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
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It's really not as bad as it first seems

For me, backing up a trailer and getting it parked at the campground was probably the most stressful part of getting started with a trailer. It seems like in the beginning, I was always backing up and pulling forward, over and over, just to end up having to pull out into the road and start over again. I would eventually get backed in well enough to leave it parked, but it always felt like I just got lucky. 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:

  1. I didn't have a good understanding about how to approach it
  2. I didn't know to make the trailer go where I wanted it to
  3. I didn't 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 something I was missing. It had been purely trial and error up to that point, and quite honestly, way too much error. I started doing some research; reading other's suggestions and watching videos. Eventually, I got down to the following 4 keys that began to make it all work for me.
  1. Begin by pulling up near the site, then getting out to look things over well before starting to back in. Determine where you want to end up (level area, hookups, convenience for setup, etc.). In particular, take note of where there are any obstacles (like trees!) that you need to avoid.
  2. 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 is the one tip everyone will give you, but it makes all the difference in getting the trailer to go where you want it to go.
  3. Adjust your left outside mirror to point down to where 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. (Obviously, you need to keep an eye out for all the 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!)
  4. Learn to use THE SCOOP. For me, this was the key to learning how to get the truck and trailer lined up properly before beginning to back up. It's a unique approach, of which Sean Michael produced a great YouTube video to illustrate. His video demonstrates the entire process of getting lined up right from the beginning. By the way, the video id an entertaining cartoon! Learning to use this technique changed everything for me and has made me forever indebted to Sean!
    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. You should really check it out.

One more tip...about getting hitched up

Here's one more tip. It will help you if you're 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 try to tell me to go right or left and let me know how close I was getting. 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 yellow balls attached to expandable rods, with a magnetic base. You stick one on top of the hitch coupler, and other to the top of the hitch ball. You can see them in your rear-view mirror, and keep them lined up as you back toward the trailer. 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 process without using the balls, but they were a great help in the beginning. Click on the image to read on Amazon about how other people like them, or to purchase a set. (By the way, some of the comments on Amazon say that they are too short to use on a pickup. I never had a problem. I can only think that the people had not fully extended them.)

Please Note: I am a participant in several affiliate marketing programs and may receive a commission if you use one of my links and make a purchase. - Denny
Hitch Alignment Tool     

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
Denny Johnson

Denny Johnson

Denny loves traveling with his wife Fay in their Small Travel Trailer. In addition to all his blog articles, he's developed an entire website about Small Travel Trailers, including a free Beginner's Guide to help those just getting started. Please Subscribe to my Emails so you don't miss any future articles.

11 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.

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