One thing I found challenging when going on the road was figuring out what kind of hitch I needed to buy. I had no experience with towing and I found the terminology and options somewhat bewildering. Hopefully, if you are in the same situation this guide can help you sift through the information. While it is written with towing an Airstream in mind, you may find it a good primer on hitches in general. I’ll start with some terminology, move into talking about weight distributing hitches, discuss how to select a hitch, and finally give some recommendations on what I think you may want to buy.
The first thing to keep in mind is that the word hitch is often used to refer to different components, all of which are needed to tow your trailer. My truck has a hitch built into it, yet I still had to buy a hitch to tow my trailer. This stems from the fact there are many types of hitches, some of which have more components than others. Because of this you can buy nearly every part separately and are often referred to simply as a hitch. Let’s break down the components.
For starters, your vehicle will need to have a receiver installed on it. The Receiver will have a square socket that sticks out the back of the car. On lighter vehicles, the Receiver may attach to the bumper. These are not suitable for towing a travel trailer like an Airstream as it could well pull the bumper off the vehicle. For heavy loads, you want a receiver that is attached to the frame of the vehicle. Receiver sockets come in a few different sizes, generally the bigger they are the more they are intended to tow. The steel frames also come in different weights called classes from class 1 to class 5 with the larger class having a greater towing capacity. For an Airstream, you want a class 3 or better receiver.
Into the receiver, you will be using some kind of hitch ball Mount. It has a shaft that fits into the Receiver, locking with a Hitch Pin and a hole in which to attach a Hitch Ball. In the case of towing an Airstream, the mount is the weight distributing hitch we mentioned earlier. There are simple Mounts that are nothing more than a straight shaft, others that allow you to position the hitch ball vertically. Then there are complicated mounts like the weight distributing and sway control hitches. These include tension bars and other mechanisms that help level out and control the trailer’s movement. We will get into details a bit later on these as they are required to tow an Airstream.
Finally, we have the Hitch Ball which is simply a metal ball on a post. They come in different sizes which you need to match your trailers Coupler. The Coupler is simply the open socket the Hitch Ball rests in when the two are attached. It has a Latch to lock the ball into place. The Coupler on most trailers is attached to its Tongue. The Tongue is generally a V-shaped frame on the front end of the trailer.
Modern Airstreams use a 2 and 5/16th-inch ball and socket. Older airstreams (roughly before 1969) use a 2-inch ball and socket but were updated when the government standards changed.
Collectively the Receiver, Ball Mount and Ball are the hitch, though again you may see each component on its own called a hitch while shopping and each is generally sold separately. The Coupler and Tongue are part of the trailer and not part of the hitch.
Weight Distributing Hitches
Because this is about towing Airstreams we will talk about “weight distributed hitches” which Airstream recommends/requires for towing all Airstream models. Weight distributed hitches are designed for towing heavy loads, usually between 2,000 and 10,000 lb. They include steel spring bars in their design and their purpose is to get the tow vehicle and trailer on an even plane when attached together. Without one what happens is the trailer pushes down on the tow vehicles rear suspension so much they form a V shape. This means the front of the vehicle has poor traction and braking, both of which can cause serious problems.
Some weight distributing hitches are also designed to control trailer sway which is when the trailer swings from side to side even though you are going straight. This is usually caused by crosswind hitting the trailer which can come from the environment or from passing or being passed by other vehicles at high speeds. The swing arms reduce sway somewhat, as where other hitches promise to do so dramatically or eliminate it entirely. These mechanisms are referred to as sway control and can take a few different forms but often involve extra struts attached to the tension bars giving them more horizontal resistance. You can also by third-party sway control bars to use with a weight distributing hitch that does not have them.
Heavy Metal: what is my hitch weight?
Before you select a hitch you need to know how much weight you will be towing. There are two numbers you will want to have at hand: Tongue Weight and Trailer Gross Weight. Both can often be found in the paperwork that comes with your trailer if you bought it new, or from the manufacturer’s website. Tongue Weight is how much pressure the tongue of your trailer pushes down when it’s resting more or less level. Gross Weight is simply how much your trailer and everything in it weighs. Since I like to be on the safe side I estimate this as equal to the how much it weighs if fully loaded according to the trailer paperwork. You can also measure a trailer using a truck scale, but you aren’t likely to get it on one until you already have it hitched up so that’s not so helpful. This Handy Tongue weight calculator can tell you what the tongue weight is based on Gross Weight and some measurements you can easily make yourself.
With the weight information in hand, you can narrow down your search to hitch components that meet or exceed the weight of your trailer. Generally, you want to look for something where your weight is inside the minimum and maximum range. A little too high is still better than too low but don’t overdo it. With a weight distributing hitch, too high a weight rating can make the hitch too stiff which can be hard on the suspension and make it more difficult to handle.
If you need to buy a receiver for your tow vehicle you need to make sure that the vehicle itself can handle the weight. There are a number of factors at play there so check out my guide on tow vehicles or consult an expert in your vehicle.
Picking out a hitch
Even with a good understanding of the hitch basics, picking one out can be a challenge. There are many manufacturers and designs. Often each has its own patents and designs and claim theirs can do what no others can. Even when you pick a given manufacturer they tend to have many models of varying cost and complexity. Here are some factors to keep in mind.
- Reputation – Start reading reviews, generally most manufacturers have their fans and detractors
- Price – This varies widely from the cheap ones at around $100 up to those in the $1200 range
- Ease of use – The ease of hitching and un-hitching your trailer can matter a lot depending on your strength and aptitude
- Installation requirements – Some only require simple tools, others more drilling and the like.
Generally, you will get the best deal by shopping online. Amazon is always a good bet to start shopping for good deals and easy shipping. I found that dealers and local hitch shops tended to have a very limited selection and often had to order anything specific you were looking for.
The easy way out
If you buy your trailer from a dealer of some kind they can select and install your hitch for you. Typically they will know what they are doing and can select a good hitch for your trailer and tow vehicle provided you get all the information for them they need to select one. (If they don’t ask, don’t trust.) The downside is you will generally pay a lot more for it than if you select it yourself and you will have to take whatever they stock. The upside is you don’t have to give it much thought and they are not likely to make any serious mistakes.
I ended up taking this route myself, though it cost me around $400 more than I could have gotten the same hitch myself for and I’m not a huge fan of the Hitch they chose. Still, I was somewhat pressed for time and was still a little uncertain about exactly what I needed at the time. If the one I got ever fails, I’ll probably go for a different brand.
My 30-foot stream trailer has a loaded Gross Weight of around 8,000lb and a tongue weight of about 900lb. My truck already had a receiver rated up to 11,000 so I didn’t need to do anything there. As I mentioned I ended up letting the dealer select and install the weight distributing hitch (and I paid far too much for it as a result). This is what they installed: Blue Ox BXW1000 SWAYPRO Weight Distributing Hitch 1000lb Tongue Weight.
It does do the trick but I have two issues with it. Firstly its sway control is somewhat limited and at higher speeds or when passed by large vehicles there is definitely more trailer sway than I’d like. The second is that it is simply super heavy and awkward. It weighs just short of 90lb, has two heavy swinging steel arms, and few good places to hold onto it. I’ve both pinched my fingers and broken nearly every container I’ve tried to store it in. Ox is a fitting name for it. Mind you I’m sure it is quite sturdy and will probably last for a great long time.
The hitch I’d picked out for myself, but which I don’t have practical experience with is this one: Reese 66074 Strait-Line 1200 lbs. Trunnion Bar. It has specific sway control struts and is just a bit lighter in construction while being rated for a higher weight.
Other stuff you will want
- Grease and Grease Gun for your hitch ball and receiver
- Hitch and Receiver pin locks to secure your trailer and hitch
- Neon Tape to mark off chain-lengths and hitch depth and make tools harder to misplace
I have an REI edition Basecamp 16x on order. My tow vehicle is a Rivian R1T EV Truck, Curb Weight: 7173 lbs. Airstream recommends the Blue Ox Sway Pro, but I’ve been advised that I don’t need a distribution hitch given the weight of the R1T & its air suspension. One consideration is unhitching may be required at charging stations. Less hassle here is better. Any feedback is appreciated.
Just purchased a 2021 Airstream flying cloud 25 FB and a new 2020 Ford F-350 super duty diesel. I installed a B&W hitch 21000 towing and 2100 tongue weight . Airstream gross loaded weight 7300 and tongue weight 833 . Should I have purchased a WDH with sway control hitch . So far no issues with sway control . I just want to be safe . I’ve been reading about the pro pride 3p it just seems to be problematic hitching at times .
Hi Bill. First off, sorry for the late reply. I’ve been fighting Acute Leukemia the past couple of months and was in pretty rough shape.
Airstream always recommends weight distributing hitches so I tend to as well. That said, the F350 is a big truck so it’s naturally going to be more even in weight and wind resistance with the trailer which is what the Weight Distribution and Sway Control is designed to help with.
One thing you can do is to go to a local truck stop and use their scales. They will give you a report on how much weight is on each wheel of your rig. If it’s pretty evenly distributed, then what you have is working nicely, if not, I’d consider a weight distributing hitch to even things out. Sway control mostly just stiffens the connection between TV and Trailer. If you aren’t having sway issues, I wouldn’t worry about it.
All the best,
Hi there, this article is very informative! We just bought a vintage 1962 Globetrotter and is thinking about buying a BMW X5 45e with a manufacturer installed towing package. The Globetrotter weigh 2770lb, the X545e can tow up to 7200lb. After we do some modernization on the Globetrotter, it will probably weigh 4000lb, with our stuff inside the trailer, it will be close to 5k. We may buy a newer Airstream in the future for longer trips, say up to 6500lb total weight. The seller told me that the Globetrotter has the 2” ball. Is there a hitch that you recommend for the current light weight Globetrotter, and maybe also working for the future heavier trailer? I want a hitch as light as possible but also have potential. Thanks for your advice in advance!
Glad to help! I can’t give you a strong recommendation due to not having much first-hand experience with different hitches in this situation. I had a Blue Ox, and it worked great but was heavy and a bit awkward to hitch and un-hitch. The spring arms (which do most of the balancing) are pretty easy to remove. I think a which with this design or one like it (Reece hitches also have removable bars) could use different spring arms as you upgrade/downgrade the wight of the trailer you are towing. But I’m not sure if they are interchangeable or not, I’d ask a dealer that question.
BTW: if the spring arms are too strong, you get a stiffer ride. There is definitely a pretty big range where they work fine, but 3K to 7K is a pretty big difference so I suspect if you went for a 7K rated hitch, you would be pretty stiff with a 3K trailer. But I imagine you could go 5K and be fine up until you decide to go big, then just get a heftier hitch.
Best wishes and safe travels,
Your info is great. Can you help me clarify something? Am renting a 16 foot Caravel and towing with an Audi Q5. Will need to have a hitch installed – would one installed at U-Haul be sufficient? Is there a certain one I should ask for? Would the sway preventing parts be on the trailer side of the hitch? If they are not, is that a problem? Thanks so much
If the Audi does not have a hitch reciever you will need to have one installed. U-Haul does install those. You would want to go in with the make and model of your vehicle and they can tell you what hitch receivers they can install. Usually, that will come with a ball mount as well, but they also sell those. Be sure to find out what tongue weight and dow rating it’s rated for and get those at or higher than the Caravel’s requirements. I don’t honestly know the brands that make the receivers.
For an airstream, you also want a weight distribution rig for extra safety. They may rent these with the Caravel, it’s a good idea to ask about that. Since they are recommended strongly by the manufacturer, I suspect the rental may come with one but it’s best to ask ahead of time. The sway prevention mechanism varies by brand. Most of them replace the ball-mount portion of the hitch and have bars that also attach to the trailer itself. This is why it’s more likely to come with the trailer rental. The attachments for those arms are installed on the trailer and have to be set up specifically for it while the part that attaches to the tow vehicle is pretty much universal.
Best wishes and safe travels!
[…] When I got an Airstream, I had to get a vehicle that was compatible with towing it. I did some research on this at TrailerandHitch.com. […]
I have a 2018 Tundra 4X4. the trailer Hitch has a top inside distrance from the ground of 19″ and the 2019 Airstream 23FB has a Ball height measurement of 19″ (from the Airstream Manual). 1) If I undertand this correctly it means I need a ball receiver with no rise or drop. 2)However, that ball height could mean I need a ball receive wiht a 2″ drop so compensate for the roughly 2″ height of the ball when place on the receiver.
Can you tell me which of these are the correct setup?
I have a 2020 Ford Expedition max, with heavy duty tow package (class 4). I am just looking at the 2021 Caravel 16RB (solo female traveler). Any WD hutch recommendation? One dealer recommended the Eaz Lift Elite with a friction sway control, another recommended Blue Ox….This was hubby’s department, I am a newbie!
I don’t have any strong like or dislike for any given Hitch. I used a Blue Ox for 3 years, it’s very reliable, but it’s also very heavy and a bit difficult to maneuver, even for a burly fellow like me. I took a look at the Eaaz Lift. It looks pretty good, and easier to manage. I also liked the Reese weight distribution hitches. I had chosen that initially, but the dealer I bought my airstream from only had Blue Ox, so I went ahead and used that since they could do the installation for me.
Thank you, very good overview. As most of the other posts, I’m new at this too. I have a Range Rover Sport diesel with a factory installed 2” receiver. The car is rated to pull 7,700+lb. Just to confirm – a 2” receiver and a hitch mount with a 2” ball should be satisfactory for general towing needs? I’m assuming when one starts getting into towing Airstreams with a Gross Weight of over 5,000lbs is when I need to start looking at weight distribution hitches? We are renting smaller-lighter Airstreams in the near-term until we get more comfortable towing and know what we are doing. But we also don’t want to have a bad experience because we don’t have a reasonably comparable hitch. Thoughts?
Hi Walt, Just to clarify its probably a 2 and 5/16th inch ball. Apparently, the standard was 2″ but now most are 2&5/16th inches but are often just called 2 inch balls. These are standard for Airstream since 1969 or so when the government changed the standard to be just slightly larger.
I believe Airstream recommends weight distributing hitches for all their models but the website is mum on the subject. Over 5,000 most vehicle manufacturers will say they are “required.” I recommend one for any Airstream. They just make towing safer and easier by reducing sway and keeping your rig level. Most of them cover a range of sizes and they focus more on the max than the minimum. They way they work, you adjust them so they get the right tension for your load. They tend to measure tongue weight rather than towing capacity with the hitches themselves. The minimum tends to be around 600 tongue weight (around 6,000 in GVWR on the trailer).
I hope that helps!
Yes, very helpful. Thank you Hitch.
Thank you, this has helped me gain a better understanding of all the parts and functions of the hitch. We are going to be pulling a 2019 Bambi sport 16RB with our 2019 Subaru Ascent (model that can handle 5,000lb) and wondered if you had any recommendations on hitch ball mounts?
I think the most important point is to make sure it has the right size for your hitch and is rated for the load (2 and 5/16th” balls are pretty standard for trailers). The fixed position ones are pretty inexpensive: https://amzn.to/3emzPxH They have adjustable ones, but those are more for vehicles that sit high off the ground, that wouldn’t be an issue with the Subaru.
Correction! The tongue weight for the 2011 LR RR SC is actually 770lbs. not 550 as I originally thought. Not even sure now how I got that number, but I actually took a photo of the metal badge on the factory installed receiver on my Rover and it clearly states 770lbs.. Hoping to God that helps my case with whether or not I can get the 25′ Int’l Serenity. Oh please, please…
I really need a hand here; I have been speaking with Patrick at Colonial who seems nice enough and knowledgable, but he doesn’t think my 2011 Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged is able to tow a Airstream Int’l Serenity 25FB. He certain I will have no problem with the 23CB, but it does not have the floorplan I want. I’ve read some blogs here about the same truck I have but 2010 having no problems whatsoever with a 25′,, but I want to hear it from you guys and any suggestions you might have. I can tow up to 7716lbs. and the tongue weight is 550. I used your calculator but Patrick does not know and is unable to get the distance from center of axles to rear.
Hi Kristina! Thanks for the kind words and the question. I did some research on the vehicles in question. Thanks for the correction, the extra details on the Land Rover helped me out. (mostly the extra model info)
The towing rating for your Rover should by 7,716lb which is pretty good. Of course, you want to make sure the breaks and suspension are well maintained.
The GVWR (max weight) for the 25′ International FB is 7,300lb. (That is its dry weight and as much stuff as you would safely want to put in there.)
So, it’s a good match. It’s pretty close though so you need to be thoughtful about how many people and gear you pack in the Landrover when towing to avoid putting extra stress on it. If you have a full set of passengers, try to evenly distribute cargo in the trailer to spread out the load.
There is a school of thought that you should have far more towing capacity than the GVWR of the trailer but I’m not in that camp. They make the towing ratings very conservatively so if you are inside those numbers, you should be good.
We recently bought an airstream 2016 22FB sport and the dealer put an equalizer hitch on it (it has 2 sway bars). Our tow vehicle is a 2016 Ford F150 with the V8 (can tow around 9000 lbs.) Is this hitch sufficient for the trailer to prevent sway? We had the trailer brake controller installed by the Ford Dealer and he said to leave the setting on 5. Everyone has said we are fine, but reading about the sway is making me a bit unsettled.
I think you are well set up there Cynthia. That’s a great tow vehicle and it sounds like you have the right equipment to go with it. You won’t get much sway in normal situations.
That said, you can’t really prevent all sway, only minimize it. Strong winds, high speeds, and big trucks flying past you can all make some sway you can’t ever completely eliminate with a hitch. Of course, you can avoid high speeds by not speeding. I think with your setup, keeping under 75 should keep you pretty secure. And its always good to avoid towing in a strong wind. If there is a storm going, I advise staying put. The trucks you can’t do much about, but it’s not generally dangerous. Just hold steady, or accelerate a bit to straighten out.
Its always a bit nerve-wracking towing at first, but you will get more comfortable pretty quickly. Stay mindful/focused and it’s pretty easy.
Thank you, great info for a beginner like me.
So glad we could be helpful!
This was very informational. I have been meaning to buy myself a hitch but I keep weighing out the options. It is really good to know that the ease of use really just depends on the user. I’ve also had trouble with them, but I’m glad to know it’s not just me.
I’m glad you found it helpful. I’m always happy to help with specific questions if you have any.
Wow, I had no idea that there were so many different options for towing. I liked that you pointed out that you should know how much weight you are going to be towing before picking a hitch. That does seem important especially if you are towing something really heavy. Do you know how you would be able to tell how much weight a hitch is rated to carry?
Each hitch should have a tongue weight capacity listed. Often it will be right in the name of the model you are buying. That tells you how much downward force the hitch can handle and it is the main consideration with a hitch. So you want a hitch with a tongue weight a bit over your trailer’s tongue weight. (I think I need to explain this better in the article).
So if your trailer has a tongue weight of 900lb, you will want a hitch rated for more than 900lb. I’d go with 10 to 20% over what your tongue weight is. It doesn’t need to be an exact match, but you want something a bit higher in case you happen to have a heavier load in the trailer such as full water tanks.
I hope that helps. I’ll update the article soon so that it more directly answeres this important question.
I appreciate your breaking down the different parts of a hitch and what to check in order to get the right one. It would stink to get all ready for a trip only to realize that your hitch is insufficient to pull your load. As far as price goes, how much is a more expensive hitch indicative of quality? I wouldn’t mind spending a little extra as long as I get a really reliable one.
Happy to help Brooke,
A hitch is something I’d buy based on good reputation rather than price. The “cost” of a really bad hitch could be catastrophic if it leads to an accident. I’d suggest focusing on consumer reviews for the brand and then narrow down the specific hitch you need within that brand. I recommend you focus on reviews where they claim to have had the hitch for a good long time, at least a year. I spent a good long time reading reviews. To my surprise, most of the manufacturers had a pretty good reputation.
The most expensive hitches I found were Hensley brand. They claim to have a patented technology that eliminates all trailer sway. I know people that do really like them, but they are very expensive and somewhat complicated compared to other hitches. They easily cost twice what an average hitch does. I have seen some other Airstream’s that use them and read testimonials that they make towing relatively easy compared to other brands.
Also of note, I found that the price for the same hitch could vary quite a bit depending on where you buy it. As is often the case, they are cheaper if you order them, and most expensive if you buy from a dealer that only carries one brand. I checked with one place that specializes in hitches and racks and they were willing to install a hitch I ordered as was our Airstream Dealer.
I really enjoy camping, and love to take the trailer out and camp for a few days. I have been needing a new trailer hitch and I have been looking at some like the ones on this page, and also the mor ryde pin boxes. I am not sure which hitch I would want to use, and what would be better for me.
Pin Boxes are for 5th wheel hitches, the equivalent of a hitch ball on a traditional hitch, thus not too much use for other types of travel trailers. The Mor Ryde brand gets good reviews so it seems like a quality choice.