Caravans and camper trailers come in many shapes and sizes but one thing that they all have in common is that there’s a bit of skill in getting them to behave behind a tow vehicle, especially when towing off-road. With a lifetime of experience exploring Australia’s most remote regions, often with a trailer of some sort in tow, Penny Wells from Top of Down Under knows a thing or two about keeping a combination on track when the going gets tough, so we’ve asked her to share a few pointers in the video below as part of the Toyo Tires Traction Tips series.
It sounds obvious, but the first step is thinking about the types of off-road terrain you plan to tow your trailer through and ensuring that both the trailer and tow vehicle are capable of conquering what lies ahead. For anything more than gravel roads or light 4WDing to unhitch at a campsite before exploring further, it’s crucial that your trailer features sturdy construction that’s been designed for off-road use with suitable suspension to support it, and that your 4x4 has enough traction and power to pull it through.
It’s tempting to take everything you could ever need with you, but experienced tourers know that there’s an art to taking the bare essentials, and the same goes for your caravan or camper trailer. Sure, a massive home away from home is luxurious and a larger caravan may be the perfect fit for the adventures you’re planning, but if you’re going to be heading off the beaten track, you’ll want a suitably sized camper trailer for when things get tight. Trailers don’t drive themselves, so consider the dimensions of your entire combination along with how things like drawbar length influence tight turning capabilities and the ground clearance available for all components in different scenarios to avoid dragging and damage.
Regardless of your trailer’s size, choosing a high-quality wheel and tyre combination that is load rated above your caravan or camper’s Gross Trailer Mass (GTM) is very important. While rim load ratings are static, many overlook that tyre load ratings reflect the weight that a tyre can safely carry at its maximum inflation pressure, with this load-carrying capacity reducing as inflation pressure is decreased. So, it’s a good idea to allow a generous safety margin that sees the total combined weight that all tyres fitted to your trailer can carry considerably above its maximum GTM, which also applies to the tyres on your tow vehicle and its maximum Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM). This will often require fitment of light-truck-construction tyres but even then, any tyre working near its maximum inflation pressure will have reduced flexibility, increasing the risk of damage and punctures, so a load rating that’s higher than required will always be a safer choice than one that’s too low.
Larger tyres will often have higher load ratings and are a simple way to increase ground clearance. Some choose to match tyre size and pattern along with rim specifications between tow vehicle and trailer so that spares can be shared between the two, with 265/75R16 and 265/70R17 being popular, functional sizes for off-road use. However, matched sizing isn’t always practical for trailers that are limited to a specific tyre specification or that have limited wheel clearance, or for combinations where the tow vehicle is running large tyres aimed at extreme off-road use. As an example of the latter, Penny’s LandCruiser uses 35x12.50R17 121Q Open Country R/Ts, but these would be a bit big for the trailer, so 285/75R16 126Q Open Country R/Ts were used to boost ground clearance and load-carrying capacity well above that of most off-road trailers. If you do decide to change tyre size on your trailer or tow vehicle, be sure to consider legality.
As for what 4x4 tyre pattern you should choose for your off-road trailer, well, that also depends on where you’ll be taking it. Trailers do not have driven wheels, so traction is almost irrelevant, with the key consideration for pattern choice being to balance puncture resistance, weight, rolling resistance and noise. If all-terrain tyres like the Open Country A/T II would be the best fit for your tow vehicle, then these will work well on your trailer too while being quieter and using less fuel than the heavy, high-rolling-resistance mud-terrain tyres that many fit to off-road trailers. Even if you’re hitting the tough tracks, heavy-duty tyres like the M55F or Open Country R/T would be a better fit than an M/T as they’re just as durable but use rubber compounds closer to an A/T with tighter tread patterns that are more resistant to cutting, chipping and other forms of accelerated wear. This is especially true on trailers where higher than optimal inflation pressures are often used to retain a safety margin for weight changes where comfort and traction aren’t as much of a concern.
At the end of the day, an off-road trailer and tow vehicle are only as capable as the person behind the steering wheel, so be sure to practice driving your combination before you hit the tracks. Finding a safe, open area to practice manoeuvres while learning how your combination reacts in forward and reverse will give you a better chance of getting out of trouble if things don’t go to plan in the bush. With a bit of confidence behind you, hitting your local trails is great to get familiar with off-road towing within reach of rescue, but there’ll be plenty of long stints on sealed roads between tracks too, so be sure to get your combination up to highway speeds when fully loaded to ensure you’re comfortable before heading off on your big trip.
This video of Penny conquering a rough, rocky hill climb in Litchfield National Park is a great example of how confidence in your abilities and a cool head can give you the best chance of overcoming off-road obstacles while towing. No one becomes an expert overnight though, so keep practicing and if you feel you could use a helping hand, get in touch with your local 4x4 driver training organisation. If you would like to read more about Penny’s experience on the Open Country R/T, CLICK HERE.