Are you comfortable backing into the campsite above?
For me, backing up a trailer and getting it parked at the campground was probably the most stressful part of getting started with a small travel trailer. In the beginning, I would backup and pull forward, over and over, and then I'd still end up having to pull out into the road and start over again. Eventually I backed in well enough to leave it parked, but it always felt like I just got lucky. Or in other words, it wasn't because I knew what I was doing.
Now that I've been at it quite a while, I look back and see that there were really three problems I had in the beginning. I didn't...
- really have any idea on how to approach it
- understand how to make the trailer go where I wanted it to
- know how to monitor my progress while backing it into place
We even have to back into a tight spot at home1
Here's what made it easier for meAfter our first few trips, I realized there must be an easier way. It had been purely trial and error up to that point, and quite honestly, way too much error. So, I started doing some research. I read other's suggestions and watched some videos. Eventually, I got down to 4 keys that made it a lot easier for me.
Begin by pulling up near the site, then getting out to look things over well before you start to back in.Determine where you want to end up (level area, hookups, convenience for setup, etc.). And in particular, take note of where there are any obstacles (like trees!) that you need to avoid.
Hold your steering wheel at the bottom, not the top while backing up.Backing up with your trailer requires you to turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction of what you normally do when backing up without a trailer. In other words, if you turn the top of the steering wheel right, the trailer will go left. So, the direction you turn the bottom of the steering wheel is the direction your trailer will head. This might feel strange at first, but it will help get the trailer to go where you want it to go.
Adjust your left outside mirror to point down, so that you can see the ground next to your trailer.As long as you looked things over well in step 1, just focus on getting the left side of your trailer to end up where you want. (But be careful. You still need to keep an eye out for any obstacles. In my case, this is Fay's job. I keep my windows down and she stands outside and yells when I'm about to hit something!)
Learn to use THE SCOOP.This technique helped me learn how to get the truck and trailer lined up properly before starting to back up. While it's a unique approach, it really works! Sean Michael produced a great YouTube video to illustrate it. His video demonstrates the entire process of getting lined up right from the beginning. Furthermore, the video is a cartoon. So not only does it show you the technique, but it is also quite entertaining! It takes some practice to learn, but THE SCOOP made it all much easier for me.
Click the image below to check it out...
By the way, Sean has a great website called Long Long Honeymoon (often referred to as LOLOHO). It is full of a lot of great info and videos. Check it out.
One more tip...about getting hitched up
Here's one more tip that's kind of related to backing up.
If you have a newer tow vehicle, you might have a rear view camera. From what I'm told, they are a great help when hitching up. Unfortunately, my Tacoma doesn't have one. If you're like me, here's something that may help if you are struggling with backing up your tow vehicle and getting it in place to hitch up to the trailer.
Like many people, we started by having Fay watch the back of the truck and let me know how close I was getting. She'd try to tell me to go right or left and how far. After too much yelling at each other, I knew that there must be a better way for this too.
I purchased a set of these hitch alignment rods. They are simply yellow balls attached to expandable rods, with a magnetic base. They seemed kind of silly to me at first, but they really helped. To use them, you stick one on top of the hitch coupler, and other to the top of the hitch ball. Next, you watch them in your rear-view mirror, and keep them lined up as you back toward the trailer. Finally, when you are just about in place, the hitch will knock over one of the balls and let you know it's time to stop. I've since gotten pretty good at the backing up without using the balls, but these were a great help in the beginning.
Hitch Alightnment Rods make it much easier to get hooked up when you are still learning.
Bottom line...If you're just getting started, it's going to take some practice. However, the tips above were the turning points that simplified the whole process for me. Each one made things much easier. Once I learned about and began to apply all of them, I started feeling like I was in control. At this point, the stress is gone, and I usually get it right on the first or second try. As always, be sure to drop me note if you have any questions. - Denny
DON'T MISS THIS...
A new discovery that really helps!
After many years of backing up our trailer, I just recently found a great tool to help. It's a wireless rear camera that was affordable and easy to install. It not only allows me to see behind the trailer when pulling into a campsite, but also gives me a "rear-view mirror" to see behind the trailer when on the road. Fay feels a lot more comfortable driving now, and it's certainly cut back on some of the shouting at each other when I'm trying to get lined up in the campsite.
Please check out the article I wrote all about it. I've included a lot of photos that show the details of how I installed it.
Are you a newbie?
If you are new to the world of Small Travel Trailers, here are the three most popular things for most newbies, here on my website. Please check them out and see if they aren't helpful to you:
- RV Surge Suppressors – What you need to know.
It's really important that you understand the risks and know how to protect yourself against bad electrical problems. Not only can these they cause a lot of damage to your trailer and electronic components, they can also be dangerous.
- A list of products we use and like.
All the camping and RV accessories can be overwhelming when you're first getting started. After trying lots of things, these are the items that have really worked well for us. The list may save you a few bucks on buying something you don't like or stuff you'll never use (I don't publish my long list of things we've purchased and wish we hadn't!).
- My free Beginner's Guide to Small Travel Trailers
Over 100 pages, this guide is all about what we've learned since we got started owning and traveling with a small travel trailer.
Denny JohnsonAfter having spent most of our adult life in Orlando, my wife Fay and I moved to Knoxville, TN in 2020. We are loving the change of seasons and being near the mountains. Plus, this part of the country is loaded with great places to camp.
We camped years ago with a pop-up camper, but got serious about it when we purchased our Casita in 2014. There was a lot to learn as we started traveling with it, and a lot of conflicting opinions on line. That's when I decided that creating a website would be a good retirement project. I started tinyTowable.com to share things we've learned along the way that have worked well for us in hopes that the information would be of help to others.
Great tips. Jim and I back up a bit differently. After years of him standing in back of the trailer (24 foot Argosy) and yelling directions, he now walks next to the drivers window and tells me which direction he wants the trailer to go and I turn in that direction. Works like a dream, with an added bonus of no more screaming!
I think most us have had to find our way past the yelling one way or another!!!
We use a walk-in talkie which helps enormously. We also walk about the site together so I know where he should go. My husband is excellent at backing up so I am fortunate.
We haven’t accomplished that yet. Lol
The scoop works great as long as you have enough room to manouver your vehicle that way. Unfortunately, all the state and provincial parks I’ve been in, have skinny little lanes populated by trees in odd spots, that prevent having enough room to perform the scoop. 😢 Leaving me to jiggle and joggle and continuously swear while trying to back my Trillium, with the notoriously short tongue, into the site!
I use those balls to line up my hitch. Works great especially since I don’t have a a second pair of eyes to help me out.
Your tips were as always , well thought out and clearly stated… something I have a hard time doing.. it always seems to take a bunch of words to clarify.. In any case a great addition to every trailer is the back up camera on your license plate.. and a wonderful thing to do for everyone in close proximity to your backing adventure is to have communication with your spotter ..and only use some tried and true succinct words.. like: come on , stop, left a little or a lot etc… what ever works. If you want to seem some radical arm-waving , cursing and screaming going on watch the couple on their first ever anchoring in a slight blow.. in a real crowded Harbor.
Does the scoop method require a driver’s side approach?
No Joseph, it works fine from either direction. Just make sure you think it out well in advance before you get used to it.
I like your suggestion to hold the steering wheel at the bottom when backing up since that will make it easier to control the trailer. My brother is looking for a trailer to rent to transport equipment and materials to the site of his new construction project in the next city over. Thanks for sharing this info I can pass along since I’m not sure he’s driven with a trailer before!
I heard a little tip from another small camper blogger. It has helped me tremendously. Instead of yelling out directions of LEFT or RIGHT, which can be quite confusing if you are using your mirrors of have your head turned backwards. What is always a constant is DRIVERS SIDE, or PASSENGER SIDE, and it is always which way you want the camper to go. Especially helpful for those that have trouble with left and right.
Thank you for explaining how to back up with a trailer. My husband and I have been really confused about how we can do this easily. We’ll be sure to keep this in mind while we get used to our trailer.
Thanks for your comment Olivia. The number one thing though is practice!!!
Denny, great article. Another tip for almost fool proof hitching up the trailer to your towing vehicle. Couple-Mate, self-aligning, with guide wings. Works every time and you don’t need an extra set of eyes. Just need to make sure height of trailer ball is not too high or too low to avoid missing the “wings” and damaging the towing vehicle’s bumper. http://www.couplematetrailerparts.com
This looks like an interesting product Dennis. Unfortunately, the website address is no longer good. I found the company website and they are located in Australia (https://www.couplemate.com.au/), but I can’t find a U.S. distributor.
Before I unhook I place a brick right behind my driver side back wheel even with the tire , just back up to your brick and you are ready to hookup
What a great idea Micheal. I’ve never heard anyone suggest it before. Thanks for sharing!
Useful – – thanks!! The bottom of the steering wheel insight is golden! My wife will Holler before I hit something, although she can’t see through the trailer to tell me the front fender of the Outback is about to get crunched. Oh, well. My biggest gain has been to get the T@b 320 pointed in the desired direction then start to correct in the opposite direction gradually, back & forth rather than a single, straight path. All input I have seen agrees that the small trailers are tougher to back up than the bigger ones. But my wife & I quickly abandoned the she-directs-while-I-drive model early on to save the marriage at the potential cost of some scraped equipment.
You’re so correct David. As I’ve said before, the biggest challenge my wife I have if trying to work together on backing up, is to agree on how long 3 feet is!
Excellent article as always Denny. I remember backing up the boat back in the day and the bottom line is it just takes practice practice and more practice. Fortunately Sophia and I worked pretty well together situating the trailer when we had to back up. One other tip I might add is GO SLOW!
You’re certainly right Paul…slow is good!
Where is that campsite!? It is awesome.
It really is a great place Keith. It’s Wind Creek State Park in Alabama. Here’s a link to a review we did about it on my website: https://tinytowable.com/alabama-wind-creek/
My favorite part of this article is when you said that suggestions and research could help you find the one that you need. Yesterday, my uncle told me that he was looking for a trailer that he would use for daily transportation of farm equipment for his farm, and he asked if I had any idea what would be the best option to find one. Thanks to this informative article, I’ll be sure to tell him that he can consult a trusted trailers service as they can provide more information about their trailers.
I’m not sure how your comment applies to this article, but glad that something in it or on my website was helpful.