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Learn How To Back Travel Trailers Like A Pro

This post was updated on March 27th, 2024

Learning how to back travel trailers is scary to most beginner travel trailer owners. Having just spent a lot of money on a beautiful new (or new to you) rig, the last thing you want to do is back it into the fire pit or a tree when you go to park it. 

Backing up a travel trailer into a campsite is probably the most stressful thing you’ll do on the road. Having lots of patience, a good travel trailer backup system, and practice help you learn how to back up travel trailers with expertise.

Remember, professional truck drivers back their eighteen-wheel big tractor-trailers into tight spots every day. You’ve got this.  

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Pro Tip: If you have an RV trailer backup camera, you are 3 steps ahead of other newbies, but you don’t really need one. It’s a good idea to practice your trailer backing in an empty parking lot before you go camping. This builds confidence and muscle memory.

The Travel Trailer Back-Up Steps You Need To Know

The best way to learn how to back travel trailers is by following the example of professional drivers. Here is a trailer backing system that is used by professional drivers. It works perfectly for travel trailer owners, too. 

Initial Setup To Back Travel Trailers

  • Pull up just short of the spot you want to back up into. Then put on your 4-way flashers.  
  • Open the front windows of your tow truck. You want an unobstructed view of your mirrors. The ability to put your head out the window from time to time is helpful, too.
  • Adjust your mirrors. You want to see the sides of your trailer in 1/3 of them and be able to see your wheels, too.

Passenger and Spotter Considerations

  • Got a front passenger (or RVing pets)? If there’s a chance your passenger will yell or bark as you back the travel trailer into your spot, now is a good time to move them to a safe, out-of-the-way spot until you are done.
  • If your passenger knows how to safely spot you, they can help with spotting.  If they don’t have a handle on safe spotting practices, then get them to stay out of the way and just yell if it looks like the trailer will hit something. Having a spotter is great, but you really can back a trailer into a campsite without having a spotter. 

Site Survey

  • Get out and survey the site for the best place to park the trailer.  Be on the lookout for power posts, water hookups and the campsite sewage hook-up. You’ll want to be on the right side of these.  Watch out for any drops or obstacles that you’ll need to back around.  Remember to leave room for your slide-out.  If you see people coming to watch at this point, avoid eye contact before they come and distract you.

Initial Positioning

  • Get back in your truck and put it into forward gear. Position your trailer close to the edge of the road.  Stop when your truck’s rear bumper is about even with the far end of the entrance (depending on the length of your trailer).

Steering and Direction

  • Turn the steering wheel to the left. Continue forward until you are close to the middle of the road. 
  • Place your hands at 8 o’clock and 4 o’clock on the bottom half of the steering wheel.  When you want the trailer to go left, turn the steering wheel to the left. From this position:  When you want the trailer to go to the right, turn the steering wheel to the right.

Angling and Backing Up Travel Trailers

  • Angle front wheels toward the opposite edge of the road. Now, turn the steering wheel to the left.  Your front wheels will now be angled slightly towards the same side of the road as your campsite.  From here, back up very slowly (about two feet) while checking your passenger-side mirror.  Don’t be afraid to stop and get out to see that everything is on the right track.
  • Now, turn the bottom of the steering wheel a little to the right. The front wheels should be angled toward the opposite edge of the road. This ensures you don’t jack-knife. Always use small movements. Then pull forward and readjust as necessary.

Final Backing In

  • Are you on track to get into the back-in site? Back in slowly, getting out to check and make any adjustments as needed until you can back straight into your spot.

Final Tips For Learning How To Back Travel Trailers

  • Practice backing your trailer in an empty parking lot where there are as few spectators as possible.
  • Don’t practice backing up travel trailers when you are tired.
  • Be patient. Backing a trailer is an art, and you will need to learn it.
  • Steering is done in 1/4 turns and less. Go easy on the steering wheel.
  • When learning to back travel trailers, it’s advisable to arrive at the campground during daylight hours.
  • If you start to get frustrated, take a deep breath. Get out of your vehicle and walk around, checking the trailer’s direction and distance to objects or embankments. Get out and look as often as you need to.

Finally, you should know that strangers often try to help RV newbies back up travel trailers and fifth wheels. Decide whether to accept their help or not depending on their apparent abilities. Just be patient. It’s OK to take several runs to back travel trailers into a campsite. It beats backing into a tree.