How to Pack a Travel Trailer

Now that you have your brand-new trailer, have you thought about how you are going to pack it? Most new owners of travel trailers do not understand the necessity of proper packing. These new trailers are built at the factory with specific balance values. The tongue weight is strictly regulated to factory specifications, and the distribution of weight on each side of the trailer is equalized. Most new owners are also unfamiliar with the concept of convenience packing where those items used most often are immediately available, and those used least often are packed away.

So, the first crucial factor to take into consideration when packing your trailer is safety, which involves knowing how to distribute the added weight inside the trailer so that it does not disturb the original balance of your traveling home. After all, getting to your destination, undamaged and safe, is the first thing on your list of vacation priorities. The second essential consideration is to plan for when you get to your destination by packing for convenience. Once you arrive, you will be glad you thought about convenience packing before you started the trip.

What Types of Items Need to be Packed?

Even the most prestigious family travel trailers that come fresh out of the factory need packing. When you get to your destination, you will need several classes of items for your enjoyment, if not survival (in some of the more rugged areas of the country). Here is a list of the classes of items you will need:

  • Practical items such as surge protectors, drinking water hose, leveling blocks, extension cords, flashlights, extra coolant and engine oil, wheel chocks, and a shovel
  • Emergency items such as a tire pressure gauge, electrical and duct tape, extra cotter pins, battery jumper cables, fire extinguishers, and an emergency road kit
  • Bathroom supplies that include toilet chemicals, a sewer kit, and RV-friendly toilet paper
  • All your regular kitchen and cooking utensils
  • Food, including a mix of canned and freeze-dried items as well as snack supplies
  • Clothing for everyone on the trip
  • Bedroom items like clothes hangers, pillows, extra sheets for every bed, alarm clocks, and sewing kits
  • Personal items such as phones and phone chargers, medications, cash and credit cards, glasses and sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray, and nail clippers
  • Toiletries, including hairbrushes, toothpaste and toothbrushes, lotion, shampoo, soap, deodorant, razors, and makeup
  • All your camping supplies such as camp chairs, hammocks, and firewood
  • Your fun items like swimsuits, fishing gear, puzzles, yard games, books, radios, sports equipment, binoculars, playing cards, frisbees, and even laptops

These are just a few of the items you will be packing into your trailer. Though the list appears formidable, it does not include items that are desired by individual members of the family.  Often times what you pack is also determined by the size trailer and hitch you are pulling.

How Does Weight Affect the Tow?

An ill-packed trailer can lead to violent and dangerous consequences. When a trailer is top-heavy due to packing heavier items too high, the trailer will tip on its axles, even to the point of falling over. Always pack your heavy items at or near the floor level. When significant weight is packed low, it acts like the ballast in a ship, snapping the cargo vessel back to level when hit by high waves, or in this case, by high winds or damaged roads.

Another packing concern is when more weight is packed to one side of the trailer than the other. You may notice inside your new trailer that the more substantial appliances are distributed to either side of the cabin area to distribute the weight evenly from side to side. Doing the same with your heavier weight items ensures that your trailer does not sway from your intended path.

The final concern with weight distribution is to ensure that you do not pass your tongue weight limitations. The tongue weight is the amount of downward pressure exerted by the weight of the trailer and any cargo stored behind the rear axle of the tow vehicle. The total tongue weight should be no more and no less than ten to fifteen percent of the gross trailer weight.

Exceeding the tongue weight limit puts more pressure on the rear tires of your tow vehicle. When this happens, you will notice it first at the steering wheel. You will experience a sense of sliding across the road surface as the front tires rise from the road surface, making steering and braking a serious concern. Unless you love ice-skating and want to extend the experience to slipping and sliding across the country, then you must take action.

Worse yet, when you feel a wobble through the steering wheel, you will know that you are way beyond your tongue weight limit, either that or you have a severe tire problem. Either way, unless you want to wobble your way through your trip, never entirely sure that you will stay on the road, then you need to stop, check out the issue, and take the necessary action to ensure a safe trip. If the problem is not in a wheel, then it is how your trailer is packed. Move your most substantial items so that they sit comfortably over the axles, move your lighter items to the front or the rear until you reach the ideal tongue weight.

One of the items that new trailer owners overlook is the distribution of water in your trailer. The built-in water storage containers are balanced with the wastewater container. When you use water, no matter if it is in a shower, while cooking, or to wash dishes or clothing, the extra used water is stored in the wastewater container. In many cases, the water storage containers will be empty after a night of camping. To ensure that your trailer will properly follow you down the road, make it a habit to refill your freshwater containers each morning and empty your wastewater storage tank.

Knowing your trailer weight is balanced reduces the stress related to towing a heavy trailer behind you. To ensure an angst-free trip, check your tongue weight before you leave at a commercial weigh station and then check it each morning before you take off for the day with a tongue weight scale.

How to Pack a Trailer for Convenience

When you arrive at your destination, or when you stopover for the night, it is important to know you can retrieve your most used items quickly without having to unpack other materials to find them. Easy access to items such as jackets or coats, hats, camping chairs, as well as snack items removes a lot of angst that builds up while traveling, especially with the kids in the back seat repeating over and over again, “Are we there yet?” To make these items convenient, you may want to:

  • Use Velcro connectors in easy to access locations for items like cell phones or remotes
  • Connect hooks to the inside walls on which to hang hats, coats, and other protective items
  • Use color-coded bags to store items for each family member and store them all in a convenient closet
  • Use strong netting material to secure smaller items to make sure they stay in place during travel
  • Make sure your camping chairs and other campfire conveniences are stored close to your trailer door

Packing for convenience means you have a well-planned trip that you and your family will enjoy.

One Other Item of Concern

One of the critical issues involving packing is the vehicle with which you are towing the trailer. Always make sure to check the amount of weight you have in the rear of your vehicle—beyond the rear axle. The weight in the rear of your vehicle adds pressure to your hitch. If you have repacked your trailer and still have a tongue weight issue, checking the back end of your vehicle could reveal the problem. Sometimes travelers use this space to pack extra water or their extra engine coolant or oil. Move any heavyweight to the center of your vehicle or into the trailer to equalize the pressure on the tongue.

Above all, make sure you and your family are safe. Take extra care when packing your trailer. The time you use with that activity may save you from a dangerous situation and will undoubtedly add to the joys you find when traveling in your home away from home.

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