Many people believe that the only way to sleep with a roof over their heads while camping is through the use of an RV or a large tow-trailer that can only be pulled by a pickup truck or SUV. However, there is a compact, lightweight alternative that is perfect for those who love to explore. The teardrop trailer is a small camper that is so simplistic in design you can build one yourself.
The Top Three Teardrop Trailer
The teardrop trailer is a tow-trailer with a streamlined design. Typically, a teardrop trailer can house no more than one or two adults. Explorers with large families may not benefit from a teardrop camper, but solo travelers and couples will love its simplistic design. The trailers also house a small kitchen in the rear of the unit. When you sleep, your head is toward the front, and your feet face the kitchen.What is a Teardrop Trailer?
In today’s world, it seems as though everyone tries to “Keep up with the Jones’,” with people engaged in a constant battle to one-up the other with the latest in high-tech gear. Teardrop trailers manage to drown out that noise. They are simple in design and very practical, in that they give you nothing more than a place to eat and sleep. There are no fancy bells and whistles besides a fancy paint job.
Teardrop trailers have been around since the 1930s when the when Mechanix Illustrated initially published plans for the trailer. The design lost popularity in the 1960s but went through a resurgence at the turn of the 21st century. However, the model has stayed the same the entire time. These trailers are approximately four to six feet wide, eight to ten feet long, and about four feet high.
Most of these trailers feature a hatchback design. The back opens up to grant access to the kitchen and lights. They provide necessary lighting thanks to a storage battery, although some teardrop owners prefer to have central power hookups installed. The trailers also offer primary storage for clothes and camping materials.
Many trailer owners appreciate the basic design and the nostalgic feel of less-frivolous times, which shows through in their trailer kitchens. They tend to cook using a basic stovetop and a cast iron skillet, a camping classic. When using a teardrop trailer, you’ll be able to escape and sink into the unexplored peacefulness of the outdoors.
When finished, the trailers weigh less than 1000 pounds. Their lightweight design means they can be towed by nearly any vehicle while still practicing fuel efficiency. That makes them ideal for campers of all experience levels. For beginner campers or recreational campers who can only get away for a night or two on the weekend, a teardrop is perfect because they won’t need to buy a new car.
This New York Times article details a couple, Michael and Madeline Cady, who vacation with their 32-square-foot teardrop camper, even though Michael is 6 foot 8. The couple enjoys not only the style and simplicity of their camper but also its functionality and low-price as well. The couple sleeps on a seven-foot futon mattress, while another couple from Pennsylvania use a four-inch-thick foam mattress.
Teardrop Trailer Gatherings
Throughout the country, there is an extensive community of owners of teardrop camping trailers. These owners love getting together during events that they call “gatherings.” One of the reasons these events are so popular is because how many people can join. You can fit dozens of campers into the same space needed for one large SUV.
When the New York Times published the article a decade ago, Brad Romaine ran the Southern California Touring Tears club. He said that his group had recently held a camp-out at Sweetwater Summit Park that drew 109 teardrops.
A community is something that is welcomed and encouraged by tear-droppers. As Romaine put it, no one will talk to you if you pull into a campground with an extravagant, expensive motorhome. But if you drive into a campsite with a teardrop trailer attached to your hitch, you’ll quickly find yourself in conversation with people from all over the country who you otherwise would not have met.
A simple Google search can help you find teardrop gatherings in the area you’re camping. Groups like the TearJerkers are active on social media, and also have an interactive map to help you locate a nearby gathering. You can also check out teardrops.net for popular gathering destinations.
DIY Teardrop Trailer
One of the unique aspects of a teardrop trailer is that you can build it yourself in a few days. The plan costs roughly $60, and materials cost about $2,500. It takes about 120 hours to construct your trailer. A DIY teardrop trailer is a great winter project because you can build it outdoors or in your garage during the off-season, ensuring that it is ready for use during the first warm weekend of the year.
Constructing the trailer with others can be a fun project, especially if you plan to then travel in the trailer with that person. Plus, it’s incredibly rewarding when you finish the project knowing that you bonded while building it and that the undiscovered world is now just a car-ride away.
Additionally, the ability to build your trailer allows you to customize it any way you’d like. While much of the initial design will be the same, you can change design options like paint color to help make it “yours.”
If you are building your first teardrop trailer, we recommend changing no more than the paint. Once it’s constructed, use your trailer for a few times before making modifications. You won’t have much room to work with, but you may find space to add an extra shelving unit or an additional electrical source. Remember that you want to keep things simple, so don’t overdo it on your first project.
Below, you’ll find a standard teardrop camper design. There are hundreds of teardrop camper plans available online. Ideally, your trailer will see years of use. Don’t settle until you find one that you love. If you’re not sure where to start, check out this post for 11 trailer designs that will spark your creative spirit.
1930s Trailer Plan
This plan, courtesy of Makezine, is for an old-school trailer design. While the following is a synopsis, you’ll find detailed descriptions of the project by clicking the previous link. To start, begin by gathering the following parts and tools.
- Galvanized Screws, 1” to 2.5” in length, 6
- Door Latches, 2
- 1/8” Luan Plywood, 10 Sheets
- Piano Hinges, 2” Wide, 24
- Titebond 3 Exterior Wood Glue, 3
- Elastomeric Roofing Paint, 2
- Lexan or Plexiglass, 1
- Propane Stove, 1
- Cooler, 1
- Electric Drill and Bits
- Scroll Saw or Jigsaw Coping Saw
- Wire Cutters
- Carpenters Square
- Electric Router
- Orbital Sander
- Router Bits
Before constructing your teardrop, you’ll want to make sure that you have a sturdy trailer to house the unit. Old popup trailers can work well. If you are buying used, ensure that the trailer is sturdy enough to serve as the base of your trailer. You may need to power-sand the trailer and treat it with Rust-Oleum before beginning construction of your teardrop.
Once your trailer is ready, begin by building a base on the bed. All wood on the bottom should be painted with elastomeric paint so that moisture cannot penetrate and warp the wood. Take your time to finish and treat the base, as it will eventually serve as the floor your camper. The given plan recommends covering the base with vinyl flooring.
After the base is complete, you can begin making the template for your teardrop. You do have some creativity with the trailer’s design. This article suggests using cardboard to trace your design and gather measurements. Once you have the outline of your plan, you can begin constructing your walls. Once you build the walls, they can be attached to the base. Be sure they are well-aligned before mounting.
Next, you’ll begin to “close-off” your trailer. You’ll install interior skins and use wood glue to secure the plywood in place. Afterward, you’ll connect the bulkhead. By this point, the shape of your trailer should be precise. However, this is where things can get tricky. You’ll need to run electrical wiring at this point. It’s easier to run wiring before insulating your trailer.
After completing the insulation, you’ll work on the exterior of the trailer. Seal the outside by using polyurethane varnish or another paint that will seal the wood. Sealing the wood is extremely important if you wish to have a trailer that will last for a long time. Once this is complete, you’ll begin building the hatch for the kitchen and install the windows.
The rest of the project is nothing but finishing touches. If you have people helping you, you can complete the project in a few long weekends. The author of this post built the hatch by himself and estimated that it took at least six months. Regardless, by the time is trailer is complete you will be satisfied and ready to begin exploring!