The Right Weight – Matching Your Truck with a Trailer

If you already own a pickup truck, you are halfway toward having a great vacation duo – a truck and trailer. By purchasing a camping trailer that you can pull with your existing truck, you can get more use out of your current vehicle and enjoy memorable vacations with the whole family. Trailers are less expensive than motorhomes, so this option is a great way to get into the RV world for a lower upfront cost. Also, by traveling with a trailer, you can always detach at the campsite and you will have your truck free to explore the area around camp.

Be Sure Your Truck (or SUV) Can Handle the Weight of Your Trailer
Be Sure Your Truck (or SUV) Can Handle the Weight of Your Trailer

Of course, it is important to pick a trailer that your truck is capable of pulling. The size of trailer that you can purchase will depend on the towing capacity of your pickup truck. Buying a trailer that is too large for your truck is a mistake you certainly don’t want to make, so be sure to do plenty of research on this point before signing on the dotted line.

Understanding the Payload

You have likely heard the term ‘payload’ before, even if you weren’t sure exactly what it meant. Payload refers to the total weight that your truck can handle, minus the weight of the truck itself. If you were to load down your truck with more weight than the payload indicates, you could quickly run into serious trouble. Once you know what your truck’s payload is, you can then go shopping for a trailer with a specific number in mind.

Tongue Weight is the Key

You don’t need to think so much about the overall weight of the trailer as you do the ‘tongue weight’. The tongue weight is the amount of weight that the trailer is placing on the back of your truck. Since the trailer has its own wheels, it is supporting much of its own weight. However, where the truck and trailer are connected at the hitch, the weight of the front part of the trailer is being supported by the truck. Again, you don’t want to ask your truck to support more than it is capable of, so it is crucial that you know exactly how much weight you can take.

In general, you can expect the trailer to put up to 15% of its total weight down onto your truck. So, take the overall weight of the trailer and multiply by .15 – that is the amount of weight that your truck will be bearing as you pull the trailer down the road (roughly). If that number doesn’t put you over your total payload (while also considering your other cargo), you should be able to safely operate the trailer with your truck.

This is a serious decision, and you need to make sure you get it just right. If you aren’t confident enough to calculate these numbers on your own, work with an expert at the RV dealership to decide if your truck can handle a specific trailer. You can create a dangerous situation out on the road if you attempt to haul a trailer that is too big for the truck you are driving. Play it safe, error on the side of caution, and only hit the road when you are sure you have done the math correctly.


  1. I could not believe how many trailers were being towed with an SUV! Some trailers look just to heavy! I have Chevy Silverado that can tow up to 12000 #, and I still have a hard time pulling my trailer that is 6600. I see a lot more CAMPER accidents coming if people just don’t look at the weights

  2. The type of hitch you use is also an important consideration. I see so many people who spend $25K-$30K on a beautiful trailer but won’t spend another $1200-$1500 on a good weight distributing hitch set-up.

  3. A long time towing friend told me to take the total towing capacity of your truck and divide it in half (less tongue weight). My truck can haul 9000# so I shot for a trailer that was in the 4 to 5000# range. His thought is, you pull too much, it will tear your truck apart and you will be continuously doing major repairs. I think he has something, I don’t think I would want to pull anything larger than that.

  4. We bought a 2003 26 ft hybrid that is 3300 pounds empty, and 4900 pounds fully loaded. We bought it because we thought we could pull it with our Tahoe. We also have the sway bar to consider as well. Is this camper to heavy to pull with a Tahoe with the weight limit being 5000 on this SUV?

  5. If you plan to tow with water then also notenjoy it’s position and effect it will have on hitch weight when filled. My last trailer it was in the front adding 400 lbs to the hitch. Also take the time and spend the $20 to weigh your truck, trailer and tongue. There are many who miss represent their weights and you are safer knowing what you have.

  6. I think anywhere under your tow rateing is fine. Just drive around 65 or slower and be carfull. I got a f150 2007 355 gears and tow rateing is 8300 and my trailer and all the stuff and people come out to 7800 roughly and it pulls it fine . Now up hills in north ga not so good lol but we take short trips to state parks and its fine .

  7. 98 Dodge Dakota v6 3.9 tow rating of 7500lbs pulls a 2001 22′ Skamper Ultra at 5000lbs with weight distribution with no trouble at all. Struggles up large hills but otherwise it is fine. Fuel consumption more than doubles.

  8. Make yourself a spreadsheet so you can add up all your numbers. If you look at the Trailer max weight you will find many of them will be over the max trailer weight if you have all the storage tanks full. Meaning there is no headroom for cargo.
    Double check the Vehicle manufacturer specs on payload by taking GVWR-curb weight. They should be equal. Curb weight does not assume full fuel tanks, passengers/cargo. You have to subtract that to find total payload availability for your tow vehicle.
    Dry trailer weight does not include weight of battery, filled propane tanks, any water left in the water heater, storage tanks, water filter and the supply and drain lines. Tow ratings on light duty vehicles are misleading. They dont tell you for how long the light duty vehicle can tow at maximum values. Heavy Duty vehicles are built to do heavy duty work all the time so they can operate near the maximum values for much longer periods of time before mechanical failure.
    They also are built with stronger tires to handle the payloads. Light duty vehicles have softer sidewalls and can cause premature wear which impedes towing at maximum value for long periods of time safely.

  9. Got a 2009 Nissan Titan (with tow package) and I pull a 2016 Highland Ridge Light 274 RLS which comes in around 7,000 lbs. My only issue was bed sag, so added some air bags and onboard compressor and a K&M air filter to help with the MPG’s (Titans do not get good gas mileage) and have had no problems. We live in the Puget Sound, so we travel up and down hills from here to Oregon. I did pay the extra money for the weight distribution hitch and I have my truck checked regularly – still no problems. Speed limit is the main thing for me – you shouldn’t be in a hurry when you are going Glamping!

    • MH , I did exactly the same thing with my 08 Ram 1500 long bed w/4.7. 10 mpg, rides GREAT , pulls ok, 65 it loves.

  10. I pull a 94 Mallard 22 foot with my 04 dodge ram 5.7 hemi…not too many issues. Downshifting just going up hills…keep it at about 60-65…I use just the regular stabilizer bars with a sway bar

  11. Way back when I pulled a two horse trailer with two horses and tack in in, had to weigh close to 5,000 pounds! I pulled it with a 1966 half tone, short box Chevy pickup with a 327 CI, 275 HP engine with a Powerglide tranny! Pulled the trailer all over the place and never had a problem with anything on the pickup. No overloads, topper on the pickup bed filled with hay, etc. When I see all of the secs to pull a trailer these days and have to laugh a bit!

  12. “If you aren’t confident enough to calculate these numbers on your own, work with an expert at the RV to decide if your truck can handle a specific trailer.”

    I sure would like to find one. If your dealer is not using the RV Tow Check App for calculating realistic vehicle towing capacity, you may very well drive off a trailer too big.

  13. Back when I was looking for a trailerfor mu 05 Ford F-250, there wer too many dealers that didn’t even ask what truck you had, if you liked a trailer and wanted to buy it, they said you could pull it!!!!!!!!!! I knew what I could pull and walked off of several lots!

  14. I have a 2015 Ford F-150 v6 2.7L and the manual says I can pull up to 8500 lbs but a ford expert says I can tow only 7600. I bought a travel trailer with an empty weight of 7500. I invested in the expensive stabilizer but am still nervous that I may hurt my engine. I need answers and can’t find any. It does fine when I’m running 55-60 mph. But going up hill, it is straining. Please a little advice since I’ve already made the purchase.

    • IMO your trailer is too heavy for your truck…actual weight, when the trailer is loaded for camping, can easily be 1500 pounds (or more) heavier than the dry weight (and the actual dry weight of your trailer may be more than what is claimed). Weigh the rig loaded for your typical trip. Many experienced towers recommend not towing more than 85% of the tow rating…but for sure you don’t want to go over it. It is not just a matter of hurting your engine…brakes, tow vehicle weight and stability, etc. all figure into OEM tow rating. In your case, you are probably close to the 8500 lb rating even when lightly loaded and over for sure if you load it with camping supplies, groceries, propane, fluids, etc.

  15. Buy from a respectable dealer. When we went to purchase a new trailer the first thing the dealer did was ask to see what we would be pulling it with then he would be happy to show us what was available. He took the VIN and looked up the specs to see what it was capable of pulling as set up.
    He stated he never wanted to put someone in a trailer they couldn’t pull just to make a sale. That right there sold him and his dealership. All I want is honesty and we can deal. That being said if you go to a dealer and they don’t at least ask what tow vehicle you have I would be hesitant about purchasing from them.


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