How to Backup a Trailer Guide

How to Back up a Trailer with Confidence

If you had to guess, what is the biggest reason people refuse to tow a trailer? Or if they do tow, what would you say is the #1 fear people have about towing?

Chances are, most of us would agree: backing up.

Backing up a trailer can be one of the most nerve-racking experiences because it’s downright tricky. It’s hard! In fact, it’s so clammy-handed, heart-poundingly stressful that many of us take alternative routes, park farther away than necessary or even pass up certain attractions just to avoid having to back up.

In this blog, we’ll share four secrets to backing up your trailer. We can’t eliminate the need for backing up, but these tricks are meant to make things easier. Our goal is to change the way you think about it so that you feel calm and confident in your skills instead of stressed out and fearful.

And for the record, #4 is a game-changer.

4 Secrets to Backing up Any Trailer

1. Grip the Steering Wheel at 6 O’clock

Part of the stress of backing up is the feeling of discombobulation that comes from counterintuitive movements. It’s like looking in a mirror. Turn the wheel left, and the trailer goes right. Turn right, and the trailer goes left.

Couple that with the pressure of onlookers, traffic and the sheer size of your vehicle-trailer combination, and you’ve got a recipe for anxiety.

One handy trick to combat this disorientation is to place your hand at the six o’clock position on the steering wheel. That is, hold the steering wheel at the bottom instead of the top.

This aligns the movement of trailer with the movement of the steering wheel. Instead of that mirror effect playing tricks on your mind, turning the steering wheel will match the direction the trailer turns as you back up. With your hand at six o’clock, left (clockwise) will turn the trailer left, and right (counterclockwise) will turn the trailer right.

Trailer Backup Diagram

How to backup a trailer diagramHow to backup a trailer diagram

2. Exaggerate Turns

Another big point of stress when backing up is the common need for repeated attempts. You begin to back in, and things aren’t quite lining up, so you pull forward and try again.

Most people applaud second chances, but when you’re holding up traffic and you’re on your seventh attempt to back into that campsite, the environment feels much less forgiving.

Pickup truck backing up large 5th wheel camper CougarPickup truck backing up large 5th wheel camper Cougar

One simple trick to avoid these repeated attempts is to exaggerate your turns as you’re backing up. In other words, don’t make the mistake of turning too little. Turn the wheel more than your initial instinct tells you.

Often times, inexperienced drivers won’t turn the steering wheel far enough as they begin to back up. When you don’t turn the wheel enough, the trailer doesn’t turn enough either, and the result is that you miss your mark – that parking space, driveway, campsite, whatever it might be.

Give the wheel a little extra, and you might just be surprised by the results.

Trailer Size Affects Turn Responsiveness

It’s also worth pointing out that the size of the trailer can affect how much it turns, or perhaps, how much it responds to the vehicle’s movement. Longer trailers tend to be less responsive, while shorter trailers are much more sensitive.

When backing up with a longer trailer, such as a large travel trailer or 5th wheel, turns may need to be more exaggerated to properly maneuver into the space. When backing up a shorter trailer, such as a teardrop camper or small utility trailer, every turn of the steering wheel will be more effective.

Because of this effect, smaller trailers can be harder to back up. Their tendency to wander quickly out of alignment makes them harder to control and may require a few more backup attempts than their larger counterparts.

Car Backing Up Smaller Tear Drop CamperCar Backing Up Smaller Tear Drop Camper

No matter what size trailer you’re towing, don’t hurry. Go slowly. Take your time. Relax.

Holding up traffic can be stressful, but it’s better than going too fast and accidentally jackknifing your trailer, resulting in costly damage to your equipment.

3. Invest in a Backup Camera

Yes, you can back up your trailer using just your mirrors and a buddy calling out directions from the sidelines (in fact, a mirror upgrade is recommended for large RVs). But we’re aiming for stress management, right? Limited visibility and someone shouting at you don’t exactly reduce stress. Things get even more challenging when your trailer is a great, big RV that further blocks your vision.

Enter the backup camera. Or, more precisely, the backup camera system. A backup camera system gives you eyes at all of the key points for backing up your trailer, no matter the size, and displays it all conveniently on a monitor in your cab. You can get systems with both rear cameras and side cameras, and some even provide features like backup lines, showing the projected path of your trailer.

A backup camera isn’t just ideal for spotting potential obstacles. Some, like the Furrion Vision S system, can also be used for trailer security. They come with built-in microphones, motion detection technology and infrared night vision settings to help keep your RV trailer safe and secure wherever you set up camp for the night.

No, a backup camera system isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s well worth the investment.

Backup camera montior on vehicle dash winshieldBackup camera montior on vehicle dash winshield

4. “Push” the Trailer

This is perhaps the best trick for backing up a trailer like a pro, and it simply involves changing your mindset. If you can think differently about how your vehicle and trailer relate to one another, this may be a gamechanger for your trailer backing skills. And it’s so simple, it may be the best-kept secret when it comes to towing.

How to backup a trailer with rear camera guidelinesHow to backup a trailer with rear camera guidelines

The mindset is this. Picture your vehicle “pushing” your trailer. Yes, they’re hitched together, but you need to think of them as two individual units. Your vehicle is one object, and the trailer is another that happens to be behind your vehicle.

As you begin to reverse, your vehicle is pushing your trailer backward – imagine a plow coming up against a large wooden crate, or a skid steer pushing a boulder. It also helps to turn in your seat, if possible, and look over your shoulder to get oriented.

As you back up, the vehicle and trailer aren’t two links in a single chain; they’re separate objects, one pushing the other.

Sound too simple? Try it! You might just be amazed at how it improves your trailer backup game!

How to Back up a Trailer Video

If you’re looking for more information on how to become a backup pro, this video offers a great tutorial. It’s in the setting of launching a boat (bonus for you boat owners!), but it offers a helpful step-by-step walkthrough for backing up any trailer.

Additionally, another great resource for backup tips, and RV tips in general, is other RVers, particularly the experienced ones. If you’re not sure where to start, consider joining a community like the Lippert Scouts. Lippert Scouts is a great space to meet fellow campers, swap RVing tips and hacks, and more!

Disclaimer: These photographs, recommendations, and approximations are intended for demonstration purposes only and do not reflect the specifications of any particular tow vehicle, recreational vehicle, or trailer. Always consult the manufacturer’s Owner’s Manual.