Travel trailers and fifth wheels come in many sizes. Some can be pulled by SUVs or mid-size trucks. Others need a heavy-duty pickup truck.
Let’s talk towing and help you find the best vehicle for towing a camper.
Know Your Trailer’s Weight Ratings
Every RV has a vehicle identification sticker to give you basic information about your trailer, including weight ratings, tire size, and more. Here are a few key terms to know.
Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) = This is the total weight the RV can handle based on its axles and tire ratings.
Gross combined weight rating (GCWR) = The maximum weight allowed for the tow vehicle and the trailer when fully loaded.
Unloaded vehicle weight (UVW) = How much the trailer weighs as it rolls off the assembly line.
UVW includes any of the basic amenities inside – like the dinette, sleeper sofa, theater seating, and kitchen appliances – as well as the weight of batteries and LP containers. It does not include the weight of the passengers or cargo you’ll add, nor does it factor in the liquid weight you may carry with full holding tanks.
Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC) = The maximum amount of weight you can load into your RV. Calculate it by subtracting the unloaded vehicle weight from the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR – UVW = CCC).
As an example, let’s say the GVWR is 3,500 pounds, and the UVW is 2,500 pounds.
3,500 – 2,500 = 1,000 pounds of cargo carrying capacity
Any accessories added as part of a dramatic RV renovation, plus your camping gear, will reduce your RV’s cargo carrying capacity. This is why we often preach the importance of lightweight materials and packing only what you truly need.
Hitch weight – also known as tongue weight – or pin weight (for 5th wheels) = The amount of weight exerted on your tow vehicle’s hitch ball or fifth wheel hitch.
Payload capacity = The amount of cargo weight your tow vehicle can hold. This includes the weight of all passengers and cargo inside the vehicle and the hitch weight of your trailer or fifth wheel.
Rear axle weight rating (RAWR) = The amount of weight your vehicle’s rear suspension is rated to handle.
The bottom line: Understanding all RV weight ratings is important, but you can find the best vehicle for towing your desired camper by looking closely at a trailer’s GVWR and hitch weight.
Let’s take the 2023 Keystone Cougar Sport 2100RK, for example. The trailer’s GVWR is 8,500 pounds, and the hitch weight is 1,120 pounds.
In order to avoid making the tow vehicle work to its maximum capacity at all times, it is recommended to have a towing capacity that is at least 125% of the RV’s GVWR. Since the Cougar has a GVWR of 8,500 pounds, times 1.25 means we want a tow vehicle with a towing capacity of more than 10,625 pounds.
For example, the 2023 Ford F-150 offers an average towing capacity of up to 11,300 pounds and a payload capacity of up to 2,238 pounds, which would be sufficient for towing the Cougar Sport and handling its hitch weight, provided you don’t load more than another 1,118 pounds on the truck’s rear axle.
In short, your tow vehicle should be rated to tow more than your trailer’s GVWR, and the whole combination – when fully loaded – must not exceed either vehicle’s GCWR. Your tow vehicle’s RAWR must also exceed the trailer’s hitch weight, plus any cargo in the truck bed or trunk that rests directly on the rear suspension.
Find a Compatible Tow Vehicle
Smaller travel trailers, like pop-up campers, teardrop trailers, and lightweight towables, can sometimes be pulled by smaller vehicles. Family SUVs, minivans, and mid-size trucks are great options because they offer additional packing space inside the vehicle or truck bed.
With larger trailers and fifth wheels, you’ll need a full-size or heavy-duty pickup truck to handle the extra weight placed on the rear suspension. You need to know the pin weight of the fifth wheel and ensure it doesn’t exceed your tow vehicle’s RAWR.
Most heavy-duty trucks have a RAWR somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 pounds. The pin weight of most larger fifth wheel trailers averages around 3,500 pounds. So there’s usually more than enough capacity to handle the weight.
With that said, let’s look at some of the best vehicles for towing a camper and their weight ratings:
The listed weights below are for 2023 models only. Actual ratings vary based on year, make, model, and trim. Please consult vehicle manufacturers for the most up-to-date tow vehicle weight ratings.
SUVs for Towing a Camper
|SUV||Towing Capacity (lbs)||Payload Capacity (lbs)|
|Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit||Up to 6,200||Up to 1,575|
|Dodge Durango SRT 392||Up to 8,700||Up to 1,722|
|Ford Expedition||Up to 9,300||Up to 1,827|
|Chevrolet Tahoe||Up to 8,400||Up to 1,927|
|GMC Yukon||Up to 7,900||Up to 1,910|
|Nissan Armada||Up to 8,500||Up to 1,649|
|Toyota Sequoia||Up to 9,520||Up to 1,730|
|Audi Q8||Up to 7,700||Up to 1,500|
Compact and Mid-Size Trucks for Towing a Camper
|Mid-Size Truck||Towing Capacity (lbs)||Payload Capacity (lbs)|
|Jeep Gladiator Overland||Up to 4,500||Up to 1,200|
|Ford Maverick||Up to 4,000||Up to 1,564|
|Hyundai Santa Cruz||Up to 5,000||Up to 1,749|
|Honda Ridgeline||Up to 5,000||Up to 1,583|
|Ford Ranger||Up to 7,500||Up to 1,905|
|Nissan Frontier||Up to 6,720||Up to 1,697|
|Toyota Tacoma||Up to 6,800||Up to 1,685|
|Chevrolet Colorado||Up to 6,000||Up to 1,610|
|GMC Canyon||Up to 6,000||Up to 1,670|
|GMC Hummer EV||Up to 7,500||Up to 1,487|
Full-Size Trucks for Towing a Camper
|Full-Size Truck||Towing Capacity (lbs)||Payload Capacity (lbs)|
|Ford F-150||Up to 11,300||Up to 2,238|
|Ford F-150 Lightning||Up to 10,000||Up to 2,235|
|Chevrolet Silverado 1500||Up to 9,500||Up to 2,300|
|GMC Sierra 1500||Up to 9,400||Up to 2,270|
|RAM 1500||Up to 8,320||Up to 2,335|
|Toyota Tundra||Up to 12,000||Up to 1,940|
|Rivian R1T||Up to 11,000||Up to 1,384|
|Nissan Titan XD||Up to 10,900||Up to 2,406|
Heavy-Duty Trucks for Towing a Camper
|Full-Size Truck||Towing Capacity (lbs)||Payload Capacity (lbs)|
|Ford F-250||Up to 22,000||Up to 4,323|
|Ford F-350||Up to 23,900||Up to 4,713|
|Ford F-450||Up to 30,000||Up to 6,288|
|Chevy Silverado 2500||Up to 14,500||Up to 3,900|
|Chevy Silverado 3500||Up to 14,500||Up to 4,572|
|GMC Sierra 2500||Up to 14,500||Up to 3,900|
|GMC Sierra 3500||Up to 14,500||Up to 4,572|
|RAM 2500||Up to 15,530||Up to 3,999|
|RAM 3500||Up to 15,130||Up to 4,644|
Diesel or Gas?
There’s a lot of heat in the gas versus diesel debate. Diesel engines offer excellent towing power, and they’re geared to handle big tow loads. You can take inclines with a loaded fifth wheel while hardly slowing down.
It was once true that diesel tow vehicles had much higher maintenance costs, but newer gasoline models can be just as expensive.
Newer gas engines also still pack plenty of power. Their gear ratios may mean you slow down more on steep inclines, but many see nothing wrong with that. For some, it simply comes down to the difference in their region’s gas and diesel fuel prices.
It also comes down to what you’re most comfortable driving. Find a tow vehicle that will pull your RV and one you’re comfortable driving. The last thing anyone wants is an unsafe (and uncomfortable) RVer on the road.
How to Safely Load a Travel Trailer
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Here are a few tips to help you load your trailer for safe towing:
- Follow the 60/40 rule. Place 60% of the loaded weight in front of your trailer’s center axle and the remaining 40% behind it.
- Travel with empty holding tanks. One gallon of water weighs over eight pounds. Most RV freshwater tanks hold anywhere from 20-100 gallons. Depending on your model, that means you’ll carry an extra 160-800 pounds, just in freshwater weight. Alternatively, you can carry extra water in a portable water container.
- Pack efficiently. Carry only what you absolutely need for your trip. The more weight you tow, the more it will affect your gas mileage.
Ensuring the safety of your towable RV starts by choosing the right tow vehicle. So here are a few more helpful resources:
- Tow Vehicles: Should You Buy New or Shop Used?
- Can a Half-Ton Pickup Truck Tow a Fifth Wheel RV?
- Everything You Need to Hitch & Tow Your RV
Have questions about what kind of vehicle you should get to tow your RV? Drop them in the comments below!