Medium-size camping gear trailers offer families the capacity to transport enough camping gear to pitch a large and comfortable tent camp.
With decks from 6' to 8' long, they also offer compact to mid-size passenger vehicles the cargo space to transport some sports gear, such as bikes or short kayaks, in order to make camping even more enjoyable.
A mid-size gear trailer is as large as most family tent campers will ever need to tow to a campsite.
It offers a family enough cargo space to transport and store all camping gear and provisions in the trailer, allowing passengers in the car more space and a more comfortable ride to the campground.
It can offer as much cargo capacity as a minivan or large SUV when carrying a family of 4 or 5 people. This allows a crossover utility vehicle with limited cargo space to transport as much gear as a much larger vehicle.
Although a few, more powerful, compact cars can tow one, loaded trailers of this size are better suited to mid-size passenger vehicles, such as full-size sedans, station wagons, 5-passenger CUVs and small minivans, especially if there are already 4 or 5 people, as well as some cargo, in the vehicle.
The more powerful engines, drivetrains, higher ground clearance and stronger suspensions of these vehicles will better transport a mid-size trailer in hot temperatures, up long slopes and into moderate to strong winds, which are the three most demanding towing situations.
Unlike compact passenger vehicles, mid-size passenger vehicles offer enough roof area to transport basic sports gear.
Along with the longer deck or enclosure roof of a mid-size gear trailer, family campers now have the capability to transport more than just camping gear to a campsite.
Crossover utility vehicles offer passenger comfort, fuel economy and aerodynamic design, but not necessarily optimum cargo space, unless much of the passenger space is sacrificed, which is not an option for family camping.
An occupied front and rear row of seats for many CUVs may leave only about 20 to 40 cubic feet of cargo space in the rear.
Families may be reluctant to pile camping gear to the ceiling and obscure the view out the rear window, further limiting the cargo capability of the vehicle.
Many families with CUVs can benefit from a gear trailer.
The trailer tow rating for most cars refers to a vehicle with only a single driver and not otherwise occupied by passengers or cargo.
Once the family and some cargo has occupied the car, the towing capability may drop substantially. However, mid-size passenger vehicles usually have enough capability to transport a family, while towing a mid-size gear trailer laden with camping gear.
These trailers are larger and more versatile than compact gear trailers. However, they generally need more space to store and more car to tow.
Besides camping gear, a utility trailer with a 6' to 8' long deck can also transport a variety of building materials, furniture, appliances, lawn equipment, ATVs, sports gear, etc.
An 8' long deck can carry 4'x8' sheets of plywood or sheetrock lying flat without any overhang.
If centered on the deck, several 10' or 12' studs or boards can also be transported.
This much cargo capacity would otherwise require the cargo area of a long-bed pickup or of a large SUV.
Campers may be able to get rid of a hulking gas guzzler and replace it with a more usable vehicle and trailer.
These trailers are relatively inexpensive to own, with respect to the utility they offer and to what vehicles they might replace.
Utility trailers of similar construction with 6 to 8' long decks tend to have similar load ratings. They are also similar in cargo transport capability.
This allows them to group well within a single, mid-size gear trailer category for camping and utility use.
How to size a trailer
Small and mid-size utility trailers are generally sized first by the width of their decks, which appears before the deck length in the trailer descriptions.
(For larger trailers, prospective owners are usually first interested in the rear loading or opening size of the trailer and then in the length. This gives shoppers an idea of what equipment can be loaded onto the trailer.)
Family tent campers generally load smaller parcels onto their gear trailers and tow with smaller vehicles, so the length of the deck is usually a better indicator of whether the trailer is suited to their needs.
Campetent will categorize all camping gear trailers by deck length, so that campers can more easily choose between them.
Campers who want to use their gear trailer for occasional utility use should be careful not to overload or abuse it, as this may damage it and make it unsafe for towing at highway speeds for long distances.
Hauling heavy materials
Building and landscaping materials can be very dense and heavy. 12 sheets of 3/4" plywood or 12 bundles of shingles approach 1000 lb in weight. 10 cubic feet of rock, sand or earth, which is about 1/3 cubic yard, also weigh about 1000 lb.
If distributed evenly over the deck of the trailer, the material loads mentioned above (plywood, shingles, rock, etc.) would range between 4 and 9 inches in depth, which might seem to be a reasonable load for these trailers.
However, many of these trailers are lighter duty, trailer-frame kits and have an axle weight rating of 900 to 1200 lb. Adding in the weight of the trailer, the above loads will very likely overload them.
Overloading a trailer, even for a short trip, can cause hidden damage to tires, frame members or wheel bearings. This damage may cause a breakdown later.
Worn tires or bearings are more likely to overheat and fail at faster speeds, such as those encountered when towing to a campground that is some distance away.
This is also a good reason for not loaning a light-duty trailer.
Borrowers will likely not understand as well as the owner the limits of the trailer.
Potential borrowers should be encouraged to purchase or rent a trailer, which is usually quite inexpensive for the utility offered.
Rental utility trailers are often built like tanks, in order to withstand the loads that inexperienced renters might place on them.
A rental utility trailer may be much heavier than a store-bought utility trailer of the same deck size. This can make it more difficult to tow and to maneuver by hand.
Finding a place at home to store a mid-size gear trailer laden with camping equipment can be a challenge.
These trailers span the gap between compact trailers, which can fit crosswise in a garage car stall, and large, enclosed gear trailers, which are usually too tall to fit under an open, residential garage door.
With an overall width of 5' to 6' and length of 9' to 12', including the tongue and wheels, a mid-size trailer may require a separate space or stall inside a garage or otherwise outside parking.
When empty, sone of these trailers can fold and store against a wall.
While unloaded, campers will be able to roll these trailers around by hand.
However, as the load increases, tongue weight at the coupler can rise from 25 to 100 lb or more, and the trailer may require two people, a garden tractor or an ATV to roll around the home property, especially on soft ground.
Fortunately there are tools to ease maneuvering a loaded gear trailer:
A utility trailer hand dolly allows a single person to move a fairly heavy trailer on hard ground. It consists of a tow ball mounted above a small axle on wheels with a long handle.
The user sets the trailer coupler on the dolly tow ball and then uses the dolly handle to maneuver the dolly and trailer.
With a trailer hand dolly, campers can focus their strength on pushing, pulling and steering the trailer and not on lifting and carrying the tongue.
This tool can also be used at a campsite to position the trailer.
Another useful accessory for a heavy trailer tongue is a jack stand.
These stands bolt to a trailer tongue towards the hitch coupler.
While parked, the jack stand flips down from the tongue, supporting the tongue and keeping the trailer level.
When hitching the trailer, a jack stand means less handling to move a heavy trailer coupler into position over and onto the tow ball.
Mid-size trailers have longer decks and tongues than compact gear trailers. This allows the trailer axle to be further behind the car and the trailer to usually track more stably at highway speeds.
Campers can tow these trailers at moderate highway speeds (45 to 55 mph) with less risk of triggering sway.
As with compact gear trailers, enclosures on most mid-size gear trailers are not so tall that they block the view out the rear window. Extended side vehicle mirrors are usually not necessary.
Towing around sharp corners
Even with a longer tongue and deck, mid size trailers are still shorter (9 to 12' overall length) than compact and mid-size passenger vehicles (14 to 17' long).
However, depending on various factors, some of these trailers may track to the inside of vehicle tire tracks around sharp, right corners.
While towing and cornering, campers may need to make wider right turns to keep the trailer tires off of curbs and to protect any pedestrians at street corners.
Smoother ride for car
Since the trailer deck is large enough to transport most all of a family's camping gear, the separate trailer axle offloads the weight of camping equipment from the vehicle rear axle onto the trailer axle.
This allows for a smoother ride and for more comfort in the passenger compartment of the car.
With a lighter load on the vehicle axles, the vehicle will also be less likely to bottom out over rough roads, and the vehicle tires will be less likely to blow out on the highway in hot weather.
A mid-size gear trailer offers family tent campers a large tent camp at a campsite.
Most all gear can be loaded onto the trailer, making it feasible to unhitch the trailer at a campsite, drop off some campers to set up camp, and make a short drive for any last minute needs or to book a chosen campsite at the park office.
A trailer this size offers space to bring large, bulky camping gear such as a camp kitchen, screen house, frame canopy, large tent, etc., which might otherwise be left at home for lack of cargo space.
An enclosed trailer can provide a weatherproof space for camping gear and an elevated, level working space for cooking or cleaning.
It can be a bit challenging for a driver to back a mid-size gear trailer directly onto a campsite parking drive.
Since, as mentioned above, these trailers are a bit shorter than vehicles, the turning radius of the trailer will probably also be shorter than that of the vehicle.
If the trailer drifts away from the intended path, the driver will need to quickly steer to compensate or the trailer will begin to pivot sharply around the side of the vehicle.
The further the trailer pivots away from a straight line with the vehicle, the more difficult it will be for the driver to compensate in time to keep the trailer from folding around to the side.
The shorter the vehicle or the longer the trailer, the easier it is to back a trailer.
Campsite parking drives are usually at a shallow angle to the main drive loops, so campers will not need to back the trailer around a sharp 90-degree corner.
There are various strategies for car-trailer combinations that are too difficult to back up:
Be careful whenever unhitching a loaded trailer from a vehicle. Chock the trailer tires to the downhill side, so that the trailer cannot roll away on its own.
A trailer jack or dolly can be useful, if you need to unhitch a loaded trailer at the campsite and move it by hand.
The mid-size trailer category spans a wide variety of trailer types from barebones trailer-frame kits to ready-made, enclosed cargo trailers.
Trailer-frame kits in this size are popular and widely available, especially those with 8' long decks.
These are bolt-together, not weld together, frame kits, so no special metalworking equipment or skills are necessary.
In this size, trailer decks offer roughly 40 to 80 cubic feet of cargo space and might carry 500 lb or more of camping and sports gear. This will be plenty of gear for a large family tent camp.
These trailers are rated to a maximum loaded weight of 900 to 1200 to 1500 to 1800 lb, depending on tires, metal gauge, foldability, etc.
Foldable trailer kits
Some of the up-to-1500 lb rated trailer kits are foldable.
When empty, the trailers can fold in half, stand on end on coasters and roll against a garage wall for easy storage -- something like the old ping-pong tables used to do.
This works well in the off season, when the camping gear has been relocated from the trailer to the basement for more permanent storage.
Many of these trailer kits have a 45 mph "tow some lumber home from the local building-supply store" recommended speed rating -- even though they also feature a 1200 lb gross weight rating. Campers who choose to tow them at higher speeds may incur more liability in the event of a mishap.
Building a deck
The owner will need to separately purchase a sheet of treated plywood, preferably 3/4" thick, to cut a deck to mount on the trailer frame.
For 4' x 8' frames, a standard plywood sheet should fit with almost no cutting.
For 5' x 8' frames, campers may need to consult a specialty lumberyard, use a couple of 4'x5' plywood sheets or instead use 8' boards to make a deck.
The frame members often have holes for attaching a plywood sheet.
A plywood deck will form the backbone of the trailer and should be fairly stiff and sturdy, in order to distribute weight evenly and support the frame, as well as to help the frame resist flexing and twisting while on the road.
Boards used for decks will probably need to be thicker than the 3/4" plywood that might otherwise be used. Boards may be stiffer than plywood of the same thickness, but will not be able to distribute weight as well, because they are individual pieces.
Once the treated plywood sheet has dried from exposure to the air, it can be sealed or painted to keep out moisture from exposure to the outdoors.
A sturdy deck will reduce risk with using these trailers to transport camping gear, but campers should also regularly inspect them, load them carefully and drive at a moderate highway speed that does not induce sway. To improve safety, campers should heed any instructions that come with the trailer.
Trailer kits with 8' long decks are available in 4' or 5' deck widths:
The 4' wide decks will be easier to tow with mid-size passenger vehicles and will be plenty for most family campers. These trailers will be less likely to mount the curb around right corners.
Most of the foldable trailers have 4' wide decks.
Trailer kits with 5' wide decks are rated to the higher 1500 or 1800 lb maximum loaded (gross) weight.
These decks are wide enough that owners may attempt to load more heavy equipment onto them.
Campers who would like to transport a lot of or larger sports gear can consider a wider deck. The wider wheel stance increases stability for the taller load that sports gear on top of camping gear might create.
Although camping gear generally is not that heavy, these wider trailers may need a more powerful vehicle for towing.
Family campers with wider trailers should be careful when making a right turn, turning in a wider arc to protect the trailer tires and pedestrians.
Building walls or an enclosure
Campers who want to keep things simple and flexible can build post-and-rail, fence-like, trailer walls out of 2x4 vertical stud posts and 1x4 horizontal board rails.
Gear can then be stored in plastic containers, loaded onto the trailer deck and tarped to protect everything against rain and wind.
Campers who want a finished look and more cargo space can build a full plywood enclosure.
The enclosure offers a weatherproof space to store and transport camping gear and can be locked. The enclosure roof also offers a flat working space as well as a spot to mount a kayak.
Enough about trailer frame kits. Let's move on to finished trailers...
Finished utility trailers in this size are widely available on sidewalks in front of home building-supply stores.
Open utility trailers include an axle, trailer frame and deck, with no enclosure.
These are welded trailers, requiring no assembly by the owner.
They are available with either steel mesh, screen-like decks for moderate use or wooden plank decks for heavy duty use.
The trailers have low steel rails above the perimeter of the deck. The rails keep equipment or items from sliding or rolling off of the deck as well as provide an attachment point for straps to secure a load.
The rails will not be able to contain large loose loads, unless they are covered and strapped down.
These trailers are heavier than the trailer frame kits mentioned above, but are not as heavy as enclosed cargo trailers or rental open utility trailers.
They have heavier gross weight ratings than most of the trailer frame kits.
They are mainly designed to ferry small motorized sports and lawn equipment, as well as to transport building and landscaping materials.
They are suited to families who need a sturdy trailer for a substantial amount of utility use as well as for camping use.
These ready-made trailers generally offer a 55 mph highway speed rating, making them suitable for the highway towing that is required to get to most campgrounds.
Adapting for family camping use
A steel mesh deck can be covered with a tarp or plywood to protect camping gear from wear and also from dirt and water from the road below.
Camping gear should be able to be tarped and strapped to the rails of the open utility trailer.
Constructing walls or an enclosure to contain camping gear will require some forethought as to how to attach them to the trailer frame. These trailers come in various designs with various attachment points. Campers may be able to spot some hardware in a building supply store that will do the job.
Campers may prefer that loading ramps on some of these trailer be detachable. The ramp can be replaced with a rail of some kind to contain camping gear loaded onto the deck.
These are ready-made trailers, designed for light to moderate-duty, sports use, not for heavy-duty, utility use.
They are fully finished, enclosed trailers, often lined with carpeting and are available in a variety of sporty and aerodynamic enclosure designs and colors.
These trailers offer a gear trailer that's built for purpose. No need to adapt the trailer any further to tent camping. Just "lock and load", or more accurately, "load and lock", and you're ready to go camping.
They are very functional and often offer multiple doors and cargo spaces, so that tools or food can be kept separately from camping gear.
Some feature rack mounts for a kayak or a bicycle.
Others feature integrated tents above the cargo area.
Sports cargo trailers are designed for items that you would normally load into the cargo area of a car and not for rough materials that you might only want in the bed of a old pickup.
They offer capacities from 30 to up to 125 cubic feet, although most are towards the lower part of this range.
They are usually built by small, independent trailer makers.
Like cars, the aerodynamic design may compromise some cargo space, compared to a boxy, standard enclosed cargo trailer (see category below). However, enclosed cargo trailers can be somewhat cavernous for family camping needs.
The aerodynamic design will ease towing, especially at highway speeds.
These trailers are fairly light for their size and degree of finished manufacturing. This means, when loaded, that they can be towed by many family passenger vehicles.
They are not inexpensive, but are nicely finished and offer a posh look to a family's camping kit.
The smallest enclosed cargo trailers have 6' to 8' floor lengths and offer a solution to family tent campers looking for a gear trailer that can enclose a lot of gear and can yet fit into a residential garage.
These trailers offer a large lockable secure enclosure for oversize camping gear, bicycles and some sports gear.
The enclosure is usually made of metal studs and sheet metal, with a swinging door or double doors that securely latch and lock at the rear. The enclosed trailer should be fairly waterproof, and any leaks can be sealed with caulk.
The floor, or enclosed deck, ranges from 4' to 5' in width and can be either plywood or boards.
Cargo volume for enclosed gear trailers in this size runs from 60 to 200 cubic feet, with the largest trailers offering up to twice the cargo capacity of other trailers in this category.
All but the smallest of these trailers will likely be very heavy to move by hand, even when empty. A trailer hand dolly, ATV or rider mower will be useful for moving the trailer short distances where a car cannot access.
On the road
These trailers are designed for long-haul highway use. They have axles with higher weight ratings and standard light-trailer tires with 13 to 15" rims.
Most of these trailers are tall enough to block the rear-view mirror of mid-size passenger vehicles, and the driver will need to rely on side mirrors for a view to the rear of the car and trailer.
Because of the taller enclosures, these trailers are suitable for light off-road use only.
Trailer weight vs mid-size vehicles
Because of a sturdy axle and frame, as well as a full enclosure and locking back door(s), enclosed cargo trailers in this mid-size gear trailer category have an empty weight of 400 to 900 lb.
However, enclosed cargo trailers with 6' to 8' long floors are also usually unbraked, which means no trailer brakes.
When loaded, some 8' enclosed cargo trailers may be heavy enough to tax the towing and braking power of many mid-size vehicles.
Since the vehicle will provide braking for both itself and the trailer, the trailer owner will be responsible for ensuring that the car can safely brake the trailer.
Calculating a maximum weight
A general rule of thumb for keeping the weight of a trailer within the braking power of a tow vehicle is that the loaded, unbraked trailer should not weigh more than 40% of the unloaded tow vehicle.
Reversing this equation, the unloaded tow vehicle should weigh at least 2-1/2 times the loaded weight of the unbraked trailer.
Assuming a mid-size, not compact, CUV or minivan has an average curb weight of about 4000 lb, this allows about 1500 lb for the total weight of an unbraked trailer and the camping gear load that the CUV might safely brake.
Note that any load carried in the vehicle will need to be subtracted from the trailer limit.
It's unlikely that most families will want to tow more weight than this for tent camping.
Smaller enclosed trailers in this category can be kept under 1000 lbs total weight when loaded with camping gear.
Campers should note that some of these trailers may require a Class II hitch on the car, if they have a gross weight limit of 2000 lb or more. Class II hitches are available for most mid-size passenger vehicles.
Campers should adhere to any state, vehicle and trailer manufacturer recommendations and regulations, in order to improve safety on the road.
For more information on enclosed cargo trailers, see the large, camping-gear trailer page.
Second-hand trailers in this size are widely offered for sale in listings.
Since campers may need to tow a gear trailer for an hour or more at highway speeds, they should carefully inspect the trailer to see that it is in good condition.
Utility trailers are occasionally abused, and frame members or axles can be bent or rusted, fasteners or welds damaged, tires deteriorated, etc.
The trailer may also have been sitting unused for years, and may no longer be fit to operate without first having maintenance or repair performed.
Tires can dry rot in the sun over time and, even if the tread looks fine, be prone to blowout on the highway.
Even if the trailer appears to be in good condition, campers will want to examine and, if necessary, replace the wheel bearings before using any second-hand trailer to tow.
Assemble-at-home trailer kits are often inexpensive enough that shoppers might consider a new trailer, in order to avoid any hidden damage.
Ready-made trailers are more expensive and often sturdier, so campers who feel that they are competent to inspect and, if necessary, provide any repair to bring the trailer back to a road-worthy condition, can consider them.
Campers should note that damaged or heavily deteriorated, ready-made trailers will probably require welding and other metalworking skills in order to repair.
The safety and functionality of a homemade trailer depend entirely upon the design and metalworking skills of the person who built the trailer.
Homemade trailers are legal in most states.
Campers considering a used, homemade trailer may, in case of mishap, be assuming more risk.
Homemade trailers tend to be overbuilt and heavy, because most do-it-yourself, trailer builders are unfamiliar with the mechanics of trailer design.
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.