Tuesday, 31 July 2012

DIY Demountable Camper

How hard can it be to build a demountable camper for a Land Rover?

Well, I thought I'd find out for myself. 
I have been inspired by my mate Sean in his Aussie import lwb Land Cruiser (The Big White Elephant!) who has travelled from Ireland to the Arctic circle and beyond living in his truck. Another old friend had bought one for his 130 Land Rover and this inspired me even further. Sure, I'd love to be able to just go out and buy a ready made one with all the bells and whistles but I simply don't have the money.
I set myself a budget of £500 to get it started with every intention of blowing this as the build went on. I had originally started to make a steel framed camper about two years ago but it proved to be too heavy and was duly abandoned. I went for timber this time; 35x70mm timber for the frame and 6mm exterior ply for the cladding.
My quote from the building supplies yard was around £300 for the timber, including 10 sheets of 6mm ply for the outside and 10 sheets of 4mm ply to line the inside. This would get me started.

I drew up a basic set of plans to get the shape and size and more importantly the head height; it was essential that I had full standing room (too many camping trips in the 110 hard top which is great for bed length in the back but it has no head room). The other consideration was the bed above the cab. I needed to make sure I had enough height to make it comfortable to sleep in and to get in and out off. I made the basic frame and offered it to the truck to make sure the dimensions would work.
The frame fitted nicely into the load bay and the intention was to bolt it to the four mounting points where the hard top roof mounts.

I carried on with building the frame, making sure to get beams in the places where the sheets of ply would fit. Using the 70mm width of the timber joists would allow me plenty of room to glue and screw sheets of ply at the joints.
The dimensions are 190cm high x 190cm wide which allows plenty of head height and bed width across (plenty of head height for me anyway at 5'9").

I used plenty of Tec7 bonding when panelling the outside and screwed every panel as well about every 6 inches. At this point I must stress that I am NOT a joiner so I have no shame admitting that this is a learning curve for me!!
My main worry was the over-cad bed as it is basically free hanging but once I added the exterior panels, the whole unit became very rigid. The weight was not yet an issue as I could easily move the thing around with little or no effort. I knew this would change as more material went on however.

 All panels on and it's time to cut holes for windows (timeline is now two weeks of evenings and a couple of weekends by the way). Before I get the jigsaw out again I seal up the front edges of the roof and front panel with glass fiber filler. I had two slide - opening windows ( about 90cm wide) from a mates old land rover (still with dust from the Moroccan desert in the runners I bet !) and these would go as the main side windows. For the rest I bought 5mm perspex and marine window rubber (same as found in the Land Rover hard top windows). Price for the perspex and rubber is about £130 all in.

Windows apertures cut and the lower window at the front is to allow me to use the rear view mirror in the cab and see straight through the camper and out the window in the door at the back.

The wood is primed first then undercoated (two coats). I spent many hours trying to find out the best top coat paint for the exterior and eventually just went to my local paint supplier and asked for something hard wearing! £30 quid later I came out with 2.5 litres of SandTex Trade paint which was enough to do two coats. (I'll give it another coat however as soon as it stops raining!). Primer and undercoat was £30.
(Note: I had originally bought some 50mm plastic extrusion angle (2m lengths) for all the outside edges but the supplier emailed me to say the courier wanted a small fortune to deliver so I cancelled. Instead, I rounded all the edges with a belt sander. My theory was that if there were no hard edges then it would be difficult for water to get trapped. The size of the timber frame meant that I could sand back the edges and still have solid timber. So far so good!)

I had some 50mm insulation which was enough to do the roof which I simply cut to size and pushed into the recesses created by the 70mm timber frame.

(Interior still to be insulated and clad as above).
For the rest of the insulation I used 25mm foil backed sheets (about 4 in total @ £16 per sheet). I'm using the 4mm ply to line the interior (still finishing the niggly bits).

Finally it's painted, windows in and the thing moved outside ready to load it onto the land Rover. I haven't figured out the jack legs yet as I need to raise the thing about 36 inches to allow the truck to reverse in under it. In the meantime, we (Dad and I) borrowed 10 pallets and as I lifted the front and back respectively, Dad slid pallets under the camper to raise it high enough to get it onto the Landy.

We put steel tubes under the camper and simply used them as rollers to push the thing straight onto the landy! Simple but very effective.
(Time line so far is about 5 weeks of mostly evenings and I had to take about a week off for other work).

And it's on!
It's not as scary to drive as I had imagined and having had it on for about a week now I'm happy that it's not gonna fall over on the slightest bend and it's actually pretty civilized to drive! I fully intend to use it off road for photography trips into the wilds and am quite happy to tackle the odd mountain track and beach with it on.
I still have to finish the smaller details on the inside and two of the sealed perspex windows are leaking slightly at the joint in the rubber but thats easily fixed.
Cost so far is realistically about £600 (+ a little) when you add the trips back and forward to the builders for the extra bits of timber and door hinges, door seal etc. I already have a chemical loo which takes pride of place in a cabinet inside on the floor; this also acts as a great step to get upstairs into the bed.

How heavy is it??
Well, I haven't made it to the weigh bridge at the local quarry just yet but will out of curiosity however I googled the weight of timber I had used and in theory it should weigh in about 350 kg (well under the 1000kg limit for a land rover).
To get back to my original question "How hard is it to build a demountable camper?" -
I'll let you know when I have it finished!

I'll update with more detail of how I bolted it to the landy and fitted out the interior soon.
(And No, I haven't figured how to get it off yet. I'm hoping someone will come up with something!).

OK, one road trip later to Donegal and I've gotta say it's very comfortable. It's very civilized both on and off the road.
Weight wise, I had the whole truck weighted at the local recycling centre and it came in at 2300kg, which means that the camper weights just a little over 400kg.

The only real issue I found was that my measurements were about 5mm out for the floor to body mount height so part of the camper was resting on the gunnels of the body tub instead of sitting squarely on the load bed. This was cured by sliding a thin sheet of insulation between the camper floor underside and the load bed. It also acted as very effective shock absorbing and stopped the resonating from potholes and small bumps which I found with the initial test runs. 

As for fuel economy and speed: I found the top speed with the wind resistance was realistically about 60mph, and a comfortable cruising speed of 55mph. The fuel economy was the biggest surprise: over a 600 mile run with a mix of motorway driving and mostly country road and track driving in very hilly areas I'm getting 27 - 28 mpg (not really any different to normal use with the hard top and roof rack on!).

There were (thankfully) no leaks from the rain and living in the thing proved to be very comfortable. The amount of room is quite amazing and it doesn't feel in any way cramped.
The only glitch was a puncture while driving across dunes. I changed the spare in the dunes and had the punctured tyre fixed by a local farmer driving a discovery who has  a fully kitted workshop and took great interest in the camper set up. He showed me the defender 90 he is restoring and I can safely say he has put Land Rover themselves to shame!

I was able to run a pc and flat screen tv/monitor from the cab's 300w inverter to edit photographs on the go. I have also since installed a caravan mains socket and can plug in the 800w generator for more substantial power.

The next step is a 30w solar panel from Maplin Electronics connected to a leisure battery for completely self contained power.
I have finally made the legs and brackets for de-mounting the camper (photo's to follow) and getting it on and off has proved to be much easier than I had expected: remove the four bolts holding the unit to the body- jack up one side of the unit with the high-lift jack-: bolt in two legs to the brackets front and rear- repeat for the other side- drive out (slowly!): thats it!

So, back to the original question: How hard is it to build a camper? With a bit of lateral thinking it's not too complicated. I found that the simplest answer was the correct one when dealing with things like jack legs and mounting points ( I've already had the thing on and off single handed several times in the past few days because I needed the pick-up back to transport firewood).
I've found that there is a natural cycle of evolution with this thing (such as jack legs and solar panels) so god only knows where it will end!
Right now I'm just waiting for the next long weekend to get on the road again!

Since the last picture post I had put brackets in place for the legs. The set-up is very simple and worked so well for my purposes that I never developed them any further.
While we're on the subject of Land Rovers, I'm usually messing about with one or two other old Landy's which you can read about here - (you might have to copy and paste the link)



  1. Hi Marty, long time no speak, I've lost your number. Glad to see you used those windows. This is class. Well done Mate. See this link also; http://www.truckcampermagazine.com/paul-kellagher:-truck-camping-in-ireland/
    Do get in touch, have sussed a whole lot of really great wild camping spots on the west coast.

    1. Evenin Paul.
      I had always intended to use the windows and finally got round to doing something with them!
      Maria told me about seeing your camper at the filling station and I finally came across your interview in truck camping online and decided to just go for it (note the reference to your 130!).
      The camper is off at the moment while I get the landy ready for MOT and fit an new steering box. The design worked very well and I'll improve it as I go along. I tried it out in Donegal a couple of times this summer for photography trips and it took to everything in it's stride. Had a couple of loose joints but nothing a tube of Tec7 won't sort out!.
      Will get talking to you about some of those wild camp locations for next year as I'm planning to do much more photography down the coast.

  2. hi
    Did you ose marine plywood or normal plywood?
    Im thinking of building a similar demountable camper on a hilux.

    1. In my experience making small boats, you can simply use exterior grade ply. Much cheaper than marine ply.


    2. I used cheap 'exterior' grade (moisture resistant) ply. It lasted well for the first year but is now showing signs of water ingress. If you're going to do it, use marine ply and it should last years.

  3. Great build. Can you let me know how you made the jack legs please.

    1. Hi PP169158,
      My 'jack legs' are actually just box section steel lengths about 2 meters long,with plates for feet. There are U-shaped brackets/channels mounted to each corner of the camper with holes drilled for pins. The legs have corresponding holes drilled and I use a high lift jack to lift each side of the camper about 2 inches, the legs are inserted into the channels and pins put in place. This leaves the camper free standing, then I drive out from underneath. I never quite got to the stage of permanently attached adjustable legs as this system was so efficient and takes about 10 mins to carry out.

    2. I have photo's of the leg mounts which I'll post as soon as I can find the folder!

  4. Very nice, I really want to make one for a pickup, this is the inspiration I needed. thanks

  5. I've wanted to do this for awhile. i live in michigan. im trying to figure out the conversions for the dimensional lumber you used. im thinking of using birch or oak for the outside but maybe use marine ply but that is expensive

    1. Hi Ken. I'm sure the weather in Michigan is generally better than the incredibly unforgiving wet weather here in Ireland so a timber construction should not suffer as much. My camper has suffered from the damp conditions here but I'm on the lookout for a scrapped mobile home to recover the light aluminium skin from it, cut it to size and recover the camper. Any extra weight will be negligible.

    2. Hi Marty...yea that it what ive been going to do you can get a bigger caravan cut down to your fame size and use existing doors - windows- rooflights not mention the interior all being some alteration. ..and as you know the panels are in half-sections that can be resealed.
      good job aswel mate !

  6. Hi, nice build and something I'm looking into on a double cab VW Syncro flat bed I'll be buying soon. Demountable bodies for flat beds don't seem to be readily available over here and the cost abroad is expensive? The flatbed on the truck I'm buying is 6 feet by 8 feet. I was thinking of making the floor of the box 9 feet by 7, so I have a slight overhang at the side and back, I'll make the overcab big enough for a good size double bed.

    I have a couple of questions about your build:

    1. How do you bolt it on to your landrover securely, does it bolt through the wooden frame or just through the ply wood floor? I was thinking I might need a steel box section floor to bolt onto the bed, or does your system seem pretty strong? I won't have any sides on my bed so nothing to stop it sliding off.

    2. Did you ever look into fibreglassing the outside rather than paint? I see kits are available on the net for flat roofs, enough fibre glass matt for 30 square meters + gel coat and colour for £250, the finish looks good too. They reckon it would last for 30 plus years on a roof?

    3. I want to keep this as light as possible, what was your weight for the empty box?


    1. Hi Clive, sorry about the very late reply!! My camper bolts through the wooden frame into the existing roof mount holes in the gunnels of the land rover body tub. My only concern with fibre glass was the additional weight it might have added. The weight of the camper is 420 kg which is 'comfortable' for the land rover. On hindsight, I would have measured the weight of glassing the exterior and maybe compromised on the weight.

  7. Superb blog .... I know a few people that have done fairly well for themselves by investing in smaller but more secure companies................ ...... solar panels cost

  8. Hi Marty, I,m contemplating a similar type of build but directly onto the chassis rails of an old Bedford CF motorhome. The old body was rotten in every way and has been ripped off to start again. The thing that has been concerning me with a plywood construction is the roof. Is that where most of your problems are with your project? I was wondering about using one of the EPDM roofing paints or rubber roofing rolls which I reckon would sort the issue. I note you sealed the joints with fiberglass filler but has body movement caused these areas to crack or open up? Maybe painting the whole exterior in EPDM rubber roofing paint may be the answer as it should flex with the body.

  9. Hi Matt. The rubber coating sounds like a plan! I remember seeing rubberised paint some years ago in my motor factor shop; sounded like great stuff but didn't have an application of it then. You're spot on about the ply roof being an issue. The inflexibility of the paint allowed water in. I have even considered thick automotive under seal /stone chip paint like Tetra Schutz (I have the spray gear). The poor old camper needs rebuilt now so I might just try it, nothing to lose now bar a few sheets of ply and some under seal at £5 per litre!

    1. Thanks Marty, must be awful putting in all that work only for the weather to destroy it so quickly. I found this link that I thought may be of interest to you. http://www.cheaprvliving.com/build-camper/ He seems to have got around the waterproofing issues but is in USA using products probably not available here. Might be worth taking note and looking for the nearest equivalents we can find here or finding eBay sellers willing to send across the pond.

  10. Hi martyrdom. Great blog. Given me ideas to mate my 110 hi cap with an old multicruiser body.

  11. Great blog. Am about to start doing on for an 88, using a 109 roof.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Ah, clever thinking Simon, a ready made panel and the perfect length! You've gotta post some photo's when you've finished.

  13. Hi Marty. You've nicked my idea! I have drawn up plans nearly identical to your build so it's great to see your take on it. They only difference is that I plan to fibreglass the outer skin and that mine will be a lot shorter as I want it on my 1950 Series 1 80 inch (with 200di power). Like the access hole and wall to the bed area. The only other difference is that I have no truck can so the camper will form the 'roof' to the cab and the windscreen and doors will seal against it.

  14. Very good blog I have a td5 110 pickup I might just do it call next time in Donegal mor than welcome regards Din Joe

  15. Will certainly give you the heads up to put the kettle on next time I'm up that way Din Joe.

  16. Hi Marty,

    Found your blog today, great camperbuild! Very inspiring so maybe a small update on how she does at this moment? I'm playing with the idea to adapt your build to my '72 Chevy C20 pickup truck so all info is welcome. Your interior would be interesting too to see what you did with it.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    Greetz, Ronald from the Netherlands.

  17. Thanks for posting this. Going to attempt something similar (but need a double cab to get the kids in). The jacking solution is just what I was after too.

  18. Hi Marty, still around? Would like to hear from you.

    Grtz, Ronald.

  19. Hola marty estoy saliendo de mi vida laboral me has inspirado en un proyecto para disfrutar mi land y poder viajar con comodidad gracias

  20. Hi Marty, what is the height of the sleeping platform on your demountable camper please

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  24. Marty, you must be thoroughly pissed off with this question but what’s the latest update on the camper

  25. Ever heard of poor man's fiberglass ,glue bed sheets ,or canvas on the exterior plywood then paint it a couple of coats