Retro-Style Camping Gear Trailer




About: I got an old sewing machine when I was just a kid, and I've been hooked on making stuff ever since. My name is Sam and I'm a community manager here at Instructables.

This is a small enclosed trailer I built to haul my family's camping gear.

The outside is completed with materials pulled from a junked 1970 Starcraft tent trailer, which gives it a unique old look.

In this instructable I hope you'll find some ideas, techniques, or maybe just a little inspiration for your next project. Thanks for taking a look!

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Step 1: Design, Specs, Cost

My goal was to make a small, lightweight trailer that could be pulled safely behind a car or minivan at highway speeds.

A lot of this was worked out along the way; I didn't have a definite plan for any of this - other than the general size and function.

Here are some of the finished details:

  • From tongue to tail, the trailer is 9 feet long. The cargo box is 50" wide, 60" long and 24" tall.
  • The completed trailer weighs 580 pounds empty, with a tongue weight of 68 pounds (or 11.7%).
  • The roof lifts open with gas struts to aid in lifting and holding it open.
  • The two hinges located at the front can be easily disconnected, so the trailer can be used as an open-topped small utility trailer as well.

The trailer pulls beautifully. I load it with some of the heavier objects in front of the axle, which raises the tongue weight percentage a little, maybe to 13 or 14% - which is still right in the sweet spot for stability.

Where I live, trailers under 750 pounds do not require licensing.

I spent about $1300 on materials and built this over the course of about four months working nights and weekends.

Step 2: Overview

While working on this, I did a lot of research for best design aspects from an engineering standpoint. One of the places I kept landing on for my engineering questions was

I have no connection to this site - and didn't use any of their plans - but for almost all of my questions, this site was the one that had the answers I was looking for. Save time and just read all the articles there first. It's a fantastic resource - thank you mechanicalelements for sharing your knowledge!!

Special shout out also has to go to PliskinAJ, author of Making an Off Road Trailer. This trailer project is what initially got my gears turning about making my own camping gear trailer. Mine is an on-road version : )

This was a long and complex project requiring tools, money, and determination. It's definitely not a beginner project.

If you're able to tackle a project like this, the finer details are things you'll be able to work out on your own; if you're just curious to see the build process, the photos tell the story.

The build is presented in four parts:

  • Frame
  • Lower box
  • Upper box
  • Miscellaneous parts

The main build steps are LOADED with photos, and many details have been written in photo notes. Be sure to flip through the photos for specifics.


Step 3: Backstory

Feel free to skip this step, unless you're interested in the backstory of this project!

A few years ago I bought an old Flagstaff tent trailer, with good intentions to fix it up and go camping with my family in it.

It had a rotted roof and various other issues that I worked on over time until it was all fixed up. It sat unused for a year taking up space in my driveway, and we never used it once. I ended up selling it for $2600, but I learned a lot in the process.

I still wanted to a camping trailer, however, but realized I just needed a smaller gear hauler. We don't have the storage space for anything larger, and prefer tent camping anyway - we just needed more room for all our gear.

I initially bought a small motorcycle trailer, thinking I would used it as the base. But it proved to not be exactly what I wanted, so I resold it (after taking off the motorcycle rails and keeping those).

Then I bought a 1970 Starcraft tent trailer that was rotted beyond repair, but the metal was all in fine condition. I stripped it down to the frame, and kept all the metal and various pieces I thought would be useful, and then resold the frame.

Metal from the Starcraft trailer was used to complete the new trailer shown in this instructable, giving it its unique look.

Step 4: Frame

The frame was made of 2" by 3" steel tubing, with a 2" square 3/16" tube for the tongue.

Various bits of scrap metal were used for support pieces and tie-down anchors.

The photos are full of notes with details and tips, if interested.

Step 5: Lower Box

The lower box was made with baltic birch plywood, and sealed inside and out with several coats of spar urethane. The bottom piece is 18mm (15 ply) thick and the sides are 15mm (13 ply).

The siding from the old Starcraft trailer was used to cover the box exterior, and fastened with stainless steel pneumatic staples. The aluminum trim pieces were taken from the original trailer and modified to fit the new one as needed.

I went with almost all stainless steel fasteners throughout this project. It likely quadrupled (or more) my hardware costs but I love the look and it should last FOR . . . EV . . . ER. Well, in theory.

Step 6: Upper Box

The upper box was built of baltic birch plywood, and cladded with the old trailer's roof and siding. Trim pieces were added to seal the edges with new vinyl insert material.

The inside top was insulated with pieces of scrap pink foam and expanding spray foam, and covered with a thin sheet of finished plywood. This way gear will stay a little cooler, and the smooth interior roof seems better for stuffing last minute items in.

Step 7: Miscellaneous Parts

Here's a look at various other parts being completed for the trailer.

The spare tire needed a custom mount so it would sit in front of the box, with enough clearance to still open the roof. The spare tire and mount also serve as ballast because this specific placement gives the trailer the right tongue weight.

The fenders were painted and mounted to the box with new brackets.

A pair of hasps were slightly modified (bent as needed for correct fit), painted, and then mounted to the trailer so it can be locked shut.

Phase 2: Maybe . . ?

Someday there might be a Phase 2 of this build. I tried to build it in such a way that it could be modified or adapted to use as a sleeper camper - basically turn it into a collapsible tent trailer/no-frills mini camper of sorts.

The design of the tailgate and hinges was done specifically to allow the gate to be level with the bed when opened, to increase the usable floor space. I would have to make an apparatus to support it in the open position, ideally that would act as steps for climbing inside as well.

I would also need to sew a tent structure that could be erected within the open trailer (attached to the roof, sides, and back of tailgate) with a rear door, windows, and so on. That would be an interesting challenge to figure out, make it water proof and bug proof, and easy to set up.

It would be a tight fit, but adequate for an average-sized pair of humans that do not dislike each other. So maybe that'll happen at some point!

Step 8: Get Outta Town

Our maiden camping trip was great, and the trailer was a treat to use.

Thanks for checking this out!

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    14 Discussions


    3 days ago

    great great great


    Question 13 days ago on Step 5

    In love with this project! While I know my way around my shop and my step-dad's, I have never heard of spar urethane.
    What is it and how is it different from say, Thompson's Water Seal?

    5 answers

    Answer 13 days ago

    Awesome, glad you enjoyed seeing this! : )

    From a quick google search, here's something I found on spar urethane:

    It's basically an outdoor, weatherproof urethane finish you can put on wood things that will be outside. It's notably thick, and when you put on several coats of it, you end up with a yellowy, plasticky finish on the wood.

    It's very different than Water Seal, but I'm not familiar enough with either to get into the specifics. I've used both on different things, and never been terribly impressed with Water Seal - it's not long lasting, and doesn't create a plasticky barrier the way urethane does. Hope that helps, at least a little!


    Reply 12 days ago

    My goodness, thank you!
    Your answer went above and beyond what I thought I would get.
    The link is fantastic.
    I am in the process of a stair rebuild for my backyard and want this to last. Currently stone is not an option.
    Waterseal has left my vocabulary.

    I will spar urethane every board (before assembly) and again on all connections as if it was wood glue.

    You ROCK!


    Reply 12 days ago

    Definitely do your own research on what might be the best product for your specific use though - don't just take my word ; ) There are so many products out there, it can certainly be daunting. A bit of research online can help you identify your best options. Good luck!


    Reply 10 days ago

    With your advice, I was able to find an exterior commercial paint with sand. I am off to Sherwin Williams now to purchase the correct wood sealer as a primer. If I get more than 6 years out of this set, I will be happy.
    I did not make the original.
    I see the use of the urethane more at camp, where I need that plastic water protection and there is no foot traffic. I have a few perfect places.

    Thank you for the conversation and kindness. My best experience here on Instructables. You are truly wonderful. =)


    Reply 10 days ago

    If you are thinking of steps or stairs outside there are better products. Urethane is plastic in a dryer solution. It comes out smooth and hard, add water or snow and you have a great slippery surface. as kids we used similar for the bottom of our skim boards, worked great, steps and stairs not so much. Ask in your paint store or local hardware for a better product or look for a floor paint you can add a non-slip surface to, sand in a can with binders. I don't believe urethane is what you want on outside steps or stairs. Considerable safety risk.


    12 days ago on Step 7

    Really nice work, and all the better for the backstory. Inspirational stuff, and I hope it brings your family many years of happy camping.


    13 days ago

    I really LOVED reading the story of your trailer, and am grateful for the amount of effort you've put into documenting everything, including the backstory. And specific props to you for the precise positioning of the bolts to allow the weatherstripping to be compressed, but not over compressed. It's attention to detail like that which makes a project like this especially worthwhile.

    1 reply

    Reply 13 days ago

    Well thank you! It was my pleasure to share a little of the process I went through to make it. Happy that you enjoyed it! : )


    13 days ago on Step 6

    Very well done! Excellent work, patience and craftsmanship!


    13 days ago

    Cool little trailer! Nicely done!