Want to put your DIY skills to the test? Why not try your hand at building a DIY pop-up camper? While it sounds a bit crazy, it can be a fun project to haul on exciting adventures.
Building your own pop-up camper can allow you to create one according to your needs. If you’re tired of questionable craftsmanship from camper manufacturers, now you can confidently know how solid your rig construction is. Unfortunately, you’re the only one to blame if something goes wrong.
Let’s see if a DIY pop-up camper should be your next project!
What Is Considered a Pop Up Camper?
A pop-up camper is a camper that collapses into a more compact structure for transport. Due to the flexibility required, these structures typically use canvas walls. They generally are a step up from tent camping as they can provide features like a more comfortable sleeping space, running water, and potentially even a restroom.
These are typically lightweight and easy to tow. There’s a chance you can tow them with a van or small truck. While they may not be convenient for extended trips or camping in extreme weather, many people have made memories over the years with pop-up campers.
Can You Build Your Own DIY Pop Up Camper?
If you have the correct skills, tools, and patience, you can definitely build a DIY pop-up camper. Depending on the complexity of your design and the amount of space you’re looking to elevate up, you will require varying levels of skill, engineering, and creativity. Building your own pop-up camper has several benefits over purchasing a pop-up camper, as well as can be a fun and cost-effective way to graduate from tent camping.
One caveat is don’t expect to pull into most RV parks or private campgrounds. Some camping businesses restrict the type of campers they allow to stay on their properties. This is the same reason why many Skoolies have issues with camping reservations.
Pro Tip: Before you begin your build, discover What You Need to Know About Pop-Up Campers.
What Are the Benefits of a DIY Pop Up Camper?
There are a few reasons you should build a DIY pop-up camper. Let’s examine some benefits and why you should start brainstorming your future project.
If you haven’t walked across a dealership lot lately, campers can be highly expensive. Building a DIY pop-up camper can save you thousands of dollars. You can take your time and choose the materials that you use that you think will do the best possible job.
Sometimes manufacturers choose an inferior product because it’s cheaper. However, when you build your camper, you are the one that makes those decisions. If you don’t care about a costly feature, you can choose not to install it.
Additionally, by doing the work yourself, you can ensure you do the job right the first time. This can save you money for having to pay for repairs due to lazy craftsmanship. As long as you build carefully, you shouldn’t have to pay twice.
Building a DIY pop-up camper puts you in the driver’s seat for almost every decision for your project. The only limits are your imagination, skills, and bank account. If you want ample natural lighting, you can install many windows to make that possible. Additionally, you can beef up the insulation if you know you will use your DIY pop-up camper in freezing temperatures.
This can be a fun and exciting way to stretch yourself and your skills. You’ll learn to think ahead and how each decision impacts others.
Easier to Do Repairs
Doing repairs on a camper isn’t fun. However, if you build your trailer, it can be much easier. This is because you know where everything is and what parts you use in construction. You may find it easier to diagnose issues and problems because you were responsible for building the camper.
The easier it is to do repairs, the less time you spend on them. This means you can spend more time enjoying your camper and less dealing with an issue. Diagnosing and fixing problems is the last thing you want to do while camping.
How Do You Build a DIY Pop Up Camper?
Building a DIY pop-up camper probably isn’t as complicated as you think, but it’s no walk in the park. Here are some general steps you need to take to turn your dream into a reality. Let’s take a look!
Determine If You’ll Build It on a Trailer or for the Back of a Truck
One of the first decisions you should make is where your pop-up camper will sit. Will you build it on a trailer or in a truck bed? Either way, you need a plan for adding or removing it when you need to use it. Can you afford to lose the trailer by setting a heavy pop-up camper on it constantly?
The pop-up camper likely isn’t going to be very light. Moving it might take a lift or a couple of extra sets of hands. Are you always going to have someone else around to help with it? These are all crucial questions you need to ask when making your decision.
If you’re building on a trailer, we highly recommend starting from some sort of existing trailer. This is because getting a homemade registered, licensed, or insured may be difficult or impossible, depending on your state. Even with the modifications to an existing trailer, however, you may not be able to categorize it as an RV camper.
Pro Tip: You might get some ideas from comparing these pop-up trailers and pop-up truck campers.
Decide on Hard-Sided or Soft-Sided
There are both hard-sided and soft-sided pop up campers. They exist both in travel trailer and truck camper form. For example, you’ve got Hi-Lo campers that are hard-sided pop up trailers and Alaskan campers who make the truck camper version.
You will have some different engineering challenges depending on how you decide. While hard sides may remove having to deal with canvas or vinyl, you’ll have to work with the weight of materials and how to lift the pop-up. In the following video, a team is needed to deploy the upper section.
Decide on Materials
Just like an RV manufacturer, you need to consider the materials you’ll use. These decisions aren’t something you can take lightly. This will affect the overall weight of your camper, where you can use your pop-up camper, and how comfortable you’ll be when using it. You don’t want the finished product to exceed your vehicle’s weight or tow ratings.
For the frame of the camper, you’ll likely have to decide between wood, aluminum or maybe even have aspects of both. The frame needs to be sturdy enough to support the camper as it goes down the road as well as when it’s set up and in use.
Most pop up camber fabric is either cotton canvas or vinyl. However, we have also seen many DIY pop up campers using existing waterproof tents as their fabric sections. For this part of the camper, you might need to be prepared to do some sewing. Some people have had success using vinyl glues to avoid that part, however.
For the braces and supports, some people use simple tent poles, others use mechanical lifters and braces. If you want to get really cool, you’ll go for some gas struts to help deploy the pop up area. Depending on your design, you may need as few as two struts to pop up one end.
Draw Up a Design Plan
You’ve likely already thought a bit about what your DIY pop-up will look like and how it will operate. Now, it’s time to put your thoughts down on paper. You’ll need to figure out the exact dimensions and maybe even do some small tests on design elements. If handy, CAD design software may be useful to create a digital model of how everything will start coming together.
Unlike DIY teardrop campers, there are actually very few existing blueprints or kits available on the internet, likely due to the unique nature of each pop-up camper dream. Even watching YouTube videos probably won’t likely get you a complete design for your build, so you are going to have to put in some real brain power here.
The key to this step is to create the bill of materials (BOM), so you know what supplies you need. You’ll need to source everything, and you may not all of the pieces in the same place.
Pro Tip: Learn more about What Are Pop Up Gizmos (a.k.a “PUGS”) and how you can use one on your pop up build.
Order Parts and Start Building
Once you have your design and bill of materials, it’s time to start ordering parts and building. Home Depot, Lowes, and other big-box retailers will be your friend. You can get many of the materials for your project through them.
Ordering building materials through Amazon and other online retailers can help you save some money. However, they can take time to reach you, or they may be on backorder. As many major RV manufacturers discovered, supply shortages can bring the manufacturing process to a halt. So give yourself time to receive all the parts.
Once you receive the parts, it’s time to start building. We suggest breaking the entire process into stages. This can help you move from one step to the next until you have a finished product. Take time to complete your build and make it a priority. If not, your “weekend DIY project” could sit unfinished in the corner of your garage for months.
Is It Cheaper to Build Your Own Camper?
Building your camper can be cheaper than buying one. However, sometimes it’s best to leave it to the professionals. You’ll defeat the entire purpose if the finished product is a poorly-built cheap camper. You’ll struggle to stay comfortable or put yourself and your fellow campers in danger.
If you know what you’re doing and have the skills, it can be cheaper to build your camper. We’ve seen some incredible DIY trailers far superior to what we see many manufacturers create and at a fraction of the cost. Only you know your abilities and what you can make.
While saving money may be one motivation for building your own DIY pop-up camper, you may also be more interested in the challenge and the satisfaction of building something yourself. Even if the cost comes out similar, you will gain experience and achievement.
Pro Tip: You’ll love having these 15 Pop-Up Camper Accessories You’ll Actually Use in your DIY pop-up camper.
Is a DIY Pop Up Camper Worth It?
A DIY pop-up camper can be a fun project to test your skills. However, you may discover you’re not nearly as up for the task as you thought. Building a trailer isn’t usually an easy endeavor, especially one you can haul down the highway at 65+ mph. You need to know that your finished pop-up camper is safe and that no one will get hurt while driving or spending time inside of it.
If you can achieve this, a DIY pop-up camper is an excellent option. You’ll be able to fashion something sleek and simple that trims away all the unnecessary and focuses only on the things you really want, thereby elevating your camping experiences. A better camping experience means more time camping, and that’s something we always root for!
Would you build a DIY pop-up camper? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!
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