LIGHTER VANNING: Lightly she goes

MALCOLM STREET — 23 August 2018
Weighty issues

On the surface, the subject of tow weights is quite simple yet it has a few nuances that judging by the questions that come through CW or on the various forms of social media causes considerable confusion.

Unfortunately, because the topic that has both safety and legal considerations it’s really not something anyone of us can choose to ignore. In Australia there’s another reason too because there’s a practical limit on towing weights and that is 3500kg. It’s not a legislated figure but something determined by the tow vehicle manufacturers. Whilst there is any number of vehicles available with a tow rating of 3500kg, getting above that requires something a bit more unusual like a Dodge Ram imported from the USA or commercial vehicle like an Iveco Daily. 

I’ll get the technical jargon shortly but for many of us, it’s simply a matter of shedding weight. There are two methods of attack on this, one is to consider the weight of our possible Recreation Vehicle before we buy and secondly to think about what we carry on our journeys around Australia.


In this country, we have a rather sad claim to fame. Apart from the North Americans who have a ready and much cheaper supply of heavy-duty vehicles, we build some of the heaviest caravans in the world. There are some reasons for that but equally, there are some good reasons why we need to lighten up.

A problem that the industry in part has created is customer expectation and perception. A good example is chassis design. For years, the traditional RHS steel box section design has become the expectation. Unfortunately, it’s grown in weight. Once 100x50mm (4in x 2in) main rails and drawbar were considered acceptable yet now nothing less than a 150x50mm rail (6in x 2in) is considered under designed.


Manufacturers that use European-style chassis or something made from C section steel rather than RHS are treated almost as if they don’t know what they are doing. Yet, that is a misunderstanding of the van’s design where in some cases, part of the strength and structure is built into the bodywork (like a modern day car) rather than relying solely on the chassis.

The growth in “offroad”, “semi offroad”, “all-terrain” and “rough road” caravans is another issue. All add weight but I’m suspicious that many buy “just in case” but rarely leave sealed roads and there are a plethora of places in Australia to explore without doing that. 

Certainly, our expectations of what we “need” when we travel around Australia have grown. Larger fridges, air-conditioners, washing machines and increased 12V battery capacity. Once rare, adding a bathroom not only adds weight in itself but also in the water capacity requirements. An extra 90L water tank instantly adds 90kg.

Something to be a little bit grateful for here is that many appliances we use in Australia have their origins in Europe rather than the USA, where manufacturers are less concerned with weight efficiencies.



To be fair, manufacturers are starting to do their bit here. One example is varying the very common front island bed, full-width rear bathroom (FBRB) layout that takes up a considerable amount of space. Savvy manufacturers are using a few design tricks, like transverse beds, forward door entries and smaller bathrooms to get an FBRB layout in a shorter length van.

Quite a few have managed to do that on a single axle too, something that removes an entire axle/suspension/wheels worth of weight. More common amongst motorhome manufacturers than caravan builders is the drop-down bed. Operated either by hand or electrically, the drop-down bed is a great space (and hence weight) saver.

Twelve-volt batteries are heavy items but recent development in Lithium technology have improved the power-to-weight ratios considerably. Lithium batteries are more expensive of course but over the long term, quite economically feasible.

Still on electrics, generators are becoming more common but they also add weight. Yes, they are still needed for items like microwave and air-conditioners but otherwise, solar panels do a great job of charging the battery. 

The bottom line is to seriously consider how you might live on the road before purchasing your RV.


I’ve seen many travellers carry what seems an entire house in their RV and I suspect we can all travel with less and still enjoy our travelling lifestyle. If you’ve been on the road for some time, it might be well worthwhile taking stock of everything you have on board. Evaluate how often each item is used and whether it is actually just dead weight. I’m guilty here, I found quite a few items which are “just in case” but rarely if at all used. 

Some items we’ve treasured for years are now readily available in a much more efficient or lighter design. A good example here is the toolbox, which can be heavy. I have collected many tools over the years yet the ones I actually need on tour are usually found in a “multi-tool”.

Kitchen appliances also fit into this category and conversely, the “wow, gotta have it” category. My current favourite is the growth in coffee making machines, yet for years I have survived (and still do) on a simple stovetop coffee maker. 

A good hunt through the kitchen cupboards will reveal things we rarely use that are stored and forgotten or not disposed of when replaced. Saucepans are quite heavy. How many do you carry and how often are they used? 

Full-time travellers need to store clothing for all seasons but the rest of us could probably get away with a seasonal changeover and opt for layers. The same applies to bedding. Blankets, especially older ones, can be quite heavy and are rarely used in summer time. Thankfully lightweight doonas and thermally efficient blankets are readily available. 

Many of us who stay in caravan parks or places where water is readily available can get away partially filling our water tanks or leaving one tank empty, reserving full capacity for hot outback regions when we need it the most. 

The other consideration here is doing things differently. A classic example here is books, magazines and CDs. Paper is incredibly heavy. If you doubt this, go to your local newsagent and pick up a pile of magazines. Kindles and similar devices are great for carrying dozens of books. Similarly, iPads and tablets can be used for downloading magazines. Just a quick tip here, although many are available for both, magazine publishers often favour the Apple products.

On the CD front, unless you are a keen audiophile, then MP3 devices like an iPod are great for storing literally hundreds of music albums. Similarly, they can be used for talking books, not only a great way for whiling away boring road travel but shedding weight as well.

Battery chargers for multiple e-devices add weight but a good multi-port USB-style charger capable with all your devices can help. Fitting USB style charger outlets throughout your RV.


For those of us who still use a real camera, lenses and camera bodies can add a great deal of weight. I still use my Canon 5D and pro lenses for work but I’ve downsized to mirrorless cameras when travelling for leisure, which are smaller and lighter but still have decent interchangeable lenses. Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Panasonic and Sony all make them and they are terrific both on the photo and the weight fronts. Desktop PCs are great for home but when travelling, small 11in laptops or iPads are brilliant weight savers.

There are plenty more examples to be found, which may not sound like much but when it’s all added up, the weight saving might be surprising.


  • Dometic 190L two-way fridge: 46kg
  • Dometic 90L three-way fridge: 29kg
  • Sharp Carousel Microwave: 13kg
  • Honda 2KVA generator: 21kg
  • Weber baby Q: 11kg
  • Webasto diesel heater: 20kg
  • Top load washing machine: 16kg
  • 100Ah deep cycle batteries: varies but around 33kg
  • One litre of water: 1kg
  • Paper: 1 sheet of A4, 5g; 80-page magazine, 400g; 10 magazines, 4kg
  • Battery chargers for laptop, iPad, iPhone, Camera batteries and flash batteries: 1.5kg
  • Self: I could lose say 10kg by living a more healthy lifestyle!


RV weight camping camp van vanning trailer travel light lighter lightly tour tourist park essentials RV