The 5 Most Important Things to Know About Towing a Camper

Towing a camper with your pickup isn’t always as cut and dry as the truck commercials make it seem. Can some Ford F-150s tow a 10,000 lb camper trailer? Sure. Can yours? Not necessarily. There are a great many factors to consider before hooking up the camper and rolling out for the weekend. These factors are not only important to keeping your truck intact, but they will also help keep you and others safe as well. 

The 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning Lariat seen towing an RV, the F-150 Lightning is Ford's first electric pickup truck. There are five most important things to know about towing a camper
2022 Ford F-150 Lightning Lariat | Ford

The weight is key to towing a camper with a pickup truck

Five main factors determine how much a pickup truck can tow. Most of these factors are what different options and packages include in the truck segment. The weight of the camper, boat, trailer, or whatever you are towing is the most important piece of information regarding towing. 

All the truck options like cab/wheelbase, engine, drivetrain, and transmission determine a truck’s towing capacity. Before towing anything, you must know the weight of what you’re towing and which configuration of the particular truck that’s doing the towing. 

Campers are particularly tricky because the weight can vary based on gear, equipment, furnishing, and fluids. Knowing the precise weight of your camper rig is the first and most important thing to know before towing with a pickup truck. 

According to Consumer Reports, using a trucking weigh station is a good way to go before setting off on a long trip. These stations can weigh your entire rig (truck and camper trailer), giving you the information you need to tow safely. 

The engine and transmission are important

A small car towing a power boat
A station wagon towing a power boat | Underwood Archives/Getty Images

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A truck’s engine is clearly one of the most important and obvious aspects that determine towing capacity. Although we may think the engine with the most horsepower is the best towing power plant, that is actually not always the case. For towing, torque is king. 

In the past, the big V8s used to be the king of towing power plants, but these days we see smaller-displacement turbo engines out pulling the big dogs. The perfect example of this is the 2021 Ford F-150. To tow the maximum 13,200 pounds, you’d have to step up and get the F-150 with the 3.5-liter turbo V6. This configuration is stronger than the same truck with the big V8. 

Furthermore, a strong engine is great, but it is useless without the proper transmission. Without a strong enough transmission with the proper gear ratio, a powerful engine will rip a weaker transmission apart. In general, shorter gearing is usually preferred for towing because it can make the most of the engine’s torque. The trade-off is a lower top speed but a much stronger pull at slower speeds. 

When it comes to pulling a camper, size matters

The actual physical size and length of a truck directly affect how well and safely it can tow. Campers come in all shapes and sizes; because of this, the smaller trucks with shorter wheelbases will struggle to control many campers safely. 

Consumer Reports mentions that trucks like the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma are at their strongest towing capacity with the extended cab and 6-ft bed instead of the smaller, shorter versions. The longer configurations help to keep whatever is in tow more stable and controlled.

Towing a camper is also dependent on the drivetrain

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There is more to towing a camper than just strength. Like the length of a truck’s wheelbase, the drivetrain can affect how well a truck can tow. Since weight is key, RWD is often better for towing because those configurations weigh less. According to CR, every pound not built into the truck is an added pound for the towing capacity. 

Since four-wheel drive is such a popular option for many truck owners, it is important to know that this option will slightly limit towing capacity. Although for many truck owners, this is a worthwhile trade for off-road use. 

Towing is not for the faint of heart

As the camper craze marches ever forward, the amount of first-time towers is growing. Since camper trailers are often cheaper than motorhomes and camper vans, many opt for this option. Just make sure you understand your truck’s limits before towing a camper for the first time.