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Drivers Guide to Backing RVs & Fifth Wheel Trailers

Camping is an amazing experience and adding in the luxury and convenience of a motorhome or fifth wheel trailer elevates the adventure! When you imagine camping with an RV, it’s easy to fast forward to a cozy campfire and exploring the wilderness, but before you can start making memories you need to get that camper backed in and set up!

As you head out this season we’ll guide you through the intricacies of getting backed up, calmly and safely, so you can feel confident hitting the road and enjoying the camping trip.


What should you do before backing up in an RV?

Before you even leave the house to get started with your RV adventure, the best tip is to give yourself plenty of time. Leave time to get to your destination safely, and time to get set up before it gets dark. Knowing that you still have many hours of daylight to get settled will mean you can get the backing done with no stress added. You should also make sure that you’re properly licenced. If you’re planning to tow a trailer weighing more than 4,600 kg, you’ll need an overweight trailer endorsement added to your licence. If your RV is equipped with an air brake system, you’ll need an air brake endorsement added to your licence.

Once you have reached your camping destination, find a safe place to stop and park so you can survey the area that you’re planning to set up camp. Taking a walk around will give you a good understanding of the space that you’re planning to occupy, and will also give you a chance to clear any rocks or clutter that might get in your way.

Take note of the area surrounding your planned parking space as well; does the parking spot have a drop off right next to it, or are there boulders that could cause damage to your trailer or vehicle? Using keen observation skills before you’re trying to maneuver can cut down on potential confusion and damage.


How many people does it take to back-up a trailer?

This sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, and some would say it’s a job better done alone but we disagree! Any backing job can be done better when you’re working as a team. Your backing team should consist of one driver and one spotter. There must be an open line of communication between these two, so the driver should have their windows rolled down and the spotter should stand at the back of the trailer in view of the side mirror. The spotter needs to give detailed and concise instructions and information, including accurately relaying how much distance is left to go as well as the correct way to adjust the steering wheel. For example, saying “5 feet left, the trailer needs to go more to your right” is much better than “you’re almost there, but you’re going the wrong way!”

If there is a lot of activity taking place while you’re getting settled, the two of you should decide on some hand signals to use if you’re having trouble hearing one another. These can be as simple as a hand held up to signify stop, a “come here” motion for backing straight, and distance shown with two hands held apart from one another. This should be communicated ahead of time, rather than trying to decide while you’re in the midst of maneuvering.


Where is the best place to look when backing up a trailer?

When preparing to maneuver into your camping spot, your side mirrors should be arranged so you can see the length of your trailer as much as possible. Depending on the specific surroundings, you may want your side mirrors aimed slightly downward to see the ground better, or slightly upward to see trees or other higher obstacles. Use your spotter to fill in the blind spot gaps you may have. Having a trailer hitched to your vehicle, or driving a large motorhome, means you won’t have the ability to use a rear view mirror, so side mirrors and shoulder checking will be even more important.

Ensure you are using both the driver’s side and passenger side mirror, glancing back and forth between the two mirrors, even if it seems as if one side is clear and doesn’t need to be watched. Environments can change without your knowledge, meaning that there may suddenly be pedestrians or other vehicles where they weren’t a second before!

If you’re backing for a large distance or in a tricky spot, it can be easy to get lost amongst the different steering wheel adjustments and directions from your spotter. It’s okay to take a break and jump out of the vehicle to get your bearings once more if you feel turned around at any point while backing.


How do you steer while backing a trailer?

When you’re backing with a trailer hitched to your vehicle, you will always turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction that you want the trailer to go. This may seem a bit strange at first but becomes like second nature when you’re behind the wheel and practicing in real time.

Begin backing the trailer or fifth wheel slowly and with caution and as you are backing make small steering adjustments as needed. Avoid oversteering and turning the steering wheel too much, as this can cause the camper to jackknife or overturn. When you’re moving at a slow pace, the small steering adjustments will make a bigger difference than you might think. It’s easy to focus heavily on where your trailer is going and hoping that it will wind up where you want it to be, but keep an eye on the front of your vehicle as well, watching to make sure it doesn’t bump into anything.

If the trailer ends up off the mark or at a poor angle, it’s okay to pull forward and start again. In some places, it may even be worth driving around the campground to start the whole maneuver over again. If you find yourself getting frustrated, either with the backing itself or with the other part of your team, it’s okay to stop and take a breath! Grab a snack, take a quick walk, and come back to the task when you’re less stressed. If you plan to take a break and attempt the backing maneuver later, ensure your vehicle is not impeding other traffic or blocking others from accessing their spots.

One of the best things you can do before this camping season is to make sure you’re prepared! This means practicing your backing, and other trailer skills, ahead of time in a safe and relaxed atmosphere. Find a quiet parking lot where you have space to maneuver, and if you’re still uncomfortable or need some confidence, consider getting some hands-on guidance and tips from an experienced driver .

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