Home » This Gorgeous $3,465 Wooden Pod Is A Boat-Inspired Camper You Can Build Yourself

This Gorgeous $3,465 Wooden Pod Is A Boat-Inspired Camper You Can Build Yourself

Teardrop Camper Ts
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Summer is here, which means it’s time to hit the open road and see the wonderful vistas America has to offer. If you’re not into the whole hotel thing, a camper may seem like an attractive option, except for the fact that RVs usually cost a small fortune. Here’s one that doesn’t, and the fun part is you get to put it together with your own two hands. The Chesapeake Light Craft Teardrop is a beautiful wood camper with a design inspired by vintage boats, and building one can save you a boatload of money compared to purchasing a ready-to-tow camper. The basic kit is just $3,465!

Self-built RVs are the earliest forms of campers. There were no real RV manufacturers over a century ago. If you wanted to explore the country and sleep in the vehicle you were traveling in, you were basically on your own. Even as enterprising individuals began planting their stakes in RV history, many people still chose to build their own rigs.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Recreation wasn’t the sole motivation for early homebuilt camper makers. In the Great Depression of the 1930s, many Americans found a need to be on the road while looking for employment, but they also needed a place to stay. The teardrop trailer grew into popularity as an affordable, simple, stylish, and practical camper that just about anyone could build with basic tools. Magazines including Mechanics and Handicraft published kit plans for teardrops that you were able to build out of plywood.

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Mechanics and Handicraft

After World War II, teardrops hit their stride and their builders got creative. Suddenly, designs started appearing that utilized surplus aircraft aluminum and parts from Jeeps. Now, people weren’t using these trailers out of necessity either, but as a way to experience the open road and the wilderness.

Teardrop kits like these never died, but admittedly, I’ve never really covered them. A recent post by the folks of Autoevolution reminded me that the DIY world is still alive and that wow, the campers have gotten pretty awesome, too. I’m not usually into wooden campers, but the Chesapeake Light Craft (CLC) Teardrop is such a stunner I could stare at it all day.

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Tdc Johnny Cudo 10day Crosscoun
This CLC teardrop Camper was built by Johnny C., seen here during a cross-country trip.

A Boat Guy Gets Into Campers

CLC is not an RV manufacturer. Instead, it has decades of experience building boats for the home builder. The company says it sold its 20,000th kit in 2010 and its 40,000th kit in 2020. CLC is now targeting 50,000 boat kits sold in the future. The company also gives us some history. Chesapeake Light Craft was founded in 1991 in a basement in Virginia. Soon after, the young company started producing kits for kayaks. John C. Harris, a man who cut his teeth building boats as a teen before building some early CLC kits in 1994, purchased the company in 1999. Here’s more information from CLC:

Our 18 employees currently comprise over a hundred years of boatbuilding experience. All senior staff are trained professional boatbuilders and include Landing School graduates; all employees, from shipping clerks to graphic designers, get free kits and individualized training. Since moving to our Annapolis location in 1995, we have always maintained a large and busy shop where we build prototypes and the occasional commission. Visitors can walk through and watch boats under construction. Can’t make it to Annapolis? Our ShopCam has been streaming live on the internet for almost ten years. All of our boat kit manufacturing is done in-house; nothing is subcontracted. In the front of the building, our newly expanded classroom and shop adjacent to the showroom is buzzing with activity. More than 50 completed boats (and our Teardrop Camper!) are on display.

Pocketship Lead

CLC starred in a series of television shows about boatbuilding for the DIY Network, which ran for several years beginning in 2001. Also that year, we released a one-hour boatbuilding video, which has received rave reviews and sold thousands of copies. (You can watch the whole thing online here.) In 2011, the History Channel aired an episode of “Modern Marvels” featuring boatbuilding at CLC. Chesapeake Light Craft has been featured in pieces on the Today Show and the Voice of America.

CLC kayaks are so beautiful that many owners treat them more as art objects and less as practical craft for regular use, but the company is emphatic that they are the real deal and engineered to get out on the water. 

Wd Lead

According to CLC, Harris is obsessed with everything small from boats to cars and houses. So, it was only natural for him to fall in love with small campers. That’s when he got an idea.

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Art You Can Sleep In

Harris wanted to design the ultimate tiny camper. He didn’t like how most campers require a chunky tow vehicle and a sacrifice of a lot of money at the gas pump. His camper would be able to be towed behind a car as small as an early 2000s Mini Hatch while being a step up from a tent. Even better, you’d build this tiny camper with your hands and get a result as stunning as one of his CLC boats.

Teardropkayaks

From those goals sprang the CLC Teardrop. Harris says the five-by-eight foot design started with a 60-inch by 80-inch air mattress, and he designed the camper’s body around it. From CLC’s description:

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.

Tdt 1 Build Stitching
A CLC Teardrop Camper being built by Rhoback apparel company.

Harris says the project started in 2014 and a father-daughter team completed beta version of the kit trailer in November 2015. So, this trailer isn’t new, but it is making the rounds.

Here is what CLC says you get in the base $3,465 kit:

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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 finished ours “bright,” ie varnished inside and out. It makes a striking statement on the highway, parking lot, and campground.

Teardroproof

What’s included in the base kit?
Everything you need to build the basic camper:
– Parts CNC-machined from BS1088 marine okoume plywood
– Slot-together CNC-cut plywood female mold
– Fiberglass
– Epoxy kit
– Copper wire for stitching, various fasteners
– Marine acrylic windows
– Door and galley hatch hinges
– Gasket material for doors and galley hatch
– Hatch lift pistons and hardware
– Door and galley hatch latch assemblies
– Bezel for roof hatch
– Standard fit-kit for trailers
– Spiral-bound illustrated step-by-step assembly manual

Teardrop Interior 1016 5 Thu

That’s a lot of stuff, but the base kit does leave it up to you to source a roof hatch, electrical system, headliner, roof rack, and a tongue storage box. These are relatively affordable pieces you can add later – or example, the storage box is $484 and a galley module is $394.

You’ll also need to supply the trailer you’ll mount your teardrop onto. CLC says you can plop it down onto anything from the old boat hauler in your backyard or a cheap trailer from Harbor Freight. 

Your $3,465 gets you a beautiful wooden structure to sleep in, a step up from a tent. Anything more from there is up to you, your tools, and your imagination. CLC says that feedback from customers indicates that the basic camper takes about 250 hours to build. The company says that most people have the shell completed after a few weeks’ worth of evenings and Saturdays. Coating, sanding, and finishing are said to be time-consuming, and additional time will be required to fit an electrical system and whatever else you want. It’s clearly a project to be savored, not something to tackle on a deadline.

Teardropcamper Galleymodule Fitt

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The good news is that you don’t need to have an entire shop of tools to get the job done. CLC says basic hand tools and a 5-inch orbital sander are all you’ll need for the bulk of the assembly, and the other items on the tool list are easy and inexpensive to procure if not already in your workshop; a pair of sawhorses, a drill, a few dozen spring clamps, brushes, mixing cups, and gloves will do the trick. You’ll almost certainly run into an issue or a few that require other tools, but it sounds like a handy person could build a CLC Teardrop. The company even offers classes if you want some help completing your unit.

Maybe A Fun Project

6 Teardropcampers For Sale 3

In the end, CLC says your teardrop should weigh between 176 pounds and 250 pounds when it’s finished. Then you’ll have to add the weight of whatever trailer you plop it down onto. If building a camper doesn’t appeal to you, there are turn-key CLC Teardrops already built for $22,225. Sadly, you’ll have to add to that price if you want an electrical system.

CLC is happy to admit that its Teardrop is not supposed to get people to sell their Airstreams. Instead, they’re for the kind of person who wants to save some money while also building something they could be proud of. These campers are for the kind of person who wants more than a tent, but doesn’t need to haul around a hotel room.

I see it as that and more. Building a camper can be a fantastic activity to do with the little ones in your life. You both can have a ton of fun and when you’re finished, you can look back and say that you built it. That alone could be worth the cost of admission for some.

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Steve Wilson
Steve Wilson
22 days ago

Pretty thing–I don’t even camp and I desperately want to build one.

Jctownsley
Jctownsley
22 days ago

I built a CLC teardrop in 2016. Have probably 5,000+ miles on it, including up to Banff and Jasper (from Portland Oregon). It’s predominantly been stored inside, but it’s been outside under a cheap amazon car cover for months at a time with no issues. Absolutely love it. And with a harbor freight trailer, it only weighs 750lbs. Probably 6 months and 600 hours to build, including the additions I added (awning, second room that attaches to that awning, racks, lighting, etc.)

Otter
Otter
22 days ago

I built a CLC kayak from a kit many years ago and it is still going strong. The kit and instructions were excellent then and I’m sure they are better now (no online video back then).
One thing worth mentioning is that CLC offers two week classes for two where you build the camper in their Maryland shop and finish by driving away in a finished camper. It sounds great for someone who either doesn’t have space or has no experience.

Last edited 22 days ago by Otter
Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
22 days ago

I have bought kayak plans from CLC before, but never got around to making one, as I lost my garage space to a basement remodel (still ongoing). This company absolutely knows what they are doing, and their build plans are phenomenal. This trailer looks wonderful, and if anything like their other builds, it will be plenty detailed and should be pretty “easy”.

PresterJohn
PresterJohn
22 days ago

This is absolutely gorgeous and reasonably priced. Nice to see options like this if you’re willing to trade some time for money.

Curtis Loew
Curtis Loew
22 days ago

I don’t see this holding up to long term outdoor storage. Might be ok for somebody who keeps it in a garage and uses it once a year.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
22 days ago
Reply to  Curtis Loew

Why? It certainly will require more maintenance than a fiberglass competitor, but wood can easily last. You know, boats are made out of it…

William Domer
William Domer
23 days ago

When we can’t climb up to our car top Baroud treehouse I will be all over this.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
23 days ago

Those are very pretty. I’d say that’s reasonably pried for what you’re getting too. Marine grade plywood ain’t cheap!

Jon Benet
Jon Benet
23 days ago

My father built a few sea kayaks from their plans. This camper would not be as hard as it looks to build. A person with a decent woodworking skills and a garage could build this. Mind you that fit and finish is where a lot of the skill comes in.
I don’t 100% remember, but I bet some of the other boats he built came from CLC. I will have to look. I still have stacks and stacks of Wooden Boat Magazine sitting around the back of his shop. When we were kids we would always try to talk him into getting one of the free boats that were listed in the Wooden Boat classifieds. He never did, but told me constantly what the two best days of a boat owner life were.

DriveSheSaid
DriveSheSaid
23 days ago

The slogan: Sleep like a log.

Last edited 23 days ago by DriveSheSaid
Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
23 days ago
Reply to  DriveSheSaid

Sleep IN a log could be the slogan for this motel in Oregon. The whole place is built out of one single tree.

https://www.curlyredwoodlodge.com/history.htm

Last edited 23 days ago by Dead Elvis, Inc.
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