Introduction: Vetsport Extreme SIPS Microcamper
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 57,849 veterans are homeless on any given night. There are more than 600,000 homeless people in America.
This project actually started out as a design for a small survival camper for Veterans and other homeless people and is one of my extreme weather designs for small affordable off-grid houses for the homeless, Veterans and disaster relief. The camper is designed to be easy to construct using SIPS Structural Insulated Panels System made from commonly available materials, low cost and super insulated for year round living in extreme weather. It was designed to be a mobile house that could be parked in someones yard, in Federal and state campgrounds or be used for temporary homeless shelter or for housing for disaster relief but it would also make a great small camper for people that enjoy outdoor sports and adventuring in extreme conditions and because it is light weight, super insulated and super strong it would be perfect for people that have Kayaks, mountain bikes and other equipment they want to take along.
Many of the products made/carried by Oru kayak, Alite Designs and Brown Dog Solar would work perfectly with the Vetsport Extreme Microcamper because they are light weight and designed for rugged outdoor use. I am not associated with any of these companies but I like their products and designs.
If you are wondering why I have only the plans and designs and not the actual model it is because I have 3 camp trailers of my own including a similar small camper design and an insulated shell camper so I am not in need of another camper but I am a professional off-grid house designer and architectural draftsman/builder so rest assured if you follow the plans they will provide enough information for building the camper.
I am an avid outdoors-man and I live full-time in a small off-grid cabin so I know what is required to be comfortable and safe in a small structure or camper as I live that life every day. I was also homeless for two years and I survived in a small camper and I understand how difficult that life can be without a proper shelter.
All I ask in return for the use of these plans is that you include the name Vetsport on the camper exterior which stands for Veteran Sports, send me pictures of your completed camper and consider helping me to spread our mission to provide shelter designs for the many homeless Veterans and other homeless people all around the world.
You can see many more small off-grid house designs on my website: www.simplesolarhomesteading.com
Simple Solar Homesteading is a Not-For-Profit social and cultural service organization dedicated to producing affordable off-grid housing designs and projects so that everyone everywhere can have a safe and sustainable home. Please share our vision on your facebook, Google+ and other social networks and help us end homelessness and poverty once and for all!
You can read my story of homelessness here:
Legal Note: All images are the property of LaMar Alexander. I am not associated with any of the companies that may be mentioned in this Instructable. These plans require basic construction skills and you assume all risk for any use of these plans. If you do not agree to that DO NOT use these plans. Vetsport Extreme SIPS Microcamper is a Trademark and copyrighted design of LaMar Alexander www.simplesolarhomesteading.com
Step 1: What Makes Vetsport So Special?
You have probably seen other small campers and teardrop campers but you have never seen anything like the Vetsport because it utilizes SIP Structural Insulated Panel construction for super insulation and strength while keeping the towing weight to a minimum.
Average small camper walls are 2 inches thick with R5-8 insulation and are not designed for extreme weather all year use. The Vetsport walls and roof are 4 inches thick with an R rating of 18 (more than most houses) and that will allow a person to stay warm in the coldest of winters and cool in the hottest of summers. In most cases body heat alone will keep the Vetsport comfortable and it can also be heated with a small propane heater like the Buddy heaters designed for interior use. The Vetsport has a white ceiling to reflect heat and a roof vent and side window vents for passive cooling. There is room in the exterior walls to install a small AC unit if desired but if you park the Vetsport in the shade of the trees it would probably not be necessary.
The Vetsport was designed to be towed by a smaller car or truck and is on a 4x8 trailer so it can be parked in a small lot or even a standard parking space. It has a super strong 4 inch thick roof with braces to hold a Kayak, mountain bikes, skis, or a whole lot of camping gear or supplies. A roof rack design is included in the plans or you could use a commercial rack.
Pictures 4 and 5:
Vetsport is designed with a kitchen food preparation in the rear which includes a sink, cutting board, fresh water tank, single burner propane/butane stove, and ice chest cooler space. Storage is provided for lots of canned and dry goods, pans and dishes above. Unlike other small campers the doors swing out and not up so that you have maximum headroom to work and the interior edge of the door provides additional storage space.
Vetsport has a 3'4" by 6'6" bed space which is adequate for two people and very comfortable for a single person. Above the head of the bed are open shelves for storage and two LED positional lights for reading. Built into the wall by the bed is an integrated fold-up table for eating or studying.
Pictures 9 and 10:
Vestport has storage cabinets above the foot of the bed with a space for a smaller LED TV or tablet, Ipad with speakers, CB emergency or ham radio and DVD/CD player or this space under the cabinets could be used for drawers. All gadgets would be powered by the solar panel that is on the front of the camper.
Vestsport is designed to have a 100 watt (or smaller) solar electric panel mounted to the front of the camper that can be tilted for best sunlight and can be removed and stored in the camper when you are traveling. A 100 watt panel and one or two deep cycle batteries and inverter will provide all the power you need for your gadgets like a laptop computer, cell phone, window fan, LED lights and even a DC fridge and cooking appliances.
Vetsport has a front nose over the trailer neck that is used for storing a propane tank, deep cycle battery and portable toilet or other items you may need for long term camping or permanent living situations.
Vetsport has a 2'6" by 3' door for easy access and the door has a porthole window so you can see who is at the door but small enough a person (or bear) can not break in and open the door. There is a 1x2 window on the opposite side for light and ventilation and a tilt vent on the roof.
The Vetsport camper is designed specifically for extreme weather conditions and to handle heavy roof loads making it unique in the small camper design field and it is designed for long term year round shelter for people that may be living in the camper for months or years.
The best thing about the Vetsport is it is easy to build from commonly available materials, basic tools and by people with basic construction skills so you can make one for your self or they can be produced rapidly for homeless or disaster relief housing.
Now let's build one!
Step 2: Selecting a Trailer
The Vetsport camper utilizes a 4x8 trailer and these are available from Harbor freight, Amazon and other dealers. They will vary in tongue and axle weight and it is recommended the trailer be able to handle a minimum 1000 pounds axle weight. These trailers range in price from $299 and up and the more heavy duty the trailer is the more it generally costs. If you will not be doing a lot of off-road camping then the lighter harbor Freight trailers will work. If you want to get in the outback and have your trailer take a beating then look at the Ironton trailers from Northern tools.
You can also find these used on Craig's list, Ebay and in your local want ads for a good price but make sure the trailer is safe and road ready before building on or using the trailer. Some states do require trailer inspection and registration.
You may need to assemble the trailer and please follow the manufacturers recommendations for torquing all connections. If the wheels are cheap you can find used car rims that will be better replacements. Sand off any rust and prime and paint the trailer before doing any of the camper construction steps. Aftermarket springs and lifters are available to stiffen the trailer and raise it for off road use.
All trailers are constructed differently so The camper is designed as a general model and you may need to adapt it to fit your trailer frame. The nose piece will have to be designed to fit your trailer and may require additional welded steel braces.
All trailers require tail lights, side markers and fenders. If your trailer doesn't have them you can find them at any auto supply store or get them used. Make sure they work and meet your states requirements.
Step 3: Building the Camper Floor
The camper floor is constructed from one full 4x8 sheet of 3/4 OSB and three 2x4x8 fir studs. The 2x4 wall frame base is attached to the OSB board with construction adhesive and screws BEFORE the floor structure is attached to the trailer.
Apply the construction adhesive liberally to both the 2x4 frame and the OSB and screws go through the OSB from the bottom through the OSB and into the studs. Screws placed at 1 foot spacing.
I want to emphasize you must use good quality construction adhesive like Liquid Nails LN-903/LNP-903
Many airplanes have been constructed using nothing but adhesive and it is even stronger than nails or screws by themselves. The Vetsport camper will get a lot of jarring and bumping that will loosen joints if they are not properly glued with construction adhesive. Screws are use to hold the wood pieces together while the glue sets and for additional strength but it is the construction adhesive that will create an unbreakable joint and make your camper last a lifetime. Use construction adhesive on all joints throughout the construction steps.
The floor with frame attached is then attached to the trailer frame Using bolts. Most trailer frames have holes drilled at intervals of 2 feet around the edge of the frame that can be used for this purpose. If no holes are present you will have to drill your own. Use bolts through the wood with a washer on both the wood and frame side and a lock nut. The bolt length and diameter will depend on the size of the hole in the trailer frame. Place bolts at no more than 2 foot spacing around the floor perimeter. A minimum of 16 heavy duty bolts are needed and if there are holes in the cross members of the trailers apply additional bolts. Be sure that the frame and camper will not come off that trailer before moving on to the next step. Picture 2 shows the recommended bolt placement. Bolts are shown larger than actual size.
Step 4: Building the Side Walls
You can use any good solid sheathing for the exterior walls but I recommend Roseburg 1/2" x 4' x 8' AB Marine-Grade Plywood (available at Menard's and Home Depot). This will have a smooth sanded surface suitable for stain or painting and uses adhesives suitable for wet conditions.
The exterior sheathing is attached to the floor frame with construction adhesive and screws on 8 inch spacing.
The corner arc is a 1' 1 1/2" Radius.
The door is 3x2'6"
The window is 1x2 and is centered in the wall 1 foot from the top.
Picture 1 shows the door side exterior wall with door cut out.
Picture 2 shows the window side exterior wall with window cut out.
NOTE: If you will be doing this in windy conditions use some scrap wood to brace the panels until you get done with the next step.
Place a 2' 10 1/2" corner braces in each corner. Attach these corner braces with construction adhesive and screws to the sheathing and to the floor frame.
Apply Owens Corning Foamular Rigid board insulation to the walls using construction adhesive on all surfaces. Leave a 1 1/2 inch space at the top for a 2x4x6 top plate. You will need one rigid board sheet 2 inch and one sheet 1 1/2 inch to fill the space. Use construction adhesive between the rigid board sheets and between the rigid board and the sheathing.
Picture 5 and 6:
Trim the foamboard to fit around the wall studs, door frame and window. A sharp razor knife works well for this,
Trim the corner of the foamboard so it is flush with the rounded corners of the sheathing. A hot wire or razor knife works well for this. Take your time doing this step.
Picture 8 and 9:
Attach the 2x4x6 top plate using constructive adhesive on all surfaces and screws through the exterior sheathing.
Picture 10 and 11:
Attach the interior wall sheathing to the wall studs and foamboard using construction adhesive and screws on 8 inch spacing. You can use whatever interior wall material you like but I recommend 1/2 inch Roseburg 1/2" x 4' x 8' Fir 5-Ply Plywood Sheathing. This will take paint well and has good structural strength.
Cut out the door and window openings using the dimensions above and arc the corners at Radius 1' 1 1/2"
Tada- you have no completed the side walls. Notice that this method greatly reduces the wood weight while increasing the R value to about R18. That is more insulation than many homes have.
Step 5: Building the Front Wall
Picture 1 and 2:
Attach a 4x3 sheet of 1/2 inch marine plywood to the side walls and floor frame using construction adhesive and screws on 8 inch spacing. There will be a 1/2 inch corner gap on both sides that will be filled and sanded in another step.
Attach the 2x4 top plate using construction adhesive and screws. Attach the foamular rigid board insulation to the front wall using construction adhesive. This is a sandwich made of a 2 inch thick layer and a 1 1/2 inch thick layer same as in the side wall construction.
Attach the interior sheathing to the floor and top frame and foamboard using construction adhesive on all surfaces and screws through the frame at 8 inch spacing.
Step 6: Building the Kitchen
Picture 1 and 2:
Construct the door frame using 2x4 studs. Attach these to the side walls, floor frame to each other using construction adhesive and screws. Notice that the studs attached to the sidewalls are turned side ways. This will create your door frame.
Attach the 1/2" marine plywood to the frame with the door cut out as shown using construction adhesive and screws. Save the cut off pieces for shelving inside the camper.
Attach two 2" foamboard strips to the inside corners of the frame using construction adhesive. This is to maintain insulation throughout the camper and will keep the kitchen interior cooler to preserve food.
Picture 5: Attach the interior 1/2" plywood to the door framing using construction adhesive and screws. Save the door cut outs for shelving inside the camper.
The kitchen shelving is optional and can be made to fit your needs. I recommend 2x2 fir lumber for the braces and I show here a two shelf design that will maximize the space. You could make this shelf as a removable unit if you will be using the camper for multipurpose hauling. You should measure your cooler, sink and other equipment for proper shelf height before building this unit.
Picture 5 shows the kitchen unit framing from 2x2 lumber. Bottom shelf is 1'2" high to allow space for a cooler. Middle shelf is 1 foot above bottom shelf. Shelf unit is 1'1" deep.
Picture 6 shows the interior of the kitchen unit sheathed. you could use 1/2" or 1/4" plywood for this sheathing. Attached to the frame with construction adhesive and screws.
Pictures 7-9 shows the shelf framing and sheathed with 1/2" plywood.
NOTE: If you will be installing a sink in the kitchen unit you will need to measure and cut out the shelf to fit your sink. Small RV sinks are available from RV dealers or salvaged from old campers and come in various sizes. You can make the kitchen as fancy or as simple as you desire and this unit could include drawers, hooks, spice racks etc.
Step 7: Trim, Doors and Windows
Pictures 1 and 2:
The kitchen door is constructed from 2x2 lumber and the exterior is 1/2 inch marine grade plywood. The interior panel can be any good 1/2 inch plywood. The door is sandwiched over 2 inches of foamboard insulation. Door handles should be a locking security style and hinges should be hidden in the casement. The door has a 1/8th inch space around to allow the door to open. You will seal this with door weather stripping.
Pictures 3 and 4:
The entrance door is constructed from 2x2 lumber and the exterior sheathing is 1/2 inch marine grade plywood. The interior sheathing can be any good quality 1/2 inch plywood. The door is sandwiched over 2 inches of foam board insulation. The handle should be a security lock and hinges are hidden casement style. The pictures show a small porthole security window which is optional but recommended. these are available at RV stores or you can make your own. The door has a 1/8th inch space around to allow the door to open. You will seal this with door weather stripping.
Pictures 5 and 6 show a 1x2 sliding glass window installed in the side of the camper.
I recommend double pane low E-glass windows and you can get small windows at any window supplier. Vinyl trim windows are easier to install and seal better than wood frame. Use lots of caulk around the entire window frame and use screws as the window manufacture recommends
Pictures 6 and 7 show the unfinished and finished Bondo wall seam.
The camper roof and wall edges will have a 1/2 inch gap that must be sealed and the best and easiest way to do this and get a professional look is with wood Bondo that can be sanded smooth and painted.
Follow the directions on the can and apply liberally to all the seams of the camper walls and roof joints. Once the Bondo has cured completely it can be hand or machine sanded and painted.
Step 8: Building the Roof and Rack
The roof is constructed of a continuous 4x6 sheat of 1/2" marine grade plywood.
Pictures 1 and 2:
1/2 inch 2x6 marine grade plywood attached to the top wall plates using construction adhesive and screws on 8 inch spacing. There will be a 1/2" gap on the sides of the roof which will be filled in a later step.
Pictures 3 and 4:
The roof framing is made of 2x4 studs. Attach the framing members with construction adhesive and screws on 8 inch spacing.
The roof frame is attached to the side walls of the camper using steel L braces. Attach these braces to the walls before going to the next step.
Foamboard insulation is sandwiched between the roof framing and attached to the roof sheathing with construction adhesive.
The interior ceiling is 1/2" plywood and is attached to the roof frame with construction adhesive and screws on 8 inch spacing. Also use construction adhesive between the foam board and ceiling sheathing.
OPTIONAL SKYLIGHT VENT
I usually do not recommend skylight vents in campers because they will eventually leak but if you want to install one they are available from RV supply stores. Make sure you caulk and seal the skylight or you will have leaking. Place the skylight centered between the roof braces and you will need to cut the opening to the size of the skylight. I recommend cutting a piece of foamboard insulation that will fit up inside the skylight to add insulation when the skylight is not in use.
OPTIONAL ROOF RACK
A roof rack will add a whole lot of additional storage space to your camper. You can buy commercial roof racks and baskets designed for specific carrying purposes or make your own using 2x4 lumber as shown. All rack members must be attached to the roof using construction adhesive and 3 inch lag screws through the wall top plate. The roof rack members should be sealed with at least 3 coats of varathane varnish as they will be subject to a lot of wear and weather. The holes are used for attaching a load with tie downs or bungee cords.
NOTE: I have a similar rack set up on my shell camper and I use it to haul my kayak and mountain bikes for camping but is also great for bringing home lumber and you can haul 4x8 sheets on a roof rack like this.
Step 9: Building the Roof Caps
The roof caps are arc caps that cover the top ends of the camper. These are constructed by cutting 1/4 inch deep slots on 1/2 inch spacing in a 2'x4' sheet of 1/2 inch marine plywood.The slots allow the board to arc/warp to fit the frame.
Picture 1 shows the plywood with 1/4 inch deep slots cut on 1/2 inch spacing.
Pictures 2 shows the slotted plywood arced and attached to the frame. Use construction cement and screws to attach the plywood to the frame
Foamboard insulation can be bent into an arc shape to fit into the roof caps or you can cut it into narrow pieces and fit them into the cap. Spray in expanding foam can also be used to provide insulation in this area.
Pictures 3 and 4 shows the roof caps insulated.
Pictures 5 and 6 show the roof caps installed.
Step 10: Building the Nose Deck
Because every trailer is constructed differently this is just an idea for a nose deck and you will need to adapt it to your trailer. If your trailer has only a single tow neck it is recommended you weld or have welded some additional steel bracing from the neck to the frame to support the nose deck and stabilize the camper.
The nose deck is platform is 3/4 inch plywood. The frame is 2x4 lumber.
Picture 1 shows the approximate dimensions.
Picture 2 and 3 shows the nose deck framing.
Picture 4 shows the nose deck painted to match the trailer frame or camper.
You will need some way to hold the gear on the nose deck in place and bungee or tie down straps will work for that purpose.
Step 11: Finishing the Exterior
If you have finished the construction of the camper and the seams are bondo sealed and sanded then you must paint or varnish the exterior to weather proof it.
The camper must be painted with primer first and then your choice of exterior oil paint or varnish.
Picture 1 shows the camper ready for paint or varnish.
I recommend oil based high quality gloss exterior paint and at least 2 coats. You can also varnish with a varathane based varnish for a more country look. At least two coats must be applied and follow the manufactures directions.
Once the camper is painted and sealed there are a few items that you can add that will prevent water damage and will make the camper look as good as any commercial camper.
METAL DRIP EDGING
Picture 2 shows metal drip edging that should be applied above each door and window
Step 12: Finishing the Interior
The Vestport camper can be finished any way you desire but here are a few ideas:
You can leave the floor natural but I would add carpet pad insulation and the underside of the trailer between the frame supports can also be insulated with foamboard insulation. The bed mattress will also act as insulation.
The Vestport has room for a twin size mattress suitable for two people but more comfortable for one person.
Shelves can be attached above the foot of the bed and head of the bed and drawers could be installed below these cabinets. Remember stuff moves around when a camper is moving so use lips on shelves and bungee cords to keep stuff in place.
I recommend LED low watt lights which can be wired to the solar battery or have their own replaceable batteries. I placed two LED positional lights at the head of the bed for reading.
There is plenty of room for your laptop, Ipad, and even a CB Radio or DVD player if you want.
The table shown is a fold up table available from Ikea and other stores or you can make your own.
Step 13: Taking It Off-Grid
The Vetsport Microcamper is designed for off-grid camping and can be equipped with a solar panel, deep cycle battery for power storage, and propane for cooking and heating.
I recommend an 80-100 watt solar panel or the portable solar panels by Brown Dog Solar. You will need a power controller to connect to the batteries and if you will be running AC equipment you will need a small inverter.
Picture 1 shows a 80 watt solar panel, deep cycle battery and chemical toilet.
The camper is not equipped with a bathroom so you may want a chemical or bucket toilet that can be used when you are away from a campground or facilities. Solar shower water heaters are available in any camping supply store.
Picture 2 shows the panel tilted to get the most sunshine. Solar equipment dealers have all the mounting equipment so you can tilt and easily remove the panel. I recommend removing the panel and storing it inside the camper when traveling on the road to prevent damage.
One 80-100 watt solar panel and a deep cycle battery will provide enough power for LED lights, laptop, DVD/CD players and lots of camping DC appliances and gear. It can also be used in an emergency to recharge cell phones and use CB/Ham Radio equipment.
The roof racks are perfect for hauling your Oru Kayak and Alite Design camping supplies!
Step 14: Material List and Project Summary
The Vetsport Extreme Microcamper is designed to be inexpensive to build but you will need to supply the trailer and new trailers can be expensive. I suggest looking for a used trailer and doing any minor repairs to make it road worthy. I estimate the cost to construct the camper shell at under $1000 depending on materials used.
CAMPER SHELL MATERIALS
(5) sheets marine Grade 1/2 inch 4x8 plywood for the exterior
(5) sheets standard grade 1/2 inch 4x8 plywood or other sheething for the interior
(4) sheets foamular 2 inch 4x8 insulation rigid board
(4) sheets 1 1/2" foamular insulation rigid board
(1) sheet 3/4 inch OSB floor sheathing
(14) 2x4x8 studs fir
(6) 2x2x8 stud bracing
(8) 3 inch steel L braces
Windows, skylight, kitchen shelving, nose deck, and paint/stain is extra and you can salvage or use new materials as you desire.
If you would like the 3d Sketchup model of the Vetsport camper it is available on my website.
The vetsport camper was originally designed as a simple to build, inexpensive and extreme weather insulated survival camper for Veterans and homeless people. It would also make a very nice extreme weather off-grid camper for outdoor adventurers and can be towed with a smaller car or light pickup truck and fits into tight spots.
I was homeless for two years and lived in a small camper with solar power. It was rough in the winter because commercial campers are not well insulated and it was too big to move with my small truck. The Vetsport solves both of those problems.
If you are looking for other homeless shelter ideas I have many small affordable off-grid house designs on my website and I am willing to help any organization that works with Veterans and the homeless to provide designs.
I hope you enjoyed the Vetsport Extreme Microcamper plans and please remember to VOTE and leave a comment or ask questions.