Converting a Utility Trailer into a Budget Teardrop Camper : Part One

What do you do when you have a utility trailer and an ARB Awning just sitting around?  Well you build a teardrop trailer around them or at least that’s what Alabama Overland’s Andy Jones decided to do.

After selling his M101a2, Andy decided that he wanted a Teardrop style camper. Using a 5×8 Big Tex utility trailer as his base, Andy began his ultimate budget camper build. Not wanting anything extreme, just something to tackle forest service roads, back-country dirt roads and perhaps the occasional Auburn tailgate.

Follow along as we watch an ordinary utility trailer transform into one heck of a weekend warrior.

The first step was to perform a spring over axle lift kit to make room for larger tires.

The first step was to perform a spring over axle lift kit to make room for larger tires.

Using 3/4" cabinet grade plywood, Andy began to frame and establish the basic shape of his camper.

Using 3/4″ cabinet grade plywood, Andy began to frame and establish the basic shape of his camper.

Knowing that he wanted something large enough to be able to load in larger gear, a quick trip to eBay and with a few clicks this bad boy was on it's way.

Knowing that he wanted something large enough to be able to load in larger gear, a quick trip to eBay and with a few clicks this bad boy was on it’s way.

After getting the door framed in he was able to finish skinning the sides, roof and rear with plywood.

After getting the door framed in he was able to finish skinning the sides, roof and rear with plywood.

Next came installing the side windows...

Next came installing the side windows…

Followed by the roof vent.

Followed by the roof vent.

Make sure that you stay tuned for Part II when we cover how Andy decided to protect his new camper from the elements.


Lifestyle Overland : ARB 50 Quart Fridge / Freezer Review

This “Gear Review” post kicks off a new series of articles for Lifestyle Overland. Expect to see more reviews like this in the future as we share our experiences with various products on the overlanding market.
We understand that product reviews can be very subjective to the application and user so we ask that you bear that in mind when reading our reviews. We will give our honest opinion on how well a product meets our needs, the quality characteristics it possess, the price point when purchased, and the level of customer service experienced. We will not review a brand new product, all our articles will be about items we have tested and tried multiple times and in various environments. Unless otherwise noted, all products were purchased by us; we have not received any compensation for our product reviews.



This review is on one of the first major purchases we made for our overlanding kit; incidentally it is one of favorites thus far. The ARB Fridge / Freezer is one of those game changing products that you might not know you need… until you try. I know, coolers are a dime a dozen and ice can be had at any convenience store, so why would a person want to spend hard earned money on a glorified “cooler”? Well, if your overland trips consist of a weekend run to the edge of civilization and back, then the justification isn’t as strong for you as it would be for someone looking for the ability to go 3 to 10+ days without having to replenish ice reserves. However, if you’re like me and hate listening to cooler ice sloshing around in the back of your rig by noon Saturday, you’re not a fan of soggy hamburger fixin’s for dinner, and you hate throwing away most of your leftover food Sunday night because it got too warm… then maybe you should consider an ARB fridge / freezer.

We love to cook, and if it’s in the middle of the wilderness, so much the better. The trouble with our cooler setup was keeping food and drinks at a consistent temperature for the duration of our trip. On occasion we have returned home with packs of bacon or sandwich meat that had to be tossed because they were too warm. We have had several occasions where our ziplock bags filled with raw burger meat contaminated the cooler because the rough trails sloshing them against other contents put holes in the bag. Our cooler was large and took up a ton of space in the rig, not to mention being unwieldy to move about. As the duration of our adventures began to increase, so did the attrition rate for our food. The ARB solution had quickly risen to the top of our wish list.

On February 24th of 2015 we purchased a 50 quart unit from due to their competitive prices and free shipping. The retail price was $877.00 shipped to our door. You will occasionally find this unit on sale or available in group buys on popular forums which will save you up to 10% if you’re willing to do the research and wait. Along with the fridge, we also ordered the tie down system and wiring harness for direct connection to our battery. You can run this unit from a factory 12V socket at the rear of your vehicle, however we wanted to minimize voltage drop to the rear location and keep our factory plug free for other accessories. We later ordered the cover to help protect the exterior of the fridge from scuffs while adding a touch more insulation (not that it needed it).


After 14 months of use the unit is still going strong and we have surprised ourselves at just how much we use the unit. With the low current draw (.87 amp-hour average) we can leave the unit on for days without worrying about battery drain. Even if we were to leave the unit powered on without recharging the rig battery, the built-in battery protection will shut the unit off if voltage levels drop to one of three customizable thresholds, preventing you from being left stranded.


We have used our ARB for vacations, grocery store trips, cross country travel, overland adventures, and even for keeping chilled water on hand for community events. We rarely remove it from our vehicle as it has proven so handy to have ready at a moment’s notice. However, when we are ready to remove it, the empty weight of 49.6 lbs seems much lighter with the sturdy handles built into the unit.
Typically we stage the ARB fridge in the camper (we are full-timers) the day before a long trip and plug it into the 120V outlet with the included power cord and load everything we need while maintaining the temp we desire. This makes it convenient for trip prep since we aren’t making multiple trips to the vehicle.

When it’s loaded and ready to go back to the rig we (again) really appreciate the sturdy handles as it’s possible to reach the 60-75 lb mark when we’re packing for a long trip. The handles are also designed to be used as securing points with the optional tie-down kit which makes cinching it down a breeze.

Initially we thought the disadvantage of choosing the ARB fridge/freezer over a cooler would be the overall weight. This thought was quickly dispelled by the fact that the 74 quart cooler we previously used weighed in at 27 lbs, when we added a 20 lb bag of ice to that we were right up there with the ARB’s weight. Another surprise was the storage capacity; when you don’t need ice, you can pack things much tighter, so in the end there was no storage disadvantage either. Note: A handy trick for helping with the capacity is to limit your non-perishable items (water, other beverages, etc.) in the fridge, and simply cycle the room temperature items in as you use the chilled ones up.

Another really ingenious feature is the LED fridge light. No digging around in the dark since the unit lights up just like your fridge in the kitchen. We also like the removable lid, though with our current configuration we haven’t had to remove it very often. Those folks with tighter spaces, like with a custom storage area, will appreciate this feature.When it’s time to clean the fridge (or if you have a spill), ARB kindly installed a drain plug in the bottom so there’s no need to tip it over.


A couple issues we have found are that the lid removal doesn’t always work as designed. You’re supposed to be able to pull it forward to remove with a slight tweak side to side, springing the hinge detent and allowing it to be removed. However, the springs are quite strong and it feels as if the lid will snap the frame before freeing itself. This is likely due to the fact we haven’t had to exercise it very often, but still something to be mindful of.
The next issue is one we experienced when packing for our Death Valley trip. We had packed the unit to its capacity, (there was hardly a cubic inch left) and we found after a couple days that the food was losing temperature in the center of the stack. We later determined that we had literally insulated the food from the cooling coils in the outer walls. The food near the walls was maintaining temperature just fine, but it was also keeping the cool air from transferring to the center. We created space by removing some of the non-perishables and the issue corrected itself.
These are very minor complaints, but still issues we felt should be mentioned here.


Two separate power cords are included, one for AC operation (120 volt) at home, and one for DC operation (12/24 volt) in your vehicle. All sized models are able to maintain sub-freezing temperatures in 90° F heat, while only drawing 0.87 amps per hour (50QT model) from a 12 volt power source.

  • 100% CFC free
  • Ice free operation
  • Three year warranty
  • Powder coated zinc steel cabinet shell. Zinc steel provides excellent corrosion resistance
  • Recessed powdered coated steel fixed carry handles
  • Two piece injection molded lid, UV stable
  • Convenient on/off power indicator
  • Integrated battery protection system (12/24V DC)
  • Solar panel & generator compatible
  • Deep storage capacity for large upright bottles
  • User friendly, forward facing thermostat control
  • Built-in 12, 24 and 120 volt facility, making it ideal for use as a second fridge
  • Rounded corners & edges to protect vehicle upholstery
  • Fully removable lid & basket for easy access & cleaning
  • Ventilation grills allow operation even in the most confined cargo areas
  • User friendly, right angled plug-in point from cord to fridge
  • Operates at extreme angles (up to 30°) without affecting operation or reliability
  • Recessed front mounted digital control panel
  • Internal LED cabinet light
  • Separate dairy/fruit compartment
  • Interior drain plug
  • Unique stainless steel detent hinge with quick release mechanism
  • Integrated battery protection system (12/24V DC)
  • Integrated power system – No external power transformers required to operate the fridge on 12V DC, 24V DC or 110V AC

Available Accessories:


Direct Connection Wiring Harness (Highly Recommended)


Remote Temperature Monitor (We don’t really have a use for this since we set the temp and forget it.)


Temp Sending Unit


Fridge Slide with Tie-Down Kit


Fridge Slide-Out

Final Word

While admittedly the initial investment is quite higher than a basic cooler, and nearly double the cost of a high-end cooler, we believe it was well worth the investment for our family due to the low maintenance use and overall convenience it provides. It has become a mainstay for our overlanding adventures, and surprisingly, our every day life as well. The construction quality and user-friendly controls are the finishing touches to a great product, by a reputable company. The included 3 year warranty provides piece of mind that they are willing to stand behind their product, which is very impressive considering the use and abuse the offroad/overland community can dish out.
Overall, the ARB 50 Quart Fridge/Freezer has been an excellent addition to our overlanding kit and we would highly recommend it to anyone looking to expand their food storage abilities.

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Overlanding Basics – Spontaneity & the Great Outdoors

November 3, 2015 | Corrie Murguia |

This is the type of text exchange I have with my husband on a regular basis:

text(That’s me in blue. I’m an outdoors pusher.)

This was my 38K foot question to the husband-unit on a flight home from a business trip. It was Friday. I landed at 10AM, home by 11AM, Michael was home at 12:30PM and we were on the road by 1PM.

IMG_4568-683x1024Michael talks ALL THE TIME about getting out of town as fast as possible. And it’s for a reason: He powers through his weekdays in the SF video game industry (Fun fact: He was one of the original team members on SimCity!), and his sense of work/life balance comes from his ability to get the F* out of dodge on a dime.

When my husband gets to the mountains, his entire demeanor changes. His face lightens. He breathes deeper. He is a new person as soon as the air turns fresh and the drone of traffic falls away. There is nothing better than seeing his face brighten up with the suggestion of a last minute overlanding excursion.

There is a strong element of planning and prepping with every new overland journey we take. But when spontaneity strikes, we use the following guidelines to seize the moment, load up and explore!

1. If You Fail to Prepare…


At the end of each trip we take inventory of what we used, what we discovered we needed, and what we can cut from our 3 Plano cases.

Once we have everything on a list, we execute on it. We don’t wait for the next scheduled adventure. We always have the core essentials on the ready.

For example, our dry foods plano will *always* have spaghetti, sauce, and packets of parmesan. We know we have one solid meal option with our outdoor kitchen setup wherever we land.

I also keep a duffle bag fully loaded with clean outdoors clothing. When we get home, we wash our dirty gear, and it goes right back into the ‘adventure’ duffle. No running around trying to find the merino wool shirt or the green adventure pants Friday afternoon. Just grab and go! (I swear, Michael would live in those pants if I didn’t immediately pack them away.)

We aren’t perfect at this! Sometimes we grab from the pantry to restock the cases; however, we’re conscious that the more we do at the end of a trip, the faster we are able to launch into the next one.

2. Stay On Your Maintenance Game

I HATE wondering (and worrying) about anything technical or mechanical while overloading in the 1996 FZJ80. I am the one scheduling oil changes, tune ups, tire/brake checks, WHATEVER. We stay on maintenance when we’re grinding pavement so we don’t have to think or worry when we’re off-road. And the last thing I want to ask just as we’re pulling out of the driveway is, “Hey, when was the last oil change?”

3. Familiar Routes

Spontaneous trips = Familiar routes. We know the ins-and-outs of the Slick Rock Trail in Lake Alpine, CA and the off-road camping sites available along the trail.
When we take off down the spontaneous trail, we KNOW the terrain and final destination. Spontaneous trips aren’t for new trails. We allow plenty of time for planning and research before hitting a new region.

IMG_5200-e1431810226379-1024x7681-1024x7684. It’s the Spice of Life

When asking each other what we’re going to do on a Friday night, we always have the option of shaking up our
scenery and driving away from the crowds! Having the ability to pick up and go reminds me to seize my time and make the most out of life. And it’s always fun to watch my husband reconnect with his deepest passion: the outdoors.

Make the time between your spontaneous ‘YES’ and getting outdoors as short as possible! It doesn’t matter what you do to be on the ready for adventure. Have a pre-packed bag, have a case, have several cases, have everything, have nothing, do your thing, but always remember that adventure is only one ‘YES’ away. Only always.

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