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Economical Off-Road Trailer Build

Posted in How To on April 1, 2012
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Photographers: Scott Paccie

I have to admit, I've caught the off-road trailer bug. Maybe it's because I like to camp in comfort and can never fit all of my gear. Or maybe I bring too much gear in the first place. Either way, I've been bit, and an off-road trailer build is underway.

The Harbor Freight Haul-Master 1,720-pound-capacity Super Duty 48x96-inch utility trailer was selected as the base for this off-road trailer project. It features 12-inch, five-lug wheels and pneumatic tires and is constructed from 2x4-inch steel C-channel.

As with any project, before starting in to this off-road trailer build I ran down a checklist of questions to make sure I'd be satisfied with the end product. First, why do I need a trailer? That's an easy one – to haul more gear to and from base camps. How big of a trailer do I need? The way I see it – why tow a trailer that doesn't fit everything you want to bring?

Be careful about building too small or too big though. The 4x8-foot size might not be for everyone but it would allow me to fit a motorcycle or quad should the need arise. Harbor Freight offers utility trailers in a variety of sizes and capacities, including a 3x4-foot mini utility and a 4x8-foot foldable trailer. Wheel size is also important. The 4x8-foot trailer is offered with 4-lug, 8-inch or 5-lug, 12-inch wheels. Knowing I'd likely demolish the 8-inch wheels on the first trip out the 12-inch wheels were the way to go. The 12-inch wheels also provide a greater load carrying capacity.

I made up a couple simple sketches to get an idea on some of the features I'd like include in the off-road trailer build. Note that I am not an artist but a writer so please save any judgment. As you can see I'd like to create an elevated rack area so a rooftop tent can be mounted atop the trailer.

How will I most often use a trailer? Are difficult trails in its future or is it simply destined for mild trails and highway? For now I simply desired a park it and go 'wheeling type of trailer that would hold all the gear I'd need for a long weekend, so the Haul-Master 1,720-pound-capacity 4x8-foot unit looked like the best bet.

What gear do I plan to carry in the trailer and how will I pack it? I've rented utility trailers for weekend trips in the past and they usually end up being loaded to the gills with odd shaped items that leave empty pockets of space throughout. This being the case I'll invest in some heavy-duty storage crates such as the Rubbermaid ActionPacker storage bins. Swag Off-Road offers its Baja Bins, which are cool aluminum bracket setups designed to safely stow the 8- and 24-gallon ActionPacker bins pretty much anywhere, so this may be an option. As far as intended gear, camping and cooking supplies for my family and group events will be the regular load. Tools and spare parts will fill the rest of the trailer, as well as a battery-powered Jeep and quad for the kids.

This way I can simply fold out the tent without unloading any gear. The tent could also be transferred to the vehicle roof for trips that don’t require a trailer full of gear. There are many off-road trailer companies that offer awesome pre-built units that feature similar designs. My goal with this off-road trailer build is to obtain some of the great features that these pre-built units possess while keeping to a limited budget.

The trailer I decided to use as the base for this off-road trailer project is Harbor Freight's Haul-Master 1,720-pound-capacity Super Duty 48x96-inch utility trailer with 12-inch, five-lug wheels and pneumatic tires (part #94564). It's made from 2x4-inch steel C-channel, uses a 2-inch hitch ball, and is DOT-approved. The trailer also includes a 30-day, 100-percent satisfaction guarantee, which means you can return it to Harbor Freight within 30 days for a full refund or replacement.

Utility trailers are usually available from most Harbor Freight stores and always available for shipping via the website. This one lists for around $500 but we've seen it on sale for much less. Plus, 20-percent off coupons are widely available in many popular magazines and Sunday newspapers, and are also available for print on the Harbor Freight website.

My buddy Scott laid out the 2x4-inch trailer frame sections in the driveway to begin assembly. It isn’t rocket science but it is recommended that you study the provided instructions as we had to back track a few times after our hands got ahead of our brains.

You'll continue to see more about this 4x8-foot Harbor Freight utility trailer as it's towed to base camps accessible by moderate dirt trails. You can also plan to see the construction of a smaller, more nimble trailer capable of tackling more extreme trails. Check back next month as I finish the base assembly and begin equipping and packing this off-road trailer for its first trip to the dirt.

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