I’ve been an avid camper since I was a kid. My family on my dad’s side is quite outdoorsy, and as a result I spent a lot of time tenting and camping in campers when I was little. I discovered backpacking in the sixth grade, during a brief stint in the Boy Scouts, and that stayed with me all through high school and the first few years of college. I did a lot of hiking and backpacking.
In my twenties, I backed off to mostly just car camping. Pull up to a camp site, unpack the car/truck, throw up a tent, get a fire going and inside of an hour you’ve got a camp site. During my single years I had a nice little Outback Sport, which was perfect for me, my dog and a mountain bike.
When my girlfriend and I got together, she already had two children, and we managed to take that same Outback Sport on a two week trip through Yellowstone park and part of Wyoming, and then back home to Montana. It was cramped. We had to put a big cloth topper on the car, which we dubbed “the hamburger” because it vaguely resembled a giant hamburger sitting up there. My poor dog had just enough space in the back to curl up comfortably, but it was awfully tight for everyone. That trip convinced us both that it was time to join the ranks of middle class Americans everywhere, and buy a minivan. We still own that Dodge Grand Caravan and while it’s had it’s problems, it’s served us pretty well. We’ve taken many road trips, some camping trips, with and without the kids, in that van.
Last Summer however, my SO floated the idea of getting a camper. I’ve been firmly against that my entire life. Maybe when I hit my sixties, but for now, no big, expensive camper for me. Then not long after that, she came across a Youtube video about teardrop campers. Not the full size campers, but the little ones just big enough to sleep in, with a hatch that lifts up on the back to reveal a galley. I thought it was pretty cool but didn’t really consider it an option. The idea stuck in my head though and a few weeks later I watched that Youtube video again.
The idea of being able to just back that puppy into a camp site and be set up in ten minutes really appealed to me. Weekend trips to see friends three hours away would be much easier, as well as road trips and vacations. Plus, there is clearly a massive community built around these things, with conventions and get-togethers all over the country every year. That could be a lot of fun too.
I thought about it all day, and then we talked about it as we crawled into bed that night. We sat and watched more videos about them, did some reading on forums and news articles and before we went to sleep, we’d made up our minds that we were going to get a teardrop trailer.
A week or so of research resulted in us settling on a Little Guy, 6×10 Silver Shadow with just about all the options. To get one locally was going to cost about $17,000. That’s about what we paid for our van. About $2500 of that price tag was just shipping, because the local dealer only kept one show model and had none in stock. More googling turned up lots in nearby states. So we decided that the following spring we would secure a loan and I would make a trip to wherever and pick one up. A few hundred dollars in gas, sleeping in the van and eating on the road, I could probably do it in a weekend and save us $2000 or more.
A few months went by with us occasionally talking about it, revising options, thinking of ways that I could build some of those options in on my own, and looking at used models. We figured we could probably get it down to around $12000 if we bought used and made some modifications on our own, in lieu of some of the manufacturer’s options.
Fast forward to February, and she suggests that maybe I build one instead. I dismissed that idea almost immediately. I’m pretty handy with electronics and I can manage my way around simple wood working and home maintenance, but this would be a big project. I found the idea pretty intimidating. I said I didn’t think I’d be able to do it and at the time, that seemed the end of that idea.
As a tinkerer in electronics and general home hackery, I spend a lot of time on instructables.com. A few weeks ago, I just happened across plans for a teardrop camper. Granted, the particular plans I found were a bit hack-ish, in a bad way, and I doubted the structural stability of the finished product but after reading through it and looking at all the photos, I found myself mentally correcting many of his mistakes and thinking up better ways to accomplish what he was trying to do. I realized that yes, this was indeed something I could tackle. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be doable even at my level.
I did more research, looked over plans and also a few basic how-to guides that went into great detail about materials, do’s and don’ts, and lots of great advice and ideas. I then spent a few days watching Youtube walk-thru videos. Pretty soon, I found myself with a two page parts list and combing over various home improvement and automotive websites, pricing out parts and materials. A few more days went by, I revised my list a few times, rounded up on everything, added about $1500 for x-factor, and came to an estimate of about $6500 to build one on my own.
So that’s the plan now. We’ll take out a personal loan and hopefully I’ll start piecing the thing together in my garage within the next month. I have no idea how long it will take me. I intend to document not only the build, but the subsequent trip we’re planning on taking it on this summer.
As I said, I don’t think it’ll be easy. It’s by far the biggest project I’ve taken on, but it’s certainly doable.