Build an Off-Road Camp Trailer
This Custom-built Off-Road Camping Trailer features an Axle-less Suspension System
If you’re a regular reader of Jp, you saw the ’64 J200 in the Feb. ’16 issue (“Kevin’s Kool Krawler”), along with its tremendously cool trailer. The Krawler’s designer/builder/owner is Kevin Lake of Golden Valley, Arizona. I liked Lake’s camping trailer so much that we asked him to design and build one for our ’05 Rubicon Unlimited.
For the basic design, we matched the trailer’s track width with that of the Jeep’s. On soft ground—mud, sand, snow—this allows the Jeep’s tires, which have traction, to pack down the loose material, giving the trailer’s tires a more solid surface to roll over. To determine the tongue length, we measured the Smittybilt Adventure Box we were going to mount on the tongue. In order to clear the toolbox’s lid, we gave it about 7 inches of clearance with the box. For the trailer’s hitch, we decided on both lunar ring and pintle hook (for security) and a 2-inch ball and coupler assembly with a receiver-type connection in the trailer tongue.
We used 2x2x0.120-inch steel square tube for the basic frame, with a 7-foot length of 2.25x2.25x0.250-inch steel square tube for the tongue. By laying out the pieces of square tubing, we could mark the ends of each piece to cut them at the proper angles. By angle cutting, we have longer weld joints that are stronger than square-cut welds.
For the cargo box itself—flooring, walls, and the tailgate—we used 14-gauge sheet metal and 1x1x0.120-inch steel square tubing. Three sections of piano hinge were used to mount the tailgate. We used more of the 1-inch square tubing, some heavy-duty rollers, and expanded metal for the cargo box’s rollout tray, which makes loading and unloading the trailer much easier.
Instead of a typical trailer suspension with an axle that could hang up, we opted for a Timbren Axle-Less Trailer Suspension (ASR2000HD). Timbren uses a soft Aeon spring for more suspension travel. A Timbren axle-less trailer suspension compresses and becomes stiffer as load increases (boosting spring strength), and the rebound springs act as a return device to minimize bottoming out and eliminate the need for shock absorbers.
After several coats of primer, we sanded the entire cargo box to prep it for painting. To match the Maaco Ford Competition Orange paint of the Jeep, I contacted Automotive Touchup for the same color. Well-known for creating touch-up paint in spray cans, gallon cans, or handy pens, Automotive Touchup sent 2 gallons of color and 2 gallons of clear coat. Since this was the author’s first time with a spray gun, we discovered two things: it’s a very difficult job to paint anything well, and the clear coat is needed to put a shine and a finish on the paint surface.
Mounting a Smittybilt Adventure Toolbox and a Smittybilt Overlander rooftop tent provides us with security if needed while away from the trailer and a comfortable 95x56-inch, high-density foam mattress that’s 2 inches thick. The mattress even has a removable cover. Mosquito screens cover all windows and “doors” (there’s a door at each end of the tent). A telescoping aluminum ladder provides access to the tent
The lockable Smittybilt Adventure Box comes in handy whether you are carrying camping supplies, recovery gear, or tools. It keeps your items safe and easily accessible. The 16-gauge steel box has gas-charged struts to hold the lid up.
If you have the room and weight capacity, an Engel fridge/freezer is a great accessory for your trailer. It features a built-in Celsius digital thermometer and can be either a fridge or a freezer that’s capable of freezing almost anything. Since it’s dual voltage (120V AC/12V DC), the Engel is ideal for long-term storage. We chose the Engel MT80, which is the company’s largest dual-voltage fridge/freezer and weighs 86 pounds.
To support the Engel fridge/freezer and camping lights, the RV deep-cycle battery will be maintained by both a charge line from the Jeep and a 50-watt solar panel from Amazon. While traveling, the Jeep’s electrical system will supply power to the battery. While camped—especially for extended periods—the solar panel will maintain the battery’s charge.
Camping with a trailer and its added capacity for supplies, as well as a place to sleep up off the ground can turn a Jeep trip into a luxurious vacation.
The tilting water container makes life lakeside easier and the coffee sweeter.
Our first step in the trailer construction was assembling the frame. All the junctions were welded, and then each weld was smoothed and inspected carefully.
The basic frame is completely assembled, we then moved on to building the cargo box framework.
With the cargo box framework and Timbren axleless suspension in place, we began attaching the box’s sheet metal.
We predrilled the cargo box’s floor for plug welding it to the trailer frame.
As you can see, the floor and front wall were plug-welded to the frame. All welds were then smoothed down.
Both front corners of the cargo box were cut and angled to avoid scratches and scrapes on future travels.
Once the cargo box was completed, Lake formed the fenders and reinforced them with steel tubes. Again, all welds were smoothed for future painting.
The very first time we placed the Smittybilt rooftop tent on the trailer to ascertain how we were going to mount it. Initially, we simply bolted it to the cargo box’s top railing.
To simplify loading and unloading, we built an expanded metal tray on heavy-duty rollers. It covers the entire cargo box floor and provides a non-skid surface and tie-downs for cargo containers
To ease applying the primer, we hung the trailer from Lake’s hoist. We could actually paint the entire trailer while standing.
We used heavy-duty piano hinges for the tailgate.
The tubing for the trailer’s spare tire carrier was hand bent. Lake designed and built the carrier, which is mounted to the cargo box.
Discount Tire in Kingman, Arizona, mounted and balanced our Yokohama Geolandar M/T 12.50x33x17 tires on Cragar rims. The rims’ lug pattern matches the Jeep’s, which gives us two spare tires for either vehicle in case of an emergency.
We used materials from Automotive Touchup for the custom trailer. The company can supply paint, clear coat, breathing masks, wipes, and filters. It also sent along a spray can of touchup paint for future scrapes and scratches.
We placed the trailer on supports in preparation for its paint job. Eventually, we’ll completely undercoat the cargo box and fenders.
Several coats of competition orange were sprayed on the cargo box—inside and out. We then followed it up with several layers of clear coat. We also painted the tray orange.
For both security and convenience, the trailer can be equipped with either a 2-inch ball coupler or a military-style pintle hook/lunar ring set-up. Either way, the towing system is secured by a Bolt single-key receiver lock (the Jeep’s ignition key operates the lock).
A raised frame was built to support the tent. We had to assemble the tent (it’s shipped from 4Wheel Parts with all parts inside the box), and then we bolted it to the framework before placing the assembly on the trailer’s cargo box top rails.
After placing the tent and carrier on the box rails, we inserted the Velcro strip around the tent’s base. The weatherproof tent cover is secured to the Velcro strip during travels.
In addition to the large cargo area in the Smittybilt Adventure Box, a lockable drawer can keep small items separate and easy to access.
Water containers are carried on both sides of the trailer. The framework built by Lake will hold either the 3 or 7-gallon container. The cooking side container tilts for easy use.
A Taylor battery box from Summit Racing was large enough for an RV deep-cycle battery. The kit came complete with everything except cables to secure the box and battery.
A Viair 12V DC compressor supplies the air tank, which can then be used to run air tools, fill tires, and more. We placed the air tank outboard of the compressor to protect the compressor from brush and trees along the trail.
With the tent mounted toward the rear of the cargo box, there is clearance to access the Engel fridge, which is secured to the forward portion of the rolling tray.
To enhance our camping experience—and to supplement the larder in emergencies—we include a Henry .22 rifle. We can plink with it or use it for meat if necessary.
Lake designed foldout working surfaces for meal prep. They fold down and are secured to the fender while traveling.
With the spare-tire carrier swung wide and the tailgate down, the interior of the trailer is easily accessed. The tray can also be rolled out and the two legs can be dropped to hold up its end.