Utility trailer camping allows tent-camping families to bring plenty of gear to a campsite, regardless of vehicle size.
For large and small cars alike, a utility trailer also offers transport and storage of camping gear in the same space. Much of the gear remains in the trailer during camping season. Camping equipment can move directly from home to the campsite and back, without first needing to be loaded into and afterwards unloaded from a vehicle.
Items that are suited to live in a camping-gear trailer include: tent, canopy, screen house, tarp, camping chairs, sleeping bags and pads, cots, stoves, cookware, utensils, tableware, water container, camp kitchen, backpacks, footwear, raingear, fishing gear, portable shower, firewood, tools, and camping supplies in plastic bins.
Gear trailers are very handy for spontaneous camping trips. Load the coolers, grab some clothes, hitch the trailer and off you go.
A camping equipment trailer can offer tent campers more true camping-gear capacity than large camping vehicles, and can offer it without the attending large headaches and payments.
Gear is easily accessible from a standing position. No need to get down on hands and knees with a flashlight or stand on a stool.
At the campsite, food and drinks can be transferred to the now-fairly-empty trailer for easy access. Campers can then drive off in the car to fetch supplies or to sightsee without stranding campers who prefer to stay at the campsite.
Tent campers looking to add a gear trailer to their camping equipment should first determine the size and type of trailer that is most suited to their camping needs...
Family tent campers with large vehicles have a larger choice of trailers for hauling gear.
Due to available cargo space already in the car, as well as a roof rack for attaching a car-top carrier, families with large vehicles can often get along without a trailer. However, a large family and/or gear for a large tent camp may exceed the cargo space of many large vehicles.
Campers with large vehicles will be able to tow compact, mid-size or large gear trailers.
Family campers with mid-size to large vehicles who like to bring it all with, whether they need it or not, should consider a mid-size or larger trailer. These trailers are also useful for hauling bicycles.
However, to get the most enjoyment from tent camping, campers should also consider how much gear they would like to unload and set up at the campsite. 150 lb? 250 lb? etc.
Family campers with small vehicles are the most likely to benefit from a gear trailer.
Small cars by themselves, especially subcompacts, are most suitable for tent camping for a couple, where rear seat space can be used for gear.
Adding another family member or two into the back seat of a compact car can be challenging, even for the most experienced at packing.
Passengers and gear compete for limited space, and families often get caught in the "compact car crunch": the more passengers, the greater the need for, but the less the availability of cargo space.
Families do successfully tent camp with the cargo space available in some compact vehicles. However, once they get a trailer, they usually have no difficulty filling it and greatly appreciate the added amenities at the campsite.
Compact cars generally offer lower purchase prices and better fuel economy year round. Families may prefer not to keep an expensive gas guzzler around just for special occasions.
The horsepower of car engines has increased over the years, allowing small cars to accelerate more payload to highway speeds than they could a decade ago.
A small trailer offers a separate axle and the capability to transport extra cargo with minimal effect on a small car's suspension and low ground clearance.
Small cars are however limited in the selection of utility trailers that they can tow.
A compact gear trailer is suited to a small car. It can hold plenty of camping gear for the amount of people who can fit in a compact car.
The smaller size makes it much easier to keep in a home garage. It can often be parked in a garage crosswise at the back of a stall along with a compact car.
A few small cars, such as compact CUVs, may also be able to tow a mid-size gear trailer.
Campers with compact cars who would like to haul cycling gear or smaller water-sports gear as well as camping equipment can benefit from a mid-size gear trailer.
Camping gear trailers can be grouped into a few sizes to help campers determine the best one for their needs:
Compact camping-gear trailers have decks that are 4' to 5' long. Campers can often store compact trailers crosswise in a garage stall behind a small car.
Mid-size camping gear trailers have decks that are 6' to 8' long. These trailers offer a lot of space for gear, but will usually need a separate space inside or outside a garage.
Large gear trailers have decks that are 10' to 16' long. Campers looking for a large gear trailer often want a ready made, enclosed cargo trailer, in order to store and transport camping gear for a large group. Enclosures on 10' to 16' trailers are too tall to fit under a garage door.
There are several types of utility trailer available for tent camping use:
These kits are available in a box either online or from some national tool or hardware store chains to be picked up or to be shipped to a home address.
These are open utility trailers and do not include a deck, walls or an enclosure.
Some kits offer a steel deck or walls as an add-on accessory.
These trailers are available in compact to mid-size lengths.
Campers first bolt the frame and axle together, cut a deck out of plywood and bolt it to the frame. They can then cut picket walls out of boards, fashion solid plywood walls or build a full enclosure.
A few of these kits include a plastic cargo shell, which looks and works like a car-top carrier. These kits offer a complete, enclosed trailer with no need to add a deck or walls.
Most assemble-at-home utility trailer kits are relatively inexpensive.
These trailers are often sitting on the sidewalk in front of home building supply stores. They are completely fabricated and ready to tow.
These are also open trailers with no enclosure.
The frames are welded, and the deck is either steel mesh or boards.
A low metal railing around the perimeter of the deck contains cargo and offers an attachment point for straps.
These are available in mid-size and large deck lengths, but the mid-size trailers are most suited to family camping.
These trailers are more expensive than the assemble-at-home kits above, but tend to be more heavy-duty and to offer higher speed ratings.
These trailers are widely available at competitive prices, and campers who prefer to tow a ready-made trailer should be able to locate one locally.
Motorcycle trailers have greatly increased in cargo capacity over the years. Larger ones are suitable for cars.
These enclosed trailers are road trailers, offer a low, aerodynamic profile and are designed to be towed at highway speeds.
These trailers offer stylish enclosures and a custom look to a family's camping kit.
These trailers range in cost from relatively expensive to quite expensive for the amount of cargo space they offer.
These offer special, motorcycle hitches that can swivel, when the motorcycle is banking in a curve.
Larger motorcycle trailers are often offered with standard hitch couplers for small cars as well.
Sports-cargo trailers designed for cars are also available. They are similar to motorcycle trailers, but larger.
These can have two access doors and separate compartments in the enclosure. The doors are designed to seal against rain and to lock for security.
Racks above the enclosure for transporting sports equipment are also common with these.
These trailers are designed to be lightweight and to offer custom amenities.
Aerodynamic enclosures sacrifice some cargo space, but make these trailers much easier for small to mid-size cars to tow at highway speeds.
These are big, boxy enclosed trailers that can store and transport a lot of camping gear, cycling gear and oversize, water-sports gear for a family or an organization.
Doors are at the rear of the trailer, latch securely and can be locked with a padlock.
For the enclosed cargo trailers of interest to tent campers, the enclosures vary in length from mid-size to large.
These trailers offer heavy-duty axles and tall, professionally made, secure enclosures, which hold substantially more cargo than lighter utility trailers with homemade walls or enclosures.
Mid-size, gear-trailer lengths (6' to 8' long enclosures) are suitable for family camping and these enclosures will fit in a garage.
Like custom, sports-cargo trailers for cars, these trailers are expensive. However, they offer much more cargo space for the buck.
Enclosed cargo trailers used for camping can be heavy and may not have trailer brakes. Taller enclosures mean more wind drag on the highway. A CUV or larger makes a better tow vehicle for these trailers.
Family campers can also shop for a second-hand utility trailer in newspaper or online for-sale ads.
Campers who shop carefully can find bargains on suitable camping-gear trailers.
Since lighter utility trailers are more suited to most family tent camping than heavy trailers are, campers should, before purchasing, make sure that the offered utility trailer is in safe operating condition.
Lighter trailers are more easily abused and damaged than heavy-duty trailers and need to be treated more gently.
Truck rental chains often offer utility trailer rentals as well.
Rental trailers have heavy-duty frames and axles for their size, in order to survive the more severe service that rental equipment experiences.
This makes them rather heavy and more suited to larger tow vehicles.
These trailers are available either with or without enclosures, and are offered in a variety of sizes from mid-size to large.
There is also an occasional, mid-size, enclosed sports trailer available to rent from these rental chains. The sports trailer will have a more aerodynamic enclosure than the larger enclosed trailers.
These sports trailers are designed for rental and will be heavier than the custom sports trailers for cars described above.
Campers who want to try before they buy can consider renting a utility trailer for a weekend at a campsite. Campers can then determine whether they are comfortable with towing a trailer.
Campers will need a trailer hitch on their car in order to rent a trailer.
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.