How To Build A Truck Camper For Dirt Cheap
So What Style Of Truck Camper Do You Want To Build?
If you’re like I was when I started, you may not even be aware of all the different choices you have:
- Do you want it to be Full-Height? Or would you be OK with a short camper that you have to crawl around in? Or something in between? Everyone is familiar with your typical truck bed cap and the option to basically put an RV on the back of your truck. Less people are familiar with Pop Up Truck Campers (like the popular Four Wheel Campers line), which provide the aerodynamic benefits of a short camper with the ability to stand up inside while camping. They’re challenging to build, but it CAN be done. (See: How To Build A Popup Truck Camper )
- Do you want the ability to leave your camper behind on jacks while you’re out doing “truck stuff” or would you be totally fine leaving it bolted to the truck? Though quite a bit more complex to build than a simple bolt-on design, Slide-in Truck Campers offer some really handy options, if you occasionally need to commute or haul with the empty truck bed. The main differences with a Slide In are that you’ll need to add a sturdy “floor box” under the walls, and you’ll need to buy extra hardware like jacks and turnbuckles (tie-downs), likely adding at least $400 and 100 lbs. (See: How To Build A Slide In Truck Camper)
- Do you prefer to sleep in the main cabin, or would you better enjoy the space-opening capabilities of a Cabover Bed platform? A cantilevered cabover can be a challenge to design well, but it definitely opens up the living space, even if you were only to use it as an “attic” for storage. A cabover is easiest if your camper is wide enough to sleep sideways, avoiding the need to add a slide-out platform to sleep longwise.
- Will you need to extend your cabin out over the tailgate area, or would you prefer to keep it inside the truck bed area? While you’d technically be cantilevering it out the back, it’s really not too difficult to extend past the rear of the bed, if you need the space.
- Or what about building a Simple Truck Camper, such as a Truck Bed Cap / Topper? Just because most toppers are really short, there’s no reason you need to build it that way — You can do whatever you want! If you need a camper in a hurry, a simple box camper could be the way to go… Maybe until you have the time and funds to add other “additions”. (See: How To Build A Simple Truck Camper)
How Will You Construct It?
You also have quite a range of camper construction materials and techniques to choose from. They include…
- Ordinary Wood — This is by far the cheapest, most readily available, and easiest to work with, even for beginners. Most campers are primarily constructed from wood. While experienced craftsmen will inevitably choose expensive hardwoods, newbies can get excellent inexpensive results by using ordinary lumber and plywood. And unlike metal, wood insulates very well. (See: How To Build A Wooden Truck Camper)
- Aluminum — This somewhat expensive metal is often found in campers advertised as “lightweight”, even though that’s mostly just clever marketing, as low-end aluminum-framed campers are often just as heavy as those made of wood or steel. Designing with aluminum is more than just welding and rivets. The truth is that it takes very clever architecture to take advantage of aluminum’s weight advantage. (See: Build An Aluminum Truck Camper)
- Steel — Obviously very heavy, but if you’re in the trade and you know how to work with it to create a strong minimalist structure, it’s arguably a good choice for you.
- Fiberglass — While not actually a lightweight material on its own (it’s in fact 2-3 times denser than lumber), this form of plastic is very tough, and when paired with styrofoam, it can be used to create a variety of lightweight molded shapes, especially handy for aerodynamics.
- Styrofoam — A very important component of lightweight construction, styrofoam boards provide excellent insulation and structural stiffness for walls and roofing, just as it does in boats and airplanes.
While many people have strong opinions on how a camper “should” be made, my research tells me that it really doesn’t matter. Any of the above materials can be combined to make a reasonably lightweight sturdy structure, if you know how to make it happen. So most likely your choice will come down simply to what you’re most comfortable working with.
The one area where there’s a definite “best” choice of materials is PRICE. Nothing else can compare to ordinary lumber-aisle wood when you’re totally strapped for cash. You can even find recycled lumber for free by watching Craigslist.
I know for a fact that it’s possible to build a great sturdy lightweight camper with ordinary lumber for cheap, because that’s exactly what I did. (Just 3 Days. Under $250. Under 500 lbs.)
So if like so many of my readers, you’re a beginner and you have no money to spend, it’s really a “no brainer”. Just build with lumber! It’s easy, fast, and cheap… AND it works. (Very Well!)
Of course, it does depend on your plan! Some designs are just more expensive than others. Some require extra hardware that are difficult to acquire for cheap. But of course, knowing how much money you can save once you get yourself off the grid, nothing will be more expensive than spending so long "planning" that you never actually get it done!
Wanna know the secret to building for so cheap? Keep reading!