DIY Insulated Window Panels for Stealth Camping (PH1)

Reflective panels for my Odyssey Camper

If you plan on doing any stealth camping, the first thing you need to do is black out the windows.

The reason should be obvious, but if you don’t want to be discovered, it is critical that no light passes from the inside of the vehicle to the outside.  Even better is something that absorbs any light being shown from the outside (i.e. a flashlight).

*Before you set off to make your own panels, be sure to read the “What I Learned” section at the bottom.  There are a few things I’d do differently the second time around.

For my stealth panels, I wanted to go a step further and make something that was well insulated for cold-weather camping.  Even better would be something that would absorb solar radiation (sunlight) for added warmth in the winter.  However, I wanted the panels to be reversible so they would keep out the daytime sun in hot weather.  I came up with a sandwich of:

  1. Reflectix (reflects solar radiation when used on the outside, reflects light when used on the inside)
  2. Foam Insulation (Reflectix is a poor insulator by itself)
  3. Faux leather (Black to absorb the sun, or the illumination of a flashlight)

Here is my parts list, with each item linked to Home Depot, but Lowes carries similar items.  Measure your windows for the approximate number of square inches you will need to cover (width x height) to decide how much material you will need.  I used one roll of Reflectix and two 4 x 8 ft sheets of foam sheathing board.

  1. Reflectix
  2. Foam insulated board (sheathing), R-3
  3. 3M “Super 90” spray contact cement  (don’t buy this, I switched to using a can of Weldwood Contact Cement, which was much more economical)
  4.  Threaded 8-32 Rod (along with #8 washers, the wider the better, and 8-32 wingnuts, all are in the same area)

Two items that Home Depot did not have, were sourced from JoAnn’s Fabric store, although I’m sure you could find them elsewhere

  1. 8 yards of black vinyl (faux leather) designed for office furniture, but you can also use your fabric of choice.
  2. Suction Cups

Using the photos I shot while making the panels, I will try to illustrate the steps in the captions below each picture.

The first step is to cut the foam so that it will fit into the window recess. I wasn’t concerned with a tight fit because I was using suction cups to hold it in place. The black painted area around the edge of the glass keeps light from leaking.  Measure the shape of the window or use a piece of cardboard as a template, then trim with an Exacto knife to fit.  Once you get one fitted, you can use it as a template for the other side.
Coat one side of the panel with contact cement (see lessons learned at the end of this how-to)
I later switched to the paint on type of contact cement (see lessons learned)
Contact cement bonds to itself so you have to put it on both materials.
Lay the pleather (faux leather) on a flat surface and coat it with contact cement. Make sure that when you place the foam board onto the pleather, you leave a six-inch border. This will show better in the following photos.
Set the foam panel on the faux leather and apply pressure to bond. Trim excess to leave 4-6″ border around the edges.  Then cut out the corners of the material so you can wrap the flaps around the sides.
Apply Cement to the edge of the foam board and the pleather. Then press in place.  Don’t get too fussy with this, it’s going to be hidden.
After the edges have set up, coat the center part with adhesive.
Use the foam panel as a template to trace the shape onto piece of Reflectix. Cut the Reflectix about one inch bigger than the panel in all directions. That extra material will seal the edges around the panel, creating an insulating, dead air space. If you reverse the panel, this extra will push into the space around the panel edges.
Press the two sides together. Note that on this panel I actually trimmed the Reflectix AFTER putting the panel in place. You can do it either way, but on the trickier shapes, this method might work better for you.
Now it’s time to cut your threaded rod into 3″ lengths. You can do this with a hacksaw, but a better way is a special tool; If you look at the electrical crimping tools (near the wire nuts) many of them have a built-in screw cutter. That’s what I used. You’ll find that most suction cups have a hole in the back where the threaded rod can go. If not, you may have to drill a recess. If the rod pulls out, you can use some silicone sealant to hold them in place.
Find two points which are 1/2 the way down the panel in the vertical plane and 1/3 of the way in from each side (based on the entire panel width) in the horizontal, then cut an X in the pleather with your Exacto knife. Push the threaded rod through the panel until it hits the Reflectix.  This all sounds harder than it actually is.
Where the screw bulges on the other side, cut a small slot and feed the rod through. Spin on a washer and a wingnut, but don’t tighten them down yet.
This shot shows one of the sliding door panels in place. Grab your panel by the wingnuts, point the suction cups straight in and push them onto the glass so they stick. Spin the wingnuts down until the panel stays in place. They don’t need to be tight and in fact you could damage the panel if you go too far. Make sure that the rods are not so long that they will hit the vehicle when the door opens. 2.5-3″ worked on the Odyssey, but your vehicle may need something shorter.
From the inside, Reflectix facing in and the black pleather facing out.  This “shiny side in” provides maximum stealth and lets you light up the interior with very little light.  Black side out WILL collect more solar heat, so be aware of that.  However, even when it was sunny and warm out, there was still less heat coming in than there would be with nothing in the window.
Looking in the back, it’s hard to see anything at all with the panel in place.  A flashlight will reveal the suction cups if shone on the right spot, but I doubt anyone would realize what they were looking at.
I have rear windows vents (another reason to get an 04″ Odyssey) and fit computer fans into my panels for ventilation. It’s no “Fan Tastic Vent Fan”, but you can’t hear them without putting your ear a couple inches away. I have a screen on the other side, to keep bugs out, but that’s a how-to for another day.
Stealth Camping in a Chicago parking garage and no one suspects a thing.

*What I Learned

If I were to do this project over again, I’d change a few things.  Hopefully, going through this how-to gives you some ideas and you can come up with something even better.  Here is what I learned.

–Spray Contact Cement is extremely inefficient.  It took a full can for two panels and so, I switched to the paint on type.

–Contact Cement eats foam, faux leather, and plastic.  It didn’t eat the Reflectix, but it did eat into the other materials.  That said, the panels were still functional.  Key is to leave the plastic layer on the foam board, but if I did it over I would try a different adhesive or the non-flammable type of Weldwood contact cement.  Oh, and I lost a LOT of brain cells from the fumes!

–I don’t think it’s completely necessary to cover the entire surface with an adhesive.  You might even get away with stretching the material over the panel and only gluing it where you wrap the edges over to the back.

–Something like black rayon, felt, or burlap might work better than the fake leather. First, the adhesives won’t dissolve it.  Second, the faux leather is still a little reflective.  So, if you shine a light in at night you can see “something” is there.  It’s not obvious, but a fabric would be even less reflective.

–If you do not need insulation for under 35 degrees, I would skip the foam insulation altogether and make these out of black veneer (or even posterboard) and Reflectix.  If you don’t need stealth, just use Reflectix.  The end result will be much lighter.  Plus, insulation works both ways and at night, in hot weather, you are sitting in a well-insulated box.  The foam panels worked so well that I was able to keep warm when it was in the low 40s outside.

–Don’t “touch up” anything with spray paint.  I had a little bit of visible (from the outside) Reflectix on the rear window, so I sprayed the corners.  That smell permeated everything for the next two weeks.  Better to stick some black felt to those spots.

–After you punch the holes through the panel, put a length of drinking straw in the hole and glue in place with silicone sealant.  This will keep the holes from wearing out from use.

If you have any other ideas, post them on our Facebook page @OdysseyCamper or send them to us:

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–Odyssey Camper


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