It’s your first time. You can feel your heart thudding against your chest. You look around, double-checking. You’ve never done this before. You’ve never connected like this. After this weekend, will life ever be the same?
Hey, hold up, I’m not talking about that! I’m talking about the first time towing your camper!
The first time towing your RV camper can be stressful. You really do want everything to go off “without a hitch.” After all, the only difference between a 5,000-lb trailer and 5,000-lb loose battering ram is that one is properly coupled.
So you’re doing your research (good job). You’ve watched YouTube videos on how to hitch up. You’re double-checking your criss-crossed safety chains, measuring your tongue weight, and adjusting your weight-distribution hitch.
Good job! – but you’d still be running back to the store after your first camping trip. You need more!
In addition to your hitch equipment, in order to tow an RV camper, you need towing mirrors, a backup camera, a coupler lock, brake controller, jack foot pads and a sturdy mallet.
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Table of Contents
1) Towing and Blind Spot Mirrors
Confession: I have (unintentionally) run people off the road. I saw no one in my driver’s side mirror, so I merged, and in my blind spot was a poor soul despairing of his life and questioning his existential purpose.
Towing mirrors and blindspot mirrors are critical safety towing aids for RVs. In many states, towing mirrors are legal requirements when pulling a camper trailer. A set of towing mirrors, once adjusted, will allow you to see your full camper sidewall and what’s happening behind it.
As a rule of thumb, you need 1 inch of mirror for every 10 feet of RV length.
When it comes to towing mirrors, you have three choices:
- Replace your existing mirrors with OEM-compatible towing mirrors.
a. These are usually the nicest quality! They fold, twist, adjust, and some have built-in electric heating!
- Extend your mirrors with OEM-compatible, snap-on extendable mirrors.
a. These are commonly available for pickup trucks, like the Ram, Ford F-150, Silverado, Tundra, etc.
- Use “universal” clip-on mirrors.
a. Usually compatible with a range of mirror sizes, clip-on mirror extensions may be your only affordable choice if towing with a smaller vehicle, such as a minivan.
You can check the latest prices at Amazon for these clip-on towing mirrors.
For $2.99, you can also purchase a pair of stick-on swivel blindspot mirrors.
2) RV Backup Camera
Many drivers, especially males, consider RV backup cameras a personal insult to their driving acumen.
But the first step to getting an RV backup camera is admitting you need an RV backup camera. Seriously, Tom, would you prefer to spend $200 on a camera or $2,000 in insurance premiums?
Features of an RV Backup Camera
Almost all modern RV backup cameras are wireless. If you’re still dragging a wire behind Dino, welcome to the 21st century!
Wireless cameras have the following two components:
- A viewing monitor screen mounted on the dashboard of the tow vehicle
- A backup camera mounted on the rear wall or bumper of the camper
Here are some features to look for:
- 1080p resolution
- 7-inch monitor width
- IP66 or better rating
- 130 degree or better viewing angle
How to Install an RV Backup Camera
There are no additional wires connecting the camera to the tow vehicle, but each component requires a power supply.
Usually, the monitor connects to your vehicle’s “cigarette lighter” 12V socket outlet, and the backup camera and antenna connects to an available power circuit in your RV.
What’s an available power circuit, you ask? Well, if you’re lucky, your RV may have come from the factory configured with a built-in rearview camera circuit. If you’re not so lucky, you’ll probably have to tap into an RV power circuit.
A common source is your tail- or marker-light circuit. This is easily accessible, but be warned! – these circuits may have unacceptable voltage loss. Check with a multimeter before installing your camera.
3) Brake Controller
Unless your camper trailer is equipped with surge brakes – very uncommon in the U.S. outside of boat and rental trailers – you’ll need a brake controller.
A brake controller translates electrical signals between your tow vehicle and your camper. They come in two flavors: time-delayed and proportional. Proportional controllers are more expensive, but they are better than time-delayed systems in almost every way!
Brake controllers are NOT one-size fits all. Some can only handle 1- or 2 axles. Some are compatible with electric mechanical brakes but not air brakes. Some are cab-mounted, some trailer-mounted.
When I get time, I’ll write a full review of the best camper brake controllers. For now, follow these three rules:
- Purchase a proportional brake controller
- Splurge on a controller that doesn’t need to be manually leveled
- Keep it wireless!
Tekonsha is probably the market leader in aftermarket brake controllers. Here’s a popular pick on Amazon.com.
4) Trailer Ball Grease
Trailer ball grease is a white, non-toxic lubricant for trailer ball connections. It reduces ball wear, eliminates squeaks, extends coupler life, and fights off corrosion.
It’s cheap and available everywhere. If you live or travel in humid areas (e.g., the eastern half of the United States), ball grease can significantly extend the life of your components.
(Enough with the jokes, please.)
5) Caster Wheel
Cheap caster wheels are small, skinny, plastic wheels with no tread and no bearings. These wheels are only appropriate for lightweight trailers destined for a campground concrete pad.
If you camp in the boondocks, you’ll want a caster wheel with a tread pattern. Better yet, get two! The best caster wheel setups are duallies, combining two wheels on a single axle pin. Two wheels won’t sink into the mud like one will.
Psst! Be aware that most weight ratings for caster wheels are static weight limits only! The dynamic weight rating – in other words, when the camper is rolling – is quite a bit less, around 30-40%.
So if your trailer weighs 8,000 lbs loaded, the tongue weight at 15% could be as much as 1200 lbs. Which means the wheel should be rated for at least 1700 lbs!
6) Jack Foot
Your stock trailer jack foot isn’t much larger than an English tea cup. Unless you always camp in the concrete jungle, you’ll need something better.
The lazy man’s solution is a stabilizer jack pad. These are typically either squares of solid gym rubber or injected plastic. Some are nestable, some stackable, some with handles, etc. They distribute the tongue over a larger area.
An even cheaper alternative is the classic redneck solution: Grab the nearest 2×4.
Oversized Foot Pad
A simple step up is an oversized foot pad. Several companies make and sell these foot pads with adorable names like Bigfoot Pad and Elephant Pad. They also redistribute weight over a larger bearing area. However, no accessory storage is required.
Extendable Foot Pad
If your rig was outfitted with a manual tongue jack, then you know just raising and lowering your jack can give anyone arthritis! So much cranking!
I’ve already mentioned an upgraded tongue jack, but there’s another option: an extendable jack foot pad.
Actually, there are two options. One jack foot, made by Fastaway Trailer Products, is truly extendable! It can be flipped up for transit or flipped down when camping for a 6-inch extension. The FLIP jack foot fits almost every 2-¼-inch trailer jack.
A less innovative option is an extended, or high-rise, jack foot. These products simply have a longer shank. Unlike the Flip jack foot, these must be removed while in transit.
7) Coupler Lock
Yes, trailers get stolen. I’ve actually watched thieves on recorded video hook up campers and drive away!
I’ll dive deep into camper safety and security in another article. For now, make sure you get a coupler lock.
Coupler locks are sold in a wide price range. If it costs less than $20, I would consider it more of a theft-deterrent than a theft-prevention device. I’ve actually used a sledge hammer to beat a $20 lock off a coupler.
High-quality coupler locks have the following features:
- Corrosion-resistant plating or finish
- Difficult lock cylinder to pick
- Thick, beefy lock stock and housing
- Beveled or rounded edges (so guys like me can’t whack it with a hammer)
8) Wheel Chocks
When raising or lowering a camper, slight displacements of the camper can cause the coupler to bind onto the tongue. If the two don’t release, you can almost raise your rear axle off the ground!
Plus, for obvious reasons, campers tend to role when on sloped ground.
Do yourself a favor and invest in some wheel chocks. Don’t get the cheap stackable plastic ones. Get yourself some hefty, solid rubber checks, two for each wheel.
9) A Big, Sturdy Mallet
I’ve saved the best for last.
As the old saying goes, “Might makes right.”
If you’ve never experienced the sheer joy of yanking on a coupler yoke latch, sweat dripping into your eyes, muttering curse words under your breath and looking for the nearest rock as a hammer…
Well, bring along a sturdy mallet or dead-blow hammer, and you’ll never have to.
Sometimes, you see, couplers just don’t want to disengage.
- Maybe the coupler latch is old, rusty, and perpetually “sticky.”
- Maybe the RV settled an inch or two, forcing the coupler to bind onto the trailer ball.
- Maybe the trailer ball has old, gunked-up grease!
In these instances, nothing works better than some unresolved childhood anger and a dead-blow mallet. You’re welcome.