Not all RV owners are truck drivers or farmers who constantly move trailers around. Some of us are new at hauling a home-on-wheels and can benefit from a simplified 10-step approach to backing an RV into a campsite.
Nine of the sites at Glacier Valley Campground are pull-throughs, so you have anywhere from 65 to 100 feet of driving straight ahead to get positioned. Piece of cake. Most sites, though, are back-ins that are from 50 to 100 feet deep – so you will need to know how to back an RV in.
Getting a trailer positioned in a campsite isn’t as scary as it might seem to the trailer-hauling novice. Here are ten steps to get your rig parked.
Step 1: Make your approach for backing your RV
Get as close as possible to the side of the road your site is on. By getting near the edge you will have more room when you make the cut. Sometimes you can choose which direction you want to come from when backing your RV; if you can, you probably want to make your approach so the site is on the driver’s side. That way you are not “blind-siding” it when you back in.
Step 2: Check out the site
Get out of your vehicle and do a site walk-around, because there is nothing like seeing for yourself what you are facing. Some of the things to look for are: Where is the firepit? How wide is the pad? Where is the electric pedestal? Are there tree branches that might be in the way? Do you need to move a picnic table?
Step 3: Roll down your windows
Roll the windows down on both sides of your vehicle so you can hear everything that is going on with your trailer as well as your spotter, if you have one. That’s because you will not always be able to see your spotter, so verbal signals are much more reliable than using hand signals.
Step 4: Adjust your mirrors
When you are backing a camper, use your mirrors instead of doing the old look-over-the-shoulder move. Besides, you probably won’t see much other than your camper when looking over your shoulder. Who cares what the front of the trailer is doing?
Once your mirrors are properly adjusted, keep the same amount of the RV visible in each mirror as you are backing up, which ensures the trailer is going in a straight line. It’s good to be able to see your trailer tires in your mirror. When turning the trailer, properly adjusted mirrors give you the best chance of monitoring your progress as you back up.
Step 5: Get a spotter
If at all possible, have someone spot for you as you back in. That person has to get out of the truck and stand in a place where they can be of the most help so he or she can monitor a certain obstacle you are worried about, or help in an area that is hard to see from the driver’s seat. Before backing in talk about where you want to end up so you are both trying to get to the same place.
When backing an RV, some of our most seasoned campers have walkie talkies for the driver and spotter to use. Walkie talkies are a small investment that can really help with the communications. You can get these short-distance radios at a number of places; just this week we saw an ad for a Midland X-Talker XT two-way radio with weather alert for as low as $29.99 at the low end, with varying models up to $89.99 (remember that you need two!) at Camping World.
Spotters can serve several purposes:
- Serve as a lookout for any pets or children who might run behind the trailer.
- Be your blind-spot monitor, standing on the side of the trailer that is not visible in your mirrors.
- Act as a guide about minor corrections need to be made to get into your spot.
- And, of course, to tell you when to stop once the trailer is in the perfect spot and you’ve finished backing your RV.
- DON’T YELL AT YOUR SPOTTER! This should have been the first tip. No matter how many times you have to pull forward and try again, stay calm. At our campground we certainly have heard some heated exchanges between drivers and spotters! We even had a sign that said “I’m sorry for what I said when you were backing in the trailer.”
Step 6: Put your hands on the bottom of your steering wheel
One simple technique to help with parking both towables and motorized RVs: keep your hands on the lower part of the steering wheel (as opposed to the 10 and 2 o’clock positions typically used when driving). The effect of this is that when your spotter tells you to go left—sometimes referred to as the driver side—you simply have to turn the wheel to the left.
If you hold the wheel with an unorthodox underhand grip it will snap your brain out of making instinctive inputs. Because of this, once you start reversing the only thing you have to remember is to move your steering-wheel hand in the direction you want the trailer to go. Need the trailer to start heading left? Move the bottom of the steering wheel left. And vice-versa. Easy-peasy.
Step 7: Start to back your camper; make the cut
Now you are ready to put it in reverse. Cut the wheel as far as possible to the opposite side of the road from your site and start backing up. This will start the trailer swinging into the site and your tow vehicle will be moving across the road. Remember that the pivot point of your camper is where the wheels are. You don’t have to go very far to get the trailer heading where you want it.
Step 8: Do an S-turn
Once the trailer is swinging into the site you are almost there: just start turning the wheel back towards your site to follow the RV around and straighten everything back out.
This is also the point where you are most likely to run into a problem. For instance:
- If you start turning back too early you will end up on the far side of the pad.
- If you start turning back too late you could jack-knife or end up on the near side of the pad.
Should you not be happy with the position of your camper this is the time to pull forward, straighten things out a little bit and try again.
A common mistake is to over-correct because small adjustments are what you want. If you get off course, don’t try to make huge swings to straighten the trailer out. Just stop, pull back straight and start all over again. Don’t be afraid to take several runs to get into your spot. Some sites almost require multiple approaches no matter how good you are!
Step 9: Finish the fine tuning
Once you are in the right approximate location go forward and back to make minor adjustments to your position. Don’t be too quick to unhitch.
Take some time to walk around your RV and make sure everything will work. Here are a few things to check:
- Are any of your slides going to hit the electric pedestal, water spigot, or trees?
- Will your electric cord and water hose reach?
- Are there any trees or other obstacles in the way of extending your awning?
- Will moving forward or backward put you on more level ground making it easier to level your RV and extend your stabilizer jacks?
Step 10: Wrap it up
Now it’s time to celebrate. Congratulations! You did it! You successfully backed your RV into your site. Now you can pull out a cold one and go through your setup routine.
Even the most experienced drivers can have issues, so don’t be afraid to stop at any point to assess the situation. As an example, we had a camper who owned his own semitrailer for over 20 years get stuck in the volleyball court sand because he didn’t stay focused on what he was doing. The outcome was that it took over an hour and a skid loader to get him out! Go slowly and be quick to ask more experienced people for help.
There are a number of Youtube videos about backing a trailer; click here for one that seemed pretty good.
And for those who like diagrams…
The diagrams below have been extracted from one of the sources we found online. They may help you understand the process of backing an RV; you can find more about them at the “Art of Manliness” site.
Make Your Approach
- Get your setup right and make your approach.
- Walk around and check out your site.
- Roll down your windows.
- Adjust your mirrors.
- Put your hands on the bottom of the steering wheel.
Make the cut
- Put the vehicle in reverse.
- Cut the wheel as far as possible to the opposite side of the road from your site.
- Back up slowly as the trailer turns into the site.
Do an S-turn
- After just a few feet start turning the steering wheel back towards your site to “follow the trailer around” as it goes into the site.
- Don’t be afraid to stop and adjust- pull ahead to straighten things out if necessary.
Finish the fine tuning
Go forward and back, making minor adjustments to your position, until the trailer is right where you want it.
We know that some of you old-timers have good ideas about backing an RV. Don’t be shy about sharing your tips!