5 Tips for Taking Your Camper Off-Road
By Alexis Chateau \
I have seen the most unlikely rigs in the most unbelievable places. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you some of the gnarly roads I worked my way through just to see a massive Class C casually parked up at the end. In short, whether RVs are made for off-roading or not, people take them on dirt roads to go camping. So, here are my tips for taking your camper off-road.
Consider an Overlander Trailer
I do not currently own an overlanding trailer, but she has seen many a dirt road in her time―some better than others. My trailer has a higher clearance than my FJ Cruiser and sports 12-ply tires that can take a beating.
More often than not, these trips are incident-free. But, because I do not have an off-road suspension, I’ve had damage inside the trailer from all the shaking. For example, the TV fell off the wall, and the baseboard in one of my closets broke.
Overlander trailers have suspension systems that make them more stable in unstable territory. My absolute favorite is the TigerMoth Overland, but every TAXA Habitat has an Overland version.
So, what’s different on an overland trailer? At TAXA, you get higher clearance, a much better suspension system, and more aggressive tires with better traction.
Check the Route Before Taking Your Camper Off-Road
Some overlanders like to venture into the unknown with no clear idea of where they’re headed. They see a dirt road, wonder where it might take them, and simply follow it to wherever it leads.
While this sounds amazingly spontaneous, it can also be dangerous. There is the risk of trespassing or getting to a dead-end and having minimal space to turn the trailer around. If the road is too narrow, you could end up jack-knifing your trailer or backing too far off the road and into trouble.
To avoid these and other risks, choose your potential spots before you head out and check a map. Ideally, you pull up satellite images of the route you have in mind so that you can have a better idea of the road conditions. You can also check forums and camping or overlanding apps to see what other people say about the roads.
Invest in Safety and Recovery Gear
Getting stuck while driving is one thing. Getting stuck while towing a travel trailer is an entirely different scenario. This was one of my main concerns before I hit the road, so I invested in some basic recovery gear. I have used almost all of these items for every other reason but recovery, but I’m glad I have them, and you should too.
Here are a few items I recommend buying:
- Tow Strap: Not everyone drives around with a tow strap, so if you want someone to pull you out of a tricky situation, it’s better to have one. Make sure you have one rated for the weight of what you want to tow.
- Shovel: You might need to dig out your tires if you find yourself in deep sand or mud. I have a foldable shovel, so it takes up very little space.
- Traction Boards: I got my boards from Go Treads and love them because they fold. That feature makes it easy for them to double as my leveling blocks if I have to camp on uneven terrain.
- Safety Lights or Cones: You can use cones, but I think my rechargeable safety lights work better if I need them at night. Be sure to check them regularly and keep them charged.
- Headlamp: If you find yourself in a difficult situation at night, you’ll need both hands. Headlamps are a lifesaver in these situations. They are also helpful for a million other scenarios at camp.
- Battery Jumpstart Kit: Leaving your headlights on or a failing alternator are common reasons you might end up with a dead battery. A kit to jumpstart your battery eliminates the need to wait for someone else to wander down the road.
- Spare Tire: You have a much higher likelihood of popping a tire while off-roading, so make sure you bring a spare. Ideally, your spares are regular tire sizes for your vehicle, so they can buy you some time to complete repairs or replacements.
- Fire Extinguisher: If you tow a travel trailer, you must have a fire extinguisher. You can pick these up cheaply at your local store or on Amazon. I recommend also getting one for your tow vehicle.
- First Aid Kit: You should have this in your vehicle anyway, but it’s especially important when traveling the unbeaten path. I tore my finger open while moving construction materials today, and boy, am I glad to have one!
Remember Fire Safety When Towing
Towing a travel trailer does not automatically create fire safety hazards. The problem arises with particular habits that create extra problems when taking a camper off-road. Consider the following tips:
- Turn off your propane as damage to your tanks and lines is more likely when towing off-road.
- Ensure your tow chains do not drag, as the friction might spark a blaze.
- If you need to pull over, try to look for clear areas and avoid parking on the dry brush or grass.
- Monitor your engine and transmission temperatures so you have plenty of time to find a suitable place to pull over.
- When towing downhill, use the lower gears to avoid overusing and overheating your brakes.
Go Slowly When Taking Your Camper Off-Road
Some dirt roads don’t seem too bad at all. You start driving, and it’s so nice and smooth that you can’t help but pick up speed. However, dirt roads are not consistent. Seasoned RVers and rural dwellers can tell you that, ten seconds later, you could hit trouble.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Now that my tiny home build is on pause, I accepted my friends’ invitation to join them in the mountains. I wanted to see what I was working with, so I drove up to their property last week. The road looked very well-maintained, and I had zero issues. After a mile or two, I was comfortable and picking up speed.
Suddenly, the tires lost traction on loose gravel around a bend. Then, I immediately hit a washboard patch, which further complicated matters. Three seconds later, all was well again. I wasn’t towing and found the experience amusing. If I was towing my trailer, it could have been pretty terrifying. But, I would have also been going a lot more slowly.
Final Thoughts on Taking Your Camper Off-Road
Whether you own a rugged overlander trailer or a more modest setup, the chances are that you’ll take it off-road. Sure, your trailer might get a few dings and scratches along the way, but I find that, mechanically, most of them take a beating pretty well. Just prepare for a messy interior if things get shaken around too much. So, batten down the hatches (secure the TV!) and enjoy the views at the end of the road.
I am a full-time RVer, but I am no off-road instructor or mechanic. Do what feels right for your camper and take my advice at your own risk.