Tutorial: Hammock bed for car camping (in a Volvo wagon)

Tutorial: Hammock bed for car camping (in a Volvo wagon)

I am not sure when I stumbled about this picture of a hanging car hammock for a little kid, but I immediately thought it ingenious! It has sat on my Pinterest board for months (a year?), but I never felt I would be able to convince Aaron that it was something we needed. However, after our most recent camping experience in which we ended up sleeping in the car instead of our tent (due to a lack of available campgrounds), I decided this was the perfect time to broach the subject. Aaron immediately saw its usefulness and thought it would be easy enough to make. This wasn’t our first time sleeping in the car and I’m sure it will not be our last time, so we’d love to make car sleeping more comfortable. It would also give us a safe place to sleep in the event that we are camping during a thunderstorm, as tents provide no protection from lightning.

Having a free weekend day, we decided to attempt this project. The picture that we saw had the hammock hanging over the front seats, with straps going through the door frame to hold it up. We didn’t feel this option would work well for us because we need the front seats to be able to hold any of our supplies, luggage, and Sprout’s car seat (just while we sleep). Hanging it through the rear doors wasn’t a great option either, because it would leave Aaron and I trapped in the trunk once Sprout was asleep as our hatch cannot open from the inside. We decide that we would instead make a hammock that would sit on the little ledges near the window of our trunk. this way our feet could go under the hammock while Sprout slept on the hammock. Room for three in our little wagon. 🙂


I took a trip to Joann’s fabrics and picked up some heavy-duty thread and 2 yards of 100% cotton canvas fabric. Joann’s often has a 40% off one item coupon on their website, so make sure to bring the coupon if you are going to go buy some. Meanwhile, Aaron headed over to Lowes where he picked up the materials for the bed frame.



2 1.5-inch diameter pieces of Schedule 40 PVC pipe (100 inches long, each)

4 Schedule 40 PVC 90 degree elbows (corner pieces)

2 yards canvas fabric

A few dabs of all-purpose glue.

1 can Plasti Dip spray (rubber coating to provide friction on the contact points)

Heavy duty thread

Total cost: $30

Other supplies:

A hacksaw

Sewing machine with heavy-duty needle



The first step was to measure the back of the car trunk. We wanted a snug fit so that the bed would not fall off the ledge, but did not want it so tight that we would not be able to get the bed in (though you can undo the piping so as to make it easier to get into the small space). Our back ledge was 23″ wide and 55″ across. Your measurements will likely be different.

Measure and cut one long piece (52″ to leave room for the corners) and one short piece (20″). We put the piping across 2 chairs to hold it off the ground and I held one end of it to keep it from wobbling everywhere while Aaron cut the piping and held the other end. We didn’t use a woodworking vise because we live in an apartment and had two sets of hands. If you’re working alone, please clamp the pipe properly for safety.



Test your measurement… we put the corner ends on the cut piece of pipe and went out to the car to test the fit. I’m glad Aaron thought to do this because while the piece fit perfectly on one end of the window ledge, it was too small for the other side. The back of the car tapers, which meant we needed a longer piece for the other long side of the hammock frame (~57 inches).

Our trunk is not the neatest… and yes, we keep a potty in the car.


Cut the last two pieces and test the fit again (just in case). The frame fit perfectly, thought it was a bit challenging to get it in place. We had to put the back seat down and do some maneuvering. I am sure it would be easier if we had removed Sprout’s car seat, but we weren’t up for that today!


Adding the Fabric.

I am not an expert sewer, by any means, so this likely took me longer than it would a more experienced sewer. I started with placing the frame on the fabric and marking 6″ from the frame all the way around (in retrospect, 4″ probably would have been fine).


I cut the sides of the hammock straight from the side to the edge of the corner pieces. This way I would be able to wrap it around the piping. I cut an outward C shape at the corners so that I wouldn’t have to get the fabric to go around the corners. I folded the sides and corners in about 1/2 inch so that I would have finished edges and sewed the hem.

I made sure that the frame was centered and folded the fabric on one long side over, pinning it over the piping. I ended up folding the fabric twice so that there was a hem where I ultimately sewed. I then took the pipe corners off and pulled the piping out of the fabric so that I could sew it unattached. I sewed a straight line along where I pinned the fabric.

I then replaced the piping in the sewed side and folded the other long side over the exposed pipe. I pulled it as tight as I could and pinned it in place. I then removed the piping and sewed the edge. If you are confident in your measuring, you could avoid putting the pipe frame back into the fabric, but I found this was the easiest way for me to make sure I was sewing in the right spot.

After disassembling the frame a few times, I realized that having somewhere to grasp the frame is very helpful. So for the short ends, I sewed the edges first and only sewed the center part of the fabric, leaving the corners unattached. I then added some snaps on both sides so that I could still cover the whole pipe, but would be able to unattached the fabric at the corners in order to grip the pipes. This seems to be working well.


Again, I did one end at a time, pinning it over the pipe, then removing the pipe to sew the edge. We then checked how it fit in the car, one more time.


We plan to spray the corners with Plasti Dip, so that there is a rubber-like coating on the exposed PVC. We are hoping that this creates a bit of friction and also protects our windows a bit. However, it was a rainy day when we were working on the hammock and decided to wait until we had a sunny and warm day for a quicker drying time.


We also plan to glue the PVC elbows on the long sides of the bed for a little extra security. Sprout has slept (and squirmed around) on the bed and nothing has come apart, but losing a piece in the middle of the trip would make the bed unusable. The shorter sides we don’t plan to glue so that we can roll the bed up when it’s not in use.

It even rolls up compactly for storage. Just put the short tubes in the center of the canvas and roll it up!

Product testing: 

Sprout woke from her nap midway through sewing and was eager to ‘help’ and test out her new bed. This made the process a bit more challenging, but we were happy to see how excited she was to test it out. We position it in the car and let her hang out for a little while. She was extremely upset when we made her get out of the car…. I think this is a good thing.


That is one happy and cozy child!


The next day we went out to the forest and tested the hammock out for nap time. We opened the windows and set up our chairs outside the car, while Sprout lay in her hammock. It did take Sprout some time to fall asleep in it, as she was very excited, but she happily sat in it and read. She seemed to be cozy while she slept. We can’t wait to test this out on our next camping trip!


Sleeping child!


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