Cargo Trailer Camper Conversion | A Comprehensive Guide

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Cargo trailer camper conversion is not a daunting task. It is a challenge. There are complications. Extensive planning and meticulous attention to detail are warranted. Most people will err at some stage and will have to review their strategy. But it can be done and one need not spend a fortune. In this comprehensive guide about cargo trailer camper conversion, we shall discuss all the essentials and the necessary mantras you need to steer clear of a crisis in the making. Let us begin with a short glimpse of what can happen.

Beginners Guide to Cargo Trailer Camper Conversion

Let us take a small cargo trailer, say seven feet by ten feet. A 7×10 cargo trailer has seven square foot of space inside. The indoor height is usually around seventy-five inches or six feet and three inches. You can convert this trailer into a camper, complete with a bed for a fully grown adult, a bathroom and a galley including all essential utilities.

Brian Rogers has a fantastic walkthrough of his cargo trailer camper conversion, highly recommended. Take a look above.

The galley can have a grill or cooktop, ice chest, air conditioner, faucet and small sink, access to the bathroom and vents to the cabin. There can be a foldable table. The table can be complemented with two aluminum chairs. There can be a side cabinet. You can have a full-size bed that can be decked up with a six inches mattress, maybe memory foam. You can have standard power outlets, the lighting of your choice but preferably light emitting diodes, charging ports and more.

The bathroom can have a compost toilet. It can be a wet bath. You can choose a fourteen-gallon tank. There is enough space for a storage rack and also a paper towel holder. The grill or cooktop has to be a pull-out version. The sink and faucet must be folded down. The cutting board can also be retractable.

You can choose a custom or readymade recreational vehicle door. This usually comes with a screen and windows. Do not forget insulation. Insulation panels will suffice. You can get screens if you want more viewing pleasure. With all such installations, you are staring at a total weight of around two thousand and two hundred pounds.

There are of course many options for each of the essentials and accessories you will consider. For instance, if you choose a seamless torsion axle roof with a two-tone exterior, then you are getting an additional six inches of height. Six inches of extra headroom can be a lifesaver for taller people. It also means roomier interiors. A seven by ten cargo trailer may appear to be too cramped and it is indeed so if you consider the typical range of sizes for recreational vehicles or the more luxurious campervans.

It is slightly difficult to go for too many accessories in smaller cargo trailers so you will have more liberty if you have a larger one but that will also mean you will be spending more and the weight of the camper will also be substantially greater.

Cargo Trailer Camper Conversion from Nothing

Let us consider a situation wherein you do not have a cargo trailer, to begin with. Yes, cargo trailer camper conversion is still a relevant wish and an entirely pragmatic option. No, buying a recreational vehicle or a campervan is not necessarily a better proposition in such cases. The campervans listed at reasonable prices are rarely worthwhile.

Recreational vehicles priced nearly a hundred thousand will be somewhat worthwhile. If you spend more, then you can expect some of the finer vehicles. You can complete cargo trailer camper conversion for much less than a hundred grand, actually a fraction of it.


You need a sturdy and reliable frame, to begin with, your cargo trailer camper conversion. You are perhaps aware that cargo trailers have metal roofs. This is a significant attribute. You should choose a reliable heavy duty chassis. This shell can cost you around three thousand to four thousand dollars. You can definitely choose the specifications you like. The shell is like a blank slate.

You will be able to decide what goes in it, on it and with it. The scope of customization and the freedom to choose allows you the luxury to control your costs. You need not factor in gray and black water tanks. You do not have to account for a complicated plumbing system. You may not need multiple drains connecting various outlets. You can choose as simple a design you want. But begin with a tough shell. Do not compromise on the chassis.


Pick a decent sized cargo trailer, one you can haul easily with the vehicle you own and which will not trouble you in any way. You must not feel cramped and yet you do not need too much of shoulder room or headroom. Legroom can be ensured with clever installations. There is no dearth of retractable, fold down, pull out and recessed fittings for campers.

While you can skip the different kinds of tanks and other elaborate installations that take up much space, you cannot do away with plumbing entirely. You can have one channel that will connect your sink to a water line. You may also need an inlet if you do not carry any tank, not even one for your drinking and routine washing needs. Excluding other tanks is helpful as you can have a larger living area.


Cargo trailer camper conversion is a creative exercise. You have the freedom to choose the utilitarian and the discretionary features. You can have as many or as few accessories as you want. You can plan add-ons as you go. You may want some cool features such as a dry rack for outdoor use and a deck. You may choose a more elaborate design to make a luxury camper. At the crux of your cargo trailer, camper conversion should be a composting toilet, a reliable propane system, electric burners, solar panels, and potent batteries. You need energy efficient heater and air conditioner. Don’t go for furnaces. Avoid gas-powered appliances if you cannot carry a large propane tank.

A cargo trailer is usually smaller than the chassis or shell for a camper or recreational vehicle. You may not have enough space or provision for two propane tanks. You cannot operate on one. You must have a battery pack regardless of how many propane tanks you have so one of each would be a better strategy if space constraint is unavoidable.


You must attend to overall safety and the optimum operational condition for all appliances. Avoid a rooftop water tank if you are unsure. The windows should double up as fire escapes. These are basically designed in a manner so they can be pushed out and effectively disassembled. Smoke detector and monitor for carbon monoxide are essential installations. Be careful when you are working on the wiring and mounting. It is better if you get an electrician to get these tasks done.

Unless you are an electrician, plumber, carpenter or professional installer of appliances of various kinds, it is best to let the nitty-gritty of cargo trailer camper conversion to be done by the technicians. They will not charge you much. The job done will be neat and reliable. You will still save a whopping sum of money compared to spending nearly a hundred grand on a quality camper.

Taking into account the various components discussed in this guide till now, the total cost of cargo trailer camper conversion should not exceed ten thousand dollars. Some people will be able to ensure all the discussed components and keep the cost within seven thousand dollars. Such investment includes heavy duty flooring, aluminum roof, and all major systems.

Stepwise Planning for Cargo Trailer Camper Conversion

Make a note of where you stand now. Do you have a cargo trailer or you will buy the chassis? Your subsequent options will depend on this answer. What kind of a camper do you want? It may be a simple one with capacity enough for two adults. It may be for a family of four. You may not want an entertainment and recreational console. You may want some luxury features including such consoles and more. Begin with the basic chassis and then proceed to the next step.

  • Measure the square footage. Factor in the height then. Ensure you have enough space inside. Now decide how much space you need to be available with various essentials folded up, stowed away, rolled back or pulled in. This will allow you to come up with the square footage of space you can assign to installations that cannot be retracted or maneuvered in some way. Cabinets, for instance, need dedicated space. Tanks will need dedicated space. Even a bed will require a bit of dedicated space when it is folded up. You cannot expect the space required to be minimal. The mattress alone will take up a few inches in thickness and several feet in length.


  • Now that you have the numbers at your disposal, make a list of all the essential components you must install in your cargo trailer for it to become a camper. Do not forget nonessentials but you can assign much less significance to them. Once you have all the utilitarian items on the list, check out the options you have and calculate how much space they will take at their respective places of installation. This is necessary as it will help you to plan the layout. Many people recommend coming up with a layout and then working on this step. It is futile to plan a layout when you do not know what kinds of components you will have to make space for. Only the experienced designers and of course the manufacturers of recreational vehicles can come up with a layout beforehand since they know the components that can be fitted into the shell to conform to their floor plan and overall design.


  • The layout should be practical. Forget what is ideal. Do not long for elusive space when it is impossible to attain. Do not think about systems you cannot have for obvious reasons. Manufacturers of recreational vehicles cramp in too many pieces and this is partly why things turn messy in due course of time. You should keep your cargo trailer camper conversion simple. You do not need too many elements in your camper. Ensure the basics and the rest will fall into place. Try to pack in too many components and you will fail to come up with a workable layout. Remember the simple fact that the layout is something you will have to live with throughout the life of the camper unless you are thinking of an overhaul. You can change a faucet or a foldable part in a jiffy. You cannot change the layout anytime you choose.


  • Finalizing the layout and creating the shortlist of all the components would be the last step before you go shopping. Then it is only a matter of buying the right stuff and having them installed, preferably by professionals. If you are installing the various components yourself, make sure you are familiar with the processes and ensure there is no problem with the actual installation. Some of the weakest components of most installations are the screws and nuts, bolts and seals. Whether it is adhesive or you are nailing something into the woodwork, hooking up a few electrical systems or bolting chairs into the heavy duty floor, the joints and attachments are where the whole apparatuses are at their weakest. If you go wrong with these, then things may fall or come apart over a short period of use.

There is a more straightforward option for cargo trailer camper conversion. You can hire companies for the complete transformation. You may choose to use your own cargo trailer. You may choose to buy one, perhaps upon the recommendation of the company. You will get to choose every custom feature and the designer will work on everything before their engineers and technicians get down to work on your cargo trailer camper conversion.