New to RV Camping? Here’s what you need to know

new to rv camping? here's what you need to know

New to RV Camping? Here’s what you need to know

So you’re new to RV camping, welcome to the club! Whether you are getting ready to take your new camper, motorhome, or pop-up out, or you’re heading out with a rented unit, you’re about to discover what millions of RV’ers already know. Getting out and exploring in an RV has always been the hidden gem of the vacation world. Campsites get you into communities that hotels don’t dare go. You’ll see your state or province in a whole new way.

As an experienced and life-long member of the RV camping family, I’d like to run through some essentials you’ll need to know. More people than ever are discovering camping, so here’s a starter’s guide to get you on the road.

Know your tow

Odds are your entry into RV camping is with a travel trailer or hybrid. These popular forms of RVs provide a lot of the amenities of home in a travel-sized package. But there are some key things to consider before you get into towing your new RV. In fact, you should think about them before you make a purchase. This won’t get into a detailed explanation of how much you should tow, there are dozens of useful resources online already. Your RV dealer should walk through safe tow weights, and if they don’t, find a new one.

But if you boil down all the lessons and resources into a single sentence, it’s this: your maximum tow capacity is lying to you. OK, it’s not lying outright. However, a maximum tow rating is measured when your vehicle only has a driver and a full tank of fuel. As you add more weight, the maximum tow capacity is reduced. Here’s a real-life example: Most large SUVs on the market today advertise a max tow of around 5,000 lbs. If you’re the only one in the SUV, you can pull a trailer weighing 5,000 lbs. If you have a spouse, three kids, a dog, bikes, and firewood, 5,000 lbs will be too much.

Simplified further, look for a trailer that’s around 4,000 lbs loaded (wet weight) if you have an SUV with a 5,000 lbs max tow. Never, ever use the trailer’s dry weight when picking your RV. An equalizer hitch of some kind is essential.

Introducing your new RV

Before you head out, it’s essential to get to know your RV. This goes beyond the sales pitch your local dealer gave you, or during the walk around you had during your rental pickup. If you know the RV, you’ll be camping in, getting online, and reading about how other campers are using them. The more you know about your new RV, the less frustrating your first campground setup will be. RV camping can be a relaxing and fun experience with a bit of digging upfront.

Once you have your new RV, run some basic setup drills before the site. There are some essentials you will need before you hit the road. Get some wheel chalks to hold the RV still. A half dozen flat boards of cedar or pressure-treated wood are great for leveling the trailer or adding height under the tongue jack. There are plastic kits for that, too. Get another 30-50 foot length of RV power cable as well. Finally, secure about 50-feet of drinking water hose to round out your hook-ups.

The list

While it may vary from RV to RV, there are some basics that every RV camping trip needs. Here’s a handy list of things you need before you head out:

  • Wheel chalks
  • Outdoor heavy-duty extension cord
  • RV extension cord (30 to 50-feet)
  • Wood scraps for under tongue and stabilizer jacks
  • Wood scraps or a trailer leveling kit
  • Necessary cleaning supplies (paper towel, spray cleaner, broom, dustpan, and disinfecting wipes)
  • A first-aid kit
  • Dishes and cutlery. Consider a second-hand set of plastic or melamine dishes that can live in your trailer for the whole season
  • Fire-safe grill and pots.
  • A tool kit with some essential tools. Think hammer, wrenches, screwdrivers
  • Wash bin and a dish-drying rack
  • An ax or sturdy hatchet
  • Your meal plan for the trip
  • Your site booking confirmation and directions

Many of these items are available at your local hardware or big box store, local RV store, or Amazon. You won’t find yourself using these on every RV camping trip, but you will find them useful when you need it. Don’t forget any of the usual items you might pack on long day trips out.

RV Camping Etiquette

Just like everything, there are a lot of written and unwritten rules when it comes to camping. Most boil down to the golden rule: treat others how you want them to treat you. Take a look at the campground’s website for any rules around pets, noise curfews, and alcohol. Many campsites have restrictions on how you can dump water. Just as every RV is different, don’t assume that this new campground does things the same way the last campground you went to.

Almost every campground earns much of its revenue from seasonal campers. These folks have their RVs parked on-site all year long. Communities are built up this way, and seasonal campers could be part owners in private campgrounds. As a guest, keep your eye peeled for some of the unwritten rules the community has. Show respect for the site by keeping it clean and leaving it better than you left it.

On the road

You’re probably as new to towing as you are to RV camping. Towing can be as rewarding as it is challenging. There are many technologies today that make towing more manageable, but there are still things to consider. Your RV will have a recommended speed rating; it’s probably not the speed you’re used to driving on the freeway. Even with a pickup truck, slow down. Pay close attention to the traffic around you. Practice reversing in empty parking lots to save yourself the embarrassment of first-time mistakes at the site.

Remember, towing makes your vehicle a lot longer. Turns need to be wider. You can’t follow close on the highways anymore. The distance it takes you to do simple things, like stopping or turning, is much more significant with an RV in tow. Keeping these simple things in mind should give you some confidence behind the wheel.

Just relax and have fun

OK, so we’ve just hit you with more than 1,000 words of dos and don’ts. It can be overwhelming. However, it only takes a few RV camping trips before you build up habits. Once those habits are there, every journey will get more relaxed and more relaxing. In no time, you’ll be enjoying all the benefits of RV camping. Campfires at the base of a mountain, hiking through caves, early-morning lakeside fishing, exploring a forest for creatures. The world of RV camping is full of adventure, and you’re just getting started.

Welcome to the full world of RV camping. We’re excited you came.


Dan Croutch
the authorDan Croutch
Dan is a freelance automotive and technology writer. He enjoys all things pickup trucks, classic cars, and minivans (really). The intersection of vehicles and technology fascinate him.