How to Hook Up a Camper Trailer

July 22, 2016

In this how-to video, Scott shows us the correct way to hitch a camper trailer before heading out in search of adventure.

Anyone who owns a camper trailer should know how to hook it up to their vehicle correctly, but you’d be surprised how many campers we see failing to follow the correct protocols when hitching and unhitching their trailer. And even those who’ve done it a thousand times over can still make mistakes (as even Scott can attest to).

So we’ve decided to break the process down step-by-step making it easy to remember your hitch pins from your Andersons, and the correct order to follow when performing each step.

But first, a little note on safety.

How to safely hitch and unhitch a camper trailer

Before you even get started, you will of course need to make sure that your towing vehicle and tow bar are up to the job. Make sure you consult your owner's manual before either purchasing a new camper or attempting to tow your mate's.

showing the tow capacity for this trailer hitch

When hitching and unhitching, make sure you're wearing the appropriate footwear. A good pair of hiking boots or steel-toed work boots is the way to go. If you’ve never dropped a trailer coupling on your foot, keep it that way. If you have, you’ve probably never gone near a trailer without them again.

Even experienced caravanners get distracted sometimes, and all it takes is a slip of the mind and the hand to end up sitting in a camp chair for your whole trip.

While they are not essential, gloves are a good thing to have on hand when performing any work around your trailer. If something catches or pinches, they could be the difference between a bruise and lost skin.

And we couldn’t talk safety without talking about brakes. Before you tow your trailer anywhere, you always need to check to make sure that your electrical connections are solid and your RV's brake lights and indicators are working properly. Perform the correct checks, avoid a ticket, and more importantly, an accident.

Different types of trailer hitches

Before we explain the steps shown in the video above, a quick note on the hitch featured in this how-to video.

Many Outback tourers will be familiar with the Trigg Bros. off-road poly block coupling shown here, but for those who are used to using a simple tow ball coupling, it might look a little bit different.

hitched up and ready to go

Scott’s off-road poly block coupling is designed to allow his camper to travel over steep terrain without becoming detached from his 4x4. The poly block provides a much greater range of movement vertically for driving over steep undulating terrain, like sand dunes in the Simpson Desert, for example.

Because the Trigg Bros. coupling is different from other hitches, we will also explain what you should be doing with a traditional tow ball hitch when the steps vary dramatically.

Hitching a camper trailer step-by-step

  1. Reverse your vehicle slowly up to your trailer’s coupling. It’s a good idea to get a buddy to guide you so you know when you are close enough. Don’t bother trying to move your trailer to your vehicle, that’s only going to put your back out.

    reverse your trailer into your chosen parking space

  2. When your vehicle is as close as you can get it (in Scott’s case, just touching), put your vehicle in park, engage the handbrake, and switch the engine off before getting out of the car.

  3. Wind your jockey wheel until the coupling lines up with the tow bar adapter (or tow ball if you are using a traditional trailer hitch system).

    wind the jockey wheel until the trailer coupling is aligned with your tow bar adapter

  4. Remove the hitch pin as you roll the trailer gently forward so that the coupling and adapter line up. On a trailer with a tow ball coupling, the coupling should be sitting just above the tow ball.

  5. Insert the hitch pin and secure with the O-ring clip at the base of the pin. At this stage, a traditional trailer will need to be lowered allowing the coupling socket to latch onto the tow ball. The full weight of the trailer should now be supported by your tow vehicle. Lock the coupling clamp using the hitch pin or locking system on your trailer.

    Insert hitch pin and don t forget to secure with the   ring clip

  6. Now we need to attach all safety chains. Most trailers feature two safety chains. Always cross your chains before attaching them to the towbar tongue. The crisscrossed chains act as a fail-safe, hopefully catching your trailer in the event of a coupling failure, preventing it from coming completely detaching from your vehicle.

    Attach safety chains crisscrossing to act as a fail safe in case the coupling disconnects from your vehicle

    make sure safety chains are crisscross to act as a fail safe

  7. Next, we connect our electrics. Make sure that the electrical connections for your trailer’s brake lights are secured firmly, and any additional connections (such as the Anderson plug Scott uses) are also plugged in.

    Attach all electrical connections and check that they are working correctly   how to hook up a camper trailer

  8. This is a good time to check that they are working. So grab your buddy and get them to check the brake lights illuminate while you pump the brakes.

    check that all brake lights and indicators are working correctly

  9. A traditional trailer, at this point, would already be supported by the towing vehicle. But with Scott’s trailer, only now do we lower the trailer by winding the jockey wheel.

  10. Continue winding the jockey wheel until it stops, pull the release to raise it up and fold it out of the way ready for travel.

  11. Release the handbrake, folding it back into its neutral position, and drive away.

    disengage the handbrake and get ready to drive away

How to safely unhitch your camper at your campsite

Unhitching your trailer should be performed with just as much care as hitching. The process is almost the same as hitching in reverse, but not quite, so we’ll run through the steps to make it clear.

  1. Reverse your camper trailer into your chosen parking space. Again, move your trailer with your vehicle in the same way that you move your vehicle to your trailer before hitching, rather than relying on moving it by hand later.

  2. Stop, put it in park, pull the handbrake, and switch off the engine.

  3. Lower the jockey wheel and wind it down until the trailer is fully supported by the wheel and your vehicle’s suspension is no longer under load.

    lower the jocket wheel and wind it until the full weight of the trailer is supported by the wheel

  4. Engage the handbrake on your trailer so that it can’t roll away once disconnected from your vehicle.

  5. Unplug all electrical connections stowing them safely clear of your vehicle.

    disconnect all electrical connections stowing them safely out of the way of your vehicle

  6. Detach all safety chains remembering to close shackles so you don’t lose any bolts.

    remove safety chains and stow them away from your vehicle remembering to close all D links

  7. Remove the O-ring clip and the hitch pin, keeping them on hand.

    remove the hitch pin and O ring clip and keep them on hand

  8. Drive your vehicle away to park it somewhere suitable nearby.

  9. Don’t forget to insert your hitch pin back into the coupling on your trailer and secure with the O-ring clip.

And that’s it! It’s really simple once you know how, and the more times you follow the process correctly, the more it will become second-nature. The video above makes all of this simple and easy to follow so make sure you check it out before hooking up and heading off into the great Aussie outdoors!

headig out on the road in search of adventure  camper trailer in tow


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