Posts Tagged camping

All About Teardrop Trailers: Take Your Tiny Life on The Road

All About Teardrop Trailers: Take Your Tiny Life on The Road

teardrop trailersI’ve been wanting to build my own teardrop trailer for years now, having seen my first teardrop trailer “in the wild” during a visit to Yellowstone National Park. We’d stopped to take some photos of elk and noticed an older couple happily fixing lunch under their pop-up galley hatch. Much to the embarrassment of my friend, I walked up to them and struck up a conversation. (I even got invited to join them for lunch!) Since that moment, I’ve been in love with the simple design of the teardrop trailer.

Whether you’re looking for a full-time living option or a weekend away, a teardrop trailer is a fun and functional tiny living project to take on.

yellowstone national park travel

What Is a Teardrop Trailer?

what is a teardrop trailer

Teardrop trailers originated back in the 1950s and 1960s when they were featured in Popular Science Magazine as a weekend project. They caught on like wildfire as Americans came home from WWII and Americans began to buy cars for the first time. People began to explore all that the US had to offer all from the comfort of their personal cars.

This led people to want a way to camp in a way that was a little bit more comfortable than a tent and campers hadn’t even been invented yet. Picture dad packing up the family for a weekend camping trip. He’d want a trailer he could hook to the back of the car and pull along. Often, these small popup trailers featured storage, perhaps a cooking grill or fold-out dining area (referred to as the galley), and in many cases, a small sleeping area.

This nostalgia explains the popular resurgence of teardrop trailers in the last few years. These trailers are popular with the Boomer Generation (and Millennials looking for an affordable way to camp with a little luxury). With enough space and utility for simple outdoor living, and enough comfort so campers aren’t exactly roughing it, teardrop trailers are a nice weekender solution.

teardrop-trailer-towing

Teardrop trailers are definitely small, they’re somewhere between a step-up from tent camping and a step-down from a typical tiny home, skoolie, conversion van, or traditional camper. There are, however, people who live in teardrop trailers full time (like this teardrop trailer couple on YouTube).

I personally like teardrop trailers because they’re the perfect balance of the creature comforts of home with a great kitchen. Yet, the trailers are small enough to easily tow behind most cars. Having towed my tiny house before, I have a newfound appreciation for smaller trailers—there’s not as much to worry about when you go out on the road.

Because teardrop trailers are meant to pull along behind a car, they’re built with an aerodynamic “teardrop” shape. Which not only saves on gas and makes them way easier to tow but looks great too.

towing a teardrop trailer

Teardrop trailers are an “all-in-one” camping solution. Simply pack in your goods, attach the trailer to your car, and head off on your next adventure. Many people keep them fully stocked so all they have to do is add their fresh groceries on the way out of town and they’re on the road fast.

They weigh very little (most less than 800 pounds), making them easy to tow along without effecting your gas mileage or speed. For camping, they leave a minimal impact, barely touching the ground with two wheels and stabilizing bars. Once you’re ready to move on, in just a few minutes, you fold everything back up and leave no trace. Having a comfy bed and a way to cook meals saves you thousands in hotel room costs and expensive dinners out.

oregon travel

The compact teardrop camper trailer can be used for part-time or full-time living. There are teardrop trailers that function as tiny homes. Some teardrop trailers are large enough to feature a bathroom, kitchen, and shower. Other, smaller teardrop campers simply provide an area for sleeping, storage, and the back galley for cooking. They usually sleep two people comfortably and are perfect for a camping trip.

I like that it’s a small package I can tuck away easily. Since it’s a smaller build, versus building an entire tiny house, it’s an approachable DIY project for almost anyone. That’s what attracted me to them, it was a challenging project that was still achievable and save thousands in the process.

ask the experts about teardrop trailers

Why should someone choose a teardrop trailer over a camper/RV?

rustic trail teardrop trailers
Rustic Trail Teardrop website
Jonathan & Kathy

“They are quick and easy to set up at the campsite as well as lightweight where just about any vehicle can tow one. They can usually fit into a standard garage which is great for those with HOA restrictions. They tow easy for folks that have little to no towing experience.”

camp inn teardrop experts
Camp Inn Teardrop website
Craig Edevold & Cary Winch

“Teardrop campers are the easiest camper to tow and can be towed with the average automobile. This saves having to own larger tow vehicles just for camping. They are also less stressful to tow, great for people with limited towing experience. They also are easy to store and maintain compared to other campers and RVs.”

timberleaf-teardrop-experts
Timberleaf Teardrop website
Kevin Molick

“People who value the ability to spend more time outdoors, have less maintenance, less mechanical complications, and more maneuverability will appreciate a teardrop trailer.”

runaway campers teardrop experts
Runaway Campers website
Stephen Shives

“There are many reasons to choose a mini-camp trailer, but only the individual can determine if it is a suitable option. Some of the benefits of a teardrop over an RV include: affordability; ease of maintenance and storage; and fuel efficiency.”

What Are the Types of Teardrop Trailers?

what are the types of teardrop trailers

There are several types of teardrop trailers. Because teardrop trailers are a great DIY project that’s easily customized, the varieties are practically endless. There are options for different sizes, shapes, and skins. Typically, though, most teardrop trailers fall into a few categories.

The three most popular teardrop trailer options are:

  • Traditional style: aluminum outside, insulated inside.
  • The Woody: Made from layers of wooden panels and a natural wood finish on the outside.
  • The Foamie: Made from insulation foam with an overlay.

teardrop trailer design

There are also various shapes of “teardrop” trailers. The classic teardrop shape is the most popular, but there’s the reverse teardrop, square, and several other shape options. The classic teardrop offers an aerodynamic quality that’s easy to pull along with a car without lag (but most small camper trailers are lightweight enough to pull along without impact) that looks great too. There’s also the canned ham shape trailer, which isn’t as popular but is a fun option as well.

No matter what shape camping trailer or which skin you choose—metal, wood, or foam—most teardrop trailers consist of wooden ribs connecting the two walls resting on top of the floor and anchored to the frame of the trailer. The trailer then sits atop a two-wheel base trailer with a hitch to tow along behind you. The walls are usually made up of layered materials—wood, insulation, and/or aluminum sandwiched together using epoxy or liquid nail.

national parks travel

Teardrop trailers are relatively easy to build and take minimal woodworking skills. Teardrop trailer kits and parts are so readily available, so it’s easy to piece together a part-DIY and part store-bought version of a camper trailer. The most challenging piece of a teardrop trailer to build is the hatch for the galley kitchen (depending on the size and shape of your trailer). But overall, a teardrop trailer is a fairly easy project even for beginners and a simpler design can make it manageable for just about anyone. Many teardrop trailers even feature a small table that folds out for eating, a covered space for food preparation (or relaxing), and a sleeping spot. Basically, it’s an all-in-one camping solution, a home away from home.

A teardrop trailer is perfect for a weekend away, to supplement as your tiny home when you travel, or with the right build, a full-time dwelling. It can even serve as a guest bedroom if you live in a tiny house!

ask the experts about teardrop trailers

What do most people get wrong about teardrop trailer camping?

rustic trail teardrop trailers
Rustic Trail Teardrop website
Jonathan & Kathy

“Underestimating what their true needs and abilities are. We have had customers who went smaller only to find out they needed larger because of physical limitations.”

camp inn teardrop experts
Camp Inn Teardrop website
Craig Edevold & Cary Winch

“The struggle we see with someone new to teardrop camping is trying to use their decades of tent camping experience as a reference to how to teardrop camp. Just because you are used to doing something one way while tent camping does not mean you should continue exactly the same in a teardrop camper. Teardrop camping should be easier than tent camping. For example, a teardrop with a sink and built in water system. This is much simpler than using tent camping methods.That can take a little bit to get one’s head around that after doing it the tent camping way for decades.”

timberleaf-teardrop-experts
Timberleaf Teardrop website
Kevin Molick

“Many assume they cannot go off road. many teardrops are now able to go wherever any 4wd can pull it.”

runaway campers teardrop experts
Runaway Campers website
Stephen Shives

“It’s not RVing, it’s CAMPING! Most of your time should be spent outdoors; your mini-camper is a comfortable place to sleep at night.”

How Much Is A Teardrop Trailer?

how much is a teardrop trailer

If you’re DIY-ing your trailer, you can get away with the buildout budgeted anywhere from $500 to thousands of dollars, but it seems like the sweet spot is $2000-$4000. Buying a teardrop trailer or mini camping trailer readymade will run you between $10,000-$20,000, so opting to DIY is a cost-saving endeavor. As with all DIY projects, your budget is determined by how complex or simple you choose to make it.

Here are a few cost breakdowns of DIY teardrop trailers:

In the debate of DIY vs custom made camping trailers, there are a few different options to choose from. You could buy a teardrop trailer kit or follow a DIY tutorial/guide and source all of the materials and labor yourself. You could also go out and buy a custom-made trailer (the most expensive option). Most teardrop trailer enthusiasts choose to DIY because frankly, it’s a fun project to show off!

national park

For teardrop trailer kits, check out The Teardroppers, which offers an array of teardrop trailer kit options. The Chesapeake Light Craft kit is also a fun and unique teardrop trailer kit option, so beautiful it almost looks like a piece of sculpture.

As for pre-built custom trailers, if that’s the route you choose to go, there are many options out there ready to buy (and to have customized to your preference):

If you decide to build it yourself, the most important thing is to have fun with the project and find a camping trailer design you’re excited about. Teardrop trailers are all about carefree camping and enjoying the mobility of taking your home on the road.

For the cost of a few nights at a hotel, you can build a teardrop trailer and take your bed anywhere you want to go!

ask the experts about teardrop trailers

If you were to buy a teardrop trailer, what three things would you look for when evaluating a model for sale?

rustic trail teardrop trailers
Rustic Trail Teardrop website
Jonathan & Kathy

“Price point, quality of construction and materials used, and features for the money.”

camp inn teardrop experts
Camp Inn Teardrop website
Craig Edevold & Cary Winch

“1) Intended years of service. For some a teardrop camper is a stepping stone to larger campers. In this case an older used teardrop or a basic “entry level” model is ideal. For those who plan to travel well into their retirement years going to a more refined durable would be more practical in the long run. 2) Features and options. Our experience is the only regrets most teardrop buyers have is not getting enough options and accessories when they get their teardrop. Buy right the first time. 3) Reviews and owner feedback. Find an online forum for the brands you are looking and participate on there beforehand. Find out how happy the owners are when using their campers. Be apprehensive about asking input on forums about options and accessories, the unique configurations are often the most vocal.”

timberleaf-teardrop-experts
Timberleaf Teardrop website
Kevin Molick

“Fit and finish, aerodynamic profile and ergonomic layout”

runaway campers teardrop experts
Runaway Campers website
Stephen Shives

“The company’s/brand’s reputation for quality and service. Will the size be adequate for my needs. Can options be easily added later.”

Ready to Build? Here’s How to Start Your Teardrop Trailer Project

how to start your teardrop trailer project

Just like I harp on planning with any tiny house build, a great teardrop build begins with planning too. I’ve found many tutorials and build walk-throughs online to get a feel for both the project and the lifestyle associated with teardrop trailers.

I recommend beginning with the Teardrop Trailer Build post on planning to get started. You may also want to explore the resources at Oregon Trailer. Teardrop trailers can be outfitted with water access, electricity, ventilation, heating, and even plumbing (again, depending on the size and your plans for the trailer).

oregon travel mount hood

There are many teardrop trailer plans and building guides out there. A few to explore are:

ask the experts about teardrop trailers

What advice would you give to someone who wants to build their own teardrop trailer?

rustic trail teardrop trailers
Rustic Trail Teardrop website
Jonathan & Kathy

“When you build something the first time that is when you make the most of your mistakes. It usually takes 3-4 to work out the problems. If a person is highly skilled in construction and does a lot of research then I say go for it. Although the old saying that you can’t beat a man at his own game still holds true.”

camp inn teardrop experts
Camp Inn Teardrop website
Craig Edevold & Cary Winch

“Plan to be involved in this hobby for years to come. Most teardrop home-builders will typically end up building at least three campers in time before they are truly satisfied with their creation.”

timberleaf-teardrop-experts
Timberleaf Teardrop website
Kevin Molick

“Use a welded frame that will outlast the top structure, use kiln dried lumber for the cabin, apply aluminum skins to the undercarriage, apply three coats of spar varnish to the exterior before applying sheet aluminum.”

runaway campers teardrop experts
Runaway Campers website
Stephen Shives

“If you have a target date you’d like/need to use it, be honest with yourself about the skills and time you have to invest to finish the project to the level of your own satisfaction.”

Choosing a Camping Trailer Base, Parts, and Accessories

choosing a trailer base and accessories

If you plan to build a teardrop trailer, finding all the parts and accessories is a big step in the process for your build. I’ve spent hours researching and selecting each item that is going to go into my build. The biggest item you’ll need is the trailer itself.

Trailer bases for teardrop trailers are generally available in 4 x 8 foot or 5 x 8-foot sizes, but some people make their own custom sizes. As long as your trailer meets DOT requirements and it can hold the weight of your build, you can make it any size you want. Look at various teardrop trailer plans to decide on the size base you want. For those who don’t want to build their own trailer, many big box stores (like Home Depot, Harbor Freight or Northern Tool) sell towing trailers to use as the base of your teardrop trailer.

teardrop trailer for building

From there, you’ll need to figure out what the materials are needed for the outer shell of your teardrop trailer. Your two main options are to skin it in a stainless steel or aluminum cladding or go with a more natural look like the “Woodie” style. My plan is to go with stainless steel as it’s the most durable option and looks great too, the downside is potential for “tin canning” which causes ripples in the metal as it expands and contracts in the heat.

The interior structure can be built from your standard materials whether it’s standard 2x4s or a skeletonized piece of plywood or MDF. The two big considerations to take into account here is what tools you have available to you (plus your ability to use them) and weight. Options like MDF can add several hundred pounds to your build, so make sure your trailer can handle the weight.

oregon coast travel

The galley is the most difficult but iconic element of the teardrop. Even after years of woodworking and building my own house, I’m intimidated by its complex curves. To lift and hold open the galley hatch you’ll need struts, the hydraulic component for opening the back door.

Another consideration is that you’ll need to balance structural integrity with insulation in the walls. Many people “skeletonize” the walls with a router on MDF or plywood, allowing a ridged frame while still keeping you warm inside. My plan is to create my wall panels by cutting them with a CNC machine to create the cavities for the ridged insulation foam.

exploring with a teardrop trailer

Finally, many people want to have some basic power in their teardrop to charge their phones, run a few LED lights, and power a Fantastic Fan. Some even go as far as having AC in their trailers. For most people, a pretty simple power system and a couple of batteries will meet your needs, if you have a solar panel to top up along the way. You also should make plans to connect to shore power because many campsites will have an outlet for you to connect to.

The best places I’ve found for compact appliances, trailer parts, and accessories are below, but Amazon and eBay also offer a big selection of teardrop trailer parts and accessories, like fans, doors, and appliances.

If you’re looking for a fun way to spend the weekend or explore the world, then a teardrop trailer is a great DIY tiny life project to take on. I would suggest trying a smaller trailer as your first build to see how you like it, then expand from there.

roadtrip with a teardrop trailer

As I said, you may even decide to design your teardrop as a tiny house, or as a “vacation tiny house” for camping. Teardrop trailers certainly beat roughing it, offering you a nice, comfortable bed, a place to cook, and storage in a small, easy-to-tow package.

ask the experts about teardrop trailers

If someone wants to get into teardrop trailer camping, what advice would you give to someone starting out?

rustic trail teardrop trailers
Rustic Trail Teardrop website
Jonathan & Kathy

“Don’t over think it but don’t under think it either. Look at several different models and make a list of essentials and start there. Don’t buy a bunch of stuff that you might not need just because of the excitement of doing something new. The camping industry thrives on people over spending on cheap made stuff that they may not need simply because they are excited about their new adventure.”

camp inn teardrop experts
Camp Inn Teardrop website
Craig Edevold & Cary Winch

“Look at how you travel, in distance, time on the road and type of camping venues. Take this and double, maybe triple, it all because once you go from tent camping to a teardrop camper you will travel far more often, far more distance and in locations you never thought you would. Use this increased travel potential for determining your teardrop camper needs.”

timberleaf-teardrop-experts
Timberleaf Teardrop website
Kevin Molick

“Make sure their tow vehicle is rated for at least 50% over the actual weight of the trailer. Many buyers assume their little car can tow a 1500 lbs trailer if their rating is 1500 lbs. They should factor in gear, water and supplies and weight of car passengers.”

runaway campers teardrop experts
Runaway Campers website
Stephen Shives

“Keep it simple to start and don’t go all out buying every camping accessory that looks cool. After several times out, you will discover the things you need the most, and won’t have wasted time and money on the things you may never use.”

Your Turn!

  • Would you like a teardrop trailer for fulltime living or just camping?
  • What’s your favorite teardrop trailer design?