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      05-09-2022, 08:54 AM   #1
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Off-road Teardrop Camper Build Thread

I know a lot of people enjoy following build threads, so I thought I'd post this up for anyone interested.

I do a lot of cross-country travelling to go hiking and back-country backpacking, and in the past I've always stayed at hotels or even crashed in the car at trail heads or camp grounds, and while that worked fine for me, it doesn't work well for the girlfriend and limits us on where we can bring the pup. I've had the idea of a small pull-behind camper, but they get so damn expensive to buy pre-built. This will allow us to crash pretty much anywhere if needed, utilize camp grounds for frequent and hopefully eliminate hotels all-together.

The idea behind this is a small, lightweight, pull behind design that's large enough for the girlfriend and I and the pup, easy to set up/break down, and off-road capable for any overlanding in the future. I was originally going to build the cabin out of wood, but as you'll find in a later post a good friend stepped in and offered to help build everything out of steel. He has a metal fab and welding business and is very good, so we can laser cut and form everything.

- 5x8 trailer for the base and the "square drop" teardrop design.
- Independent torsion axles, 15" wheels 30" all-terrain tires.
- 4ft exterior height will give me about 40 inches interior height.
- Aluminum skin, 1.5" foam board insulation, FRP interior panels.
- Basic rear galley for storage and bench top surface.
- Telescoping stabilizers
- Tongue toolbox and full size spare
- 20 gallon water tank built into the frame and an external camp shower (unheated for now).
- 12v electrical. For now planning to run a 12v battery in the tool box and some LED lights, USB charging sockets, and water pump for shower.
- 14" ceiling vent fan
- Roof rack with basket and awning

I plan to add solar at some point, but that might be a next winter project.


I started off with my "professional wing-it" ideas in my head, but afterwards I downloaded a trial of Sketchup Pro and built the trailer and sent my buddy the designs to draw out the parts and have them cut out. On weekends I will be going to his show and assembling.

Started on the frame. I searched and searched for a 5x8 trailer to build off, but all I could find was drop gate utility trailers that would have been $1,000+ before modifications for a used one, so I decided to build one instead. 2x2 .120 wall steel tubing with Flexiride 2,000# Torsion Half Axles. 2x2 .120 is probably overkill, but I wanted to make sure it was sturdy and robust enough for anything off-road. The torsion axles should give a much smoother ride over solid axle leaf spring, and will give me more ground clearance and adjustable ride height. I haven't completely decided on wheels/tires yet, but leaning towards Falken Wildpeak 215/75R15 on black steel wheels, but as a temp solution I'm using wheels/tires from my car hauler. With todays prices I have $536 in steel from a local shop. Another $491 for axles after shipping. I need to pick up one more cross-member piece tonight because I didn't take into consideration the axles would need their own. I fully expected to have to fight with the frame since I'm not a professional builder or welder and I'm not using a jig, but to my surprise the frame has stayed square and true after welding, I even tacked into place the tongue last night (no photos yet) and thats within 1/16th from side to side. Hopefully thats a sign of things going well moving forward.

Also don't judge me on my welds. I've seen much worse!
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      05-09-2022, 08:58 AM   #2
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Those torsion axles look ... amazing! Looking forward to hearing how they fare on the road.
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      05-09-2022, 09:39 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by br438 View Post
Those torsion axles look ... amazing! Looking forward to hearing how they fare on the road.
I had 2 tent-trailers that had torsion suspension. It seemed to work okay, but I have never understood why most, if not all, trailers have no shock absorbers. Our trailers would really bounce on bumpy roads, as do virtually every trailer large or small that I've followed on the roadways.

In my experience, the uncontrolled bouncing eventually loosens many of the interiors components such as cabinets, etc.
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      05-09-2022, 09:54 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 3.0L View Post
I had 2 tent-trailers that had torsion suspension. It seemed to work okay, but I have never understood why most, if not all, trailers have no shock absorbers. Our trailers would really bounce on bumpy roads, as do virtually every trailer large or small that I've followed on the roadways.

In my experience, the uncontrolled bouncing eventually loosens many of the interiors components such as cabinets, etc.
Yeah I think anything pre-built is typically sprung too heavy to compensate for folks overloading their trailers. My empty base weight should be close to half my axle rating, which will hopefully help smooth out the ride. And the independent setup should also help smooth it out a little since bumps on one side wont be transferred as much to the other side.

But, I wont have much inside to bounce all over as most will be stored in the vehicle during transport.
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      05-16-2022, 07:44 AM   #5
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Update:

Slight (BIG) change in plans. I reached out to a good friend of mine about sourcing the exterior skinning. He asked about the build and told me not to build the walls out of wood, and to instead bring it to him and we will design and make it all out of metal. So, that's what I'm doing.

Now for progress!

Finished the trailer frame. We will make some small tweaks to it as we go for things I didn't take into consideration, but overall it turned out pretty good. Far better than I expected.
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      05-16-2022, 07:46 AM   #6
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Picked up the flooring, insulation, and interior walls and drug everything 3 hours to my buddies shop. The trailer pulled very well, no noise, no vibration, tracked straight. We planned out the dimensions (we made a far better drawing than my professional wing it drawing on the plywood) and started creating the CAD drawings to cut the supports. We will use a 14 gauge C-channel design for any corners/ends that the insulation will slide into, and a Z-channel for all supports in between. The outer skinning and interior panels will be riveted to the c-channel, and we will make our own 1-piece trim to finish it off. Toolbox will sit forward on the tongue as shown and the spare tire will sit between the box and cabin.

I was extremely fortunate to meet Mike years ago while riding motorcycle. We were the only two guys in the area with the same bike and just happened to meet in a parking lot. Ever since then we have been close friends. He is a specialized fabricator and welder and managed a motorcycle racing team for many years and I helped with bike setup and prep on race weekends, and now any project I can think up he tells me to bring it over.
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      05-16-2022, 08:44 AM   #7
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Guys like your friend Mike are good friends to have! People like us can get a Hell of a lot done at home (I have that same Hobart MIG you have; love it!) but a proper professional shop with tools like this are just on a whole other level.

Looks like you bumped your inside height up from planned 3' to 4'. Good call. That was going to be my only suggestion.

Awesome build man! Cant want to see it progress.
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      05-16-2022, 09:07 AM   #8
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Cannot WAIT to see how this progresses.
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      05-16-2022, 09:49 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DETRoadster View Post
Guys like your friend Mike are good friends to have! People like us can get a Hell of a lot done at home (I have that same Hobart MIG you have; love it!) but a proper professional shop with tools like this are just on a whole other level.

Looks like you bumped your inside height up from planned 3' to 4'. Good call. That was going to be my only suggestion.

Awesome build man! Cant want to see it progress.
Yeah we measured and at 4ft it should be pretty close to vehicle height. After 2" floor and 1.5ish" ceiling thickness, and figure in ~4" mattress thickness that should leave me a few inches of headroom when sitting upright. It also makes it easier for skinning since they come in 4ft wide sheets anyways.
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      05-16-2022, 10:47 AM   #10
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nice.

being seeing more and more of these pop up on my youtube recommended videos and i kinda want to build one. only problem is, i dont camp.
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      05-16-2022, 11:02 AM   #11
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      05-16-2022, 01:11 PM   #12
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As a side note, I believe that there's still a web forum dedicated to teardrop trailer construction and ownership. It had a sub-section on converting small cargo trailers into tiny campers.

One of the most important things that I learned from reading that site was the importance of carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in a teardrop camper, because it's possible to make them *too* air tight and suffocate as you sleep.....
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      05-16-2022, 02:39 PM   #13
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I don't see any notes regarding systems you plan to include? Fresh/gray/black tanks, cartridge/cassette toilet, Batteries/inverter, water systems, cooking systems, propane, solar... or is it just a box to sleep in?
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      05-17-2022, 06:34 AM   #14
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I don't see any notes regarding systems you plan to include? Fresh/gray/black tanks, cartridge/cassette toilet, Batteries/inverter, water systems, cooking systems, propane, solar... or is it just a box to sleep in?
Ah thanks for reminding me! Originally I wasn't going to add those things to keep cost and complexity down, but we have changed that plan. I'll update the post.



Updated main post with new plans and a SketchUp drawing of the end goal.
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      05-17-2022, 09:06 AM   #15
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I would suggest spending some time planning the amenities that you want in the unit. There is complexity involved with every system you might add. Fresh water, gray and black tanks, AC power, DC power, solar, charging, power conditioning, etc, etc.. I spent over a year renovating a Class C RV and I can tell you its not as simple as it might seem.
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      05-18-2022, 12:13 AM   #16
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Wish I'd seen this sooner. I have axles and a bunch of stuff I'd of sold ya on the cheap.

Also, Escapade Campers is a few miles away from me.
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      05-18-2022, 08:33 AM   #17
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Quote:
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As a side note, I believe that there's still a web forum dedicated to teardrop trailer construction and ownership. It had a sub-section on converting small cargo trailers into tiny campers.

One of the most important things that I learned from reading that site was the importance of carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in a teardrop camper, because it's possible to make them *too* air tight and suffocate as you sleep.....
TnTTT is dedicated to teardrops and small travel trailers. I have found a lot of good info on there, but most of it is old from 2008-ish timeframe. They have a lot of link'd resources that no longer exist.
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      05-18-2022, 10:15 AM   #18
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That's the forum! I was reading it for a few years, before my doctors put an end to my racing hobby. I wanted to add a small living quarters to my car hauler, install some windows, an RV air conditioner, etc. Never got a round tuit, though.

In all seriousness, I had the word out among my friends that I was looking for a tractor-trailer reefer (freezer) unit for my hauler. I wanted to make it so cold inside that a dramatic ice/fog cloud formed whenever the door opened.....
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      05-23-2022, 07:45 AM   #19
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Weekend update:

We got quite a bit done on Saturday. Received the doors, ceiling fan, fenders, hurricane hinge, cowboy shower, and water pump. We got most of the cabin framing done. Material is 16ga steel, laser cut and formed into C-channel so the foam panels can slide in the channel. We still need to add a couple ceiling crossmembers, frame in the fan, and frame in the cowboy shower.

I have a long weekend coming with Memorial Day, so hopefully we can have this finished or just needing the small things next weekend. I won't have the wheels and tires yet, so I will just continue to use the ones on it now that I borrowed from my car trailer.
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      05-31-2022, 12:18 PM   #20
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Update:

It was a long Memorial Day weekend but we got some good progress done.

Frame was painted (minus tongue, still some welding to do there), flooring bottom layer was coated in roofing tar and let to dry overnight. Once dry it was placed into the trailer, insulation and floor framing was done, and top layer installed.

We made the fresh water tank a little larger since we had the material. It now holds 25 gal, which is likely far more than we need. Pump is mounted underneath and will get a vented cover to keep grime and what-not from building op on it. Since this is towed with my X5 we weren't too worried about damaging the tank, but if it does become a concern later on we can make a belly pan for it.

Installed the roof fan framing and started planning out the rear hatch area. I didn't get any photos of the hatch progress yet.

Interior walls are rough cut and test fit. We had to add some bracing to the ceiling to mitigate sag. I also cut the wall insulation panels and test fit them.

Next steps, all the tedious trimming, accessory location planning, wiring, etc.
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      06-06-2022, 01:07 PM   #21
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Made quite a bit of progress this weekend. Ran wiring for interior and exterior switches and lights, and got the USB outlets wired in. Got all insulation panels in place, mounted interior panels, and cut and hung exterior panels. I have some gaps in the interior panels, but nothing some trim wont cover up. Hoping to have one more weekend of work before I can drag it back home and do the finished touches.

I'm not overly impressed with the quality of the doors considering how expensive they are. Frames and material is banged up and twisted, cuts are unfished and rough, hinges are super loose causing the door to not close properly no matter how you try to adjust the framing. They will work, but the quality is lacking.
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      06-21-2022, 11:21 AM   #22
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Made big progress on the trailer! Exterior is 95% done and I was able to drag it home to finish up the exterior details and finish the interior bits. I lost about 5mpg at 70mph speeds when towing it home. I had it loaded with tools and left over material, so I estimate it weighed about the same as it will when finished.

All panels are bonded, sealed and riveted to the frame. Corner trim didn't turn out as well as I hoped, but it's all sealed and I don't anticipate ever having leaks, I just don't like how the trim ends came out because they look unfinished. I might see if a buddy of mine who does vinyl work can do some sort of wrap to clean up the trim. I thought we were going to do a one piece trim from front to back, but that didn't happen and it was too late in the game to re-evaluate.

Rear hatch turned out pretty nice. I have some stainless latch slot things with gas strut mounts being laser cut and sent to me, so once those are in I'll be able to install the gas struts and lock the latch down. The bottom side of the hatch door is natural steel sheet right now, so I'm going to have it wrapped in some type of cool mural.

My buddy went a little fab nerd on the spare tire mount on the tongue. He designed it based on a motorcycle wheel cock. Looks cool, but I think I will get frustrated with it when I have to lift a 40-60lb spare tire out vs being able to just roll it off. Time will tell.

Next is finishing out interior trim, building the rear galley, installing roof rack, and wiring up the battery and fuse block in the tool box. USPS lost my roof rack package, go figure.
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