Although it’s easy to think that caravanning is as simple as throwing your stuff into the cupboards, hitching up and hitting the road, there’s a bit more to consider than that.
Loading a caravan for towing requires a little strategy so that you can ensure your load is safe and well-distributed.
A caravan that is not loaded correctly for towing can become a dangerous weapon on the road, for both you and other road users. Swaying and jackknifing become a big factor for caravans that are incorrectly loaded.
Here are some tips for loading a caravan for towing so that you can enjoy the safety and peace of mind that comes with a well-set-up caravan.
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Loading a Caravan for Towing
Write a Checklist
People tend to start out loading a caravan with all of the ‘just in case’ eventualities in mind.
Let’s face it, going caravanning is not like staying in a hotel where all of the amenities and conveniences are on hand.
🤔 What if you end up stranded and need extra food and water?
🤔 What if you break down and need the jack and tools?
🤔 What if the nearest shop is 200km away?
I get it, there are a lot of unknowns with caravanning because you really do need to be as self-sufficient as possible.
But, the fact is, caravans can become overloaded very quickly.
Before even loading anything into the caravan, I recommend starting out with a checklist to nut out what you actually need to take with you.
- One week’s worth of clothing is plenty, with layers that can be used multiple times between washes
- One towel each, plus a spare or two
- Only food that you will actually eat (you won’t suddenly become a MasterChef or canned-food connoisseur just because you’re camping)
- One camp chair each
- Basic toiletries
- Essential caravanning items (chocks, levellers, leads & hoses)
Caravan Packing List
Never forget a thing with the ULTIMATE Caravan Packing List!
- Pre-filled with 600+ items
- 17 categories
- ‘Weight’ column (to organise payload)
- PRINTABLE – fully customisable
- DIGITAL – completely interactive
- Download once, use it over-and-over
Feel free to download the Caravan Packing List above to work through your own necessities. There’s also a ‘weight’ column to help sort through your payload allowance.
Note: while there are 600+ items on the list, you absolutely DO NOT need all of those things. It’s designed for adding and omitting to suit your own personal requirements.
Heavy Items – Over the Axles
When you’re loading a caravan, it helps to imagine the caravan as a see-saw. Having too much weight at either end is going to tip the caravan either nose up or nose down, which creates instability.
It’s all about balance and creating a level ride.
For the caravan to be as level as it can be, the heaviest items need to be down low and placed around the axles, which is the pivotal point. That way the axles can “carry the load,” which is what they are there to do.
All well-designed caravans will have their water tanks placed around the axles underneath the van, with the heavy appliances inside the van being over the axles. This ensures that right from the factory, the heaviest items are all around the axles.
Examples of heavy items to place down low, over the axles:
- Heavy food items (e.g. cans, jars, bottles)
- Water (the tanks should be built in around the axles)
- BBQ & cast iron cookware
- Heavy camping gear
- Generator (although not always possible due to its size)
Once you start filling out space beyond the axles, it’s better to favour the space towards the front of the van for heavier items. Being a bit heavier in the front, rather than the rear, creates more stability (as long as your tow ball weight isn’t too heavy).
Don’t pack heavy items behind the axles at the back of the caravan as having that much weight so far back can cause trailer sway (think heavy toolboxes and generators).
Medium Weight Items – Down Low or Near the Middle
When loading a caravan you will want to pack all of the medium weight items down low and evenly throughout the front and rear of the van.
An easy rule of thumb is to keep medium weight items below the windows and evenly distributed.
Examples of medium weight items to keep under window height:
- Pots and pans
- Cleaning equipment
- Books & games
- Linen & blankets
The under-bed storage spaces are usually quite large and can be tempting to fill up with heavy things. However, those spots are great for bulky but medium to lighter-weight items like blankets, spare clothing, snorkelling gear, books, games and so on.
Lightweight Items – Up High & at the Ends
All of your leftover lightweight items should be reserved for the overhead cupboards.
It’s okay to put some clothing and linen up the top, but be mindful that the weight of fabric can add up quicker than you think. So, it’s a good idea to spread some of the clothing and linen lower down as well.
Examples of lightweight items to place up high:
- Lighter food items (e.g. chips, biscuits, sachets)
- Lightweight plates, bowls & cups
- Stubby coolers
- Some clothing
- Toilet paper & paper towel
- Matches & fire starters
We stored our plastics, medicine box and Corelle dinnerware (which is very lightweight) in our overhead cupboards. Plus the odds and ends, like matches and fire starters.
A caravan that is overloaded at the ends will create ‘Yaw Inertia,’ also known as “sway” or “snaking.”
Having the two heaviest areas farthest away from the pivotal point (the axles) can increase caravan sway. When that happens, it tends to increase in oscillation (back and forth rhythm) rather than being pulled into line by the force of the towing vehicle.
Pack Evenly on Both Sides
Another important thing to consider when loading a caravan is that you’re packing the weight evenly on both sides.
If the caravan has all of its heavy items on one side, the risk of swaying at speed down the highway increases dramatically.
The general rule when loading a caravan is to pack evenly from left to right and front to back, with a concentration of the heaviest items down low and over the axles.
Everything Must Have a Home
One of the most important things when loading a caravan is to make sure that every single item has a home that securely holds it into place while moving.
The last thing you want to have to do on travel days is spend an hour packing away items that should already be stowed in cupboards, drawers and other storage areas.
Sticky hooks, velcro, holders and hangers are great for keys, remote controls, hats, toothbrushes and other small items that need to be easily accessible.
Lightweight fabric boxes are good for creating sections in drawers and cupboards so that you can organise items into categories.
But, most importantly, whenever an item is not in use, it must always be returned straight to its ‘home’ in order to reduce clutter at camp, plus eliminate loose projectiles on the road.
Check out the hacks below for more caravan storage ideas.
Weigh Your Caravan
Once you’ve finished loading your caravan, with the heaviest items around the axles, then moving out to the medium and lightweight items, it’s time to weigh your van.
Below are the weights you’ll need to check using a public weighbridge. If you’ve never weighed a caravan before, the full instructions are in the article link below.
Caravan’s Fully-loaded Weight
- Weigh just the caravan (unhitched from tow vehicle)
- Make sure it’s less than the manufacturer-specified ATM (max. allowable caravan weight)
Combined Car + Caravan Weight
- Weigh both car + caravan (hitched up together)
- Make sure it’s less than the vehicle manufacturer-specified GCM (max. allowable combined weight)
Caravan’s Tow Ball Weight
- Weigh the tow ball using a set of eBay Ball Weight Scales (or weighbridge instructions in link below)
- Make sure it’s around 10% of your caravan’s fully-loaded weight (must not exceed 350kg)
If you find that your caravan is exceeding any of its maximum allowable weights, you’ll need to start culling items until you can get it down.
The acceptable tow ball weight (TBW) in Australia is about 10% of your trailer’s ATM (Aggregate Trailer Mass) or a maximum of 350 kg – whichever is lower.
When it comes to tow ball weight, if all of your other caravan weights are looking good, but the tow ball weight is too high or low, you will need to play around with how the gear is loaded.
The article below goes into more depth on how to reduce your tow ball weight if necessary.
Decide if You Can Tow with Full Water Tanks
Now that you’ve got all of your caravan weights done, you’ll be able to see if you’ve got enough payload allowance left for filling up the water tanks.
Caravan water tanks are generally about 60 – 80 litres each. Given that 1 litre of water weighs 1 kg, working out how much weight your full water tanks will add is pretty easy.
1 litre of water = 1 kilogram
You should never travel with half-full water tanks due to the “sloshing” that occurs. That back-and-forth movement can pick up momentum and cause the caravan to snake and potentially jackknife.
Remember, travelling with full water tanks as opposed to empty water tanks will change your tow ball download. So, whichever option you go for, be sure to weigh the TBW of the fully loaded caravan as you actually plan to tow it.
Below is more about the pros and cons of travelling with full or empty water tanks.
Happy packing and safe travels!