I was planning to purchase a new RV, but it cost too much. Luckily, I was able to learn how to turn a cargo trailer into a camper and take advantage of my old vehicle.
This process deals with a lot of tasks, like planning and taking measurements. It might look overwhelming, especially for newbies. But follow this tutorial, and you’ll have your beautiful camper in no time.
Table of Contents
What You’ll Need
Here are some things that you need to gather and decide to convert a cargo trailer into a camper.
1. Cargo Trailer
The first thing you’ll need for this project is a cargo trailer that meets your needs. Make sure that it’s within your price range.
The price of a cargo trailer is actually more affordable than buying a new RV. It may range from $1,000 to $5,000. If you’re on a tight budget, look for a pre-owned cargo trailer.
The size may range from 5-8 feet wide and 8-32 feet long. If you like a shorter cargo trailer, you can get it customized to 6-7 feet tall.
If you plan to use the camper often, consider looking for a durable cargo trailer. Make sure that there are removable screws to tweak the inside walls. Look for an extended tongue to install propane tanks and a side door that locks from the interior.
Making a camper out of a cargo trailer requires attention towards insulation. Typically, cargo trailers have a thin insulation layer, making them prone to air leaks. They also lack necessities like a heater and/or air conditioner, so prepare proper insulation from top to bottom.
For windows, you can replace the windows or insulate them with a plastic insulating film or bubble wrap. If you opt for the plastic insulating film, prepare a blow dryer to ensure a tight seal. On the other hand, get ready with a spray bottle of water to give the bubble wrap something to adhere to.
The trailer doors are also crucial parts of your cargo trailer where drafty air can pass through. To insulate these areas, you’ll need some weatherstripping, like the one from DGSL, or a simple dish towel to make into a door snake. You might want to prepare some caulk to reapply on the doors every 1-2 years.
Some cold or hot air can come through the top of the vehicle, so you’ll need a vent cushion to cover the vents. We recommend the reflective version as it provides extra UV protection.
The underside of the trailer is also susceptible to heat or cold from outdoors, so prepare some vinyl fabric to make an RV skirt.
The walls also need to be insulated for better temperature control, but you may need to give up the warranty coverage to do this. If you still want to go ahead, you can choose between spray foam and rigid foam to reinsulate the walls.
3. Power Source
The power source is important in making the trailer more habitable as you plug in your electronics and appliances. You have two options – a 12-volt battery linked to an inverter or solar panels. Both have their own benefits and disadvantages.
A lithium battery is relatively affordable, but you need to have a spare around to provide uninterrupted power when the other one loses energy. On the other hand, solar panels are environment-friendly, but the power may wane when the weather is bad.
4. Plumbing System
The plumbing system makes up your new camper’s water supply, pipes, faucets, etc. This is important for your toilet and kitchen.
For the toilet, the black tank might be a little hassle because it’s difficult to install and easily clogged. We recommend getting a composting toilet or a porta-potty.
A composting toilet only needs one vent hose and a small fan for installation. This one is also environmentally-friendly, although slightly pricey. On the other hand, a porta-potty is affordable and feels like a typical toilet, but it could freeze in winter.
For the kitchen, you can select from a wide variety of RV sinks and faucets at different price points. Also, prepare 6-gallon water jugs, a water pump, and tankless water heater to create a water system. Find a split valve to direct the water to the sink and shower separately.
5. Vinyl Plank Flooring
You’d want new floors for your trailer – something that won’t break when the camper is on the move. We recommend getting vinyl plank flooring as it’s both flexible and long-lasting. The best part is that vinyl planks are easy to install.
When buying vinyl flooring, choose one that looks nice and feels comfortable to walk on.
6. Furniture And Appliances
You want the camper to be as comfortable as possible, so think about the living amenities that you like to enjoy. Some of the basic amenities that you should consider are a bed, table, and chair.
For the bed, you can choose between a fixed bed and a convertible bed/table. A fixed bed is pretty convenient as you’ll always have a bed available. If you have limited space, a convertible bed/table might be a better option where a table turns into a bed.
Get some tables and chairs from your trusted supplier, or better yet, make your own tables and chairs to save money. You also need a few cabinets to store and organize items in your camper.
You can add more essentials, like fans and vents, for climate control.
There might be tools that can make your conversion project a lot easier. For instance, you’ll need a claw hammer to rip the plywood walls and ceiling of the cargo trailer. A jigsaw comes in handy when you want to cut holes on the trailer to install new windows.
For the flooring installation, you might also need a utility knife to cut the vinyl flooring. A jigsaw also seems ideal if you want to make more complex cuts. You may also need a rubber mallet to tap the vinyl boards into each other.
Now that you have the necessary preparations, it’s time to do the enclosed trailer camper conversion project.
Step 1: Create A Floor Plan
First, you’ll need to map the plan of your cargo trailer camper conversion project. Determine the design of your kitchen, living quarters, and toilet. The design may vary, depending on your lifestyle.
Also, sort out your priorities. Do you want a kitchen full of cabinets? Do you want to install a freshwater storage tank? Think about the elements that are essential to you and draw the layout.
For this project, we’ll be doing an 8×16 cargo trailer conversion.
Step 2: Remove The Walls And Ceiling
You need to rip the trailer walls and ceiling to install the electrical units. Your bare hands are enough to do this, but if you want this task to be done quicker, consider using a claw hammer.
Step 3: Buy Or Insulate Windows
Cover the window on both sides with the plastic insulating film, then create an airtight seal with a blow dryer. If you don’t care about aesthetics, spritz some water on both sides of the window to stick some bubble wrap on them.
If money isn’t an issue, replace the windows with new ones and use a fresh sealant to keep them secure. You’ll need to cut holes with a jigsaw before you install the windows.
Step 4: Weatherproof Trailer Doors
For the doors, apply some weatherstripping or roll a dish towel under them to prevent the drafty air from coming inside the trailer. Every 1-2 years, apply some caulk around the trailer doors for maintenance. Also, add additional caulk on the cracks, holes, or tiny spots to reduce the draftiness.
Step 5: Skirt And Cover The Vents
As mentioned above, skirt the trailer’s bottom like an RV. Wrap a layer of fabric around the bottom half of your vehicle. You can also use some foam boards to create a skirt, as shown in this video.
The vents are easy to miss since they’re located way up high in your trailer. For maximum comfort, cover the vents with a vent cushion. If the product is too large, cut or compress it for a perfect fit.
Step 6: Wire Or Power The Cargo Trailer
Now, it’s time to install the electrical system with a 12-volt deep cycle battery and inverter. You might consider installing some solar panels in case you’ll go off-grid while camping. Regardless of which type of electricity source you choose, make sure that you connect the wires to the right outlets for proper electricity flow.
Step 7: Reinsulate The Trailer Walls
Since the walls of a cargo trailer are typically thin, you might need to reinsulate them for temperature control. You can pick spray foam or rigid foam.
Spray foam comes in canisters that are easy to apply. Use the canister to apply the spray foam directly on the wall and let it settle.
For rigid foam, slice it to the correct size and stick it on the wall using caulk or industrial tape.
Step 8: Install Air Fans And New Floors
Since a cargo trailer is enclosed, you’ll want to install an air fan to promote better airflow. For the new floors, cut the vinyl flooring and put it into place.
Step 9: Add The Plumbing System
Connect six-gallon water jugs, a water pump and a tankless water heater together. Install a split valve to separate the water for the sink and shower.
For the porta-potty toilet, you don’t need a fixed install. Empty its waste tank into a dump station when full for proper disposal.
For a composting toilet, it needs to be installed into the trailer, together with a vent fan.
Step 10: Make The Kitchen, Bed, And Seats
Build your ideal kitchen with cabinets, faucets, and countertops. Add shelves to optimize space and use a portable cooktop that you can store away. Consider fitting a 12-volt mini-fridge under the countertop.
Mount the bed in your desired area in the cargo trailer. If there’s still more room left, install benches to make a seating area. To maximize space, use a sofa bed to have a sleeping and seating area in one.
I hope this article gives you insights into how to turn a cargo trailer into a camper. It’s easier if you know what you really need, like amenities and appliance size. Also, insulate the trailer so it’s comfortable to live in.
Let us know your thoughts about this cargo trailer conversion project in the comment section below. Share this article with your friends if you like it.
Okay, so I’m Philip Lopez. I join Riverside Trailer as an editor, where I will be doing research for both content and reviews. I contribute to studies aimed at understanding the most typical problems encountered by RVers on the road. I also keep up with the newest RVing gadget innovations so that I can promptly evaluate and recommend the best options.