How to Build a Camping Trailer
A new craze has been sweeping the nation: all over the country, people have started investing in building alternative living or camping structures. From tiny homes to camping trailers, more and more people are starting to look differently at the way we make, and pay for, homes and living spaces. Having a camping trailer can elevate your outdoors adventures from roughing it in remote locations to serious glamping experiences: depending on the features you want to include in your trailer, and how much money you’re willing to invest, your camping trailer could be your home from home in any outdoor location.
Many campers and camping trailers are already available on the market. But with prices going from $4000 – $11000, just for a simple teardrop camper, building your own DIY travel trailer might just be the best option for you. This is especially the case if you are time rich, and cash poor, as building your own DIY camper trailer definitely isn’t easy and can sometimes take months to complete. However, once you have finished it, you can imagine yourself traveling the country with a double bed for the perfect night’s sleep, a real roof above your head so you’ll never wake up with condensation or leaks again, and even a place for you to store and prepare fresh meals. Building your own DIY travel trailer really can take you to true snail status: carrying your home with you so all of the outdoors is your front room.
There are many things to consider before you start building your own DIY camping trailer, so to make it easier for you, we’ve compiled our own simple starters guide.
Think about money
Before you start creating your camping trailer, the first thing you need to consider is your budget. DIY projects such as these can often grow and grow, especially if you get excited about all of the extra features you could add along the way, so make sure to be realistic about your budget from the get-go. Once this has been decided, it will make it easier for you to flesh out your budget, and see which materials and features you’ll really invest in, and which you can save a bit of money on and find alternatives, or cheaper or recycled materials
Think about design
How do you want your camping trailer to look and what do you want to be able to do in and with it? Do you want it to look like a vintage camper, or have a more modern, space-age look? There are many different design ideas out there, so we’d recommend you starting with researching the camping trailers that are available on the market. What do you like about them, and what don’t you like? Which of the features of these designs do you need and want, and which can you live without? Start by making a list of the amenities you need, and group them by importance, of what you absolutely must have and what you can live without.
At this point, it’s also worth considering how much time you have to devote to building your camper. For example, if you want to create a full off the grid set up, offering full amenities without the need for hookups at a campsite, then your build will take much more planning and time to construct. If you just want a simple, protected, place to sleep, then you might be able to build your camper in just a matter of months (depending on your other commitments).
It’s also worth considering here the type of vehicle you’ll be using to transport your camper. If it’s a small car or even a motorbike, we’d recommended you considering a teardrop-shaped camper. These campers are small, light and aerodynamic, meaning that they’re very easy to transport, and you could attach to any vehicle. If you have a larger vehicle or you want to build a truck camper, you could get a bit more imaginative. You could consider building a tent camper box, which can house a tent on top of it, and contains a kitchen or other amenities that you want to include. This is a great way of maximizing space – you could even consider building in an awning or fold-down floor, to give you a sitting-room out in the open. If you have a truck or another kind of vehicle that’s larger, think about how you can use the vehicle to maximize the space of your camper. You might even want to consider building on top of your truck or making a vehicle – trailer – hybrid for the feeling of complete luxury while you’re camping.
Think about materials and features
Once you’ve decided on your budget, and the design you would like for your camper, now it’s time to fully flesh out your budget and building costs. One of the main selling points for building your own camper is that you can fully personalize it, and choose what amenities you’ll be putting in. Once you know this, you can decide on the design of your camper, and how you are going to build it. There are even some guides online that you can follow, so you know that your design is tried and tested, and there’s no room to mess it up with a dodgy measurement or by investing in the wrong materials. For construction plans for building a DIY teardrop camper, check out this handy guide here.
If you’d rather design your own, custom-built camping trailer, we’d recommend you start with some sketches on pencil and paper and then using CAD software, such as TurboCard or Sketchup, to fully realize your construction plans. Once you have drawn up your plans in this way, it’s worth getting them looked over. Maybe you have a friend who’s a builder, or who is really good with DIY, they might be able to give you some tricks and tips before you start building, or tell you if they see any flaws or potential pitfalls in your design. Especially if you know someone who has built their own tiny home or camping trailer, ask them, their advice could be invaluable and save you a lot of time and effort.
When thinking about your materials, some important things to think about are the wheels or tires and suspension. These specifications will massively affect the overall body design and chassis of your camper. Next, you can start considering your frame. Every custom-built camper needs a frame. This should attach safely to your vehicle, have the appropriate tires and suspension to be road-worthy, and also a license plate and taillights to be fully compliant. You can buy a frame pretty easily online, even on eBay, and add all the necessary features yourself – like taillights coupler, jack or new tires if you wish.
Here’s an example of a trailer frame you could consider buying. At 48×96 inches, this is one of the standard sizes of a trailer and will provide you with enough space to make a camper which comfortably sleeps, two people. This is a good example of a trailer to consider in your research because of the quality. Even if you want to scrimp and save and build your camping trailer from cheap or recycled materials, the trailer itself is something you really must invest in, to make the camper compliant, safe and functioning fully for years. At under $350 this trailer isn’t going to break the bank but is eminently sturdy. Made of a heavy-duty steel frame with a baked enamel finish, this trailer can hold up to 1195Lbs: easily enough for all your camper needs. It also has three-leaf spring suspension, two 4.8×12 inch diameter tires, and complies with all applicable DOT standards. These are all of the utmost importance when making your camper roadworthy.
Here’s a list of some of the other materials you will need to do it yourself:
- Doors: You can build your own doors for your trailer camper, but we wouldn’t recommend it. If you’re looking to save money, try to find some recycled camper doors or some which are second hand. The reason for this is that it’s very difficultly to make your own doors entirely waterproof – unless you have training or experience. And you definitely don’t want to be building a camper that’s going to get you soggy while you sleep – you might as well just stick with the tent!
- Vent: You need a durable vent that is well designed and able to move a lot of air, keeping your air fresh. You might not be able to get enough through draft from your window, and maybe in the summer months, you won’t want to open the window to risk mosquitos joining you in your cozy camper bed. Invest in a good vent, to insert in the wall or rooftop of your camp trailer, to keep you comfortable. We would recommend buying a vent like this from Fan-Tastic Vent. At $120 it’s not the cheapest vent on the market – but neither should it be. Fresh air is something you can’t compromise on! One of the features that make this vent worth it, other than it being from a well-respected brand and made with durable materials, is the 3-speed option for you to be able to control the airflow in your camping trailer, meaning that it’s ready for all weather possibilities and seasons.
- Hatch hinge: most camper designs will need a hatch hinge for the big door to enter or open your trailer. For teardrop trailer designs, this hinge will be used for the big door that lifts open at the back of the trailer. The hinge needs to be of good quality for the camper to remain waterproof. Because this hinge doesn’t have to carry too much weight, we’d recommend choosing an option that’s made out of aluminum like this option on Amazon, which is also 48” to match the trailer we recommended. Choosing aluminum provides you with enough strength you need to form the material, but won’t add any unneeded extra weight to your completed camper.
- Lighting: There are many different options for lighting your camper, so think about the overall design you’re aiming for before you purchase anything. Extra lighting can be added in imaginative ways, to make your camper your little oasis of peace that you can escape to after a long day swimming or hiking. What about battery operated fairy lights or small backlights for reading before bed? When thinking about the lighting you should integrate into your building process, you should also consider porch lights, for when you’re sitting outside into the dusk, and a dome light to bring you extra light at the top of your camper. Here are some of Amazon’s best products for a heady duty LED torchlight, and dome lights with their own switch.
- Water pump: Depending on your budget there are many options available for water pumps on the market, ranging from $20 to over $200. Depending on your decision to either include all amenities in your camper so that no hookups are necessary or to have a more basic camper, think about how much you need to invest in your water pump. If you want to include a sink, or maybe even a shower or toilet, in your camper, then this will take more planning and investment. You can even purchase sink/ stove combo units, for those of you looking to include a kitchen in their camper.
- Accessories and finishings: Think as well about your accessories and finishings for your trailer camper. These could include hatch handles, aluminum molding, hidden storage, details around windows or some kind of exciting cladding, like timber, to make your camper stand out from the crowd.
- Tools: If you’re not a builder or a DIY enthusiast, then you might need to invest in some extra tools to complete the build of your camper trailer. It may be tempting to just hire these tools, which could work of you’re completing this project full-time, but if you’re balancing this project with other commitments such as work and family then it might be a better option to purchase or borrow some of the tools. This is because building projects such as these can sometimes take a long time, even longer than expected if it’s not your main project as life can get in the way, so hiring costs can quickly grow. Some of the basic tools that you’ll need, and there might be more depending on the features and amenities you want your trailer to include, are as follows: drawing materials, ruler and tape measure, framing square, different sizes of wrenches, wireless drill, jigsaw, chop saw, table saw, sander and belt sander.
- Basic materials: depending on the materials you’ve decided to build your camper walls and floors out of, which will probably be timber or plywood, you need to calculate the amount of the materials you need and their cost. Don’t forget to insulate your camper walls and floors too, and to add that into your calculations. This is where you can get a little more imaginative if you’re trying to save money. Think about using recycled timber, or felt or another alternative for insulation. Think about what you’ll need to complete the interior too, like cabinets, storage space, divider walls, mattress, shelving units, etc. You also need to consider what your power source will be if you’re looking to go totally off-grid: we’d recommend solar panels so you can do good by nature while you’re surrounded by it.
Think about your budget and timeframe
Once you’ve calculated all the costs for each of the building materials, you can fully flesh out the budget for your camper. Make sure to keep this very detailed, adapt it if it is too high by recycling or using reclaimed materials, and try to stick to the budget as much as possible throughout your build. From researching materials, and either creating your own design or researching another, you’ll now know more about the process of building your ideal camper trailer. So now set a realistic deadline, with achievable deadlines, and try as much as possible to stick to it throughout your build. As always with DIY construction, your project is bound to take longer than expected, so try and be as realistic as possible with your timeframe, allowing room for manurer.
Think about the legalities involved
All countries and local authorize have laws and regulations about the construction and use of camper trailers. Make sure to do in-depth research about the regulations which apply to you, and adapt your plans and building process so that your camping trailer is fully compliant. Look up the legal requirements for trailer construction, dimension requirements, lighting, brakes, axles, tires, and weight. Once you have completed the construction of your trailer, and you’re certain it’s compliant with all the relevant regulations, take it to be registered with the relevant authorities in your state. If you pass their test then you’ll be issued with a license, meaning your camper is truly roadworthy, and you’re ready for your next adventure! If you’re building your camping trailer with a specific trip in mind, make sure you plan time for this vital part of the process, so that your camper is ready on time.
Building your own DIY travel trailer, whether you’re seeing it as a utility trailer camper or your new mobile home, is a cheaper alternative to purchasing a camper or motorhome, and means you can fully personalize your camping and sleeping experience. Your small trailer camper will quickly feel like your home away from home, making you more mobile, and ready for any adventure life might throw at you. What’s better than the combination of adventures, and outdoor road trips combined with the luxury of sleeping in a fully watertight personalized room with a double bed? We’d say, not much. And not only will this project revolutionize your camping experience, but it’s also a fun and challenging project, where you can use your creativity, imagination, and maybe even learn some new DIY skills if you’re not an experienced DIYer. It’s a win-win!