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DIY Tent Camper That Can Fit Any Budget

When I was a kid we did a lot of tent camping, and then one day my dad pulled into the driveway with something magical behind our station wagon.

It had a green wooden box and was about six feet long with a neatly tied down canvas wrapper covering the whole thing.

The homemade popup camper took us to summer adventures that could last longer than the one or two nights my mom was willing to live in a tent – and it did.

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The finished camper all wrapped up and ready to hit the road.

finished and ready

So when I saw instructions for a popup camper built on top of a Harbor Freight cargo trailer frame, I knew I had to share it with you.

User popotus, built his DIY pop up trailer on a ¾ inch plywood subfloor, with a lumber box on top.

The frame is built from pressure treated 2×6 corners and 2×2 rails. While the frame was open, the wiring was concealed inside it to keep it hidden in the finished trailer.

The outside walls are made of ½ inch pressure treated plywood at 2 feet in height to match the popup trailer door, obtained from salvage. The exterior of the box was sheathed in sheet aluminum from Home Depot.

Here’s the frame under construction, built from treated lumber.

the frame

The Harbor Freight trailers come with a light kit, which was simply adapted so that the tail lights mount to the rear panels of the box.

There’s a lot of room inside the trailer for customization. A simple battery and charger system could be added for LED lights or a propane tank could be built in to integrate a stove.

One important factor that I would suggest you consider is high quality memory foam mattresses. Trust me, ours had three inch foam, which was never quite enough.

A view of the bed platforms, partially folded.

finished box with beds

Next, the two folding bed platforms are made of ¾ inch plywood on either side, with large A-frame brackets to support them. They’re attached along one edge with a heavy-duty aluminum piano hinge.

When closed, the two bed platforms create a “lid” over the box that overlaps on all edges to keep it weather tight.

The trailer, without the tent, open and closed.

finished box open
finished box closed

For stability, car scissor jacks were added at the front and rear of the trailer. These allow it to be leveled, and held firmly in place while in camp.

The tent portion is simply an 8 by 12 foot tent from Walmart with the majority of the floor removed. An extra zipper was added to make the door entrance simpler.

Finished trailer popped up, front and rear views.

rear view
front view

A custom rain fly was then created to fit over the top of the trailer to seal it in.

The setup is fairly simple: the beds fold out onto the brackets, then the tent is stretched over the top.

At this point, I think the builder would have been better served by one of Coleman’s easy setup tents, rather than a traditional dome. But, all in all, for a few hundred bucks, a nice little camper with no frills.