Introduction: How to Turn a Harbor Freight Trailer Into a Kayak/Camping Trailer

Picture of How to Turn a Harbor Freight Trailer Into a Kayak/Camping Trailer

This is my first instructable but I have posted this on some kayak forums with positive feedback so I wanted to post it here and enter it into the outdoors competition. I wanted a trailer I could haul our three kayaks on and our camping gear but all the trailers I found for purchase were $1000 plus. Here is how I built mine for $363
I started with the harbor freight Kit and turned in into exactly what I needed.

Step 1:

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 I started with harbor freight #42708 - 870 Lb. Capacity Utility Trailer, 40" x 49". It was $219.99 and with a coupon I got it shipped to my door for around $160. In addition to the trailer kit here is what I used for this project –

10’ 11ga 2” square tube

14’ 1/8” 2” angle iron

2 6’ pieces of 1.25”od round tube

4x8 sheet of 1/2” treated plywood

2 12’ 5/4” deck boards

2 8’ 5/4” beck boards

4 10’ 2x4s for bunks

7 eye bolts for tie downs

6’ wire for harness extension

Front braces are 3/4” steel bar that was already bent that I got from a scrap pile

For those who don’t know the above picture is what the manufacture intended it to look like.

Step 2: Start the Build

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Day 1

First I started by assembling the kit to have a starting point, make sure you square the basic frame and check several times while you tighten since the entire build is based off this. After you are happy with this point throw away the instructions because now the fun begins!


I wanted to add a brace to connect the tongue directly to the spring hangers so I added this. It is a piece of the 2” angel iron lined up with the front spring holes. I turned the frame around so the axle centerline would be farther forward since I will be extending the front. This will make weight distribution better and be easier to pull and track better.

Step 3:

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Now grind off all the powder coat on the joints then some welding. I wanted a longer bed to haul all my camping gear and coolers so added some extensions. These are 2’L each and are made from the angle iron. This will make the bed 6' long. Tacked everything in place ready to square, used the original tongue for the front brace since I won’t be using it for its intended purpose. I then Burned everything in and hit the welds with primer, I welded all connections together including the spring hangers to the brace I added and the rear hangers to the frame.


Step 4:

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Tongue bolted with grade 8 bolts and welded on, if it is worth doing it is worth overdoing. Started welding all metal to metal connections but I ran out of welding wire so this is a good stopping point and hit with a light coat of primer to protect from rust until I can finish

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Day 3 started with a trip to tractor supply to get some welding wire then I figured I would do a little cosmetic work filling all the holes I'm not going to use. This is optional but I wanted it to look good

Step 6:

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Now it's time to put the front upright on using some scrap I had laying around, Bolted on with grade 8 and then welded. Also added a sleeve over the tongue to beef up where all the weight will be (this is optional but it was scrap I had so might as well use)

Step 7:

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Back uprights and bar welded on, Finished the day with a little wire brushing of welds and shot primer on the entire trailer. Tomorrow is family stuff so won't be able to work on it again till Tuesday, then I'll add the front supports for the sideboards and start wire brushing and sanding for paint.

Step 8:

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Okay, let’s get this thing finished

More grinding, sanding and priming and welded on front uprights. Let the primer cure for a few hours and time to start paint.

Step 9:

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Bottom primed and painted, I hit this with oil based black for the best protection. Shot this paint everywhere that won’t be color (places you don’t see)

Step 10:

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Now to work on the top side, shot everything that will be blue with a base coat of metallic silver to really make the blue bright

Step 11:

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I put 3 coats of blue on and 2 of clear.

Step 12:

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Coupler on with grade 8 bolts, added front eye bolt tie down and starting wiring

Step 13:

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Now time for the floor

Step 14:

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Got carried away and didn't take any of side rail and axle installation but it is pretty straight forward (might have to refer to instructions for axle setup)  here is the kids enjoying the "almost" finished product, we run up and down the road several times to seat the bearings.

Step 15:

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Total price is $363. And it weighs right less than 350lbs

Here is the finished product all loaded up, I have three kayaks on here (my daughters 6’ sits in the bed) a grill, firewood, tent and other camping stuff loaded.


I am very happy with how this project turned out. I pull it with my 4cyl escape and have had it to 70mph+ on the interstate with no problems. Since it is so light weight I can hardly feel it behind the car, and I have less invested than most put into converting a jetski trailer and everything is new. The only thing I might change is making the bunks moveable so I can put 3 full size yaks on top.


ranski1999 (author)2017-08-16

Nice trailer

how fast can you go on the highway and is it easy to control

UiH (author)2016-07-08


Does anyone could tell me the width between both wheels? I am trying to see if I can put under the deck of my home but not sure if it can go through between two poles. Also, the deck is only about 4 feet high.



EricN70 (author)2016-06-01

Looks good! I was hoping I wouldn't need a welder for this, as I am in the market for a 17t and needed to build a Harbor Freight to do the trick.

baja betty (author)2015-07-30

I am new to kayaking and just bought a hobie outback. I thought I could haul it in my pickup bed but I am not strong enough to lift the boat up into the bed. I talked to fabricators to come up with something that would help me, we thought of pulleys, winches, ramps with wheels and it is just getting too complicated and expensive. Today I got turned on to this HF trailer. Can you tell me what the distance from ground to the frame to put my kayak on is? Do you suggest I put a plywood deck (covered in marine carpet) on the trailer to haul the kayak or can it be hauled as is? Since I am a newbie to kayaking, not at all mechanical (but I have male friends that will assemble and help me with this project) please give me any suggestions, knowledge, problems what have you so I can get on the lakes before summer ends. Do I need some kind of pad eye or hook to tie down the kayak or does the trailer come with these? I am desperate to get out on the water instead of looking at my beautiful boat sitting in my barn. sigh. Help! thank you so much!

baja betty

Frkzila (author)baja betty2015-07-31

baja betty, For my trailer the load height is about 38" but that is because I wanted to make the bed underneath to hold my tent, firewood and other camping gear. I usually pick up the nose of the kayak and put it between the bunks then grab the rear of the kayak, lift and push forward and the kayak will center itself on the bunks and you only have to lift one side at a time. You could get one made that would be as low as 16" or lower if needed. To hold the kayaks I used 2x4's for "bunks" or rails to pull my kayaks up on and you can go to any marine shop to get bunk carpet to cover them. You don't need an entire floor just to hold the boat. For tie downs, I used eye bolts so I could fasten my ratchet straps securely to the trailer. I had to buy these separate at a local hardware store. If you have any other questions feel free to shoot me a PM and I'll try to help out! Happy kayaking!

baja betty (author)Frkzila2015-08-01

Thank you so much for the reply. After being totally frustrated with this project because I cannot do it myself and depending on others has been not so good, I went ahead and bought a Malone Micro sport seawing kayak trailer. Sigh, a lot of money but I wanted to get my new kayak out on the water before I croak. You are a godsend however for others that can DIY things, unfortunately I can't. I so appreciated you posting what can be done and I hope others will have as much success as you have. Great too that after so long you still are willing to help. I wish you were my neighbor! I'd be putting you to work.

thanks again!
baja betty

AndyK6 (author)2015-07-28

Frkzila (author)AndyK62015-07-31

Andy, linking to your site is great, I like that other people can get inspired by my ideas!

AndyK6 (author)2015-07-28

Hi Frkzila,

Great post. I even see your design being applicable to the other types of trailers that are similar to the harbor freight model. I have been putting together an article and compilation of resources for building kayak trailers when I stumbled on your site. I have put a link to your page on I hope that's okay with you if not please let me know and ill delete it.



phottomatt (author)2014-08-16

Awesome project, can't wait to get started, I have the 4'x 8' HF trailer and will be using this as my build plans. I have 2 tandem kayaks to haul, 13.5'and 16.5'. thanks for this indictable.

Bushie (author)2013-12-03


I'm always looking for hints and suggestions along these lines..

wmansfield (author)2013-07-19

You might consider putting larger automobile rated wheels on your trailer. I built a trailer some years back using the Harbor Freight utility trailer as a starting point. I drove it from New York to California at highway speeds. Somewhere in Texas we had stopped for food and noticed that the entire tread was missing on both tires, save for the one strip of rubber on the outsides of the tire. That could have been disasterous. I was lucky.

hiddenartist (author)2013-07-07

I really like this!
It inspires me to get to work on camping-kayak combo of my own.
Thank you!

valkgurl (author)hiddenartist2013-07-18

We have two HF trailers--one the "full size" 4' x 8' or so that we use for general hauling and to trailer our motorcycle--850 lbs dry. Plus ramps etc. The only prob we have had with that one is the orig paint and lights--both are politely--crap.

We then bought the smaller one --dunno the size but about 4' x 6' mebbe?---And we sanded the "paint" off of this--I am pretty sure the entire thing was just dipped in pure red colored lead!!!--and painted it black. We had the axles and frame etc cut down to make it match the width of the bike and the saddle bags so we could make a tow-behind-the-bike size. We then mounted a fiberglass or ? plastic type car top carrier on to see how we liked it. This has held up well altho the paint that we used to paint THAT part (plastic cover up paint) is---not the best altho we used the name brand. We have done many miles on some pretty rough roads and you wouldn't even know she is behind the bike.

Get the BIGGER TIRE option for any HF trailer! And get a spare--they make a mounting bracket and you will be very happy if you ever need it that you invested the few $$$ in this!

We used some "diamond plate" black rubber cut to fit (also from HF) on the fenders to avoid chipping the paint and also used plastic "chrome" door trim (Wally world auto section) to go around the fenders and other parts inc the edge of the car topper to add a nice chrome look.

We had to replace the lights--rear lights--on the big trailer several times--first with HF replacements and then we discovered that PEP BOYS and WM have super bright water proof boat trailer lights--PEP BOYS are cheaper---and we replaced the ones on the big trailer and used them for the orig build on the tow behind the bike trailer. Do yourself a favor and just shell out the $30 or so that the Pep Boys lights cost--worth the cost in frustration and time saved!

All in all we love the trailer we built and altho we are thinking of building a more sturdy "Tear Drop" or other design for the same trailer this one is holding up well so this is not an urgent need.

DeNault (author)2013-07-14

Nice job! You'll find it too easy to snap or drag those tail lights off though. Suggest mounting them on top of that angle iron and protect from above by another piece of angle iron. (Let the angle iron take the hit.)

capturedlive (author)2013-07-10

Harbor Freight posted about your article on Facebook.

Frkzila (author)capturedlive2013-07-10

Thanks for letting me know! That is so cool to have a project featured!

artlife (author)2013-07-07

Good Job!
May I suggest that you change your photos around so that the finished product is showing on the list of instructables. Let folks see what a good job you did, so that they will check it out.

artlife (author)artlife2013-07-08

Much better!

Frkzila (author)artlife2013-07-08

Thanks for the suggestion! I do think it looks better on the search

Nick70587 (author)2013-07-07

Looks good. I was thinking of buying one of those trailers to make a small camper. What do you think of the trailer quality itself?

Frkzila (author)Nick705872013-07-08

The quality of materials is decent, the one problem I had with the kit is it bolts together and that could cause it to be out of square if you hit a pothole or something but I fixed that by welding everything together. Out last camping trip I had over 500lbs of gear on it (that includes 4 days of firewood) with no issues. I highly recommend the kit providing you can weld everything and not just bolt it.

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