 78x56x43cm). These fit perfectly in the back and even leave space behind the front seats for a bit of luggage.
  • Fill the boxes with your camping kit, food, clothes and so on.
  • Take two self-inflating mattresses (ours were 10cm thick Exped SIMs, but we’ve now swapped to the even better Sea to Summit Comfort Deluxe because they’re super-comfortable and easier to deflate). They can be left slightly under-inflated during the day, so that they can be folded out of the way. At night, simply roll out and inflate on top of the boxes. Now you can sleep full-length in the back without removing all your equipment. Best choice for sleeping bags (because they double up as blankets or wraps) are the Vaude Finsuits. Lovely.
    Vaude Finsuit

    Vaude Finsuit – very versatile.

  • You can leave the front seats upright if you’re not too tall, which gives you an area at the front for anything you might want to get at in the night. If you fold them forwards, you’ll gain extra space for long legs, though.
  • Get yourself a tarpaulin (see our tarp article). When you want to stay somewhere for a couple of days or more, you’ll have a flexible option for shade, rain protection, privacy etc.
  • The same method could work in other types of car and people-carrier too. Sliding doors, good head height, removable seats and a flattish floor are the main factors. A bit of research should turn up four boxes that will fit the space.

We’ve tested this system on winter camping trips to the Lake District – near Crummock Water, at the top of the Kirkstone Pass and on the Honister Pass. It was warm, cosy and comfortable, though the gale-force winds blew away some of our underwear out of the suitcase and sandblasted the side of the car with gravel. It worked really well and it was very easy to get at things the next morning. It’s also a fabulous and flexible option for warm weather camping in Europe – tried, tested and recommended (with tarp for shade) in Corsica, France and Switzerland.

Bear in mind that….

  1. This won’t work with a family, or if you need the back seats for some reason.
  2. We weigh nine stone and 14 stone and the boxes hold us with no problem. If you’re very big or heavy, you might need stronger boxes and lids – here are some storage box options.
  3. If you have a lot of equipment, consider a roof rack or box. The beauty of our box-bed is that you don’t have to take everything out at night and store it under the car. If you find you’re spilling out of the boxes, then use the roof space.
  4. It’s not such a great method for bad weather camping because you tend to have to dress, wash and eat outside the car. The tarp can help there.
  5. We bought a smallish Waeco compressor fridge. This fits behind the seat. If you need a larger fridge, you can replace one of the boxes with the fridge itself. The Waeco CFX35 fits nicely in the back in place of one box with room for ventilation. The fridge works fantastically and is a good size for two/four people. You can still use a mattress at this side, providing this is the leg end. The CDF11 might fit between the seats in some cars too.
  6. We’ll probably make some simple window blinds – material cut to size, with hooks sewn on to fasten to suction cups. An upgrade for later!
  7. Another ideal upgrade – leave out two boxes and find a sturdy aluminium camping table with telescopic legs that will fit widthways at the rear, over the fridge and any gear you need to get at easily. At night, it’ll be a mattress base; during the day, can be taken out for use as a table. Any suggestions where we could find one?

So what should you put in those boxes?

Here are some of the essentials (and nice-to-haves) that always go into our camping boxes. For more, see our list of  favourite, tried and tested kit.

Samsonite toilet bag

A Samsonite toilet bag for hanging in the trees. Capacious and sturdy.

A Joseph and Joseph sink for washing faces and dishes. The plug in the bottom’s a nice idea.

bog in a bag camping toilet

The Bog in a Bag camping toilet has to be the neatest for storing. It’s a stool with a cover that removes to reveal a hole. Fit a bag over the top and you have a toilet. Maybe a pocket-sized alternative from our camping toilets recommendations.

Bamboo crockery – light and nice-looking. Outwell do a version and there are plenty of other options from cheap to designer-dear.

Folding smartphone and tablet travel chargers, and an international set too. Very neat.

Cadac Safari Chef

The Cadac Safari Chef is our favourite stove. Use the low-pressure version with gas bottle and regulator for more flexibility. You can cook everything on this. See our full review.

Funky patches to repair your gear. Stick tenaciously to tears and holes in rucksacks, jackets and more.

Nilaqua waterless wash

Waterless washing. We like the towel-off foam in this range too. Though Water Wipes are better for sensitive skins (just water!)


Neat Campingaz Bivouac. Keep it at the top of the kit box for quick cups of tea and one-pot meals. Folds down to small.

The idea is that when the weather is good, and you have two trees nearby, nothing’s better than sleeping outside. We always carry a couple of bivvy hammocks like the Amok Draumr or Exped Ergo. Our bivvy feature has more.

Petzl Noctilight

This handy (and cheap) little zip-up pouch holds your headtorch, turning it into a lantern. A handing cord wraps neatly around it. Clever little Petzl Noctilight!

These bits and pieces will cost you under a tenner and will change your (camping) life! Use the bungee cords to secure tarps, awnings or bits of flapping tent. The green clips fasten on to canvas taps, tents and so on without damaging the fabric and give you more options for securing. We’ve used a combination to make sun shelters and keep the rain off.

Happy going

One of our funniest bits of kit…useful too. A waterproof toilet roll holder with built-in light (flashing option!). The Happy Going. Just get one.

Simple and perfect. The Isosteel 0.9l flask is as minimal as you can get. Good value and no bits to go wrong.

Some other options to look at…

Amdro – made in Wales conversions and pull-out kits to go in the boot.

SwissRoombox – pricey, but hilariously well-designed. A big Swiss Army knife for your boot.

Campinbox – French and homemade-looking simple box system with a range to choose from.

Ludospace – French company that makes all kinds of pull-out/add-on accessories for part-time campervans.

And you might want to have a look at this modular option at the Singletrack Magazine forum.

slidepodYou might even get Slidepods to make you a custom model. They’re a newish company making slide out kitchens and utility bits for the VW California Beach campervan.

Or…you could go this far!

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  1. Pingback: Discovering the Lake District - Campfire Magazine

  2. Karl thompson

    Nice! Six smaller boxes would give you a slightly sturdier base, especially if you combined it with a plywood platform between boxes and matress. If you had said platform in 3 sections you could reconfigure the arrangment to have a seat and a table. Ideally you’d have custom made boxes so you could secure the platforms to the boxes. also if you think of each ‘custom box’ as a functional module you could have one with water/ waste water/ gas and another with a cooker/ sink – the two connect and the later sits on top of the former while the other modules form the base of the seats/ table. All i need to now is design and make the modules (like that’ll ever happen).

  3. Good question, Eddy. The Exped mattresses are quite firm and longer than the boxes. They rest on the back of the front seats (in fact, they fold upwards a little). Providing your feet are at this end, you’ll find the mats are supportive enough even without boxes underneath.

  4. How do the boxes of 78cm x 2 = 156 make a bed long enough ie:
    180/190? without a board across.

  5. Two of us slept many nights in a Berlingo in Europe in 2003. We took a porta potty as well which fitted in front of the front seat at night and was very useful

  6. You’ll notice the Kooltron cools from the back and not the top.

  7. The answer seems to be a small compressor fridge. Pricey, though. Mind you, still a lot cheaper in total than buying a campervan.

  8. I have an electric cool box, the problem is you cant put anything on top whilst its in use, as it fans air in from the top of the lid.
    unless of course you aren’t going to have the cool box on whilst its under the bedding.
    Mine was about £50 in Tesco Direct.

  9. Here’s a link to a tiny, 12v cooler that you describe. The link is in the US, but you should be able to find something on your side of the world that is similar. They usually sell them to truck drivers in the truck stops.


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