how to turn a cargo trailer into a camper

How to Turn a Cargo Trailer into a Camper in Easy Steps

Peter Wade

If you are a fan of outdoor life, you may have thought about buying a camper for the freedom of traveling to any corner of the country. But a new or used camper comes with a hefty price tag. Also, the interior design may not always suit your needs. To save money and get an interior tailor-made to your preference, it’s necessary to learn how to turn a cargo trailer into a camper.

Can you make a cargo trailer into a camper? Yes. Although converting an empty cargo trailer into a camper is no small feat. It demands your patience, mechanic skills, and a decent budget. However, you can pull this off with the right knowledge and some practical skills in plumbing, welding, and carpentry.

What Is A Cargo Trailer Camper?

A cargo trailer camper is an enclosed cargo-carrying trailer transformed into a camper. The interior of such trailers is versatile for customization. You can add shelves, sinks, benches, or any other furniture that you see fit.

If you can plan properly, a cargo trailer can be transformed into an excellent RV. Almost all cargo trailers are suitable for such conversions. Handy people can take the advantage of this versatile outline and build an RV on budget and according to their preferred design.

how to turn a cargo trailer into a camper
A cargo trailer camper. (Credit: HAXMAN / YouTube)

It’s also possible to convert a cargo trailer into a small home. You can also create a family home by stacking one trailer on top of the other.


Benefits of Converting a Cargo Trailer into a Camper

A converted trailer offers some extra benefits than a camper bought from a retailer.

More Affordable

You can purchase an old and decommissioned enclosed cargo trailer for less than $1,000. Invest a few more thousand dollars into it and you will get a comfortable, fully functional trailer that you can take for camping in any place in the country.

Compare these figures with the price of a brand new camper trailer. You have to spend at least $15,000 to get a decent one. A used model could be a few thousand less but nowhere near the low figures of a converted cargo trailer.

Readymade Features

A cargo trailer already comes with some necessary features, so you don’t need to spend extra money on them. For example, it’s common for a cargo container to have ventilation ports on the roof, which means there is no need to install many windows in the camper. Some containers also have insulated double walls, which will save loads of money.

More Durable Than Regular Campers

All cargo containers have a robust and highly durable build. Their exterior is mostly thick metal sheets and joints have strong steel bracings to ensure the best security for cargo.

Weatherproof

Shipping containers are designed to withstand the worst kind of weather. Humidity, sunlight, storm — nothing can deteriorate their components. You will have a safe journey in a cargo trailer camper in all weather conditions.

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How to Turn a Cargo Trailer into a Camper

Making a camper out of a cargo trailer is not rocket science. Sure, it’s not like renovating the living room into a home office but you can be successful by focusing on two things: functionality and weight.

Of course, the converted trailer has to be functional for enjoying a smooth camping experience. It has to be lightweight too or the wheels and axles of the trailer will collapse.

Want to know how to turn a cargo trailer into a camper? Follow these steps:

Step 1: Choose a Spot for Plumbing and Electrical Lines

It’s a little complicated to figure out where the plumbing and electrical lines will go because the structural design of a cargo trailer is different from a regular travel trailer.

The safest place to talk in the wiring is under a false floor on the container’s bed. It will have an office space for holding all the wiring and a floor heater too if you want.

Building a false floor sounds like a lot of work but it’s easier than making a similar false section in the ceiling or on the walls.

Step 2: Build a False Floor

Don’t make the false floor too deep, or it will make the ceiling low. Use 2×4 wooden blocks for floor framing but aluminum channels will be the best option for this job. Aluminum is lighter, cheaper, and more durable than wood.

can you make a cargo trailer into a camper
The interior furnishing depends on your personal choices and needs. (Credit: Scott Sanford / Flickr)

Step 3: Install the Wiring

After setting up the framing of the false floor, install the wiring for all the electrical fixtures. There should be sockets for appliances and wires for indoor lights. Separate wiring and outlets will be required for extra fixtures and devices.

The plumbing system should include lines for a toilet, shower drain, and kitchen sink. The freshwater and holding tanks should also go underneath the floor. The direction of the wiring could be from the water tank to the holding tank or you can install drains for dumping water outside. There should be an electric or manual hand pump to create enough pressure for the water to move through the pipes.

If you don’t know how to set up electrical and plumbing lines, take the help of a technician or plumber. Setting up these systems correctly is an important step of learning how to turn a cargo trailer into a camper.

Step 4: Floor and Wall Treatments

Using heavy floor fixtures, such as ceramic tiles, will further add to the weight of the trailer, which you need to avoid. Use plywood planks and give the finishing touch with vinyl tiles.

Laminated wood panels would be a great option for the ceiling and walls. These panels are light and cheap but feel like real hardwood.

Some trailers come with insulated walls. If your one is not one of them, apply foam insulation in the ceiling, floor, and wall framing to keep the indoor comfortable during all seasons.

Step 5: Furnish the Interior

This is the last step of how to turn a cargo trailer into a camper. Cut the trailer walls according to the right sizes to install doors and windows. If you don’t want windows, install a skylight on the roof.

The next step is buying kitchen cabinets, counters, a toilet, a shower, faucets, and other necessary fixtures. Using multifunctional furniture pieces will be the best way to utilize the limited space.

READ MORE: How to Build RV Cabinets


5 Interesting Conversion Ideas to Follow

So, you now know how to turn a cargo trailer into a camper. But if you can’t figure out the interior layout of your cargo trailer camper, here are 5 creative designs to take inspiration from:

1. A Small but Functional Trailer

If you can plan well, even a 6 x 10 trailer can be transformed into a cozy couple den. A folding bed would be the best choice for such a small trailer and using solar panels will keep away the tangles of wires. A propane grill will reduce power usage while a composting toilet will minimize the environmental impact. If you know the basics of how to turn a cargo trailer into a camper, you can easily carry out this project.

2. Create a Deluxe Rig

If minimal living is not your thing, follow Chatfield Court’s rig conversion to enjoy all luxury and conveniences on the road. Court converted a 7 x 16 trailer into a comfortable camper, featuring separate zones for a toilet and shower. There’s a king-size bed in the open-space bedroom.

If you want to take a look inside this beauty, check the following video:

3. A Bachelor Pod

Do you travel solo? Then, you will definitely love Gabe’s converting a trailer into a bachelor pod. He keeps it simple but without compromising with necessary amenities. If you are a musician, take inspiration from the small mixing station in this rig.

4. A Complete Overhaul

If you don’t want to leave out the comfort of home on the road, take inspiration from Brian Rogers’ conversion of an 8 x 16 cargo trailer. His paint choice and design of the living space make it a super cozy den for a couple or solo traveler.

5. A Den for Your Furry Friend

Don’t want to leave behind your dog when traveling? Take design ideas from this trailer conversion by Bill Southworth.

He used convertible furnishings to save space without compromising functionality in his small trailer.


FAQs About Cargo Trailer to Camper Conversion

Making a camper out of a cargo trailer
Making a camper out of a cargo trailer would be a great experience for a camper. Credit: Scott Sanford / Flickr

Q1: How much does it cost to convert a cargo trailer into a camper?

A decommissioned cargo trailer with the height of an adult person won’t cost more than $1,000. The remaining cost depends on the interior design, materials, and cosmetic features. Even if you use brand-new materials, a full conversion if possible at less than $10,000. Before learning how to turn a cargo trailer into a camper, it’s necessary to have a clear idea about the cost estimation.

Q2: What’s the best cargo trailer for a camper conversion?

You should choose an enclosed trailer but the rest depends on the picture of the end product you have in mind. Of course, the trailer should be free of any damage and mechanical issues. Also, be sure that the structural design is compatible with your preferred hitch setup.

Q3: Is a converted cargo trailer welcome in RV parks?

Yes, but except for some campgrounds. The main reason why some campsites don’t allow such trailers is safety. Because of being a DIY project, a converted camper may have plumbing or fuel issues, which can cause a safety hazard. For safety reasons, some campsites shut their door for older RVs.

Last Updated on April 14, 2021

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