[Project – Plan] The ECOA overland adventure trailer: A DIY teardrop on a military M101 trailer

I will never claim every idea of mine is uniquely my own creation.  As someone who spends countless hours every week scouring the forums, doing online image searches, and thumbing through the pages of a pile of magazines I glean what I can from the world.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel.  So when I stumbled upon a for-sale ad on one of the forums for an M101 with a commercial utility cap I instantly knew that was the route I was going to take.

“So much room for activities” ~ Step Brothers
Also in need of a lot of work as evident by the busted lower door frame.

In the first post of this month I discussed why I decided to go with a camping trailer.  In the pervious post I talked about the various kinds of overland camping trailers and some of their pros and cons. What I will do in this post is outline the goals for this build, my rational behind those goals, and my plans to achieve those goals.  Hopefully you’ll get inspired to up your game and tackle you own trailer project to fulfill your goals and needs form an overland adventure trailer.


When I finally decided to pull the trigger on an overland adventure trailer I knew there were a few major factors that would guide my decision making process.  First, the trailer had to be cheap.  I wanted it to be budget minded with an emphasis on customizing it to my needs.  This pretty much ruled out all commercially produced teardrops and small camping trailers.  Second, I wanted a hardbody style trailer for many of the reasons I outlined in my “deciding factors” piece I published earlier. Lastly, it had to hold up to the use and abuse of the overland adventure lifestyle.

Plan A: Cargo Box Trailer conversion

One of the many inspiring cargo trailer conversions I saw online
Link to full build

With budget, body, and stoutness driving my decision process the very first thing I considered was a cargo box trailer.  A 6×8 box trailer would give me enough room for a comfortable mattress, internal storage, as well as a kitchen.  I went through many different configurations in my head and had enough ideas I was pretty sure this was going to be my plan.  The only two major drawbacks for me were overall width and construction of the trailer.

The Wrangler is a fairly narrow vehicle.  If I went with a conventional box trailer that was 6′ wide it mean the wheels would be sticking outside of the trailer making the track of the trailer wider than the track of the Jeep. This would mean in loose rutted terrain (mud, dirt, snow, etc) they trailer would have a mind of its own and I would be fighting it.  If I went with one where the wheels are tucked under the body then it either sacrificed too much room inside or jacked up the cargo box too high to be practical.

I was also worried the overall construction of the trailer would not hold up to the use and abuse off-road.  While I don’t plan on rock-crawling with my camping trailer, I also don’t want it to be an anchor holding me back from the easiest of technical terrain.

At this point I tabled the idea and moved on to Plan B.

Plan B: Custom DIY cargo trailer

Johnny’s Off Road Trailer Build from wildyoats.com
Link to full build

A full custom trailer (as pictured above) was a short lived idea until I realized what a pain it would be to get such a trailer titled in my state.  I’m also a sub-par welder so to be honest a fully custom trailer like that was a bit outside of my skill set.  I had seen a few builds online for custom DIY camping trailers build on existing utility trailers.  Since I already had a 5×8 utility trailer I looked into the possibly of starting with something that, or maybe even a pickup truck bed mounted on an heavy duty frame.  I figured if I went this route I’d more than likely end up with a roof-top-tent style tent mounted on a raise frame.  The more I looked into RTT’s and the more I considered the skeletal nature of such a trailer the more turned off I got.

What drove me away from this plan was wanting something that required no setup time and gave me protection from the element in a way a soft RTT couldn’t.  My goal of a solid body started winning out over the budget goal.

Plan C: Modified military trailer

The original inspiration for my build.

As I said before, modified M416 and M101 style trailers are very popular foundations for the overland adventure lifestyle.  I quickly ruled out an M416 sized trailer because it would push me back to using a RTT and the trailer, even with a custom body, just wouldn’t be big enough for an enclosed sleeping space that would be comfortable for a big guy like me.

Then I saw it.  For sale in NC listed on the ExPo forum for $1,200 was a M101 trailer with a commercial utility truck cap mounted on it (pictured above).  My first thought was, “That’s perfect!” followed quickly by “Why didn’t I think of that?”  The gears in my head started turning as the little hamster of thought took the idea and ran with it.

The more I researched the M101, its dimensions, and its construction the more confident I grew that I could pull this off.  From a budget angle I knew these trailers were inexpensive and ranged from a few hundred to just over a grand in price for a quality trailer.  With a little research into commercial truck caps I found plenty in my area for a few hundred bucks.   It was looking more and more feasible by the day.

Since one of the people I know in my circle of Jeep friends has an M101 I thought I’d ask him some questions about his trailer and the modifications he made to it.  He mentioned how he stripped off the military axle and wheel assembly, the surge brake, and the lunette hitch and that it lightened up the trailer considerably.  He said he had put an 3,500 pound axle with drum brakes mounted spring-under which lowered the trailer considerably.  He also welded on a traditional trailer ball hitch mount to the front making it easier to hit up to the trailer ball on his Jeep.  He also opted for 31″ tires and 15″ wheels that matched his Jeep given the trailer a level stance behind his Jeep.  Then he dropped a bombshell on me.  He said he’d be more that willing to sell me the trailer since he no longer needed it.  Sold!

Basics of the ECOA overland adventure trailer

The main goal for the trailer is to keep it simple.  I really don’t need anything fancy since I am steeping up from a tent and backpacking stove that serve me well.  With the main issues of budget, weight, flexibility, time, and security motivating the build I will try not to be distracted by making the trailer into something more than it needs to be.  It needs to be a place for me to sleep and store gear and serve as the foundation for my campsite.  With that in mind, here are a few basic elements to the plan:
  • M101 body & frame
  • 3500# axle (with brakes) and springs (already installed)
  • 31″ tires and 15″ wheels matching stock Jeep bolt battery (already installed)
  • Aluminum utility “work truck” cap (purchased off Craigslist for $50)
  • Mattress on platform with under-bed storage (spare mattress currently in basement)
  • DIY Awnings off each side (8’x6′) and rear (6’x6′)
  • Slide out stove/grill unit with food prep area
  • Onboard power (batteries to start, solar later)
  • Modest fresh water tank and appropriate grey water tank
One of the goals I’ve set for myself is I want the initial build of the trailer to come in at 2,000 pounds and $2,000.  That’s the goal at least.
Stay tuned for more build updates.

0 thoughts on “[Project – Plan] The ECOA overland adventure trailer: A DIY teardrop on a military M101 trailer

  1. Its very uniquely and well created. I can really see the wild project in this overland. It has also the best design for a trailer.