4x4Car Advice

How to tow a caravan or camper trailer off-road

Towing is hard enough on-road, let alone towing a caravan or camper trailer across rough terrain. Here are a few simple things to keep in mind.

IF WE ARE GOING to talk about off-road towing, then we need to define what off-road means. And that will be terrain where a normal 2WD car couldn’t drive, not just a dirt road.

If that’s the sort of driving you’re going to do, then the first thing you need to know is that an ‘off-road caravan’, isn’t.  If you want to do proper off-road driving then you should be towing something that weighs about half of your tow vehicle’s weight, is the same width, has a single axle, and is expressly designed and warranted for off-road use. Yes, big caravans can be towed off-oad, but it’s a big effort and despite the YouTube videos, not feasible for the average recreational off-roader.

Before you begin off-road towing you must first be a very good off-road driver, and a very good tower because off-roading makes both jobs considerably harder. As a rough indicator, if you’re comfortable winching your car over rockledges you can’t drive, and are confident backing a trailer into a tight parking spot between two cars first go then you’re probably about right to start off-road towing.

You’ll also need to really set up your towcar because its capability will be diminished by the trailer. Cross-axle locking differentials are a good idea, and if you don’t have an electric brake setup with in-car controller then get one, because you’ll need trailer brakes. Overrun brakes are hopeless off-road. You’ll also need an off-road hitch capable of 360-degrees of rotation, even if you only plan on using a fraction of that! You’ll also need more recovery gear. I’d recommend a set of four if not six traction ramps like Maxtrax or Treds, and a winch – power or hand. Also ensure the trailer’s back end can take a scrape, and the same must be true of the drawbar which is likely to scrape the ground.

Once you’ve got your towcar setup, and an off-road-capable camper, your skills are up to date and your recovery gear is packed, then you’re ready to drive off-road. Think of what you know about off-road driving as a base, and then add a trailer. So when you pick a line, you’re picking a line for all six wheels, not four. You need to think about where the trailer wheels will go from a perspective of ‘will they hit anything’ but preference the towcar’s wheels for traction.

Typically, the trailer will have better clearance than the towcar, and its wheels will be on the ground anyway thanks to that off-road coupling. One tip – backing a trailer off-road is often impossible regardless of your skills. This is due to space and traction limits, for example backing down a sand dune after a failed ascent is more luck than judgment.

You also need to be aware of how the trailer affects the towcar, which it does in almost every situation, sometimes positively but mostly negatively. On the positive front you can use the trailer for additional braking when entering a downhill, but once downhill the trailer is extra weight. It will also continue pushing the towcar along as it exits the hill…which can be either good or bad. Side-slopes are especially difficult with trailers as there is a tendency to skew the tail of the towcar sideways.

In summary, off-road towing is only for experienced drivers with capable 4WDs with purpose-designed trailers, carrying lots of recovery gear. If that’s you, then give it a shot, where trailers are permitted. It is amazing where you can tow a good off-road trailer! 


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/