4x4Car Advice

How to load a caravan or camper trailer

So you’ve bought your trailer, now to load it. There’s more to this than just filling up all the available space. Here’s our guide on how to load a caravan or camper trailer.

THE FIRST RULE for trailer loading is to not exceed the ATM, or Aggregate Trailer Mass which is the maximum the vehicle is legally allowed to weigh, and that will be on a placard on the trailer around the drawbar area, maybe even in a locker.  The way to do this is to weigh the trailer when unloaded, which is the tare weight. In theory, this weight should be supplied by the trailer manufacturer – and it is – but very often the figures supplied are optimistic, to say the least.  The best way to find the true tare weight is to take the trailer to a weighbridge.

You then subtract the tare from the ATM to find your payload, which is the weight you can carry. For example, say you have a caravan with a tare of 2700kg and an ATM of 3000kg – that’s a 300kg payload. Sounds a lot? Well, not by the time you fill water tanks, add gas bottles, personal bags and the like. It’s no bad idea to weigh each item as you load the trailer so you get an idea of weight, and remember than 1 litre of water weighs 1kg. 

Once you’ve loaded your gear onto the trailer then you’d best weigh it again, just to be sure it’s under the ATM. And while you’re at it, also calculate the towball mass – if you rest just the jockey wheel on the weighbridge then that will give a fair indication of towball mass; because the jockey wheel isn’t directly under the towball the weight on the jockey wheel will be a little more than on the towball, so if the jockey wheel is within limits you’ll be set.

That’s total weight, and now we need to look at where the weight goes. The basic rule there is heavy items need to go close to the trailer’s axles, and low. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. Most caravans are designed with things like jerrycans and gas bottles on the drawbar, and spare wheels at the back…which is exactly the wrong place for the weight. Still, if you can’t do much about the weight placement, then you need to be aware of the effects of misplaced weight. For example, if you have a lot of weight at the very front and very rear of a trailer then you may well find the towball mass is within limits, but the pendulum effect of front/rear weight will mean the trailer tows very poorly and is unsafe.

You also need to think about exposure to the elements – what’s sensitive to heat, cold, rain or other elements. For caravaners this isn’t too much an problem as most of your gear would be inside, but for some camper trailers you have quite a choice as to what can go where. For example, you can store on the roof of the camper personal bags

The final part of loading is securing the load. You need to do this so the load doesn’t move, either when towing normally but also in a crash situation. Light items such as personal bags can often be secured with occy straps, but heavier items such as jerrycans will need ratchet straps or specialist holders. You’ll also need to ensure that the points you attach the straps to are suitably strong; a ratchet strap can easily damage weaker points. 

Another tip for loading is to fill storage spaces. In fact, the more you fill a storage space, the less need there is to secure any individual item. You should also protect fragile goods such as glass bottles or glasses; this can be done by using bubble wrap, or for beer bottles stubby holders. It’s also no bad idea to use grippy flooring, for example rubber. 

Corrugations and rough roads are the most difficult terrain for securing loads. The constant and small jiggling will wiggle loose all sorts of apparently secure straps. It’s no bad thing to stop and check your load restraints after a few kilometres of any journey, but especially so on rougher roads.


Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a motoring journalist, offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks, and that's when he isn't racing his Nissan Pulsar. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/