Before you just toss gear in at random, it’s vital to know how to properly load your travel trailer safely based on its weight ratings. You need a strategy that’ll reduce swaying, bouncing, tire blowouts, and a host of other problems.
Fortunately for you, we’re going to help you understand trailer weight ratings and basic proper trailer loading. Your trailer’s weight ratings will dictate how much you can load into your trailer, but the principles of proper weight distribution apply to just about every travel trailer on the road.
Understanding Your Trailer’s Weight Ratings
Your trailer’s weight ratings are determined by the manufacturer and you’ll find them in your owner’s manual or on your VIN number tag. This includes abbreviations like GVWR, GAWR, GTW, and others. For a deep dive into this alphabet soup, consult our handy Guide to Weight Ratings. If you need a quick refresher, here’s one below.
- GVWR is short for gross vehicle weight rating. This is the maximum amount of weight your trailer can handle. It is the combined weight of the trailer itself and its maximum payload capacity.
- GAWR stands for gross axle weight rating. This is the maximum weight you can place on each trailer axle.
- GTW refers to gross trailer weight. This is the actual weight of your trailer plus all the stuff you load into it. The only way to determine this weight is to drive over a scale once it’s loaded.
- Tongue Weight is the amount of weight that is placed on the hitch ball when you connect your trailer to your tow vehicle.
- Maximum Payload Capacity tells you how much weight you are able to load into your trailer safely. You calculate it by subtracting your trailer’s dry weight from its GVWR.
- Towing Capacity actually refers to your tow vehicle, but it’s still vital to safe towing. It is the maximum amount of weight your vehicle can safely tow and it will be specified on your vehicle’s VIN label or in the owner’s manual.
To guarantee safe towing and err on the side of caution, your trailer’s gross trailer weight (GTW) should remain below 90 percent of your vehicle’s towing capacity.
How to Properly Load Your Travel Trailer
Once you understand your trailer’s weight ratings, use these recommendations to distribute weight evenly.
Step 1: Follow the 60/40 Rule
All travel trailers should be loaded adhering to the 60/40 rule. This states that approximately 60 percent of the loaded weight should be placed in front of the trailer’s center axle and the remaining 40 percent should be placed behind the center axle. Putting too much weight in the back of your trailer will cause it to fishtail at high speeds.
Additionally, try to achieve a 50/50 side-to-side weight distribution. This is why your trailer’s freshwater holding tank is on the opposite side of your waste holding tanks, for example.
Step 2: Start with the Heaviest Items
The best place to begin is to load your heaviest items first. These items should be strategically placed as close to the axle as possible, but they should also be distributed evenly across the length and width of your trailer.
Never load all of your heaviest gear into the same place in your trailer.
In addition, heavier camping supplies should be stored in your trailer’s underneath compartments or placed closer to the floor if stored inside. This keeps their weight closer to the axle and reduces the risk of heavy items falling if they shift while you’re towing.
During this step, consider where your trailer’s heaviest large appliances are located in your floorplan. This will help you place heavier items in locations that maintain a balanced weight distribution.
Step 3: Fill in Smaller Items
As you fill in smaller items, ranking items according to most and least used will help you keep everything organized. Your least-used items can be stored in harder-to-reach locations while your most-used should be easily accessible.
Place your lightest items in overhead cabinets so your trailer doesn’t get too top-heavy. Extra towels, pillows, and bedding are also great items to pack last because they can fill in around small kitchen appliances to keep things from shifting while you’re driving.
Step 4: Consider Holding Tank Additions
As you use your travel trailer, you’re going to add weight to your black and grey water tanks while subtracting weight from your freshwater tank. This could shift your trailer’s payload unevenly, which will cause more sway or bounce at high speeds.
The result is a very different towing experience on your way home than you enjoyed on the way there. So, here’s how to limit your holding tank’s impact on towing performance:
- Fill your freshwater tank before loading your trailer
- Empty grey and black water tanks
- Empty your wastewater tanks completely before your return trip
- Refill fresh water before returning as well
- If all of these steps aren’t possible or you want to return with all tanks completely empty, redistribute gear to keep your trailer safely loaded for towing
Step 5: Check Tongue Weight
While loading slightly more weight into the front of your trailer is recommended, you don’t want to place too much weight on the tongue. Once it’s loaded, roughly 10 to 15 percent of your trailer’s total weight should be resting on the tongue.
Visually, you can check this by looking at the relationship between your trailer and your tow vehicle. If you’re looking at their profiles, the tongue of your trailer should be close to level.
If your vehicle and trailer are noticeably sagging at the hitch point, it’s a sign that too much weight is resting on the tongue. You’ll either need to reload to relieve tongue weight or consider adding a weight-distribution hitch to even things out.
For larger travel trailers, a weight-distribution hitch or sway bars are recommended regardless of how well you’ve loaded your trailer. Check out this quick video on how to hitch up a weight-distribution hitch if you’re new to the idea!
Step 6: Secure Everything
It’s also crucial to know what you allow to shift will shift while you’re driving. Do everything in your power to reduce this by strapping large items down and employing various solutions for closet and cabinet storage.
Baskets are great to eliminate a bunch of loose items and shelf liners will reduce shifting and protect sensitive appliances from damage. Remember that everything that can move will move when you take tight turns or hit speed bumps in a Good Sam RV Park.
Step 7: Take Your Trailer to a Scale
The last thing you can do to guarantee safe towing is to find a truck scale near you. Drive your trailer onto the scale to ensure you aren’t exceeding your trailer’s maximum weight ratings.
As a rule, you should never exceed approximately 85 percent of your trailer’s maximum payload capacity. If your trailer’s max payload capacity is 1,500 pounds, the combined weight of everything you load shouldn’t exceed 1,275 pounds.
So if you’re interested in a trailer that can handle the weight of an ATV or multiple dirt bikes, you’ll need to shop for a toy hauler with a higher payload capacity than an average travel trailer.
If you absolutely can’t find a scale near you, look into the CURT BetterWeigh Mobile Scale. It plugs into your tow vehicle’s OBD-II diagnostic port to give you real-time readings on gross trailer weight, payload, tongue weight, and more.
Once you have your trailer loaded properly, it’s time to hit the road and have some fun. No matter where you roam, there’s always a Camping World location nearby to help with all of your camping needs!
Tucker Ballister is a Technical Content Writer for Camping World and a lover of the open road. You can check out more of his adventures and outdoor advice at thebackpackguide.com.