June 5, 2020 




Travel Trailer Towing 101—Basics and Beyond

  By: Jim Mac - Road Travel Foodie




    • Affordable and flexible, the travel trailer is the most popular RV type

    • Sometimes called a "bumper pull," the travel trailer can be towed by a properly equipped car, truck, van, or SUV

    • Travel trailers come in all sizes including tiny jellybean-shaped models with a chuckwagon kitchen in the rear to the massive "house-on-wheels" with picture windows and sliding glass patio door

    • If you or a family member has difficulty navigating stairs, the single-level living of a travel trailer is a welcome benefit

    • Of all RV types, travel trailers offer the most sleeping accommodations, making them especially well-suited for a family with children


Towing a travel trailer is easy after a little practice. Modern hardware helps make towing simple, safe, and fun. And there is a good chance that one of your current family vehicles is up to the task.

"Towable RVs, including travel trailers and pop-ups, serve as the gateway to RV recreation for most people," says Trailer Life Technical Editor Chris Dougherty. "Colloquially described as a 'bumper pull,' the first camping travel trailers were hitched to the tow vehicle's bumper.

"We've come a long way since those early days of the 1950s. Just as the travel trailer has evolved over the years, so, too, has towing equipment. Modern, frame-mounted hitch receivers, equalizer hitches, and computerize brake-controllers contribute to a more enjoyable towing experience."


 Selecting the Right Travel Trailer Floor plan

You will  find hundreds of travel trailer floor plans offered by dealers today, which can be both frustrating and fun. How do you choose between a rear living room or rear bedroom model? Between a rear bath or rear kitchen floorplan? Is a bunkhouse floor plan under consideration? In addition to walking through some trailers at an RV show or RV dealership, the Keystone RV website offers tools to help you narrow down your choices, including 360 Virtual Tours and a floor plan selector.

An important side-note: If you or a family member find it challenging to climb stairs, then a travel trailer may be a better option than a fifth wheel. Travel trailers often have fewer steps leading from the outside to the inside, and unlike a fifth wheel, interior space is one-level with no stairs to climb from the living area to the bedroom.


Tow Vehicles

While most every car, van, SUV, or pickup can tow a trailer, not every trailer can safely be towed by every vehicle.

For the most enjoyable towing experience, it's essential to stay within your vehicle's towing capabilities and use the proper towing hardware. Check the tow ratings for your vehicle and make sure it can handle the travel trailer you intend to purchase. A lot of factors go into tow ratings, including engine size, transmission, axle ratio, and vehicle weight ratings.

We recommend the tow vehicle you select have a trailer weight rating to handle at least the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the RV you plan to tow.

Proper weight and load distribution are essential to safe towing. Keep the loaded tongue weight between 10% and 15% of the total weight. 

You can read more about towing considerations and weight distribution in the Keystone RV Owner's Manual found here.


Six Tips for Safe Trailering and Towing from GMC Truck



An excellent reference to understanding tow ratings and how much you can tow is the  Good Sam Towing Guides found here


Towing Hardware

Gone are the days of hitching up to your rear bumper. Modern towing systems have evolved to deliver a safer and more enjoyable towing experience, albeit using more expensive hardware.

Your RV dealer can hook you up with the proper equipment and show you how it works.

  • Trailer Hitch and Receiver Tube—Bolted or welded to your vehicle frame and frequently available as an automotive, factory-installed option
  • Ball Mount—Slides into the hitch receiver and is available in different lengths
  • Hitch Ball—Bolts onto the Ball Mount and is available in different diameters
  • Trailer A-Frame with Ball Coupler—The coupling device slides over and locks onto the hitch ball, securing the trailer to the trailer hitch
  • Safety Chains—Secures trailer to the tow vehicle in the unlikely event the ball coupler fails
  • Breakaway Switch—Applies the trailer brakes in the unlikely event that the trailer pulls free of the coupler
  • Electronic trailer brake controller—Progressively applies current to the trailer's electric brakes based on stopping requirements. Some newer model pickup trucks include a built-in controller as part of the tow package
  • Weight-carrying hitch—Transfers the full trailer tongue weight onto the hitch and does not use weight distribution bars. Used more commonly with trailers weighing under 3500 lbs
  • Weight distributing hitch—uses weight distribution bars to apply leverage between the towing vehicle and the trailer; distributes the tongue weight to all the towing vehicle and trailer wheels - also called an equalizer hitch
  • Trailer Wiring Harness—Typically includes a 7-blade or 4-pin connector that plugs into a receptacle on your tow vehicle and supplies power to operate exterior trailer lights, turn signals, and recharge the trailer battery


Hitching Up

Hitching your tow vehicle to a trailer requires a little practice, aided by a helper or rearview camera.

  • Use the hitch jack to raise or lower the trailer coupling until slightly above hitch ball height
  • Back the vehicle slowly until the hitch ball is under the ball coupling on the trailer
  • Lower the trailer until the ball settles securely into the coupler, latch the ball in place with the coupler latch, and then use a pin or padlock to secure
  • Raise the hitch jack to the up position
  • If you are using a weight-distributing/equalizer hitch follow the manufacturer's recommendations
  • Criss-cross and attach the safety chains
  • Plug in the power cord from the tow vehicle to the trailer
  • Make sure trailer step, stabilizer jacks, and wheel chocks are out of the way
  • Verify that turn signals and running lights are operating




Below is a video demonstration of how to hitch up your travel trailer. 




Towing Equipment Resources