A devoted lifelong tent camper, Southern Oregon renowned photographer Steve Johnson “leveled up” in the world of tent camping last year when he built his own custom “teardrop camper.”
Not looking for a full-on RV experience, the teardrop was a way to hone in on all the things he loved about tent camping (albeit with more comfortable sleeping quarters) and the ability to set up for summer camping convenience without the tiring setup-take-down hassle each and every time.
An avid fisherman and cyclist, Johnson saw his first teardrop two summers ago at Hyatt Lake and couldn’t shake the notion that he could probably build one. What ensued was both a fun family project for Johnson and his wife and teen daughter and a unique opportunity to design his ultimate camp setup.
Beginning with a basic utility trailer, Johnson drew his design idea on graph paper and perused Pinterest for ideas. Teardrop campers have their own cult following and a myriad of groups and DIY sites for enthusiasts.
“You can buy plans online, but I made my own. It’s basically a covered frame with plywood. I cut out the sides. I used a fire door from a home theater. I took my drawing inside and set up a screen and projected my drawing onto the actual plywood,” says Johnson.
Heavily insulated plywood layers and sheet metal siding finished in red and black – to match Johnson’s beloved Jeep – provide a color scheme. Even his lawn chairs and extension cords are in red and black, he quips. From end to end, Johnson designed his teardrop camper for comfort and convenience.
“My concept was that I wanted to be able to have everything I needed for camping – down to the ice chest and lawn chairs that tuck inside – ready to go,” Johnson says.
“I wanted to be able for us to come home on a Friday afternoon, decide we wanted to go camping and all we would have to do is drive to Albertson’s to get food and then leave.”
Perhaps most importantly, the camper shell is large enough for a full-size memory foam bed. Johnson says his 6’2 frame sleeps – surprisingly – comfortably.
From start to finish, the project took four months. A visit online to sale sites revealed that Johnson’s $4,000 project would have cost him closer to $22,000 if purchased from a lot. The advantage to building his own, in addition to saving money, was to be able to add custom features.
A focal point of campouts, the teardrop’s kitchen is accessorized with a DeLonghi espresso maker and accompanying bean grinder, stacking Magma stainless steel cookware, a 10-day Yeti cooler and a freezer, both purchased to fit beneath the counter area.
Countertops at the rear of the camper, inside a compact kitchen area beneath a metal hatch, are decked out with vintage style boomerang pattern Formica in contrasting shades of red and grey. A white Baltic birch over maple frame contrasts the color of the Formica and deflects heat on hot afternoons.
A Marshall speaker rounds out the offering of good food and cold drink with quality music sound for ambiance. A large marine cell battery provides power when plug-ins aren’t available offering several days of power. Low power LED lights for porch lights and interior lighting use minimal power while high quality insulation rivals that of quality RV campers.
“We started building in mid-February and June 6, Howard Prairie was our maiden voyage,” Johnson says.
Everyone else got rained on and they were so cold. We didn’t say a word because we were just so warm and cozy and dry!”
A novelty for most, Johnson was surprised how easy and fun it was to build the tiny camper and is fielding build requests from close friends and family. Even campsite rangers are intrigued with his custom camper.
“But they’re like everyone else. They just want to see it!”
Johnson says he and his wife have yet to miss the days of air mattresses, cold weather and setting up camp.
“We tent camped for years but after this… there’s no going back! It’s a game changer.”