How To Properly Load And Tow An RV Travel Trailer (Hint: Get An Equalizer Hitch!)

pickup-truck-towing-rv-trailer.jpg There is nothing scarier than having a trailer whipping back and forth behind you.  I speak from experience, as it happened to me several years ago.  I was towing a trailer with 2 motorcycles on it when it got out of control.

That utility trailer forced me back and forth across 4 lanes of freeway before I was able to slow down and regain control!

Many states require trailer brakes on any trailer over 1,500 lbs.  This trailer was not required to have brakes, but it was still enough weight to overpower the mid-sized car that I was driving.

I learned that day that how you load a trailer is critical when it comes to safety, handling, and the ability to comfortably travel without worry.  That, and the importance of an Equalizer Hitch.


How To Load An RV Trailer

Loading your RV trailer properly will prevent a situation where the tail is wagging the dog.  That is something that can ruin your vacation permanently!

Proper loading of a trailer will have about 10% of the total weight of the trailer as tongue weight.  That means that if your trailer’s total loaded weight is 5,000 lbs, the weight at the hitch will be at least 500 lbs.

How you stow your gear can greatly affect the tongue weight of your RV trailer.  As an example, if you fill the under-the-bed storage space in your rear bedroom trailer with books, tools, or even canned goods, what you are really doing is counter-balancing the manufacturer’s designed tongue weight, creating a tail-heavy situation.

This is what happened to me with the utility trailer.  It’s the most dangerous condition you can possibly have and will scare the heck out of you!

Some travel trailers weigh substantially more than 5,000 lbs.  In many cases, when you hook the RV trailer to the back of your pickup truck, the bumper of your truck will drop substantially as it accepts the load.  (Just picture the front of the trailer just clearing the ground and the front bumper of your tow vehicle aiming for the stars.)


How An Equalizer Hitch Helps

rv-equalizer-hitch.jpg To correct this situation, an Equalizer Hitch is used to redistribute the weight of the trailer over the entire tow vehicle.

Here’s an example.

When you set the chains on the bars of your Equalizer Hitch, you are transferring some of the tongue weight to the front axle of your tow vehicle.

Finding the “sweet spot” or exact correct link point may take a couple of tries.

If you don’t apply enough tension on the bars, you’ll find yourself “see-sawing” on poor highways.  Setting the chains one link tighter will probably transfer enough weight that the whole unit will even out and ride up and down together.

If you go to the other extreme and set your chains with too much tension, you’re taking weight off the rear wheels of your tow vehicle.  A dangerous situation as you will lack traction on rain slick roadways and you may find yourself spinning your wheels when maneuvering on gravel or grass.


Using Sway Controls

Sway controls are sold to help prevent travel trailers from swaying back and forth.

My personal opinion is they are of minimal effectiveness.  What they do is apply friction to reduce the sideways motion when a trailer starts to sway.  They attach to the side of the trailer’s tongue and to the side of the hitch on the tow vehicle.  You adjust the amount of friction it applies to increase the amount of restriction.

If your RV trailer is properly loaded, and you have the bar tension correct on the Equalizer Hitch, towing characteristics should be sufficient.

One thing to remember… very long travel trailers just don’t tow all that well.  It’s the nature of the beast.  With their axles located approximately in the center of the rig, long trailers have a natural tendency to sway.  If the wheels were located at the rear of the trailer (such as how semi trailers are designed), there would be no swaying to deal with.  Of course, your pickup couldn’t carry that much tongue weight.


Trailer Brakes

In the event that you find yourself with your trailer unexpectedly swaying, just press the lever on your electric brake controller to apply only the trailer brakes.  By using the trailer brakes to slow you down, the swaying will safely subside and you can regain control.

I didn’t have trailer brakes when I had my out-of-control situation.  I just had to hang on and hope for the best.  It will take only one experience like that to convince you of the importance of an Equalizer Hitch and proper loading of your trailer.


What it all comes down to is this: by not being the fastest vehicle on the freeway, you can still be comfortable towing a good-sized travel trailer all day.  Besides, by taking the secondary highways at 55 mph you will save some gas and you’ll have a chance to enjoy the scenery.

Must read: How To Set Up A Weight-Distribution Hitch Correctly

Curtis Carper

I’ve been involved in RVing for over 40 yrs -- including camping, building, repairing, and even selling RVs. I’ve owned, used, and repaired almost every class and style of RV ever made. I do all of my own repair work. My other interests include cooking at home, living with an aging dog, and dealing with diabetic issues. If you can combine a grease monkey with a computer geek, throw in a touch of information nut and organization freak, combined with a little bit of storyteller, you've got a good idea of who I am.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
Google Plus

Fun From Around the Web

  • Tony Acito

    How often should I pack the wheel bearings in my travel trailer? Owners manual says yearly; my friend says never; Dad says somewhere in between. We don’t put alot of miles on it.

    • Curtis

      Tony, Your Dad’s a wise man… Many factors can affect your wheel bearings. When seldom used you have the possibility of condensation causing rust and pitting on the bearings. Extended storage allows the grease to cake and harden lessening lubrication quality. If I was only running 25 miles to the local campground a half dozen times a year I would probably let it slide for a number of years. If I planned a cross country journey and the trailer had been sitting for a number of years, repacking the bearings would be at the top of my preparation list. It’s a judgment call that only you can make.

  • jim

    iv got a 2001 dodge 3/4 diesel i pull a 28′ bumper trailer rv with a 18′ flat bottom boat on the back of that im have a little problem with sway on the boat got any ideals how to fix it?

  • jim

    iv got a 2001 dodge 3/4 diesel i pull a 28′ bumper trailer rv with a 18′ flat bottom boat on the back of that im have a little problem with sway on the boat got any ideals how to fix it?

    • Curtis

      The best I can suggest is make sure you have at least 10% of the weight of the boat and trailer as tongue weight. More if possible. Over all long combination’s like that may just tow badly.

    • Curtis

      The best I can suggest is make sure you have at least 10% of the weight of the boat and trailer as tongue weight. More if possible. Over all long combination’s like that may just tow badly.

  • Jmoreno1468

    I have a Ford f250 7.3L and I tow a 32′ 14,000 lb loaded what the best way to tow it up hill I see guys with same trucks with 5th wheels passing me

    • Curtis

      Jmoreno1468, I’ve pulled many miles with that same engine, the key to power with a diesel is to stay within its power range. They don’t lug worth a darn. If you keep the rpm up it will pull a tremendous amount of weight. Try dropping down a gear before you start bogging down.

  • thedrifter50

    hi: I have a 1998 Chev Pickup K1500 with a 7.5 . I am pulling a kit GT 20 trailor . GWR for the tralior is 6500 LBS My truck gwr is 6200 LBS . what can you advise me on pulling my truck and trailor to texas . I do have a trailor brake but i need an equalizer . what kind should i buy. please help

    • Curtis

      thedrifter, GWR (Gross Weight Rating) is how much your truck plus what you put on it or in it can weigh. What you need is the GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating) to determine how large a trailer you can tow. What size equalizer hitch you needs depends on the trailers tongue weight. This link will help you figure out what size you need.

  • sandy

    how do i fix the problem of: where i attach the chains to the piece keeps sliding up and down the bar between the batteries and the propane tanks. I no it’s not suppose to move but how do i fix it.

    • Curtis

      Sandy, Sorry but I don’t understand what you’re referring to. A picture would be helpful if you can upload one to the link in the lower left corner of the question box.