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How to Turn a Utility Trailer Into a Camper

How to Turn a Utility Trailer Into a Camper

With so many people interested in RVing, it can be difficult to locate a rig that suits your camping style and budget. Some find that converting an enclosed utility trailer into a camper is an inexpensive way to design their RV. This gives them flexibility at a campsite, plus the price of conversion can be tens of thousands less than purchasing an existing RV.

Let’s explore how this actually works and if a cargo trailer might be the right conversion project for you.

Can You Sleep in a Cargo Trailer?

You can definitely bed down in a cargo trailer. However, getting a good night’s sleep might be difficult. You’ll need to turn the trailer into a camper, creating a comfortable sleeping space. You can do that many ways with built-ins, a mattress, a bed topper, or in a pinch, an air mattress.

One consideration when sleeping in a cargo trailer (besides comfort) is ventilation. If you camp in an empty cargo trailer before converting it, you’ll need to keep the door open during hot evenings or wear extra clothing during a cold spell. Without insulation to keep heat in (or out), an enclosed trailer can be uncomfortable in any season. So let’s look at the best way to turn your utility or cargo trailer into a proper camper.

Converting my Cargo Trailer into an RV Camper!

Can You Turn a Utility Trailer Into a Camper?

It’s now popular to turn anything on four wheels into a camper, and an enclosed utility trailer is perfect for that! With walls, a ceiling, and empty floor space, you have a blank canvas on which to create your own custom RV. 

cargo trailer interior
Before renovation cargo trailers are very sparse and usually have no windows.

Insulating a Cargo Trailer

Any cargo trailer conversion should start by installing insulation. Begin with the floor, insulating the corners where walls meet flooring, making sure the floor is waterproof. You may even choose to lay down a flexible subfloor that will be the foundation for hardwood or vinyl flooring. That will give the bottom of your utility trailer camper some insulation.

Once you’ve finished the floor, apply styrofoam sheets with caulking or spray foam on the seams of the trailer’s roof with spray adhesive. Once the insulation sets, choose your ceiling material and attach that over the styrofoam with screws.

Finally, attach styrofoam insulation sheets to the walls of the trailer. Some even use wool in the form of blanket material if they use the RV in cold regions for any period.

Once the enclosed trailer is insulated, build a floor with a skeleton of a 1x2 adhered directly to the floor and build a proper floor on the skeleton. Or, if laying hardwood or vinyl material, lay it on the subfloor you have created. 

cargo trailer camper heating
Some people choose to add heating and AC as well. A mini split Is a good way to do that.

Adding Shore Power to an Enclosed Cargo Trailer

Before cutting windows or placing finished wall materials, decide where to put electrical outlets, power supplies, and 12 volt and USB outlets. Then, run your electrical lines on the exterior walls where needed. If you’re wiring your cargo trailer with shore power, plan for an exterior outlet to be plugged into shore power. However, if you’ll be using an all-in-one power generator like a Jackery solar generator, you’ll need no exterior cut unless you are directly attaching the solar generator to solar panels on the roof.

Once the power is on, you have free reign to design the interior layout of your utility trailer camper. Place wall material like a hardy board, beadboard, or even drywall over the insulation sheets on the walls. If you’re splitting the space, add stud walls, then finish them with your wall material of choice.

Pro Tip: Interested in unique camper conversions? Find out Do Ambulance Conversions Make Good Campers?

cargo trailer rv conversion
Conversions will need to include insulation and plumbing.

Adding Plumbing to an Enclosed Cargo Trailer

One of the easiest ways to add plumbing to your trailer would be to include a closed water system. Carry fresh water in a 5-gallon container, with another dedicated to gray water. Attach each to a sink using tubing and a USB rechargeable pump that pulls fresh water through a faucet above the sink. Gravity will pull gray water from the sink into the gray water tank below it.

If you choose to install a complete water system in the cargo trailer camper, you’ll have to use precious space for enclosed water tanks. That means running piping to and from sinks, showers, or toilets. And if you don’t use a compostable toilet, you’ll need to dedicate a black tank. These tanks need to have interior and exterior access for dumping and filling, and most cargo trailers don’t have room to mount water tanks. This means that all tanks must be mounted inside the trailer, taking up already limited living space.

How Much Does a Cargo Trailer Cost?

Depending upon the size and style of the cargo trailer, you can count on spending from $3,000 to $16,000 for an empty shell. This cost is for double-axle trailers, as smaller, single-axle trailers can’t handle more than 3,500 lbs of weight. That limitation wouldn’t allow your build-out to include much in the way of building materials, appliances, or water tanks.

Truck towing 5th wheel and cargo trailer.
Cargo trailers can make comfortable and easy camper conversions.

How Much Does It Cost to Build Your Own Utility Trailer Camper? 

The conversion cost of your utility trailer camper depends on the complexity of the build and the cost of the materials. For those who don’t want to put wallboard or add appliances, you might only spend a thousand dollars on insulation. You may also opt to put a cot in for sleeping rather than building an attached bed frame or table.

But for those who want a trailer that feels like home, the cost can reach up to $5,000 or $6,000. This might include finished walls and built-in furniture like beds, dining tables, and storage spaces, as well as a camp kitchen. Add solar panels and a power system, and the price goes up several thousand dollars.

These costs can be mitigated somewhat by doing most of the work yourself, as labor charges may be your biggest expense.

Pro Tip: Ready to install solar panels? We found The Best Ways for Mounting Solar Panels on an RV Roof

cargo camper
Design a one of a kind camper perfect for all of your adventures.

Do Cargo Trailers Make Good Campers? 

Compared to a dedicated camper trailer, cargo trailers are not as well suited for the task. This is because they tend to be narrower and are not insulated or designed to be lived in. With enough work, however, they can become cozy homes on wheels.

Most cargo trailers can be converted into comfortable and very useful campers. What makes them appealing to many is their initial open floorplan. That allows owners to create an RV trailer that meets their individual needs and desires. If planned accordingly, a trailer that starts with nothing can be a one-of-a-kind camper that RVers use for many years.

These cargo trailer campers are rugged and towable to many off-the-beaten-path destinations. Because of their relatively short length, most tow vehicles can access many campsites that might not accommodate larger RV trailers. And with their unassuming appearance on the outside, most passersby will not know that there is a full camper housed within.

We Renovated A 20 Year-Old Truck Camper Into A Luxury Overland Vehicle

Is It Worth It to Turn a Utility Trailer Into a Camper? 

If designing your own RV floorplan interests you, converting a utility trailer into a camper is the project for you. The finished project will give you a unique camper built around your own needs, and it can do so while keeping you on budget. This means that you’ll have more money to spend on camping experiences with family and friends.

Will you turn your utility trailer into a camper? Drop a comment below!

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Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
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