A tent-camping gear trailer makes tent camping more comfortable by greatly increasing cargo space and greatly reducing the time and effort spent moving camping equipment from house to vehicle to campsite.
For most family campers, an equipment trailer will be a very light, utility trailer that has been adapted to carry camping gear. A do-it-yourself, homemade, trailer enclosure protects gear from the weather.
A gear trailer offers a separate transport and storage space for family camping gear, which means that much gear can be left in the trailer throughout camping season, instead of needing to be loaded and unloaded from a vehicle.
A utility trailer is a good investment in family tent camping, as well as for odd jobs around the home.
With smaller cars
A camping equipment trailer allows tent campers who do not own a large family vehicle the means to bring a comfortable camping setup to a campsite.
A compact gear trailer can offer triple the cargo space of a compact car.
Gear-hauling trailers offer families with compact cars and CUVs the ability to tent camp with their current vehicle. They allow families to get by with smaller cars and to get better fuel economy all year round.
By offering another axle to support cargo weight, trailers allow family vehicles more capability to transport equipment.
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Packing a gear trailer
During camping season, much of the camping equipment can be kept packed in the gear trailer and kept ready for camping, instead of needing to be loaded into the family car for each trip. Families need only load food, drinks, changes of cloths, hitch the trailer, "lock and load", and they're ready to go camping. This allows for tent camping at a moment's notice.
When families arrive home, they just park the trailer, unload a few items, leave the rest for the next camping trip and relax. No need to unload loads of gear to prepare a car for daily use. This minimizes the usual schlepping before and after a tent camping trip.
Even for vehicles with combined passenger and cargo spaces, tent campers may be reluctant to pile camping gear to the ceiling due to safety and visibility issues. Trailers can reduce clutter in the vehicle and make the drive to the campsite more comfortable. Some cargo can be moved from behind the passenger seats to the gear trailer.
Storing a trailer
A compact gear trailer offers the easiest storage for camping gear between camping trips. These gear trailers can be stored crosswise at the back of a 20'-long, single garage stall along with a compact vehicle and can be kept "loaded and ready for bear."
This allows tent-camping, city dwellers to keep a gear trailer without concerns from neighbors and homeowners' associations.
A 22' long, garage stall should be long enough to hold a CUV and a crosswise-parked, compact equipment trailer.
In the off season, it may be possible to unload a compact, gear trailer, tip it up and store the empty trailer on it's back with the tongue pointed upward. Place a short 2x4 stud under the back frame member to lift the trailer a few inches off of the ground. This should minimize the footprint of the trailer.
A mid-size gear trailer with enclosure may need either its own stall in the garage or to be parked behind the garage. A lawn tractor can easily move it around.
A mid-size utility trailer without enclosure also offers the capability for a car to transport plywood sheets, which would otherwise require a large SUV or a pickup.
Many mid-size trailer frames are designed to fold in half and stand on end on coasters, so that the trailer can be rolled against the wall of a garage for storage.
At the campsite
A camping equipment trailer offers freedom at the campsite. Family campers can unhitch the trailer and use the car for errands. Campers back at the campsite have access to everything in the trailer. Some family members can set up camp, while others pick up extra supplies.
Once camp has been made, any supplies remaining in the car can be moved to the now-fairly-empty trailer, freeing the car for other use.
Gear trailers can also offer kitchen space to help families prepare, cook and serve meals at the campsite. Bulky camp kitchens and chuckboxes are no longer necessary to bring along or to set up. Food and cooking supplies are right in the trailer for easy access.
In the rain, it's easy to set up a frame tent canopy over the gear trailer for sheltered access and for preparing meals. Campers can relax in lawn chairs under the canopy with access to any supplies in the trailer.
Camping equipment trailers are substantially smaller than a car and can be covered by a canopy with room to spare for camping chairs.
Tent campers with gear trailers will surprise others with much larger camping setups as to how much gear a family can transport with a light car.
Gear in the trailer is easily accessible from a standing position. No stooping or crawling to get gear.
Compact gear trailers can be moved by hand over level ground. This makes them easy to roll around a campsite or around a garage floor.
Very light, utility-trailer kits vs ready-made utility trailers
In order to build a gear trailer, campers first need to source a utility-trailer kit including the frame, axle, wheel and tire or else to purchase a ready-made utility trailer at a home building supply store.
As far as family tent camping is concerned, very light, utility trailers have a maximum loaded weight rating of up to 1500 lb. These trailers are small and light enough not to require trailer brakes in most all jurisdictions.
There are a few, very light trailer frame kits that are widely available in the U.S. They vary in size from compact (4' to 5' long) to mid-size (about 6' to 8' long). These can found online and shipped for home assembly to most U.S. addresses. They are also available in a few national tool chain stores.
With a utility trailer kit, tent campers receive the kit in a package via delivery truck, build the trailer and then set up their cars for towing.
With a ready-made trailer, campers will first need a tow hitch on their vehicle to tow the trailer home from the store.
Hitches are available for almost any vehicle, even most subcompact cars. Motorcyclists also tow trailers and have special hitches for doing so.
Compact and mid-size gear trailers require no special extended side mirrors for towing, even with a compact vehicle. At about 4' wide, they are substantially narrower than even a compact car. The good visibility to the rear in each side mirror of the car allows safer towing.
However, some small cars do not have a passenger side mirror, and campers looking to tow will need to add one. State regulations generally require that the driver be able to (in his mirrors) see back from the vehicle, along each side of the trailer for about 200'.
The enclosure-design guidelines will also allow fairly good use of the rear view mirror as well while on the road to make towing safer and to ease backing.
When operating a do-it-yourself, light gear trailer, a good rule of thumb is to "treat the trailer gently, keep the fasteners tightened and keep the tires fully inflated."
Campers looking to tow on rough roads or trails should consider a heavy-duty trailer with a heavier load rating.
Ready-made, welded utility trailers can tolerate more abuse than assemble-at-home trailers.
Campers should note that it is recommended to carry both a spare trailer tire and a full-size, spare vehicle tire when towing -- both properly inflated. This way, any flat tires can be repaired on the spot and the camping can continue.
Building a gear trailer
Families should be able to tent camp comfortably with a compact car.
Trailer makers of sports-cargo trailers for small cars are small, custom shops, so there is not a large selection of relatively inexpensive, ready-made, enclosed gear trailers. Many tent campers will probably prefer to purchase an open utility trailer and adapt it to transporting camping gear.
This is done by either building stake and rail sides on a flat utility trailer and using a tarp to cover or by building a complete, sealed enclosure.
Campetent has devised some basic gear-trailer enclosure design ideas that offer a good compromise between the various issues of loading and transporting camping gear to a campsite. These are designs and materials that are within the capability of most do-it-yourselfers with basic woodworking tools.
The author of these pages is merely a camping enthusiast. He is neither a mechanical engineer nor an industry professional.
No professional training, experience or expertise of any kind are implied with any information or designs on this webpage. The author has not been able to build or test any designs.
Information or plans on these webpages are only ideas and guidelines offered as a starting point. Campers are encouraged to adapt the information or designs to their own needs and abilities.
Readers should only assemble or tow a camping gear trailer, if they are confident about their ability to construct a road-safe trailer and/or to safely tow one.
A car and trailer combination is never as safe to operate as a car alone.
Tent campers who tow trailers will need to perform due diligence and to educate themselves about issues such as licensing, state towing regulations, proper towing practices, trailer maintenance, etc.