One of the most important factors in safely towing your caravan is loading. Incorrectly loading your caravan can significantly impact the stability of both the van and your towing vehicle, and thus increase the chances of something going wrong. For the safety of both your party and others using the road, here’s how to correctly and safely load a caravan.

What you need to know

The maximum weight that you can legally tow with will depend on both your caravan and your towing vehicle. Not only will your caravan have a Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM), which is the maximum weight allowable when the caravan is fully loaded, you must also make sure not to exceed the noseweight limit of your towing vehicle.

The MTPLM should not exceed 85% of your car’s kerb weight. Should the car’s maximum towing weight be less than 85% of the kerb weight, the lower limit must be observed.

Some of the factors which you will need to bear in mind include:

Mass In Running Order (MIRO) – is the weight of the caravan when it leaves the factory. This will include any fixtures and fittings that were included as standard, but you must remember to account for any extras added by you, the dealership or previous owners.

User Payload – This is the difference between the MIRO and the MTPLM. In other words, it is the weight of all accessories, appliances, luggage, food and other items added to the caravan.

Noseweight Limit – The maximum force which can be exerted on the towbar of the towing vehicle. This limit will be defined by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

The information you need in order to load safely can be found in the manufacturer’s handbook. It may also be available online on their website.

Explanations of other caravan-related acronyms and abbreviations can be found in our A-Z guide.

It is generally advisable to choose the smallest caravan which meets your requirements, due to the lower weight. The lower the weight of the fully laden caravan, the more stable, and therefore safer, the whole towing unit will be. Special attention should be paid if you are considering a caravan which was manufactured prior to 1994, as the actual unladen weight can differ significantly from the plated unladen weight.

To avoid accidentally overloading your caravan, it can be a good idea to visit a weighbridge, if possible, to determine the actual weight of the unit.

Regardless of how many years you have had your caravan, it would be worth doing an occasional check at a weighbridge as invariably some extra items may have snuck in and you may be surprised how much they actually weigh.

This video from Practical Caravan provides a very handy demonstration of how to safely load a caravan, as well as explanations of the various weight limits.

Top tips for loading your caravan

  • Always store the heaviest items on the floor of the caravan, preferably above the axle. This may include awnings, mains electric cables, furniture and similar items. Never store heavy equipment in the gap beneath a fixed rear bed, due to the potential for “snaking”.
  • Medium-weight items should be loaded next, and can be spread out more than the heavier equipment. You should still take care to keep the heaviest of these items as near to the axle as possible to avoid knocking the caravan off balance.
  • Only very light items, such as t-shirts and other summer clothing, should be stored in the roof lockers during towing. Anything heavier runs a high risk of affecting the caravan’s centre of gravity.
  • It may seem like a pain, but weighing everything individually is a good idea for calculating the total weight of the unit. It will take a while, but it will make it easier to distribute the load evenly and ensure maximum safety. You will only need to do this once, unless new equipment is purchased before your next trip (as long as you remember to keep note of the weights, of course).
  • As we mentioned earlier, public weighbridges are a simple and accurate way to make sure you have not exceeded the MTPLM.
  • For balance, it is best to make the caravan heavier near the nose than the back. This doesn’t mean loading everything into the nose to weigh it down completely, just packing so it is slightly heavier than the rear to avoid tipping.
  • Don’t pack anything you don’t really need to bring. Water and toilet containers should be transported empty (did you know a litre of water weighs 1kg). Unless you are travelling to the middle of nowhere, you will be able to buy teabags, cereals and other groceries at your destination, rather than adding them to the weight of your caravan. Take the basics and go shopping when you arrive.
  • Use the lightest possible version of the equipment you do need to bring. For example, plastic plates and cutlery are far lighter than traditional crockery, and there’s probably no need to bring your stoneware pots and pans. Remember you don’t need to pack a full set of everything if only two or three of you are travelling.
  • Consider switching to lightweight gas bottles if possible to further save on weight

Do you hold the correct driving licence?

Before you even consider towing a caravan, you must hold the correct driving licence for the weight you intend to travel with. Full UK driving licences obtained after January 1997 do not automatically include categories B&E and, as such, holders will be required to take a practical test before being legally allowed to tow certain vehicles.

Full information on the licence requirements can be found here.

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