If you’re new to towing a small camper trailer, it helps to have tips. Sure, less can go wrong due to your camper trailer size, but you can never be too careful. What pointers do we recommend?
Here are some tips for towing a small camper trailer:
- Use a towing vehicle commensurate with your trailer size
- Get the right type of hitch
- Test your brake controller before you go
- Practice, practice, practice
- Travel lightly
- Shift weight nearer the front of the camper
Those tips above are just scratching the surface regarding what we have to share with you today. The 15+ tips we’ll present will cover all your bases so you’re ready to tow a small camper trailer with confidence!
18 Handy Tips for Small Camper Trailer Towing
1. Use a Towing Vehicle Commensurate with Your Trailer Size
Compact campers are maybe six or seven feet long. Perhaps yours is 10 feet at most. That’s still far smaller than the average length of a travel trailer, which is up to 96 feet.
If yours was a trailer that size, then you’d have to look into-heavy duty vehicles like a pickup truck or SUV for towing.
Since yours is a tiny, contained camper trailer, a pickup truck would be a ridiculous towing vehicle.
You wouldn’t have to worry about towing capacity in the slightest, but it’s a waste of the truck’s towing capacity to pull a lightweight camper like yours.
Instead, we’d recommend a towing vehicle like a light SUV or even a car in some instances.
If you don’t already know the towing capacity of your camper trailer, that information is usually available on the manufacturer’s website or in your owner’s manual.
You want a towing vehicle that can tow at least that much weight plus some extra. The bit of wiggle room is good for peace of mind.
Plus, if your camper is loaded to the gills with cargo, you won’t have to worry about whether your towing vehicle can still pull the trailer.
2. Get the Right Type of Hitch
You found the ideal towing vehicle for your small camper. Now you need a hitch.
The good news is that your hitch options are wide open considering how lightweight your trailer probably is.
Just like you don’t need a big powerful truck to pull a small camper, you also don’t need a hitch that’s rated for 10,000 pounds.
We’d recommend a bumper hitch as one potential option, especially if your towing vehicle has a sturdy protruding bumper.
As the name implies, a bumper hitch connects to your towing vehicle’s bumper. Most bumper hitches can pull up to 5,000 pounds.
If your small camper weighs 2,800 to 3,900 pounds, which is the average, then a bumper hitch is perfect. You have that wiggle room we were talking about.
A rear receiver hitch is another excellent option. Many trailer owners will choose this hitch for a small camper trailer, and thus you might decide to as well.
Like a bumper hitch, the rear receiver hitch attaches to your towing vehicle’s rear. Its square-shaped receiver tube is compatible with all sorts of hitch connectors.
We’ve talked about the various weight classes of receiver hitches on the blog before, but we’ll go over it again now.
For a small camper, a Class 1 receiver hitch that’s 1 ¼ inches and can tow 2,000 pounds ought to suffice. This hitch is usable on crossovers and cars.
You can go bigger if need be. Class 2 receiver hitches are 1 ¼ inches as well but can pull 3,500 pounds. You can use this receiver hitch on minivans, crossovers, and cars.
A Class 3 receiver hitch is two inches and can tow 8,000 pounds max. You can install one of these hitches on a truck, SUV, van, or crossover.
You shouldn’t need anything more powerful than a Class 3 considering the size of your trailer.
3. Test Your Brake Controller Before You Go
We just wrote a very in-depth post about brake controllers, so if you missed that, you should certainly go back and give it a read.
This section will serve mostly as a recap.
Essentially, brake controllers are used in all but the teeny-tiniest of camper trailers.
If your camper doesn’t come with a brake controller, we’d recommend outfitting the camper with one. A brake controller allows your camper to stop as you pump the brakes in your towing vehicle.
Using a brake controller can prevent trailer sway–which we’ll talk more about later–as well as jackknifing.
It’s always very scary when your camper trailer behaves independently of your towing vehicle. Even though your camper is small, that doesn’t mean it can’t do some damage both to your towing vehicle and other motorists’ vehicles that you’re sharing the road with.
You can select from a time-delayed or proportional brake controller. A time-delayed brake controller requires you to adjust the settings for braking before you drive. Each time you brake your towing vehicle, the camper will come to a stop in exactly the same way.
The lack of deviation between hard and soft stops is the biggest downside to a time-delayed brake controller. Uneven brake wear is also an issue.
Proportional brake controllers stop the camper trailer to the same degree you stop your towing vehicle. In other words, if you have to stop hard and suddenly, the camper would do the same. If you roll to a slow, gentle stop, so would your camper.
This spares your brakes, but a proportional brake controller is a lot costlier.
4. Check Your Visibility
When you finally get in your rig and you’re ready to hit the road, you’re going to notice something. Compared to driving without a camper trailer, you can’t see all that well.
Even though your camper is small, it’s still going to obstruct your vision in areas. You’re going to have to manually adjust all your mirrors to enhance your visibility.
How do you know you’ve adjusted the mirrors correctly? If you can see your camper’s rear when you look at either side mirror, then your mirrors are in the right positions.
That said, sometimes, no matter how much you finagle with your mirrors, your visibility is still limited.
In those situations, we’d recommend mirror extensions. They clip onto your side mirrors and extend your range of vision from either side of your rig.
We like this set from Fit Systems. The mirrors are an Amazon’s Choice product; plus, they’re universal mirror extenders, so they should work with any rig.
5. Travel Lightly
Even if your camper trailer is on the lighter side at under 2,000 pounds, on your first time out with the camper hitched to your towing vehicle, don’t make things harder on yourself.
Packing your camper trailer like there’s no tomorrow is one of the most surefire ways to create more difficulties.
Increasing your trailer’s weight is going to make it harder to maneuver. Plus, as we’ll talk about more with our next tip, you risk improper weight distribution, which will further spiral your camper out of control.
For your first trip in your camper trailer, maybe bring only one other person or two people max. Plan outfits that you can wear a few different ways, and get used to wearing the same clothes a couple of times before you discard them.
When determining which other belongings to pack, ask yourself one question, “Do I need that while camping?”
It’s not like your camper trailer is going to have electrical hookups (more than likely), so you can leave your laptop at home but bring a portable DVD player for entertainment.
6. Shift Weight Nearer the Front of the Camper
Even though you tried to travel light, you still have a substantial amount of stuff. If you’re camping for several weeks, that probably can’t be avoided.
You want to position your cargo very carefully as you set off for your first adventure in your small camper trailer.
If everything is pushed off to one side of the camper, then the axle that’s bearing the most weight can tip.
This will present a huge challenge when it comes to safely navigate the roads with your rig. You’re a hazard to other motorists and could hit anyone at any point until you better distribute the weight of your camper.
Up to 40 percent of your cargo should be supported by the rear axles while the remaining 60 percent should be at the front of your camper.
If you’re struggling to accelerate or brake, then pull over. Too much cargo is in the front. Remember, it should only be 60 percent, not 70 or 80 percent.
Redistribute the weight and try driving again. You should feel like you have much more control.
7. Be Ready to Brake Early
Even if you’ve driven your towing vehicle regularly for years, once you hitch a camper on the back, it’s a whole different ballgame.
One area in which that will become immediately apparent is braking.
If you try to brake at the same time you do when you’re not hitching a trailer, you’ll end up smashing into the rear of the driver in front of you.
Why? There’s more length to your rig now, so your stopping distance increases.
You must accommodate for the extra heft you’re carrying by stopping a lot earlier than you think you have to.
By the way, even using a brake controller will not make you better at braking. You have to get used to stopping, and then using a brake controller will be more efficient.
Sudden stops are going to be a thing of the past. That means you’ll always have to keep a very close eye on the road, watching what other motorists are doing.
If someone three cars ahead of you slams on their brakes, you need to hit your brakes right away because you know the car in front of you is going to brake too. By the time you get to where that third car slammed on their brakes, you should be just about stopped.
8. Watch for Wind
Travel trailer rigs of any size can fall victim to a terrifying phenomenon referred to as trailer sway.
Trailer sway is when your trailer exits its alignment behind your towing vehicle and begins to move off towards one side. Your trailer can then weave back and forth unpredictably on the road, hitting motorists on either side who are too close.
Side forces lead to trailer sway. If you’re driving in the middle of a four-lane freeway and the cars on either side of you are rushing by, trailer sway can occur.
Much more likely though, strong winds are going to lead to a case of trailer sway.
As you plan your first trip in a small camper trailer, it might be a good idea to rework your plans according to how windy it is.
After all, your trailer doesn’t have a ton of heft to it, so it doesn’t take very powerful gusts to potentially cause trailer sway.
9. Cut Your Speeds
To avoid getting pulled over by the cops, you’re supposed to drive within the speed limit. Sometimes though, you can’t help but go a little faster. You love the feeling of speed and the adrenaline rush it brings you.
Well, speed demons need not apply when towing even a small camper trailer.
The top speed you want to drive is between 45 and 60 miles per hour.
Yes, even if you’re on a major four-lane freeway, you want to curtail your speeds (we’ll talk more about highway driving in just a moment; promise!).
Why only 60 MPH at most?
Well, remember, you can’t stop on a dime when towing a trailer. It just isn’t possible. The faster you’re driving, the harder it is to stop, and the longer it takes as well.
Thus, it’s within your best interest and your safety to drive slowly. It’s also for the safety of everyone you’re sharing the road with as well as any passengers you have riding with you!
10. Stay in the Right Lane
Okay, so as promised, this next tip pertains to highway driving.
When you are on a four-lane highway or even a two-lane or three-lane freeway, you do not want to be right in the thick of it with the other drivers.
Remember, you shouldn’t drive faster than 60 MPH. On highways and freeways, the speed limit is often 65 MPH at least.
On top of that, you have to consider that people are rushing to get to work because they’re late, or they’re eager to get home from work or just go anywhere. They’re usually surpassing the speed limit by a decent margin.
You cannot keep up with these other drivers. Trying to is dangerous, but driving more slowly than the recommended speed limit is also dangerous.
Your rig is decently sized, so there’s a lot more of you to crash into when a driver who’s going over the speed limit doesn’t see you until it’s too late.
There’s another factor in play that we’ve talked about, and that’s trailer sway. As you’ll recall, side forces can lead to trailer sway, and those side forces can include two lanes of high-speed vehicles.
Keep to the right lane as often as you can. You can drive slower here since most people are exiting, and you’ll be out of the thick of things when driving on a highway.
11. Master the Scoop
Eventually, the time is going to come for you to stop to refuel on gas or food or even rest for the night. How in the world do you park with a small camper trailer hitched to the back of your towing vehicle?
That’s the million-dollar question that a lot of new camper owners ask themselves.
While you have many ways you can go about doing it, we’d recommend sticking with the scoop technique.
Here’s how to scoop.
First, select a parking spot. You’re going to need two open lanes that make one vertical slot for you to park.
Once you’ve chosen the area you’ll park, drive a little beyond it. Go slow as you do this.
After you’re past the parking spot, turn your towing vehicle steering wheel as though you’re dipping into the spot and then away from it. This is the scooping part of this technique’s name.
What you’re really doing is angling your rig so you can get into the parking spots.
As you exit a scoop and are in alignment, angle your towing vehicle near the parking spots. Then ease into the spots and you’re parked!
12. Take Hills Slowly
If you’re taking the scenic route, which we’re assuming you are, then your camper adventures might require some mountainous driving or at least some tall hills. How do you navigate this kind of driving?
As you do when on the highway, keep your rig to the right. Don’t try to pick up speed to get up the hill. Maintain a sure and steady pace and you’ll get there.
If other drivers behind you are beginning to get antsy, feel free to turn on your hazard lights. Do not start accelerating though.
What goes up must go down, and that’s true of you riding down a hill as well.
If you bought a brake controller, you’ll really get good use out of it now. Ride the brakes all the way down the hill, but don’t bring yourself to a full stop until you’re close to reaching the bottom (if it’s even necessary then).
Braking too hard could lead to jackknifing, which is when your trailer juts out at a sharp angle. You will cause an accident if another motorist is too close behind you when going down the hill.
13. Learn to Reverse
You won’t always drive in forward with your rig but reverse at times too.
The good news is that a small camper trailer makes backing up a lot easier than if you had a full-sized travel trailer or an RV. That said, you will have to get used to this technique.
Here are the basics of backing up. Whatever direction you aim your steering wheel, that’s the direction the rear of your camper will go.
The angle becomes steeper as you begin reversing, and your camper and towing vehicle might even make a V-shape that’s opposite of where you want to turn.
This is all fine to a point. You don’t want that V-shape to get so sharp that you jackknife though, so know when to stop reversing.
Should you need to get out of the V-shape, drive forward rather than continually reversing.
14. Get Familiar with Turning
As with everything, turning is not the same when towing a camper trailer, even a small camper. That said, it’s one of the easier things to do.
You will need to be ready to turn early. Since your rig isn’t very long, you don’t have to make overly wide turns. You can also avoid the stress that is cutting corners because you incorrectly planned a turn.
What if you’re driving on a road that requires very sharp turns? Well, you shouldn’t, not if you can avoid it.
If you ever do find yourself stuck in this scenario, then keep your turn wide to avoid hitting anything behind you as well as the curb or the corner.
Take your turns slowly. Your center of gravity is a lot higher in your rig than it is when you’re driving a towing vehicle alone. If you turn too fast, you could tip over.
15. Know Your Rig Height
Small camper trailers aren’t very big width-wise and length-wise, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t big height-wise.
You do not want to find yourself in a situation where you can’t cross an overpass or a tunnel because your rig is too tall.
If you don’t take the time to measure the height of your rig though, that’s exactly what can happen.
Before you go, pull out that flexible measuring tape and jot down some numbers. Keep your rig height in mind as you plan routes.
If your rig is on the taller side, then try to avoid tunnels and overpasses as much as possible, just to be safe.
16. Practice, Practice, Practice
Many of the techniques we’ve outlined throughout this guide are not easy. All will require practice to master.
We recommend practicing in an empty lot, especially for techniques such as reversing and parking.
You’ll have lots of space to work with and no stress over hitting other cars near you because it will be just you and the asphalt.
If you’re eager to try out turning, drive around your neighborhood. The slow speed limits should give you leeway to practice turns without much anxiety.
17. Plan Your Route Ahead of Time
It’s always good to know before you go!
You can use a good, old-fashioned paper map or an app on your smartphone to plan your route.
You’re looking not only for overpasses and tunnels but other obstructions that can be difficult such as bridges, sharp turns, tall hills, and the like.
When you know you have a tough turn coming up, you’re afforded plenty of time to steel yourself and mentally prepare. Being caught off-guard can leave you an anxiety-ridden mess who forgets how to do any driving techniques.
Try to avoid that as much as you can!
18. Breathe and Don’t Rush
Will your rig be the slowest on the road? Unless you happen to be sharing the road with other camper trailers or travel trailers, then yes.
That’s okay. Towing a camper trailer is a marathon, not a sprint.
Don’t push your speed limits. Stay calm. Plan your itinerary with plenty of leeway so that if you’re 30 minutes or even 50 minutes late, it’s not the end of the world.
Towing a small camper trailer is worlds easier than pulling a full-sized trailer, but you still must prepare accordingly. The tips in this article will help you ready up so you can explore the world in your camper!