The first time my husband and I went camping, it was in an old Mitsubishi. We were heading to the majestic Grand Canyon and decided to pull into a KOA campground because we were too tired to drive all the way to the South Rim in the dark. We put the tent up and woke up to it on top of us. Once we climbed out of our sleeping bags and the fallen tent, we saw the campground was fairly packed with campers. I remember seeing a DIY camper trailer and decided that if we made it through this trip, we'd have to up our camping game. We were amateurs, but I knew we had potential.
Nineteen years later, we've learned a thing or two about DIY camping. After car camping for those early trips, we decided that our next camping trip out west would require a DIY camper trailer. We had a pickup truck, so it made sense to check out DIY camper trailer kits so that we could easily transform our economical vehicle into a camper without making any permanent changes to its design. We wanted to build an apparatus we could hoist onto the truck bed and then take off again after vacation. We spent less than $1,000 on our camper trailer for our truck bed and we made it ourselves. If you're into camping and want to make a DIY camper, you might want to hear more about our DIY camper truck bed.
DIY Camper Trailer: Basic Models
The great thing about DIY camper trailer kits today is that you can modify them to suit your style. We actually had a truck cap for our pickup, so our first DIY camper didn't actually affect the exterior of the truck or its cap. We basically designed the inside of the truck bed to be our convenient DIY camper complete with storage for all the essential gear we'd need as well as our sleeping accommodations. We knew we needed to make use of the vertical space so we built a false floor. We put our air mattresses atop the floor and beneath it we were able to stow our gear. It was a tight squeeze and not all that comfortable, but it allowed us to enjoy the great outdoors even on a tight budget. The false floor hid pull-out drawers that housed all our camping gear like fold-up lawn chairs, clothing, hiking boots, and even a small camp stove.
DIY Camper Trailer Kits
As I said, you can now easily find all sorts of DIY camper trailer kits. We modified a basic kit for our second DIY camper. We needed more space after we had our son because we had more gear to stow. We thought of choosing an economical teardrop camper, but in the end, we decided to create a DIY camper that could sit right on our truck bed. Basically, we created a model that gave us more vertical space than the original truck bed cap did. We built its frame out of cedar wood and inexpensive plywood. We even made cool windows using plexiglass. Our main concern was that it would be waterproof so we did spend the bulk of our $1,000 on good-quality supplies, but even so, we made our DIY camper for a bargain price.
DIY Camper Tips and Tricks
When designing your DIY camper, it's important to ensure that it can stand up to weather conditions. If you're using commercial-made truck caps, you don't have much to worry about as far as rain goes, but it can be pretty cold even in the desert at night. We decided that we wanted some insulation in our DIY camper because we head north quite often and even in early fall, the nights can be chilly.
Our DIY camper was a lesson in organization. Our latest model seems to have a cabinet or locker for everything. We have a convenient pull-out tray for all bathroom toiletries for example. It's easily accessible and includes a pull-out basket with all the supplies we need. We simply pick it up and head to the campground bathroom and shower facilities. I'd recommend making a list of all the items you typically take with you when camping and letting them influence your DIY camper design.
I've seen some impressive DIY camper truck bed and trailers on our trips. One even had a portable washing machine that I almost swooned over. It was over the top, but I loved it. That particular model used more than duct tape to hold it together! It was a thing of beauty and designed and built by a true carpenter. You can create a luxury DIY camper, but we always stuck with the basics—just somewhere to lay out our sleeping bags and stow our camping essentials like the fire starter, water bottles, snacks, clothes, and hiking boots.
Recently we decided to make an extra modification. We created a small cabinet at the top of our DIY camper that holds some tarps for a makeshift canopy. It creates a 3-sided enclosure that hangs off the back of our DIY camper. So, if it's drizzling or really windy, we can still unload some gear and sit outdoors without getting drenched. We created this feature for less than $100 and it's been such a great feature to have. It's not all that pretty, but it serves its purpose.
DIY Camping Trips
We traveled with our DIY camper to many different locations in the U.S. After sleeping on that hard New Mexico ground on our first car camping trip, we decided that our one creature comfort would be an air mattress. We've had the same one for years. We've hauled it to Yosemite, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the stunning Upper Peninsula. We can basically take it anywhere you can take a traditional camper or RV. It's cozy, comfortable, and designed to our liking.
I love to camp in fall when the smell of burning leaves permeates the air, so we tend to bring our DIY camper to some terrific fall foliage spots. I can be chilly, but our DIY camper has plenty of storage space for quilts and bulky sweaters. I like it because there are less bugs to contend with. At night, we build a big bonfire and keep the cold at bay. Summer camping is also fun, but I always insist we travel somewhere with great swimming so we can cool off after a long hike.
Best Places to Go Glamping
We've been camping with our DIY camper for almost two decades now. We've been east, west, north, and south. I love to camp on the West coast because I'm an ocean lover, but my husband is a history buff so we travel to many camping spots that are historically relevant. Some of the cool places we've been able visit have included Lily Bay State Park in Maine, Seminole State Park in Georgia, the Cove Palisades State Park in Oregon, and Hatton Canyon in California.
Those are some of our memorable trips, but even just driving to our destinations was part of the fun. The money we saved by not sleeping in hotels could be used for fun stops along the way. For instance, we often enjoy visiting area wineries and going out for a nice dinner during our glamping trips. If we're camping in California, going out for seafood is a must as I don't prefer to fish for my supper.
Keep these ideas in mind as you plan your own DIY camper and camping trips. You don't have a spend a fortune on a luxury RV when you can design a DIY camper truck bed that suits your needs and budget. I love what we've been able to create out of basic supplies we picked up cheap at home improvement centers. Research different models online and get inspired. You won't regret it—or the money you'll save on your own DIY camper as opposed to paying a fortune for a commercially available one.
I'm already planning our next DIY glamping experience. I want to return to the Grand Canyon to see those spots we visited two decades ago. With the money I know we'll save with out DIY camper, we can book a river rafting day trip or maybe even take a helicopter for an unforgettable view of the canyon. I can hardly wait to pack up the truck bed!