Teardrop Camper Mods and Add-ons
This instructable presents a list of thirteen (a 'Baker's Dozen), relatively simple, camper modifications and add-ons made to my tiny 2017 Silver Shadow LittleGuy teardrop trailer over the past several months. Although some of these changes incorporate a commercial accessory, some construction and customization was still necessary to accommodate the modification and its intended use in the camper. The idea for most of the changes may not be unique but the manner in which I approached the change is mine. Ultimately fun and function was the goal.
A few of the individual add-ons and changes have details for someone to follow, others just have a few pictures and the change that was made is sort of implied. I am familiar with other models of teardrop campers and many of these modifications would work just as well with them or with individual home-built units.
As a bit of background, I am a member of a group of enthusiastic, micro camper (tiny trailer) owners who gather a couple of times each year for campsite camaraderie. Some of the camper trailers are commercial teardrops, as is mine, while others are homebuilt from the ground up. Although most of us are minimalist campers, we still enjoy adding a small change that makes the camping experience more comfortable and fun. I always leave a gathering with another idea, a photo of a different way of fixing something, and wondering how I might do just that to my camper. Those get-togethers are a source of my inspiration.
Any modification for use in my teardrop that uses electricity must utilize 12-volts as my only source is one 12 volt battery. Inverters will only draw down my battery too quickly and currently I do not have a solar battery recharging system in place. Since I mainly camp where there is no 110 power supply, I have made a decision to use LED lights only, a low watt fan and a motorcycle radio to keep the draw on the battery low. I use a traditional ice box as a refrigerator. Without my vehicle recharging the battery, I can easily get 6 or 7 days off the single battery charge.
And so that is what I am doing with this instructable, sharing my fav’s and providing some ideas for your own modification. As with my earlier project, focussing on the rebuild and construction of the ‘Steampunked Teardrop’, sometimes working on a new project is as enjoyable as the camping is fun. So be creative, construct and enjoy.
Feel free to leave a comment or contact me privately regarding any detail that is missing or if you just want to share your own teardrop or small camper idea that makes the whole camping experience fun for you.
Each of the thirteen steps ( plus another new 14th addition) that follow is a single step with its own page. The pics may change as I make small changes to the modification or accessory.
1. Large Aluminum Tongue Box with Modifications
2. Removable Wooden Bumper (Cherry Wood and aluminum edge trim)
3. Roof Mounted Tube for transport of Awning Poles
4. Yakima Cargo Basket Sized for Tow Vehicle or Camper
5. Wall Mounted Side Table with Support Leg
6. Camper mounted Umbrella Stand
7. Galley Back Splash trimmed out with Oak
8. Rhino Rack Awning with remote controlled LED lighting
9. Tearjerker theme Decals
10. Window Curtains
11. Exterior Power Box Compartment (Just updated)
12. 12-Volt Motorcycle Radio modified for the Galley
13. Out Front Galley Stove Gas Hookup
14. Galley Slide-out Drawer
Step 1: Large Aluminum Tongue Box With Modifications
Large Aluminum Tongue Box with Modifications
There are a hefty number of tongue boxes on the market; steel, aluminum and plastic composites. I was looking for an aluminum, diamond plate pattern, that would compliment the stone guard on the front of the trailer. This box measures 36" X 18" X 18" and was the largest aluminum locking box I could fit onto the tongue without moving the battery.
To begin, a few deck-boards were attached across the a-frame and into the steel using self-driiling screws. The tongue box was then bolted to the boards using stainless steel bolts. Each drilled hole received a good dab of silicone prior to the box being bolted down.
The box holds camping gear that is too large for the galley or too dirty for the cabin as well as the power box (refer to the second last modification) for the exterior 12-volt LED lighting and 12-volt accessories. Power to the box is fed from the battery through a rubber gasket in the bottom of the tongue box. A 'marine grade' 12 volt receptacle was bolted to the outside of the box. All fasteners were stainless steel to minimize galvanic reactions with the aluminum. A series of eyebolts were fastened to the outside of the box (right front corner) to hold and organize the safety chains and trailer wiring plug. A hub bearing dust cover fits over the wiring plug when not in use to keep out dirt and rain. The replica license RR plate was added just for fun.
Step 2: Removable Wooden Bumper
Removable Wooden Bumper (Cherry Wood and aluminum edge trim)
The bumper was built last season from a length of cherry wood and a 2" drawbar. It was designed to give the camper a custom retro look. It fits the rear 2” receiver, and although protection for the rear of the camper is probably minimal, I think it compliments the camper nicely. With four coats of exterior spar varnish the bumper has held up very well, although I removed it for the winter.
The step-by-step instructions for the bumper were published last year and can be found here.
Step 3: Roof Mounted Tube for Transport of Awning Poles
Roof Mounted Tube for Transport of Awning Poles
I prefer to use heavy weight adjustable poles for supporting a large tarpaulin up and over the camper. Of course I tie off to trees if they are close enough. Sometimes I need just a couple of poles if there a only a few trees available. Since I no longer have my small pickup truck to carry my camping gear, carrying the 5 foot minimum poles on the roof was my solution.
The tube is constructed from a six foot length of 3” ABS drainpipe with a removable clean-out plug at one end of the tube. This is the end that is used to access the poles. The other end of the tube has an end cap that is also removable. The end cap is held in place using a bolt cut to length and a cotter pin. The tube itself is attached to the cross rails of the camper roof rack using stainless steel hose clamps. The tube can hold up to 5 six-foot poles.
Step 4: Wall Mounted Side Table
Wall Mounted Side Table (or end table with support leg)
The table measures 24” by 15”. I chose these dimensions because I had a small sheet of 1/2" plywood measuring 24" x 24". Half inch pine trim was added to the underside of the plywood to bring the edge thickness up to one inch. The plywood was stained and coated with several applications of spar varnish. Next, the edges were trimmed with one inch bright aluminum banding, attached using stainless steel screws.
The mounting rail was cut in half into 15" lengths. The two pieces of rail allow for me to attach the table to the sidewall of the camper in one of two configurations, long or narrow. Again, I used stainless steel screws to attach the rail to the camper, placing silicone into the holes before screwing the rail on.
The support leg was made from a repurposed staircase spindle cut to length. It needed a little whittling to fit snuggly into a door bumper on the underside of the table, which holds it in place.
Aluminum table mounting rail is sold in 30" sections and can be cut to any length. It's a two piece system. One piece mounts on the camper wall, one on table. The table slides on and off. It can be purchased online or at many RV dealers.
This is one of my favourite add-ons as it extends the galley workspace and is a great place to set a drink while sitting under the canopy.
Step 5: Camper Mounted Umbrella Stand
Camper Mounted Umbrella Stand
The patio table umbrella provides shade and rain protection over the teardrop's galley hatch if I have chosen to not put up a tarp. I decided to support the umbrella off to the side so that the hatch would easily clear the umbrella pole.
The pole slides nicely into a length of 1.5” ABS tubing as the diameter of the pole and the inside diameter of the tubing accommodate each other. The ‘tee’ portion of the tubing is dry fitted at the campsite and held in place with a steel pin that just drops through a couple of holes. The straight length of the ABS sticks out about 2 inches from the camper sidewall and has been secured to the underside of the camper using metal strapping intended for conduit pipe. It is quite sturdy even in a slight breeze and could be tied off near the top of the galley wall if need be. A rather simple and inexpensive solution for supporting the umbrella.
Step 6: Yakima Cargo Basket for Tow Vehicle or Camper
Yakima Cargo Basket for Tow Vehicle or Camper
This cargo basket ( a Yakima Load Warrior ) is relatively small but readily fits and attaches to the cross rails on both the camper and on the tow vehicle. Fitting both the camper and the tow vehicle, I can choose where to place the roof cargo basket. Its a good feature being able to place the basket on the camper when camping or on the car on other occasions when I need the extra capacity. My car trunk space is relatively small and I use the cargo basket to carry a few bulky or long items; 2 camp chairs, a folding camp table, a small roll up carpet and a patio umbrella.
I was able to save a small amount by not purchasing a basket net. Instead I just lash the cargo using a length of rope or several flat bungees.
Step 7: Galley Back Splash Trimmed Out With Oak
Galley Back Splash Trimmed Out With Oak
The decision to add a back splash was inspired by a project on a previous tiny camper that I owned. In that instance it had been done to conceal some damage to the wall. I turned out so well that I chose to intentionally add it to our new teardrop.
One piece of an 18" X 18" square faux tin panel was purchased from the local Home Depot and cut into three 6” strips. The strips were attached using ‘Shoe Goo’ and the perimeter was then caulked using clear silicone. Varnished oak cove, the smallest I could find, was then used as trim to finish off the splash back. It is held in place using glue and headless pin nails.
The photo also shows the 12 volt motorcycle radio attached under the galley shelf.
Step 8: Rhino Rack Awning With Remote Controlled LED Lighting
Rhino Rack Awning with Remote Controlled LED Lighting
The awning was purchased from a local teardrop camper dealer and installed on the camper. Although brackets for attaching the awning to the rails could be ordered, a couple of homemade brackets were made from a piece of aluminum bar, as shown in the picture.
The LED strip was purchased from a camping supply store. When the awning is opened, the LED light strip can be quickly clipped to the free edge of the awning cloth.
The USB connected strip is powered by plugging it into the 12-volt receptacle on the outside of the tongue box via a USB to 12 volt adapter (much like you would have done to charge a cell phone in an older model car). The light strip can then be turned on using the toggle switch on the box to power the remote control unit and then using the fob to turn on and off the lights..
Doing it this way was considerably less expensive than purchasing a complete awning light setup with controls.
Step 9: Tearjerker Themed Decals
Tearjerker Themed Decals
The decision to add decals was purely whimsical and clearly an expression of a 'just for fun' moment. The decals were printed on exterior grade black vinyl. The compass rose image was found on Google images.
Both decals were carefully applied using a dilute soap solution and a lot of patience. Using a measuring tape, a washable marker and some masking tape, I temporarily attached the decal in place. After confirming the position of the decal, I removed the paper backing and applied the decal. The soap solution dries more slowly but gives time for a bit of decal adjustment. The more intricate the cut, the longer it takes but the process is the same.
I have applied decals in the past and I recommend covering them in the winter to protect them from ice and wind. They should last at least five years and can be easily removed or replaced.
The stripes to the left were the 'off the shelf' variety and are peel and stick vinyl.
Step 10: Window Curtains
Although the teardrop camper was purchased without factory installed blinds, I quickly realized the door windows could have used some covering. My solution was to use 2 tea towels from the dollar store as curtains and a pair of cafe rods.
A curtain rod pocket was sewn at one end of each towel to receive the adjustable metal rods. I planned for the brass plated rod hangers to be screwed into a short length of 2” by ½’ pine that was 2" longer than the width of the fabric. Each length of pine was first covered with black faux leather ‘mactac’ to compliment the material covering the interior of each door. Then the hangers were attached to the covered wooden pieces, the pieces were attached to the doors using 'Command' adhesive strips and two screws, and then the rod with the curtain was hung.
Simple solution for about $10.
Step 11: Exterior Power Box Compartment
Exterior Power Box Compartment
This box was built to contain the control unit for the remote, switches and wiring for 12-volt LED lighting. The basic wooden box was purchased at a craft store and modified for my purpose. It needed a bit of reinforcement before attaching the components (perhaps too fragile without), but for $3 it was an inexpensive start to this project. The box was attached to a half shelf inside the tongue box. Power to the tongue box was fed from the battery through a rubber gasket in the bottom of the tongue box and then through a hole in the side of the wooden power box. A 5 amp inline fuse was inserted between the battery and the box.
I picked up the small plastic distribution panel at a surplus electronic store for fifty cents which made some of my connections simpler and bit more organized. A few connections were soldered and tape wrapped.
I had decided earlier to add LED lighting to the underside of the camper and strip strip to the awning. The strips are 5 volt USB plugin and so I simply inserted a USB /12 V adapter into the 12 V receptacle and plugged in the lights after setting up camp. The toggle and remote then control the lights. By using a remote control feature I could turn the exterior lights on when returning to the camper at night. That's what the rectangular black unit is in the picture. The remote feature (using a fob) is good for 70’ and was purchased at Princess Auto. The three toggle switches on the lower front side are to power on the LED strips, the tongue box interior light and the 12-volt auxiliary outlet. The toggles themselves are lit when on. I may add a master switch just to be certain I do not have any accidental battery drain.
Step 12: 12-Volt Motorcycle Radio Modified for the Galley
12-Volt Motorcycle radio Modified for the Galley
The motorcycle radio was ordered off Amazon and was one of the few 12-volt models I could find anywhere that was not the typical slide-in chassis mounted type that is used in most cars and trucks. Although I would have preferred the automotive type, the power draw is significant, they take up more space and the wiring and location of the speakers is an additional consideration. This model is quite small and the speakers are integrated into the unit. Three wires only, power, ground and ignition.
The unit is designed to fit between the handle bars of a bike. And so, I needed to come up with an idea for hanging and attaching the radio to a pair of tubes suspended under the galley shelf. My solution was to use 3/4 inch copper tubing fittings, soldered to accommodate the angles of the clamps that are part of the radio. The copper pieces became the handle bars as such. Since I decided to ignore the ignition lead, I built a small box to contain my wiring connections, an inline fuse and a toggle switch to power the radio on and off. Although the speaker wattage is low, so is the draw on the battery. The output, reception and features meet my wishes for a campsite radio.
Step 13: Galley Stove Gas Hookup
Out Front Galley Stove Gas Hookup
The stove is on a slide out drawer. In order to connect the disposable green propane tanks, the drawer needed to be opened and then by laying on your back, or feeling underneath for the connection, the tank could be screwed on. The alignment was not always easy to accomplish and became quite frustrating. I cut out the lower drawer frame face board (not structurally important) and attached a brass fitting (a tee adapter) to the stove along with a 5 foot extension hose. The hose was then secured to the cabinet sidewall. These two parts remain attached. This allows for the drawer to be opened and closed, with no interference and with the extension hose left attached and available out front. Now I can thread the small tanks on directly in front of me or I can use a refillable type tank adapter and attach it to a refillable 5 gallon tank.
The 3 parts required are shown in one of the pics and can be obtained at most RV supplies stores.
Of course the propane tank is removed during travel, but the hose remains attached. This small modification was one of the most satisfying.
Step 14: Galley Slide-out Drawer
I decided to add a slide out drawer below the stove to the galley of my teardrop camper. This way my dishes and kitchen supplies can be easily accessed when the stove is in the pulled out and in the in-use position.
Since most drawer slide mechanisms are side mounted and intended for frameless cupboards, I needed to build out the sidewalls of the opening slightly to make them flush with the frame. This would now accommodate a 24“ wide shelf.
As you can see from the pictures, I mounted the cupboard side of the slide mechanisms to the two pieces of 1 X 2 and then secured the pieces to the floor of the opening. I then added an oak face, a drawer pull, a couple of cork bumpers and gave it 2 coats of spar varnish.
Materials Cost: Approximately $15 (not including screws and varnish on hand)