RV Weight Distribution Tips for Packing Your RV

When packing your RV, it’s essential to consider the weight distribution to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. Here are some tips to help you achieve optimal weight distribution.

Merriam-Webster defines weight as the force with which a body is pulled toward the earth. Everything around us feels this gravitational pull. Then you add the forces of movement which can magnify the effect of weight, and … well, you get the point.

Weight and loading are important for an airplane so it will lift off the ground and for a ship so it won’t roll over and they are important for your RV, not only to make sure it will last a long time without premature wear or component failure but also so it will be safe to drive on the highways and back roads.

Distribute weight evenly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are a number of resources for RVers to reference regarding the weight of their RV. Owner’s manuals usually provide weight and loading information as do numerous websites.

One organization, the RV Safety and Education Foundation (RVSEF) has dedicated its existence to the issues of RV weight and loading. It’s an important topic that every RVer should understand.

RV weight distribution, however, is something not a lot of RV owners think about. This is unfortunate because ensuring that all of the weight in your RV is evenly distributed is incredibly important for safety reasons. 

Trailers with cargo that haven’t been distributed across the rig evenly are more likely to sway. Additionally, all RVs that are loaded unevenly (or even overloaded) can suffer from suspension issues, problems with tires, and in some cases, issues with steering.

These are not things you want to have trouble with while on a road trip. Fortunately, this is an easy problem to avoid. The solution is of course to ensure that everything is loaded into your rig properly. 

Here are my tips for packing up your motorhome or trailer with RV weight distribution in mind. 

Distribute weight evenly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Know your limits

First and foremost, you want to know the limits of your rig. This includes the cargo-carrying capacity of your RV, the tow limits of your truck (if applicable) as well as the gross axle weight rating (the amount that can be put on any given axle).

Knowing these numbers and ensuring you stay well within the given boundaries is the first step in properly loading your RV. 

Pick and choose

Knowing your limits is a good starting point. The next step is deciding what you will take and what you’ll have to leave behind in order to stay within those limits. Packing light is the name of the game: versatile items that can serve multiple purposes, small items, and lightweight options are ideal.

Obviously, you will only want to take the essentials. Leave unnecessary items at home. But taking some toys or outdoor gear is probably fine. Just so in moderation and keep those weight limits in mind. 

Distribute weight evenly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep things balanced

Once you know the basic parameters you are working with and what you will pack, the next thing to do is actually move the items into the RV. Keep things as balanced as possible—from side-to-side and front-to-back.

Take note of where appliances and slides are. Those things are heavy and should be taken into consideration as you decide where items should be stored. Use all of your storage bays and spread things out evenly between them. If most of your cabinets are on one side of the RV, try to put heavy items on the opposite side to balance out what you’d store in the cabinets. 

Heavy items low and centered

Have some especially heavy items you need to pack? Those should be kept on the floor and on top of an axle. This will help prevent the heavy item from putting too much weight on the front or back. Storing on the floor also ensures the item doesn’t fall, break things, and/or hurt people while the RV is in transit.

If you can, pack an item of similar weight on the opposite side or pack the heavy item opposite your main kitchen appliances in order to even things out from side to side.

Distribute weight evenly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to load drawers and cabinets

Another thing to keep in mind as you’re loading up the RV is how to load the drawers and cabinets.

You want to make sure only lightweight things are in the overhead cabinets in order to help keep things balanced and keep your passengers safe if you’re in a motorhome. Meanwhile, the drawers should not be overloaded as this can break them—and if all of your drawers are on one side of the RV (as is often the case), you’ll be putting a lot of weight in one area and throwing off the balance of the rig. 

Keep tank locations in mind

Water is heavy. It weighs in at 8.34 pounds per gallon meaning a 40-gallon tank weighs over 333 pounds when full. That’s a lot of weight and it can easily put you over your cargo-carrying capacity and out of balance.

If you plan to drive with a full fresh water or waste tanks make sure you know where that particular tank is located and try to pack everything in such a way that the extra weight is balanced out and you aren’t over your RV’s weight limit. 

Distribute weight evenly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Observe before you drive

Once everything is loaded into the RV, it’s time for a visual inspection. Head outside and look at the rig. Make sure it isn’t obviously leaning to one side or the other. If you pull a trailer, make sure the trailer isn’t weighing down the truck and make sure the bottom of the trailer is parallel with the ground.

Essentially, you are looking for any signs that you’ve overloaded the RV or that the weight inside isn’t balanced. You will want to add this visual inspection to your pre-trip walk-around every time you drive. 

Go get weighed

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to know whether you’re overloaded and almost impossible to know whether one axle is taking the brunt of the work without getting properly weighed. Even if everything looks good from the outside, you could still be totally out of balance. For this reason, it’s best to head to a nearby truck scale to be weighed after you’ve loaded up the RV. These can usually be found at truck stops and will give you tons of information about how your RV is loaded. 

Check this out to learn more: Should I Weigh My RV?

Yes, RV weight distribution is an incredibly important thing. Luckily, you know this now and can take the steps above to prevent any dangerous situations caused by uneven weight distributions from cropping up during your RV travels.

Worth Pondering…

Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.

—C.S. Lewis

Should I Weigh My RV?

What’s my RV weight? Should I weigh my RV? Let’s explore this topic.

There are many weights: dry weight, curb weight, axle weight, vehicle weight, towing capacity, trailer weight, and total combined weight.

How does one know what each weight category means? Beyond that, how does one determine the weight of their RV combination? Let’s just answer one question at a time.

Should you drive into a truck weigh station that’s located along the interstate to weigh your RV? No! They would probably be rather upset if you did. Those weigh stations are intended for commercial trucking only. They also are not likely to be able to provide you with a printed weigh ticket containing the information.

Driving a Class A motorhome on Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

CAT scales

CAT scales are located at numerous truck stops. Their website has a listing of all facilities.

Recently the fee to weigh was $12.50 plus $3 if you need to do a re-weigh. The process is fairly simple but you could always park first and go inside to ask about the procedure at the service desk.

CAT scales are intended for truckers who need to know the separate weights of the front axle (or steer axle), the drive axle(s), and the trailer axle(s), plus the total weight. For this reason, the scale consists of three platforms.

Due to the dimensions of the various RV combinations, it might be difficult to get the right axles positioned on the right platforms. You might have to move during the weighing process.

Some trucks that are over-length or that have a spread-axle trailer need to do this. That is another reason to park, look at the scale first, and then go inside to chat with the weighmaster.

But ideally, you want your front axle on the first platform, your rear axle(s) on the second platform, and anything you are towing on the third platform.

If the lengths just don’t work out, the weighmaster will give you instructions and have you move during the weighing process to position the axles on the platforms as needed. How-to weigh instructions can be found on their website.

When approaching the scale, make sure you have enough distance available to allow your vehicle combination to straighten out before reaching the scale.

Then, pull onto the platforms slowly and smoothly. Be sure to brake gently. It’s not good for the platforms to shake them by applying the brakes too suddenly.

Use your mirrors to check the position of your axles on the platforms and follow the instructions given by the weighmaster.

There is an intercom like those at a fast-food drive-through. He may ask for a truck number for your weigh ticket. You might just be able to say “RV” or give a few digits of your license plate number.

After weighing, park your rig and then go inside to get the weigh ticket.

Don’t block the scale by going inside while your rig is sitting there in the way.

CAT Scale offers a phone app also which might be an advantage if you plan to weigh very often.

Driving a Class A motorhome on Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other options to weigh my RV

Another option, rather than using a CAT scale at a busy truck stop, might be to visit a local grain facility to see if they allow weighing but not during the fall harvest season.

If you have a friend who is a farmer with their own scale, you have that as an option, also. This would allow you to disconnect the trailer if you want to know the separate weights of the towing vehicle and the trailer without any of the trailer weight being supported by the towing vehicle.

Some scales rather than having three platforms just have one narrow platform that can weigh only one axle at a time.

Some require the vehicle to be still; others can weigh while the vehicle is moving slowly across the platform. You might have to stop for a bit with each axle on the platform so each axle can be weighed separately before you move up to weigh the next axle.

The scale may be able to add up the weights or it may only provide the separate weights and you’ll have to do the math. The slow-moving scale might be the same: it will provide separate axle weights but it may or may not do the math.

An important point is to approach the scale from the proper direction.

Some scales are located so that an approach from only one direction is possible or feasible. Others are in the middle of the lot and could be approached from either direction.

Look for the word, ENTER on the overhead sign. Clearance? Well, all vehicles are limited to 13 feet 6 inches in height except for oversized loads and the sign has room to spare for a semi so there should be room to spare for your RV to fit.

Note that the option of an agricultural scale above may require you to both unhitch and reposition even to get the separate front and rear axle weights of the towing vehicle.

The agricultural facilities are not usually concerned with the individual axle weights. They are concerned with two weights: a full-grain truck and the same truck when it is empty. Thus, they often consist of only one long platform and cannot provide individual axle weights.

Driving a Class A motorhome on U.S. Highway 89 in northern Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is four-corner weight?

It is important to note that truck stop scales can only weigh an entire axle. They cannot weigh the left side and right side separately. For this, you will have to find an RV dealer that has the equipment to weigh each tire separately.

The cost is higher but pales in comparison to the cost of a blowout if the axle is too heavy on one side even though it is within its weight rating limit.

Total axle weight is important but side-to-side balance is also important to avoid overloading one side of the axle.

Even though four-corner weight as it’s called is important, total axle weight is still important to know when four-corner weight cannot be determined.

Four-corner weight is also known as wheel position weight—the weight of each wheel on the vehicle.

If you are a member of Escapees RV Club (one of the RV memberships I recommend) you can use SmartWeigh to get this four-corner weight. According to Escapees, the SmartWeigh program provides critical RV weight safety and load management information in a highly accurate and usable format.

If you are involved in an accident, having the weigh ticket as proof of being within limits can be an important document to have. Be aware, though, of weight creep.

You know, you add this to a compartment, you add that, you modify, and before long, you no longer weigh what you weighed the last time you visited a scale.

Driving a motor coach on Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weight definitions

For those of you who really want to dig into this topic the generally accepted weight definitions are as follows:

  • Dry weight: Weight of the empty vehicle with no fluids or contents.
  • Curb weight: Weight of the vehicle parked at the curb ready to be driven usually including coolant, oil, and a full fuel tank.
  • GAWR: Gross Axle Weight Rating is the maximum amount of weight one individual axle can carry. In the case of a true tandem axle, sometimes each individual axle is given its own rating and sometimes the entire two-axle assembly is given a rating. RVs seldom have a true tandem axle (two axles connected to a single assembly which is in turn connected to the chassis). A trailer with two axles has two individual axles not a tandem axle assembly. A tag axle on a longer Class A is not the same as a tandem axle.
  • GVWR: Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is the maximum amount that the entire vehicle can weigh. This might be less than the sum of the GAWR values. A vehicle maker might have to specify a larger capacity axle for one reason or another (e.g., larger brakes) but perhaps the drive train is not meant for this much weight. Thus, the GVWR might be less than the sum of the individual GAWRs.
  • Towing capacity: Weight that a vehicle can tow. A tow vehicle might be able to TOW 10,000 pounds but perhaps it can CARRY only 500 of those pounds—the tongue weight—on its hitch assembly. The tongue weight must factor into the GVWR and will also affect the GAWR of the rear axle.
  • GCWR: Gross Combined Weight Rating is the total weight of the entire combination vehicle: the tow vehicle, the vehicle being towed, all fuel and water, all persons and luggage and equipment in the tow vehicle, and all water and possessions and camping gear in the towed vehicle. With a Class A, B, or C, this is the weight of the RV plus the weight of the towed car (and maybe a dolly or trailer) or boat or whatever else might be back there.
Driving a Class C motorhome in Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now that we have that squared away—where are you going to go? Here are a few suggestions:

Worth Pondering…

I’m still learning.

—Michelangelo

RV Weight Distribution Tips for Packing your RV

Effective RV weight distribution strategies

If you just toss a bunch of random items into your recreational vehicle with no organization and then head down the road, you are bound to have problems during your trip.

It is vital to know how to properly load your RV safely based on its weight ratings. You need a strategy that will reduce swaying, bouncing, tire blowouts, and a host of other problems. 

RV weight distribution is something not a lot of RV owners think about. This is unfortunate because ensuring that the weight in your RV is evenly distributed is incredibly important for safety reasons. 

Balance the weight when packing your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trailers with cargo that haven’t been distributed across the rig evenly are more likely to sway. Additionally, all RVs that are loaded unevenly (or overloaded) can suffer from suspension issues, problems with tires, and in some cases, issues with steering.

Clearly, these are not things you want to have trouble with while driving down the road. Fortunately, this is a problem that can be easy to avoid. The solution lies in the way you load RV. 

Here are my tips for packing your motorhome or trailer with RV weight distribution in mind. 

Balance the weight when packing your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why can’t you just throw everything in?

It is extremely important to learn how to load and pack your recreational vehicle both from comfort and safety standpoints.

People often forget that an RV is basically just a vehicle and as such it needs to be well balanced if it is to move safely along roads and highways. Lopsided coaches don’t hold up well to slippery roads nor do they do well in areas where there is road construction. Furthermore, a poorly packed coach makes finding things difficult and leaves travelers doing without items they couldn’t readily locate.

>> Related article: Are You Ready to Live the RV Lifestyle? 11 Tips for Getting Started

This is why you must pack and load your camper, travel trailer, or motorhome carefully. Comfort and safety are everything when you are on the road and only you can take steps to make sure things are set up and done right.

Balance the weight when packing your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why proper loading and packing matters

When coaches are not balanced, they are dangerous and difficult to drive safely.

When they are not properly packed, they also can make travelers miserable.

You do not want to find yourself standing on the side of the road beside your overturned coach and you certainly do not want to use your commode only to find you have forgotten your toilet paper!

If you learn the correct method to prepare your motorhome or camper for travel, these types of situations become non issues. With careful organization and planning, you should never have to worry.

Balance the weight when packing your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to balance your RV load

The keys to good loading are to keep your unit bottom-heavy and make sure that the items you pack are distributed over your coach’s axles. Here are the most important basics:

  • Check your manuals to find out the maximum weight each axle can carry
  • Weigh the empty coach on a certified scale at a truck stop
  • Pack it, making sure that the heavier items are low and are spread out evenly along its entire length
  • Weigh it again
  • Make adjustments as needed

The heaviest weight in a travel unit is in the appliances, slide rooms, engine, generator, and fuel and water tanks so weighing lets you know which axles are carrying the most weight.

Once you have this information you can pack light where the weight is heaviest and pack heavy where the weight is lightest. You should also pack light items high and heavy items low.

When you do this, your unit will be less likely to sway out of control or to flip over since you will be able to maintain better control.

Balance the weight when packing your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Know your limits

First and foremost, you need to know the limits of your rig. This includes the cargo-carrying capacity of your RV and the towing capacity of your truck (if applicable) as well as the gross axle weight rating (the amount that can be put on any given axle).

>> Related article: Safety Dance

Knowing these numbers and ensuring you stay within the given boundaries is the first step in properly loading your RV and staying safe on the road. 

Balance the weight when packing your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pick and choose

Once you know the limits of your RV you can decide what you will take and what you’ll have to leave behind in order to stay within those limits. Packing light is the name of the game! Versatile items that can serve multiple purposes and small lightweight options are ideal.

Obviously, you will only want to take the essentials. Leave unnecessary items at home. But taking some toys or outdoor gear is probably fine. Just do so in moderation and keep those weight limits in mind. 

Balance the weight when packing your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep things balanced

Once you know the basic parameters you are working with and what you can pack, the next thing to do is actually move the items into your RV. Remember to keep things as balanced as possible—both side-to-side and front-to-back.

Take note of where appliances and slides are. They are heavy and should be taken into consideration as you decide where items should be stored. Use all storage bays and spread things out evenly between them. If most of your cabinets are on one side of the RV, try to put heavy items on the opposite side to balance out what you store in the cabinets. 

Balance the weight when packing your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heavy items low and centered

Have some especially heavy items you need to pack? Those should be kept on the floor and on top of an axle. This will help prevent the heavy item from putting too much weight on the front or back. Storing on the floor also ensures the item doesn’t fall, break things, and/or hurt people while the RV is in transit.

When possible, pack an item of similar weight on the opposite side. Or pack the heavy item opposite your main kitchen appliances in order to even things out from side to side.

Balance the weight when packing your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to load drawers and cabinets

Another thing to keep in mind as you’re loading up the RV is how to load the drawers and cabinets.

>> Related article: 30 RV Hacks and Tips for a Successful Road Trip

You want to make sure only lightweight things are in the overhead cabinets in order to help keep things balanced and keep your passengers safe if you’re in a motorhome. Meanwhile, the drawers should not be overloaded as this can break them—and if all of your drawers are on one side of the RV (as is often the case) you’ll be putting a lot of weight in one area and throwing off the balance of the rig. 

Balance the weight when packing your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep tank locations in mind

Water is heavy. It weighs in at 8.34 pounds per gallon meaning a 40-gallon tank weighs over 333 pounds when full. That’s a lot of weight and it can easily put you over your cargo-carrying capacity and out of balance.

If you plan to drive with a full fresh or waste water tank make sure you know where that particular tank is located and try to pack everything in such a way that the extra weight is balanced out and you aren’t over your RV’s weight limit. 

Balance the weight when packing your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Observe before you drive

Once everything is loaded into the RV, it’s time for a visual inspection. Head outside and look at the rig. Make sure it isn’t obviously leaning to one side or the other. If you pull a trailer, make sure the trailer isn’t weighing down the truck and make sure the bottom of the trailer is parallel with the ground.

Essentially, you are looking for any signs that you’ve overloaded the RV or that the weight inside isn’t balanced. You will want to add this visual inspection to your pre-trip walk-around every time you drive. 

Balance the weight when packing your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get weighed

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to know whether you’re overloaded and almost impossible to know whether one axle is taking the brunt of the work without getting properly weighed. Even if everything looks good from the outside you could still be totally out of balance. For this reason, it’s best to head to a nearby truck scale to be weighed after you’ve loaded the RV.

>> Related article: Everything You Need to Know to Plan a Safe (and Fun) RV Road Trip

RV weight distribution is incredibly important. With this knowledge you can take the needed steps to avoid dangerous situations caused by uneven weight distribution from becoming an issue dring your RV travels.

Worth Pondering…

I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.

—Stephen Covey