• Katie Krivolavek

Hooking Up {Your Camper}

One of the most intimidating parts of owning a camper can be towing the rig and that starts with hooking the rig up to your tow vehicle. If you have a weight distribution hitch with sway bars, we have some help. Here is our step by step guide to hitching up your travel trailer.

Before we get started, let me tell you a little bit about our equipment. We currently have an Equil-i-zer hitch. A weight distribution hitch, like ours, creates a much safer and easier towing experience. Without a weight distribution system, your camper can easily control your car. We highly recommend a weight distribution hitch of some kind, no matter the size of your rig...but find it essential for a larger camper.

Our unit does not have chains, but sway bars. You may still find this post helpful for hitching up a weight distribution hitch that has chains, but you may not be able to follow it step by step.

Considerations Before You Begin...

  • Decide wether you want to complete this process by yourself or with a helper. If you choose to have a helper, we suggest going through each step together so you ensure your equipment is hooked up properly on both sides and no steps are missed.

  • Have a checklist handy to make sure you don't miss a step. Keep reading until the end to find your free download!

  • Safety first. We never allow our kids or dog around the trailer or two vehicle while we are hooking up. If something goes wrong, we don't want them to be around. Our rule is you cannot be in front of or behind the camper or two vehicle. You have to be able to see one of us at all times.

See our video of the process on YouTube

Disclaimer: Every brand of hitch is different. Please see the instructions for the hitch you own and follow those instructions. This is just our process for hooking up our camper.

The first thing you want to do before EVERY tow, is to check your towing equipment to ensure it is in good working condition.

Be sure to check:

  • all bolts & joints, etc. for damage

  • look for missing parts

  • check for excessive wear

You should also check for proper lubrication on your ball & sway bars. Anywhere metal touches metal lubrication will extend the life of your hitching. As you're checking your equipment, be sure you check the hardware on your hitch and the tongue of your camper.

Before you move your vehicle check three things:

  • The trailer is jacked up high enough the ball can fit under the receiver

  • There are no objects left on the ground you may run over

  • That it is safe to back up (i.e., no children or pets around)

  • Your trailer is properly chocked.

When backing up, remember you don't have to line up 100% correctly, getting close is good enough. The trailer and hitch will give slightly to correct for a slight miss. We suggest having a helper to guide you through the back up processes, as it's sometimes even hard to judge your line even with a back up camera.

Always set your parking break when you get out of the vehicle when preparing to attach to your camper.

Don't get discouraged if it takes you multiple attempts to line up correctly. It's the hardest part of hooking up your camper!

In order to be able to lower the trailer onto the ball, you will have to raise all stabilizer jacks on your camper, both the front and rear. We recommend raising them all the way up so you don't forget to return to the later and risk damaging your stabilizing system.

If you use X-Chocks, remember to remove them before you raise or lower your stabilizer jacks since you will be altering the height of your camper front to back when lowering the trailer onto the ball. Do not remove other wheel chocks yet.

The next step is to lower the trailer onto the hitch using the trailer's tongue jack. Before you start, check to make sure you have good alignment with the tow vehicle. If at any point during this process you believe your tow vehicle is not in the proper position, stop and make the proper adjustments.

Occasionally you'll have the trailer lowered onto the hitch and the coupler won't slip onto the ball, the trailer is simply pushing the rear of the tow vehicle lower and lower. If this is the case, release the pressure off the tow vehicle, make the adjustments needed, and try again.

Remember, you don't have to be aligned exactly with the ball, the hitch and coupler will adjust slightly for a minor misalignment. Also, don't be alarmed when the trailer or vehicle appear to move slightly during this process. It's normal for a little bit of movement. These movements are also why we recommend setting your parking break and leaving the trailer chocked until you are completed hitched to the two vehicle.

You must secure the ball into the coupler by latching the ball in place and putting a pin in the hole on the top

of the latch. This is a safety measure to ensure that the ball and coupler do not detach from each other, creating major problems.

This latch and pin may look different on other hitching systems, but you will be required to latch your coupler to the ball as a vital step of the process.

It's also important to note that there are several small pieces to our hitch, like the pin used here. There are several of these pins and some loose brackets used for the sway bars. We suggest having a box you keep in your "basement" or closest storage compartment of your camper to dedicated to safely storing your small hitch parts.

The good news is, you can purchase extra pins at most RV stores or online. We do recommend having a few extra on hand so you're not stuck somewhere with no pins and a camper you have to tow. Learn from our mistakes!

Now it's time to use the trailer jack to raise the back of the vehicle up. This step may seem strange, but it allows for the weight distribution bars to be placed onto their brackets easily and safely. Without raising the back of your two vehicle, it can be extremely difficult to put the bars into place.

If you cannot get the bars onto their brackets in the next step, continue to raise the vehicle higher until the bars are easily put into place. If you cannot raise the rear of your two vehicle high enough to get the bars on by hand, there is a helper tool that we will discuss in the next step.

Once the rear of the vehicle is raise high enough to easily fit the weight distribution bars onto their brackets on the trailer frame, you're ready to attach your bars. Again, your system may be slightly different than ours, so be sure to check the instructions for your weight distribution system. For our bars, the ridge must be facing up when we set the bar into the holes on the hitch. Then, we must lower the latch down to lock the bar onto the hitch.

Once the bar has been latched and locked into the hitch, we can slide the weight distribution bar onto the L-bracket attached to the trailer frame. It should slide easily on because we raised the back of the vehicle up in our last step. If you find it difficult, raise the back of the vehicle higher. If you cannot raise the rear of the vehicle any higher and are still having difficulty getting the bar onto the L-bracket, it's time to use your helper bar.

To use the helper bar, you simply place the weight distribution bar into the curve of the bar and then secure the tip of the helper bar into the hole on the bottom of the L-bracket. Then, lift up on the opposite end of the helper bar to allow the weight distribution bar to slide onto the L-bracket. WARNING: Keep your hands away from the weight distribution bar as you're placing it onto the bracket with the helper bar. If you are having to use the helper bar, there is a lot of pressure on the weight distribution bar and if your hands get in the way it won't be pretty. Just simply keep your hands at the far end of the helper bar and you'll be out of harms way.

After the weight distribution bars are set in place, it's time to secure them to the L-Bracket. You will have a pin to latch over the bar and lock into place. These pins keep the weight distribution bars from sliding off the L-Bracket.

Make sure you do steps seven and eight on both sides of the trailer frame.

Once the sway bars are secured to the L-brackets it's time to take the weight off of the trailer jack and put it onto the tow vehicle. To do this you will raise the tongue jack up by lowering the trailer onto the two vehicle. Once the vehicle takes the weight of the trailer, the jack will begin to raise off the ground. At this point your tow vehicle has the weight of the trailer and you're nearly set to hit the road after a few safety measures.

Be sure that your tongue jack is raised as high as it can go to avoid damage to the jack while your rig is in motion. Some jacks have an extension so you don't have to crank the jack as far or so the motor doesn't have to work as hard to lift the rig. If you have used the extension, you should retract it as far as it will go so your jack is nearly flush with your trailer frame.

The next thing you want to attach is your safety chains. The large hooks will latch onto the back of your tow vehicle to ensure that your camper stays attached to your vehicle in the event that the coupler and ball become disconnected.

When you attach your safety chains you want to cross the chains under the hitch so they make an X. So, the chain coming off the driver side of your trailer should be attached to the passenger side of your vehicle. And the chain coming off the passenger side of your trailer should be attached to the driver side of your vehicle.

You might be wondering why you cross your safety chains (I did!) and there is good reason! If your trailer does become disconnected from the ball, when the chains are crossed under the hitch the coupler won't be able to fall to the ground, the crossed chains will catch it and prevent it from falling. Smart, right?!

The next thing you'll attach to your tow vehicle is your emergency break line. It's a smaller cable with a smaller hook that will share one of the holes occupied by the safety chains. The emergency break is another fail-safe to ensure that if your trailer becomes detached from your vehicle that it will do its best to prevent damage. If the emergency break line is pulled it will apply the trailer breaks to stop the trailer as quickly as possible.

One of the last things you'll do before you hit the road is plug the trailer's electrical into the tow vehicle. This cable is not only a means of supplying electricity to your trailer, it operates the brake lights and the trailer break when the trailer break is applied inside the tow vehicle.

The plug will need to be lined up correctly with the outlet on your vehicle. There is usually a ridge that indicates proper alignment of the cord. Although it may be slightly tight to get the plug into the tow vehicle, don't force it. If it's not going in, realign the cord and try again.

Once everything is plugged in test your break lights to be sure they're working properly before you finish up and take off down the road.

Now that your trailer is completely hooked up to your tow vehicle it's time to do one last walk around your rig before you take off. Here is what we look for as we are inspecting our rig for departure:

  • Remove any remaining chocks

  • Remove any leveling blocks

  • Look for forgotten items on the ground

  • Check for obstructions

  • Double check your equipment (i.e., tires, slides, antennas, etc.)

  • Check over your hook up--did you do everything on both sides?

Once you've done a through walk around, you're ready to go! We urge you not to skip the Walk Around step. As you become more and more comfortable with your rig and this process becomes more of a habit, you may forget a step that could lead to a lot of damage to your trailer, your vehicle, or worse...you! A walk around ensures everyone's safety.

We know this was a lot to remember! So, be sure to download our checklist to keep handy for hooking up the rig. You can tape it to your storage door, snap a picture on your phone, or make a checklist binder to keep in the rig. Whatever route you choose, we hope you find it helpful!

Download your copy here---->Download It!

If you found this checklist helpful, why not share it with your friends or save it on Pinterest?! Thanks for spreading the word...it helps us a lot!

We'll see you on the trail!

🚐💕Katie, Steve, Kennedy, Maddison, & Oliver

About Us

We are a family of 5 traveling the U.S. whenever we can. We love a good adventure and are out to find the important stuff in life. 

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