Being stuck indoors has reawakened people’s need for travel and adventure. We are changing what “home” looks like and a big part of that has been rethinking our living structures. Alternative living no longer has the negative connotations attached to it as it once did and more people are taking an interest.
If you’re one such person, but you don’t know where to start, we have the perfect guide on how to build a camping trailer. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert building your knowledge, this informative article will set you on the right path!
Factors to Consider When Building a Camping Trailer
To build a camper trailer is a technically demanding task. Even though most DIY kits come with clear instructions, you still need a little experience before embarking on this task. You should be well-versed with the materials before you start the job.
Don’t worry if you’re not an expert yet, that’s what this guide is for! We’ll start by explaining the process, what you need, and any other frequently asked questions. We don’t expect you to be an expert, but we hope you’re willing to learn. After all, there’s no better way to improve your skills than putting them to the test.
Most people resort to DIY projects because of budget constraints. You might not have the thousands of dollars to sink into a camping trailer, but you certainly have a technical gift and the time to invest. However, knowing how to build isn’t enough because building a camping trailer still requires a lot of money.
Like many DIY projects, expenses will increase as you go. You might incur unexpected costs and challenges throughout the process. In order to keep costs at a minimum, you need to set a budget that you can easily follow. Research what materials you need, the price of those materials, and don’t forget to set aside extra money for unforeseen emergencies.
Make sure you’re financially prepared before embarking on such a big project. Nothing is as disappointing as leaving a project halfway done due to financial troubles.
In a world where there are various types of camping trailers to choose from, it’s up to you to pick a design based on your own personal preferences. We have listed the most common trailer designs below:
Classic Travel Trailers – This is the trailer that you usually see being pulled by a car. It has ball hitches and weight distribution hitches to ensure that a vehicle can safely pull the weight. The trailer is long enough for a person to fully stand up while they’re in it. Also, it probably has an entire living area inside it.
Teardrop Trailers – The smaller and more classic version of the traditional travel trailer. Teardrop trailers are considered one of the most ancient forms of an RV. The small trailers can be attached to any car. They’re also easy to build and are very reliable. A teardrop trailer is so small that you can easily store it in your garage.
Toy Haulers – With lots of storage space, toy haulers are designed to carry cargo. Most people use them to carry camping gear and small recreational vehicles. Since they can be used for storage, these camping trailers rarely have living spaces. Their size also means that you need to have a relatively big car to pull the camper.
Stand-up Trailers – They are similar to teardrop trailers in that they are both compact enough to be pulled by small vehicles. Stand-up trailers don’t have a universal design because each manufacturer makes them differently. Either way, they are most suitable for recreational and camping purposes.
Our Suggestion – We recommend building your own teardrop trailer. Since they are the oldest RV forms, they are easier to build because of how simple the plans are. The shape is easy to copy and they don’t have a lot of moving parts. Another benefit is that any car can pull them and you won’t have to worry about storage space.
Choosing the lighting for your camping trailer goes hand in hand with picking a design. Most people focus too much on the cabinets and other accessories, but forget about the importance of lighting. Lighting can transform the mood of your trailer, so start by deciding what kind of ambiance you want your trailer to have.
The lighting option that you land on should be aligned with your trailer’s power capacity. If you decide to add wiring, then you should also add a line for lights. On the other hand, if you don’t want to add extra wiring, you can opt for battery-operated LED lights for the roof. You can also buy fairy lights if you wish to create a different ambiance.
Since camping trailers are relatively popular, you need to be aware of the laws surrounding their usage. You can’t just build your camper and immediately use it on the road. Some places have rules about trailer safety ratings that you need to adhere to. There’s a list of requirements that a camper must fit before it’s considered roadworthy. These rules especially apply if your trailer is a DIY project.
Most places require you to register your camping trailer. First, you need to take the trailer to the relevant authorities once you’re done building it. Next, let the authorities check whether you’ve built it according to regulations and if it’s safe for you to drive it on the road. If you don’t register your trailer, you’ll be in trouble with the police and at risk for the authorities to repossess it.
Materials and Tools
No DIY project can begin unless you have the appropriate materials. Once you decide on a trailer design, you need to start shopping for suitable materials. You’ll probably need material for the shell and plywood for the floor and walls. Don’t forget to buy insulation so that the trailer isn’t freezing cold!
Materials will probably be the highest cost for your project. Ensure that you invest in high-quality materials to avoid disappointment. You wouldn’t want to spend hours building a camping trailer, only for it to fall apart right when you start to use it. The price might be steep, but it’ll be worth it in the end.
They say that a tradesman is only as good as his tools. Make sure that you have the right tools before embarking on such a big project. Chances are, you might need tools that can’t be found in an ordinary toolbox. If you can’t afford to buy heavy tools, you can always ask around and find someone to borrow from.
The Building Process
Like every building project, having a strong foundation is key to successfully building any camping trailer. A strong foundation means that you can quickly fix it if anything goes wrong since you have a great base. A camping trailer’s foundation refers to the frame that connects the wheels, floor, and the rest of the trailer together. Here is how to build a solid foundation:
The first step is looking for a reliable plan. You can find different designs online or you can ask a local contractor to help you. A good plan includes thinking about every little detail, such as the tires, suspension, and even the tail lights. If you’re confident in your design skills, you can sketch your plan with pencil and paper and then transfer it using CAD software. However, we suggest using tried and tested plans because they are more reliable. It’ll also save you time and materials in the long run.
Buy strong stainless steel for the bars. The frame holds up the whole trailer, so it’s worth it to invest a lot of money into the bars. Look for a strong material, such as iron, and make sure that it’s rust-resistant. Don’t forget to leave space for the wheels when constructing the frame! Also, add steel covers to separate the wheels from the rest of the structure. Once you join the bars, add a joint on one end. You’ll use the front joint to attach the trailer to your vehicle.
If you don’t have the right plans or don’t trust your DIY skills, you can always opt for a ready-made frame. But, be aware that a ready-made frame will probably set you back about $450. It might be a worthy purchase for you if you want a frame that is guaranteed to be measured correctly and fully supportive.
The Floor and Walls
Once your frame is set up, the next step is to build your walls. The walls must be in line with your initial designs. Make sure that you carefully measure your timber or plywood before cutting and shaping the walls. One mistake could compromise the whole structure.
We suggest starting with the floor because it will give you a better idea of how the complete structure will look. The floor is also relatively easy, so it will encourage you to keep going. Use birch, plywood, or timber to build the floor. These are all great options because they are reliable and durable. If you can find treated wood that’s even better because you won’t have to worry about termites or leaky corners. Again, don’t forget to add insulation so that you can stay warm!
The walls are probably the trickiest part of building a camping trailer. You need to build the inner and outer walls and then add insulation between them. The inner walls ensure that you’re warm and that you can run wiring through your trailer. The exterior walls give the trailer a shape and offer protection.
Carefully measure and cut the wood into your preferred design. Remember to cut holes for the wiring as well. The most important part of this process is getting the measurements exactly right. Any small mistake could mean that you have to start all over again. Also, make sure that both sides are equal and the design looks the same from all angles.
Don’t forget to leave space for a door. You can either build your own door or you can buy a used one. We suggest purchasing a recycled door since you already have a lot on your plate. There are many complex elements in building a camping trailer, so if you have the chance to reduce your workload, you should take it. Also, it’s challenging to make a door waterproof, so it’s better to rely on professionals.
Once the inner walls are ready, you can attach them using the tongue and groove method. The tongue and groove method is used to join two pieces of wood edge to edge. It’s ideal for building a camping trailer because the floor and walls are both wooden. Also, it will make it easier when it’s time to attach the outer walls. You can also use glue for additional strength. Add the exterior walls once the inner walls are safely secured.
The galley is the chance for you to show off your creativity and add elements that best suit your personality. It’s the best part of building a custom trailer. You can choose a no-frills approach where you only install cabinets or you could take a more contemporary style and add a sink, faucet, or stove.
You need to build the galley separately before securing it to the trailer. Cabinets are relatively easy to make. You can build as many cabinets as you want, but remember to keep a designated space for the basics, such as a first aid kit and other traveling essentials. One of the best parts about owning a camping trailer is the extra storage, so don’t be afraid to use it!
If you want to add a small kitchen to the galley, you can purchase a sink/stove combo at a hardware store for a reasonable price. Installing a sink/stove combo means that you won’t have to worry about eating bland meals while you’re camping. However, if you think it’s too costly and too complex to install, you can leave it out since it’s more of a luxury than a necessity.
Don’t forget to conduct regular tests to make sure that everything fits in the right places. Initial measurements aren’t a good enough sign that you’re moving in the right direction. You should make sure that everything works carefully before making the final fittings. Adding cabinets also means adding wiring. Once again, if you’re not sure about the wiring, seek help from an electrician because redoing it can be quite costly. Also, test the wiring before installing it. Also, make sure to add a hatch/lock so that you can quickly secure your belongings.
Once the galley is complete, we recommend adding a sliding door for convenience. The door can be wooden or any other material of your choice. No matter the material, just make sure that it’s waterproof and rust/termite resistant.
Reaching this stage of the building process means that you’re almost there! It’s great that you didn’t give up and now have a relatively clear idea of how to build a camping trailer. Now that you’ve finished all the hard stuff, adding the roof should be simple.
We recommend buying roof spars to make the process easier. Apart from determining the roof and ceiling’s form and shape, the roof spars (also called rafters) make it possible to add insulation. We keep mentioning insulation because warmth is key to building a camper. No matter where you live or are planning on traveling, you’re likely to be stuck in freezing temperatures at some point, so better to be safe than sorry! You can either buy ready-made beams for your roof or you could build your own to better suit your custom camping trailer.
Once you install the rafters, you need to add another layer of wood to complete the exterior. Your trailer should now be starting to take shape at this stage of the process. It should no longer be a hollow shell, but something that you could comfortably live in.
The Finishing Touches
Once construction is complete, you can focus on the painting and finishing. Most people prefer tan colors on their camping trailers because they are more likely to match any car color. However, there are no hard and fast rules, so feel free to pick whatever color you want. After all, practicality matters more than style. If everything works as it’s supposed to, then there’s no need to stress about colors.
Add extra layers of epoxy to add extra shine. Apart from improving the appearance, epoxy is excellent because it cures the wood and ensures that the trailer is protected from termites and mold. Adding epoxy is a must, but remember to do it in stages. Wait for each coat to dry before adding another one.
Once you complete the finishing, your trailer is ready to go! Now that you’ve successfully mastered how to build a camping trailer, it’s time to admire your hard work! Go ahead and add a bed and other accessories. Once everything is packed, you’re ready to hit the road!
Building a camping trailer is a time-consuming task, but we guarantee that it’ll be worth it in the end. It will end up costing you less money than booking hotel rooms or constantly having to buy tents. It’s also more comfortable than sleeping in tents and you have the ability to add extra amenities such as modern appliances. Learning how to build a camping trailer will significantly improve your outdoor experience.
If you’re worried about buying and cutting materials, you can always purchase DIY kits that do most of the heavy lifting. There’s no excuse for not building your own camping trailer!