Turning Your Honda Element Into the Perfect Camper
When the Honda Element made its debut in 2003, many drivers raised their eyebrows at the squat, square, little SUV. However, a select few saw more potential in the vehicles bi-parting doors and roomy interior. They saw the potential for a Honda Element camper.
The Honda Element has now become one of the most popular smaller vehicles to convert. YouTube and the web are full of people who have been able to build out and live full-time out of their Elements.
The original Element was discontinued in 2011. But because of its popularity as a camper conversion, preowned versions keep their value. There are rumors of a rebirth of the Element, but in the meantime, if you happen to find one for sale, snap it up.
Versatile and Reliable: The Many Benefits of Honda Element Camper Conversions
The Honda Element is a great SUV for conversions for several reasons:
- Because of its square, boxy shape, the headroom is better than most SUVs with more curved ceilings. Cabinets, raised beds, kitchens, and even tiny offices can be found in Element conversions.
- The Element’s doors are what make it unique from other smaller SUVs. The doors open opposite each other, which gives you full access to the interior. This is easier for installation and liveability.
- Honda is known for building reliable, economical, and affordable vehicles, and the Element is one of them. The fuel economy is pretty darn good at about 22 miles to the gallon combined city and highway. Some Elements even come with AWD.
- With the rear hatch and tailgate, the rear of the Element works great as a kitchen space or work area with some protection from the weather.
Because of its popularity as a camper, there are tons of hacks and tips available online. We’ll cover a few of our own.
So What Is a Camper Conversion Hack?
Hacks are inexpensive ways to create utilitarian features or make a space more functional. This is usually done with objects or items that are intended for other purposes but can be used in other ways. For example, one Honda Element camper conversion used an IKEA storage tub as a sink.
Camper conversion hacks are a DIYer’s dream, and we’ll cover a few of them below. But first, we’ll discuss a few ways that you can quickly convert a Honda Element. If you don’t want to build anything, then start with a pre-made conversion kit.
Hack 1: Conversion Kits
Conversion Kit Option 1
Freeway Camper Kit offers kits for dozens of vehicles. The kits are made with ultralight marine-grade plywood that comes in various tints. They also include foam mattresses and accessories such as coolers. The Freeway Camper Kit can be delivered to your address and installed in about 20 minutes.
The Element kit features a double bed platform with very roomy storage underneath. In fact, because of the Element’s boxy interior, the storage can easily include fridges, coolers, water containers, and boxes of clothing and gear.
The ease of this type of kit allows for a simple conversion with no major bells and whistles. In addition, without any major moving parts or electrical and plumbing, this kit can also be easily removed to convert the camper back into a vehicle.
The cost ranges from $1,000 to $1,400, depending on what you order.
Honda Element Camper Conversion Kit Option 2
One of the newest companies to take the Element to the next level is Fifth Element Camping in North Carolina. This surprisingly affordable conversion kit can be installed and uninstalled in a few minutes. It includes a bed that converts into a bench and a beautifully designed side cabinet that can be removed in less than two minutes.
What makes this design unique is how quickly everything can be converted and how much space is still available for both people and gear. In addition to the two main products, Fifth Element also sells a steering wheel desk/console, a door handle table, a drink console, a bike mount, and even an exterior kitchen and side table.
The basic kit is available for pre-order and starts at $4,995 for the bed/bench combo, cabinet, and center console/trays.
Conversion Kit Option 3
Ursa Minor takes the Element’s conversion kit a bit further. The ECamper kit comes in at $7,500, but this is where you can get that much-needed headroom. The kit includes a lightweight, composite pop-up roof that offers 6 1/2 feet of standing room. The pop-up roof has breathable and water-resistant Sunbrella® canvas soft walls with zippered screen windows on all four sides. This allows for panoramic views from all sides of the camper from the raised bed.
The kit also comes with a 7×4 foot mattress with washable covers that can be accessed from inside or outside the vehicle. Other nice features include low-current interior LED lighting and a rear handle for the gas spring-assisted hinges.
The ECamper kit can be installed in Portland, Oregon, or San Diego, California. If the vehicle does not have a sunroof, an accessway will be installed as part of the conversion. However, additional costs will be added for rack mounts or systems, mounting points, USB and 12V outlets, or utility options.
Hack 2: No-Build Conversion With Dunnage Racks
If a kit is out of your budget and you don’t have the skills, tools, space, or desire to build out your own Element camper, then take a few tips from the Days We Spend YouTube channel.
This couple built out their boxy car by thinking outside of the box. They used Dunnage Racks from a restaurant supply store to create both an upright seating and sleeping space. The racks are attached to the floor of the Element camper, and a wood slat is used to fill in the bed space. The cushions are made of 4-inch foam and covered with fabric made from recycled bottles.
What’s great about this type of design is that there is still plenty of storage space under the bed and seating while maintaining headroom. The metal racks also have hollow legs that allow for a brilliant little swivel table. The couple keeps their kitchen simple by cooking on the tailgate.
Hack 3: Check Out IKEA
Again, anyone who doesn’t want to build goes to IKEA. With an Allen wrench in hand and a few hundred dollars, a camper conversion can be yours.
Don’s Honda Element camper build is clean, simple, and extremely efficient. It also uses several items from IKEA. His plywood bed platform sits on top of IKEA cabinets, and he converted another cabinet into a storage area complete with his own live edge wood shelves. To mix up the Scandi vibe, Don also added a few vintage items like his grandparents’ water container and Coleman cooler.
If you go to IKEA for ideas or supplies, be sure to do some accurate measurements of your vehicle’s interior and head to the store with a tape measure and layout of your camper’s interior plans.
Hack 4: Create Versatility and Space With Hinges
Ethan Maurice not only created a beautiful camper from his 2003 Honda Element, but he also offers all his tips and layout plans online. Ethan’s camper uses hinges for everything from his pullout kitchen/detachable table (supported with a milk crate) to a lounge for the head of the bed. He also uses hinges to create a table on his storage shelf and a support leg for the bed.
His videos and website give a thorough guide on how to create something similar to his design. A list of supplies, tools, the vehicle’s layout and measurements, electrical components, and gear are available at ethanmaurice.com
Hack 5: Off-the-Shelf Materials
Honda Element vanlife is not just for the young ones. Connie is a retiree who travels around in her Element converted with simple, off-the-shelf items from the hardware store or Amazon.
Connie’s bed is made of the typical plywood, but she uses metal flanges and PVC pipes for the custom legs. With this method, she was able to set a height that was comfortable for her and adjust for an uneven floor. She uses a pegboard to hold items such as paper towels, metal baskets, and other gear. The storage cabinet is a nightstand with the legs sawed off.
Which of These Hacks Do You Think Is the Best?
Some of these Hona Element camper hacks may resonate with you, and some may not, but the idea behind them is to think differently about how to use everyday objects to create the look and functionality you need in a small camper.
When working on your own conversion, wander around big box stores or on Amazon and take a look at raw materials, supplies, and other gear. What could come in handy that you normally would not think of for a common van conversion?
Feel free to borrow any of these tips and ideas and make them your own. If you have any hacks that you have come up with, leave them in the comments below. Happy hacking!