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Amongst the first things you need to consider are the vehicle you will use to tow your camper trailer and the amount of gear you will take on your camping trips.
All vehicles come with a maximum towing capacity set by the manufacturer. The towing capacity of a Toyota Landcruiser Prado is 2,500 kg which means it will tow virtually any type of camper trailer on the market.
Whereas the towing capacity of the Mazda CX-5 is only 1,800 kg. While not enough for your average caravan, you can still find quite a few models of camper trailers that it can handle. You will need to look carefully at the weight of each camper trailer.
Each camper trailer will come with several different weights. The two you are most interested in are the Tare and the ATM. You are also curious about the Ball Weight.
The Tare weight (or more correctly, the tare mass) is the weight of the camper trailer when it is completely empty. It only includes the weight of the trailer, the canvas and poles. Even the water tanks are empty.
Aggregate Trailer Mass
The Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) is the weight of the camper trailer, with everything loaded, when not hitched up to a vehicle. It includes all the gear you put in it, the accessories you pack on like bikes and canoes, the full water tanks and gas cylinders.
It is the ATM that determines whether your vehicle can tow it or not. The ATM of your camper trailer isn’t allowed to exceed your vehicle's rated Towing Capacity
The amount of gear can you carry on your camper trailer is referred to as its Payload. It’s the difference between its Tare Weight and its ATM.
Payload is critical to camper trailers, many of which have quite limited carrying capacity to start with. Modifications and additions to the camper trailer can very quickly eat into the carrying capacity and result in an overloaded trailer.
Don’t forget that when you fill your 100 L water tank, you are adding another 100kg and that each full 9kg gas cylinder actually weighs about 19 kg when full. Then there is the weight of your jerry can, your fully stocked fridge and all your cooking gear. You’ll quickly find that up to 200 kg of your payload is used up before you start packing your camping gear.
Of course, you can pack some of your gear in the car and on its roof-racks. This is where the Ball weight comes in to play.
Ball Weight is the amount of weight the fully laden trailer imposes on the tow bar of the tow vehicle. The camper trailer ball weight is often a specification provided by the trailer manufacturer, but this will change, depending on how you load it. Since you will be piling gear into your front box, the actual ball weight will be substantially higher than the manufacturers specification.
From the Ball weight, you can immediately see that you won’t be lifting the trailer on and off the hitch manually.
Since the ball weight is carried by your car, it must be included in your car’s payload. This means you won’t be able to carry as much extra gear on your car as you might expect.
It all comes back to the way you want to enjoy your holidays. Some folks travel light when camping and could never imagine using up the entire payload of the camper trailer. Others like to carry along boats, bikes and fishing gear. You need to identify the model of camper trailer that suits your camping lifestyle.