13/11/2023
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Camping guide to trailers

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The amount of equipment people take on family camping holidays these days can make packing your car a real problem

The reality is that most car boots simply aren’t big enough for the amount of kit you might want to take with you and it is unsafe to pack lots of gear into the inside of the car.

This means you’ll have to find other ways to pack your kit and get it safely to the campsite and one popular solution is to use a small camping trailer.

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Words by Iain Duff

 


What is a camping trailer?

A camping trailer

(Photo by Iain Duff)

A camping trailer is a small, enclosed, wheeled wagon that you tow behind your car, letting you carry a lot more gear when you go camping, without having to compromise on space inside the vehicle.

Small trailers for camping have side walls and often a drop-down tailgate to make access and loading easier. They come in a range of sizes, suitable for a variety of different uses and needs and are usually made of galvanised steel and come with lights and reflectors. Camping trailers are usually flat-packed for self-assembly but if you would rather not put it together yourself, suppliers will often offer an assembly service for a fee of around £30.

Additional fittings such as jockey wheels, high sides, spare wheel carriers and heavy-duty PVC covers or hard-topped lids are also available for many models.

Do note, too, as you add any extras, there will be an effect on payload, ie how much load you can carry. And even if your budget doesn’t stretch to certain options initially, do bear in mind their availability in the future.

As well as providing additional carrying space, putting bulky loads on a trailer may well lessen the possibility of damaging your car in any way. There’s a bit more peace of mind, too, in carrying items like gas cylinders by trailer rather than inside the car. And, when you get to the campsite, you have a safe place to store things like chairs and tables etc, should you wish.

Trailers for camping equipment should not be confused with trailer tents, which house a fold-out tent for camping. For more information on trailer tents, visit our comprehensive guide.

How much do they cost?

For a new, unbraked camping trailer, prices range from about £400 for the smallest, most basic model and can increase to about £900. For larger, twin-axle trailers the price will be even higher, although these are rarely used for camping. Optional extras like jockey wheels, mesh sides and covers can add another few hundred pounds to the total bill, but will give you more storage options.

Buying secondhand is obviously cheaper, but is not without risks as there is no way of knowing the roadworthiness of the trailer when you buy it.

Make sure any small trailer you buy meets or exceeds the Type Approval requirements – all new trailers are supplied with a certificate of conformity and VIN plate and if you build your own trailer from scratch it must be tested for Type Approval before it can be used.

The National Trailer and Towing Association is the trade body for trailer suppliers. Its website includes updates on legal topics as well as listings for approved trailer retailers, towbar fitters, parts suppliers and more. There is also a listing of companies who hire out trailers.

Without doubt it will pay to shop local and buy a small trailer from a specialist – not just for the better choice but also the aftersales back-up in terms of parts replacement, additional accessories and – perhaps most important of all – the advice you’ll get.

What size and how much do they weigh?

Camping equipment trailers come in a range of sizes. For example, the Erde 122 is one of the smallest models starting at 125cm by 97cm. It weighs 98kg when empty and can take a maximum load of 502kg, making a total weight of 600kg.

The largest in the Erde range (the 213) is 211cm by 135cm and has an unladen weight of 190kg. It has a maximum allowable axle weight of 750kg so can carry a load of up to 560kg, but remember to factor in any extra fittings such as side walls and the jockey wheel. Trailers weighing over 750kg need to be fitted with brakes.


Do camping trailers need insurance?

A camping trailer mesh cage

(Photo by Iain Duff)

You should inform your car insurer if you have a towbar fitted to your car. Your car insurance policy will then usually cover a small trailer for third-party damage, although you may have to pay an additional fee. If you are involved in an accident and your trailer damages another vehicle or property, your insurance will cover the other party’s losses.

If you take out a separate trailer insurance policy, it will pay for your trailer to be repaired or replaced if it’s damaged while its being towed, or if it is stolen or damaged when parked.


Trailers and the law

Specifically here, we’re talking unbraked trailers, ie those with a maximum weight of anything up to 750kg. That’s well within the capabilities of most cars, but do check your vehicle’s maximum towing limit (it can be a lot lower for automatics, for example). If there’s not already one fitted, you’ll have to have a towbar with electrics for the lights.

Unbraked trailers up to 750kg must have secondary couplings – either a chain or cable – that will ensure the trailer remains attached to the towcar if the main coupling fails.

You don’t need to have passed any extra test to tow a leisure trailer like this, any B category driver can do so as long as the vehicle is up to grade. Just bear in mind these are the hardest of all kinds of trailer to reverse – it’s best to unhitch and manhandle into position.

Speed limits are lower when you have a trailer on the back (you’re restricted to 50mph on single carriageways, 60mph on the motorways and are not allowed to use the outer lane of the motorway, for example).


Top tips

A camping trailer cover

(Photo by Iain Duff)

Here are a few important things about camping trailers to consider:

  • Check your car’s engine is large enough to tow the trailer and load
  • Check the car brakes are powerful enough to stop the vehicle and trailer safely
  • Check the trailer Gross Weight does not exceed your vehicle’s towing capacity. This should be in the vehicle manufacturer's handbook and on the VIN plate on the chassis
  • The addition of a loaded trailer to a vehicle will impact on your car’s performance. Starting, especially on hills, can be much more laboured; stopping can take longer and cornering and negotiating sharp bends requires extra care
  • Make sure you have enough space to store your trailer. Ideally you should keep it under cover in a garage. Some trailers have recessed rear lights that mean they can be stored on their end to save space
  • Before you go camping with a trailer, pack the heaviest items, like tents, over the wheels and try to put the items you will need to unpack first towards the back where they are easiest to retrieve. Make sure everything is well secured. A soft or hard cover will keep equipment dry
  • Be aware of your speed when going down a steep hill. Use your vehicle’s gears as well as the brakes to control your speed. Similarly, when going uphill, get into a lower gear before you reach the hill
  • Security is an issue. There’s not going to be a lot you can do if a thief is determined to get at the contents of your trailer, but you can take a few steps to make sure it’s not the whole unit itself that gets stolen. Padlocks, hitchlocks and wheel clamps should all be considered
  • A hinged tailgate will always come in really handy. There may also be a tipper action. That’s unlikely to be considered useful for your leisure gear, although it could prove itself very worthwhile for other activities beyond camping
  • Maintenance for trailers is actually quite minimal. Keep an eye on tyre pressures, in particular, and any suspensions system may need occasional greasing (many are maintenance-free). You’re unlikely to use your trailer to the point where tyre tread is worn to illegality, but cracking sidewalls could be more of an issue – blowouts aren’t much fun. Look to replace after five years
  • If you think you’ll only need a trailer for one camping trip a year, it is worth considering hiring. There are numerous companies around the UK that will rent you a trailer, with prices starting at about £40 per day


Final thoughts

Camping trailers are invaluable companions for outdoor enthusiasts, offering additional storage space and peace of mind during your adventures. They come in various sizes and price ranges, so selecting the right one to suit your needs is vital. Make sure your vehicle can safely tow the trailer and consider factors like insurance and legal requirements.

Proper maintenance and security measures are essential for the longevity and protection of your investment. Whether you're a frequent camper or an occasional traveller, a camping trailer can significantly enhance your outdoor experiences.


Expert Camping advice!

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