How To Load Up & Pack Your Caravan Safely & Legally

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So you’re eager to get away in your caravan and onto the open road. Well, before you do, quite a bit of planning and thought needs to go into how you are going to load up your caravan and pack your items away. How successfully you complete this task can have several implications. How you load your caravan can have a significant impact on the towing performance of your car and caravan. Furthermore, going over the rated weight limits of your caravan or caravan will be breaking the law and invalidating your insurance. So how to properly load and pack up a caravan is essential for every caravaner to understand.

How To Load Your Caravan
The weight of your personal items and where you place them can have significant safety and legal implications while towing your caravan: Image –

I’ve previously written two posts on how much do caravans weigh and caravan noseweights.

I’ve briefly touched on how to properly load up a caravan. However, its such an important topic it deserves its own post.

I’ll be referencing the best advice and tips from various sources, as well as adding my own comments. I’m not going to cover the 85% car/caravan ‘rule’ in this post, I’ll save that for later.

If you wish to jump to a particular section, please feel free to use the Table of Contents below. Enjoy. 🙂

Disclaimer: Hey! By the way… any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon or Caravan Guard are affiliate links, and I earn a commission if you make a purchase, with no additional cost to you 🙂

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How To Calculate User Payload

Before you learn how to properly load a caravan, you need to know how much stuff you can actually take. Therefore, you need to calculate the User Payload for your caravan.

For instance, your caravans MRO (Mass in Running Order) is stated on its plate is ex-factory.

The MTPLM (Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass) is the maxium weight the caravan can legally be. Therefore, to calculate user payload, you need to discount the MRO figure from the MTPLM figure.

Caravan User Payload
To calculate how much stuff you can pack into your caravan, first, you need to calculate the user payload using the MRO and MTPLM figures: Image –

If we use the example above, the MRO is 1,259 kg, and the MTPLM is 1,415 kg. Therefore, the simple user payload calculation is as follows:

  • MTPLM – MRO = User Payload
  • 1,415 kg – 1,259 kg = 156 kg

So, for this particular caravan, the user payload is 156kg. This is the maxium weight of your personal belongings which you can load into the caravan.

However, there is something very important that many people today have fitted to their caravan and they forget to discount…

Motor Movers Must Be Discounted From User Payload

Generally, most of our guests are big fans of caravan motor movers, and so am I. However, when it comes to loading your caravan and weight limits, you must remember to factor in the weight of the motormover.

Some people seem to think a motormover is included in the MRO figure, its not. In the example above of a user payload of 156kg, a typical motor mover kit will weigh around 30kg.

So the real user payload remaining is 126kg. Therefore, when it comes to choosing your next caravan and motormover combination, you may want to consider lighter-weight motor movers.

Caravan Motor Mover
You need to discount the weight of your motor mover kit from the User Payload of your caravan: Image – Powrtouch

Other Heavy Items To Discount From Your User Payload

When it comes to loading and packing up your caravan ready for your holiday, your mainly thinking about the contents on the inside.

However, there are some potentially heaving items you may already have in your caravan side lockers that you also need to discount from the user payload. These can include the following:

Between those three items alone, you can easily be looking at 20kg+ of weight that needs to be discounted from the user payload.

While your caravan step may be bulky, its typically not going to weigh that much.

The above will obviously reduce the weight of the contents you can load inside the caravan. That’s why you need to order your possessions into essentials and desirable.

If you breach your user payload, you will have an illegal outfit. Therefore, its those desirables which you should leave behind.

Now you know how much stuff you can load into your caravan, we’ll now look at where you should put it. Caravan weight distribution plays a significant role in the towing performance of your car and caravan.

Why Caravan Weight Distribution Is Important

Stating how a caravan is loaded up and how the distribution of that weight is important when it comes to ‘safety’ is all well and good, but what does it actually mean?

Well, often, its sway or ‘snaking’ of the caravan as you tow, which is the concern.

Now, today’s modern cars and caravans have many electronic systems to help limit caravan snaking. However, you should never presume that how to load a caravan is no longer important.

All systems have their limits, and furthermore, systems can fail.

Therefore, making sure your caravan is not too heavy, and the contents are distributed within the caravan properly is still important.

Its obviously very difficult to demonstrate what this means in reality without creating a safety risk.

However, the video below from Practical Caravan of a Bailey towing demonstration provides an excellent example.

How a caravan is loaded is also a significant consideration for the manufacturers as well as the caravanners themselves.

I do believe every caravaner should have the opportunity to view the Bailey towing demonstration setup.

Within just a few minutes, you can instantly appreciate how important it is to load up your caravan correctly.

Heavy Items Need To Be Low Down Over The Axle

The Practical Caravan video above does an excellent job of illustrating how caravan layouts and designs keep changing to improve towing stability.

For instance, moving the heavy gas bottle from the front locker to a locker in the middle of the caravan over the axle along with the caravan leisure battery.

Where the cooker or fridge, and other heavy items are located really plays and important roll in whether the caravan will snake on the motorway.

So this demonstrates how caravan designs are changing to improve stability, but what does it mean for you and your caravan?

Obviously, you are set with the layout of your current caravan. Almost every caravan I see visit us here at Horton Common has a front gas locker.

Many also have rear washrooms with wardrobes which can create loading headaches. Generally, most caravans have a central kitchen with a cooker and fridge centrally located over the axle.

However, many do have a microwave oven which can weigh around 15 kg, positioned high up, which is not ideal.

How To Load Heavy Items In Your Caravan

When it comes to loading your additional personal belongings in the caravan, ideally, your heaviest items will go in your car.

For instance, putting your caravan awning in your car as opposed to your caravan is usually the better option.

If you do need to load heavy items in your caravan, they obviously want to go on the floor over the axle. Now, under acceleration and braking, your best-laid plans can go awry.

To try and keep the heavy items you have loaded into your caravan over the axle, you can wrap them up in a cargo net, or you can use a similar product, as seen in the image below.

These are called Cargo Bars, and they effectively act as barriers. The cargo bars extend between units within your caravan and tighten into place.

When you load your caravan to keep your heavy items over the axle you may want to consider the use of cargo bars: Image –

Depending on the layout of your caravan, and where your units are, the cargo bars may or may not work for you. In that case, as I discussed, using a cargo net may be a better solution for you.

When it comes to differences between single-axle and twin-axle caravans, unsurprisingly, it is easier to distribute the load on a twin-axle caravan.

The simple reason being you have two axles and hence a wider pivot point to distribute the load.

How You Load A Caravan Impacts The Noseweight

One of the key reasons to load heavy items over the axle is so that not too much weight is placed over the caravan hitch.

Now, my father, when packing up his caravan, was having real trouble getting his noseweight within the caravan and car limits.

He tried multiple different variations of packing up the caravan to no avail. In the end, the solution was to swap out his two heavy steel Calor gas bottles for one single Flogas Gaslight bottle.

He only really visits caravan sites with electric hook up for 2-3 weeks at a time in the summer months.

Therefore, he only uses a very limited amount of gas and swapping to a much lighter Gaslight bottle solved his nose weight issue.

However, if you do use more gas but want to save weight, you could consider a refillable gas bottle from Safefill. Its essentially a very similar lightweight fibreglass construction to the Flogas Gaslight bottles.

Safefill Gas Bottle
If, after loading your caravan, the noseweight is still an issue, you could consider swapping to a none refillable Gaslight or refillable Safefill gas bottle: Image – Safefill

It is worth briefly noting that the amount of weight over the front of your caravan can affect how your jockey wheel performs.

For instance, if you’re on soft ground. More weight at the front of the caravan can lead the jockey wheel to drag and perform poorly.

Caravan Loading Checklist

  1. Calculate your caravans user payload.
  2. Discount the weight of your motor mover from the user payload.
  3. Ideally, put your heaviest items in your car.
  4. Heavy items in the caravan need to be over the axle on the floor.
  5. Use a cargo net or cargo bars to keep the items over the axle.
  6. Check the noseweight of the caravan is within limits.

Packing up a Caravan – Real-World Example

To help you get into the right ‘frame of mind’ for packing up your caravan correctly, it can be useful to see how other caravanners do it.

Below is a video from Dan (Meet the Trudgians) packing up his caravan before he sets off on holiday.

It also shows Dan going through several other safety checks, such as making sure the caravan tyre pressure is correct.

Dan runs the through the process he and his family go through to pack up their caravan to get ready for their holidays.

As the video shows, Dan does have a portable caravan solar panel, but they decided that was a desirable and not essential item for their trip.

Its also referenced in the video that they take out the glass microwave dish and pack it with the plates. That’s a good little tip.

Ideally, in a caravan, to reduce weight, you’ll want to have melamine plates, dishes, bowls and cups. This can really save several kgs of weight.

Furthermore, typically the storage of this food and drinkware is high up in the caravan lockers.

As you can see from the image at the start of this post, the last place on the caravan where you want to put weight is high up.

Conclusions On How To Load Up & Pack Your Caravan Safely

First, as discussed, you want to know what your caravans user payload is (minus the motor mover, jack etc).

Then you should ideally have a list to hand all the items you want to take with you in the caravan. Then weigh each item and add it to your list.

You then want to separate the list of contents into essentials and desirable.

Add up the total weight of all the essential items. If you are below the maxium user payload, you can then start adding in the desirable items.

However, I can’t stress enough, you must not exceed that user payload figure.

To do so will make your towing outfit illegal. If you were involved in an accident, that would mean points on your licence and your insurance could be invalid.

In terms of loading up and packing the caravan, heavy items which cannot go into your car should be on the floor in the middle of the caravan over the axle.

And then lighter items higher up, with the lightest items in the caravan lockers.

Ideally, to double-check you’re within weight, you should take your caravan to a public weighbridge, as discussed in this post.

There are portable weigh scales you can purchase, but how accurate the reading will be, I’m not sure.

Caravan Weigh Scale
There are portable caravan weigh scales, but I doubt they are as accurate as a public weighbridge: Image –

I hope you found the above information and videos useful to some degree.

As with most things, the way to get the loading and packing of your caravan correct is to properly prepare and understand all of the variables.

I also hope you consider coming to visit us here at Horton Common at some point. 🙂

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