Assuming everything went well on the road, you’ve made it to camp and its time to set up for your stay. The first thing I do is stop before backing in. I walk the site I will be backing into taking note of any overhanging items, scanning the ground for anything that might damage your trailer or your tires and seeing what you have to work with:
Where are the hookups for water and power? Where will we drop grey and black water?
I formulate a plan of attack and use every resource I have available. This includes handing the other walkie-talkie to my partner and asking her what she sees. Then we make a plan of attack for where we want the trailer in the site. The site you’ll see in these pictures was at a KOA in Titusville, Florida. It included full electric, water and cable hookups as well as two drops for water.
Once we know where we want the trailer in the site we back in. I utilize my partner as a spotter and we use handheld radios to communicate, it eliminates vague hand signals and lots of confusion. Remember – the marriage you save, may be your own.
We back in and stop just short of our final position. This allows us to check level, inspect hookups and drops and make sure we are close to where we want to be. I then activate my super sophisticated leveling system (pictured below) to check on the level of the trailer left to right. Now is the time to set out leveling blocks if you need to adjust the level right to left on your trailer. We don’t have the fancy leveling jacks, just stabilizers. Level will be primarily determined by the wheels, axles, suspension and tongue jack.
This time we got really lucky and no leveling blocks were needed. So now I hopped behind the wheel and finished backing into the spot stopping where my spotter told me to. The very next step before I do anything else is to chock/brace the tires to keep the trailer from shifting in any direction while we finish setting up.
FUN STORY – I forgot this step one night on our month long cross country trip and found myself holding the tongue of a 6000lb trailer while calling for my partner to chock the tires, while the whole thing slid slowly towards our truck and the lake. In the mean time small plastic chocks were in the locked front storage compartment and the keys for said compartment were in my pocket. As I slowly lost the battle with gravity and entropy, my partner got the chocks out and prevented the demise of me the camper and the truck. The following morning found us at the first Gander Mountain RV store on our route picking up the much upgraded Ultra Super Grip Chock pictured in the slideshow below. More expensive than the plastic chocks, but cheaper than towing a waterlogged F-150 and camper out of the lake from a hospital bed.
Now that the trailer isn’t going anywhere we can disconnect from the tow vehicle. I start by lowering the tongue jack until it makes contact with the ground. You might need to use some blocking or a weight distribution plate depending on your site. Here we are on a concrete pad, so none of that was needed. Once I have made just the barest of contact I pull the pins on my load distribution system (inside the blue circles) and begin jacking the front of the trailer up while still connected to the tow vehicle. This takes the weight/tension off the weight distribution arms (in red) so that we can safely remove them.
Now while continuing to jack the trailer up, I apply tension to pull the weight distribution arms out to the side. I let the jack do the work, I just kind of tug and they will pop out to the side once the weight/tension is released. You might have to go up or down a couple of times to get them to come out. Once they are both “free,” you swing them into this 90 degree position and pull them straight out of the hitch.
With the weight distribution arms out of the way, you can now continue the disconnect procedure. I lower the trailer back down on the hitch and then remove my padlock (pictured above on the right.) That will allow me to safely open the hitch. This is also the time to remove the safety chains, breakaway cable, and electrical connector from the tow vehicle. At this point it’s simply a matter of jacking the trailer back up off the ball hitch and pulling the tow vehicle clear. I will also pull the weight distribution hitch and stow it in the trailer, no need for someone to steal the hitch while I am off in town running errands or exploring, and strand us at a campsite.
Fire back up the ole leveling system and get it level from front to back. Personally I go for as close to dead level as you can get. Some people like to level the trailer to pitch to one corner or the other. Whichever you choose is correct for your trailer. I open up the side door and place my level on the floor making sure its not sitting on anything but the flooring (a stray Lego can really mess this step up,) Then its usually lower to the front of the trailer until the bubble settles in the middle of the gauge.
Once you have this to your desired level of plumb, you can set the four corner stabilizers (shown here with weigh distribution plates and custom 4X4 pressure treated blocking.) I use an old cordless screw gun. I don’t use the drill or impact setting as you can damage your trailer. I just lower them until they take up a little slack, remember the majority of the weight is being held by your suspension.
These jacks are not meant to lift the entire trailer off of the ground. Check your manual for your specific trailer. After that its just a quick leveling of the stairs, if they need it, opening the awning and hooking up your power, water, and sewer, but that’s another blog…
Tearing Down Camp (coming soon)
See also: Choosing a Tow Vehicle
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