How To Backup A Camper Into A Tight SpotAnthony Day
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You have a new camper, and you look forward to using it. But you're finding that driving it comes with specific challenges, like backing up into tight spots.
Many campsites at RV campgrounds are not exactly roomy, and of course, there's your own driveway to get your camper into. You need to know how to back up your trailer into tight spots.
The basics of backing up a camper into a tight spot are approaching the near side of the road and driving past until the rear of your vehicle lines up with the parking spot. Swing the steering wheel toward the spot and then away, creating an S-turn that guides the camper into place.
Quite a lot goes into successfully backing up your trailer, and practice makes perfect. Spots with less wiggle room and more obstacles are especially tricky to get into, but I will show you how to do it.
I have been camping for most of my life, and ever since I could drive, I've been honing my skills in backing up. There are quite a few aspects of backing up with a camper that are counter-intuitive, and I have learned from other people's experiences.
Steps To Follow When Backing Up A Camper
When you are backing up a camper (or any trailer, for that matter), certain basics apply. Be cautious when backing up.
Firstly, I recommend you go slowly and be patient. If you take a bit longer to get into a spot, make multiple attempts, and get out of your vehicle to check your trailer’s approach, there’s no harm done. Staying safe is worth taking longer.
Do not rush your backing up because you are in a hurry or don't want to look like a fool who doesn't know what they're doing. Rushing is a good recipe for disasters such as running over the electric pedestal, puncturing a tire on a leftover roasting stick, or jackknifing your trailer onto your vehicle.
I have also found that it's best to rely on your side mirrors rather than contorting oneself into a pretzel looking over your shoulder. Staying facing forward also helps you watch what is happening in front of your vehicle and whether you're about to run over an obstacle or into a ditch.
Adjust your side mirrors so that when your camper is straight behind your vehicle, the trailer shows in the inner third of the mirrors, with the tires visible. Remember that you won't be able to use your rearview mirror.
Roll down both windows all the way, regardless of the weather. If you have a passenger, ask them to get out. They will block your view if they remain in the vehicle, whereas they can act as a spotter for you outside the vehicle.
I agree with those who say that you should change your steering grip when backing up. Usually, you should be holding your steering wheel in the ten o'clock and two o'clock positions for maximum control.
However, when backing up, this can lead to confusion, with you having to remind yourself that you turn the wheel left to go right and vice versa.
Avoid confusion, and instead, hold the wheel at the six o’clock position so that turning the wheel to the left (clockwise) makes the camper go to the left, and turning the wheel to the right (counterclockwise) makes the trailer go to the right. Doing so makes steering when backing up much more intuitive.
Backing Up A Camper: The Approach
Drive up to the spot you are aiming to get into and position your vehicle close to the side of the road that the parking spot is on. It may be tempting to begin on the opposite side of the road, but do not yield to this temptation. You want to start on the near side of the road.
If possible, start your approach so that the spot you are backing into (whether a campsite or your driveway) is on the driver's side rather than the passenger's side (a so-called blindside approach). However, this is not always possible, and you should practice blindside approaches too.
Check for oncoming traffic, and get out of your vehicle. Inspect the place you are preparing to back into. How much space does it offer, and does it offer enough room for your camper? What obstacles are in the way? Don't forget to check for low-hanging tree branches.
Assessing a spot also helps you determine where you want to place your camper relative to things like the firepit, picnic table, electric and water hookups, etc.
When backing your camper into a tight spot, I recommend setting down a rock or a wheel chock where you would like the camper's wheels to end up. Doing so gives you something to aim for and can be incredibly helpful.
Backing Up A Camper: The S-Turn
When your vehicle’s bumper is alongside the entrance to the parking spot, swing to the offside (left if the parking is on the right, and vice versa), and then turn the steering wheel the opposite way so that your vehicle is midway between the two shoulders of the road.
Now turn the wheel part of the way to the right to turn into a spot on the right and left to turn into a place on the left, provided you are holding your steering wheel as I told you to. Ensure that you are going slowly.
Your camper will start turning sharply on its pivot point toward the parking spot. Don't overdo things; you don't want to jackknife the system.
After a couple of feet, start turning the wheel the opposite way (to the left for a spot on the right, and vice versa). Doing so will complete the S-turn and straighten your camper out.
You will need to practice to know how much to turn the wheel. You will have to turn the wheel enough to make a good S-turn but not go overboard.
The relative sizes of your vehicle and your camper will affect how much you need to turn, so even if you have experience, practice with a new system before going camping.
Tips For Backing Up A Camper
Now that I've given you the most reliable method for backing up a trailer let's go over a few tips for doing it safely and getting better at doing it.
Hook Up Your Camper Securely Before Backing Up
Before moving your camper anywhere (not only backing it up), make sure you have correctly hitched it to your vehicle. If it isn't correctly attached, it can slip loose and cause a major accident.
Get the trailer onto the ball hitch, and hook up the chains in the correct "X" pattern so that if the trailer comes loose, the chains will still hold it till you can fix things.
Push the latch on the connector down so that the lock doesn’t come off, and insert the pin to lock the mechanism together and prevent the camper from running into your vehicle.
How Spotters Can Help You Back Up A Camper
Spotters can help you enormously when backing up a camper, acting as your eyes for spots you can’t see. However, there is an art to spotting correctly, and a spotter who doesn’t know what to do becomes yet another hazard.
Agree beforehand on what different hand signals and verbal signals mean. As you won't always be able to see your spotter, consider investing in a pair of walkie-talkies.
Furthermore, I would strongly advise you to give your spotter (or spotters) specific jobs, such as yelling only if you will hit a particular obstacle.
Otherwise, a spotter is likely to get into a place where you can't see them (which is dangerous) and yell incomprehensible instructions that you can't hear.
Aids To Backing Up A Camper
I want to discuss two aids to backing up a camper.
It is possible to purchase aftermarket side mirror extensions that give you a broader view down the sides of your vehicle and show you more of your camper. These are well worth the investment and will make your job easier.
The other possible aid is backup cameras. If your vehicle is equipped with a backup camera, you can use it as an additional aid, but it’s important not to rely on it. Use it as an adjunct to your side mirrors.
It's also possible to buy a backup camera system for your trailer. Such a system can be a helpful tool, but I would be hesitant to rely on one overmuch. Besides, you can only install such a system if you own the camper. If you rent it, you'll have to rely on good old mirrors.
Practice Backing Up Your Camper
As with any skill, practice makes perfect. Try practicing backing up an articulated vehicle (which is what a vehicle-camper system is) using a toy truck. It may seem childish, but it will give you an intuitive understanding of the mechanics. Or use a truck simulator computer game to practice.
Once you feel confident, head to an empty parking lot with your vehicle and camper, set up milk jugs or safety cones, and practice backing up.