Camping and Campground Vacation Area

Camping Trailer Cargo Conversion

Copyright 2009 - 2011 by Mario Vaden

Some years ago to streamline camping, we sold our commercially made 18' Komfort travel trailer and converted a much lighter cargo trailer instead. The trailer sleeps 2 easy, and maybe 3 in a pinch. A stowed tent and bedding enabled us to equip and camp with 3 - 8 people. This enclosed trailer cargo conversion tows easy up hills, reaching campgrounds in less time. Less fuel & parking space needed. The 6' & 2" headroom is 5" taller than TAB travel trailers which have more gadgets at 3 times the cost. Our trailer has been used countless times for my adventure to the Coast Redwoods and Oregon coast.

Bark and redwood trunks at Brown Creek Trailhead at Drury Parkway

A cargo trailer conversion has a big advantage over RVs and popups at many towns along interstate highways. Countless times when a few hours sleep was needed, the vehical and trailer were inconspicuous pulling into the parking lot of a big hardware or box store, or restaurant. A few hours later, we move on to the main destination..

It's worth reading about what others have tried. At the end of this page is a repeat referral to a forum that you should want to read. Look at the Teardrop Trailer and Cargo Trailer Conversion sections for many ideas. One of your most important parts of planning is probably going to be the balance of weight for accessories and gear.

There are unlimited ways to make these. I was frugal, using 2 oak cabinets, some carpet, plywood, shelves and brackets. Maybe $500 of supplies in addition to the cost of the 6' x 12' trailer purchased new. It came with back and side doors, vent, windows, trailer brakes and paneling inside. Since most of our camping is coastal, I saw no need to pull the paneling and add insulation. This DIY travel trailer only weighs about 2000 pounds loaded.

Do it yourself camping trailer conversion

With a wheel on the front jack, I found the 6 x 12 to be quite maneuverable on level paved campsite driveways. It was easy to unhitch and turn the trailer.

Spare wheel bearing: if you get a trailer like mine, buy an extra 3500 lb. axle wheel bearing (or whatever fits). I had a bearing go bad in Redwood National Park, but was able to get the drum into Eureka and back in 2 hours by 4pm. Keep a spare bearing just like a spare wheel and tire for your trailer.

Rather than email questions, I recommend using your own ingenuity to convert your own camping trailer. There are a couple of online forums where people share ideas for these home made travel trailers.

Teardrop trailer sites can be useful, even though a cargo trailer conversion begins with a ready made shell, frame and axle. And rectangular rather than teardrop trailer shaped. Some people ordered trailers with custom heights like one foot taller, or extra windows. Others add water tanks, refrigerators or heaters similar to RV travel trailers. Basically, almost any components can be added or omitted, as long as you balance the weight so the trailer does not fishtail down the road or put excess weight on the hitch. And there are plenty of good used trailers on the market too.

In case it may help, I will share a few things about our trailer, and some other ideas.

Originally, I tried a 5' x 8' trailer just for camping gear. On one hiking trip alone to the redwoods, I arrived on a rainy evening. Instead of setting up the tent, I moved some crates and slept on the floor. It was so convenient, I decided to get a larger trailer, because 5' x 8' was not enough. I looked at a 7' x 12' or 7' x 14' and decided those were too wide and a bit too big for my needs. The final choice was a blue diamond plate accent 6' x 12' with double barn style doors in back, a side door, windows and vent. The side door is almost essential for locking and unlocking from inside.

Camping travel trailer conversion tips

At first, I tried bunk style beds, but quickly switched to one large bed platform in the back half of the trailer. It is mounted high enough to slide crates or a cooler beneath for storage. The compartment beneath holds extra sleeping bags, the tent, spare tire, dining canopy, extra food, water jugs, tools and more. The location seemed practical, because the storage can be accessed from the back by opening the back doors, or from inside too. I left the compartment open both front and back.

To mount the platform, I attached about 6 to 8 L-brackets to the metal side ribs with self-tapping metal screws. Then laid 2'x4' lumber across, and covered that with thin 1/2 inch plywood. Two small legs were added in the center to support the center, still allowing gear to stow easily. This can hold at least a queen size mattress, but we used foam pads, two layers deep. Very comfortable, and less weight. When we use this camping trailer, the bed in the back keeps space free in front near where the door entry

For more storage, two oak kitchen cabinets were stacked one on the other, with backs against the trailer front. There was mostly fiberglass and little frame on the front to anchor them too. I screwed the bottom cabinet to the trailer floor, then attached the top cabinet to that lower one. A shelf was laid across the top of them from one side of the trailer to the other side. The shelf was anchored to the frame at the sides.. And the anchored shelf was screwed to the cabinet top to hold it in place.

To hold the cabinet doors shut while pulling this camping trailer, metal loops were attached to the floor and underside of the shelf. Two bungee cords hooked into the loops hold the door shut. Someone could also use catches like those used for commercial travel trailers, or others designed to keep young children out of cabinets. The cords are off in the image to the right. A small corner shelf was mounted to the right, and hooks to the left for hanging packs. Traveling, the daypacks are set on the floor.

Most campgrounds we visit have electric hookups for RVs and travel trailers, so I bought an electric heater. In one image above, you can see it beneath the table. I like oil filled heaters because they are quiet and don't get too hot. We rarely need more than the low or 500 watt setting. A small propane heater designed for interior use is stored under the bed. With one window opened for fresh air, that unit is great when it's cold outside and no electric is available.

Converting a trailer for camping

Typically, we cook outside, and it keeps smells off the interior, like bacon, or other foods that may cook a bit smokey. In case there is no picnic table, a small folding aluminum one is held under the table against the wall with a cord. The cooler is placed in front of it.

At first, I used one of those very compact office refrigerators, but eventually removed it and use a cooler now, which works fine. Ice blocks keep cold much longer than ice cubes. We put a small clear plastic storage container in the middle of our cooler to keep some packages out of the water, and lay the blocks, milk and other items to the side.

Our trailer also had a TV and DVD player on one of the shelves. But I bought a small compact movie player instead to conserve space and keep things more simple.

Several shelves are mounted in the trailer, using strong shelf brackets and screws attached to the metal side ribs. Those provide plenty of space to lay stacks of jeans, extra shoes, paper plates, books, or food containers like cracker boxes or chip bags. One shelf across the back high overhead of the pillow area, holds folding camping chairs, extra paper towels and other things. That one has a front so stuff does not bounce off traveling, and we open the back doors for access.

Typically, we cook outside, and it keeps smells off the interior, like bacon, or other foods that may cook a bit smokey. In case there is no picnic table, a small folding aluminum one is held under the table against the wall with a cord. The cooler is placed in front of it.

Building a homemade camp trailer

I have set my sights on a popup trailer several times. And we may own one someday. But one benefit I enjoy from a converted cargo camping trailer is the near instant readiness. If we get tired on the road, we can pull over in a rest area or parking lot and take a nap immediately. If weather is rainy, there is no wet canvas to dry later. If we want snacks, plates or cooking utensils on the road, only a minute is needed to open the door and grab items.

Our camping trailer is assembled to carry the suppies of at least 6 people. It sleeps 2 inside. And our tent holds 4 people, although the last tent was a 6 person tent. 4 extra sleeping bags are beneath the bed, and 2 more spread out on top, with 6 pillows. The oak cabinets hold all the plates and utensils we need without getting too elaborate, although we do have a French press for coffee and a few other special items. Another shelf was added overhead of the pillows below the other shelf I mentioned. This second one is more narrow, and more of a long wooden box spanning from side to side. I keep extra water and propane bottles in it, and use small blankets or towels as needed to stuff the voids for travel. Cup holders are mounted on both sides in the back for drinks, and a few hooks in various places.

Since the enclosed trailer is the main investment, it is relatively inexpensive to modify and change the interior if your family grows, needs change, or new ideas develop.

Don't forget, the online trailer forums and sites have a lot of ideas for building these homemade travel trailers. From primitive to elaborate. Often, I omit site suggestions so I don't have to keep track of what is still online or not. But the Tiny Teardrops Travel Trailer Forums is worth checking out for ideas and photos. Last time I checked, it also included cargo trailer conversions.

how to make a home made travel trailer