Fixed Bed vs. Convertible Bed: The Great Vanlife Debate

Pros and Cons of Fixed vs. Convertible Bed

There are two thoroughly divided camps in van life: fixed bed vs. convertible bed. There are plenty of pros and cons to both. For a fixed bed, your bed is always made and you can jump right into it. A fixed bed also offers tons of storage below, you can build a pretty epic garage underneath! When your bed is fixed, however, it takes up the footprint of your living space. A convertible bed maximizes the amount of living space you have during the day. Convertible beds also make your space feel more open. The downsides to a convertible bed are less storage space and you have to make your bed every day and night. As owners of a low roof van, we wanted our van to feel as spacious as possible. For our van build, the convertible bed was a no brainer.

GIF of convertible bed being made in a campervan
Our bed is so easy it practically makes itself!

Related Post: Our Van Build

Our Convertible Bed System

We wanted a simple system that could be made by one person since we would be making our bed every morning and night. We also wanted a clean and elegant look which meant we didn’t want legs on the sliding section. Our bed slides on two separate sets of slats that lock into a French cleat on the opposite side of the van. By having the bed slide on two separate sets of slats, one person is able to easily make the bed without the slats binding. By utilizing the French cleat, we eliminated the need for legs and created a super stable platform. We are able to slide each slat out, then flip down the back of the couch to convert it into bed mode. We have a fitted sheet that we stretch over the bed. The entire process takes only a minute or two. The whole bed is on a piano hinge which allows us to lift up the slats and access storage below. We house our battery system, tools, and any seasonal clothes/blankets under the bed.

The slats to the bed lock into a French Cleat on the opposite side of the van
Under Bed storage
Table in Van Conversion
Desk/Kitchen Table Across from our Couch

Related Post: Insulation: a Vanlife Guide

What the Heck is a French Cleat?

Many people when they see our bed say they would be terrified that the bed would slip off the ledge. Once you understand how a French Cleat works, you’ll know why we have had countless restful nights without a fear of falling to the floor. The French Cleat is a popular method used by woodworkers to hang heavy cabinetry on walls. It is a proven design that can be trusted. On the cabinetry side of our van, there is a strip of wood that has a 45 degree angle on the top of it. The face of the sliding slats have a matching 45 degree angle on the bottom that “locks” into the cabinetry side. The diagram below illustrates this concept. When the slats are pulled to match the cabinetry side, there is no way for the bed to slip off when it is properly engaged. In fact, the more weight that is on the bed, the more engaged the French Cleat becomes. We feel this was an elegant solution to eliminate the need for legs.

Diagram of a French Cleat
Diagram of a French Cleat

Related Post: Order of Operations in a Van Build

Our Mattress

Our mattress is made from 3 inch high density foam and 2 inch memory foam. We like this combination because it doesn’t make the bed too soft. We looked into 5 inch memory foam mattresses however we read horror stories of removing the mattress cover and having fiberglass shards go everywhere. Many mattress covers have fiberglass as a flame retardant and they are not meant to be removed. We needed a mattress that we could cut into sections and having fiberglass shards everywhere was not an option. We found high density foam in the exact dimensions we needed and were able to find a 2 inch topper that did not have a cover. We sewed mattress covers out of synthetic linen that are removable and washable.    

Custom Campervan Interior
Our van in bed mode
Convertible bed system in campervan
Slats of bed locked into French Cleat without mattress

After living in the van for a while, we are still very pleased with our convertible bed. Making the bed every morning and night really is not that big of a task. When the bed is in couch mode, we are able to pull out our table to use as a dining table or desk. We enjoy having two modes of the van to delineate our day. When we put the bed in couch mode and the coffee is flowing, that signifies the start of our day. When we convert things to bed mode, that means it’s time to kick back, relax, and get some rest. What do you think of our setup? Are you a fixed bed or convertible bed fan? Let us know in the comments below. If you want to know more about our van build, check out this post. Be sure to subscribe so you never miss a post!

*This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. Any earnings go towards staying on the road longer.

Insulation: A Vanlife Guide

Let’s talk about insulation. After figuring out your layout, this will be your first task. Whether you want to stay in warm or cold temperatures, it is your friend! In the summer, it will keep your van cooler for longer, conversely, in the winter, it will keep your van warmer for longer. This guide will […]

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Visiting Crater Lake

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Hike to Magical Waterfall Hot Springs

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12 thoughts on “Fixed Bed vs. Convertible Bed: The Great Vanlife Debate

  1. We don’t have a van, rather a travel trailer. However, we do have a murphy bed, and we love it. It has all the positives of your convertible bed. It only takes a moment to put it down or back up. Happy travels to you!


  2. This is awesome! I wondered how comfortable it was. However, I think you got the right one for you guys. Your van is pretty cool. I love reading your posts. Continue to have fun on the journey but, stay safe and healthy.


  3. I absolutely adore your van. It’s exactly what I want. The cabinetry even has beautiful inlays. You have serious skills. And you’ve totally sold me on the convertible bed. Having that pull out desk/table would make it 10x as livable for me. Like I could work out of the van if it had internet.


    1. Those are such kind words, you made our day! The convertible bed is the best, gives you so many options and makes it feel so spacious. You for sure could work out of it! Let us know if you have any questions if you’re in the van build process!


  4. You are amazing! This is so cool! Can you pull out your desk while your bed is made? I can just see myself having ‘breakfast in bed’ while enjoying the scenery.


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