Updated: Jun 8
A trailer capable of off-road travel is a huge advantage for overlanding. These are the engineering and build details the PERFECT camping trailer must have for off-road adventures:
Rooftop tents provide comfortable camping options for on and off-road adventurers. There are significant advantages to mounting your RTT on a trailer versus your vehicle. But as soon as you commit to making this switch, you quickly learn that “overlanding camping trailers” can’t be bought, they must be built! You won’t find a trailer suitable for hauling your camping gear - on and off-road – at the local lumberyard. The local “utility trailer” dealer won’t know a rooftop tent from a tent caterpillar.
In the first installment of this series, we discussed the design features that an overlanding trailer for rooftop tent camping must include. To review, these primary features include:
1. Heavy, tubular steel construction.
2. Fully welded, not a bolted frame.
3. Equally strong RTT rack to withstand dynamic loads on the highway and rough trails.
4. Extended trailer tongue for maneuverability.
5. Articulating hitch for stability and safety.
6. Stable levelling system for camping comfort.
In this article, we will delve deeper into the construction of the PERFECT overlanding camping trailer. We will look at the minor details that make all the difference in the integrity of the build and contribute to the lifespan of the finished trailer.
What are the construction details required in a purpose-built overlanding trailer?
First, it should be repeated that a trailer designed for off-road travel must be 100% welded construction. Bolted components will always loosen and potentially fail at the worst possible time, in the worst possible location. But welds are only as strong as the base metal. An overlanding trailer must be built from more than thin 1/8-inch angle iron. Cheap trailers are built from cheap materials. You should insist on square tubing that is 1/4-inch thick. The double thickness of 1/4-inch square tubing isn’t twice as strong, it’s more like SIXTEEN times stronger and so are the resulting welded joints.
Likewise, the fenders of an overlanding camping trailer will take much more abuse than a standard “around town” utility trailer. Instead of thin sheet metal, an off-road trailer needs fenders that are built from 1/8-inch steel and welded to the frame. The fenders should be strong enough to stand on and should be positioned to provide steps into the rooftop tent. Since the fenders are the widest points of the trailer, they should be protected by solid steel bars front and rear to deflect off rocks and trees.
The load deck of the overlanding camping trailer is best constructed of expanded steel mesh which is strong but lighter than the wooden planks used on generic utility trailers. The perimeter frame should be reinforced with gussets that provide tie down points. Welded tie down eyes are also handy around the trailer frame.
You must also insist on heavy-duty construction of the rooftop tent rack. Most people only consider whether the rack will support the weight of the RTT and occupants in their ideal campsite. But the MORE important consideration is whether the rack will support the raised weight of the rooftop tent at highway speeds – and if you need to slam on the brakes. In addition, will the rack contain the stress of the elevated weight on trails where the trailer is constantly being jolted by ruts and rocks, twisting from side to side. These “dynamic” forces are much greater than the non-moving “static” load ratings. Your RTT rack needs to be built with the same welded construction as the trailer.
A proper off-road trailer needs a longer tongue than the typical highway utility trailer. An extended tongue maximizes the maneuverability of the tow vehicle on rough trails. It also helps to eliminate damage to the tow vehicle from jackknifing and makes backing easier. The added length provides more storage options for off-road equipment, propane tanks, water, spare gas, etc. This also permits optimal weight distribution and tongue weight, which is a crucial safety concern off-road and at highway speeds.
The best design for an overlanding trailer requires an articulating hitch. The conventional ball hitch is designed for flat streets and highways. It was never intended for off-road use where the tow vehicle and trailer may be in opposite planes as you maneuver over ruts, sidehills, and rocks – all while towing a load or fighting gravity up and down slopes.
An overlanding trailer requires trouble-free LED taillights. What you don’t want are standard lights that are tacked onto the sides of the trailer. Modern LED lights should be flush-mounted and not extend from the trailer frame. LED lights are submersible and dependable. They are also inexpensive to replace if you mistakenly ever back into a rock or tree. In addition, the trailer wiring should be 100% contained within the trailer frame to eliminate snagging on trail hazards.
If you are designing a strong overlanding trailer, you want to protect it with the best possible finish. Inexpensive, generic trailers receive the thinnest possible coating of spray paint. Most of these trailers show rust before they are sold, still sitting in the lumberyard lot. An off-road trailer is going to be abused with a constant assault by water, sand, stones, and mud. The industry-standard finish is powder-coating. The best finishes start with sandblasting to remove the surface rust from the milled steel, then a thorough primer coat, followed by professional powder coating. The entire trailer – frame, load deck, and rooftop tent rack should receive the same powder coating protection.
Finally, the perfect overlanding camping trailer must deliver a stable and level rooftop tent foundation. After hours of rough travel, you can’t settle for a sloping bed! The overlanding trailer requires stable jacks that compensate for sloped campsites. These stabilizers must be rock solid so that every movement up in the elevated tent (and the effects of the wind) isn’t magnified to disrupt your partner. The best configuration is one leveling jack on each corner of the trailer.
Why can’t I FIND my perfect overlanding trailer? Is this the “unicorn” of trailer-supported travel?
I looked for several years. I looked at utility trailer brands at stores and online. Nothing matched my requirements. Some were too small and lightweight. Others were too large, wide, and heavy. “Expedition” custom trailers blew my mind. Some looked like they were designed to be towed by HUMVEEs or airdropped from C130’s. ALL had price tags from $15,000 to $25,000 o or MORE! For a rooftop tent camping trailer? Seriously – before you even buy gas, burgers, or pay the tax, license, and insurance for the beast? I don’t have an armed services budget. No one should need to finance a trailer to go camping for free on BLM or National Forest lands!!!
My quest lasted for years until I was introduced to a custom trailer builder who ALSO enjoyed economical camping and overlanding with his family. Mike from Twain Trailers was willing and able to build an off-road capable, overlanding trailer that is Durable, Customizable, and Affordable. His trailer build not only met ALL my requirements but the finished product cost LESS than other options with inferior designs. I not only bought a Twain Overlanding Trailer, but I have also teamed up with Mike to offer this same trailer SOLUTION to my followers from coast-to-coast. Watch for PACKAGE SPECIAL PRICING on rooftop tents, mattresses, heaters, and more!
Check out this video with design and construction details of the Twain Mark 1 Overlanding Trailer:
Twain Overlanding Trailer Specifications:
Trailer frame: 2-inch square (1/4-inch thick) steel tubing, fully welded and gusseted corners.
Overall length: 13 feet (from hitch to tail)
Deck dimensions: 96 inches long x 49.5 inches wide. The width between the fenders is 49.5 inches.
Axle clearance: 13 inches from ground (with standard 245/70 R15 29-inch diameter tires.)
Trailer weight: 600 pounds, including the RTT rack.
Trailer load capacity: The trailer is built with a 2200-pound axle. The finished trailer is conservatively rated at 2000 pounds gross capacity – 600 pounds trailer weight (including the rooftop tent rack, but not including your rooftop tent) = 1400 pounds maximum load for camping or hauling.
Trailer tongue length: 5 feet including the front load deck wedge.
Trailer hitch: Welded Lock-N-Roll hitch.
Trailer tongue weight: 50 pounds for unloaded trailer.
Lights and wiring: LED taillights. Standard 4-pin wiring harness with all wires routed internally.
Leveling jacks: Included FOUR hand-crank leveling jacks. Quick-release pipe mounts at four corners. The top crank can be converted to a power drive socket. Additional pipe mount added to trailer tongue.
Accessory receiver: 2-inch receiver located at the rear of the trailer bed for bicycle rack. 200-pound limit.
Trailer finish: Trailer and rack sandblasted, then finished with an epoxy primer and UV-stable powder-coated.
Rooftop tent rack: Two 1/4-inch thick vertical rack loops with two adjustable cross bars. The rack is removable with four quick-release pins. The rack will support the RTT when removed from the trailer.
Height between deck and upper rack hoop: 38 inches
Width between vertical rack hoops: 41.25 inches, inside measurement
In the next article we will look at how these unique features of my PERFECT overlanding camping trailer make camping safer and more enjoyable. You will also learn why my choice of overlanding trailer is not only the BEST option for camping but also the most VERSATILE trailer for hauling around your home or job site.