Interest in Camping and RV’ing as a recreational activity soured since the beginning of the pandemic. First time campers and seasoned veterans now go camping, as an escape, more than ever before. Of the over 10 million families who camped for the first time in 2020 according to Kampgrounds of America (KOA), over 1/3 of first timers chose camping with the perception that it is a ‘safer way to travel to avoid crowds.’
This higher volume of RV’ers on the road, especially inexperienced campers means trailer/RV safety is more important than ever. Greenhorn campers may not be accustomed to captaining a large RV or towing a trailer behind their vehicle, and could pose a risk to themselves and others on the roads. That is, if they are not informed correctly! There are some helpful safety tips I learned in my 40+ years of camping and RV’ing across North America. Having camped in every Canadian province and a number of US States over the past four decades, I learned a plethora of safety tips along the way.
Return to Family Camping
I remember the first ‘family camping trip’ my wife and I did, with our daughters when they were little, to the KOA Refrew. It was the perfect location for a first time trailer camping trip with children; just an hour from home at a campground that had everything we required for a first-time family camping trip. I chose this location for a few reasons; it was close to home if we ran into issues pulling a pop-up tent trailer with the children with us. We also chose KOA because of their level of quality, so there would be no surprises when we arrived, like electrical hook-up that did not work, or unsanitary washrooms.
Of the over 500 KOA campgrounds across North America, each one undergoes an annual 600-point inspection, the most stringent in the business. Camping with children, you have your hands full as it is, so choosing that first campground wisely will make all the difference. Choosing your location wisely is the first step to trailer camping safety, but there are more.
1. Trailing/towing safety
Perhaps the biggest safety concern when heading-out on the road with a trailer, or RV for the first time is towing & driving safety. If you have never towed a trailer before, you must first ensure that your vehicle ‘towing capacity’ is adequate for the trailer you wish to haul. Your camper’s dry weight should never be more than 90% of your vehicle’s towing capacity, and preferably less. For example, if your tow vehicle, usually an SUV or Truck, has a towing capacity of 5000 pounds, never tow a trailer with dry weight heavier than 4500 pounds at the absolute maximum, and preferably less. The heavier you go, the more dangerous it becomes.
2. Weight Distribution Hitch
Hauling a heavy travel trailer has a defined set of fine-tuned safety requirements, and hitching accessories. One crucial piece of equipment for anyone who tows a trailer is a weight distribution hitch. This specialized hitch offers improved towing, by removing weight from your trailer tongue by distributing it more evenly. Keep in mind that trailer tongue weight should be approx. 10% of your total trailer weight. If, for example, your travel trailer has a dry weight of 3500 pounds, 300 pounds of tongue weight is a good amount. A weight distribution system comes equipped with two heavy torsion bars, chained in place to improve towing ability. I have always used a weight distribution system for my trailers, regardless how big or small, and it has served me well.
3. Sway Bar
Weight distribution hitches often come with a Sway Bar attachment which secures your tow vehicle to the trailer and prevents fish-tailing. The sway bar is a type of breaking system that keeps your travel trailer tracking smooth and straight. It is necessary for small and larger trailers alike and just one more tool in your safety arsenal.
4. Electric trailer brakes/brake controller
Another crucial piece of safety equipment when pulling a travel trailer is properly installed electric brake controller in your tow vehicle. A brake controller is a link between your truck brakes and the trailer you are hauling. They allow both components to brake, in tandem, so when coming to a stop your trailer slows along with your tow vehicle, allowing for a smooth and safe stop. Hauling a larger trailer without trailer brakes, or a brake controller, is dangerous and foolhardy. Imagine trying to make a sudden stop, going downhill with 3000+ pounds of weight pushing you from behind? Have a professional install a quality brake controller in your vehicle and be sure to adjust the braking power before you head down the road.
5. Tire inspection
Trailer/RV tires are your safety link to the road underneath and require constant maintenance. Proper tire inflation is crucial and many travellers are unaware what that should be, in a practical sense. The sidewall of your trailer tires posts the ‘maximum psi’ indicated and the pressure is what your tires should ALWAYS be inflated to! Never underinflate or overinflate since your trailer is meant to be towed at maximum tire pressure at all times. Keep your trailer tires covered when not in use to prevent drying, and watch for uneven tire wear, which might indicate a wheel bearing or axle issue.
By following these few basic travel trailer safety tips, your camping will undoubtedly be safer and more enjoyable, for you and your family this summer.