One of the most important things that you need to know about before you decide to buy a camper is how much the camper weighs. On average, campers weigh right around 5,000lbs.
The reason this is very important information, is that the weight of the camper can drastically affect your ability to tow it with your vehicle. Every vehicle comes with a maximum towing load, which essentially means how much weight it can tow safely and still be able to stop. Purchasing a camper that is over the towing capacity of your vehicle is extremely dangerous, because you’ll end up burning out your brakes and transmission quickly.
With that in mind, we want to give you a complete guide on what to consider when shopping for a camper. By the end of this article, you will learn:
- Common Camper Terminology
- The Difference Between 5th Wheel and Bumper-pull Trailers
- How to Load Your Camper Properly
- Campers Examples That Can be Towed by Mid, Full, and Heavy-Duty Sized Trucks
Common Camper Terminology
In order to understand the dynamics of camper weight, you need to understand some fundamental terms as well as their influences on camper weight. To that end, be sure to read each definition and understand the examples that are provided.
Dry Weight – This is how much the trailer weighs when it is completely empty. This number is not how much that the trailer will weigh when you have put your belongings and water inside of it.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating- This is the total amount of weight that your camper can carry. This number can vary quite a bit, depending on the number of axles and how large the freshwater tanks are.
Keep in mind that water weighs about 8lbs, so to calculate how much weight you can put inside of your camper, multiply the number of gallons that the camper can hold in its freshwater tank by 8.3. After you know how much your water will weigh down your camper, subtract your water weight rom the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) to determine how much more weight you can add to your trailer.
Under no circumstances should you exceed the GVWR. Doing so can be extremely dangerous as it will cause your trailer to become unbalanced. If your trailer becomes unbalanced, you can experience violent swaying while driving as well as a lot of difficulty when braking.
Tongue Weight- This number will tell you how much weight is pushing down on the trailer hitch. Pay attention to how much this number is and compare it to the tongue weight capacity of your vehicle.
Again, don’t exceed the capabilities of your vehicle when hitching your camper up to it. If you exceed the tongue weight, you can cause your vehicle to compress the rear suspension quite a bit, which can cause you to lose control of your vehicle in the event you drive over a bump in the road.
Maximum Towing Capacity- You’ll find this number on your towing vehicle. This number will tell you how much weight your vehicle can tow, but you should keep a couple of things into consideration.
Try to avoid getting a trailer that maxes your vehicle’s towing capacity out. By maxing out the towing capacity, you’ll lose out on significant towing power, which will make it difficult to accelerate your vehicle as well as to slow it down.
The other thing to consider is your transmission. By maxing out your towing capacity, you’ll put quite a bit of stress on your vehicle’s transmission due to the consistent shifting and use of lower gears to help increase the number of RPMs your engine can put out.
5th Wheel or Bumper-pull?
The biggest decision that many are faced with when choosing a camper is whether or not to get a 5th wheel camper or a bumper-pull camper. What is the difference between the two?
5th wheel campers have a goose neck looking trailer hitch. They connect to the towing vehicle in the bed of the truck by a hitch that is bolted down into the bed of the truck. Due to the size of these trailers and the hitch connection, the only vehicles that can tow these trailers are full sized and heavy-duty pick-up trucks.
Bumper-pull trailers are the most common style of camper. They attach to the towing vehicle via a tow hitch and ball. This means that a wide variety of vehicles can tow them, making it preferable to purchase a bumper-pull trailer for many as many don’t own a full or heavy-duty sized pick-up truck.
Now that we have a basic understanding of what a 5th wheel and bumper-pull camper are, what are the pros and cons of each?
- Very large, making for more living space inside.
- More variety of styles, which can be helpful if you decide to purchase a trailer that you can also bring your ATVs and dirt bikes along (toy haulers).
- More maneuverable than bumper-pull trailers as the hitch point being in the bed of the pick-up makes it easier to steer move the camper around.
- Very heavy and large, which can be challenging to tow them up steeper and smaller roads.
- Much more expensive compared to bumper-pull trailers.
- You have to have a pick-up truck capable of pulling very heavy loads to pull it safely.
- Much larger variety of styles of camper to fit the needs of just about everyone.
- Very affordable models of campers.
- Often lighter compared to 5th wheels, making them a lot better on the gas milage of towing vehicles.
- Not as large as 5th wheels, which means that they can be limited in living space inside.
- Toy hauler models are much less common, making it difficult to camp while also bringing along your ATVs and dirt bikes.
5th wheels and bumper-pulls both offer great options for campers. You can get models in each category with all of the modern luxuries like air conditioning, microwaves, and Bluetooth stereos. It really comes down to your personal preferences and needs as to which style of camper you should buy.
In either case, be sure that you keep the weight of the camper within the capabilities of your towing vehicle!
Once you have figured out how much your vehicle can tow and which style of camper you should buy, it’s time to learn about how to load your camper so that it tows straight down the highway.
Pay attention to where you load your belongings. The biggest thing that you need to pay attention to is putting the majority of the load in front of the axles.
The reason why you want to put your gear towards the front of the trailer is that it keeps the trailer from swaying while you drive. This can be extremely dangerous while you are going at a higher rate of speed, such as above 50 MPH.
The reason why it’s dangerous is that once a camper starts swaying, it can quickly cause you to lose control of your vehicle and cause you to crash. In a worst-case scenario, you can even jackknife your trailer, which is where your trailer swings all the way around to slam into the side of your vehicle.
Putting your heaviest items towards the front of the trailer will help keep it from swaying at all, regardless of the speed.
Be cognizant of what you put on top of your trailer as well. Some trailers come with roof racks to put bulkier items on top of. Common items that you may put on top of your trailer might be kayaks, canoes, and mountain bikes.
Putting things on top of your camper means that the height of the camper has been raised up, which means you have to be careful when driving underneath things like bridges and low hanging trees. Before you hit the road, be sure that you know exactly how tall the camper is with the added items on top of the trailer. That way, you’ll know exactly how much clearance you have so you can confidently drive on the highways and through heavily wooded areas.
You’ll know when you’ll be ok to drive under a bridge or if you need to exit and go around it. This will keep your toys safe from getting destroyed as well as reduce the risk of you damaging a roadway or bridge, which can be very expensive to fix as well as dangerous to other drivers on the road!
Another thing to consider is the total weight that you are putting into your camper. Remember the GVWR we talked about earlier? Don’t exceed it! A great way to figure out if your trailer is within the GVWR is to weigh out your trailer at a truck stop.
Truck stops have scales that tell you exactly how much your truck and trailer weighs. When you find the scale, start by driving your fully loaded trailer on top of the scale. Get the weight and then park your vehicle away from the truck scale. Unhitch the trailer from your vehicle and then reweigh your vehicle. Subtract your vehicle weight away from the initial number you got, and you’ll have the weight of your trailer fully loaded down.
If that number is less than your GVWR, you’re good to go! If it’s higher than the GVWR, unload a few items or exchange them for lighter items.
Campers for all Sizes of Pickup Trucks
As discussed earlier, there are a wide variety of pick-up trucks available to drive and tow vehicles. The biggest thing to keep in mind is the towing capacity of your vehicle. Below are some examples of mid, full, and heavy-duty sized vehicles along with their maximum towing capacities. Additionally, you’ll learn about some trailers that are good options to use for each vehicle, each staying below the towing capacity of each size of truck.
Mid-sized trucks are the smallest trucks on the market. Toyota Tacoma, Chevy Colorado, Honda Ridgeline, and the Dodge Dakota are all great examples of mid-sized trucks. They have the lowest towing capability, which means that they can only tow very light campers.
The average towing capacity of mid-sized trucks is about 4,000lbs. That number can vary, depending on the brand of truck that you buy.
To that end, you’ll likely end up buying a bumper-pull trailer. Look for trailers that have a single axle, as they will be lighter than trailers with two axles.
A great brand for lightweight single axle trailers to tow behind mid-sized pickups is Geo Pro. Geo Pro specializes in creating lightweight trailers that are hard sided and come with all of the amenities found in larger, heavier travel trailers.
They can be a bit expensive, so if you’re on a budget and still want to use a camper trailer, a pop-up camper might be the better bet. Pop-up campers are like a hybrid between a tent and a camper, as they have canvas sides that can be folded in so that it compresses while not in use. When you’re ready to use it, you expand the trailer so that all of the canvas is exposed. As a result, you have a reasonable amount of living space for multiple people inside! These are very light and ideal for those who drive a mid-sized truck or even a minivan or SUV!
Full sized trucks are much more flexible in the type of camper trailer they can tow. Not only can they pull popup and single axle trailers, but they can begin to tow larger double axle trailers as well.
Examples of full-sized pick-up trucks on the market are Dodge 1500, Chevrolet 1500, Ford F150, and Toyota Tundra. The average towing capacity of these models is about 7,000lbs, but as with mid-sized trucks, this limit can vary greatly depending on the make and model.
Brands of campers are much more universal in this truck range as most camper companies design campers to be towed by this class of vehicle. A great brand that consistently produces quality camper trailers is Lance. Lance has a unique design feature of having a large, vertically shaped window at the front of the camper. They have tons of fantastic features and are made out of top-of-the-line components to last for years and years of use.
While you can find 5th wheel campers that are in this weight range, you’ll most likely end up getting more value for your money for a bumper-pull trailer when you drive a full-sized pickup.
The biggest, baddest trucks on the market are heavy-duty pick-ups. They are able to tow well over 10,000lbs and can go for miles on end. The number one brands for heavy-duty trucks are the Dodge 3500, Ford F350, and Chevy 3500. These trucks are ideal for towing the largest trailers, like 5th wheels.
You’re really only limited by the style of interior that you want when picking out a trailer that can be towed by a heavy-duty truck. It really depends on what you want to do with it.
A great brand for 5th wheel campers is Montana trailers. They come in a variety of styles from luxury campers with full sized refrigerators and bathrooms to toy haulers that have cavernous garages that can hold various sizes of ATVs, side-by sides, and dirt bikes.
Campers come in so many weights and sizes that there is something to suit just about every size of family. It doesn’t matter what size of truck that you have, there is something out there that your truck can pull.
Remember to check your camper and your truck for the specific weight capacities before you jump into purchasing a camper.
Once you have determined how much weight your vehicle can tow, consider what style of camper you should buy. Whether that be a 5th wheel or a bumper pull.
And be sure that once you’ve decided upon which style that you shop around a bit and find a camper that best suits your needs.
Once you’ve got all of that settled, load it up and hit the road!