Comparing a 5th Wheel and a Diesel Pusher Motorhome

After 6 years in a 2007 34′ 5th wheel we moved to a 2005 39′ Diesel Pusher. Since the two rigs are from the same general timeframe I think they make for good comparisons. However, please understand that some observations are specific to these rigs – because of that our experience might be different than that of others. Both rigs were gently used by their previous owners. The motorhome only had 34,000 miles on it and the 5th wheel had been garaged and well cared for. The 5th wheel was a Hitchhiker II LS – a mid-level unit from a first class manufacturer. The motorhome is a Safari Cheetah, basically an industrial twin to a Monaco Knight – another mid-level unit. The 5th wheel was pulled by a 2008 Ford F350 with a 6.4 engine. As you read, remember that I am comparing our experience in these two specific rigs. Here are some observations on the two rigs.

Liveability: 5th Wheel
The 5th wheel has more storage and a better living layout. We did move the motorhome TV from over the driver’s area to over a couch on the side. It helped a lot. There is more cabinet storage inside the 5th wheel. Things like heating and cooling are pretty much the same with either one.

On the road: tie
The motorhome is more comfortable and the big window up front offers the best view. When towing the car the motorhome can’t be backed up. Generally, this isn’t a problem, but if you make the wrong turn somewhere the car has to be disconnected, the motorhome moved, and then the car reconnected. Not a huge deal, but a negative when it happens. Some people said that the ride would be much smoother, but we haven’t found that to be true with this motorhome, even with new shocks. Getting fuel was better with the pickup simply because it could be filled up when not towing the camper.

Landing in a campground: tie
The motorhome is easy to park. The backup camera makes backing into a site a snap. Also, since the motorhome doesn’t bend in the middle it is easier to situate. However, in an unlevel site the 5th wheel wins. It doesn’t care how high you have to crank the landing gear. With the motorhome, you can easily end up with the front wheels off the ground. Some people say that doesn’t matter, but in the manual that came with our rig it clearly says not to do that. Getting level can be a challenge even with the hydraulic levelers.

Local Transportation: Motorhome
With the 5th wheel, the daily driver is a big pickup – poor mileage and challenging to park in tighter spaces. We now pull a small car with the motorhome. A much better daily driver.  Not only that, it can be a real plus to scout a campground in the smaller car before driving the rig to the campsite – especially in pick-your-own-site situations.

Maintenance – Repairs (engine/chassis side): 5th Wheel
If the pickup needed work, we could take it to most any shop that worked on diesel pickups while the 5th wheel was comfortably parked in a campground. When the motorhome needs work, we have to find a shop that works on big trucks that will also work on a motorhome. You see, some truck and trailer shops will work on motorhomes, some won’t. Then, while the work is being done the house is in the shop too. If that work includes an overnight stay arraignments have to be made for accommodations (although it should be noted that depending on the type of work, many shops will let you stay in the motorhome overnight in their parking lot). In addition: work on the motorhome is almost always more costly than on the pickup.

Maintenance – Repairs (camper side): tie
Getting camper stuff worked on (or doing it yourself) is about the same on either one. Refrigerators, water heaters, awnings, etc. are pretty much the same. It is much easier to get work done by mobile techs on the camper side of the motorhome than on the engine side.

Cost of routine operation: motorhome
The motorhome gets about the same mileage as did the pickup when towing the camper. However, once in the campground, we drive a small car that gets much better mileage. Oil changes, etc. cost a lot more on the motorhome, but only have to be done yearly, making the annual cost about the same. Also, remember, the motorhome is only run when actually changing campsites, keeping mileage low compared to the pickup which is also a daily driver.

Storage accessibility: 5th wheel
The 5th wheel bay is easier to use. All the bays of the motorhome are under the 4 slide outs. Depending on how my back feels I sometimes wear knee pads and have to get down on my knees to reach into the bays. It is harder to get things in and out of the motorhome bays.

Propane: tie
The 5th wheel had two big removable propane tanks. A bit heavy, but taking them out and getting them filled was a reasonable amount of effort. On the motorhome the tank is built in. You either have to take the rig to a station and have it filled or you have to see if anyone is delivering (not all that uncommon in larger parks with long term residents).

Dry camping: motorhome
This is only about our specific rigs but I have the idea is it more common than not. The motorhome has a big diesel generator, an inverter, and 4 6-volt house batteries. It has larger holding tanks too. There are ways to do all the above with a 5th wheel, but the motorhome is pretty much ready to go without any special add-ons (neither has solar of any kind).

In-motion convenience: motorhome (but not as much as you might think)
Prior to getting the motorhome we were told how great it would be for the passenger to be able to get up and move around while in motion. We haven’t found that to be the case. It is downright dangerous for anyone to be up and moving around while on the road. Sometimes we take advantage of a stoplight or a nice straight stretch of open interstate to get up and do something, but most of the time the passenger needs to stay strapped in.

Getting in and out: 5th wheel (but not as much as you might think)
There are more steps getting into the motorhome and they have to be navigated every time you go in or out whether on the road and traveling or stationary in the campground. On the other hand getting in and out of the pickup is just a bit harder than getting in and out of a car. Then, in the campground, there are fewer steps coming and going from the 5th wheel. However, this advantage is somewhat diminished by the additional steps going up to the bedroom and bathroom. I’m giving the 5th wheel the win here, but not by much.

Cost: 5th Wheel
Bear in mind that I’m talking about used rigs here. The cost of a big late model diesel pickup plus good 5th wheel is at least in the same neighborhood as a used low mileage diesel pusher motorhome of similar vintage. However, you have to then add in the cost of a small towed vehicle. Then, chassis-engine repairs will cost more on the motorhome. The price difference is offset a bit by the better motorhome resale value. The results are mixed – but I give a slight plus to the 5th wheel. Frankly, the startup on our motorhome has been very expensive for us as we found issues that had to be fixed. I’m counting those costs in with the purchase price – hopefully, these expenses will come to an end very soon.

Prestige: Motorhome
If you like compliments on your rig (and who doesn’t) the motorhome is the hands-down winner. I’ve had guys in a pickup truck pull up beside me in traffic and give me a thumbs up (never had that happen with the 5ver!). It isn’t unusual for people in campgrounds to complement us on our rig. Honestly, the first thing that got our attention about this motorhome was how good it looks. Apparently, a lot of people agree. This kind of stuff is no big deal to us, but it has happened often enough to convince us that it is more than a coincidence.

So the jury is still out
As you can see, at this point it’s a mixed bag. It would be untrue for us to say we haven’t missed our 5th wheel. Of course, after living in it for six years we knew all of its quirks – we are still learning the motorhome. At this time the thing we like best about the motorhome is the small car we tow – making it a pleasure to go sightseeing or just to run to the store. The thing we like least is how much more difficult it is to get work done on the chassis side of it. It is a much more difficult thing to find a shop to work on it and then to take it there as opposed to taking the pickup into the Ford dealer.

Note: this article is a work in progress. I’ll likely be back to add/edit items as things become apparent to me.

Just thinking: Make every day count

As we’ve enjoyed the fulltime lifestyle we’ve met some interesting people. Many fulltimers tell me they have a blog, and if they do, I bookmark their site intending to keep up with them. To be honest, I tend to forget those bookmarked sites and seldom look at them.

Tonight, something brought those blogs to mind and I decided to check in on those folks we’ve meet along the way.

To my surprise many of them have left the road. As far as I can tell, the lifestyle changes were pretty much voluntary although I know of a few folks who have had health issues that forced a change of lifestyle (I wrote about that here). The others, I think, just came to a “been there done that” time in life and decided to find a place to land and start a new chapter in their lives.

While I was surprised at the number of fulltime RVers we’ve met that are no longer traveling it comes as no surprise that things change. In fact, as someone has wisely said, change is the one constant in life.

It is, though, good to be reminded that as enjoyable as fulltiming is, for most of us it’s an all too brief passage of life. Hopefully, for us, the adventure will end because we done all we wanted to do and are ready for a different sort of adventure. There’s a pretty good chance though, that it will involve something less voluntary.

I guess the point of this philosophic rambling is a reminder that the fulltime lifestyle, as enjoyable as it is, is a temporary passage in life. We don’t want to take this blessing for granted and we don’t want to get sidetracked from it by anything that doesn’t measure up, although it is reasonable to be reminded that some things do measure up and can make an unexpected appearance at any time (we’ve had that happen once). As it is, though, this chapter will end soon enough. Whether we have a short or long time to go in this adventure we want to make every day count.

2016 – The more things change the more they stay the same

camping

It goes without saying that moving to fulltiming from a traditional “stix and brix” life is a major transition. We made the move and have never looked back. While the many changes are obvious, I’ve concluded that more stays the same than some might think. In spite of the downsizing involved, I think most people morph to a life that is similar to what they lived before. Now, let me hurry to say that if the move to fulltiming is connected to retirement or a new livelihood lots of major changes are baked in, RV lifestyle or not.

I see people on forums debating whether or not to have a washer/dryer in their RV. The answer is actually pretty easy: if you had a washer/dryer in your house you’ll probably want one in your RV. If you enjoyed going to a laundromat before, you’ll probably want to keep going to one. Admittedly, this approach has its limits – for instance, while dish washers are available, they aren’t all that common so you might have to surrender to dish washing in the RV even though you always used a dish washer in your old life.

Without doubt, living as a fulltimer means that some things will be more challenging than they were in your pre-fulltiming days. There will be times when you won’t be able to get the satellite signal or when you are camping without a sewer connect, thus limiting your use of the on-board washer. It’s all part of the adventure and you will have to find ways to accommodate such things.

Still, though, thinking that one is going fulltime and that once you are “out there” that everything will be different is probably mistaken. Lots of things will be different – hopefully, in great ways. However, you will still be the same person who wants oatmeal for breakfast most mornings, wants to do your laundry “at home,” and wants to watch the evening news on TV. Knowing this will help you make decisions about stuff like whether or not to sign up for a big data cell plan or buy a combo washer/dryer or get a fancy satellite setup.

2016 – Downsizing in preparation for fulltiming

garagesaleA lot of people ask for advice on downsizing in preparation for fulltiming.  Given that everyone’s specific circumstances are unique, there’s no one size fits all approach to this but I can tell you what we did.

Related post: What does it cost to start full time RVing?

Early on in the process we just did a more thorough than usual spring cleaning.  It’s amazing how much stuff we accumulate through the years that just needs to be put on the curb.  For us the focus was on the shed and the garage.

As we moved forward, we picked a little used room in the house and emptied it out.  It became our “sorting room” where we began to put things we knew we didn’t intend on keeping.  We also cleared a wall in the garage for stuff we didn’t want in the house, but intended to get rid of.  We worked through each room of the house, moving items into the sorting room, more or less putting them into boxes with similar things.  That room got surprisingly full.  One key to this process is, I think, at first, if you don’t know what to do with an item, just leave it and move to something you do know you don’t want.  That stops you from getting constantly sidetracked.  It’s kind of interesting, but as the house began to empty, some things that froze us in our tracks were much easier to deal with when they were all that was left in a closet or room.

We also invited family to put their claim on items they wanted.  Those items stayed in place, but we knew they were spoken for.

As we got to a more serious level, we began to put larger items on Craigslist.  I also created a custom group of local friends on Facebook and posted those items there.  Being in a metro area probably helped, but a lot of stuff went out the door.  Usually, items sold for about half what they would have cost new.  We were much more interested in downsizing than we were in making money.  Our bicycles, couches, and dinette made some people quite happy.  Selling them made us happy too.

At that point we took another room, now empty, and made it our “holding room.”  Items we knew we were going to keep (plus those promised to family) were moved into that room.  The house was starting to feel pretty empty.

It was now time for the big garage sale.  All the items in the “sorting room” were priced at yard sale prices and we staged everything for the sale.  A LOT of stuff walked out the door over those two days.  We concluded the sale by loading all that was left and heading for Goodwill.

Family was given a deadline for getting their stuff, a few items (winter clothes, photo albums, and the like) went to a family member’s attic. We moved into the 5th wheel and our new, less-cluttered-with-belongings life began.

2016 – Advice: getting Internet while RVing

A lot of people are interested in being able to get on the Internet as they RV. While campgrounds may advertise the availability of WIFI your internet experience will be iffy at best. We’ve found decent WIFI to be the exception rather than the rule – although I will add that we’re seeing some improvements to campground WiFi, especially if it is a paid add-on. Often, though, places that advertise WIFI only provide it if you go to a specific location. At that point you’ll generally be competing with other RVers who are on the same Internet connect. Evenings and weekends can be brutal for even the most basic internet operations. If you want to do Netflix – sorry, but it will be practically impossible to do on WIFI at most of the campgrounds you visit. So, the bottom line on WIFI is this: for the occasional user; for the person who just wants to check email once a day – campground WIFI will probably be sufficient. Paid WiFi may be a bit better. For Facebook addicts, for people who like to surf the web, and especially for people who “need” internet for business or home schooling – you’ll often need a different solution. Many people get WIFI boosters to extend their reach to the campground WIFI (we have a WIFI Ranger). Just know this: reaching out farther to connect to a pitiful campground WIFI won’t make the connect speed any faster, it will only save your walking to the Activity center, etc. to access that same poor connection.

The alternative is cell data. Companies like Verizon will happily sell you big buckets of data for a price. If (and that’s a big “if”) you are staying in an area with decent cell coverage for your carrier, you can do okay using your cell phone as a hot spot or, even better, using a dedicated hot spot device. One big caution here is that you do have to be in range of a cell tower for your carrier. Verizon is the undisputed leader in coverage but for the RVer who truly wants to get away from it all there’s the real possibility that you’ll get away from cell coverage too. Second, it’s going to cost you and it may come with the potential of periodic slow-downs. The best deal at this time is a prepaid Jetpack plan from Verizon. You can read about it here. Also, even as there are WIFI signal boosters there are cell signal boosters. Our Weboost Drive can make a real difference in internet connectivity. Just remember that you have to have a signal to boost. If you have, say 2 bars of 4G a booster can give you a boost of a bar or maybe even two. Sometimes that is a noticeable difference in connect speed.

One strategy people use is to have service from two different providers. You might be in range of one but not the other. Again, though, you are buying that capability.

This is, of course a very general overview. There are websites and books on the topic that get into the weeds of this subject. Depending on your needs, you may want to spend some time researching this topic using these resources. One of these best is Technomadia’s RV Mobile Internet site.

2016 – Budget: Second Wave Expenses

Dollar-signMany fulltimers are in it for the long run. We’re not just out seeing the country for a year or two before returning to “real life.” Rather, this is our preferred lifestyle and we intend to enjoy it as long as possible. We’re now well into our 4th year of fulltiming which is longer than many, but barely getting started when compared to some fulltime “pros.” We spent quite a bit of money getting started in this lifestyle. That included several upgrades to our used 5th wheel, a couple of camping memberships, and other related items. Now, we’re starting to run into secondary costs more and more often.

For instance, our air conditioner was laboring and not keeping up. When we had it checked out the tech said it was mostly just showing its age. He recommended replacing it rather than spending money trying to get it to hobble through the summer. If we were RV weekenders and vacationers it would have lasted longer, but, as fulltimers we wore it out sooner than would have happened otherwise. Even major appliances have a lifespan so it’s wise to keep some reserve budget money around.

Aside from the biggies some things we bought new for our RVing adventure have begun showing their wear. At the beginning of our adventure I bought a nice Wilson Sleek cell signal booster for use when we were out on the fringes of cell coverage. It died a few months ago and had to be replaced with the new version. When we started out we got a couple of nice chairs. The thing is, in a RV there are few sitting choices so the same chairs get a lot more use than they would in a house. We recently decided to treat ourselves to a couple of small recliners. Hopefully, they will give us another 3-4 years of good use. This is a “second wave” expense that everyone will have after a few years of fulltiming in the same RV.

Another thing to think about is camping, etc. memberships. We got multiyear Passport America and Escapees memberships. In a year or so they will have to be renewed. Our Coachnet vehicle policy (happily never used) has expired and needs to be renewed. This sort of thing is predictable, but it eats into the budget every so many years.

Having said all that, there are more common expenses that everyone faces but tend to come around more often for retired fulltimers than they do for other people. We often tell people that we don’t need as many clothes in our closet as we used to. However, that means that we wear the same sets of comfortable clothes quite often. This summer, for instance, I’ve had to replace a couple of pairs of jeans. I only own two pairs and wear one or the other most every day. So, while I only own two pairs of jeans, they do need to be replaced a bit more often than they would otherwise. Most of our clothes are the same: comfortable and worn a lot. It’s a sneaky expense that shows up surprisingly often.

Of course, beyond all these kinds of budget hits lurks the major one. Most fulltimers upgrade their RV at least once. Depending on what you buy, you can spend a year’s (or even more) budget in one purchase. Since RV’s are generally repairable (aside from something catastrophic happening) you may avoid this expense altogether. Still, sooner or later, most people end up replacing the motorhome, 5th wheel, truck, and/or towed at some point.

So, while you are running the expense numbers for the fulltime RV lifestyle you might be wise to look beyond initial costs, nightly camping fees, and the cost of fuel. You might want to think, for instance, about more than what the purchase of a nice RVer specific GPS costs and consider what it will cost when that one stops working or becomes obsolete.

I won’t spend time on it here, but there are ways to combat some of this. Fulltimers who have been hit with unexpected expenses will slow down their travel and save on camping fees by paying the discounted monthly rate or they will take on a work camping gig for a few months to save money or even make a few bucks.

Still, as you work on your fulltiming budget you might want to be careful that you aren’t bumping up against 100% of your expendable income. In a few years, you’ll face a “second wave” of expenses as things wear out, break, or just need upgrading. Sorry, but that’s life.

2016 – Planner or freelancer?

compassPlanner or freelancer, which will it be?  That’s a question I come across fairly often, and I’ve written about it before.  Should a fulltimer create a travel calendar, make reservations, and follow a schedule?  Or should a fulltimer go with the flow, setting sail in the morning, not worrying about where they will spend the night till closer to the end of each day?  I think there’s room for individuality on both sides of this issue (and certainly some compromises to be made on either side).  A lot, though, depends on your travel style and budget.

If you don’t mind a bit of uncertainty and enjoy the adventure of dropping anchor in an unknown port, freelancing can be a lot of fun.  You’ll have some misadventures along the way, especially if you try to be a pure freelancer who doesn’t even plan for  summer holiday weekends.  However, that will become part of your story.  After all, there’s most often a Walmart or a grocery store in the area that allows overnight parking.  Also, people who like to boondock on public lands are especially suited for freelancing.

Other than the boondockers, though, freelancers often end up paying more than their planning counterparts.  There are some great camping deals out there, but they generally go to planners who research campgrounds in an area and make advance reservations, sometimes months in advance.  For people on a tighter budget this is a bigger deal that it is for others.

Planning has it’s advantages but lacks the spontaneity some people associate with the RVing lifestyle.  Still, many of us simply enjoy working with maps and researching – looking for the perfect campsite and the best route to get there. They are able to land in some of the more popular spots on busy weekends.  Such travel is generally easier on the expense sheet; not only because you aren’t at the mercy of the campground owner who has the last available spot in the area but also because you tend to travel point to point rather than wandering between undetermined destinations.

If you’re on vacation, you most likely want to be a planner.  No one wants to waste precious vacation camping nights parked at a truck stop.  I think fulltimers are more likely to be planners, although there are a lot of fulltime freelancers out there.  Even then, though, most fulltimers make reservations for holidays, planning to arrive early and then stay on a day or two after all the poor weekenders have to return to the daily grind.   Even fulltimers who do a lot of freelancing tend to set a few hard dates and then freelance between them.

Fulltimers, more than most people, tend to march to the beat of their own drummer so there’s lots of wiggle room on this one.  Really, there’s no right or wrong way to do it – just “your way.”

Observation: Campground Serenity (or not)

One recurring theme I see on the RV Facebook groups is the behavior (or better, misbehavior) of fellow campers. As ironic as it may be, going to many commercial RV parks is a poor way to get away from it all.

The worst crowding we’ve experienced was on the coast of Washington where people were parked next to one another as they would be in a parking lot. The beautiful Pacific was a short walk away and people were willing to be packed into a campground to be in such a prime spot near the beach. The house and city lot we sold a few years ago was just a modest place on an average property. I think, though, that in that Washington campground there were six RVs packed into a spot the size of that city lot.

Not only is spacing an issue at many campgrounds, but RVers want to be outside so there are lawn chairs and campfires everywhere. Thinking about the house we sold, imagine what it would have been like if day after day my five closest neighbors came to my back yard to each build their own campfire and, while being cordial to one another, didn’t want to spend that time together with their other neighbors. And, of course, each would bring their dogs who would be out of their element and tending to bark at one another and the other folks in my yard. Meanwhile their kids would be having a great time, riding their bikes up and down the roads and sometimes through where other groups are sitting.

So, people put themselves into the crowded conditions of the typical commercial campground and then complain about the behavior of others. Of course, they are right – people are being noisy and rude, acting as if they are at home with plenty of space to call their own. At the same time, if you pick a crowded campground for your get-away weekend you might want to remind yourself that you aren’t at home. If you don’t want to hear barking dogs, slamming doors, yelling kids, and even quiet campfire conversations next door you might want to avoid crowded campgrounds. If you do go to such places, well, remember that you aren’t at home where you can get away from all that kind of stuff.

Just thinking: for those who dream of going fulltime in a RV

No one knows just how many fulltime RVers there are. For one thing, there’s no official definition of just what a fulltime RVer is! It’s obvious that there are a lot of us who are, as it has been called, “living the RV dream.”

Since I post a lot of fulltime budget information my blog has attracted folks who are still in the “dreaming” stage and researching information on the lifestyle. While I’m no expert and there are lots of people who know more about this stuff than I do I’m glad to share what we are learning. This post is directed to those dreamers who want to sell everything and hit the road in a RV. (It isn’t for people who have jobs that require or allow them to travel or people who have lost their jobs and are thinking of getting a RV as a source of housing, etc.)

Recently we received news that a fulltiming couples had a health emergency. I’m glad to have received good news on the immediate prognosis but this crisis will quite likely change the rest of their lives. Some folks have concluded that one lesson to be learned from this is that they should stop dreaming of going fulltime and jump to it while the jumping is good. On one hand, I agree that for some people this is a good takeaway. For instance we met a couple who actually retired and went fulltime. However, his previous employer made the man an offer he couldn’t refuse so he went back to work for a short stay. That short stay has now lasted three years! It’s their business but I can’t help but wonder if the day will come when they will wish they had returned to the RV dream rather than stay in the 9:00-5:00 environment.

Here’s a related article.

Frankly, though, I’m not sure “just do it” is the right message for everyone. Again, these remarks are in reference to those who see fulltiming as pursuing a dream and not for those who are considering the RV life as alternative housing and such so please read this from that point of view.

  1. First, “now” isn’t the right time for everyone. There’s a right time and a wrong time for all the stages of life. While I’m not saying that you need millions of dollars socked away before you go fulltime you do need an income that will support the lifestyle and that includes a source of health care insurance. Put more directly: if you can’t afford to go fulltime then don’t. Instead, continue working toward a fulltime RVing retirement by planning, preparing financially, and taking care of yourself physically.
  2. Second, don’t get in if you don’t have a way out. Don’t mortgage your future for the present. You may not have an exact plan but have a way to conclude your fulltime life and move to the next phase of life. Aside from those who suddenly pass away, sooner or later everyone has to hang up the keys. Hopefully, that will come as the result of the decision that you’ve “been there and done that” but it may come in the form of a trip to the emergency room. As you contemplate entering this lifestyle be sure to include at least a basic framework and capability for leaving it. Also, related and worth mention, is that your vehicle(s) and RV have a limited lifespan. While you don’t need money to replace them hidden under your mattress there needs to be at least some thought given to what you will do if and when your need to upgrade these vital items.
  3. Third, remember that life is uncertain but is also a blessing. Don’t squander today dreaming only of pie in the sky. Appreciate what you have right now: family, friends, health, and other good things. Make planning for the future part of the joy of this day.
  4. Fourth, know that real life continues even out on the road. Hitting the road in your RV means leaving a lot of things behind. However, a lot of stuff will follow along too, some things good and some things bad. Fulltime RVers get sick, as did the person I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Vehicles break down and accidents happen. If you think that pursuing the RV dream means everything will always be wonderful you are in for some big disappointments.

Don’t get me wrong, we love being fulltime RVers. It’s our chosen retirement lifestyle and we would do it all over again if we had to choose. If this life appeals to you then we’d say come on in, the water’s fine. Still, remember that part of moving to this lifestyle is preparing for getting into it, maintaining it, and then leaving it. Don’t forget that being a fulltimer doesn’t exempt you from real life problems. Beyond all that, remember that life is precious. Appreciate the blessings of each day even while dreaming of the next big thing coming down the road.

Backing your 5th wheel


There’s an interesting thread on the Escapees Forum about backing a 5th wheel.  Here’s a synopsis along with some of my own thoughts on the topic.

  1. If possible, always back from the driver’s side – doing it the other way puts more pressure on the spotter to give good directions
  2. GOAL: Get out and look – at the beginning of the backup for sure – then anytime you have any doubt whatsoever about where you are and what is behind you
  3. Look up – don’t get so focused on the ground that you forget tree limbs, etc.
  4. Your spotter needs to know that if they can’t see your face in the mirrors that you can’t see them – if you lose them, stop and wait until you can see them again.
  5. Your spotter’s responsibility is what is happening at the rear of the rig, the driver is responsible of that is happening at the nose of the pickup – watch out for other vehicles, etc. as you swing the nose of the pickup around to line up the 5th wheel.
  6. Remember that the “superior” people who seem to be the most entertained by your backing in are likely some of the worse drivers in the campground and need you to have problems to make them feel better about their own shortcomings (after all the worse golfer in the foursome is everyone else’s best friend).
  7. Pull forward far enough – with my shortbed/slider hitch combination that’s putting the rear of the 5th wheel 5 to 10 feet past the campsite
  8. Watch the camper tires and turn just tight enough for them to clear the edge of the campsite driveway as you begin backing into the site
  9. Once you get the tires on the side you are backing from into the edge of the campsite stop turning and start “following” the camper into the site with the pickup – imagine the camper is pulling the pickup

Feel free to add your tips in the comments to this post!