DIY Overland and Off-Road Camping Trailer Build For the 5th Gen 4Runner (Part 1)
DIY Overland Trailer Build (Part 1): Introduction To Building A DIY Overland Trailer. This will cover What To Know, Planning, Where To Purchase A Trailer, And What Work You Need To Do To The Trailer.
If you missed the other posts, here they are:
- DIY Overland Trailer (Part 1) – Why Trailers & Types of Trailers
- DIY Overland Trailer (Part 2) – Mods to Consider and Getting Started
- DIY Overland Trailer (Part 3) – Detailed Look at Add-Ons and Accessories
You have a 4Runner and you want to get into camping, maybe even overland camping.
There are several options.
You could simply buy a standard ground camping tent, upgrade to a rooftop tent (RTT), purchase an overland trailer or buy the most luxurious of all – a camper trailer outfitted with all the bells and whistles.
The cheapest solution is purchasing a standard tent. You know, the classic tent you set on the ground. This will no doubt get you started, and I’ve had a lot of fun and good memories using a standard camping tent.
There is a lot of setups though, they aren’t as comfortable as other options, and they don’t provide as much versatility as other options. Not to mention you have to store the tent and all of the associated gear in or on your 4Runner.
Another Option Is A Camping Trailer
Moving to the entirely opposite end of the spectrum, you could get a camper trailer.
Camping trailers are nice and will provide the best comfort, air conditioning and heating, restroom and shower, a TV, and many other luxuries, but they aren’t designed to go off-road (in general…there are some camping trailers to go off-road), they are expensive, big and bulky.
However, if you are planning on staying on-road only with slight challenges off-road (light forest service roads) and want the most comfortable living, a camper trailer will serve you well.
I wanted something to go off-road though, and with a smaller footprint.
An RTT vs. Pre-Built Overland Trailer Options
Photo & Truck Credit: @SWELLRUNNER
This leaves us with an RTT and purchasing an overland trailer pre-built by a company.
Overlanding trailers are awesome!! They can go off-road, offer you a comfortable bed at night, space to store food and also cook food, and so much more. Some teardrop style trailers will even have air conditioning units. ‘
They might be the perfect camping trailer for a 4Runner and other overlanding vehicles; however, they can be quite expensive. How expensive? Well, at a minimum you should expect to pay around $5,000…and this typically is just for the trailer. No RTT, cooler, fridge, or anything like that… just the structure for you to mount and store all of your equipment.
In consideration of this, you can easily add another couple grand to this price. If you want an enclosed cabin trailer you are looking at a minimum of $10,000 most likely, and this price can be as high as $20,000 – $30,000 if you are looking at higher-end models! This is crazy.
RTT’s Can Get Expensive
Photo & Truck Credit: @GOPHERDIRT
Although these overland trailers are awesome and I think they potentially are the best option available, they were just too expensive for me and seemed a little unpractical honestly. I couldn’t grasp spending so much money on an overland trailer. This is why I focused on an RTT.
RTTs are designed to be on the roof of your vehicle (typically on a roof rack – pictured above is a GFC RTT) and they fold out to the side to create a sleeping area. They typically will have a foam mattress ranging in size from 1.5” – 3”, can be set up in less than 5 minutes, are quite comfortable, and are essentially the best enclosure you could get outside of having actual walls.
What I like about RTTs is the fact that I can go anywhere I want in my 4Runner and then have a comfortable sleeping shelter I could set up quickly…anywhere.
While this all sounds grand and dandy, an RTT on top of my 4Runner presented its own problems though.
The Problem With An RTT On Your Roof Rack
I have one of the best roof racks you can get for a 4Runner – an ARB Flat Alloy. It is designed for items such as RTTs, kayaks, SUPS, camping gear, travel cases, skis, and pretty much anything you can secure to the rack while not exceeding the 300lb dynamic capacity (or 600lb static capacity). While it will work great for my Tepui Kukenam 3 RTT, there is one problem. I like to fish from a kayak and SUP, and I usually store these on my roof rack. I can’t have an RTT, a kayak, and my SUP on my roof rack though.
Of course, I could purchase a small trailer and put my kayaks and SUPs on the trailer, but this presents another issue.
Anytime I want to leave my base camp I’d have to pack up my tent since it is on my 4Runner. This is a problem, as my base camp is often miles from my launching point for fishing with my kayaks and SUPs and I don’t want to have to put my tent up and take it down that much (which would essentially be twice a day in most cases). This will be a problem for anyone actually – whether you put stuff on your roof rack or not. If you want to take your car somewhere, you have to pack your tent up.
So, what can be done?
Solution: Build a Budget-Friendly RTT Overland Trailer
The answer for me was building a DIY RTT overland trailer for a fraction of the cost that a pre-built overland trailer would cost. Having an RTT overland trailer allows me to park the trailer, and then drive off in my 4Runner without having to take down the RTT. I can bring my kayaks and SUPs with me as my roof rack is not supporting an RTT. Last, I can design the RTT overland trailer to haul all of my camping gear, and therefore the inside of my 4Runner should be cleaner and quieter when I’m going on a camping excursion (and I can bring more gear with me).
Once I realized that building a DIY overland trailer was the way to go, I started researching as much as I could, and the build was on. It was quite a bit of research, hard work, and time though. There is a lot that goes into building a DIY overland trailer, and this is why I decided that the build process would make an excellent series of articles for those who are interested.
So, if you are interested in building your own DIY overland trailer, be sure to stay tuned, as this will be the first of four (4) total articles that discuss building a custom RTT overland trailer.
This 4-part writeup will be covering the following:
- Part 1: Introduction To Building A DIY Overland Trailer – What To Know, Planning, Where To Purchase A Trailer, And What Work You Need To Do To The Trailer
- Part 2: DIY Overland Trailer Electrical System – A Complete Install And Review Of The Renogy 50W Solar Starter Kit With Blue Seas Weatherdeck Six (6) Switch Control Panel
- Part 3: Installing Equipment On Your DIY Overland Trailer – What I Installed, Why, And How Well It Works
- Part 4: Complete Overview Of My DIY Overlanding Trailer
So, let’s get started!
What Type Of Trailer Do You Need?
The type of trailer you will need for your DIY overland trailer build is dependent on where you want to take it.
If you are only going to be on-road and smooth dirt roads, most likely any trailer will do. However, if you are wanting to take your trailer off-road (as a true overland trailer would be designed to do) and follow anywhere your 4Runner goes, you will need a different trailer designed to handle rugged terrain and follow your 4Runner.
Yes, you could purchase a new, off-road trailer…but these are quite pricey. You could also weld and design your own trailer, but this takes a substantial amount of skill, effort, and time. This led me to the best of both – a used military trailer.
Military trailers are typically designed to go off-road, they are rugged, and they can be purchased relatively cheap. With this, I was on to researching different military trailers that I could purchase.
What Type Of Military Trailer?
There are two (x2) main US military trailers worth looking at in my opinion: the M416 and M1101. We will start with the M1101.
M1101 Military Trailer
M1101 is a great choice. It is used to be pulled behind a HUMVEE. This is great, but also the very reason I decided to not use an M1101. What do I mean? Well, an M1101 trailer would have been substantially wider than my 4Runner (as it is as wide as a HUMVEE) and the tires would have matched a HUMVEE, which are 37” tall tires. I didn’t want the trailer to be wider than my 4Runner, and having bigger tires would have been okay, but I don’t think it would have looked great. This led me to the smaller M416 trailer.
M416 Military Trailer
The M416 trailer is a ¼ ton trailer and is designed to be pulled by vehicles smaller than a HUMVEE. It has a bed dimension of 72” x 49” (so essentially 6’ x 4’), and I believe it is just the right size for a 4Runner overlanding trailer. In fact, there are several companies (which will remain unnamed) that essentially copy the design of the M416 trailer, modernize it, and sell it for $6,000 – $10,000. Pretty crazy. This is how you know the M416 has a good design. While M416 trailers do not have swing arm suspension or anything like this, they do have a decent suspension setup and are designed to go off-road. Ultimately, they have an on-road capacity of 750 lbs. and an off-road capacity of 500 lbs. This can be altered with suspension setups and different tires though.
What’s a Pintle Hitch?
One other unique aspect to military trailers such as the M416 is the hitch, a pintle hitch to be exact. A pintle hitch is designed for off-road use, as it provides excellent articulation and maneuverability. Most people will not have a pintle hitch for their car, but they can be purchased just like any other hitch. The pintle hitch is a little different, but I believe it is a better design if you are actually going to take your trailer off-road.
So, with this, I was off to find and purchase an M416 trailer.
Where To Find A Used M416 Trailer
There are several options for finding an M416 military trailer. Here are just a few that I’d recommend:
- Facebook Marketplace (where I purchased mine from)
- Garage sales
- Garage sale apps
- Newspaper classifieds
- Online Military Auctions
- Craigslist (if you dare….)
Something you will want to note is M416 trailers are old…from the 60’s. Due to this, you need to get a good look at the trailer before you purchase it to make sure it is structurally sound. Rust, dents, scrapes, etc. I do not recommend purchasing a M416 trailer (or any other used military trailer) without taking a look at it in person or having someone else look at it for you. You will most likely have some surface rust on a used military trailer, but this is all it is…surface rust. Obviously, it would be optimal to find a completely rust-free trailer, but this will be hard to do.
I found an M416 military trailer nearby on Facebook Marketplace. Someone had already done a little work to the trailer (LED trailer lights, hitch extension, minor repairs, rack, etc.), and it appeared to be a great option. After looking at the trailer in person I was convinced and bought it for $1,250.
How To Transform Your Base Trailer Into An Overlanding Trailer
Now that you have purchased your trailer you need to start working on it. This is where I need to make a big disclaimer…in fact, I probably should have made this disclaimer earlier, but I didn’t want to scare you off too soon…
Building a DIY overland trailer is a lot of work. You will most likely need to know how to weld, know someone who can weld, or pay someone to do welding. You will have to do a lot of grinding. Lots of planning. A significant amount of time commitment should be expected. It is simply hard work, but in the end, it will be well worth it (and you will have saved a lot of money that you can use elsewhere)!
First, Evaluate Your Trailer
The first thing you need to do in my opinion is to evaluate the trailer. You should have done this to a certain extent before you purchased the trailer, but now you really need to see what repairs (if any) you need to make. Is there surface rust? Are there some dents you need to pop out? What do you need to do?
Make a list (whether that be mentally or on paper) of all the things you need to do in order for the trailer to be structural sound and stand up to the elements.
In addition, you also need to plan for what you want in/on the overland trailer. There are many different pieces of equipment and accessories you can add, but here is a list of potential items:
- Electrical System
- Fold-Down Table
- Cooking Stove
- Water System
- Tongue Box
- Off-Road Accessories
- Drawer System
These are just some items, as the list goes on and on. I will cover what I decided to install on my trailer in the next article. The point here is that before you get too far, you need to have a good idea of what you want to install and also the location of where you will be installing it on your trailer.
Prepare Trailer For Your Equipment
At this point in time, you need to know what equipment you plan on installing, where, and also what repairs need to be made. If you haven’t figured this out, do not proceed with the next steps.
Other items worth looking into now are trailer tires, trailer lights, and suspension. If you need to replace some suspension components go ahead and do so. I’d recommend some off-road tires, but ultimately, you just need to make sure you have safe, roadworthy tires. All of your lights need to work. Take care of all this now. After doing so, you can move on to trailer repairs.
Ultimately, the next few steps involve:
- Removing Surface Rust
- Welding Custom Brackets and/or Supports
- Cleaning & Priming
- Painting or Powder-Coating
With all this said, you probably will have to remove surface rust now. I did this by myself, but you could, of course, pay someone. The M416 trailer I purchased was in great shape, but it did have some minor surface rust. It was time to bring out the grinder on a Saturday and start removing the rust.
I’ll be straightforward. This process is hard, dirty, time-consuming, and not fun. However, when I finished removing all surface rust, I was so happy and ultimately one step closer to a finished product.
Weld Any Brackets, Frames & Supports You’ll Need
For example, I lowered the existing rack on my M416 trailer and welded on a custom bracket for a water tank and a custom bracket/support for my solar panel. This is why you need to know what equipment you plan on installing…so you know what brackets/supports to weld.
After all your welding is complete, you can start grinding your welds and making everything look pretty.
After Welding Is Done, Time To Prime & Paint!
After all welding and grinding are done, you are ready to clean the surface, prime, and paint (or powder coat). I know that I was shocked at how much better my M416 trailer looked when it was painted and clean…it looked nice! This is a huge milestone in the build process (and potentially the most time consuming and strenuous).
This really is one of the hardest and most time-consuming parts of the entire process, so making it through the repair and painting is huge!
Now your trailer is clean, rust-free, and ready for all of your equipment to be mounted. If you are going to have electrical equipment, you need to move on to the power system. If you will not have a fridge, lights, or anything like this, then you are one step closer than I was at this point as you will not need to install an electrical system.
For the purpose of this article series, I am going to cover the installation of an electrical system, as this is what I chose to do, and I imagine most people interested in a DIY overland trailer will be interested as well.
With the trailer ready for equipment, we can now move on to installing the electrical system and ultimately all of the equipment we are going to incorporate. Stay tuned for Article 2 where I will cover the electrical system I installed, why, and how!