We Built an Expedition Trailer!
Hey y'all! You guys know how much we like camping and all things outdoors, so we built an expedition trailer! We have done all types of camping, but we needed to up our primitive camping game. Ryan and I don't have the best health even though we are 'younger'. We still want to get out there and mountain bike, hike, jeep, fish, and do all the other outdoor things we love, all being off grid. But the tent thing just isn't for us (all the time). We have always had an RV for those trips with family to a lake, etc. and for the volunteer work we have done. The kids were younger and we needed a bunkhouse so the kids could travel with us while we did this, it served it purpose, ya know?
It sold and we are moving on. The girls are driving, 16 and 18. The boys are just behind them and they don't want to be stuck in a typical RV either. So the plan? Build something we can pull with our jeep or truck, enabling us to be off grid but take care of our health so we can get the most out of these memories. So the planning begins!
We talked about the things we needed and wanted out of a trailer. We wanted to have enough space in the cabin to not feel to cramped, but not too big we would be wider than our jeep. The trailer width all said and done is perfect with our jeep. The tires track the same as our jeep and we have the same clearance as our jeep, so what does that mean? Anywhere our jeep can go so can our trailer!
We also wanted some kind of bike rack, water system, and small kitchen area. Balancing the weight and having locking storage is key. Windows were a must, 2 entry doors were a must, and so was a hot shower! I'm not a sissy y'all, I have fibro and taking a cold shower is just too painful anymore. Why take away from the fun when we can have a portable hot water heater? This is the one we use and we love it!
We wanted heavy duty doors, the ones we could buy were expensive and not exactly what we wanted, so Ryan built all of our doors. My dad is a good fabricator too so these guys came up with an awesome plan. Can't wait for y'all to see it!
We decided that we want to install a zippered tent on the side, (can't remember the name) and a roof top tent for the boys. For now they're sleeping in the jeep until we get them a roof top tent installed. It's been just over a month of building, Ryan has done a lot and we have taken it on three trips, so now we can start with the final touches since we have used it and know now what we need!
The Planning Stage
We started with all the spit-balling mentioned above, then we drew up a quick sketch of the basic design. Ryan has been in construction for a long tome, so that was all he needed. The rest was in his head and he went to work. He made himself a materials list, off to the metal and hardware stores.
With the basic design we considered what we would be doing with it. We wanted it to be aerodynamic and have a departure angle on the back so when we are rock crawling we don't worry about scraping the back of the trailer.
Then the building began!! We planned and critiqued our build as we went. Once we could see the walls going up, the amount of space we'd have, and the basic design before our eyes we could start to make it ours. For example, in the outdoor kitchen area in the back of the trailer Ryan built a storage cubby under the countertop, it has a hinged lid and its the width of the trailer. I decided it needed a divider, the left side will be kitchen misc storage and the right side would be my onion and potato bin. Yes, we need a potato bin, y'all don't understand how many potatoes we eat when we are camping. No joke, for example, when we went to Phantom Canyon, Canon City, Colorado for 10 days, there were 8 of us, we ate 70# of potatoes. I think potatoes will have their own post one day! :)
The Exterior Coating
Initially we thought about fiberglassing and painting the trailer to match our Jeep, but we decided to go another route. We will paint her to match eventually, but for now we decided to do a durable exterior coating called T-Rex Liner. It's like rhino liner and it is super durable. It coated the wood and sealed it really well. We have let it sit out through several bad thunderstorms and it rained on us while we were in Colorado, no leaks, no soft spots. This has worked great!
Ryan did a lot of prep work. He sanded everything really well, used a small amount of bondo and silicone to seal up knots and any sizeable cracks. The coating went on great, it's looks good, and it's so durable. To me, it dried too stiff, so the wood is wanting to crack. We are going to re-coat it with rhino liner since it is a little more flexible.
Axle and Tires
We wanted the same clearance and width as our Jeep, so I'll let Ryan explain how he worked the axle to get it all done right. As far as tires? Of course they have to be the same as the Jeep! We didn't want to worry about driving highway speeds and having a tire blowout, plus it's about clearance off road. You have to be able to get your trailer where your vehicle can go. We went with 37s. I'm a BFG girl, but Ryan has seen a lot of reviews and talked to guys running Patagonia's, so this is what we went with. You get a few thousand less miles they say, but Ryan is really good with maintenance and rotation so I bet we will get some good use out of them. So far, so good. They are wearing a little faster, but they are super sticky and have been great in the different terrain we have driven in.
Ryan will explain the axle here, he hasn't had time to get this done, so we will update this y'all!
Time for Fenders and Racks
Yes, it is time for welding! Ryan built fenders, steps so we can get up to the roof racks and the future roof top tent, and a bike rack. We don't just Jeep, we like to Mountain Bike as a family, downhill too. (Click here for that story.) He made sure we had somewhere for the front bike wheels too, since we take off our front wheel to load them on the bike rack. He welded us up a holder for our small propane bottle and an adapter for our baby smoker/grill we bought at Bucee's. It works great! The grill is stowed away in the front compartment and it slides on to the side of the fender step by our kitchen at the back of the trailer.
Cabinetry and Clothing & Storage
Clothes, shoes, food, kitchen gear. Where does it all go? Also, when you go off road things are bouncing around. How will things stay in place? This plan is all about seamless camping, not spending all day cleaning up and reorganizing after you find that perfect off-grid spot.
In The Cabin
Ryan built us cubbies for our clothes. It works great and maximizes our space. It also keeps us from having a bulky cabinet which would make our bed area feel small. We want it to be clean an open. We roll our clothes and we have been able to pack two weeks worth of clothes, including jackets and shoes. We have 8 inches or so at our feet below our mattress, so we keep 2 bins for our extra shoes. Since we love outdoor activities, we need our bike shoes, bike shorts, helmet, hydration pack, hiking gear, etc.
Below the cubbies Ryan built me a shelf. As y'all know from reading my blog I love organized chaos. Well, I have a toiletry bag that I travel with that never gets unpacked. It's always ready to grab and go, and I keep that bag on my shelf. This shelf also gives my space to set a mirror so I can make myself look human when I wake up in the morning, a place to do my evening routine, all that good stuff.
Ryan's side doesn't have a shelf. He doesn't need to make himself look human like I do, he's a guy. (They're so lucky y'all!) So, instead he built cubbies all the way down on his side, so he has room for the bulky jackets, hoodies, and a cubby for our iPads and computers. He keeps his go pro and gimbal gear in there too so it's easy to find and we can charge it at night.
We have a hook by the door that we hang our hydration packs and helmets on. Our hydration packs aren't small and this works great for us. Ryan rides with a go pro gear bag with a hydration pack and I ride with a large Dakine hydration pack. Their not in the way and easy to grab. It's all about organized chaos y'all!
We have a 4" fender well that is inside our cabin, we built it this way because we needed our axle width to match our jeep. The benefit? It makes the perfect little night stand! I keep my jewelry, Apple Watch, etc. at night. Our expedition megawatt duo fits perfectly inside the finder wells! I have 1/2" of space on each side which gives me room for changing sheets.
We have more we are doing in the cabin, I'll tell y'all about that at the end of this blog post.
In the Kitchen
So, this one is super simple for now. We have some mods coming. I'll talk about the changes at the end. For now, Ryan built us a shelf and I have my potato and cleaning bins under the counter. I have baskets on the shelf for our dry food, coffee supplies, and staples.
I installed a magnetic spice holder and a magnetic knife rack. This wouldn't work for everyone, but we camp often enough (even on our property, a night closely at the river or lake, etc.) that I'm not worried about my spices getting old.
We are using the same coating on the interior that we used on the exterior. I am painting it a white durable coating. Farmhouse, grays, whites, shiplap. That’s my style at home. I want that same comfort clean feel with my little trailer. Keeping the cabin where we sleep bright with the light paint and 2 windows makes it feel bigger also. I haven’t decided yet what I’m doing on the counter in the outdoor kitchen. OK, I lied. Before I published this post I decided to stay and seal it, so when it gets 'loved' I can sand it down and re-coat it if need be. It would look pretty legit as it gets distressed with use. The Front Storage Compartment
Ryan built a storage compartment in the front that holds the following:
- Privy Tent
- Leveling Jacks
- Drill and Other Tools
- Portable Toilet
- Hot Water Heater (Yes!! A hot water heater!)
- Mats for outside the cabin entry doors
- Our Small Grill
On top of this storage compartment is the rack with bike rack attachments that Ryan welded. We usually travel with our cooler in between the bikes, and there is room for misc. gadgets if need be.
We have been carrying our old camping water jugs, but I found a water bladder on amazon. It holds 60 gallons of fresh water, but it collapses and it weighs less than 5 pounds. We are trying this on our next trip!
How We Shower
Like I said earlier, we bought a hot water heater. It lasts 45 minutes on a charge and it heats with your typical green Coleman propane bottle. It gets hotter than I can stand and, guess what y'all? It works in high altitude! I was so excited. We had used it at the beach, so when we left out for Colorado I was worried. We camped at 10,500' and 9,500'. It did it's job! We have been using two separate privy tents. We found that it's hard to dry off, get dressed, etc with this system. We also hate dealing with the stupid tent poles. We have a trailer now, no more tent poles, ya know!?!? We found a 2 room pop up privy tent. We are going to try this next time. It has a wet room and a dry room, so we can step out to get dressed, and no struggle with al the tent poles!
Ryan is building a rack on the top. We will be able to put a roof top tent on for when the boys are with us, and there will be room for other storage. If the roof top tent is on the jeep, then we can use the storage rack for carrying empty water jugs (if our bladder doesn't work out), kayak, whatever suits our fancy.
We will be installing solar panels. We take an inverter generator now, but we would like to be able to recharge the hot water heater and phones, recording equipment etc. while we are off grid.
Another improvement will be the cabin area. We will be adding a few organizing things, ya know, since organized chaos is my thing. We will be building a compartment behind our pillows, just 4 inches wide by 8 inches tall and the width of the trailer. We will be able to store flashlights etc and have a little shelf to throw stuff if need be.
We will be installing a split unit also so we can camp in hot and super cold weather and be comfortable. We did camp when the temps reached close to freezing at night, and with the insulation that Ryan did we actually had to crack the windows. It was so cozy!
In the kitchen, I will be adding a couple dividers on the shelf and mini split barn doors. I told y'all I love farmhouse, not because of the 'farmhouse craze' that has been happening the last 5-8 years, but because I grew up in the heart of Texas and this is what I know and love.
I'm just gonna make a list here, I'll explain stuff with in the bullet point if I think it's helpful to y'all.
- Camp Boss hot water heater
- Buc-ee's small grill
- SereneLife portable toilet (lifesaver y'all! I will never go back to a bucket system again!)
- Kelty Low-Love Seat camping chair ~ This chair is a two seater which we love because we like each other. We snuggle up by the camp fire and I also like to sit Indian style a lot. If you're tall, you may find it hard to get out of this chair, but I'm a shortie and my hubs is average height. It is so comfortable, I totally recommend.
Watch the YouTube video here