So You Want a Teardrop Trailer

by Ben N on April 2, 2014

camper_kristin_ben_01 (Our Teardrop, not even completely finished yet.)


In case you didn’t know, a “Teardrop Trailer” is a particular style of camper that dates back to the post-war years. Articles and plans were found in POPULAR MECHANICS type magazines, and they were often built from left-over airplane aluminum.

In more recent times, Teardrop Trailers have gained popularity. Not only do they have a great retro design, but they are typically smaller and lighter than other traditional types of campers, and easy to pull with a car, instead of requiring a large truck. This also saves on fuel. (I’ve even talked to people who claim to get BETTER fuel economy pulling the trailer than without, due to aerodynamics. I believe this is true with very particular designs of teardrops, but not MOST of them.)

old article image original

In the past few days, a friend of mine talked about building one (he helped me clear-coat the inside of mine) and another person stopped by our house after seeing mine parked behind my garage. So, maybe it was time to get a little more info out to the public in general. So, here goes.

Most teardrops are 4’x8′ to no more than 6’x12′ for a very large one. They usually have either an aluminum or painted wood exterior. (Although many commercial ones are fiberglass paneled.) A key feature is that the entire inside is just a sleeping area. The galley (kitchen) is on the OUTSIDE, and accessed through a lifted hatch. Cooking is done outside the camper, using the shelves and counter in the galley to prepare and cook food. Teardrops are rigid and insulated, so they are a snap to setup and cozy and warm to sleep in. Some people might install a microwave or air-conditioner, but teardrops usually tend to be on the simple side. Many teardrops are home-built.

DSC_2386I built my own teardrop. I had never done any project like it before. In fact, it’s pretty much my first “real” D.I.Y. project. I bought a set of plans as a PDF download and then printed them out and put them in a three-ring binder for easy use while building the project. The base is a Harbor Freight 4’x8′ utility trailer with 12″ wheels.

On top of that, I built curved plywood walls, cross-spars, and a roof. I cut out the doors and installed wiring for a few 12V lights. The roof was covered with aluminum that I bought from a place that repairs semi-truck trailers. We had a really bad hail storm once with hail-stones the size of golf-balls. My wife’s car was all dinged up (as was everyone’s in our neighborhood) but the teardrop trailer was just fine.

I learned quite a bit working on the camper about electrical, using a router, and other construction skills. Here’s a few key pieces of advice I would give to anyone who wants to build their own:

  • Make it MORE than four feet wide. 4’x8′ utility trailers are affordable, but don’t offer much elbow room if two adults are in the camper. If you can weld, make your own five-foot-wide frame. If you can’t weld, spend the extra money to purchase a wider utility trailer. It’s worth it in the long-run.
  • Water-proof, water-proof, water-proof. It’s amazing how in a few years, water can work it’s ways into the tiniest cracks. Do everything possible to use EXTERIOR-GRADE materials, and really take your time and pay attention to how you caulk. I used a wood finish on the sides, which I LOVE the look of, but they haven’t faired well over time against water damage. The aluminum roof is great, but I do get some water inside the galley, due to the sealing at the hinge. I would recommend treating the galley like the exterior of the teardrop – use weatherproof and durable materials.
  • Ventilate! One advantage of the teardrop is how cozy and warm it is. It’s sealed up well and not very big, so body heat alone can keep it pretty warm on cold nights, but you need to breath in there as well! Use screen windows on BOTH doors and a 12V “Fantastic Vent”. On a hot night, open the windows and set the vent fan to draw air OUT of the trailer. It’s every bit as good as air-conditioning, but can run off a small 12V battery.
  • Avoid “Built-Ins”. This one is up to your personal preference, but I would advise to avoid built-in water tanks and ice boxes. The main reason is for simplicity. I already had a good cooler and water jug for tent camping. The teardrop plans called for building in an ice-box and mounting a water tank below the frame. To me, these just complicate things. It’s harder to clean an ice box than to just pull out a cooler and wash it out. It’s also a lot easier for me to carry my cooler into my kitchen and load it up before a trip. As for a built-in water tank, that means I have to take my entire trailer to a source of water, instead of just walking to a tap at the camp-ground and filling my three-gallon blue water jug.

Overall, a teardrop trailer isn’t hard to build, and it sure is fun to camp in. My wife and I used to camp in a tent, but hated lumpy, un-level ground. I also never liked cooking on a picnic table that rocks back and forth. One morning, I cracked an egg into a frying pan, and it slid right out because the table was SO un-level. Having a teardrop solves all those problems. You have a clean, soft, level bed, a place to lock up your food against the raccoons, and a little bit of electricity for some lighting and maybe a radio.

Yep, having a teardrop trailer is a luxury, without investing in a “Battle Bus” or other large camper that just seems like a house on wheels.

Maybe you would like to make your own teardrop. If so, here’s a few links to help you out.

Plans! A good set of plans is incredibly valuable. I bought the “Cubby” plans from Kuffel Creek. They were well worth it. (Do NOT buy “plans” from eBay, they are pretty much all scams and rip-offs!)

One of the best things you can do while working on a project is to join a community of other people who are into the same hobby. The Teardrops and Tiny Travel Trailers web forum at is a great place to start. There’s lots of people who will answer any questions you have and plenty of “Build Threads” where people show off what they are making, step-by-step, as they build it.

teardrop-trailerLastly, whether you want to build or BUY a teardrop, check out what is commercially available. There’s been a boom of small teardrop manufacturers. You might find that you just want to buy (or maybe even find one used.) Even if you are building, you can get some great ideas from the commercial builders. The best high-end teardrops are made by Camp-Inn. They build gorgeous teardrops in several models and have lots of great accessories. When I was building mine, I visited them and bought a few hard to find parts from them while I was there. Check out their campers at

Whether you build or buy, teardrop trailers are great campers that save fuel, are convenient, and a whole lot of fun…… As long as you don’t mind all the other campers coming over to look at your trailer….


PS: If you would like to see a whole bunch of teardrop trailers, and happen to be in either Wisconsin or upper Illinois, stop at the Cooler Near the Lake teardrop gathering at Wisconsin’s Kohler-Andre State Park from April 24-27, 2014!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 david suzuki May 19, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Hi Ben,

Great article. I own a company that sells Teardrop trailer kits at I think our kits would be extremely helpful to any of your readers who want to build a teardrop trailer. Please feel free to check out our website and if you want to add a link in your page. Thanks again for the great content!

2 Andy Hardy August 8, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Man, what a cool trailer! You may think that since it looks like a “metal box” the temperature inside will become unbearable. Knowing a bit about roofing let me give you some insight about metal roofs on homes that I think may apply here as well. Being metallic then the outside of the Teardrop trailer will actually reflect much of its heat. Also, metal is a conductor and gains heat easily but being constantly exposed to the wind/air (considerably harder to heat) the metal will lose that heat almost as easily as it was gained.
Again, I find the Teardrop trailer to be just awesome and hopefully no one over looks it thinking it may turn into a microwave.

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