How to Go RV Camping – The Basics

RV Camping in State Parks

RV camping is a ton of fun, but it does require some planning and preparation. Here we provide an overview of the basic considerations for RV camping.

Chris & Mac of Grey Otter Outventures

Chris & Mac
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RV camping is a great way to go for those who are not big on tents and for extended trips.  It allows us to stay out of the elements during inclement weather, to sleep in a bed, and to have many of the creature comforts of home, while staying in a beautiful outdoor location.  Another major benefit is it often enables us to camp with those in our group whose idea of camping is a budget hotel.  Overall, RV camping is pretty easy and straight forward once you park your RV or trailer.  That said, there are a few tricks that can make RV camping all the more enjoyable.

  • Know How Your RV and Its Components Work

Seems self-evident, right?  One would think so, but we cannot tell your how many times we have seen people simply arrive in a new RV without knowing the basic operation of the unit.  RVs can be very complex.  Your campsite is not the place to figure out how everything works.  Make sure to read the provided manuals and know how the components of your unit operate before you go.  Dealing with tech support from your driveway is a heck of a lot less stressful than doing it from your campsite!

  • Have a RV Camping List on Your Computer

We learned early on that reinventing the wheel with a new packing list is a waste of time and often results in forgotten items.  As such, we have a running list for RV camping on our computer to which we add items as the occasion warrants.  We simply print the list, scratch the items we don’t need for a particular trip, then check off the remaining items as we pack them.  If you would like a starting point, see our article “RV Camping Starter List”.

  • Know the Amenities of the Campground and Your Site

First and foremost, make sure your RV will fit in a chosen site!  Campgrounds generally take no responsibility for errors in site selection.  If possible, the campground might try to find another site for you if one is available, but it is ultimately your problem if you cannot be accommodated and you may have to find another campground.  It is also very unlikely the campground will refund your money if you choose poorly, so make sure of the site before you book and make the campground aware of the size of your RV.

As part of your preparation, you should know if your site has water and electric or if you will be “dry camping” (no water or electric).  You should also determine if the campground has flush toilets and showers or pit toilets and no showers, as well as whether potable water is available in the campground.  If your RV has a shower and toilet which you plan to use, you will want to determine whether the site is “full hook-up” with a dump at the site or whether there is a central RV dump in the campground.  If there is neither, you should locate a dump site near the campground to use when you leave.  You will also want to know whether you have a “pull through” site or a back-in site.  Additional considerations include determining if the campground has food storage requirements due to rodents or bears and if the campground allows campfires and sells wood.

All of this will dictate what to bring with you.  Simply envision how you will operate in the campsite/campground and determine what you need.  For example, if you have electric you might want an electric coffee pot.  If the site does not have electric and your RV does not have gas, you might want to bring a camp stove and a stove percolator, as well as headlamps or a lantern for lighting.  You get the point, just think things through and add any needed items to your running list.

  • RV Parks vs. Campgrounds

On the surface, RV parks seem different than campgrounds, but they may not be.  Many RV parks offer spots ranging from full hook-up to water and electric only to dry camping.  Some may offer many amenities such as a pool, laundry facilities, and rec house.  Others may offer no amenities, essentially operating as a privately-owned campground.

High-end RV parks often cater strictly to RVs and may even have restrictions on what types and ages of units they allow in the park.  Don’t just assume you can show up and grab a spot.  Additionally, the park may have very strict rules of behavior that you will not often see in campgrounds.

Many RV parks are family oriented, offering a lot of activities and facilities for kids, anticipating that visitors will be spending most of their time in the park – all of which you are paying for in the form of higher site fees.  Other parks, however, may actually have age restrictions allowing no kids or even limiting visitors to age 50 and up.  Realize also that RV parks sometimes cater to a particular audience based on attractions in the area.  For example, parks located near OHV trails may cater largely to those with four wheelers, making the park noisy and very active.  Knowing the tenor of the parks will enable you to select the right RV park for your trip.

In general, many of the considerations for an RV park are the same as those for a campground, but you should always check the basic rules, amenities, and target audience for the park before you book.  Many park owners take the position that it is your responsibility to understand the park before you book and are quite unwilling to refund deposits and other monies if you choose poorly.  Doing a little homework help to ensure you are happy with your choice.

  • If You RV Camp Regularly

If you RV camp regularly, it makes trip preparation much easier to have dedicated gear.  Old pots and pans, coffee maker or percolator, etc. can be part of the gear you store in your RV, together with things like extension cords, knives, forks, spoons, cooking utensils, sheets, etc.  This saves a ton of time in camping preparation and clean-up.  We even keep pepper, salts, garlic powder, and other spices we use when we camp in the RV to speed the packing process.

  • Plan Your Drive

Whether you are in a large motor home, a fifth wheel, or a travel trailer, it is important to look at the route you will take to the campground or RV park and determine logistics.  Height clearances are often an issue for larger RVs.  There are numerous apps available for your phone that will route you based on the height of your unit.  Maneuverability in gas stations can also be an issue.  For example, we have a large toy hauler (has a garage) fifth wheel and a diesel truck.  Due to size and turning radius, we cannot maneuver in most consumer areas of gas stations, so we must use truck stops and fuel our truck in the bays used by semi-trucks.  This makes it very important for us to know how much gas we will use along our route based on elevation changes and/or city traffic jams and where the truck stops we will use are located.  We always make these plans conservatively to try and preclude surprises.  Getting a sense of your chosen route and planning your trip accordingly based on the requirements of your RV will help ensure you have a pleasant trip.

  • Make Sure Your RV is in Good Condition

Let’s face it, RVs are a mechanical nightmare.  We can’t tell you how many RVers have related horror stories about their RVs.  Our experience has been that regardless of the RV manufacturer, things break and go wrong frequently.  Part of this is the quality of the RV’s construction which is often less than excellent, part of this is that the RV is subjected to a lot of demands driving on poorly maintained roads, and part of this is because of poor owner maintenance.  Think about how often you see an RV sitting on the side of a highway waiting for a tow truck.  You can reduce the risk of being stranded, however, by taking some simple steps:

  1. Make sure your tires are properly inflated and stay within the speed rating for the tires.  Among the top causes for RV problems is poor tire inflation and exceeding the speed rating of the RV tires.  Understand that RV manufacturers tend to use tires that meet the minimum requirements for the RV and tend to pick the tires based on cost, not quality.  These tires can be very susceptible to damage in the form of blowouts and tire separations.  The main way to combat these issues is to ensure proper tire inflation before you begin your trip and stay within the tire speed rating during your drive.  You might also consider buying a tire pressure monitoring system.  It will alert you if your tire pressure gets too high, too low, or if there is a blowout (yes, depending on your unit, you may not even know if a tire separated or went flat until it causes major damage – trust us!)

  2. Check the lug nuts on your wheels for proper torque before each trip. The wheels on an RV (particularly fifth wheels and travel trailers) are subjected to a lot of forces during use.  These forces can cause the lugs to loosen and may result in the loss of a wheel.  Most experienced RVers make it a point to check the lugs before travel.  A five-minute job can save you a nightmare on the highway.

  3. Always make sure everything in the RV is secure for travel – things WILL get banged around. Also walk the outside of the RV to ensure all hatches are closed, power, water and electric are disconnected, awnings are in, antennas are down, and the unit appears to be in good order.  We can’t tell you how many times we have seen people damage their RVs or lose possessions by forgetting to disconnect or store something.
  4. Have a checklist. RVs have a lot going on, from refrigerators running to gas lines to hook-ups.  It can be a challenge to remember everything, particularly when you are in a hurry to leave.  We found a simple checklist can go a long way to reducing problems.  We are very experienced using our fifth wheel (we even traveled for 7 months straight in it moving every 1 to 2 weeks), but we always use our checklist before we start pulling it to make sure we remembered everything we need to do. 

Preparation for and execution of an RV camping trip is a breeze if you know about the campground and site, use your standing packing list, organize your gear for easy execution, plan your travel route, and do your pre-trip preparation.  A little time in preparation will save you from a nightmare.  Now get out there and have fun!

SAFETY DISCLAIMER:  The activities discussed in this website are outdoor activities and, as such, have inherent risks to which participants are exposed.  It is not the intent of this website, nor is it possible due to the variability of weather, terrain, equipment, and experience, to detail all of those risks.  The information contained in this site is informational, but not instructive nor exhaustive.  It is the sole responsibility of the user to ensure he/she is in good health, fully prepared, and fully informed as to dangers before undertaking any of the activities discussed in this website and the user does so at his/her own risk.  The user understands that by using this website he/she acknowledges and accepts all risks associated with use of information from this website and participation in any particular activity addressed herein.  Please see “Terms of Use” for additional information.

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