Wild and Foamy Camper Project — Part 3

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | May 22, 2019      

Last summer I wrote about my little teardrop camper trailer project. Of course the project took longer than expected, and it’ll never be done. Recently I finished it enough to be usable (and enough that it warranted another blog post). Everything from this point on is just the final, mostly cosmetic touches.

The trailer on its maiden voyage.

A lot has happened since the last update. Last summer I had the foam structure finished, check out the first and second post for more details. Since then, I finished the exterior PMF coating, built basic interior furniture (bed and table), and installed a heater. I also made incremental improvements to various parts. I improved the drop floor by reinforcing it with another layer of plywood, and switching to steel cable for the windlass lowering/raising system (from the old nylon rope).

At the top of the list now is installing a ceiling vent, some wood trim inside, and storage under the kitchen counter. Farther in the future will be electricity, improved suspension/tires for off-roading, and a sweet exterior paint job (I’m open to suggestions).

Overall I’m happy with how the teardrop turned out. It’s nice and small, but just big enough. It’s light enough that towing only results in a drop of 1-2mpg; inconsequential for anything but driving to Tierra del Fuego and back. It’s almost unnoticeable while accelerating or braking — you have to be careful to drive like you’re towing (drifting corners is out), as you forget it’s there. I didn’t have the chance to use it much this ski season, but hopefully you’ll see it around the PNW parking lots next winter!

Here’s some pictures of the final product, as well as few from the build process.

(Mostly) Completed camper, ready for summer adventures.

View of the bottom of the trailer, showing the drop-floor (retracted). I used a rube-goldberg system with steel cable, pulleys, and a boat trailer winch to create the lifting mechanism. The weatherproofness of the bottom of the camper is a major concern. It’s got several layers of waterproof coatings: first a coat of thinned Polyurethane, then exterior paint, and finally spray-on truck undercoating. I’ve been keeping an eye on it, and it seems to be holding up.

The drop floor deployed. When the trailer’s on a flat surface, it simply rests on the ground. It can also hang from the cables if the ground isn’t level or flat (although then it feels a bit wobbly).

Inside of the front of the trailer, showing the drop floor, kitchen table, and heater. The area of the drop floor is all the “standing room” in the camper.

Drop floor retracted, from the inside. The camper is still fully functional with the floor up, so you can use it for quick stops, etc.

Rear part of the camper, with the table set up. It’s roomy for two people, and could fit up to 5 seated fairly comfortably.

Rear with the bed set up.

To save space, and make the trailer shorter. The “default” bed is short (about 6 feet, so still usable). To make it longer, I added these slide-out extenders.

The heater for the camper. I opted for this propane ice fishing heater. It’s nice since it doesn’t require any electricity, and is super cheap. Downsides are that it’s bulky and took some work to install. I installed the expanded mesh screen to protect people from the hot stove, and it also provides a nice way to hang gear to dry. The mesh gets warm, but not hot to the touch, so no risk of melted boot liners or skin burns. I installed a CO detector of course, but the plan is to not run this heater at night while sleeping.

The heater vents out through a chimney through the ceiling, and there’s an intake low on the wall.

Before putting the “PMF” canvas on the outside, this is what the camper looked like. Pink foam, reinforced with wood and aluminium. The white patches are where screws, seams, and other imperfections were smoothed over with putty.

The process of applying the canvas to the outside. Glue the canvas on, then cut off the excess.

During the build, curved foam components are saw kerfed and bent.

During the build, curved foam components are saw kerfed and bent.

Let me know what you think!



18 Responses to “Wild and Foamy Camper Project — Part 3”

  1. bill May 22nd, 2019 10:09 am

    Great project and write up.
    I was wondering why you did not use polyisocyanurate foam with the foil surface.
    Figure there must be a reason.

  2. afox May 22nd, 2019 11:50 am

    Looks awesome!

    Is that heater vented? If so you can run it while sleeping…

  3. Kevin May 22nd, 2019 11:55 am

    I was recently wondering how this project was progressing. Very nice, and thanks for sharing. Interested in seeing the “tuning” process and additional amenities you mentioned already on the list as they get added.It looks like a great base from which to launch years of fun.

  4. billy May 22nd, 2019 12:08 pm

    Looks like the acorn didn’t fall far from the tree.

  5. Lisa Dawson May 22nd, 2019 2:54 pm

    I had the privilege of sleeping in the Tiny Camper when we skied Mt. St. Helens for Mother’s Day. It stayed cool during the day and warmed up nicely at night, thanks to the insulating foam. We didn’t need to use the heater. And it was so comfy and spacious. Nice job, Louie!

  6. Louis Dawson III May 22nd, 2019 5:40 pm

    The XPS foam works better than other foams (including the polyisocyanurate with foil), for a few reasons. Compared to the polyisocyanurate it’s more durable (less brittle, can hold more weight/pressure before denting). Also, since the construction requires laminating fabric to both sides of the foam. The lamination wouldn’t really work with the foil, since it wouldn’t stick to the foil, and even if it did, the bond of the foil to the foam isn’t very strong.

  7. Peter Spieler May 22nd, 2019 5:50 pm

    Tow that thing out here to Santa Barbara. I would like a closer look. You are welcome anytime, especially now that you can shack in your trailer!

  8. Lisa Dawson May 22nd, 2019 7:47 pm

    Peter, the camper can only go where there is snow.

  9. RDE May 23rd, 2019 10:32 am

    Hi Louie
    I was one of those who voiced reservations about the rigidity of the cheap foam/canvass method of construction.

    But the end product looks great!

  10. Paul May 23rd, 2019 11:58 am

    Very cool. have you weighed it yet? And are you planning on a water tank and sink? I have a similar size trailer, but it was built in 1955. I was going to wire it but surrendered to the simplicity of a bunch of magnet-backed LED lights run by rechargeable AAA batts and steel washers on the wall to attach to. Lots of light is nice in the winter.

  11. Louis Dawson III May 23rd, 2019 12:09 pm

    I haven’t weighed it yet, I’ll try to do that soon and update the post. It feels significantly lighter than my aluminium snowmobile trailer with 2 snowmobiles on it, but that probably weighs well over 1500lbs, so that’s not saying much.

    I am planning on a water tank. Maybe a sink, although I don’t find the sink that useful, it seems to take more hassle and space than it’s worth. For short trips it’s easy enough to clean/rinse dishes without it.

    Good idea about the steel washers, I might have to try that! Any recommendations for what LED lights to buy?

  12. Louis Dawson May 23rd, 2019 12:58 pm

    Peter It’d be awesome to take it down to visit you guys in California! I bet it’ll survive not being in the snow for a little bit 🙂

  13. ree May 24th, 2019 7:49 pm

    Cool rig. I would expect there to be some condensation issues, esp. if you don’t use your heater at night in cold weather and definitely if you do any cooking in there. Propane heater probably works great but man, i’ve heard too many propane/camper horror stories: a diesel D2 or D4 Espar airtronic heater would be more efficient and probably safer. You could probably make do with a simple 5- gallon jug for a fuel supply (think that would give you ~175-200 hrs of heating time on low setting). Kind of pricey, about $750-1k for the setup and a bit of fan noise but they’re small, easy to install/maintain and maybe better than propane heat for keeping humidity down and it will dry your kit quickly. Use Stanadyne winter additive: good for as cold as you’re likely to go. German made. They make a gas variant as well.

  14. Lou Dawson 2 May 26th, 2019 6:31 am

    Ree, (Lou speaking, not Louie), the diesel heaters are definitly terrific, but expensive and involve handling yet another fuel source. Louie’s propane heater is vented, so it makes zero moisture. True, unvented propane makes a ridiculous amount of moisture. The vented heater will assist with air exchange within the small space, along with roof vents and a cracked window. Still, during a cold night the condensation on the single pane windows will be annoying. My wife and I have that same problem with our slide-in pickup camper. Used in the winter, our camper windows are like water factories in the small space. Major ventilation helps, but ultimately the solution is either double glazed windows, or storm sashes. The storm sashes are actually pretty easy to make, just plexiglass with velcro, or any other attachment system that matches how the summer screens attach. I’ll guarantee that once Louie uses his teardrop a few times in winter, he’ll be making the storm sashes. Luckily he’s only got a few windows, and he’s good at making stuff (smile). Lou

  15. Joe John May 26th, 2019 9:18 am

    Looks like fun. I’m looking forward to reading your trip/use reports.

  16. afox May 27th, 2019 3:34 pm

    What is the brand of the vented ice fishing heater you used? Im interested in something similar for my van. Ive seen the propane vented boat heaters (dickinson/Sig) but they are pretty pricey ($500ish).

  17. Louis Dawson III May 28th, 2019 1:53 pm

    The propane heater is the Nu-way model 2000, found here:

    It’s very basic, and doesn’t come with any of the venting. It’s nice and cheap though. Really the main thing I like is it’s simplicity, and the fact that it doesn’t require any electricity to run. Most (all?) other direct vent heaters require electricity to run a fan. I haven’t used it much yet, so I can’t comment yet on how well it works.

  18. Lou Dawson 2 May 29th, 2019 8:12 am

    We’ll file a blog post of “burning in” one of these heaters. I’ve been installing one in our tiny house wheeled RV trailer as well. They’re tricky as they’re super inefficient which makes the vent gas exceedingly hot, so things like the wall penetration have to be engineered with care and tested with a lengthy, full-force burn-in. Likewise, heat shielding is key.

    I like the design of the heater. It’s for small spaces so efficiency is not an issue in terms of economy. A nice, active vented RV heater does require electricity, as well as costing at least $300 + install. This heater is a fraction of that cost. What is more, the active RV heater is LOUD, I hate the one in our pickup slide-in camper. The Nuway is silent, sweetly silent.

    The Nuway has a flame detector safety, that’s the minimum. It does not have a pilot light, which is another safety feature. A pilot light makes double sure propane is always ignited. Valves with both detector and pilot are expensive, probably why Nuway does not use them. I think key with Nuway is simply to not sleep with it on, and keep an eye on it. Come to think of it, I’m not really that psyched on sleeping with any propane heater active in a tight space, even with a CO detector. I knew a guy once who died of CO in his camper. Tragic and avoidable.


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