Turn a car into a campervan – Berlingo stealth camping

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

We know from experience that there are lots of campers who just can’t make the jump from tent to campervan. So, we came up with a smart solution for a homemade mini-camper that cost us less than £350 (minus fridge!).

It’s perfect for quick overnight stops between campsites and for wild camping.

This is based on the old-style Citroen Berlingo. More on the new model at the end of this article. Also have a look at our full feature on how to turn your everyday car or van into an affordable, part-time camper – lots of great ideas!

Step 1

Take one Berlingo Multispace car and remove the back seats and parcel shelf.

Berlingo mini campervan

Ready to become a campervan

You can leave the front seats upright if you’re not too tall. This gives you an area at the front for anything you might want to get at in the night. If you fold them forwards, though, you’ll gain extra space for long legs.

Berlingo mini campervan

Remove the three back seats

Step 2

Take four large storage boxes with lids.

Berlingo mini campervan

The ‘bed base’ ready to be filled

(84l Really Useful Boxes are good and strong or Ikea’s largest Samla boxes – 78x56x43cm). These fit perfectly in the back and leave space behind the front seats for a bit of luggage.

Fill the boxes with your camping gear, food, clothes and so on.

Berlingo mini campervan

Fill the boxes with your outdoors gear

Step 3

Take two self-inflating mattresses.

Berlingo mini campervan

Self-inflating mattresses on the boxes

Ours are now Sea to Summit Comfort Deluxe mats – slightly easier to deflate than the also-fabulous Expeds shown here.

Leave them slightly under-inflated during the day, so 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 camping gear.

Berlingo mini camper

A comfortable double bed

Our choice for sleeping bags, by the way (because they double up as blankets or wraps) are the Vaude Navajo range.

More options in our sleeping bag review. and our guide to the best camping mats.

Step 4

Start finessing your set-up.

Berlingo mini campervan

Tilt the seats for more legroom

Berlingo mini campervan

Seats up gives you space behind for luggage

Step 5

Get yourself a tarpaulin

Quechua Tarp Fresh

A versatile tarp.

 We like Decathlon’s Fresh tarp best, but see our tarp article for more inspiration.

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. For longer trips, you’ll want to consider a shelter or tailgate awning.

 

Howgill Lodge

Camping in a stealthy mini-campervan (aka a Berlingo). No need for stealth at Howgill Lodge campsite, though!

Tried and tested – but hang on to your knickers!

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 on the Honister Pass blew 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, Germany and Switzerland.

He looks a bit grumpy, but it’s not the car camping…it’s the fact he can’t get the cork out of that wine bottle!

The same car camping method could work in other types of car and people-carrier. 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.

Have a look at our guide to car camping for more ideas for other models of car.

Car camping tips and techniques

Tip 1

Space for one or two

This won’t work with a family, or if you need the back seats for some reason.

If it’s just the one of you, two boxes and one mattress will give you lots of extra space at the side for a little table and stove (well vented).

Tip 2

Taking the weight

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 than the Ikea ones – The Really Useful Boxes work well.

 

Tip 3

Storing more camping gear

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.

Tip 4

Adding a fridge

We bought a smallish Dometic CDF compressor fridge. This fits behind the seat.

Dometic CFX35. Brilliant in all temperatures, 12V/240V and quiet too.

If you need a larger fridge, you can replace one of the boxes with the fridge itself. The Dometic 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.

Check out our fridge buying guide.

 

Tip 5

Privacy and warmth

Make yourself some thermal silver window blinds for the side windows by cutting a standard windscreen blind to the right size. Sew on hooks to fix suction cups.

If you have an older model Berlingo (up to 2007), these tailored thermal blinds will save you a job.

 

Tip 6

A bedframe workaround?

Another ideal upgrade – leave out two boxes and find a sturdy 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, use it outside.

The Zempire Kitpac table above might work? Heights of 43-65cm. 50kg max load, but with just your head on it, no problem!

Uquip aluminium adjustable table. Fully adjustable height 45-69cm, but only takes 30kg.

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.

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

A Samsonite or Reisenthel 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. More space-saving and multipurpose washing up ideas here.

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.

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!

Something to carry and dispense your water. Our current favourite is the Sea to Summit Packtap, but there are plenty more in our water storage article.

Bamboo crockery – light, greener than plastic and nice-looking. Cambridge do a nice range and there are plenty of other options from cheap to designer-dear.

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.

These bits and pieces will cost you under a tenner and will change your (camping) life! Use the bungee cords to secure tarps, awnings. The green clips fasten to tarps and so on without damage and with more options for securing. Make sun shelters and keep rain off.

When the weather's good, nothing's better than sleeping outside. We always carry a couple of bivvy tents or hammocks. Our bivvy feature has some good recommendations.

A few Firepot pouches for the day's when we don't want to cook. All-natural ingredients, plenty to fill you up and you just add boiling water. Not cheap, but the best camping meals we've found.

calor-bivouac-camping-stove

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.

A folding bucket with lid. An emergency loo that’s easy to clean and store. More camping loo options here too.

Nilaqua waterless wash

Waterless washing. We like the towel-off foam in this range too. Though Aqua Wipes are better for sensitive skins (just water and they're biodegradable)

This handy storage net simply velcros onto a carpeted wall. Two in a pack for less than a tenner.

You could also consider...

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.

Slidepods – custom slide-out kitchens and utility bits.

Or you could go this far...

Have a look at our article on lightweight awnings too and for tailgate awnings, read our car camping recommendations.

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When we find a new piece of camping or outdoor equipment that we love and that really works, it’s here. Everything you see – from barbecues to mosquito repellent – has been tried and tested by a member of the Campfire team and is now one of their actual camping essentials …
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10 Comments

  1. Hi. The question from Harry above was one of my concerns. So I wouldn’t even have to notify the DVLA if I removed the rear seats on my new Combo life MPV? Many thanks, Ian.ED: If the seats are removable and can be added back in, it’s not a conversion of a vehicle at all. In the same way that someone could remove a seat to pick up a bit of furniture from Ikea, it doesn’t constitute a change of what the vehicle is. Let’s say you decided to sleep on the back seat…that wouldn’t make it a campervan either. Funnily enough, people have a lot more problem trying to get their van conversions reclassified as campervans or motorhomes and we’ve heard lots of stories from people complaining that the DVLA doesn’t even seem swayed by there being a sink, a cooker and a bed permanently installed. Enjoy your car camping!

  2. Wow amazing stuff! I’m ill with cfs and was thinking of ideas when and how I will escape and thought about my Berlingo and trying to use to sleep in. Never expected such fantastic insight and detail and the basics are low budget so I am mega chuffed and can’t thank you guys enough!!!!!!!!:)

  3. First of all, I would like to thank you for all your good ideas and tips! It’s an amazing website!
    I’ve just bought a Berlingo and I would like to keep it warm in the winter. I’m looking for a heater that I can be plugged to the car (I don’t even know if something like this exists!)
    Thank you. ED: Have a look at our article on heating options for campervans. There are NO 12V fan heaters that work well enough (they just blow the fuses), but there are lots of other options. The seat heaters are great, for example. Thanks so much for the nice comment too, Jose!

  4. Wow … great site for ideas. I turned my Skoda Octavia III sedan into an even more “stealthy” camper, as it just doesn’t look like it could host two people for overnights. But it works … Hope to publish a few pics soon.

  5. Gaynor Swithenby

    We have a old red berlingo. What a great idea. Love the tarpaulin. I’ve been saying to the kids for ages the berlingo could be a camper van.

  6. Definitely. We’ve tried it with a 1.92 monster and he slept well.

  7. This looks like a great way to go Campervanning. I am 183cm tall. Would I sleep OK with this set up?

  8. Can I ask if you are just sleeping on the box lids or do you use a board or something ?
    ED: Just the mats on the box lids, John. Plenty strong enough unless you’re a giant. A board would be a pain to get out of the way when you need to get things out of the boxes. A decent mattress smooths out any bumpy edges.

  9. Just the inspiration I needed. Going to do this with my Antara. Thank you!
    Editor: Brilliant! Send us photos.

  10. Hi,

    I am looking at Berlingo available locally to me, to do a similar simple conversion like yours above. My concern for me is not knowing too well the set up for insurance, whether the removal of the seats and putting a bed in affecting your insurance (paying some campervan fee or something?)

    Sorry if it’s a silly question. Hope you can help.

    Editor: Not a silly question at all! It’ll make no difference. If you consider that insurance is usually for social, domestic or pleasure, you’re just adding to your pleasure. It’s not a permanent or structural alteration.

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