How To Pack Your RV
Posted by Tom Westley on
When it comes to the weight of your RV, you’ll want to travel light. People often forget that an RV is still a vehicle, and like any load on wheels, it needs to be well balanced to move safely on roads and highways.
It’s important from both a comfort and a safety standpoint to know how to load and pack your motorhome. Lopsided coaches don't hold up well on slippery roads, sharp turns, or in construction zones. Poorly packed rigs also make it difficult to find things and will have less space to store important items.
Anything you put in an RV adds weight and cuts into your fuel budget. You can’t take everything with you, but in this post we hope to explain what you can — and the best way to ride safely with it.
Distribute Your Weight
One of the easiest things to overlook as far as RV safety goes is weight load and distribution. RVs can be dangerously overloaded but not outwardly show it, unlike a car or truck where a low-riding back end can be an obvious sign. Unless you weigh your RV, you may never know that it's overloaded and a safety concern.
New RVs leave the factory at a safe weight, and most provide plenty of extra weight capacity so that owners can load them up. But over time, it’s possible to add items and create extra storage areas until you creep past the safe weight.
You’ll want to keep an eye on this, because the problems caused by an overloaded RV can be very serious. Overloading causes tire failure, excessive wear on the suspension and frame, and can degrade handling. Rigs that are both overloaded and unbalanced are dangerous and awkward to drive.
It’s important to remain aware of your RV’s weight limitations and position your belongings appropriately. When you do, you’ll be able to maintain better control and your rig will be much less likely to turn over.
Know Your Rig’s Limits
When loading an RV, it's important to keep in mind the maximum cargo capacity (including passenger weight) as stated in your owner's manual. You may find a wide range of weights to consider, but the points most likely to be overloaded in an RV are the tires, the axles, and the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating).
Often the easiest thing to do is find a highway or truck stop weight station and weigh your motorhome while it’s empty. After packing, weigh it again and pay attention to how much weight is above each axle. For more accurate measurements, it’s worth it to weigh each of your wheels individually, which you can often have done at most RV rallies, shows, and anywhere large numbers of RVs gather.
Many experienced RVers recommend keeping under your maximum weight limit by 10-15% for a good safety margin. An extra bonus is better fuel economy!
Map Out Your Space
Before loading your motorhome, it’s helpful to map out where existing storage areas and heavy items are distributed throughout the vehicle. Where are the biggest storage compartments located? Where are the tanks and generator? Where’s the kitchen and where are the slide-outs?
Keep in mind that appliances like ovens and washing machines are heavy, meaning you’ll want to pack fewer or lighter items in the areas around them and heavier items opposite them. If you have especially heavy items like fitness weights or large water containers, they should be stored either on or a bit in front of the axles.
You can try using a rough drawing of your RV’s layout to plan where heavy items will go before you actually pack them. And once more, weighing your rig will be critical to letting you know exactly which axles are carrying the most weight.
Light Items Go High, Heavy Items Go Low
The main goal when packing a motorhome is to load everything as evenly as possible. This will help prevent a lopsided rig, which can result in dangerous swaying and tire blowouts.
Vertical balance is also important. You’ll also want to store heavy items low down or on the floor — including canned items, small appliances, foldable chairs, coolers, bottles, and so on. This will help prevent breakages and injury due to falling or flying objects, and will keep your rig from becoming top-heavy.
Last of all, keep in mind some items will become heavier over time. Garbage is a big culprit for this, so remember to clean out the bins every now and then.
Leave Extra Items Behind
When it comes to RVing, you usually won’t need as much as you think. Keep in mind that your cupboards and drawers will only become more cluttered and packed as your trip progresses. The aim is to pack light, but don’t worry if you overdo it a little — you can always donate items along the way. Similarly, if you find you left something behind, you can have it shipped or buy a new one.
And don't forget one of the biggest benefits of packing light: The less items you bring, the less you’ll have to unpack at the end of your trip.
Pare Down To The Basics
The simplest rule for packing an RV is don’t bring anything heavy — if there’s a lightweight equivalent, favour that instead. Choose paperback books or an e-reader instead of hardcovers. Substitute high-quality plastic for glass. Pick lightweight tumblers over heavy ceramic mugs. Individually they might not seem like much, but the weight adds up quickly.
Newer RVs are providing more and more kitchen cupboard space, making it tempting to carry a lot of dishes and kitchen appliances like blenders, mixers, can openers, etc. But just because a manufacturer has added more storage space doesn't mean that they've increased the rig's weight capacity. Only bring the appliances you're sure to use every day, especially if you'll be staying at campgrounds with restaurants nearby.
Food can also add up in weight (or be confiscated by customs), and planning meals ahead of time is the best way to avoid overpacking in that area. Approximate what you’ll need and buy accordingly to avoid both weight, and waste from spoiling. You can always buy more if you run out — especially with local grocery delivery services.
Freshwater holding tanks can be large depending on the RV, and water is heavy — a little over 8 pounds for every gallon. Even half-empty water and waste tanks can add hundreds of needless pounds to your trip. So while it’s a good idea to keep a small level of fluids in your tanks to prevent materials from sticking, get in the habit of dumping tanks early and often. Unless your trip calls for regular boondocking (camping without a hookup), you can travel with just enough water to use your amenities, then connect to your campground’s water supply.
Self-imposed limits on RV tools are always a smart move. There's a limit to what most campers can (and should) do in terms of service and maintenance on the road, with the majority of RVers only needing a basic tool kit and duct tape. Large tool kits are heavy, and it doesn’t take much to add a few hundred pounds to a rig. Ask yourself: Am I likely to need this tool, and do I know what this tool is for? If the answer to either question is no, leave it on the workbench at home.
This also goes for additional batteries (50-75 pounds each), extra generators (50-100 pounds each), and outdoor gear (lawn chairs, BBQs, tables, etc.). Weigh their pros and cons and decide if the extra weight is really worth it.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Sharing a relatively limited space with 1-2 people can make reusing items around your motorhome surprisingly easy. If you wash dishes immediately after use and towels weekly, there's no need for spare items, especially if your campground has laundry facilities. Put together a “capsule” wardrobe: around a dozen staple pieces of clothing in coordinating colors that can be worn often and interchangeably, saving closet space while still combining into up to 30+ different outfits.
Whenever possible, you should also limit your loads to items that can perform double duty. A large clear bowl can be used as a fruit bowl, mixing bowl, popcorn bowl, serving dish, dish pan, and salad bowl. Pots with a lip can be used for cooking as well as watering plants. Certain styles of rice cookers can also be used to bake bread, and trip menus can revolve around one-pot meals or campground BBQs.
Know What’s Best For You
You probably don't need a blender, hand mixer, and food processor in your RV. But if you have a blended margarita every evening, you'll want a blender on board. If toast with peanut butter is your daily breakfast, you'll want to bring a toaster. No one knows what's best for your daily routine than you, so if you have an uncommon item that you know will see regular use, don't be afraid to add it to your list. Just make sure it fits within your weight limits.
You can also try creating a general packing list that you reuse for all of your trips. If you assess and refine it after each trip, you'll perfect it more each time and speed up your packing process.
Organize Your Space
If you just throw a bunch of random items into your rig with no organization and then head out on the road, you're bound to run into problems during your trip. Weight should be evenly divided, but you should also try to pack items for easy access when you need them most.
Add Storage Features
In the interest of having a place for everything and everything in its place, you may want to consider installing additional racks, shelves, or storage space along the walls or in the closets of your RV. A spice rack, towel bar, or cozy shelf with a brace can store items outside of cupboards without the risk of sliding around in transit. Some RVs have storage space under the bed, which can be a perfect space for linens. Having plenty of hooks is great for drying towels or storing coats. Adding lightweight colour-coded tubs, baskets, dividers, and drawer organizers will help you locate and identify items at a glance.
Storage bays can get pretty cluttered, but clear plastic storage totes are an ideal solution to the problem. You can make paper labels of the contents and attach them to the inside of the bin, where they'll be readable but won't get torn or stained. Keeping similar items together in the same bin means you'll always know where they are, and the plastic containers will prevent any spills or leaks from ruining your bay. When supplies are getting low, you can make a note on the lid with a regular whiteboard marker, and placing bamboo mats beneath the bins will make it easy to slide them in and out.
Be careful about installing extra carrying devices such as roof-mounted storage pods and auxiliary trailers, or even storing items in a tow vehicle. Many RVers are tempted to fill them to capacity, resulting in yet another overload scenario. External storage also commonly reduces aerodynamics and fuel economy, and increases offloading time.
Create A Storage “Flow”
Having quick and easy access to both your daily essentials and your emergency gear is vital in a motorhome. Pay attention to what you need first and most often, and try to arrange items in the order that you use them. Important supplies should be within reach at the top or front of their storage spaces (as long as they aren't too heavy).
Fire extinguishers and first aid kits should be safely secured, in plain view, and easily accessible at all times. Use labelled cable organizers or straps, and have strong latches or fastens for hoses, jacks, steps, windows, and so on. Being organized in this way and having a routine will make hooking up and pulling out easier and safer.
Keep Your Belongings Secure
You don’t want things flying around your trailer or motorhome while you drive, so it’s important to make sure everything is secured. Anything not closed up or tied down might slide, fall, or roll from one end of the vehicle to the other. This can be annoying, dangerous, or even deadly, as items can break or take flight, distracting or injuring the driver.
Swap Out Packaging
A commonly overlooked safety step is to repackage food and items in more durable and safe containers. Milk and other liquids can go into sealable hard-plastic pitchers or jugs. Tiny loose items or edibles can go in latching food containers. Wooden racks (not metal) can help protect bottles and glassware within drawers or closets. Containers can also be wedged in spots where they won’t budge during turns.
A vacuum sealer can also be a great investment. Vacuum sealing will allow you to freeze and pack meat more compactly, will protect your food better than most traditional packaging, and will keep smells (and flavours) locked inside the bag. They also make it easy to thaw frozen meat in a bowl or sink of warm water.
Latch Drawers & Cabinets
While most RVs come with latches installed on all cabinets and drawers, not all of them are of the same quality, and especially heavy items can cause them to fail. Many RVers will recommend looping bungee cords through cupboard handles for extra security, but they can be difficult to work with, may scratch surfaces, and aren't very attractive. An alternative is to install high-quality child safety latches, industrial velcro, magnetic latches, or push button catches, all easily found at most hardware stores. Look up weight limits on the packaging to see how heavy of a load they can support.
You can secure items inside of cabinets by lining shelves with slip-resistant shelf paper, and/or installing tension rods across the opening. If you use reusable packaging, you can even apply velcro directly to the bottom of your containers to help keep them in place.
Balance And Secure Your Fridge
Forgetting to lock the fridge and freezer is a common but unfortunate RV mistake. All it takes is a gallon of milk pushing against the fridge door, and you’re left with a warm refrigerator, spoiled food, and a big mess to clean up. Use RV refrigerator tension bars to help keep the door shut, and only store light items in the door's shelves. If you have an absorption refrigerator, you'll also need to make sure it's always level or it may start to leak or malfunction.
It also helps if your fridge items aren't packed together too tightly. Air needs to flow through the refrigerator for it to work, and packing tightly will cause items towards the center to grow stagnant or even warm. Space your food items evenly throughout the interior of the refrigerator, and follow the rule of heavy items towards the bottom and lighter items up top. This way if there is any shaking, rattling, or rolling on your trip, the heavy items are less likely the crush the lighter ones.
We hope these tips make loading your rig an easier, safer, and more enjoyable experience. If you have any comments or tips of your own you'd like to share, feel free to leave them below!