Travel Trailer Must-Haves: Essential Items for Proactive Bumper Pull Owners
Posted: June 27, 2023
Categories: Travel & Lifestyle
Lippert Scouts Reagan and D’Anne Terrill, also known as the couple behind RV Travelers Voice, have been traveling around the country in their Forest River Wildwood for several years now. Along the way, they’ve become familiar with the types of tools and supplies they need regularly. In this blog post, Reagan details his list of travel trailer must-haves for new RV owners, answering the newbie question, “Where do I begin?”
Travel Trailer Must-Haves: Essential Items for Proactive Bumper Pull Owners
By Reagan Terrill of RV Travelers Voice
So, you’ve got yourself a new or “new to you” travel trailer. Maybe this is your first travel trailer, or it has been a while since you’ve owned one. Either way, now the fun begins. You might be asking yourself, “Where do I start?” You are certainly familiar with the basic aspects of living in a fixed home – gas, electricity, water, food preparation, refrigeration, heating, air conditioning – as well as the basics of hot/cold water supply, sinks, showers and toilets. However, much of that was already in place when you moved into your house or apartment. Now, you have a different “home” – one on wheels.
Whether you have a park model – one that you plan to keep in a set location for a while – or an RV that you plan to travel about this wonderful world to adventure and explore, there are certain things you’ll need to take care of yourself, and you should be prepared to handle those aspects of travel trailer life from day one.
The one big difference you’ll constantly need to keep in the back of your mind is that your new home is now mobile. While moving it about, I like to think of it as going through an “extended earthquake” every time I’m towing it along the road. When I get to my destination, I’m now presented with the challenging opportunity of securing the rig, making it level, establishing sufficient electric supply, ensuring an adequate and clean water supply, preparing for sanitary storage and disposal of wastewater, and providing sufficient gas for cooking and heating. On top of that, you’ll want to ensure you can take care of your rig so that you can repeat this process successfully over and over again.
Thinking back to a few years ago when we purchased our brand-new Forest River Wildwood 29VBUD, no sooner had we made the leap to put a deposit down on our new rig when the front porch of our home began to resemble an Amazon mini-warehouse. This wasn’t our first travel trailer, but it had been a few decades since we had parted ways with our last trailer. We were a bit rusty on what we might need to get on the road to making wonderful camping memories with our new trailer. While our dealership was very helpful in providing a list of what was included in their “starter kit” that was to be delivered in conjunction with delivery of the travel trailer, we decided to do some research on our own. Enter the world wide web and YouTube!
Our research took us to several individuals and families that were very helpful. We looked for people that were experienced and those that were just starting out, like us. We also gathered insights from the near-newbies – those that had been at it a relatively short while, just long enough to share their experiences with “stocking up” as a newbie. We listened to their subsequent learnings about what they wish they had originally and didn’t get, as well as what they thought were “must-haves” but didn’t end up needing or using.
While there were always some variations in their opinions regarding “must-haves,” there was typically one item that was consistent – MAKE A LIST. So, if you’ve read this far and don’t have yourself a pen and paper, go get one (or use your electronic device) and start a list. Make notes, add items, scratch things off, put stars by the things that are highly important and write down questions to explore and research later. This will help you get organized, plan for shopping and take a bit of stress out of what might seem like an avalanche of questions you need to get answered before your first camping trip with your travel trailer so you don’t have to worry.
Now that you’re prepared, let’s begin.
At this point, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that these items noted below are based on our experience over the past three years. This is not intended to be an all-inclusive list. We know that travel trailers and tow vehicles vary and that your needs may be different based on your rig, your goals, your camping style and your expectations for camping. Use this list as a springboard and discussion starter as you read through it. The products and materials are provided as examples for you to consider in each topic area.
1. Leveling & Stabilizing Must-Haves
For an enjoyable night’s sleep, one where you don’t feel like you’re about to roll out of bed, you’ll want a relatively level trailer. A level trailer will help ensure the doors stay in their position, help keep your refrigerator working well and ensure your liquid ingredients stay put on that griddle or skillet. Thus, the first thing to do at the campsite before unhooking the trailer is to make it level. There are several tools to help with this process.
Level the Trailer Side to Side
For side-to-side leveling, you’ll need to place some type of leveling pads or blocks onto the ground. When you roll the trailer tires from the lower side of the trailer onto the leveling blocks, the lower side of the trailer will raise and bring the trailer level, side-to-side. We have used boards (2"x6" boards work well), plastic stacking blocks and a set of curved leveling blocks to accomplish the side-to-side leveling on our rig. Photos of various alternatives are shown below.
Curved leveling blocks fully in place.
Chock the Trailer
You’ll want to make sure the trailer won’t roll away when you unhook from the tow vehicle. While this may be an obvious step if you are on a significantly sloped location, this is an essential step, even on what might seem to be “level” camper pads. A set of sturdy wheel chocks is needed. While you might be tempted to go with some lightweight, plastic chocks, my suggestion is to go with a set of solid rubber chocks. The plastic ones will work for a short while but are easily cracked or broken.
Here’s an example of what we use.
Level the Trailer Front to Back
The tongue jack on the trailer will be used to adjust the level front-to-back. Of course, you must unhook the trailer from the tow vehicle first. Be sure you properly chock the trailer wheels before unhooking from the tow vehicle. If the campsite pad is significantly sloped downward towards the front of your trailer, you might need some extra blocks to put underneath the foot of the tongue jack. And, if the ground is loose or soft underneath the tongue, you may also use blocks to provide a larger footprint for the foot of the tongue jack.
Stabilize the Trailer
The final step in securing the trailer is to set the stabilizer jacks. We have found that the less we extend the stabilizer jacks, the more stable the rig. Thus, we always have plenty of blocks to set under the feet of the stabilizer jacks. Short sections of 2"x6" boards or building block-style blocks work as well.
Extra sets of the stacking plastic blocks are used under our stabilizer jacks.
Throughout the leveling and stabilizing process, you’ll need something to tell you when the trailer is level. We have placed several small level indicators on all corners of our travel trailer. These came with a self-sticking adhesive already on the back. In lieu of these small levels, many choose to carry along a 3' or 4' carpenter’s level to place on the floor inside the travel trailer to check the level. Or, as an upgrade, your rig may have automated level control mechanisms (e.g., Lippert Ground Control) or other electronic level indicators (e.g., LevelMate Pro).
2. Electrical Must-Haves
Don’t make costly newbie mistakes when it comes to your RV’s power supply. Invest in the following items to ensure a stress-free trip.
Most likely, your trailer came with an RV power cord to connect to your campsite’s power source, often referred to as “shore power.” However, shore power may not always be reliable and consistent. You’ve got a significant investment in your travel trailer and in the associated electrical system, devices and appliances within the trailer, and you don’t want them to fall victim to sudden power surges, low voltage or incorrectly wired campsite power pedestals. Therefore, I suggest that you invest in some form of surge protector and / or power supply protection device.
I’ve shown the device we use below, which has served us well. The easy-to-read diagnostic lights have alerted us to faulty shore power wiring or incorrectly wired shore power pedestals before we connected our travel trailer power cord.
Modern RV parks and campgrounds typically include 50-amp, 30-amp and 20-amp power. However, this is not always the case. First, know your trailer’s power connections. Then, check with your campsite regarding what type of power connections they have. If the campground does not have the same amperage as your travel trailer, you will need a “dog bone” adapter.
Our travel trailer has 50-amp service; thus, we always carry a 50-amp female to 30-amp male dog bone adapter. Sometimes, we use a generator, so we have an adapter to connect to the twist-type outlet on the generator. Sometimes, we want to have our travel trailer’s refrigerator or battery charger powered while parked in our driveway. Thus, we have an adapter for a regular 20-amp, 120V service. Bottom line: know your trailer’s power connections and consider appropriate dog bone adapters for the alternate connections you might need.
3. Essential Water Connections & Hoses
Drinking water for your rig is essential, especially when camping in remote locations. Make sure you set yourself up for success with the appropriate drinking water hoses and connectors.
It may seem obvious, but all RVs need a water hose; however, not all hoses are created equal. When choosing a hose for your travel trailer, there are several things to consider — most importantly, is your water hose safe for drinking water use? And is it lightweight and easy to handle in warm and cold temperatures? We tried several hoses before we found one that met all the criteria — the Zero-G garden hose. These hoses have served us well for the past three years. They are noted as being safe for drinking water and lead-free. You’ll need at least one hose that you can dedicate to drinking water use. The Zero-G hoses come in 25', 50', 75' and 100' lengths.
Water Pressure Regulator
Before you connect the drinking water hose to the travel trailer, you should think about the water pressure. Often, we find ourselves at a campground with relatively low water pressure. However, on the odd occasion, we've experienced very high water pressure — water pressure high enough to burst the pipes or fittings in our travel trailer.
To protect your travel trailer water system from continuous high water pressure or intermittent surges in water pressure, you’ll need an in-line pressure regulator. There are a few styles of regulators, but they all offer the same basic function – to deliver city water to your connection no higher than a set pressure that is safe for your travel trailer.
Depending upon the age of your travel trailer and the subsequent water piping / fittings used, that safe pressure generally ranges from 40-60 psi. However, many experienced campers choose to keep the pressure around 45-50 psi. You can purchase regulators that are preset to this range. Or, if you want to have a better feel for where you are on the pressure scale, you can purchase a regulator with a built-in gauge. For even more control and delivery of accurate pressure, some regulators have a built-in gauge with an adjustment screw to raise or lower the water pressure delivered to your travel trailer.
In-line pressure regulator with indicator gauge, installed at our campsite water connection.
Drinking Water Elbow Connectors
There are a couple of other considerations when it comes to drinking water connections that are optional, but I would put them in the “highly recommended” category. First, consider purchasing a 90-degree elbow connector to attach the water hose to the city water flange on your trailer. This will help reduce the stress placed on the city water flange, which, over time, may cause premature cracks in the city water flange.
Second, consider purchasing a water filter. Many campgrounds supply fully treated city water. Some campgrounds provide local well water. As you travel around, you’ll never be quite sure of the water quality. To help provide better tasting water that has less impurities, I suggest looking into an appropriate water filter. This also serves as a bit of preventive maintenance to help reduce build-up and sediment clogs in your travel trailer plumbing.
Filters vary in shape, size, effectiveness and price. We have found a couple of options that have suited our tastes and needs for compact and easy-to-use devices. We started out with the basic in-line, single-use cartridge – a 20-micron, Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) filter from Camco. Later, we swapped to the replaceable cartridge style with a 5-micron GAC filter from Camco.
The Camco Evo water filtration system with stand in use on our travel trailer.
4. Essential Sewer Connections & Hoses
Most travel trailers come equipped with one or more black water tanks to receive the waste from onboard toilets. Additionally, travel trailers will have one or more grey tanks to receive the liquid flowing from sinks and showers. Depending upon their capacities, these tanks will store their contents after a few days of use. However, they will need to be emptied. For most travel trailer users, that means connecting to sewer dump stations with the appropriate hoses and connectors.
When it comes to hoses, this is one area I don’t believe you’ll want to skimp on quality. We chose a sturdy hose that will handle a lot of use on often concrete surfaces around various dump stations. We also chose a hose that will store easily and compactly, retaining its compressed shape for storage and transportation.
After watching tons of videos and seeing several stories of unpleasant “learning” experiences with other types of hoses, we went with the RhinoFLEX hose. After three years of use, it still works great and doesn’t show signs of wear. It snaps into its compact shape and stays compacted as we slide it neatly into the square-tube bumper on our travel trailer. The bumper storage space will hold two 10-foot sections of this hose. Note: The Rhino EXTREME hose may be a bit more durable, but it does not hold its shape when trying to snap it closed for storage.
Many newer travel trailers come equipped with a connection for a black tank flush system. If your travel trailer is so equipped, you’ll need a separate water hose for use with this system. Make sure to either purchase a different type or color of water hose, or appropriately mark and tag the hose so that you don’t mistakenly use it for a drinking water hose. While the black tank flush flange has a one-way valve to prevent any of the sewer water from entering your black tank water hose, it is a good practice to keep hoses used for this process fully separate from any hoses and fittings used for drinking water.
For us, we have another Zero-G garden hose that is used exclusively for black tank flushing. Since it is the same type and color of hose, I placed a tag on the ends to help me remember to only use this hose for black tank flush.
Sewer Hose Connectors
In addition to a good sewer hose, you’ll need the appropriate connectors to attach to the dump station pit / piping. A clear elbow connector is optimal, as it will help you see when the hose has fully finished draining, helping to avoid possible spillage of the wastewater. FYI, most of the RhinoFLEX 20-foot hose kits come with this clear elbow connector. We go a little bit extra here. We attach a clear elbow connector at the trailer sewer connection, too, helping us see the flow at both ends of the sewer hose.
Clear sewer elbow connectors.
If the dump station does not have a threaded connection for your sewer elbow, some campgrounds require the use of a rubber “donut.” The donut slides onto the end of the elbow connections and is then inserted into the dump station pipe.
Sewer Hose Supports
If you are at a campsite with full hook-ups, another useful thing is a set of sewer hose supports. Some people choose to use homemade devices from sections of vinyl gutter material in which to lay the sewer hose, with blocks supporting each end of the gutter. There are other options available on the market, for example, the Sidewinder sewer hose support, available in a variety of lengths.
Our 20' sidewinder sewer hose support.
While still on the topic of sewer connectors, it is important to mention the topic of keeping things clean and sanitary. To help ensure your health and the health of your fellow campers, you’ll need to wear gloves while performing the sewer duties. We keep a box of black nitrile gloves handy for this purpose. When buying gloves, look for good quality, sturdy gloves that fit well and come up over your wrists. Choose gloves with a higher mil rating (thickness) to avoid rips and tears while connecting and disconnecting the sewer hoses.
Holding Tank Treatment
Ensuring the sewer stays “fluid” with minimal odors is another important and essential aspect of managing the sewer for your travel trailer. Before the first sewer use, and after each time we dump the black tank, we apply an appropriate sewer treatment. There are many available sewer and holding tank treatment chemicals on the market, all with a variety of effectiveness and scents. Many campers swear by Happy Campers RV holding tank treatment, applying one scoop into their toilet for every 40 gallons of storage tank capacity. Our RV dealership introduced us to the Porta-Pak holding tank treatment. It comes in a convenient resealable pouch, with premeasured drop-in treatment packs and has worked marvelously for us for over 450 nights of camping.
RV-Specific Toilet Paper
Along with the appropriate black tank treatment, another key to a problem-free sewer situation is the use of proper RV-specific toilet paper. Your regular household toilet paper is generally not suitable for RV toilet use. When shopping for toilet paper, either online or at your local big box retailer, look for toilet paper that is “rapidly dissolving” or otherwise marked safe for RV and marine use. Camco, Thetford and Scott have popular varieties of toilet paper designed for your travel trailer.
5. Must-Have Travel Trailer Accessories for Safety & Emergency Preparedness
No discussion about travel trailer must-haves would be complete without a discussion about how to have a safe and enjoyable experience. When life happens – and it will – here are a few RV gadgets that helped mitigate the severity of the event and helped to get us back to making memories and having fun!
Bottle Jack, Lug Wrench & Torque Wrench
For the inevitable flat tire on your trailer, you’ll need a jack of sufficient capacity to safely raise the trailer and an appropriate lug wrench to change the tire. Don’t rely on the tow vehicle’s jack or lug wrench. Most likely, the jack is not strong enough to raise the trailer (ask me how I know!), nor is your existing lug wrench sized for the trailer’s lug nuts.
We now have a 6-ton hydraulic bottle jack and a four-way lug wrench just for our trailer. Check the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) of your travel trailer and select a jack with the capacity to handle your specific trailer. If you have a double or triple-axle trailer, there are roll-on ramps to assist with raising one side of the trailer to change a flat tire, too. After changing a tire, be sure to use a torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts to the appropriate torque specifications. Our recommended torque is 100 ft-lbs., and we have a click-type torque wrench to check the torque. I also make sure the lug nuts are torqued appropriately before each RV trip.
Four-way lug wrench.
One of the best preventative measures to avoid tire trouble is to ensure the tires are properly inflated and visually checked for signs of wear and damage. A simple inspection before every trip and a quick check of the tire pressure can save you a blow-out condition down the road. While many of you rely on your TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) on the tow vehicle, a manual tire gauge, one able to handle the higher pressures in travel trailer tires, will be needed.
Temperature Sensor / Thermometer System
The topic of food safety is an often overlooked or taken-for-granted aspect of travel trailer life. However, just one bout of a food-related illness and your crew will thank you for taking a few simple precautionary steps to ensure your cold food stays cold. The AcuRite thermometer system shown below remotely monitors the freezer and refrigerator, providing a clear indication via the magnetic display on the refrigerator door. Lippert also offers a temperature sensor that you can monitor right from your cell phone.
6. Essential Tools & General Supplies
The subject of tools and necessary supplies could be a black hole that sucks you in and doesn’t let you go until you have fortified yourself and your travel trailer with enough gear to substantially outfit a mechanic’s garage. I might know someone that resembles that statement. In the interest of brevity and giving you a good idea of where to start, I’ll try to keep my list below limited to what I see as essential to start out on your journey.
These items are in addition to a few standard staples in any tool kit – a hammer, a pair of pliers, an adjustable wrench and a tape measure. Feel free to add (and take away) based on your specific travel trailer situation. I’ll add that many of these, including some I have already mentioned in this article, come in a neatly packaged kit from Lippert, aptly named the RV tool kit. I’ll designate those in the RV tool kit with an asterisk below. Most are also available individually at your local hardware store, big box retailer or online store.
- Wire Stripper / Crimper / Cutter* – A multi-purpose tool for mending minor electrical wiring issues.
- Wire Nut Connectors* – Helpful pieces to go along with the wire stripper / crimper / cutter
- Wire Connectors – Already in use on most newer travel trailers for a more secure connection, consider using lever-type connectors.
- Multimeter* – Helps test and diagnose minor electrical issues (tests both 12V DC and 120V AC).
- Standard Blade Fuse Assortment* – Check the fuse panes on your travel trailer and tow vehicle. Select an assortment of fuses to satisfy the requirements of both. Be aware that you may require “mini” fuses in addition to the standard fuses shown in the picture.
- Electrical Tape* – To wrap those minor electrical repairs.
- Duct Tape* – For temporary fixes like torn awnings, loose underbelly panels, etc. until you can find more permanent solutions.
- General Assortment of Screws* – For a quick fix or until you can get to a service professional, having a few extra screws around to hold things together is essential. This assortment has a good mix. However, the assortment does not include the square-bit furniture-type screws used in most RV interior applications.
- Wire Ties (aka Zip Ties)* – Also used to secure loose parts, as well as other more general uses around the travel trailer.
- Bungee Cords – Secure tarps, hold things in place during travel and keep interior cabinets and doors secure.
- Battery-Operated Screwdriver/Cordless Drill – This will come in handy all around your travel trailer. Use this on your stabilizers and jacks during setup and tear down, when tightening and loosening screws and opening access panels — the uses are endless. Don’t forget the battery and charger.
- Socket Bit Adapter & 3/4" Deep Socket – To make the drill more useful for setup and tear down, make sure you have the appropriate socket and drill bit adapter.
- Drill Bit & Screwdriver Bit Assortment – In addition to the socket adapter, I suggest a good assortment of various drill bits and screwdriver bits, including the square bit to fit many of the screws on your travel trailer.
- Manual Screwdriver with Bits* – Even though you have the battery-operated drill with bits, there will be situations where you will still need a manual screwdriver. Save yourself from buying a whole set. Get one that works with various screwdriver bits.
- Hex Key Set* – You’ll need a set of these for various hex set screw sizes.
- Breaker Bar & Deep Sockets – Used for every bolt on my hitch, helping to loosen lug nuts, and as a backup to the battery-operated drill. I use this on every RV trip. The assortment of sockets includes one that fits the water heater plug.
- Utility Knife* – This has thousands of all-around uses.
- Dry Lubricant – Use on window slides, hinges, latches and hitch components. Dry lube helps keep things moving without attracting and retaining dust, dirt and debris.
- Slide-Out Seal & Rubber Conditioner – When used regularly, this helps keep the rubber seals from cracking or breaking, allowing them to form a good seal where the slide-out meets the travel trailer walls.
- Telescoping Utility Ladder – Compact and lightweight for travel, this ladder is used every time I move the travel trailer. I check for debris and clean the top of the slide-out to avoid potential damage to the slide-out seals and to avoid bringing unwanted debris into the travel trailer.
- Tire Inflator (aka Air Compressor) – For a quick pump-up from a slow leak or to inflate a low tire enough to travel to a repair center, this tire inflator has come in handy. Note that the one pictured is a 120V unit. There are many units that work off 12V or 120V electric supply. When selecting the right tire inflator, be sure to get one that has the capacity to inflate your travel trailer tires to their specified operating pressure.
- Tool Bag* – To help keep these tools handy and readily available when you need them, I suggest you invest in the appropriate toolbox or tool bag. The Lippert RV tool kit comes with the soft-sided tool bag shown in the picture. I carry the larger items in a plastic tote or tub to help keep them organized in my pass-through storage.
7. Other Must-Have RV Camping Accessories
Now that you’re properly set up at the campsite, and properly equipped to handle emergencies or other minor repairs, what else is there? Well, now you can enjoy the outdoors! That is what you had in mind when you set out with your travel trailer, after all. However, there are just two more items I’d add to the list as travel trailer must-haves.
You’ll want something to sit on while you’re outside at your campsite. The size, style, weight and features in the various camp chair options are mind-boggling. However, from my experience, we like to keep it simple. Evaluate your needs, your available space to store them and the type of “sitting” you like to do while at the campsite.
- Starting At $139.95Lippert Sun Soaker™ Vented Reclining Camping Chair with Footrest
We started out with a couple of very nice, zero-gravity loungers. And we loved them! However, they are heavy and a bit bulky for storage and transport. If we are going to be camped out somewhere for a while, we’ll throw them in the truck and still get plenty of enjoyable lounge time. However, if we have a lot of short stays, a lot of packing and unpacking of the heavier chairs is not ideal. Thus, we generally opt for lightweight and simple folding camp chairs. The ones shown below are inexpensive, too, and have served us well for the past three years.
Reversible Outdoor Camping Rug / Mat
Finally, to help keep your travel trailer floor relatively clean, you’ll need an outdoor mat. It doesn’t have to be a big one (like the one I have shown below). We used a smaller 6'x9' version for a couple years, and it served us well to have something to wipe the dirt and debris from our shoes and feet. I suggest staying away from cloth or carpeted mats, as they will not wear as well and are not as easy to clean as the plastic ones. We recently invested in this larger one that covers the entire area underneath our awning.
That’s all for now! I hope you find this list useful and informative. I encourage you to get to know your travel trailer and tow vehicle and adjust the list according to your specific situation and needs. If you’d like to keep up with our travel trailer adventures, be sure to follow RV Travelers Voice on Facebook and YouTube!