The Art Of Backing Up

When talking about backing up Blue Streak into a Provincial Boondocking Campsite, I once had a person say to me: “Be afraid – be very afraid!”.    I guess when looking at about 50′ of Airstream and F-150HD FX4 Tow Vehicle easing into a tight 33′ wide x 38′ deep off-grid site, coming off a single lane narrow “goat path”, fear (another word for anxiety) is often the emotion one gets. Adding to this is the stress that everyone at the camp ground is watching (now that’s entertainment🤩! read my link on Karma).

To be honest I’m not quite sure what there is to be fearful of? In saying that, there is a definite and often severe learning curve to backing one’s 25′ + long Airstream Travel Trailer into a campsite. Remember, everyone begins as a Newbie.

There are a couple of pointers I would like to share from my own backing-up experience of the good, the bad and the ugly (yep, like the movie). To help in this endeavour I am including a couple of videos regarding tips and techniques.

Let’s start with a list of tips.

First and probably most important tip I can give is – Practice, Practice, Practice. The old saying, “practice makes perfect”, is true.

Second tip, is called the G.O.A.L. – which means “Get Out And Look”. You would think that is simply common sense. Not So! I have seen it over and over again people pull up to a campsite and just attempt to back in.

Before I even begin the back-up process, I stop just before the campsite and get out of Red Dragon and walk the area. I am checking for obstructions above and below. I mentally replay how to set up before the backing up, see what is in my way. I then pick out a fixed point in which to focus my reverse view camera (more on that in a moment).

One of my ugliest moments happened this year (2019) at Elk Falls Provincial Park. We drove in on this nice “paved” road to the spot we reserved. Got out and looked and was immediately overcome by the beauty of the campsite, and how clean from obstruction it was. However, a couple of things I missed (because I was blinded by the beauty). 1. The “paved” road was narrow with a ditch on the passenger side. 2. The trailer placement required a 130 degree backing angle (which would have not been a problem if there was not a ditch to contend with), 3. I forgot to “Scoop” (more about “The Scoop” in a moment).

Yes, we did get into the spot after some unbelievable gymnastics, hand to face plant several times, hair pulling and unhelpful internal dialogue🙄. After finally setting up, pausing, and reviewing. I realized that had I investigated a little bit more before the attempt. I would have discovered I could have come at the spot from the opposite direction making it a slam-dunk delivery (If brains were trains….Royal Canadian Navy phase😕). Well, I did at least entertain the troops 😎.

Third tip, is hand placement on the steering wheel of the Tow Vehicle. (Watch the video)

Realize that this lower hand placement goes against how we have been programmed to steer our vehicle, so we don’t feel comfortable doing this at first. Once you see how much more trailer control you have, you will be set free. (It does take a bit of getting use to) Like in any manoeuvring you use small incremental movements. Trailers pivot quite quickly!

Fourth tip, is “The Scoop” – I learned this manoeuver from Sean of Long Long Honeymoon fame. The video below explains this far better than I could. (To keep it short and to the point I edited Sean’s video)

Yes, this manoeuver works – however, on a very narrow “goat path” you cannot quite get all the good angles you could achieve on a wider roadway. (Keep this in mind🤓)

Fifth tip, learn to use your mirrors. We have large towing mirrors which I believe is a must. This way you can see the angel of the trailer and keep it moving in the desired direction. Since we also have a reverse view camera on Blue Streak , my travel partner (guide) stands at the fixed point we want Blue Streak to end up at so I can both see where I want to go and also receive instructions about trailer pivot and  travel.

Sixth tip, buy and use walkie-talkies. We have used Motorola walkie-talkies for communications for several years. Because we Boondock most of the time “Cell Phone” coverage is NOT dependable. In my humble opinion depending on the use of a cell phone for this reverse manoeuver is risky at best.

Seventh tip, make sure that your “guide” and you are on the same page when it comes to communication. We use the following terms for trailer pivot and travel:

  • Drivers Side
  • Passengers Side
  • Keep Coming
  • Stop
  • Come Look

Eighth tip, go slow – be patient, get out of the tow vehicle as often as necessary and look. I once had someone compare backing up your trailer to learning a new dance (you put your right foot in, take your right foot out, then do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around .. You get the idea). This bring us back then to the very first tip – Practice, Practice, Practice.😄

The following video from Mike of the Wandering Wagners is well worth watching – enjoy.

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