How to Sleep 10 People in a Full Size Van

Sunrise with a lantern in Big Bend National Park, Texas

Sunrise in Texas

Or, how to transport 10 people in a full size van and still sleep in the van at night


It was spring of the year 2001, and we had just upgraded from a 1989 Chevy Caprice Station Wagon to our first full-size van – a 1998 Dodge Ram 1500.  We were also heading out on our first cross-country trip as an 8-some, not to mention our first more-than-two-day trip in the van.



It was the kids’ idea to sleep in the van instead of our normal big blue tent (that never fit on tent platforms).  On a short trip a few months earlier, we had demonstrated with enthusiasm that we could easily bunk down on the seats and floor.  So with great zeal and a few trepidations, we pulled into our first campground (somewhere in Ohio) to truly test out whether or not we could all fit into – let alone sleep in – the van.

Campsite near Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Campsite near Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Don’t worry; you don’t have to have the truck cap on the roof to sleep 10 people in a full-size van 🙂

I think it took about four trips before we stopped taking the tent at all; it seemed silly to take it since we had used once or twice per trip – or not at all.


After that, we rearranged things when two more members were added to the group, then again when we constructed a roof top hotel (hard-sided truck cap mounted on plywood) for some people to sleep in, then again when group members started staying home due to jobs, school, etc.

Van with the Roof Top Hotel in a picnic area in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Van with the Roof Top Hotel in a picnic area in Joshua Tree National Park, California

So I’ve put together a couple diagram of how we can sleep 10 people in the van.  The first was from when we were a bit younger (you’d better have a couple babies and a few more small children for that to work!), and the second is closer to what we would do today – though you still had better have some smaller people who don’t mind space constraints if you want to do it this way.  We used to joke that we had synchronized breathing, but people took us seriously.  Oh, well.  People say we shouldn’t joke, and every once in a while, I think they’re right 🙂

Diagram #1 (for those with small children) - How to Sleep 10 People in a Full-Size Van

Diagram #1 (for those with small children)

Diagram #2 (for more adult-size people) - How to Sleep 10 People in a Full-size Van

Diagram #2 (for more adult-size people)

There are 5 basic places to sleep in a van:

1. Sleep on a Bench Seat

Pros: Very comfortable; you can stretch out (if you’re not too long) and sit up; some room to roll; sized for adults or children

Cons: Seatbelt buckles can be annoying; you might roll off the seat; others might think you’re hogging the best place (just kidding)


2. Sleep on the Floor between the Seats

Pros: Room to stretch out, sized for children or smaller adults (larger adults can do it, but it might be a bit narrow for those man-sized shoulders)

Cons: Not for claustrophobics; seat legs get in the way; room to roll only in place; sleeping bags on the seat above can hang over and be annoying

The shelving unit in the van - it's strong enough that even an adult can sleep on top of it

The shelving unit – it’s strong enough that even an adult can sleep on top of it

3. Sleep on the Shelf in the Back

(This is on top of the shelves we built for the back of the van – read about that here.)

Pros: Some amount of space to roll; you can stretch out; sized for children and adults (assuming the shelf can handle the weight)

Cons: If the bunkbeds are being used, they hang over and can make rolling very exciting (like, impossible – I didn’t get much sleep the one (and only one) time I tried it)


4. Sleep in the Front Seats

Pros: Great for those with sinus issues or who like to sleep sitting up; more space where you can’t touch someone else; no one else will be wanting to take your sleeping spot (just kidding again)

Cons: You might be able to recline (put pillows and blankets to hold your head in place), but you’ll still be sleeping sitting up; you might just kick the person in the other front seat who is also sleeping with their feet on the dashboard; in the driver’s seat the steering wheel gets in the way and it’s not too hard to accidentally kick the brake pedal in the middle of the night

One of the van seat bunkbeds

One of the van seat bunkbeds, sans sleeping bags

5. Sleep on a Folding Bunkbed

(Read how to make your own bunkbeds here)

Pros: Quite comfortable; room to roll if there aren’t too many people on the bunkbed

Cons: Can be tippy; can be crowded (especially if you have three people up there on two bunkbeds like in the diagram); you can’t possibly sit up


Of course, it’s a lot more comfortable to only have one person on each bunkbed.


Note #1: After adding two more people to the group, we didn’t all fit in the 8 passenger Ram 1500.  So we went to a junkyard and picked up two 4-seater bench seats from larger Dodge vans, switched out the seat legs with the current 3-seater benches, and now we all fit!  Yay!


Note #2: The new Ford Transits (and Dodge Sprinters) are set up relatively differently than older models.  If you have one of the newer vans, you might need to put down padding across the row of seats to make them comfortable, or to vary your approach to sleeping (some vans no longer have all-the-way-across-the-van rows of seats, for example).  The newer GMC vans still have way-less-cool, much-more-practical-for-sleeping bench seats.


How do you very minimally or not at all modify your van for sleeping?  I’d love to know!

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