How To Backup a Travel Trailer

SUV Side Mirror Pulling a Travel Trailer in a Parking Lot

A travel trailer can offer families all kinds of amazing travel and camping adventures all year long almost anywhere in the country. Free of the limitations of a hotel stay, and equipped with all the wonderful little extras that a camping trailer offers over a tent (like a real bathroom) a travel trailer offers RV enthusiasts the chance to hit the road in style.

Towing a travel trailer can, however, be quite intimidating for those not used to the idea.

This can be especially true if you need to back up your travel trailer, which, at some point on any trip you are almost certainly going to be called on to do.

Practice will help you achieve perfection in the end, but to avoid damaging your camper trailer, your towing vehicle, and other people’s property, so will knowing some basic tips and tricks that make backing up a travel trailer easier, more efficient, and certainly far less stressful.

The best of those are what we are going to take a closer look at here.

When you need to back up your travel trailer it is almost always going to be in what could be termed a tight space, so understanding the basics of doing so safely should help you back up your travel trailer safely in even the tightest of spaces.

Often the best way to learn how to do something that seems intimidating – like backing up something as large as a travel trailer – is to take it step by step:

  1. The direction you slide your hand on the bottom of your steering wheel determines the direction your trailer’s butt end will go when you back up. Choose your hand placement carefully! It is this ‘backwards’ effect that frustrates and confuses many drivers when they attempt to back up a travel trailer for the first time.
  2. The trailer and the attached tow vehicle will make a V shape when you turn and back up, facing opposite to the direction in which you are turning. If you keep the wheel stable, the V will get increasingly acute.
  3. The more dramatic or speedy your wheel turn, the faster it will get sharper. You can become jackknifed, or locked up, if you go too fast. This is something you will obviously want to avoid at all costs, so go slow and take your time.
  4. Straightening out is best accomplished by moving ahead rather than backward. Going backwards it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to straighten out. Do not attempt this; instead, pull forward and then begin backing up once you are straight.
  5. Ideally, point your wheels in the direction you want the travel trailer to move and drive in that direction until you’re lined up. Also, whenever you’re stuck, moving forward and attempting to reset is almost always the best option.

This video does a good job of demonstrating these basics, if you are one of those people who needs a visual aid to learn (which lots of us do!)

How To Back Up a Travel Trailer into a Driveway?

If you invest in a travel trailer, the chances are that when it is not in use it will be parked up in your garage, which will necessarily mean backing it up into your driveway.

You will, of course, want to be able to do this without damaging your camper or running over all your carefully planted flowers and bushes!

Here is another step-by-step guide to help you.

  1. Check for obstructions first! One of the problems many people encounter is that they forgot to clear their driveway before they left, and they hit a forgotten child’s toy on the way back (or much worse still, the neighbor’s cat.) Don’t even begin to try to back up into your driveway until you have ensured the path to do so is completely clear.
  2. Pull up past the end of your driveway. Drive forward, keeping your driveway to your right. You want your towing car to be as far away from the curb as feasible and the trailer to be beyond the driveway’s entrance. You will not have to turn as sharply if you are further from the curb and more centered on the road.
  3. You can now follow the same basic back up procedure as outlined above, remembering not to go too fast and that the direction you turn the steering wheel is opposite to that the trailer will actually move.

How To Back Up a Trailer Using Mirrors?

Some people do advocate for solely making use of your mirrors to back up a travel trailer. While this is not a bad idea, it does take some practice.

So, how does the mirror approach work?

It all boils down to this:

  • Turn the wheel towards the mirror in which you see more of the trailer to straighten up.
  • Turn the wheel towards the trailer if you see too much of it in the left mirror, and the trailer will back up behind your vehicle.
  • Continue to watch your mirrors and make adjustments to where you see the trailer, and you’ll discover that you don’t need to make many wheel motions.

This is something of an art, however, and one you should practice before executing it out on the road. Some practice attempts in an open space will help a lot!

Are Camper Trailer Backup Cameras Worth It?

Rear View Safety Backup Camera System (2 Camera) with 7 Inch Monitor for RV's, Trucks, Buses and Commercial Vehicles RVS-770614

Rear View Safety Backup Camera System

While you don’t NEED an RV backup camera to back a camper trailer up successfully they can be very helpful, and for those new to towing a vehicle can help make the whole thing far less fraught and stressful.

While they have been around for years, up until relatively recently a backup camera was something that a dealer or mechanic had to install if you wanted to invest in a really good one.

Now however there are some excellent options available, like the Rear View Safety RVS-770614 model (found here on Amazon),  that you can install yourself, and given that they are also relatively affordable, are certainly well worth looking into if you plan to hit the road often.

The Importance of Practice

Knowing the theory of the right way to back up an RV camper is one thing, but actually doing so successfully can be quite another.

Given that you will be maneuvering what is almost certainly an investment of tens of thousands of dollars – in the towing vehicle and the camper trailer itself – the value of practice is hard to overstate.

Hands-on practice is usually the best type of practice.

If you already own your trailer, take it to a wide open parking lot in your neighborhood that is likely to be unoccupied.

You can practice backing up your travel trailer there to get a sense for how it works in real life.

Pack some traffic cones or other non-harmful obstacles to mimic backing into a camp spot or driveway if you want to get really serious.

You can even get in some practice in backing up a travel trailer when you are not behind the wheel of the real thing, which might be especially helpful if you are still in the shopping stage and trying to determine if you are up to the challenge of towing a camper trailer at all.

Although it may seem silly at first. A number of the driving sim ‘games’ you can buy for your favorite gaming console – or for your PC – can be a great way to practice the basics, and, as you’ll discover when you do try out the ‘real thing’ really do provide quite an authentic practice experience. Road 96, for Playstation or Xbox, and American Truck Simulator for PC or Mac are both good choices.

Stay Calm and Keep Driving

Most of the accidents and incidents that occur when people are backing up their travel trailer – especially jackknifes – are not caused because the driver did not understand the basic theory behind doing so, but because they made mistakes caused by nerves, stress, and feeling like they were being put under pressure by other divers on the road.

This means that staying calm when you are new to backing up a camper trailer is an absolute must.

You will get into difficulties if you make hasty decisions and drive nervously. Slow down, and if you find yourself in a sticky situation, take these steps.

  • Stop moving your vehicles.
  • Make a conscious effort to calm down
  • Devise a plan
  • Put the plan calmly into action.

Struggling to figure out what you need to do next while moving is a terrible idea that will lead you to become stressed and almost certainly make another, perhaps bigger mistake.

Breathing slowly and deliberately for a few minutes can help you relax.

Focus on your breathing for at least a minute or so before returning your attention to the current situation and what you need to do to get out of it.

Don’t be rushed into bad decisions by other people who are waiting for you!

The majority of other RV owners are aware of the difficulties people can face when towing a camper, and will patiently wait for you to resolve them.

People in less RV-friendly areas may become irritated, but that is really their problem. It’s better that they’re testy than that you damage your rig.

Keep your cool and try not to be concerned about those people.

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