In the Product Spotlight section in this month’s issue, we focus on small trailers that are light enough to be towed by an SUV or crossover vehicle, but if you are looking for something lighter, more basic, and tailored to your own needs, you could build your own.
Compact Camping Concepts in Salem, Oregon, offers guidance and materials for construction of a tent-topped camping trailer. Owner Scott Chaney started the business as a hobby when he couldn’t find the kind of camping trailer he was looking for. He had downsized to a smaller, fuel-efficient car, and wanted a trailer that could be easily and safely towed without destroying his gas mileage or creating braking and handling problems.
He built a small trailer for his own use and when he would go camping, people would ask for one like it. Trained as a mechanical engineer, he started building trailers as a hobby, and when he left Hewlett-Packard after 26 years in various positions, including management, he turned his hobby into a business.
Compact Camping Concepts can build a trailer for you, but mainly caters to the do-it-yourself crowd. Its key product is the Explorer Box, which has a tent on top of a trailer that carries your camping gear. It weighs about 400 pounds.
To build one, you start with a frame, which can be purchased from a number of sources. You will also need some plywood, hardware and interior and exterior finishes. Compact Camping Concepts provides a detailed construction manual, building supplies, a selection of folding tent units and phone support.
Chaney says you can build the Explorer Box for as little as $1,400. Or, you can buy one of his demonstration units already built for about $2,900.
Nearly all of his customers want to build their own. Chaney advises against undertaking such a project if your sole motive is saving money. A better motive, he said, is the satisfaction you will gain from building a trailer with your own hands and tailoring it to your own needs.
He doesn’t advise trying to weld a frame together unless you are very sure about what you are doing. “Don’t make this your first welding project, and then take it on the highway,” he said.
Instead, you can buy a bolt-together frame kit , or a flatbed utility trailer. Building the Explorer Box then becomes essentially a woodworking project, involving plywood, waterproof glue and some screws.
How long it takes you to finish the project will depend on your tools and skill level. With his experience, Chaney said, he can put one together in 20 hours. Most people with woodworking skill and the right tools should be able to finish the job in 40 to 60 hours. Chaney is working with a customer in Alaska who is a novice and has 80 hours in so far, and will probably need 100 hours to complete the work.
The Compact Camping Concepts approach to RVing is a throwback to the industry’s early days when you could buy plans to build a trailer out of a magazine. Wally Byam, the founder of Airstream, famously got his start in RVing by advertising build-it-yourself trailers in Popular Mechanics.
Chaney looked to teardrops and other vintage camping trailers for inspiration when he designed his trailer. With the Explorer Box, you get a tent on top of the trailer, giving you a place to sleep off the ground. Tent units come in various configurations, including one with room to stand up to change clothes. The front of the trailer includes a kitchen/galley area with a place for a Coleman stove, storage compartments and counter space. There is a front deck where you can store a cooler so it is easily accessible while traveling. The rear of the trailer has a large general storage compartment for bulkier items and other gear.
Chaney encourages people to customize units to fit their own needs. The company’s online site at compactcampingconcepts.com has photos of homebuilt trailers, links to other helpful sites, and lots of information to help you decide if a homebuilt trailer is right for you.
Another inventive option for campers is the Camp‘n See from Zealand Outdoors in Kansas City, Missouri. It consists of a lightweight collapsible platform that can be attached to the roof of just about any vehicle, from a little passenger car to a big motorhome. The platform, made of aluminum, extends about eight inches above the roof in transit. At its destination, the Camp‘n See can be set up above the vehicle so that you have a tent where you can sleep and a platform where you can place chairs to sit.
The unit comes in a variety of sizes. It could work atop a motorhome as a platform to watch auto races or other events. It could turn an ordinary car into an RV by providing a place to sleep atop the car. And, the manufacturer says, it could even serve as a stand-alone playhouse for children when not in use on camping trips. A unit suitable for a car is priced at about $4,000.
You can find out more about the Camp‘n See at the company’s website, campnsee.com.
If you are in the market for something more conventional, but still lightweight, be sure to check out our report on lightweight trailers on Page 12.
Write to Mike Ward, editor at RV Life magazine, 18717 76th Avenue West, Suite B, Lynnwood, WA 98037 or e-mail email@example.com. Find First Glance online at rvlife.com.Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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