Introduction: Teardrop Trailer Plans : How to Build a Cheap Camper

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I wanted to build a teardrop trailer that I could take camping around the Pacific Northwest, where I live. We have amazing scenes of beauty there, like Mt. Hood, and Multnomah Falls, so I decided I also wanted to paint a mural all the way around it.

All in all, I spent about $500 total on this project (including a used $120 Harbor Freight utility trailer) , and this teardrop trailer is about as barebones as you can get. But it works, and it keeps you dry and warm.

Step 1: First Step: Design Your Teardrop Trailer

I love creative camping spaces for compact living – which is quite a claim, considering I am 6’6″ tall. I owned my first camping trailer back in 2003, and I even lived in it for a month when I was airbrushing down in the little tourist beach side town of Seaside, OR.

At some point, I became aware of the teardrop trailer, which is a tiny little trailer that is meant only for sleeping, and offers some accommodation for fairly comfortable food prep and outdoor cooking.

Gathering Ideas

I figured building a teardrop trailer was a project I felt I could pull it off from design to finish by myself, so I started by searching the internet for more info. The reason the teardrop is so popular is that its rounded profile makes it a breeze to pull behind even a car.

I decided to make a traditional style of teardrop – one with a removable galley for easy loading, and two doors.  Here is a photo of my initial design idea, done in Google Sketchup – a free program offered by Google. The truck is my GMC Sonoma – a V6 capable of towing a tiny trailer, but not much else.

The Teardrop Design

First, I drew a quick sketch of what I wanted it to be.  I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel (my first time around), so I went with a traditional route.  In Sketchup, I downloaded a trailer base (because I knew I wanted a roughly 4X8 bed on the trailer.

I also knew I wanted to just put a couple sheets of 3/4″ plywood as a floor and building base for the rest of the trailer.

When I build another one (a larger, “canned ham” type), I will be building it with a 2X4 framed floor and use the plywood as a subfloor, but that isn’t really diminishing the stability of this one, because it is attached to solid steel.

Step 2: Next, Cut Out the Sides

Beginning the Build

Next thing I did was sandwich two sheets of 1/2″ thick plywood and two sheets of 1/4″ plywood (or luan) all together and cut out the teardrop profile outline with a quality jigsaw (mine is a Bosch Jigsaw).  Take your time with this, and keep your cuts nice, clean, and vertical, and it will save you a ton of time cutting the outline.

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Step 3:

When tackling a project like building a teardrop or ANY camping trailer, you have to plan a bit ahead.  I tend to be a “forge forward, and learn as you do” kind of guy, but that works a HECKUVA lot better in drawing and painting than it does with expensive projects like this.  Besides that, I didn’t want to spend too much on this project.  You can honestly build one of these for around $500 (or less!) if you are savvy and budget-conscious.

The Teardrop Construction Stage

Anyway, after adding the rails on the bed, I tacked the 1/2″ plywood sides up in order to line things up and get them straight for framing the interior and “skinning” it with the 1/4″ luan.  Plus, it makes you feel like you’re making progress.

I’m not going to show every single step in the build (because I honestly didn’t have the presence of mind to take a photo at every little step), but I can tell you that I added  a framing of 1×2 “furring” sticks on the inside of the 1/2″ ply, and stuck 3/4″ thick hard foam insulation pieces in between the furring strips as insulation, and as a structural alternative to a void behind the 1/4″ luan plywood interior walls. I added the furring strips with screws and then I laid the luan up against the furring strips and insulation and attached with pneumatic staples. NOTE: I suggest you glue ANYTHING you’re attaching to something else.

I attached my sides to each other with lengths of 2×2 wooden spars (which also offered attachment points for the roofing material I used). You should add as many as possible to it, and cram the space in between the spars with more insulation.

Making the Roof

The roof of any camping trailer is very important.  It not only insulates you from the sun’s heat and the cold wind, but it also keeps out water. For my roof, I opted to bend several sheets of 1/8″ luan and laminate them to the wooden spars.  Now, I would recommend you spend a bit more and buy either aluminum or fiberglass for the roof.  Laminating, sanding, and painting luan to make it weatherproof can take more time than if you just went and bought the quality stuff.
NOTE: when bending luan, it is important to bend it along the grain of its thickest ply (usually the one in the middle).   If you bend it against that grain, it will probably snap in half or at least give you an ugly crease.

The Galley and Doors

These two areas are a sore spot with me.  I designed my doors fairly traditional, and, if I could do it all over again, I would have ordered actual door units.  Instead, I used the cut out pieces from my original teardrop outline profile, and screwed them together to make a roughly 3/4″ thick door.  I attached them to the trailer with stainless steel piano hinges, and used basic screen door type handles from Home Depot to open and lock it. For the windows, I used a piece of glass with silicone caulking to adhere it.  It makes for a fairly tough door, but I don’t like the rounded top, and I would rather the window could open.

The galley is a basic counter with some cupboards below.  It is all designed to be removed, so someone loading the trailer with camping gear or changing the mattress can access the main compartment with relative ease.  The galley hatch on the back is meant for propping it up and serving as a roof for whomever is cooking or preparing food in the galley. Frankly, this was a pain in the neck, and I think that a galley on a teardrop just takes away from more space inside the camper.  I would not make another one again.  Camping is meant to be done outside, and I think the teardrop serves more as a storage and sleeping cabin than a mobile cooking kitchen. That can be done outside, at a campsite.

Step 4:

The Finished Teardrop Trailer

So, my teardrop is more or less fully built, primed, and painted with white paint (sanded in between three coats), and I can’t shake the thought of airbrushing some images on it, to make it stand out a bit.

When I initially began contemplating making a teardrop trailer, I imagined taking it camping in the various campgrounds and parks here in the Pacific Northwest, and my mind began picturing it with scenes of those famous landmarks and places that define this beautiful area of the country.  So, I finally decided to paint some murals on it.

One, I decided, needed to show a Cascade-type mountain peak, like Mount Hood, and another would feature Multnomah Falls, an icon of Oregon natural beauty.  The final mural showcases our rugged, amazing coasts, and the lighthouses that dot its landscape (not pictured)

Mount Hood Teardrop Trailer Mural

First, I decided to try and incorporate the window into this mural by making it the window of a cabin looking over a meadow under the shadow or Mount Hood, Oregon’s tallest mountain peak (and dormant volcano). I started by gathering images of my own photographs and others that fit what I was going for.  The cabin I created from an image I found on Google, and the shot of Mt. Hood was from one I took several years ago.

Hope this helps!  Visit for more tips and to see some more examples of my painting, drawing and design work.