Purchasing a cargo trailer with the intention of converting it into a camper is an ideal option if you’re looking to start your conversion with a blank canvas, and want to really make your camper unique to your needs.
It means that you can choose the amount of money you would like to invest based on the features you want to include in your camper, and is generally less expensive than other vehicle camping options like purchasing a campervan or RV.
For most cargo trailer to camper conversions, you’re looking at between $5,000 and $15,000 USD total for the trailer and build. This will, of course, vary depending on the design and amenities you are looking for and how much you want to do yourself compared to getting professionally installed.
In this article, we are going to discuss a variety of different trailer conversions, give you an idea of the prices you can expect, and point out the possibilities available to make a little money go a long way.
Jason Spent $11,200 On His Cargo Trailer to Tiny Home Conversion
Jason initially transformed his cargo trailer into a camper, and later decided to revamp the conversion into a vehicle that resembles more of a tiny house. The trailer set Jason back $4200, while the materials for his conversion cost a total of about $7000.
Jason’s main investment was a self-contained composting toilet, manufactured by US-based company Nature’s Head, which cost $960. While a lavatory system such as this does amount to a fairly significant cost, a self-contained composting toilet removes the need for a black water system.
If you can’t justify an almost $1000 purchase like this, a toilet system that connects to a black water tank is a cheaper alternative – provided you have space for an external waste holding tank.
A second significant cost in Jason’s conversion was the purchase of a battery and inverter (acquired separately at a total cost of close to $650). Batteries can be purchased at a range budget depending on your power needs, but in this build, Jason opted for a 12-volt deep cycle battery, and the $290 he paid is pretty standard for a battery bank of this capacity.
The inverter was $370, which is a common price point for a 1000W continuous (2000W surge) 12-volt unit.
Additional costs of this build can be broken down into a series of (arguably non-essential) purchases. A 43” Smart Television is great for entertainment purposes, but if you’re in a pinch and are questioning whether you want to spend an extra $370, it is definitely something you could go without.
The same applies to the sliding barn door used for the pantry; although it adds to the rustic interior of the trailer, a pleated folding door can be purchased for less than $50 – cutting the cost of adding an interior divider by about half of what Jason spent.
Cedric Spent $16,000 CAD On His Cargo Trailer Conversion
This build made use of a Lightning all-aluminium 12’x6’ cargo trailer and was built for a skier traveling to explore mountain ranges in the colder months. Cedric spent the equivalent of around $13,000 USD converting his cargo trailer into a space that he could live in for months at a time.
This camper was built to be able to withstand colder climates and as a result, there was a need for some pretty decent insulation – and Cedric settled on a 1.5-inch closed-cell spray-on option. Spray-on insulation is relatively inexpensive and easy to install with a little bit of know-how, so is a good option if you’re wanting to keep the cost of your build to a minimum.
This camper is predominantly heated by a mini wood stove (specifically the Grizzly Cubic Mini) which retails for around $550. While this does sound like quite an investment, if you’re using it to cook food as well as heat the camper, there is less of a need to spend money on other appliances like an oven, microwave, or cooktop.
The camper is entirely off-grid, using 300W solar panels (generally costing somewhere around the $300 mark) an inverter (around $150), and a 116 amp carbon foam battery ($500-$600) for all of its power needs – which in the grand scheme of things are very minimal.
Cedric saved money by purchasing a battery that just covered his power needs, and it’s a good idea to take a leaf from his book and base your battery capacity on the amount of power you’re actually going to use.
Cedric opted to not install a toilet or shower in his camper and to use a bucket as a sink, meaning he doesn’t need water pipes that can be costly to maintain and can potentially freeze in cold climates.
Kristi Spent $15,000 On Her Cargo Trailer Conversion
Kristi and Roger converted a cargo trailer to a Camper over about 18 months. Their overall spend was around $15,000, and this price takes into account the custom nature of the trailer itself and many of its features which generally come at a higher cost than off-the-shelf installations.
This higher price for customization is a sacrifice that you may be willing to make if you have specific ideas for your build that you’d rather not compromise on. Kristi and Roger did save a bit of money by doing all of the customization themselves – from the platform bed to the shower, not having to pay for labor meant that the money saved could be directed elsewhere.
The trailer company installed windows and an RV door for the couple, which did come at an extra cost when compared to buying a basic trailer and fitting the door and windows yourself, but it also means these components were professionally installed. Lifeproof vinyl plank flooring was used, and at a space of 112 feet, the total cost came to around $350.
Although there are both cheaper and more expensive options for flooring, a Lifeproof option is lightweight, durable, waterproof, and aesthetically pleasing with a range of styles to choose from, so was an obvious choice for Kristi.
Wooden benchtops, shelves, and a table were installed by the couple. They decided to use a walnut butcher block, which (alongside the portable air-conditioning unit for approximately $600) was one of the major costs for this build.
Shelves and benchtops can be created for a relatively low cost with offcuts and inexpensive wood, but Kristi and Roger wanted the particular aesthetic that was delivered by the Walnut butcher block. An added awning was another significant cost and was produced by Carefree of Colorado, and one that depending on how you plan to use your trailer, you may consider an optional cost.
Pete Spent $5,000 On His Cargo Trailer Conversion
If you’re questioning how this build was completed at such a low cost, this trailer conversion shows that it comes down to keeping it simple and just including the necessities. Pete spent under $5000 on his trailer by not bothering with a lot of frills, bells, and whistles.
The trailer was purchased from Diamond Cargo Trailers and set Pete back $3625 (he opted for the barn door design at no extra cost), and this accounts for most of the expenditure on this conversion.
A majority of the furniture installed in the camper was purchased on clearance or for low prices at regular department stores (the cabinets were on sale for $150 at Lowe’s, and the bunk bed which sleeps 3, for $250 at Walmart).
Pete avoided a complicated and potentially costly plumbing system, instead opting to have his kitchen sink pump water from a 5-gallon more expensive cassette toilet, and often needs more upkeep to prevent leaks. These decisions mean there’s no plumbing necessary for the toilet, lessening the need for costly maintenance later down the road.
This trailer doesn’t include a battery and when the camper is set up for the night and power is needed, a 30 amp power box can be connected via an extension cord to the campsite power source. Pete used stranded wire for the electronics instead of copper wire which made it easier for him to wire everything up himself, and which is known for lasting longer before needing to be replaced.
A significant cost in this build was the portable Air Conditioning unit, which is hooked up via hoses to the outside of the camper. At the end of the day, Pete considered it an essential addition for comfort inside the trailer, justifying the cost.
Pete did install a television for the camper, but a wide range of small flat screen TVs are available for under $200, so an investment like this one isn’t going to put a huge dent in your budget if you’re saving money elsewhere.
4X2 Wagon Family Spent $7,200 On Their Cargo Trailer Conversion
Although there is the temptation to buy the cheapest trailer available, it’s always important to weigh up quality against price to ensure that you’re not making a purchase that will end up as a money pit.
Initially, Brian had a trailer budget of $3,000-$4,000, however, this was increased to $5800 when he found a 12’ x 6’ Interstate cargo trailer that suited the family’s needs. Overall, Brian ended up spending just over $7000 for his conversion, so while he did compromise and spend a little more than intended to buy the trailer, he was able to make up for this and save money on other parts of the build.
Given the generally warm climate of California, Brian decided not to insulate the trailer in order to reduce the overall build cost. In hindsight, he says he would reconsider and perhaps spend the extra money to make the cold nights more comfortable. The temperature in the van is controlled by a Portable Air Conditioning/Space floor heating unit, which retails for around $550.
Another major appliance in the trailer is a 4 cubic foot compact refrigerator, and alongside the Air-conditioning/heating unit, it needed to run on a low current so the generator could handle multiple appliances at once. The generator in question is a Honda 2002 inverter generator, which did cost a little more than some other options on the market but also had the reliability that some other brands lacked.
The family did all of the painting, flooring, and cabinet installation themselves, saving money that would otherwise be spent on labor.
In closing, the cost of converting a cargo trailer into a camper depends on what features and designs you want in your van. Are you looking for something that you can take off-road, and is completely self-sufficient?
Do you want to be able to roll up to a local powered campsite and spend the weekend relaxing? Do you, like Kristi, have certain aesthetics in mind that you want to spend big on? Or are you more like Pete, who really just wanted a solid roof over his head when he’s camping?
I personally am a big fan of Cedric’s alpine adventure camper. The design is simple and practical without too many bells and whistles, or clutter that can get in the way when he’s staying in the trailer long-term.
Although his expenses did come in at the higher end of the price range, he used his finances wisely and prioritized insulation and warmth, which will ultimately make him more comfortable in a colder climate.
There are endless possibilities for customization when it comes to converting a cargo trailer – so what are you waiting for? Get out there, and make your little trailer on wheels feel like a home!
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Erick is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast. Growing up in Nairobi Kenya and now calling Glasgow, United Kingdom home. Sipping on homemade spiced swahili tea and enjoying a good book is his idea of bliss.