Every outdoors-man has to start somewhere when they start looking at taking camping more seriously. If you’re unsure where to begin, this guide is for you. This information is for the beginner camper, preparing your truck and camper to get on the road with the utmost comfort and performance.
9 – How much can your vehicle really tow?
It’s very important to check this before shopping for your camper. Last thing you’ll want to do is wear out your suspension, motor and transmission. Vehicle specs are really put out there to help keeping your vehicle at a prime state. Your vehicle will indicate a few things – Conventional/Towing Capacity, 5th Wheel towing, Goose Neck towing, and Payload Capacity.
Conventional Towing is meant to mean bumper pull with a frame mounted hitch. Would be really unwise to tow from a ball mounted directly to your bumper as the mounts from the bumper to the frame are not that strong. With a frame mounted hitch, there’s a few other things you need to keep in mind but we’ll discuss that more in number 14. Conventional towing will be most common for most beginning campers as its the best way to start getting into camping. You’ll find this most common with Tent Trailers and your standard enclosed trailer.
5th Wheel Towing will be a mounted directly in the bed of your truck. This will provide a larger towing capacity as it provides more weight distribution over your rear wheels and suspension. You’ll start seeing this in your 3/4 ton and 1 ton pickups. 5th wheel towing will also provide you the best ride comfort going down the roads and easier up/down hills. The 5th wheel hitches will utilize a kingpin and pin receiver and you’ll find a wide variety of different receivers. 5th wheel towing you’ll also find to be the most expensive route, so not generally recommended for the first time camper purchase. Here, you can find an article I wrote where I list 7 trucks that are perfect for towing a fifth wheel.
Goose Neck Towing is generally going to be meant for towing horse trailers and the actual hitch its self will be a ball and coupler. This mount will still be in the center of the bed between the wheel wells to help distribute the weight of the trailer. This and the 5th wheel will generally be similar on towing capacity documents for the vehicle you own or shopping for.
8 – What kind of Hitch should I have (Conventional Towing)?
Hitch Class 1 – Towing capacity is up to 2,000 lbs and meant for small recreational vehicles, bike racks and cargo boxes. I’d really recommend not towing anything with these smaller hitches. Also, the hitch size will generally be smaller than your generic receiver.
Hitch Class 2 – Towing capacity will be up to 3,500 lbs. You’ll generally find this in Van/SUV’s and Light Duty pickups. Hitch size will actually be more than the standard size you’re wanting but still would only recommend towing a featherweight trailer/hybrid or tent trailer. It’s also recommended not to exceed over 2 utility vehicles or a small boat.
Hitch Class 3 – Towing capacity will be up to 8,000 lbs and more common in those 1/2 – 1 ton pickups. This will give you the ability to tow between a small to a medium-sized trailer.
Hitch Class 4/5 – Towing capacity will be up to a staggering 18,000 lbs. This will be more common in the full size heavy duty and dully trucks. With this, your options are wide open for towing a large RV to even a space shuttle (if it’s in your cards).
7 – What do I need to look for wiring my trailer?
There are several different kinds of wiring harnesses and adapters. I’d recommend before buying an adapter to check first how many prongs your trailer has and the inlet connector on your truck.
4-Way Connectors – the basic hookup of the three lighting functions (running, turn, and brake lights) plus one pin is provided for a ground wire. Most standard light duty trailers will use a 4-pole flat connector.
5-Way Connectors – the basic hookup of the three lighting functions (running, turn, and brake) and, besides the ground, one pin is available to provide support for another function. Typically the 5-Way Flat is used for trailers with surge brakes or hydraulic brakes. The additional wire is tapped into the backup lights to disengage the hydraulic trailer coupler (actuator) when the vehicle is reversing, thus turning off the trailer’s brakes.
6-Way Connectors – the basic hookup of the three lighting functions (running, turn, and brake). The ground and two extra pins are available to provide two additional functions, typically for electric brakes and 12 volt “hot” lead. The 6-way square connectors are more common on campers.
7-Way Connectors – Aside from the three main lighting functions, additional pins for electric brakes, a 12 volt “hot” lead, and backup lights are available. There are two types of 7-way connectors. One has flat pins, which are often referred to as blades. The other has round pins. The round pin style is very rare. The RV style 7-way with flat pins (or blades) is very common. It is often found on newer trucks and SUVs that come equipped from the factory with a trailer hitch.
6 – How to avoid wear on your tires/shocks and increase performance
The one thing I find makes the biggest difference in towing is how it rides down the ride. Taking on every bump and headwind can all be impacted with the shocks of your vehicle. There are several ways to combat the issue of the ‘squat’ or that non level truck look. The least expensive and easiest install will be standard helper springs. They generally run about $80-$100 and should be installed in under 2 hours generally depending on your vehicle. The second option and the one that probably will have the largest impact on your vehicle would be air bags. No, I’m not talking about dropping your truck on the rails and flipping switches, I’m talking about additional towing support with airbags. They assist with getting less weight off of your springs and shocks. Each vehicle will vary but they can either go in between your rear springs or attach to your leaf springs and mount to the side of the frame. Air lines will be running to the rear of the vehicle and you can either inflate them manually with an air compressor or for even more convenience, have an on board air compressor. It’s truly amazing the difference air bags can make and with having an on board air compressor, you’re able to press a remote from the inside/outside of your cab and watch the back end raise up to become level.
Either option will be great but you’ve gotta weight cost vs time. Air bags will cost you more but the overall hassle of adjustment is sooo much easier. Yes, you can mount helper springs on and set up the adjustment and never leave it, but when you’re truck isn’t under load – not always best to have it setup in that same position. You’ll notice a much stiffer ride while not having your trailer attached.
Overall, installing one of these will make for a better ride, your vehicle will love you for it and you wont wear out your tires or shocks as fast. The other thing too is if your truck isn’t level, you’ll be shining your lights in everyone’s eyes and your vehicle is less aerodynamic so this will equate to terrible fuel economy.
5 – What are some performance options for my truck/vehicle to help with towing?
There are so many things you’re able to do to your vehicle regardless if you have a gas or diesel engine. I personally have always stayed away from aftermarket tuning or deletes for diesel, but there are some great items to look at to help your vehicle perform better – especially for towing! While towing your truck will be under a lot more weight and hills will really bog it down to cause higher rpm’s and the need to breather harder.
First thing I’d recommend would be a Cold Air intake. These are fairly inexpensive, for a decent one like K&N or Spectre; you’re looking between $100-$300 depending on the vehicle. This is going to create more air flow directly to your motor, pick up colder air because of where the filter sits down lower in the engine bay, create a meaner engine noise (always love this), and most importantly better HP and MPG.
The second thing would be looking at an aftermarket exhaust system. I’d still recommend keeping within Emission standards from your state’s requirements. However, having less back pressure from the engine to allow it to breathe better will help immensely. Especially if you’ve installed a cold air intake, you’ll want that extra air to breathe easier as it releases from the motor. I’d highly recommend checking out local exhaust shops to find the best diameter for your motor/vehicle. Never want to go too big or too small for the fitting of your vehicle. This is really going to add a nice touch to the appearance and again the sound of your vehicle. You’re going to see an increase in performance and MPG with a few simple changes. Cost wise, you’re going to be looking between $300-$700. This will really depend on muffler, if you go dual pipe and diameter of pipe and bends. I’ve always been a huge fan of Magnaflow and FlowMaster for exhaust mufflers, they’re also not going to break the bank.
4 – How to avoid sway of your trailer
The larger the trailer you’re towing the more you’ll notice those windy days! When you’re out on the open road going down a busy interstate, the largest percentage of accidents from campers are due to swaying trailers. You’ll get this largely from bumper pull trailers but will often see that typical 5th wheel or semi truck creeping over in your lane. To help combat this, Sway bars connect to your trailers front frame and to your tow hitch. I’ll also help provide more support and more level comfort for the ride. These do take a little setup for the first time but after you’ve installed and setup, pretty easy to connect each time you connect. Depending on the size of your trailer and weight, these will run you anywhere from $200-$600. Here, you can find an article I wrote talking about how to keep your fifth wheel from swaying, and how to reduce rolling hazards.
3 – Why is my trailer bouncing while driving?
There are several things that could be occurring, I’d first check to make sure the trailer tires are properly inflated. Second, check to make sure the load is even and distributed correctly in/out of the trailer. Third, check the leaf springs on the trailer to make sure they aren’t worn. Fourth, may want to visit number 4 of this article as we reviewed options with making a better ride.
2 – Always maintain your vehicle and trailer
I know this may seem like a duh type of comment, but it’s the little things that are often forgotten. Keeping up with routine maintenance especially before a long road trip is key to a headache free trip. Oil and oil filter, check your tires and ensure proper inflation, spark plugs and never hurts to have a little fuel additive or cleaner for improved mpg.
Never hurts to take a quick walk around at all of your tires, including your trailer. Making sure there aren’t any cracks in the side walls or screws wedged in the tires.
1 – Keep an inventory list or checklist of your supplies for camping
I always laugh at my wife when we’re preparing for a camping trip, she’s making a list a week before the trip. Matches… Lighter… Sleeping bags… Pots… Pans… You know, a lot of the basic items. I can actually really appreciate this for the fact that I always forget something and usually doesn’t hit me until I really need out in the woods. If you have a camper, it might be a good idea to keep inventory of the things you have and when you’re getting low on something, add it to your shopping list. You really can’t be too prepared for a weekend adventure, so don’t be afraid to pack that extra roll of toilet paper.
Camping and towing is always a learning experience. From setting up your truck, going down the road and maneuvering it into tricky camping spots. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be. Nothing like a terrible experience on the road to ruin your entire camping weekend. Thank you for taking the time to read this article, please feel free to comment below and ask any questions.
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