Trail Trailer Construction

Originally appeared in the U4WDA Compass Magazine, Spring 2006:

Trail Trailer Construction – Part 1 (of a 3 part series)
By Kurt Williams

I love camping, anywhere, anytime, any conditions, I just plain love to camp. That being said, I despise having to get ready to go on camping trips, be it just a single night camping trip, or an extended length trip. “Did I remember the can-opener?”, “Hope I have matches!”, “Did the water get loaded?”, and every other last minute scenario drive me nuts. Loading for a trip is just one hurdle, I equally despise unloading at the end of the trip, a necessity as I don’t like to leave my Landcruiser completely full of expensive & bulky camping gear.

In addition to my hatred for the load/unload, there lies the issue of space management. Even with only two passengers, the rear area of my Landcruiser is overwhelmed by camping gear, not easy to load/unload or access gear at camp. What happens when I bring a couple friends along? Not only is my cargo space drastically reduced, my mean load has now doubles as well. Those with smaller rigs or larger families can realize my pain.

I don’t like to go “wheeling” with all my camping gear, if it is wet & muddy the gear gets soaked, if it is hot & dry and I am worried about my 40 quart cooler melting in the sun. With a trail trailer, I can leave it locked and secure at a base camp with all non-essential gear set-up for camping or stored securely in the trailer. Not all trails & camping utilize a “base camp”, thus a major design requirement of the trailer would require it to go anywhere the Landcruiser could go if needed. 

All this sums up the need for a dedicated “Trail Trailer” that would contain every possible camping need, thus preventing any forgotten items. It would stay loaded, secure, and ready to go. NO MORE wasting my time getting ready!

The project started some years ago with the carcass of a fiberglass Landcruiser tub that sat at the old shop (Cruiser Outfitters in SLC). The owner Darrell had kept it around for such a project but realized it would never come to light under his busy schedule; this is where I came in. Using the frame of an old FJ55 Landcruiser, I hastily constructed a makeshift frame, still utilizing the original semi-float Landcruiser rear axle. This would allow me to get it mobile, and move the project to the side of my house, where it would spend its next few years in the baking in the sun and freezing in the snow.

The year’s end of 2003 re-kindled my need for the trail trailer, I had a goal to camp at least 20 times in the coming spring/summer/fall seasons and I knew my Achilles heel with respect to camping as previously mentioned. I inventoried my parts, jotted down some ideas, and got to work. 

Every good product/design starts with some solid research and brainstorming. With an end goal in mind, I started looking at similar products on the market, why waste my time building one if an affordable option was readily available. Too my surprise, there were quite a few readily available options currently on the market, however fully outfitted they ranged in price from $3000-$12000+ depending on options, needless to say WAY out of my student budget. Plus, what a better way to spend the cold winter than adding another toy to the fold!

The trailer MUST be capable of handling any trail I plan to take it on, that’s not to say I plan to pull it on every hard trail, but I want to leave my options open. The trailer must utilize the same size tires as my Landcruiser, once again all about leaving me options. It must be relatively watertight, capable of staying secured, lightweight and track well behind the Landcruiser. I must be able to intentionally jack-knife the trailer, without damaging the Landcruiser or trailer. It needed to have a low center of gravity and no taller than the back of my Landcruiser. It must ride nice in order to protect its cargo (such as eggs) from shock damage. After all, if I am going to do it, why not do it right.

With a lot of ideas, yet little time & resources (money) to accomplish them, I turned to a respected group of friends to help prioritize the things the trail trailer needed. I posted a couple of online polls posing questions like “What items would you add?” & “What do you take camping”, etc. I netted a wide range of potential additions to my trail trailer, ranging from complex stereo systems to onboard refrigerators & stoves.

My wish list started to grow:
12V Refrigerator/Freezer
Optima yellow top to manage power needs when not in tow
Hard mounted & plumbed propane
Food preparation area (cutting board)
Lighting for both the contents as well as the surrounding camp area
Lantern mast with additional fittings for a BBQ
Fuel & water of the way place to carry water
Utensils, condiment, napkin/towel holders
Spare tire mounted on back
120V generator hard mounted

Stay tuned for the next installment. The next Compass issue will detail the construction portion of the trail trailer, as well as what items I chose to initially stock it with. Until then, start building yours!

Originally appeared in the U4WDA Compass Magazine, Summer 2006:

Trail Trailer Construction – Part 2 (of a 3 part series)
By Kurt Williams

In the last edition of the Compass, I detailed my wants and needs for a trailer with off-road capability and camping in mind. I developed a preliminary set of specifications that the trailer must satisfy, as well as rather intensive list of the equipment that the trailer. My goal was to incorporate as many of these specifications on a limited budget. 

Every trailer build is bound to be different, thus I will just cover the basics rather than the detailed specifics of my particular build.

Frame: A stout yet lightweight frame is key. Don’t be afraid to add extra frame support, the little weight addition is well worth the piece of mind you will have in your trailers durability. My trailer is constructed from the back half of an FJ55 Landcruiser, including the rear leaf springs. This in addition to a few miscellaneous pieces of steel for the tongue and frame support makes up a rather stout frame. Frame options are infinite, using an existing frame can save you from mounting suspension, but making a custom frame from square or round tube is easy enough. Base your decision on available parts and material as well as your fabrication abilities, after all this is the most crucial part of the trailer.

Suspension: There are as many options for your trailer build as there are for your 4x4. Coils, leafs, torsions, even trailing arms. Inventory your available parts, and once again your fabrication skills. Leaf springs will most likely be the easiest option, trailer supply shops stock all different varieties of springs as well as the hangers, shackles, and perches to mount them to your axle and frame. Other considerations include SUA versus SOA (spring-under versus spring-over), how much load you intend to carry, length of springs, etc. 

Axles: Numerous options to choose from. You could use a duplicate of your rigs rear axle, leaving you with an extra set of spares in case of breakage. Or you could salvage a wrecking yard axle from a camper, etc… In my case I chose to buy a new dedicated trailer axle, the price was right and with hubs and a matching lug pattern, I was only out $125. Not bad considering the amount of time it saved scouring the yards or tracking down the needed parts. Axle width and flange patterns are important factors to consider. A matching lug pattern can save you the need for a second spare, or give you a couple more spares for your rig. Axle width is a very important factor; you don’t want the track of the trailer wider than your rig! You can get a bit fancier with the axle options, brakes, torsion axles, etc. Stop by your local trailer supply shop, many times they will have them in stock and on display for your inspection… Bring a tape measure!

Hitch: Ball or Pintle? If you have ever seen a Pintle work, you will see the obvious benefits the Pintle will provide in off-road situations. Though the initial cost is much higher than a simple ball hitch setup, the payoffs are well worth the ~$100 investment. In the case of my trailer, I was able to source a military surplus rotation Pintle receiver hitch that allows the lunette (the loop on the trailer) to rotate 360° (allowing the trailer to do barrel roles if needed). A trip to your local trailer supply shop should yield you several different Pintle (and ball hitch) options to choose from. 

Body: The body can easily take the most amount of work, the largest chunk of $$$ and the most time. You can simplify the work by using all or part of pickup truck bed, tub, or existing trailer body. Alternatively you can start from scratch and fabricate a body of your own. There are countless ways to do it, countless things to consider, and countless options to include. Do you want it to be water-tight? How much cargo do you need it to carry? Do you want it to hold fuel, water, propane, etc? How do you want to finish it, paint, rubberized liner, truck-bed style liners? Spend a minute sketching what you want on paper, it may save you some frustration down the road.

Whether it is simple campfire meals, or a complex menu… I wanted to have the cooking means necessary with little forethought. This isn’t easy for your average guy; rather we usually take a box of donuts, a 12-pack of Mountain Dew and some potato chips. The nice thing about all of the extra room a trailer provides is the ability to just take it all. Weight really isn’t an issue for local trips, and it is better to have it and not use it, then to need it and have it on the shelf at home. I carry a complete set of pots & pans, ample silverware, condiments, the cooler, a dry foods box, a 6’x3’ folding table, tents, camp chairs, water containers, and even a napkin holder! Choose your stock as you wish, with the extra cargo space, your options can vary widely from your conventional packing arrangement. 

Stay tuned for the next installment. The next Compass issue will discuss the use of the trailer, initial impressions, and things I would change/modify. Until then, keep working on yours!

Originally appeared in the U4WDA Compass Magazine, Fall 2006:

Trail Trailer Construction – Part 3 (of a 3 part series)
By Kurt Williams

In the last edition of the Compass, I described some of the considerations you should keep in mind during the construction and outfitting of your trailer. For the most part, my trailer is nearly complete (is a project ever complete?), thus this last installment will detail my initial impressions, things I would change, things I plan to add, etc.

Towing the trailer: 
My trail-trailer is considerably lightweight, even when completely loaded for a weekend’s adventure. Still, it does slow down travel. Consider your camping needs for the trip, and decide if the trailer is really needed. I still find myself packing everything in the back of my Cruiser for a quick overnighter, saving myself the trouble of pulling the trailer. That said it tows great, both on and off road. With a dozen plus trips with the trailer, I can’t think of anything I would do to the suspension/frame/axles of the trailer, they seem to do great. 

Wheeling with the trailer: 
Its back there and you will surely remember it. The trailer will quickly become an anchor in the rocks if you don’t plan accordingly, spotting for the trailer is ever important. Tight trails don’t leave much room for backing, though it hasn’t proved to be much of an issue to date. The key is to remember that extra pair of wheels out back, just as soon as you think you are up and over a ledge or rock, that third pair of un-powered tires strikes up against it… a little wheel speed goes along way to keep your forward momentum. In February I was on my way home from Moab via dirt roads north of Arches National Park. With snow on the ground and the sun out, the road was sure to be muddy… needless to say I have an entirely new respect for “not passable when wet” signs. The trailer made my 30 mile trip take nearly twice as much time. The load in the trailer sank the tires into the deep mud (more like clay!) and instantly I was using the lockers and plenty of throttle just to make it up a slight incline. Take situations such as this into consideration when planning your route!

What would I change & hope to change?
I plan to really water & dust proof the trailer. For the most part it keeps the moisture out, even while traveling in storms, but keeping water completely out has been some what challenging. Dust on the other hand has been impossible to conquer… it seems to find its way in everywhere. A couple of hours of work could go a long ways to fix both these problems… one of these days. My organization in the trailer could use a bit of help to, I have made some huge steps in regards to this with the purchase of some large plastic storage bins that will help stow gear in a more efficient manner.

Did it accomplish all my initial goals? 
Yes, for the most part. I can take a lot more gear on extended wheeling trips, literally it can carry enough gear for four people when necessary. I can keep the camping gear loaded in a locked trailer at home, and I secure gear at camp while I’m out on the trail. I can keep all my “regular” camping items in the trailer, ready for a short notice trip. I have the option to implement things never possible with just a 4x4, such as on-board propane, 120V power via a small generator, etc. 

Look for the “Trail Trailer” on a trail near you. I hope I haven’t bored you to death with my sometimes excessive analysis. I’ll probably give you a brief update in an issue or two; I have some future modifications and additions in mind.

Custom Offroad Trailer Notes & Pictures

(Beginning of the frame, FJ55 rear frame portion, with a FJ55 front bumper as a rear trailer bumper. The axle is a commercially available 3000lb unit, with 6 on 5.5" hubs, 58" WMS-WMS)

(Sully mounting up the axle)

(Mocking up the two hard top halfs)

(2 layers of fiberglass/resin on the inside)

(Do it yourself bedliner applied to the fender flares, and completely inside tub)

(Do it yourself bedliner applied to the fender flares, and completely inside tub)

(The lunette setep)

(The lunette & pintle setep)

(The trailer in use, AF Canyon, Utah)

(The trailer in use, AF Canyon, Utah)

Other Offroad Trailers

(Owner: Scott Brennan, Idaho. FJ40 rear tub construction)

(Owner: Snook @ IH8Mud. Military M416 trailer base)

(M416 Trailer Specifications, photo courtesy of Snook @ IH8Mud)

(Owner: Trent Taylor, Utah. FJ40 rear tub construction)

(Owner: Mike S @ IH8Mud. Custom designed by Mike S)

(Owner: Mike S @ IH8Mud. Custom designed by Mike S)

(Owner: Unknown?)

(Owner: Adventure Trailersa, photo courtesy of Mike S)

(Owner: Medusa. Photo courtesy of pygpen @ IH8Mud)

Trailer Manufacturer and Information Links:

Adventure Trailers
Bushwakka Trailers
Campa Trailers
Haultent Trailers
King Kampers
Merlin Trailers
Outback Teardrop

Safari Trailers
Tent Trax
Track Trailer

Misc Trailer Related Sites:

Rooftop Tent Manufacturers & Information Links
ARB Simpson Touring Tents (link coming soon)
AutoHomeUSA Rooftop Tents

CarTop Tents
Eazi-Awn US Distributor
Howling Moon Tents (link coming soon)
MyWay Tents

Shipp Shape Tents
Skydome Tents (Not Manufacturers Website)
Technitop Tents

Last Updated: 05/17/07

*See something missing, wrong, or incomplete? Please let us know!

Drive Train I Suspension I Performance I Exterior Parts I Interior Parts I Accessories I Advance Adapters I Toyota OEM Parts
Used Parts I Custom Fabrication I Line Card I Land Use I Specials
Home I Customer Comments I About Us I Contact Us / Order I Photo Gallery

© 2003 - 2007 Cruiser Outfitters I Website Built by College Internet Solutions & Maintained by Cruiser Outfitters