A "teardrop" trailer is a small camper. The name comes from the streamlined shape, and the type dates back at least to the 1930's. As cars get smaller, storage space more expensive, and recreational time more precious, a new appreciation is growing for the efficiency of really good teardrop campers.
A fan of small boats, small cars, and small houses, designer John C. Harris found the concept of a teardrop camper irresistible. "Think of it as a big step up from a tent in terms of comfort and utility. But it's so compact and light that I could tow it behind my Mini Cooper. Even the smallest 'traditional' RV trailers are going to require at least a mid-sized tow vehicle, and will make a giant dent in your gas mileage."
Teardrops have always been available as build-your-own projects. You can find ads for kits and plans in old magazines from the 1930's and 40's. Some of these are pretty sophisticated, but most are clumsily-built, and look and feel cheap. "What if we take the same boatbuilding materials and techniques we've been refining for 25 years at Chesapeake Light Craft and build a teardrop trailer? And the same sculptural approach that we bring to boat design?" Harris asks.
The result is the 5' x 8' (1.5 x 2.4m) teardrop you see here, and it's a lot more elegant than the common "canned ham" teardrop designs. Drawn around a 60 x 80" (1.5 x 2m) air mattress, this little camper is small on the outside but surprisingly roomy on the inside. Two adults up to 6'6" (198cm) can stretch out in great luxury. Large doors on both sides and a 15" square hatch on the roof provide easy access and copious ventilation. There's room for a 12-volt electrical system to run lights, fans, a stereo, and charging plugs for devices.
A large galley occupies the locker in the rear of the trailer. While this space could be customized in many different ways, staff designer Dillon Majoros has devised a brilliant shelving unit that drops in as a separate module, and which we'll offer as a kit option. For car-camping or tailgating, this will be a giant improvement over a tent. No fooling around setting up a tent: arrive at destination. Park. Open door. Climb in. Go to sleep.
We started the project in Fall 2014 and have been taking our time, documenting every step with carefully staged and lit photos and video, on the way to creating an extensively-detailed start-to-finish instruction manual and how-to video. Teardrop Camper kits began shipping out to builders in June 2016.
Meanwhile our longtime collaborator Geoff Kerr of Two Daughters Boatworks helped his daughter Sheldon build a "beta" version from a kit in November 2015. Sheldon Kerr, a professional mountain guide, towed the completed teardrop camper from Vermont to her home in Colorado, reporting that even after the long drive "it was still so much fun that we slept in the camper on the street in front of the house." There were no leaks during the rainy road trip, and the doors and hatch stayed tight and leak-free. (We spent weeks designing and integrating a locking door latch that clamps the doors tight against gaskets. The doors can be locked from the inside or outside.)
"My dad and I finished mine about 10 days ago, and I think I've spent 5 out of the last 7 nights bunked in it. It's like having a treehouse on wheels," Sheldon writes. "I think people like us are united by the fact that we all still want a whimsical backyard fort from which to launch adventures. Our 'backyard' is just a little bigger now."
While a trailer won't be included in the kit package, one of the key features of the design is that it can fitted on nearly any trailer. "We started with the cheapest and most basic trailer, a Harbor Freight flatbed that cost $189 delivered," Harris explains. "But the architecture lends itself to fitting on just about anything with wheels. Boat trailers, flatbeds, whatever. Just bolt it down and go." CLC collaborated with Trailex to design a custom ultralight trailer just for the CLC Teardrop Camper (shown).
Construction of the CLC Teardrop will be familiar to anyone who's built a stitch-and-glue kayak or small boat. Starting from a kit, computer-cut marine plywood panels are bent into a simple mold (included with the kit). The seams are reinforced with epoxy and fiberglass tape. The teardrop is flipped over, the mold removed, and the streamlined, sculptural shell is sheathed on the exterior with a tough coating of fiberglass for strength and durability. Doors and hatches are cut on marks engraved by the computer cutter. Then lots of sanding, install the galley, and you're done. We'll be finishing ours "bright," ie varnished inside and out. It will be a striking statement on the highway.
The roof has been reinforced from the start for roof-racks, so you can carry kayaks or bicycles atop the CLC Teardrop. An optional lockable storage box, sized to fit a 48-quart cooler, mounts forward of the camper on the trailer tongue.
Kits are shipping; when will plans for scratch-builders be available?
Soon. We promise!
How much do kits cost?
$1995 for the base kit, plus shipping.
How much will shipping cost?
The CLC Teardrop Camper "Base Kit" ships in 6 boxes:
Shipping via AIT global air freight service:
100" x 40" x 3" @ 105 lbs (Kit Parts)
100" x 40" x 3" @ 90 lbs (Kit Parts)
100" x 40" x 3" @ 85 lbs (Kit Parts)
Shipping via UPS Ground service:
12" x 12" x 12" @ 36 lbs (MAS #3 Economy Kit)
12" x 12" x 12" @ 36 lbs (MAS #3 Economy Kit)
54" x 6" x 8" @ 30 lbs (Rolled Fiberglass & Hardware)
CLC Teardrop Camper "Base Kit" Shipping Fees:
CT, DC, DE, MA, MD, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VA, VT, WV
IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, MI, MN, MO, NE, OH, WI
AL, AR, FL, GA, LA, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX
AZ, CA, CO, ID, MT, ND, NM, NV, OR, SD, UT, WY, WA
Outside Lower 48
Alaska, Hawaii, and all shipments outside the U.S.
Teardrop Camper add-on Modules: The Galley Module, Storage Box, Interior Headliner, and Roof Rack Packages ship separately from the Base Kit. These packages ship via UPS Ground -- shipping rates will be calculated in the shopping cart based on your destination.
How do I order?
Ordering a Teardrop Camper is just like ordering any of our boat kits. Click online, check out using our secure online ordering system, and our craftsmen will start making sawdust!
Where can I see a completed sample?
The Teardrop Camper is on display here at CLC in Annapolis and available for inspection during normal business hours.
What's included in the base kit?
Everything you need to build the basic camper:
Parts CNC-machined from BS1088 marine okoume plywood
The actual trailer itself. Whether you get your trailer from us or elsewhere, you'll be providing the wheels and frame that hitch to the tow vehicle. (Your trailer tag and registration will derive from your trailer, not from the Teardrop Camper.)
Also sold separately will be the roof hatch (you'll be able to choose from many styles), the "mushroom" vents, galley cabinet module, electrical system, interior headliner, roof racks, and tongue storage box. You'll be able to order these items either concurrently with the base kit, or add them later as desired. Or fabricate or source them yourself.
While you'll be supplied with plenty of epoxy to coat and seal the Teardrop Camper, the necessary final finish - varnish and/or paint - is sold separately.
What is construction like?
The CLC Teardrop Camper is built from high-quality okoume marine plywood in a simple slot-together female mold, stitch-and-glue style. In this system, you assemble pre-fabricated components with temporary wire stitches to form a sturdy, rigid, elegantly-shaped camper shell. The exterior is sheathed in a rugged coating of fiberglass cloth and epoxy, and all surfaces inside and out are sealed with epoxy. This will make the camper absolutely waterproof and give it longevity to rival any fiberglass or aluminum body. Built as directed and given reasonable care, the camper will outlive you.
Is construction suitable for first-time builders?
Yes. First-timers should probably work from a pre-cut kit, for the accuracy of the joinery this affords. Builders working from plans might want to have built a stitch-and-glue boat or two first.
Although the Teardrop Camper is okoume marine plywood and most builders will give their shells a clear finish on the outside (like our display model), there really isn't much woodworking if you start with a kit. To someone unfamiliar with the stitch-and-glue construction technique, it's probably easiest to picture the project as a giant airplane model kit. We've cut out the parts, you assemble them with glue, then sand and finish. There's quite a lot of epoxy and fiberglass work, all intended to make the camper light, strong, and waterproof. Assembly itself goes quickly, while much of the elapsed time will be consumed by sanding and finishing.
Will you have video instructions to help with construction?
Yes, eventually. We documented every step of our display-model Teardrop Camper for a detailed multi-part construction video. We'll have that on YouTube as soon as we can, but these things take awhile.
How long will it take to build the CLC Teardrop Camper?
Let's say 250 hours. Basic assembly goes very quickly, and most will have the shell complete after a few weeks of evenings and weekends. Coating, sanding, and finishing are straightforward but moderately time-consuming. The fit-out (galley, electrical system, interior liner, and so on) will vary a lot from project to project. Some builders will keep it really simple, others will outfit their teardrops with extravagant electrical systems and galley fittings. That's part of the fun of doing it yourself!
How much room do I need to build?
A clear space eight feet by ten feet would be the minimum. Ten by twenty would be better.
What sort of tools will I need?
If you're building from a kit, just common hand tools and a good 5-inch random orbital sander. A pair of sawhorses, a cordless drill, a few dozen spring-clamps. A saber saw. Lots of disposable gloves, disposable brushes, and epoxy mixing cups. A router is nice for some steps but not required.
Will you be offering a build-your-own class for the Teardrop Camper?
We're monitoring interest in build-your-own teardrop classes closely; many people have asked. Because of the size and parts-count, this would have to be a two-week class, as opposed to our normal one-week programs. The price would be roughly $3500 including the kit and tuition. If you find a two-week class in that price range appealing, please send an email, subject line "Teardrop Class," to email@example.com. Also indicate what time of year would work for you. If we get enough interest and can settle on a date, we'll do it.
What kind of trailer will I need?
The CLC Teardrop Camper has been designed and engineered to fit on anything from a $200 Harbor Freight flatbed to that old boat trailer that's been sitting in your back garden. We have teamed with Trailex to design a lightweight aluminum trailer specifically for the CLC Teardrop Camper, and it will be available as an option. The Trailex trailer costs $1449 or $1549, depending on wheel size, and is shipped directly to your house for assembly.
What are the dimensions of the CLC Teardrop Camper?
The interior floor measures 80" x 60", the same as a queen-sized mattress. Headroom is about 44".
How much does the CLC Teardrop Camper weigh?
About 250 pounds fully outfitted and accessorized. The basic shell and galley weighed 176lbs on our digital scale. Trailer weight will vary wildly; our aluminum Trailex trailer weighs 196lbs. Figure on a total of 500-600lbs all-up with typical outfitting.
Is my car big enough to tow the Teardrop Camper?
If your car can be fitted with a trailer hitch, it is big enough to tow the CLC Teardrop Camper. The two prototypes built in 2015 are towed by a Honda Fit and a VW Golf GTI.
Can I install roof racks on the Teardrop Camper?
Absolutely! This functionality was designed in from the start and the roof engineered for the loads. We'll be putting Thule racks on ours, suitable for a pair of kayaks, or bicycles, etc. The rack towers are high enough to allow the roof hatch to open at least partially when the roof racks are loaded.
Will I/we actually fit inside the CLC Teardrop Camper?
Do you fit on a queen-sized mattress? ( )Yes ( )No
If "yes," then you fit.
How's the headroom?
There's loads of headroom for people up to about 6'5". Hanging out inside on a rainy day is a lot more comfortable than in the typical tent!
What about ventilation?
This is important for comfort, and we've provided for many options. Our display model has four "mushroom" vents, one at each corner. These can be opened while at rest for passive cross-ventilation, even in the rain. We also fitted a roof hatch with an integral 12-volt fan, which will exhaust a lot of air. The hatch can be opened a few inches while raining, at least if it's not raining sideways. In addition, we've fitted two small 12-volt fans on the interior for air circulation. It's hard to arrange for much more ventilation than that. Yes, it'd be muggy inside on a hot, rainy August night in Louisiana. But so would ANYTHING without air-conditioning on a hot, rainy August night in Louisiana...
One option for really hot weather is to carry an inexpensive 10x10 pop-up tent with screened sides. This could be set up over the 6'x8' Teardrop Camper in minutes, allowing you to sleep with the big side doors open, and access the galley out of the rain.
Both prototypes were given a foam-backed liner on the interior to eliminate the annoyance of interior condensation. Looks nice, too.
What if I want to build from scratch? What are the plans like?
Plans comprise full-sized patterns for every part in the Teardrop Camper. You'll be able to spread the patterns out on your plywood sheets, transfer the shapes, and cut them out with a sabersaw.
How much will plans cost?
We'll have an introductory price of $149 for the full-sized patterns and an extremely detailed step-by-step instruction manual.
Can I download the plans?
Not yet. We might develop a downloadable version of the plans in the future, but for now we'll be mailing tubes with full-sized patterns.
I have access to a CNC machine. Can you send me the CAD files for the CLC Teardrop Camper?
Not until digital-rights management for architectural work catches up to books and music. Yes, we wish it was that easy, too! But in a world swarming with intellectual property thieves, the technology simply isn't ready.
Are you working on a larger version of the Teardrop Camper? One that has sit-down seating, a toilet, a bigger galley, berths for eight people, a screening room, and a bowling alley?
Not at present, but given sustained interest we would entertain a larger version. If we did a "bigger" teardrop, it would still be quite small, for the simple reason that as the kit gets bigger, you quickly pass a price threshold where a kit ends up costing more than a decent used RV trailer found on CraigsList.
Can the CLC Teardrop Camper design be modified so that it's larger?
Not easily. From a design perspective it's an intricate, interlocking geometry puzzle. Change one piece of the puzzle and all the other pieces have to be redesigned, too.
Wouldn't bigger be better?
The CLC Teardrop Trailer is not designed to entice people out of their 20-foot Airstreams, but as a major upgrade from tent-camping. That's the proper frame of reference for this design. Rather than checking off all the things that a big "conventional" RV offers that are missing in a teardrop trailer, note all of the conveniences you're gaining over a tent! Excellent on-the-road gear storage; the ability to be out of the weather and asleep in minutes; no fooling around with ground-cloths and tent stakes; a comparatively plush cooking setup.
Couldn't this be turned into a boat somehow? Mounted on floats, or a raft, or something?
Google "Shanty Boat" for a far better selection of small floating homes. This is a machine for the highway. Carry your boat on the roof racks.