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Monday, February 6, 2012

Practice Tips For Backing Up Your Trailer



Q: How do you learn to back up a travel trailer, so you can go places with the girls and be able to get the trailer into its camping spot?

A: The same way you learn any other skill--practice, practice, practice.

We know so many would-be Girl Campers who let themselves be intimidated by the idea of having to back up a trailer, and who seldom go anywhere as a result. Without Hubby or Boyfriend to do the maneuvering for them, they're too afraid to try it.

If this is you, then stop and think about something:  Did you know how to back a car up safely and get it into a parking spot the first time you got behind the wheel? Betting not--you had to do some practicing first. Maybe quite a lot of practicing.

Learning to back your trailer is no different. You shouldn't expect to know how to do it simply because you'd like to!

So, here are a few tips to get you started on your course in Backer's Ed:

* Don't start by trying to back your trailer into your tricky driveway--the skills to do that are the very ones you need to develop first. Instead, find a large public parking lot or other piece of ground with plenty of empty room; this will be your initial practice area.

* Bring something to use as markers--whether it's a stack of orange highway cones, or even some disposable drink cups that you can fill with water (so they don't blow away) and that won't hurt your trailer if you run over them.

* It's also helpful to bring another person who can act as your spotter, calm your nerves, and give you feedback and encouragement.

* Begin by practicing your ability to back STRAIGHT. Until you can do that, making the minor adjustments it takes to STAY straight, attempting to back in an arc--which is necessary to get off the street and into a typical campsite--will frustrate you to no end.

* Start with your trailer lined up straight behind you; pull forward, if you must, in order to establish this straightness as a back-up starting point.

* Have your helper set up a straight line of markers on the driver's side, where you can clearly see them, about 2-3 feet or so away from the trailer's tires. Your mission will be to back along this marked line, making the minor steering adjustments needed to keep the trailer straight as it goes backward.

* If the trailer begins to veer in one direction or the other--which it most likely will until you get the feel for pushing a trailer backward as its hitch rests on the contact point of a 2-inch ball--simply stop, pull forward to straighten, and begin again.

* At first, you may have to do this every couple of feet: Stop, pull forward to straighten, and back up again. The more tries you make, the more inches you'll be able to add to each effort. Keep in mind that even the slightest turn of your steering wheel will magnify into a bigger turn by the time the moving energy of your rig gets the trailer moving.

* When you can back straight for a good 15 feet or so, set the markers a few feet farther out to the side, and begin to practice backing toward or away from the line of them. This is the introduction to learning how to maneuver around an arc and into a camping site.

* Make note of which way your trailer goes when you turn the wheel right or left. Tip: If you steer by holding the top of the wheel, turning it right will make the trailer go left, and vice versa. But if you steer by holding the bottom of the wheel, turning it right will make the trailer go right, and vice versa. Up to you as to which seems most comfortable to do--just be aware that the way you learn in practice is the same way you should steer when backing up 'for real.'


* Your helper/spotter should pay close attention and let you know if you're about to jackknife the trailer and hit it with your bumper. If this starts to happen, you're better off to pull forward into 'straight' and begin again than to try fixing things while still going backward.

* Take your time. It's just practice, remember? You'll need to do quite a bit of it before you will get the feel of how much steering-wheel action it takes to send your trailer in one direction or the other. (It's less than you may think!)


* Next--and this may need to be after you have lots and lots of practice at the other steps, over several sessions--have your helper set the markers on a large arc, and practice backing up while following the arc. This is the skill that will enable you to leave a street or lane, and back in an arc to get into your camping site. Start with a set of markers on your driver's side, backing an arc to the left.

* When you can manage that, set them on the passenger's side, and back an arc to the right. You'll have to use your passenger-side mirror, upping the degree of difficulty, but this is also necessary to learn, because you won't always have the chance to left-arc into a camping site. If you must pull forward and straighten up again and again, because the trailer has arced too hard, then do so, and don't make your steering action so drastic the next time you try it.

* Finally, using the skills you've developed, practice backing into one of the parking slots at the farthest, emptiest end of a parking lot. This will be the equivalent of backing into a campsite. The white or yellow lines on the asphalt will be no different than the lines you worked with using the markers. Give yourself plenty of time, take it slow, and you'll be able to do it, even if you have to make 20 attempts.

Get busy, get practicing, and we'll see you at a campground sooner rather than later!

24 comments:

  1. Thanks for all this good advice, I need to do this in the Spring. I haven't had enough practice.

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  2. Thank you for this info. I so need to practice as failed miserably trying to back my camper into the driveway the first time. I have unhitched and gotten my dolly out - this helps a lot.

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  3. Such good advice,,, and especially giving the 2 different versions of where your hands are on the steering wheel...( on top or on bottom)... I tend to use the bottom method,,, just because it's the 1st way I was taught,, but I should practice my hands using the 'on top' method a bit more... just in case.
    Wagons HO!

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  4. And thanks for the reminder that we didn't learn to drive without practice, practice, practice!
    I can still clearly remember the moment with my driver's ed teacher when I felt, and he said, "You've got it!" That was the moment that the car became an extension of me and I can't wait until I can feel the same way backing my little trailer. That is the moment when I will own the world! :)

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  5. Nice tips here, keep continuing good contents. I've bookmarked it.

    A question here, did you use party tent?

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  6. Thanks for the information and tips. I might add, however, that the smaller the camper, the more difficult it is to back one up. But, do NOT let that discourage you! Once you've mastered backing up a small camper (Our is a 14 foot Shasta) you can haul/maneuver and park a 44 foot 5th wheeler on a dime! :)

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    1. Oh, yeah, but a 5th wheel adds a whole 'nother can of worms re: backing and turning. It's way different than a bumper hitch. The reaction time is much quicker as far as the trailer moving in whatever direction. Ask me how I know these things. :>)

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  7. Very true about the smaller campers being harder to back up. Every inch of movement by the tow vehicle affects the trailer--not much margin for error.

    All the more reason to learn how to back up, one or two inches at a time!

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  8. One challenge of backing into a camping spot is the road is often narrow not giving much room for a straight back in. My method involves two steps. First the scoop. When traveling on the little road cross imaginary traffic like you were turning into the spot (scoop) but then continue out of the camping spot and return the tow vehicle to the road. This angles the trailer into the correct spot. Then put hand on the bottom of the steering wheel an begin backing slowly into. Turning the steering wheel to the left if the trailer needs to come back to the drivers side. Turning the steering wheel to the right when the trailer needs to go to the passenger side. Voila!

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    1. I use this method also...makes it very easy to remember which way I will be pushing the trailer. I camp all the time on my own.

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  9. this is wonderful now if someone could help me load my pickup camper i will be all set thanks

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  11. Now there is a whole 'nuther topic, LOL!

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  12. I pull a 1968 13'canned ham with a Subaru Forrester with factory side mirrors. When I'm backing to the left I hang my head out the window and watch which way the camper goes. I put my steering hand at the bottom of the steering wheel and steer left for the camper to go left; steer right for the camper to go right - very little thinking required. If I'm backing on my off side where I can't see the camper, I watch my side mirrors. If the camper appears in my driver's side or passenger side mirror, I put my hand on top of the steering wheel and turn the wheel toward the mirror to "chase the camper out of there." One last hint: If someone is directing you, decide before they start whether they are telling you which direction to turn the steering wheel or which direction the camper needs to go when they shout, "Left!" or "Right!" I also have them check and see whether or not my front wheels are straight before I start backing.

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  13. One simple easy step to backing a trailer.........put one hand on the BOTTOM inside of your steering wheel, look out the driver side mirror(learn to love this mirror), simply turn the steering wheel in the direction the trailer needs to go

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  14. No need in stretching your neck to look out the window over your shoulder........learn to do it right, learn to use the side mirrors!

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  15. If you put both hands on the bottom of the steering wheel with your thumbs to the outside.....your trailer will go in the direction that your thumbs are pointing. Grab it palms up and curl your fingers toward you.
    You must learn to use both mirrors and like the article says....practice, practice, practice!!!

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  16. Good directions for someone just learning. A couple of small adds to the original.....unless your DH is different than most, take someone else with you while you practice. Also, remember to make little corrections as you back not huge ones....it takes a bit for the change in direction to happen especially with a little longer trailer. Anyone can learn this.

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    1. Whoa Nelly! I agree on both counts!

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    2. Whoa Nelly! I agree on both counts!

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  17. Im a guy...and I appreciate the advice

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  18. Im a guy...and I appreciate the advice

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  20. I think I'm gonna buy a 19' camper this coming Friday having panic attack on backing up, thanks for all the advice. Will reread it many times..And practice many times.

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