The Definitive Guide To Converting Your Cargo Trailer

Cargo Trailer Conversion

NAVIGATION

Have you ever considered camping in a cargo trailer? Converting a cargo trailer from scratch allows you to design your camper to specifically fit your needs.

Having a blank canvas with so much room for creativity might seem a little scary, but if planned out well, it can really enhance your camping experience. A cargo camper is more affordable and customizable than traditional campers and RVs, and it is definitely sturdier than a tent.

ryans tiny house

Hi, I’m Ryan

When I built my cargo camper as a temporary place to live while finishing up my tiny home, I loved being able to drop the ramp door off the back, pull out my mattress, and lay in bed looking up at the stars.

ryan mitchell simple living expert

What Type Of Trailer Should I Convert Into A Camper?

what type of trailer should i convert into a camper

I considered a lot of factors before choosing a 7’x14’ V-nose trailer to convert. There are many styles and sizes available, which can make the shopping process a little overwhelming at first. Let’s narrow down some of those options.

V-Nose Trailer Camper

V-Nose Trailer Camper

v-nose trailerA V-nose trailer is an enclosed trailer that features a V shape on the front rather than a flat shape. There are a couple of benefits to having this V-shaped front.

First off, it adds a few extra inches to the front, which could be a great spot for additional shelving and storage. I’ve even seen people use this extra space for their toilet and shower because it’s an easy place to hang a curtain for privacy. Another plus is that these trailers will get you better MPG, as the V shape is more aerodynamic and easier to pull.

I find the biggest downside to V-nose trailers is that they create a more complicated layout, since the shape is a bit awkward. But if you’re a handy person and this isn’t your first build, you may enjoy the extra challenge the V shape provides.

Flat Nose Trailer Camper

Flat Nose Trailer Camper

flat nose trailerA flat nose trailer is a traditional box shaped trailer. When I was shopping around for trailers, I found these to be the most popular and affordable option. The box shape gives you more space by the hitch, where I’ve seen people mount storage boxes in addition to their propane tanks. Plus, their modular shape makes for a much simpler interior design.

One important thing to note about flat nose trailers is wind resistance. If you’re worried about your cargo camper slowing you down, consider adding a wind deflector to the roof. For a small price, you can achieve an aerodynamic effect similar to that of the V-neck trailer.

Toy Hauler Camper

Toy Hauler Camper

toy hualer camperToy Haulers are considered RVs with fold down ramps and dedicated “garage” areas for large items like bikes, ATVs, or even watercraft. The built-in garage space is ideal for many campers and makes a great option for a camper conversion.

The most common toy hauler you’ll find is a bumper pull, and it has about the same weight capacity as a cargo trailer of the same size. These trailers will have a smaller garage, and if you plan on keeping that space intact for your toys, keep in mind that you usually have to unload the garage area to use the living space.

If you’re looking to keep the garage area as a dedicated space for large toys and you don’t want those toys spilling into your living area, you should consider a fifth wheel toy hauler. This type separates the bult-in garage area from the living area, so it’s a great option if you’re looking for the best of both worlds.

Best Size Cargo Trailer To Convert

Best Size Cargo Trailer To Convert

The first thing I did before shopping for a trailer was check my vehicles towing capacity. When I converted my trailer, I planned to use it as a temporary place to live by myself.

I knew I wouldn’t be doing much traveling, but that I needed to account for all of my belongings while my tiny home was under construction. With that in mind, I chose a 7’x14’ trailer, which was the perfect size for me.

cargo trailer 5x8
I would recommend a 5’x8’ trailer if you’re a solo camper who wants to get around easily. This is a great option if you don’t have a large truck but do have a mid-sized SUV or smaller truck that can handle a smaller load.

An empty 5’x8’ cargo trailer weighs around 800 lbs. and can hold about 2,200 lbs. of additional weight.

cargo trailer 6x10
I like this size because it’s a great option for two people, or a solo camper traveling with a dog. With the right style bed, you could easily sleep two people in this trailer. I’ve also seen a lot of people put a dog bed under their elevated bed.

An empty 6’x10’ trailer weighs around 1,000 lbs. and can hold about 1,800 lbs. in additional weight.

cargo trailer 6x12
For couples who camp together, this option is a great choice because it allows space for a larger bed and a shower. Plus, it can still be towed by a smaller truck.

An empty 6’x12’ trailer weighs about 1,200 lbs. and can hold about 1,800 lbs. of additional weight.

cargo trailer 7x12
This size trailer is great for couples with a dog or couples who take longer trips, as there’s a bit more room for storing your supplies. Be sure to take into account the weight of this camper when it’s fully loaded, as it may need a larger truck to be towed.

An empty 7’x12’ trailer weighs about 1,300 lbs. and can hold about 1,700 lbs. of additional weight.

cargo trailer 7x14
You might want to consider this option if you’re a small family with a large truck. This is a decent size trailer to fit bunk beds or a large seating area for a family.

An empty 7’x14’ trailer weighs about 1,400 lbs. and can hold about 1,600 lbs. of additional weight.

cargo trailer 7x16
This is an ideal option for a larger family who wants to get away from it all. You’ll need a larger truck to tow this because the weight will be higher, but it’s easily doable.

An empty 7’x16’ trailer weighs about 2,200 lbs. and can hold about 4,700 lbs. of additional weight.

towing a tiny house

How To Design An Enclosed Trailer Camper For You

How To Design An Enclosed Trailer Camper That Is Right For You

One of the first things I learned when building my camper and my tiny house is that planning your design ahead is the most important part of the building process. Start by pinpointing what your needs are and make note of what is most important on that list. Then you can start designing a camper and be confident that it will fit all of your needs.

how to design a tiny house

Can You Put A Bathroom In An Enclosed Trailer?

Can You Put A Bathroom In An Enclosed Trailer

I personally like the convenience of a full bathroom no matter where I’m parked, but some campers prefer to stick to campsites with facilities.

I’m often asked about toilets in tiny spaces. For camping purposes, I would recommend a composting bucket toilet or a portable toilet because they’re waterless and stowable. These will save space in both your water tank and your floorplan.

And, for all of the toilet questions you’re probably afraid to Google, I’ve answered them in my What It’s Really Like To Use A Composting Toilet post.

There are a few options for a shower in a trailer, with the easiest option being a shower stall kit. These can be purchased at your local supply store for around $400 with all parts included and are guaranteed to be lightweight.

If you’re a handy person and want to DIY, you can install a handmade shower like the one featured below. I would start with a shower pan and then install my waterproof enclosure next. I love the look of this modern shower with stainless-steel walls and a waterfall showerhead.

stainless steel shower
tiny house toilet options

Cargo Camper Bedroom Options

Cargo Camper Bedroom Options

When it comes to sleeping in a cargo camper trailer, I would recommend a bed that saves you the most space. With such limited square footage, a standard size bed may fill up the entirety of the trailer space. Here are some sleeping options that will save you the most space.

Elevator Bed

I’ve noticed the elevator bed growing in popularity, and for good reason! Similar to the Murphy bed, this option gives you plenty of floor space. But with the elevator feature, you don’t have to move anything out of the way to reveal the bed — you can lower your mattress to a height that allows you to leave most of your belongings where they are.
cargo camper elevator bed

Raised Bed

A raised bed is perfect for campers who need the extra storage space. They provide plenty of space for storing food, clothing, and maybe even a dog bed.
cargo camper raised bed

Murphy Bed

Murphy beds are a very common space-saving bed option. When folded, it provides open floor space and room to move around the trailer.

Also featured in this trailer is a futon. The futon is a great bed choice because, with a simple maneuver, it serves a second purpose. If you plan to spend a lot of time hanging out inside of your cargo camper, you may like having the seating area.

cargo camper murphy bed

Kitchen In A Cargo Camper

Kitchen In A Cargo Camper

I had so much fun designing and planning the kitchens for my tiny house and camper. It’s where I got to be the most creative and really started to customize my space to fit my needs. Even the minor details in your kitchen can really make a big difference in such a small space.

Kitchen Appliances in a Cargo Camper

store away cooktopI cook all of my meals from scratch and I love to grill out, so with this in mind, I focused more on my outdoor grill and reserved extra counter space in my camper kitchen. If you’re looking to save some counter space, a store-away stovetop is a great option.

I also opted for a convection toaster oven because it requires less power and space than a built-in oven. Take a look at my top appliance recommendations for more advice on how to equip a small kitchen space.

Fridges In A Cargo Camper

refrigerator In a cargo camperRefrigerators and freezers are a little trickier since they aren’t something you can just turn off and store away. You’ll need to be sure the one you choose is compatible with your power source and battery setup.

I don’t have much use for a freezer, so I use a small electric fridge that’s compatible with my solar power. Portable chest refrigerators are also popular options for trailer campers because they run on rechargeable batteries and most of them have a dual freezer option.

Sinks In A Trailer Conversion

undermount sinkA kitchen sink is something I certainly couldn’t live without. Take into account all of its potential uses: dish washing, clothes washing, hand washing (no need for a bathroom sink), and others. For this reason, I would recommend a deep sink to allow for multipurpose use.

I personally prefer an undermount-style sink because of the attachable accessory options, like the countertop slab for additional counter space.

Kitchen Pantry In a Trailer Camper

Let’s not forget about kitchen storage! People often finish their kitchen designs only to realize they forgot to account for a pantry.

kitchen pantry storageMake sure to give yourself enough space to store not only food, but also pots, pans, and dishes.
catty corner kitchenA catty-corner kitchen is a great use of the V shape. This kitchen features a microwave with a range hood, three to four burner stove, oven, and fridge.

Maximizing Storage In A Cargo Trailer Camper

Maximizing Storage In A Cargo Trailer Camper

I love seeing creative ways people incorporate storage into their camper designs. Creating storage space under a bed or bench gives a multi-use of the space. As you can see in this trailer camper, there is plenty of storage space below the bed that folds back up into a bench seat.

cargo camper raised bedIf you’re limited on counter space, take advantage of your walls by mounting and hanging items. Whether it’s with shelves or racks, mounting items to the wall will give you an alternative place to store household items and food.

In a V-nose style trailer, I would utilize the extra inches of the V shape as shelving space. Since I don’t have a bathroom vanity, I would use this space to store my toiletries and towels.

Enclosed Trailer Camper Conversion Design Inspiration

Enclosed Trailer Camper Conversion Design Inspiration

Starting a DIY camper conversion from scratch gives you the freedom to plan and design it to fit your personal needs and aesthetic. Check out these unique designs for some cargo camper inspiration.

Millard’s 5’x10’ Trailer Camper Conversion

Millards Trailer Camper Conversion

The Millard’s loved the idea of #vanlife as a way to hit the road and get away, but they did not want to spend a small fortune on the van and remodel. Instead, they opted for a 5’x10’ DIY trailer conversion. Now they can travel more and spend less, and they didn’t have to sacrifice a single feature!

millards converted cargo camper

Camper Conversion Storage

There’s a very cozy feel in this converted cargo camper. It features a double burner stove and kitchen sink, plus plenty of kitchen storage and storage under the bed. I also love the floating knife rack as a way save countertop and drawer space.


wood panel ceiling and accent walls

Camper Conversion Bedroom

The wood panel ceiling and accent walls in the camper make an elevated design touch. The bedroom features a TV mounted on the wall and an entertainment tray for beverages in bed. Shelving above the bed is perfect for storing a phone or book at night.


stowaway table and seat

Camper Conversion Kitchen

This design really takes advantage of the underbed space with a stowaway table and seat. Under that seat would be a great spot for additional storage, or even a portable toilet. On top of that, there’s tons of storage in the kitchen.

BAHN Camper Works’ Cargo Camper With Tons Of Seating

BAHN Camper Works Cargo Camper

Ryan, the owner of BAHN Camper Works, is an engineer who designs custom campers. When he realized he needed a bigger, higher quality camper to better suit his growing family, he decided to build one. This inspired him to start his business and he now builds custom campers to fit clients’ specific needs.

cargo trailer custome seating area

Trailer Camper Dining

For large families who enjoy game nights and eating meals together, a kitchen table of this size would be perfect. This cargo camper not only features a custom seating area, but also a large kitchen countertop, full-size sink, and large cabinets and drawers.

custom cargo conversion

Trailer Camper Kitchen

There are so many functional details in this custom cargo conversion. They have electrical wall outlets with USB ports next to the couch, a smart home panel is easily accessible over the door, and the furnace makes for a nice decoration in addition to providing heat.

cargo trailer kitchen sink

Trailer Camper Sink

The custom trailer also has a large kitchen sink with a water filtering faucet. It’s a great size for both dishwashing and clothes washing. A spice rack mounted on the cabinet displays a convenient use of storage.

How To Build A DIY Cargo Trailer Camper

How To Build A DIY Cargo Trailer Camper

Before my tiny house, I had never actually built anything before. After finishing my design and plans, I was a bit uneasy about actually beginning the building process. Here are a few tips I learned that will help ensure you’re off to a good start, especially if it’s your first DIY build.

Materials Needed For A DIY Cargo Trailer Camper Conversion

Materials Needed For A DIY Cargo Trailer Camper Conversion

Once you have a solid idea of your cargo camper design, you can start making a shopping list of materials you’ll need to purchase. This preparation will help ensure that you stay on track with your budget and that you won’t have to make multiple trips to your supply store.

Doors

Windows

Insulation

Lumber

Interior siding

Shower stall

Water heater

Toilet

Light fixtures

Vent fan

Appliances

Flooring

Fasteners/Adhesives

Paint

The most important materials you’ll need to get started on your camper conversion are insulation and supplies for walls and floors. There are many insulation options, including foam boards, fiberglass batts, and sheep’s wool.

pro tip

The most popular form of insulation in a cargo trailer is rigid foam board, as it’s affordable, water resistant, sturdy, and most importantly, it gets the job done.

What Tools Do I Need For A DIY Cargo Camper Conversion

What Tools Do I Need For A DIY Cargo Camper Conversion

Like I mentioned earlier, my DIY camper and tiny house were the first things I ever built. I quickly learned that I needed to stock up on some essential tools. Depending on your design, you’ll need a variety of hand, power, and measuring tools. Be sure to check out my detailed tool recommendations.

tiny house tools

Heating And Cooling Options In A Trailer Camper

Heating And Cooling Options In A Trailer Camper

I’ve lived in a tiny home for quite some time now, so I can attest to how important it is to insulate your DIY build.

Enclosed cargo trailers don’t typically have insulation, so if you plan on camping all year round, it’s a good idea to insulate your cargo camper so you’re ready for any climate. Keeping warm in cold climates, and vice versa, is crucial to a pleasant camping experience.

Let’s talk about heating first. For starters, you’ll need to determine whether you plan to camp off grid or not. Once you’ve narrowed it down, think about the size of your trailer and how large of a system you’ll need to heat the entire camper.

options for heating a tiny house

In addition to heating, there are a lot of options for air conditioning. I’ve seen a lot of people install both an air fan and a portable AC unit. The air fan serves as a great backup should anything go wrong with your AC unit while you’re on the road.

I power both my tiny home and cargo camper with solar panels, which took a lot of trial and error at first. Check out what I learned in my post about Air Conditioning On Solar Power.

Plumbing In A Cargo Trailer Camper

Plumbing In A Cargo Trailer Camper

When converting my cargo trailer camper, the idea of plumbing was pretty daunting at first. It was hard to imagine having running water in such a small and mobile unit. As it turns out, it’s actually a lot simpler than I first thought.

Water Inlet

You have a few options for camper plumbing. One is an RV water inlet. If your camping involves campsite hookups, this would be a convenient option for you. These are simple to install and connect and can be used at almost any campgrounds.

RV water hookup

Water Storage Tank

For those who are always on the road or prefer off-grid camping, a water tank would be a better option. With this water source comes a few additional materials and connections. I go into more detail on this in my post about plumbing.

water tank for rv or camper

Regardless of the plumbing option you choose, make sure to take into consideration both a heating source and an inline water filter. Hot water is make or break for some people, so don’t forget it in your planning process if that’s you. I would also recommend placing an inline water filter in your pipes to automatically filter the water coming through.

Powering Your DIY Cargo Trailer Camper

Powering Your DIY Cargo Trailer Camper

Before I started using solar panels, my preferred method of power was a temporary 50-amp plug. This is a great electric option (even in addition to solar power) because it gives you flexibility with your power source. You can find your preferred amp plug and a drop extension cord at any RV store, then you’ll be all set to connect to power from a home or an RV park.

If you choose to go the temporary plug route, make sure to accurately calculate the voltage you’ll need for your size camper. There’s some basic math you’ll need to understand in order to properly power your camper, and I explain that in my Tiny House Electrical Guide.

cargo trailer solar panelsIf you’re on the road quite often and are considering solar power, you’ll want to mount the panels to your roof so you can capture sunlight while on the go. Mounting solar panels isn’t as easy as it looks, but luckily, there are smaller, more flexible panels made specially for RV and camper mounting.

After seven years of living completely off grid and powering my tiny home with solar panels, I’ve compiled some of my tips and tricks in this solar power post. Be sure to check it out if this is your preferred electric source for your cargo camper.

Cost To Convert A Cargo Trailer Into A Camper

What Does It Cost To Convert A Cargo Trailer Into A Camper

A DIY build for your cargo trailer conversion can vary in price depending on the quality of materials and appliances. The good news is, if you’re starting from scratch, you can budget from the beginning and plan ahead for how much or how little you want to spend.

A brand-new trailer, depending on the size, can cost between $4,000 and $6,000. Used trailers (in good shape) can cost as little as $2,000. Always make sure to check if the used trailer needs new tires or any other maintenance, as this can tack on an additional expense.

The largest costs will be materials like windows, insulation, and HVAC. Whether you install these features yourself or hire someone to do it will also largely affect the price. For some, the time and peace of mind saved by hiring a professional is worth the extra money. Keep this in mind when budgeting for your more expensive materials.

Another cost to consider is tools. If this is your first DIY build, you may need to take a trip to a supply store, but keep in mind that tools can get pricey. Stick with the essentials to begin with — you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish with just the basics.

Materials Price
Doors $500–$1,000
Windows $300–$1,000
Insulation $500–$1,000
Lumber $500–$2,000
Interior Siding $500–$1,500
Shower Stall $400–$1,500
Water Heater $500–$1,500
Materials Price
Toilet $20–$800
Light Fixtures $1,000–$2,000
Vent Fan $50–$200
Appliances $400–$4,000
Flooring $300–$1,000
Fasteners/Adhesives $1,000–$1,500
Paint $50–$200

how much does a tiny house cost cta

Four Of My Favorite DIY Cargo Camper Videos

Four Of My Favorite DIY Cargo Camper Videos

I really love the garage this DIYer incorporated into his camper. If you’re an adventurous traveler, this is an awesome way to bring along your camping or sports equipment.

If you’re building your camper to travel with kids, check out this video. It features two different space-saving bed styles, plus seating for a family of four.

Here’s a great cargo camper tour with tons of custom DIY design ideas. This build showcases both an elevator bed and a chest fridge, which are great for small campers.

This video shows a detailed tour of a nice, modern camper. I love the look of this design and the custom bathroom is definitely impressive.

FAQs About Utility Trailer Campers

FAQs About Utility Trailer Campers

There’s a lot to think about if you’re considering converting an enclosed cargo trailer into a camper. The best advice I can give is to do your research, plan ahead, and enjoy the process! Here are some common questions I get that you might also be wondering about.

Are Enclosed Trailers Safe To Sleep In?

With the proper ventilation, yes! There are a few different ways to get airflow in your trailer, and if you’re worried about fresh air, windows can easily be installed in a trailer.

If you’re going to be using propane to power your camper, you’ll want to install a carbon monoxide detector. These are standard in all RVs and should also be installed in cargo campers if gas is being used.

If you’re traveling with pets, you may also want to invest in a temperature monitoring device. This will allow you to check the temperature of your trailer camper from your phone while your pets are home alone. You’ll be notified if something goes wrong and the temperature jumps or drops to dangerous levels.

How Much Does A Cargo Camper Weigh?

A converted cargo camper can weigh anywhere between 2,000 and 6,000 lbs., depending on size and other interior factors. Here’s a great video that goes into detail on weight and vehicle tow capacity

What Kind Of Hitch Do I Need For My Tailer Camper?

Receiver hitches are divided up into five classes. The lower the class, the smaller the vehicle and weight pull capacity. For an SUV pulling a smaller sized trailer camper, a class 2 hitch should do the trick. Large vans and small pickup trucks would work well with a class 3 hitch. For larger trailers and tow vehicles, a class 4 or 5 hitch would work best. Be sure to do your research on what kind is best for your setup.

What Kind Of Truck Do I Need To Pull My Cargo Camper?

People assume they need to rent large trucks to tow trailer campers, but you’d be surprised at how much weight an SUV can pull. You’ll have to do some research on your vehicle to find the exact pull capacity, but I’ve put together some tips on how to find your vehicle towing capacity.

Do Cargo Campers Need To Be Insured?

Since a camper is not motorized, it technically does not need to be insured. You may, however, need to register your camper at the DMV. Some states require this to make sure your trailer camper is safe for the road. Be sure to check with your state, or the states you’ll be driving through, on camper regulations.

Are Converted Cargo Campers Welcome At RV camps?

Campgrounds will allow all types of converted vehicles, but RV parks will sometimes require an official RV registration. You can register a “non-motorized” vehicle as an RV, so it is certainly an option. If you plan to visit an RV park, be sure to check for this requirement.

Can I Have A Toilet And A Shower In My Cargo Trailer Camper?

Yes, there are many options for toilets and showers in cargo campers. Portable toilets and composting toilets are the most popular options because they don’t require water. Read more about waterless toilets in my post about tiny house toilet options.

As long as you take into account a water source (and likely a water heater), you can certainly install a shower in your cargo camper. I’ve seen a lot of V-nose spaces utilized for this. The tricky thing is providing privacy without taking up the space for a wall or door, so I would recommend hanging a curtain around the toilet and shower.

Can You Put A Window In A Cargo Trailer Camper?

A window is an awesome addition to any enclosed cargo camper. Once you’ve measured and cut out your window opening, installing the window frame is quite simple. Having a window allows you to enjoy the view and fresh air, and can really make all the difference in a trailer conversion.

Can I Go Off-Road With My Cargo Camper?

With the right size trailer and hitch, you can certainly drive off-road with your cargo camper. Depending on the quality and style of the trailer you converted, you may want to consider upgrading the suspensions and tires to help driving over rough terrain.

Your Turn!

  • What’s on your must-have list for your cargo trailer-turned-camper?
  • What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing on your DIY camper?
2 Comments
  1. Do you have a list of companies or individuals who do this kinda work converting travel trailers? Lexington SC

  2. Absolutely awesome information. Masterfully delivered. I thank you as I am now planning on building my own “Cargo Camper.”

Leave a Reply