4 Tips to Simplify Backing Up a Trailer

Much of the information on this site is only my opinion. Use it at your own risk. -Denny
(Click here to read the complete disclaimer)
Please Note: I participate in affiliate marketing programs and may receive a commission if you use one of my links and make a purchase. - Denny
Sponsored Ad

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...

  1. really have any idea on how to approach it
  2. understand how to make the trailer go where I wanted it to
  3. know how to monitor my progress while backing it into place

Parking our Casita at home

We even have to back into a tight spot at home1

Here's what made it easier for me

After 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.

<p>By the way, Sean has a great website called <a href="http://longlonghoneymoon.com/">Long Long Honeymoon</a> (often referred to as LOLOHO).  It is full of a lot of great info and videos.  You should really check it out.</p>

Hitch Alightnment Rods make it much easier to get hooked up when you are still learning.

Are you a newbie?

If you are new to the world of Small Travel Trailers, you should also read my article about Dangerous Electrical Problems when Camping. It's really important that you understand the risks and know how to protect yourself. Not only can these problems cause a lot of damage to your trailer and electronic components, they can also hurt you.

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

For more information or to purchase the products mentioned in this article, click the image below to access the related product page on Amazon. Thank you for supporting our sponsors and advertisers.
Hitch Alignment Balls
Be sure to check out my complete lists!
Products we use and like
Denny Johnson

Denny Johnson

My wife Fay and I live in Knoxville, TN, and we love traveling with our Casita. I created tinyTowable.com to share things we've learned along the way and hopefully help others. Be sure to check out all the information, the campground reviews, and especially the free Small Travel Trailers Beginner's Guide . If you like what you find, please subscribe to my Emails so you don't miss any future articles.
 
Subscribe Small Travel Trailer Beginner Small Travel Trailer Products We Like Small Travel Trailer Articles
This article has been revamped and updated since it was originally posted.
Sponsored Ad

19 thoughts on “4 Tips to Simplify Backing Up a Trailer

  1. 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!

      1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

      1. No Joseph, it works fine from either direction. Just make sure you think it out well in advance before you get used to it.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. 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.

    1. 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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.