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Last Updated on May 4, 2022 by Jessica Lauren Vine
Congratulations on your decision to jump into the exciting world of RVing! Planning that first RV trip is very exciting. Whether you bought a new or used RV, rented one, or borrowed one from a friend, it is likely you need to figure out what to buy for your first RV trip.
If you’ve purchased a new one, you’ll probably have the longest shopping list of the group since new RVs typically don’t come with many RV essentials you’ll need. If you didn’t buy new or are renting or borrowing, you can use this list to make sure you have everything you need, as many of these things are included in used sales and rentals.
There will also be some differences depending on the type of RV you have. For example, travel trailers have different needs than Class A’s, and I’ll do my best to point those out. It’s a long list, so let’s take a look at the RV essentials you’ll need for your first RV road trip.
Knowledge tops the list of RV essentials and is the first thing to get for your first RV trip. Fortunately, it’s free, so there is really no good reason not to get as much as possible. Of course, you won’t know everything, but there is some essential basic knowledge that will make your first road trip much less stressful and far more enjoyable. Here are the things you should know about before departing on your first trip.
- How to properly install, attach and detach the hitch.
- How to maneuver it in tight spaces, particularly backing it up.
- How to use a trailer brake controller.
- How to properly level your RV in a campsite.
- How to operate and correctly use your stabilizing jacks, tongue jack, and leveling system if your RV has one.
- How to extend and retract your slides, even if there is a motor or a power failure.
- The location of your spare tire and how to access it.
- How to operate the propane system if it has one.
- Where your power center is located and how to troubleshoot both the AC and DC sides of it.
- How to connect to shore utilities like city water, electric, and cable TV.
- How to fill and operate the onboard freshwater tank.
- How to operate the water heater if it has one. Do not turn on the electric heating element on your water heater before making sure it is full of water. Doing so will burn up the heating element.
- Location of your winterizing water heater bypass and the correct valve positions for normal operation and bypass. If the bypass is on, your water heater will not fill with water.
- Where the GFI outlets are located and how to reset them if they trip.
- Where the TV antenna/booster is located and how to operate them.
- If your RV is equipped with a battery disconnect switch, where that is located and how to use it
- Where your battery primary fuse is located.
- The location of your vehicle identification tag. There you’ll find the vehicle weight and capacity limits so you don’t overload it.
- The location of your dump valves and how to use them.
- How to flush your black tank.
- The capacity of your holding tanks.
- Location of your water system low points and how/when to use them.
- How to operate the climate controls (thermostat, AC, fireplace, furnace, etc.)
- If so equipped, how to use the built-in or portable generator.
- How to operate the appliances.
- How to change a tire.
- The location of your RV owner’s manual and the owners’ manuals for the appliances in the RV.
This covers most of the things you’ll need to know before going on that first trip or will have learned by the time you return. It looks like a lot to learn, but most of it can be picked up during your walk-through when you buy, rent, or borrow the RV. Don’t be shy during a walk-through and take notes if you need to.
If you already have your RV at home with you, you can get all this information online. In fact, a lot of these things, you can learn here on RV Idiots.
When it comes to Facebook, look for owners groups specific to your RV brand to join. Browsing through the postings can quickly get you up to speed on any common issues you may need to know about for your specific RV and how to address them.
Going through this knowledge list will also allow you to generate a shopping list of things you will need. You may find out that your RV didn’t come with a battery or that you have no hoses for your dump valves. Now we can get into a typical shopping list for things you’ll need to buy for that first trip.
Having gone through your RV, you can check off things you already have and then shop for what you still need. I’ll try and break this down into categories, although many of these items can have multiple uses.
TThe Most Important Item for Travel Trailers: A Good Anti-sway Tow Hitch
When heading out on your first RV trip with a camper trailer, it is critical to have a proper hitch setup. Don’t use a simple bar and ball tow hitch. Most manufacturers recommend at a minimum a standard weight distributing hitch. I’ll go a step further and say get a sway control weight distribution hitch. In fact, if you already bought a standard hitch without integrated sway control, then return it, sell it, get rid of it right now.
A good sway control hitch like a four-point Equalizer is a bit more expensive, but it will change your RV life. It provides the difference between sway-induced white knuckle panic attacks at 40 mph and cruising at highway speeds worry-free. That’s a huge difference and worth every penny. Make sure you read the instructions and set it up properly. You should only have to do it once per tow vehicle/trailer combination, so take the time and make sure it’s right.
Assembling a proper set of tools for your first trip is critical. Ideally, this tool kit will be specific for your RV and will always be stored in it. Life on the road is harsh. Things shake loose, break and fail. Without a good toolset, you can quickly find yourself stranded or without properly functioning systems in your RV.
If you have a towable, all the tools necessary to adjust, take apart and reassemble your hitch. Many of these will be large and specific sizes that won’t come in a standard mechanic’s toolset, so you’ll need to buy them separately.
A standard household tool set. The big box stores have these in toolboxes or tool bags. Make sure it has metric, and US-sized sockets, screwdrivers, Allen keys, a utility knife, wire strippers, box wrenches, a hammer, wire cutters, crescent wrenches, and pliers. A good example is something like the Kobalt 230 Piece Standard Household toolset with a soft case (Model #87085).
A set of Robertson drivers. Robertson bits are square, and they are the most common screw drive type found on RVs.
A broom or large brush. This is handy for both cleaning the inside of the RV as well as brushing off the tops of the slides before your close them.
A torque wrench. Keeping wheel lugs properly torqued is important. A torque wrench with at 200 ft*lb capacity is the best tool for that job. You’ll also need to make sure you have proper sockets and extensions to fit your lug nuts.
All tools necessary to change a tire. This includes a lug wrench that fits your RV lugs, don’t assume your tow vehicle wrench will fit. You’ll also need something to get the tire off the ground. On a single axle trailer, an extended bottle jack is the best option. For dual axle trailers, get two or three sets of interlocking leveling blocks. Large class A’s may need special commercial truck equipment. If that’s the case, then invest in a roadside assistance program that covers you for that.
A digital multimeter with AC current reading. While you may not really need one, they are great tools for diagnosing common electrical problems, and you should have one in your tool chest.
A 12V air compressor like the Viair 88P or one of their RV series compressors. These will run off the 12 batteries of your RV or tow vehicle and allow you to keep your tires properly inflated. Make sure you buy any necessary extension hoses so you can reach the tires from your main battery. For trailers, that means going from your tow vehicle battery to your trailer tires while you are hooked up.
Tire Pressure Gauge. Maintaining proper tire pressure in your RV is one of the biggest RV essentials. Proper pressure is the key to preventing blowouts while ensuring maximum tire life.
Jumper Cables. Dead batteries are common on the road. A good set of jumper cables can get you back up and running quickly.
Duct Tape. While it may not really fix everything, it comes close.
Tire Patch Kit. Flats can be a common issue, and throwing on your spare will be the first choice. Being able to fix the original ASAP will prevent you from traveling far without a spare.
Keep a set of common spare parts in your rig. These are things that break, fail, or get lost easily.
Spare fuses. Keep an assortment of spare fuses in your RV for the RV and any other vehicles that you travel with. This should include a spare primary battery fuse.
Extra hitch pins. If your hitch has parts that are secured by hitch pins, keep at least one extra of each of those. They are easy to lose, and you won’t get very far without them.
Hose seals. On the female end of your water hoses, there is a rubber seal locked down in the threads. These fail and fall out from time to time. Keeping some spares will quickly fix that problem and keep the water flowing.
To hook up to shore utilities, you’ll need the following items:
White drinking water hose. These are usually sold in 10, 25, 50, and 100′ lengths. Get a hose that is greater than the length of your RV. They can be kind of unwieldy, so I like to carry two shorter ones that can be connected for the full length if needed. For my 37 ft travel trailer, I carry two 25′ hoses.
One general garden hose. This one should be a color other than white. It is used for running your black tank flush or draining your gray water if you’re staying somewhere that allows that. Never use it to supply freshwater to your RV. 25′ – 50′ should be good.
Sewer hose. This hose connects your tank dump port to the dump station or sewer line at your campsite. Like the water lines, you should have enough to reach both ends of your trailer.
Sewer connector. There is a 90-degree elbow that connects the sewer hose to the campsite sewer plumbing. Some sewer hose sets include them, and some do not. Make sure you have one. Most campgrounds won’t allow you to hook to the sewer without it.
Shore power cables. This is the cable that connects your RV to the campsite electrical service. Your RV usually comes with the main cable, but buy at least one extension that will get you past the length of the RV.
A collapsible RV septic hose support like the Camco Sidewinder. These are great for providing a steady slope for your RV septic line to run down to the campsite septic hookup.
RV Surge Protector. Many RV sites are poorly maintained and improperly wired. This can cause serious damage to your RV’s internals. A quality RV surge protector will tell you if there are any major issues with the power pedestal before you connect your RV to it.
Power Adapters. Some RV parks have limited options on their power pedestals. You may need an adapter to connect your RV in those cases. Do not buy or use adapters to service rated higher than your RV is designed for, like connecting a 30 amp RV to a 50 amp socket. Adapting to a lower service (50 amp RV to a 30 amp pedestal) is ok, but you will have to limit what you run in the RV.
Water regulator. Many campgrounds have very high water pressure to ensure good service to all their sites. A water pressure regulator is a small, inexpensive device usually made of brass that screws into your freshwater hose on one end onto the water supply spigot on the other. It will keep the water pressure at a level safe for your RV.
Water Filter. An RV water filter is a cheap add-on that screws in between your freshwater hose and the RV water port. I like to add a 90-degree brass elbow which allows the water filter to hang straight down from the water port. These filters will keep particulates out of your RV water system, and most of them have carbon to remove nasty chemicals and some odors. Make sure you run some water through it before connecting it to the RV each time you use setup. The carbon gets agitated from the rigors of travel, and the first few seconds of water will be black from that. You don’t want that in your plumbing.
Stackable Plastic Totes for storage. We carry 3 locking stackable plastic totes, which measure 25″ x 18″ x 7.5″ to store our water and sewer hoses in. These fit in our pass-through compartment and can be stacked 2 high in there. It’s a great way to keep the yuck from spreading around the storage compartment. They also prevent cross-contaminating from septic to clean water hoses.
RG6 cable TV cable. This allows you to hook your RV to the campsite cable TV system if it’s available. I know you’re camping to get away from that and be in the great outdoors, but it is nice to have the hookup available when the need arises (and it probably will). Like the other connections, you should have enough to cover the length of your RV.
There are a few things you’ll need to have to get your RV secured and leveled when you arrive at your site.
Wheel Chocks. Basic wheel chocks are fine if you’re on a budget. If you have a dual or triple axle trailer, X-Chocks are much better but more expensive. X-Chocks expand between the wheels and lock them in position relative to each other. This provides some extra stability and will help knock down some of the motion in the RV when you walk around inside.
Leveling Blocks. There are quite a few options here, and they all work well for leveling on uneven ground. If you have a dual or triple axle trailer, then get the stackable interlocking block kind. You can use them for both leveling the trailer at the campsite and changing tires in the case of a flat or blowout.
Hitch Lock. If you have a travel trailer or fifth wheel, then look at a hitch lock. Trailers do get stolen from campgrounds. These locks will not deter determined thieves, but they will cause thieves of opportunity to look for an easier target.
Like the bathroom in your home, you’ll need the standard cleaning things like Lysol spray, a toilet brush, and a shower cleaner if your RV has a shower. RV bathrooms have some special needs like the following:
RV Toilet Paper. There are several brands of special toilet paper on the market for RVs. They are generally expensive and harsher than their standard home toilet paper counterparts. You really don’t need the special stuff. Any septic tank-safe toilet paper should work fine. If you’re concerned about buildup in your tanks, proper flushing plays a greater role than the type of toilet paper. However, you can go with the thinner septic safe offerings in standard residential products or choose the “RV” option that works best for you.
RV Toilet Chemicals. Your black tank can, and will, get nasty smelling. Keep some deodorizer products handy to toss in there when your trip is done. Put them in for the drive home with a little bit of water so they get mixed around the tank. Any brand will work. They all do basically the same thing.
This will help you avoid the nastiness and smell you might be experiencing from your RV.
One of the great things about many RVs is they come with pretty well-appointed kitchens. Here are a few things you should have to get the most out of that space.
Corelle Dishes. Paper plates are good in a pinch, but real dinnerware in your RV will help keep the amount of trash you generate to a minimum. Corelle dinnerware is very popular among RVer’s because it is lightweight, microwaveable, nearly indestructible, and available in some nice styles. If you plan on cooking and eating in your RV, this is the way to go.
A Pizza Stone for the oven. RV ovens are very small, which means the food you are cooking is always very close to the heat source. It’s like cooking everything on the bottom rack in your home oven – everything ends up burned on the bottom and undercooked on the top. A pizza stone will solve this problem. Between the burner and the cooking rack in the oven, there should be a steel plate with holes or slots around its perimeter. Measure the space between those holes – you don’t want to cover them up. Find a pizza stone that will fit that area and place it on top of that plate and under the cooking rack. That stone will distribute the heat and allow the oven to cook evenly. If you can’t find one that fits and you have access to a tile saw, you can buy a larger one and cut it down. Terra Cotta floor tiles from the big box stores can work too.
The Instapot. This is probably one of the most common and beloved appliances to cook meals in the RV world. It cooks great meals quickly, is lightweight, and doesn’t take up much space. A pressure cooker can have some safety issues, so be sure to read and follow the instructions carefully.
An Air Fryer. Just as popular as the Instapot, the air fryer is a great kitchen tool for fast meals.
Utensils. You’ll need all your standard kitchen utensils if you plan to do any cooking or eating at the RV. Kitchen knives in a wooden block work well if secured properly for travel. You can go with plastics for the other utensils, but a good set of metal ones will serve you better with less trash creation.
Travel Aids and Apps
Some of the most often overlooked RV essentials are those that help you choose and plot a course to your destination. RV travel is a bit more complicated than in a regular car. Here are some travel aides and apps that can help you navigate and save money on your first trip.
RV-specific GPS. While on your RV road trip in unfamiliar territory, an RV-specific GPS like the Garmin RV series is a must-have tool. These GPS systems allow you to put in your RV specs like size, weight, and the number of propane tanks. It uses that information to chart a course that is safe for your rig. It will even alert you to state laws that may affect you as you cross state lines. This GPS doesn’t rely on cell phone signals, so you can navigate even in areas where your phone nav apps would leave you stranded.
A Rand McNally Paper Map. Yes, they still make those! And yes, I have one, and yes, I use it. GPS and technology are great until they aren’t. A paper map gives you a better perspective on where you are headed and where it is relative to other things. It’s faster and easier to scout routes, and they make it much easier to see your route relative to points of interest you may or may not know about. They also work all the time.
Gas Apps. Gasbuddy will help you find the cheapest gas prices in your area as you travel. If you have a larger RV, then look at the Loves and Pilot Flying J apps. These stations tend to be larger and more RV friendly (particularly Flying J).
RV Travel Apps. Allstays Camp and RV is a great app for locating fuel and campgrounds along your route. For an app, it’s on the expensive side, but it’s well worth the money.
Camping and Club Apps. Goodsam, Passport America, and KOA are all great apps for finding campsites for any RV trip. Each has its own discount program, which you can evaluate to see if it will work well for you. Campendium is a free general campsite finder that includes many free camping opportunities around the US. Harvest Hosts is a great membership-based app that allows you to find and book free campsites at businesses that allow on-site camping.
Memberships and Clubs
- KOA, Goodsam, Passport America, Thousand Trails, and Harvest Hosts are some of the most popular discount membership services for RVer’s. They all have their benefits and limitations, but most pay for themselves in the first use or two, which generally makes them worth it.
- Roadside Assistance. Towing an RV is expensive. A roadside assistance program like GoodSam roadside assistance will easily pay for itself with one use. Check your RV insurance to make sure you don’t already have roadside assistance before buying it, though.
First Aid Kit. Anytime you travel, a first aid kit is an important thing to bring along. That’s especially true on an RV road trip.
Reflective Safety Vest. If you are stuck servicing your RV on the side of the road, this will help keep you safe.
Roadside Emergency Kit. These usually include flares, reflective markers, and other items to keep you safe should you break down on the road.
Miscellaneous Cool Things
A Foldable Wagon. Foldable wagons are great. You can use them to haul things around the campground like firewood, coolers, or your laundry.
Portable Fire Pit. There are quite a few campgrounds that allow campfires but that don’t provide a fire pit. Portable fire pits for burning wood are lightweight and usually pretty cheap. There are also gas (propane) fire pits available. They are a bit more expensive, but you can use them in a lot of places that don’t allow wood fires.
A Tripod Grill. These allow you to cook over your campsite’s fire pit. There’s nothing better than a meal cooked over the campfire when you’re out camping. These tripod systems are cheap, lightweight, and take up very little space. If you like to cook over an open fire, you need one of these.
Folding Camp Chairs. Most campsites have a picnic table, which is great. You should bring along folding camp chairs for the sites that don’t or for something more comfortable. These are lightweight and will easily fit in most RV pass-throughs.
Once again, congratulations on taking that first RV trip! Hopefully, this list of items to buy will help make your RV adventure more enjoyable. Just remember to keep your first RV trip simple, take your time, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. RV’ers, with rare exceptions, are the friendliest group of people you may ever meet.
Don’t forget to check out some of our other articles as well like What Is a Fifth Wheel – Top 6 Reasons Families Love Them or How to Find the Best Camping Spot for RVs