My family loves camping, and for the longest time, we’ve been comfortable with our Pathfinder. But once our second kid arrived, it made for an extremely squishy shelter solution.
So, I figured it was time to upgrade my camping trailer.
But seeing that I didn’t have a money tree, I couldn’t afford a new camping trailer kit. So, I had to build one, either from an enclosed trail or from the ground up.
Of course, a used commercial-built trailer was an option, but the problem with most of these is that they’re too old and too rough.
But what kind of pushed me to build our own camper is my existing one was a pain in the ass to haul, and I couldn’t get into off-road areas.
I wanted a heavy-duty trailer that could take a beating, and more importantly, one that could accommodate my entire family.
Several weeks down the line, what started as an idea turned out into one of my life’s joys, and today, my family is always looking forward to the next camping trip in our new trailer.
While the build process wasn’t the easiest at first, it grew on me, and I was actually pretty surprised by how simple building a camping trailer is.
The nicest thing about the building process is it gave me lots of freedom and could customize things that no RV manufacturer would think about.
Now, I think you’re here looking for guidance on building a DIY camper trailer.
You’re in the right place because, in the section below, I’ll share the DIY tips and tricks I used to build my camping trailer.
Essentials of Building a Micro Camper
The first critical step to building a trailer is preparation. Before you get the materials or anything, there’re a few important things to consider.
I’ve compiled everything to help you prepare for your next camper trailer building mission in the section below.
Consider the Legalities
Many guys usually forget about the laws and regulations regarding the use of custom-built RVs.
Before you embark on the building journey, you first need to research the local laws that apply when building a trailer.
For example, consider whether the final product compliant with the local laws, and see whether the authorities register it.
It’s important to check the legality of your trailer because failure to do that, you might be denied a license for public use.
Keep in mind that regulation of trailers builds more than just licensing. It’s also about your safety and that of others.
Think About the Budget
Generally, most camping enthusiasts will choose the DIYroute because it’s friendlier to the pocket.
However, DIY projects can often grow and spiral out of budget, especially when you’re excited about the new features you need to add.
So, before you embark on the camper trailer build journey, have a budget. Have an estimate of what you plan to use for the entire project.
From there, it’ll be easy to know what features, designs, and materials you can invest in your project.
Personally, having a budget for my building project even helped me save some of the building costs by allowing me to work with alternatives and recycled materials.
Consider the Camping Trailer Design
The design is probably the most important consideration you need to make before start building your trailer.
Now, design is more than just aesthetics and look, but also the functionality.
For example, the appropriate trailer design will also depend on what you plan to do with your trailer and what you plan to do in it.
A small camper, for example, might be suitable for those looking for a lightweight and portable camper for two.
On the other hand, a budget camper design is suitable for a minimalist and inexpensive build.
So, after coming up with a cost estimate, the next step is determining the design or type of trailer you need.
There’re plenty of DIY camper trailer designs ranging from the teardrop trailers to the custom-build campers.
If you’re still figuring out what camper to choose, get inspired by some popular design ideas below.
1) DIY Micro-camper
A micro camper is exactly as its name suggests.
It’s a minimalist trailer, perfect for users looking for a small, lightweight, compact camper.
I’m a big fan of the micro camper because it’s highly portable, and I can take it anywhere with me, provided I’ve a movable bed trailer.
The trailer is also simple to build. All you need is a flat bed with a single axle. I use floor board for the floor and plywood for the wall.
For the roof, I chose Plexiglass that allows me to enjoy the night sky.
2) Teardrop Camper
DIY campers can’t get more popular than a teardrop camper.
It’s an awesome creation, which resembles a teardrop.
I’m a big fan of the teardrop camper design because it’s spacious yet minimalist. But the greatest benefit, at least in my opinion, is its streamlined shape, which is important for less wind resistance.
3) DIY camper trailer
A DIY camper projects the living space in my home.
It’s also known as a homemade camper trailer and it feels homey.
I love them because they provide enough space while offering a comfortable living condition.
4) Off-road Overlanding camper
The off-road Overlanding camper can be used on literally any spot.
But the best part is it allows me to convert my pickup truck into a custom build trailer.
It’s also easy to build since you only need to fabricate the body with plywood and use fiberglass for waterproofing.
But it also requires an aluminum frame for sturdiness.
5) Tiny Traveler Custom Camper
The idea behind the tiny DIY camper trailer is to have a trailer that is easy to navigate while taking minimal space.
Of course, for such as small & lightweight camper, a lot isn’t required to set it up.
You only need a bed with a single axle, then fashion the body with cardboard or plywood. An aluminum frame is also required to hold it.
6) Budget micro camper
The budget micro camper is an inexpensive solution for your trailer needs. They’re inexpensive and cost lesser than most of the other custom options.
Most campers are built on an aluminum trailer frame, and new tires are later attached.
It’s the perfect companion on the road.
7) Recreational camper
The recreation camper design improves the overall versatility of your car and will turn it into an RV.
8) Rustic Camper
The rustic camper design isn’t any different from the regular and portable campers, but it has a rustic flavor.
To achieve the beautiful old look, you need to use stained wood.
9) Cozy Bike Camper
It’s one portable and small campers, designed to be towed by a bike.
The design isn’t as solid as other options, but it’s super easy to build. You only need a homeless shelter to build the Cozy Bike Camper.
10) Demountable camper
Demountable camper is popular because of its versatility.
It’s built on top of a truck, so the perfect solution while on the road.
But the best part is I can take it off my truck, which adds to your truck’s overall utility.
The camper’s dimensions are also generous because it comes with a full-fledge standing room and a bed “hanging” in the air.
How Much Time and Resources Do You Have?
Building a custom-built camper takes time, and depending on the level of customization you need, the build can be draining.
For example, a simple camping shelter for sleeping alone won’t consume much of your time and is easy to build.
On the other hand, if you need to construct a full-off-grid system with all your full amenities, including a plumbing and sewer system, it’s definitely going to take a lot of time and resources to complete.
So, you need to consider the amount of time you’re willing to devote to your project.
You can’t ignore the portability and ease of use of a camping trailer.
When building a trailer, consider the type of vehicle or truck you’ll need to transport your camper.
If you plan to tow your trailer with a bike or motorbike, a simple bike Cozy Bike Camper would suit your needs.
But if you plan to tow your camper with a small car or truck, I would recommend a teardrop camper.
It’s one popular camper designs around and is best known for its lightweight and aerodynamic design.
If you’ve a larger vehicle, you’ve plenty of options to pick from.
But I would highly recommend a tent camper box or overland trailer.
These campers are huge and have plenty of space for your family.
Plus, the tent camper trailers come full-fledged with all the amenities you would wish to include in a trailer, including a kitchen, sink, and washrooms.
Simply put, the bigger tents offer a feeling of luxury and are the closest you could get to your home. But as we mentioned, you’ll need a huge vehicle.
When building a camping trailer, you’ll definitely need to invest in tools.
You can choose to hire, which may work for you if you plan to work on the building project full-time.
If not, I would advise against the hiring tools and recommend buying.
See, building a complete trailer is time and resource-intensive. And from experience, I’ve realized that the build projects can extend far beyond the set deadline as it’s usually not the main project in your life.
So, buying the construction tools before you start building can be a better idea to save you from the hassles of beating deadlines and the growing hiring charges.
The tools you need for your project are quite standard for all trailer build but may also depend on the features and amenities you need.
Typical tools include a power sander, jack, drawing materials, wrenches, saws, and framing square.
Building My Trailer
One of the benefits of DIYing your camping trailer is customizing it to match your needs.
You choose what amenities to include in your camping trailer and what to leave.
Personally, one of the amenities I was looking forward to adding to my RV was a solar panel. I needed a renewable source of power that could provide us with the energy when we camped off-grid and need to power my LED lights.
Once you decide what amenities you need for your trailer, you can design your camper and decide how to build it.
There’re two main ways to build a trailer:
Use the Existing Designs
Unless you plan to build your camper from scratch completely, you can follow or rather use the tried and tested designs we discussed earlier.
The good thing with following these pre-made designs is there’s no hassle or inconvenience of dodgy measurements or even investing in the wrong materials.
You simply follow what other users have done before.
Custom-Built Camp Trailers
Alternatively, the hands-on guys can build their camping trailers from scratch.
Customizing your trailer might require a bit of elbow grease and is more demanding than the previous route.
But the good thing with customizing your camping trailer design is it allows you to get more imaginative.
I opted for this route for my camper because it allowed me to incorporate some amenities that the regular RVs couldn’t offer.
The first step to coming up with a customized trailer project is drawing sketches of the trailer on paper. It allows you to visualize what your camper will look like.
From there, I used the CAD software Sketchup to realize my construction plans.
Now, unless you’re a professional, having your plans looked over will go a long way to ensuring you realize your trailer-building dreams.
Having a professional go over your project draft will give you more insights into what you need to adjust. Plus, you get the tips and tricks to avoid the potential pitfalls that many DIY builders make.
It would even be better if you sought information from someone who has experience building DIY camper trailers.
Generally, most tent trailers have standard materials, but this may change depending on your needs.
For example, the floor and wall are usually made of timber or plywood. The frame is, in most cases, designed from aluminum because it’s light and sturdy.
Another important consideration to make regarding the choice of material is insulation. Here, you can get as imaginative as you want, provided you choose an insulation material that will keep your living space enjoyable.
Personally, I prefer foam material, but I can go with recycled timber or felt.
You also need to consider the internal living space. For example, if you’re looking for a more rustic design, solid wood would be a great option for the interior components.
The key to selecting the right material for your camper is to be of good quality.
I wouldn’t recommend you scrimp or build your trailer with cheap materials. Even if you’re working on a budget, you can still get some quality materials that will make your RV safe, compliant and reliable for years.
DIY Camper Trailer Components
Here’s a breakdown of the crucial trailer components and everything you need to know about them in your next build.
Custom Camper Wheels/Tires
When thinking about the trailer components, I suggest you first consider the wheel/tires and suspension.
I know these components might seem trivial, but they have a huge impact on the overall body design and chassis.
A frame is necessary for every custom-built camping trailer.
A camper’s frame is probably the most critical component because it serves more than one purpose.
For example, it attaches to your car or truck, supports the wheels and suspension, and provides the space for mounting license plates.
Usually, the standard size for most camper trailer frames is 48 by 96.
I used this frame for my camper, and I love it because it provides extra space and feels sturdy.
It’s an aluminum one, though, so it can’t hold a lot of weight.
If you need a frame for a large trailer, I recommend a heavy-duty steel frame.
The steel frames are sturdy, tough, and can accommodate any weight for a camper.
The box refers to the sides of a trailer.
It’s the surface that shields you against the elements while providing a structure for your tent trailer.
Most trailers use plywood on their sides, then attached to the trailer.
While you’ve an option to build your camper door, I wouldn’t recommend it, especially if you’re looking to save on some money.
Instead, I suggest you pick the recycled camper door or even a second-hand camper door.
I’m discouraging you from building new doors because it can get darn expensive to waterproof them. In most cases, you’ll realize that the door will get soggy in wet weather.
A vent is necessary for heat exchange. It promotes an air cycle, which keeps the conditions in your tent fresh.
While windows serve the same purpose, they are not so effective at it. Plus, opening windows may attract bugs and unwanted insects.
So, it’s nice to invest in a high-quality vent.
Most trailer designs have a hatch hinge for lifting the big door.
The ideal hinge should be sturdy without adding extra material. It also needs to be waterproof, not to allow water inside your trailer.
There’re different ways to bring lighting to your camper.
But the most recommended option is creating a design that will allow natural lighting during the day.
You also need to consider the light source when the sun goes down.
If you plan to go off-grid, you can install a solar panel. It’s a reliable way of powering your coach while preserving the environment.
A water pump is necessary for a pleasant & fun experience.
Now, depending on your trailer design and budget, you can choose to include your camper with the basic amenities or even get a full-fledged plumbing system.
Note that having a sink, shower or toilet will raise the investment for the build.
Accessories and Furnishings
What do you want the interior of your motorhome to look like?
Think of the aesthetics of the interior space, and consider the finishing on the camper components, including the cabinets, walls, paint, and table.
If you need to build a camper specifically designed for off-grid camping, you’ll need to factor in the source of power.
I prefer a solar panel.
Also, consider creating space for propane tanks, awning, and water heaters.
Building your own camper offers a nice & fun alternative to purchasing a new camp trailer.
But the best part with building a trailer is that it gives you freedom and allows for plenty of customization.
And as you’ve clearly seen, it’s not a challenging endeavor, provided you’ve the willingness and put some effort.