If you’re wondering if you can build your dream truck camper instead of buying it, you’re in luck. If you have the DIY skills and equipment, it’s certainly possible to build your own DIY Truck camper.
We’ll break down how to do it and everything you need to consider in this comprehensive guide!
What Is a Truck Camper?
Truck campers rest directly on the bed of the truck, rather than being towed behind a truck. While this makes them a little easier to handle on long road trips, it puts a little extra stress on your vehicle if it can’t handle the added weight.
The good news is most 1-ton or larger pickup trucks can handle all the extra stress a truck camper adds. If this sounds like a great way to travel the country, you’re not alone. Keep reading, and we’ll break down how you can build your own camper and hit the open road!
Stationary Truck Campers vs. Removable Truck Campers
When you’re thinking about building your truck camper, there are two different styles to choose from – stationary and removable. While there are pros and cons to each, removable truck campers tend to be far more common.
Stationary Truck Campers
Stationary truck campers are larger and typically offer far more amenities than removable truck campers. While they make for a more comfortable camping experience, you can’t take them down when you get to your destination or when you get home.
Furthermore, because of their larger size, you need a bigger truck to handle your camper’s load without causing damage to your vehicle. As a final perk, since you don’t have to install the camper before you head out, it makes it easier than ever to hit the open road!
- No hassle to unload or load your camper
- Typically, larger and has more amenities
- Can’t unload your camper once you reach your destination
- Requires a bigger vehicle to handle the larger size
Removable Truck Campers
Removable truck campers are far more common. That’s because they are completely removable, which means you don’t lose the rest of your truck’s functionality when you’re not camping!
However, removable truck campers are smaller than stationary campers and don’t offer the same number of amenities and comfort features.
Furthermore, installing them before your next camping trip and taking them off when you get back home can be a big job that may prevent you from using them as often as you could.
Finally, since removable campers are smaller, you can often install them on smaller trucks. This is a significant advantage if you drive a ½ or ¾ pickup truck – as these trucks usually can’t handle the extensive weight of a stationary camper.
- Quick removal and installation
- Cheaper than most stationary campers
- Fewer features than most stationary campers
- Have to install and remove the camper before and after each use
Can You Build Your Own Truck Camper?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is a bit more complicated. While it’s certainly possible to build your own truck camper, whether it’s feasible for you depends on various factors.
First, do you have the tools and equipment needed? You’ll need tools for woodworking, sheet metal, and general DIY projects. It’s a comprehensive list, and each tool you don’t have will add to your cost.
Furthermore, you need the know-how and the patience to figure things out if something gets tough. If it sounds like something you’re interested in, we’ll break down everything you need to know from the finances to the build to get you started!
Factors to Consider
Do you have a workshop, and have you worked with your hands to build things before? If so, you’re off to a great start! If not, consider starting with a smaller project to get your feet wet and build some experience.
You can even start with some of the features you’re looking to add to your camper, like tables or chairs. If you can build them and enjoy the challenge, then you can graduate to building your camper.
Another factor to consider is the price. If you don’t have the tools, it will cost a mint to get up and running. Of course, you buy prebuilt components and assemble them yourself, but this is often just as expensive as buying a new camper.
Moreover, keep in mind the final weight of your camper before you start building it. You might have the most beautiful camper in the world, but if you don’t have a vehicle that can tow it, you’ll never be able to take it anywhere.
Finally, unless you have extensive experience in building or fabricating complex designs, don’t think you’ll be able to knock it out in a weekend. While it’s certainly possible, it will take most people closer to a month or two if they’re working at it consistently.
It’s a lot of work, it’s going to take a lot of hours, and it can be a ton of fun. Enjoy the experience from start to finish. If you don’t, it probably won’t be worth it.
When you’re building your camper, make sure you invest in high-quality privacy curtains that you can easily install and remove. While you want natural lighting inside your camper, there are times that you won’t want everyone to see what you’re doing inside!
Think About Heating
Yes, you should insulate the inside of your camper, but that will only take you so far on those cold winter nights. If you’re traveling throughout the year, you should invest in a heating source.
An electric blanket is an excellent start if you only plan on sleeping in your camper, but if you’re going to be around more than that, you should invest in some sort of space heater. Keep in mind that both options require an external power source, so plan accordingly when designing your build!
Think Long Term Power
In today’s world, you need power for everything. That’s why you should install a power source when building your camper. But once you have the electrical outlets, you need to consider how they’re going to work.
If you only plan on stopping at areas with power supply, you can tap into your need to install an outlet to use them. Otherwise, you need to factor in batteries and how you’re going to charge them.
Typically, owners tap into their vehicle’s alternator, so the batteries charge as you drive, but you need to consider two things if you do this. First, you need to upgrade your vehicle’s alternator to handle the extra workload of charging extra batteries.
Keep in mind even with an upgrade, the alternator will wear out quicker with the extra workload, and there will be the cost of replacing it sooner rather than later.
Second, make sure you install an isolation switch you can quickly turn on and off. While you’re driving, you should connect the circuit so the batteries can charge. However, when you shut off the truck, you should isolate your power.
This will prevent you from killing your vehicle’s battery by morning and having no way to start your vehicle to get everything charged again!
As a final consideration, keep in mind a single battery likely won’t be enough to keep everything going throughout a full night. You’ll probably need several batteries to keep everything running smoothly all night long!
How to Get Started
The first thing you need to get started is to design your camper and develop a plan to build it. While you won’t need every tool from the moment you start, you will need quite a few to build the frame.
Once you’ve designed your camper, set up a budget for each portion of the build, and start saving for it. You don’t need all the money upfront, but you should have the money for each portion of the build before you start. This is a realistic way to keep the process moving.
Planning ahead ensures after nine to twelve months spent building your dream camper you can afford the finishing touches!
Skills That You’ll Need
The most critical skills you’ll need are carpentry, sheet metal working, insulation, electrical, and plumbing. It’s a lot, but you do each job at different times; you have time to work on each skill and slowly dive into it.
More important than any hard skills are the soft skills that you’ll need. A DIY attitude and the ability to persevere work through challenges.
If this is your first time building a camper, you’re sure to have setbacks, but the ability and desire to fix mistakes and build a high-quality product is going to give you what it takes to finish your project.
Picking Your Features
Are you looking for a luxury camper or a functional box with a bed? Like buying a camper, the build’s cost will vary wildly depending on the features you want to install.
Just as importantly, the complexity of the build increases significantly for every feature you add. If you’re just getting started on major DIY projects, we recommend you keep it simple. If you build in the space for the more complex features, you can always upgrade or install them later.
The Building Guide
It’s all fun and games to talk about building your own camper, but things get serious when you start your build. We’ll walk you through the basics here so your build can go as smoothly as possible!
The last thing you want is to finish the final touches and realize you missed an integral part of the build – like the plumbing or electric!
The most important thing you need to remember when building your camper is to measure twice and cut once. Once you’ve made a cut or glued something together, it’s much harder to get things back on track.
If you take your time and do it right the first time, everything goes a lot smoother!
Tools You’ll Need
- Gridded paper
- Pencil and eraser
Before you sit down and build your camper, you need to come up with the design. From the framing to the features, you need to figure it all out before you get started!
Some important things to consider are how many beds you’ll need, if you plan to install a bathroom, how much storage space you’ll need, whether or not you’ll want a television, where you want your windows, and the overall size and weight of your truck camper.
Once you’ve planned everything out in your head, draw it out. It doesn’t need to be an artistic masterpiece, but you should keep everything proportional.
Drawing out your design will ensure what you have planned is actually realistic and will give you a final feel for your design before you start building.
Never underestimate how much storage space you’ll need in your camper. Not only will it carry all your clothes and comfort items, but you also need storage to hold your water and food for your trip.
While you can refill this periodically as you travel, you don’t want to feel like you have to restock your supply every day due to lack of storage space!
Tools You’ll Need
- High-quality construction wood glue
- Props to stabilize your frame
- Tape measure
Framing is one of the most daunting tasks in the entire build, but if you take your time and plan it out beforehand, it’s one of the easiest. Furthermore, once you have the frame built, it’s easy to find the motivation to keep building your project!
But how do you do it? First, draw a blueprint of the final frame. Make sure that the dimensions are correct so everything will fit as it should. From there, cut 2×2 or 2×4 wood to the correct dimensions for each piece of the frame.
When attaching each piece of the frame, be sure to use both wood glue and screws/nails to connect the frame. Using both glue and screws to build your frame will ensure a sturdier build that will stay together when you hit the road!
After you cut your wood down to size, make sure to smooth out the ends with sandpaper so you get a flush fitment. This gives you the maximum surface area and a sturdier frame.
If you’re building a freestanding frame, you’ll need props to keep everything elevated as the glue dries. Give the frame at least 24-hours to dry. Finally, keep in mind that the colder the weather, the longer it will take the glue to dry.
If you need a visual on how to frame your truck camper, check out this helpful video!
Build the Sides
Tools You’ll Need
- Wood glue
While the framing is the base for your camper, the siding pulls it all together. For your siding, use plywood – it’s lightweight and sturdy. If you don’t like the look of plywood, don’t worry, this isn’t the final finish, and you won’t see any of it after you apply the final exterior siding.
Adding the siding is easy, but a bit time-consuming. Cut each piece of plywood down to size and apply wood glue everywhere it will meet with the frame.
Attach the plywood and hammer in nails or screw in screws to keep in place. Don’t skimp on the nails or screws. Add one every few inches to keep everything sturdy and fully compressed. Always attach the plywood to the outside of the frame so you can install your insulation later!
Just like the frame, give the siding at least 24-hours to dry so everything stays in place. If you apply the siding during a colder time of the year, you might need to allow extra time for drying.
Once you’ve completed the siding, you can run any necessary electrical and plumbing before completing the rest of the build.
Run the Power
Tools You’ll Need
- Electrical tape
- Wire strippers
- Solder and soldering iron
Running your electrical system is easy. It’s the planning of it that’s hard. Do you plan on using an external power source everywhere you go? If so, you can forego a battery and a power converter and run standard 110v wiring and outlets.
However, if you plan on having standalone power, you’ll need a battery and a converter to keep everything powered up. You should also consider using your truck’s alternator to charge the battery while you’re driving to give you a steady stream of power in your camper.
Make sure to use breaker boxes when installing your wiring, or else you risk an electrical fire or mishap if anything shorts out or gets overloaded.
Finally, not every truck camper needs electrical wiring. If you plan on keeping things simple, you don’t need to run any electrical wiring and can skip this step entirely.
Don’t Forget the Plumbing
Tools You’ll Need
- Plumbers tape
- Large wrenches
Installing the plumbing for your truck camper is a pretty straightforward process. However, because space is limited in truck campers, many people choose to forgo plumbing entirely. If you plan on installing a toilet, you’ll need to install a tank for the waste as well as the proper fitting so you can dispose of it.
You need to incorporate all of this into your design before you get started! However, if you opt to skip the toilet, a sink still might be a useful addition. Sinks take far less space than a toilet, and you can dispose of the wastewater anywhere!
Furthermore, if you’re looking for hot water, small tankless water heaters can be installed under the sink without taking any additional space. Just be sure to run some electrical wiring to the water heater to keep everything powered up!
You Need Insulation
Tools You’ll Need
- Utility knife
- Straight edge
- Long sleeve shirt and pants
- Face shield
- Dust mask
No matter how fancy or simple you want your truck camper, you’ll want insulation. The last thing you want is a miserable camping experience because the camper is just as cold inside as it is outside. The good news is that installing insulation is easy, and you have two options to choose from.
First, you can install traditional fiberglass insulation if your walls are thick enough to fit it. Fiberglass insulation is easy to install and is extremely effective at keeping the cold air out and the warm air in.
If you don’t have the space to fit fiberglass insulation, you can use foam insulation boards to keep everything more temperate. However, these boards are not as effective as traditional insulation.
No matter the insulation you choose, the process for installing it is similar. Start by measuring your insulation and cutting it down to size with a utility knife and a straight edge. Leave an extra inch or two of insulation when making your initial cuts.
From there, apply the insulation into the camper. Because you left a little excess, you’ll need to trim up the insulation to get a perfect fit. Make sure to cut out areas for windows and doors as you go!
Finally, whenever you are working with fiberglass insulation, you should wear gloves to protect yourself as fiberglass consists of very small and irritating particles.
In addition to gloves, you should wear long-sleeved pants and shirts to ensure that none of the fiberglass touches your skin.
Furthermore, you should wear a face shield and dust mask when cutting fiberglass so you don’t ingest any of the airborne fiberglass particles.
Tools You’ll Need
- Paint roller
- Sheet metal cutter or utility knife (depending on roofing material)
Unlike your home, which uses shingles, most truck camper roofs are far more straightforward. They consist of plywood with a solid rubber or aluminum sheet metal on top that keeps the elements out.
Make sure to properly attach your roof with an industrial-strength adhesive, so nothing comes off as you drive down the road.
From there, use a weather-proof tape to seal edges to keep anything from seeping in. If you properly seal your roof, they should last for years to come. Even better, if they do get damaged, they are relatively easy to replace!
Siding is where you really set your camper apart. There are tons of options to choose from, and they are relatively easy to install. Each type of siding has vastly different installation procedures, so be sure to read the manufacturer’s directions before starting!
Make sure to find both exterior and interior siding for your camper. This will give the outside of your camper a weather-resistant, stylish look and protect you from all the insulation in the interior!
Please keep in mind that interior paneling is not the same as exterior paneling, and you shouldn’t use the same product for each wall! Furthermore, the individual installation procedures will vary as well.
Windows and Doors
When selecting windows for your camper, use RV specific windows. These windows are lighter weight and can handle road conditions far better than traditional housing windows. Attach the windows to the frame of your camper with screws.
Be sure to caulk liberally around openings to seal the windows and door edges to keep out the elements and preserve your camper!
When selecting your door, make sure it is an exterior door that can withstand the elements. The last thing you want is a door that falls apart before the rest of the camper!
If you did the job right, you insulated the floors, but you can’t exactly walk on that! You’ll need to install the flooring to get around inside your camper. Flooring is one of the easiest ways to elevate the look of your camper.
While flooring cost varies, since you’re installing flooring over such a small area, it’s often worth spending the little extra money to get exactly what you want and elevate the feel of your camper. Just be sure to install the flooring correctly and add trim around the edges to help push everything into place.
Flooring is essential, and if you purchase a cheaper floor, you might have to replace it, costing yourself more money in the future!
All About the Interior
Tools You’ll Need
- Varies depending on features selected
For many people, this is the most exciting part of the build. Everything up until now has been for the essentials – the frame and insulation – but that doesn’t provide any luxury to your truck camper.
If you’re building the camper yourself, why not add a flair of luxury to it? Install and mount your television, build the cabinetry for your storage, the frame for your bed, and everything else you want in your camper!
This is your time to get creative and build precisely what you want! Add a little flair and color to the design to get your dream design and set your camper apart from the pack! You built it – be proud of it!
Install Lift Jack if Necessary
Tools You’ll Need
- Varies depending on manufacturer specifications
If the entirety of your truck camper will sit on the bed of your truck, you can skip this step. However, if a portion of your camper will extend past the bed of your truck, you’ll need to install lift jacks outside the camper.
Make sure to follow manufacturer specifications when installing the lift jack. Before taking your vehicle anywhere, check that the lift jacks are working correctly.
How Much Does It Cost to Build a Truck Camper?
Narrowing down the exact price of a camper build varies widely depending on the features you choose and the size of the camper you’re building.
If you’re looking for a simple truck camper, you might be able to complete the job for around $1,000, and more luxurious campers can cost closer to $10,000.
Furthermore, the larger your camper, the more it will cost. You’ll need more lumber for the frame and siding, you’ll need more consumables, and you’ll need more of the final pieces that set your camper apart!
Keep reading, and we’ll break down some of the most common factors that affect your camper’s pricing and how you can keep them in check for a more affordable build.
This is where most people rack up their price tag. If you want a toilet, full-sized refrigerator, a television, and every other fancy feature out there, the camper is going to cost significantly more.
However, if you’re looking for these features and don’t want to break the bank to get them, you can cut your cost by purchasing used products.
It will still be more expensive than if you excluded the features entirely, and you’ll need to run the extra wiring and hardware to install these components.
Furthermore, you’ll need to get creative to fit all these components, and if you need more space, this will significantly raise your build’s cost.
Choose Your Materials Wisely
Yeah, you can get a premium log cabin looking exterior side paneling, but it’s going to cost you a ton more than the basic fiberglass or aluminum siding. If the price is no object, pick what you want and never look back!
But if you’re looking for ways to cut costs, the siding is one of the most expensive components. There are tons of great siding options out there that won’t break the bank. They may not offer the stylistic appeal many people want, but they will save you money.
After determining your siding, look at the cost of your flooring to cut spending a little further. While you shouldn’t go for the lowest quality flooring on the market, that doesn’t mean you need the most expensive either.
If you’re cutting costs, focus more on the build of the flooring and less on the appearance. As long as it’s a high-quality material, it will last for years to come.
But don’t settle for a floor you can’t stand either. Otherwise, you’ll end up replacing it even if everything is still working the way it should.
How Much Can You Build Yourself?
It really depends on how much you’re willing to work and how many tools you have to complete the job. You can build the entire frame and body of the truck camper and install everything you need for it to be functional.
However, if you’re looking to save a little work in the interior, you can purchase cabinets, bed frames, and other amenities to tie everything together. While this is easier than building everything yourself, it will significantly raise the cost of your truck camper.
So, how much can you build? As much as your budget will allow!
What Kind of Truck Do You Need for a Truck Camper?
For most truck campers, you’ll need at least a ¾ or full ton truck. The more things you pack into your camper, the bigger truck you’ll need. Also, keep in mind the size of the truck bed matters too. The larger the truck bed, the bigger the camper you can install – if your truck can handle the added weight.
Before you start your build, figure out how much weight your truck can handle and design, and build your camper accordingly. The last thing you want to do is overload the back of your truck, damage your vehicle, and create unsafe driving conditions!
Determining Your Gross Camper Weight
When you build your own truck camper, trying to figure out how much it weighs can seem like a crapshoot. The good news is you can follow a few good rules that simplify the process for you.
The general rule of thumb builders use for campers is for every foot of camper, you’re adding 250-pounds of weight.
Since most extended bed pickups have an 8-foot bed, and the camper usually extends another two to three feet past that – it’s not unrealistic that your truck camper will weigh over 2,500 pounds when everything is loaded up.
Keep in mind that 250 pounds is just a general rule of thumb, and if you make your camper out of heavier materials or load up a ton of extra gear, your camper will be larger. You should always have at least a 10% margin of error so you don’t risk overloading your truck.
Finding a Truck That Can Tow It
If you already have a truck, you might be in luck. But if you’re looking out at your driveway and you don’t see a ¾ ton pickup or larger, you’re going to need a new vehicle. Even if you have a ¾ ton pickup truck, you’ll need to be extremely careful with your camper; it’s usually best to stick with a 1-ton pickup or bigger.
It’s important to remember it’s not all about how much your vehicle can tow. While that’s an essential factor, a more critical factor is that all of that weight will be sitting on the truck’s rear suspension.
If the suspension can’t handle all that weight, your vehicle will sag, and it can even bend the frame!
Not only should you focus on the towing capacity and rear suspension, but you also need to take the tires into consideration.
Tires can only handle a specific weight capacity. The more weight you throw on them, the better tires you need. But if you add too much weight, the best thing you can do is add more tires. This is especially true for wider campers that weigh more.
Dual rear wheels allow each tire to handle half the weight they otherwise would be carrying, limiting the overall burden. Even more importantly, it gives you better traction and braking power as you drive. This improves overall handling and performance.
Don’t Overload Your Truck
While it might be tempting to add a few extra features, it’s not worth the added headache if your truck can’t handle it.
Not only can it damage your vehicle’s suspension, tires, frame, and every other component between the truck bed and the ground, but it can also lead to dangerous driving conditions.
Your vehicle’s brakes can handle a specific amount of weight, and the more weight you add to your vehicle, the more likely you won’t be able to stop your vehicle as quickly as you need to.
Finally, as you travel to higher elevations, your truck will lose some of its power, and this can affect how much it can tow. That means if you max out your truck’s capacity at elevation, as soon as you travel to a higher altitude, your truck is overloaded.
Run the Numbers First!
Before you start your build:
- Run the numbers.
- If you’re looking for a 10-foot camper, start at 2,500 pounds.
- From there, throw in any extra-large features you plan on adding to your camper.
You need to factor in large appliances and equipment separately and add them to your overall weight.
Since you already figured out how much you can load your vehicle up with, you know what number you can’t exceed. If you’re getting close, either cut features or upgrade your truck.
One of the quickest ways to destroy your vehicle is to attach a camper that it can’t handle.
The Final Build
There’s nothing more liberating than getting in your truck and hitting the open road for a great adventure. Having everything you need in the bed of your truck makes travelling that much more effortless.
Why not build your perfect truck camper so you can hit the open road in style. Not only will you have a camper perfectly suited for your needs, but you’ll also have the pride that comes with making your own camper!
Get started on that life-changing project today!