Pop-up campers are more aerodynamic than full-size camper trailers, helping to save fuel costs for the traveler. Camper sides slide out and a portion of the roof "pops up" during setup. Hard-shell pop-up campers are made of heavy materials such as plywood or metal, however, increasing fuel consumption when towing. The easiest and lightest type of DIY pop-up camper is a tent style camper that combines the rigid frame of a camper trailer with a soft top similar to a tent. The tent is erected at the campsite and folded down on the road into the rigid frame.
1. Purchase a tent and a trailer that are as close to the same width and length as possible.
2. Install the outdoor carpet or vinyl flooring on the bed of the trailer. You may need to install a smooth plywood subfloor for vinyl flooring, depending on the manufacturer's recommendations.
3. Install paneling along the inside sides of the trailer bed if desired. Use an installation method such as glue or short screws that does not pierce through to the outside.
4. Build support for a raised bed frame at one end of the camper using the 2x4 lumber. Add plywood for the bed base. Use the under-bed space for storage and leave open for easy access. Secure each leg of the frame to the floor of the trailer with the L-brackets. Place a mattress on the bed frame.
5. Build a second bed on the other side of the camper that converts to a bench seat. Cut the remaining sheet of plywood into two equal widths: one for the seat back and the other for the seat bench. Use the plywood in its folded position during the day to create a bench seat for sitting. Fold the seat out at night and swing three hinged legs down to support it. Secure the two plywood halves together with hinges. Build a bed frame similar to the first one but half the size and attach to the floor with the L-brackets. This is for the bench seat portion of the bed. Cut three 2x4 lengths of lumber to fit under the bench seat for legs and secure to the plywood. Measure the seat and back, and cut two pieces of foam to these dimensions. Secure the foam to the seat and back. Cover with fabric.
6. Install other amenities as desired such as a portable toilet, a gas stove and refrigerator or a fold-up table.
7. Open the tent and cut away the floor, leaving a 2-inch border all the way around for attaching to the trailer. Stick long lengths of the hook and loop tape to the bottom side of the border left around the floor. Place the other side of the tape on the top rail of the utility trailer. Attach the tent to the trailer by securing the adhesive.
8. Store the flexible poles that come with the tent under the bed. Use them to support the tent when you reach the campsite and your DIY pop-up camper is ready to use. Cover the entire trailer with a tarp secured with bungee cords while traveling on the road.
Items you will need
- Large tent
- Heavy duty trailer with four solid sides
- Outdoor carpet or vinyl flooring with recommended adhesive
- Paneling (optional)
- 2x4 lumber
- 2 sheets of plywood
- Circular saw
- 8 L-brackets with nails or screws
- 5 hinges with screws
- Foam for bench seat and seat back cushions
- Fabric to cover foam
- Sewing machine
- Utility scissors
- Heavy duty sticky-back hook and loop tape
- Alternately, you can sew the tent around the top rail using the border left on the floor to create a sleeve.
- Ensure that everything in the camper is securely tied down before traveling on the road.
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