Your Ultimate Guide to Cargo Trailer Conversions

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Converting a utility trailer can have amazing results and let you easily stealth camp.

Are you sick of searching for a quality, low-cost camper? Do you want the durability of an Airstream without spending tens of thousands of dollars? If so, you may want to consider a cargo trailer conversion.

Typically made to last with riveted aluminum and steel, you can design these trailers however you wish. For many DIYers, they’re the perfect marriage between quality and affordability.

What goes into turning these metal shells into a home on wheels? Keep reading to find out. 

Do Cargo Trailers Make Good Campers? 

Will these trailers designed for utility make a good camper? Everyone will have their own opinion, but if you ask us, absolutely!

The great thing about cargo trailer conversions is that you can customize them however you want. They can be as minimal as you like or have as many amenities as a small camper

We think cargo trailer conversions are better suited for travelers who don’t mind sacrificing a little luxury for affordability and freedom. You probably won’t have the same experience in a converted cargo trailer as you would in a decked-out 40-foot fifth wheel.

Instead, they’re great for adventure seekers who want to travel with the essentials, who want a cozy place to rest their heads, and who don’t want to break the bank. 

A white cargo trailer with a wood design and lights along the roof has been converted to a mobile business.

How Do You Convert an Enclosed Trailer to a Camper? 

How do you convert one of these enclosed utility trailers into a camper? It depends on the amenities you want.

Will you want a fully functional kitchen? A bathroom? A place to sit that’s not your bed? Will you have other family members or pets traveling with you? These factors will all influence how you design your camper.

For an excellent example of a 7×12 cargo camper conversion, take a look at the video below. You’ll see that this family was able to fit a queen-sized bed, a small kitchen, a dinette that converts into a bed, and a small bathroom into only 84 square feet of space. With plenty of storage leftover, no less!

See the ultimate cargo trailer to camper conversion!

They achieve this with plenty of creativity and craftsmanship. The bed is lifted, providing storage underneath, the dinette holds a hidden third seat and more storage, and every square inch of space serves a purpose. 

Can You Insulate an Enclosed Trailer? 

Will you be staying in very hot or cold climates? If so, you may want to install insulation. In most cargo trailers, you’ll find studs with metal square tubing (or some metal framing).

Some studs are exposed, while others are under a wall of plywood or sheet metal. Like a house, the space between the studs is where you want your insulation.

We recommend using some foam board, like this FOAMULAR 1-inch Foam Board Insulation. It’s easy to work with, and it will give you a decent amount of R-value (rated at R-5 for only one inch of thickness).

You could also utilize spray foam for your insulation. While spray foam is a bit more expensive, it will provide an excellent seal and plenty of R-value (at least 5 – 7 per inch).

For more information on insulating your cargo trailer, check out this excellent video.

Pro Tip: For more info on the insulation you’ll need for an RV, check out the Ultimate Guide for Keeping Comfortable (And Saving Money).

How Do You Frame an Enclosed Trailer? 

If you want your cargo trailer to be very well insulated, you may want to consider framing it up like a house. This will also give you the option to add interior walls. You should have plenty of wooden studs to attach to if you want to install built-in shelves, cabinetry, and more. 

Here’s a fantastic example of a framed-up cargo trailer.

To do this, you’ll want to use 1×2” wooden strapping. Attach the strapping to the existing metal studs with self-tapping screws to add an extra inch of insulation to your walls and ceiling.

You can also frame up your floor with a thicker wooden strapping to add more space for insulation. Create a grid-like pattern on the floor that gives you sections where you’ll place the insulation.

You can use foam board, spray foam, or even Roxul Mineral Foam Board for areas at least 2-inches thick. 

Roxul Rockboard 60, Mineral Wool Board, 2 Inch (4PK)
  • 6 pound per cubic foot density
  • Rigid mineral wool board

How Do You Install a Toilet in an Enclosed Trailer?

First, you’ll need to decide which type of toilet you want to use. If you plan on using an alternative toilet, like a cassette toilet or a composting toilet, the installation process should be simple.

Because these toilets are usually self-contained, all you’ll need to worry about is holding it in place (and perhaps installing a small fan). Many toilets, such as the Nature’s Head Composting Toilet and Dometic Portable Toilet, have brackets you’ll need to attach to your flooring. 

Dometic 1223.0154 301097206 970-Series Portable Toilet - 2.6 Gallon, Gray
  • PORTABLE AND POWERFUL FLUSHING: Dometic Portable Toilet is an excellent choice for camping, outdoor events, RV trips, or...
  • HIGH-STRENGTH CONSTRUCTION: Made with high-density polyethylene, this toilet can withstand harsh environments and is...

If you decide to go with a traditional toilet, you’ll need to go through installing a black tank and then plumbing the toilet to that black tank.

This will involve cutting a hole through your subfloor for the piping, installing a grommet and flange for the toilet, and attaching a black tank to the underbelly of your cargo trailer. For a more detailed tutorial, check out the video below. 

Watch a tutorial on how to install a traditional toilet in a cargo trailer camper conversion

Is It Worth Converting a Cargo Trailer to a Camper? 

Is all of this work worth it? Or should you purchase a camper that’s ready to go? This depends on how quickly you want to get on the road. If you’re ready to head out and aren’t worried about keeping a camper for long-term use, you might be better off either buying or renting a basic RV.

If you have time for a fun DIY project and want a camper that should stand the test of time, we think it’s worth it!

Are you planning on doing a cargo trailer conversion? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Last update on 2024-06-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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