Z Method for Backing a 5th Wheel

You have been traveling all day and now comes the hardest part of your day – backing a fifth wheel trailer into a camping spot can be a challenge.  Fifth wheel trailers are different than travel trailers in many ways.  When backing a travel trailer, the response of the trailer to the movement of the tow vehicle is quicker and more dramatic, fifth wheel respond slower, and respond in a different manner.

There are a few of things you should always do when backing a fifth wheel.

#1 – Do everything possible to insure that you will be turning on the driver side. Even if it means driving around the campground and up/down a few roads to get yourself turned around. The passenger’s side is your blind side and should be last resort.

#2 – You have to learn how long the reaction time is for your trailer to react. Go to a parking lot and practice. Always use your trailer’s rear axle as the reference point. The reaction time is the time it takes from the time you turn the tow vehicle steering wheel until the time the trailer starts turning.

#3 – There are three terms you need to know. Neutral, Jack, and Chase.

  • Neutral position is when the tow vehicle steering wheel is at the position where the truck is going in a straight line.
  • When you Jack the trailer you are causing it to turn the opposite direction that the truck is turning. Such as in jack-knife.
  • Chase is when you are trying to straighten out the truck and trailer, thus the term chasing the trailer.

#4Get out and survey the parking area (with your spotter) for obstructions. Determine where you want the trailer to end up and pick a reference point, which will act as the “edge of the parking area”.

#5 – Your spouse is normally the one who will guide you into your site.  Having the same person assisting you allows the two of you to have a better understanding of each other information needs and directions.  Your guide should never say “turn left or right.”  It is better to say “driver’s side” or “passenger’s side.”

#6 – Your guide should tell you which way the rear of the trailer needs to go.  You decide what you need what you need to do with the truck to move the rear of the trailer in the proper direction.  Place your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel.  If you want to the rear of the trailer to go to the left, move your hand to the left.

The Z Method –

It’s a way to set up the turn before backing in. If backing to the left, pull up (and stop) on left side of the road, with the rear wheels of the tow vehicle lined up with the left side of the campsite. Z-Method-1

Then turn hard right, and pull forward. Go as far as possible to the right of the road. Z-Method-2

Then turn hard left, and pull forward until the trailer rear is pointed at the entrance of the camp site. Z-Method-3

Stop and turn the steering wheel to the right, to begin backing in.Z-Method-4

This maneuver gets the rear of the trailer pointed in the right direction before starting to back in. And it gives the front end of your truck room on the left side to swing the front end around. Z-Method-5

Jack the trailer until it get to about 15-20 degree angle of the space you are going to park it then start chasing it.

If you’re running out of space to get the truck & trailer running straight, don’t be afraid to pull forward to help straighten it out.

If you need to back in on the blind side, just do the opposite as above. Some drivers try to never back in from the blind side. Even if it means going down the wrong way of a C/G access road. But get permission first, from C/G owners. And get someone to help control traffic, if needed.

We learned early on to use two way radios or cell phones rather than hand signals.  If you are going to use hand signals make sure that whoever is backing the trailer doesn’t move it unless they can spot the guide in the rear view mirror. In addition to being able to see the signals, it prevents accidents, like backing over your guide.


About Michigan Traveler

Bob and his wife, Pat, are fulltime RVers. They sold their home in Michigan in June, 2011 and now travel the country, living on the road. Home is Where You Park It!
This entry was posted in Fulltime RV, Michigan Traveler, Military RV Parks, National Parks and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Z Method for Backing a 5th Wheel

  1. tikigeorge says:

    It looks like a great way to back in. If you could show the site and road lines it would help me understand your drawing better.

  2. oriana77 says:

    The truck driver I used for lessons before the driving test showed me exactly the same method. Works well.

  3. Paul Little says:

    Where do you stop your rig? I.e. Where is your 5er tires in relation to the drive you are backing into.

    • As you approach the site, you stop when your truck’s (tow vehicle) rear tires are lined up with the far side of the site’s driveway.

      • Dangles says:

        Is thr “far side ” of drveway as one would face it on the right or the left? I’ve tried it but am having trouble getting initial set up. My 5er is only 30 ft and reacts very quickly with short bed F250.

      • The far side is the side of the space that is farthest from you as you approach it. If it is not working for you, experiment with it until you find the spot that works best for your rig.

  4. Steve says:

    I will have to try this using the blind side at my residence due to a mailbox on the opposite side of the street. As I approach my driveway (which will be on the passenger side of the vehicle,) I would stop as the tow vehicles rear tires are aligned with the right side of the driveway (if I were standing on the driveway looking from the street to my house)? Is this correct? Thank you.

    • Steve,
      Looking at your house from the street, if you are approaching from the right, you should line up the rear tires of your truck with the left side of your driveway. If your trailer is long (like mine is 38′) you may want to go a little farther to the left. It will take some trial and error to know what is best for your rig.

      When I first started I set up some paint buckets (or road cones if you have them) to mark the edges of the campsite drive in an empty parking lot and practiced for about an hour.

      I hope this helps.

      • Stev says:

        Thanks for the tips. I have a 40ft 5th wheel and can normally get it in the driveway with no problem. Occasionally i get it jacked around too fast and have to oversteer the chase which puts my front tires in my neighbors yard on the opposite side of the street. I am looking for a method which I will be more consistent with to avoid this. My biggest issue is not doing this only 6 or so times a year.

  5. Stev, I can see where that would be a problem, 40 feet is a lot of trailer!
    I have had great success using this method over the last five years of fulltime RVing.

  6. skipper1948 says:

    Your method helped me and I have an extended cab long bed truck backing a 20ft fiver. The delay is the same with a longer trailer but this short trailer jacks quickly after that. Still working on getting ahead and into chase more quickly… but thanks a million for this technique!

  7. We just got a tiny 17 footer bumper full and I am impressed with anyone that can back up a travel trailer of any size now. When the time comes to go up in size, I’ll definitely keep these instructions in mind.

  8. jb forrest says:

    This is our first 5th wheel which is 35 foot – We have a 4 door GMC 250 with a regular size bed and with a curtis slider hitch installed in the truck bed – Our storage space is approximately 11 feet wide and we only have 15 foot from the front of our storage space to the line of storage spaces opposite our trailer space – Will this method work for us

  9. Hi JB,
    You are going to have a tight squeeze no matter what method you try. All I can say is that I have had continued success with this technique. You will probably have a lot of jockeying to get your rig into this space, but I think it can be done. Just don’t rush it and have a good spotter and a good plan to communicate with each other.

  10. Bill says:

    In pint #6, prior to the Z method, you mention placing your hand on the steering wheel & if you want the rear of the trailer to go to the left, then move your hand to the left. Is this while holding the wheel at the bottom or top? Getting confused on tips to hold wheel at bottom or top. It does result in turning the steering wheel in the opposite direction. Thx in advance, New RVer

  11. Hi Bill, I should have caught that. It should read “Place you hand on the BOTTOM of the wheel.”

    • JB Forrest says:

      Appreciate the information. A follow up question is approximately how many feet should your truck a trailer be from the entrance of your storage facility or camping slot Thanks

      Sent from my iPhone


      • I’m sorry Forrest, but I don’t know how to answer your question. I start by lining up the rear wheel of the truck with the far side of the driveway. Depending on how long your rig is, you may want to go a little farther beyond that. I hope this helps. Sorry I took so long to answer, but we were overseas.

  12. Sharain says:

    Video would be nice

  13. Dale says:


    Curious on how to make minor corrections as I have the most problems adjusting either the back or front of fifth wheel. Also, how do you adjust the z method if you are in a tight campground with very little room to maneuver?

    Thanks in advance

    • I find that this method helps to navigate in a tight space. To address your first point, it is important to be making steering corrections while you are moving. As opposed to a travel trailer, there is a significant lag between your actions and the actions of the trailer with a fifth wheel. Consequently you have to anticipate the movement of the trailer and make your adjustments early. If things are tight, you may have to pull forward to straighten the truck/trailer combination periodically to make sure you are not over correcting. One thing we always do is if we think we will come back to the same campground in the future is to walk through the campground and write down the site numbers for the sites that are the easiest to get into so we can request those in the future.

      • Dale says:


        Wrt tight sites, what about if the road is narrow and an obstacle on the right side? By using this method does the swing of the truck’s front end get minimized? One of the campgrounds we go to a lot is a tiered campground so every road has a bank on the right

  14. In my opinion it is the best way to park a fifth wheel. However, if the road is very narrow and you have a major obstacle across the road from your site that prevents the swing of your truck’s front end, then you have a problem. I have, on occasion gone back to the office and asked for a different site.

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