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Old 04-12-2021, 09:00 PM   #1
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2018 16' Sport
Portland , Oregon
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Setup advice - F150 and Sport 16

Hello fellow Airstreamers,

I know hitch setup is a hot topic and I've read lots of posts on the subject... I thought I landed on a decision of hitch setup and keep re-evaluating and am in a bit of analysis paralysis. I wanted ask those with lots more experience and wisdom for your thoughts.

A decade ago I owned a '78 Avion 23-footer. Came with a hensley hitch, had no idea what it was at first but learned from friends it was a welcome addition to the trailer and came to appreciate it myself. Towed it with a Ram 2500 without issue, naturally.

I now have a 2018 Sport 16. Intended to use with VW Toureag for TV, but recently traded for an F150 for more space for gear (we also travel with a large dog, who takes up a lot of space!)

I ordered a Hensley Cub a month ago, before we switched vehicles. I had used the Hensley previously and thought overkill is good for towing and sway control... but the more I think about it I'm feeling uncertain if the drawbacks are worth it now that we have the F150.

The Sport only has a NCC of 440lbs -- and it already has an extra battery and electric tongue jack. If I install the hensley cub (I think it's about 160 lbs) then we can't carry a full tank of fresh water without going over capacity. I even investigated swapping out the axle on the Sport, but the local dealer said the only other one would be 6,000 lbs - which is waaay overkill.

The specs for the F150 says a weight carrying limit on the hitch of 500lbs. I weighted our setup and we're at about 400lbs with the trailer lightly loaded (no freshwater though). So for most of our travel I don't think we need the WC, but I know sway control is a consideration. Truck does have electronic sway control, but my understanding is it should be considered a secondary defense rather than a primary one. If it matters, the F150 is also the longest wheelbase they offer at 157" (SuperCrew + 6.5' bed).

So with the hensley cub still sitting in the garage, we went out for our first trip this weekend (yay!) to a state park close by. I towed on the ball as it was 20 minutes away and nothing faster than 55. It went well - so I'm wondering if I'd be compromising our carrying capacity and introducing unnecessary complexity with the hensley cub.

I guess the other consideration is that we may get close to our payload at times - we're getting a canopy installed and there are times we'd want to boondock and carry extra water, generator, fuel, etc. -- and that all adds up.

So, I'm thinking I have 3 options:
1) Keep the hensley cub, install it and use it. Find ways to shave off weight as time goes by (swapping AGMs for lithium) and just keep extra water in the truck if needed.

Return the hensley, and either:
2) Not use a WD but install a friction sway control bar. Keep the TW under 500 to keep in Ford's spec. Keep an eye on the rear axle load when we have a lot of gear... likely also do some rear suspension upgrades to compensate for rear squat.
3) Get another WD/sway setup that doesn't come with the weight penalty. Blue Ox, Eaz-lift, equalizer... something like that. Not familiar (all I know is hensley!) and I'd need to have it installed and get up to speed on it...

I guess another option is just towing on the ball... but that seems, irresponsible?

If you made it this far I thank you profusely, and ask - what's your thought?
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Old 04-13-2021, 05:24 AM   #2
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After I bought my 19CB Caravel a year ago, I decided to try towing on the ball first before buying a WD hitch. I finished out the year with 3000 miles towed and still haven't bought that hitch. Like you, I have a 1/2 ton truck. There was only one occasion where a crosswind gust upset the trailer balance but it got right back in line after performing a classic critically damped oscillation.
That is just my experience, but perhaps there is something to be said for minding capacities and driving with respect to your load.
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Old 04-13-2021, 06:22 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by OutdoorIdaho View Post
That is just my experience, but perhaps there is something to be said for minding capacities and driving with respect to your load.
I agree. I went back and forth about whether we really needed WD and sway control as we prepared to take delivery of our new 19’ trailer. I reviewed all the specs for our truck and those of the trailer and decided that there should be no reason not to tow with just the ball. So, like Outdooridaho, we took delivery and everything worked as it should on the way home (NJ to FL). When we prepared to take it out again I weighed everything that we would be taking and was comfortable we were within spec and hit the road. The trailer/TV combination rode great. We drive conservatively at 60mph. We continue to tow without a WD or sway and have never had an issue. We’ve driven all types of roads between FL and the west coast of BC and have never doubted our decision to do without. It works for us for our configuration. Might/Might not for others, but your specs should give you the answer. Good luck and enjoy your travel.
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Old 04-13-2021, 06:38 AM   #4
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On a single axle AS I would not tow without a sway control hitch. Your 1500 should be fine, but if a couple hundred pounds is a limiting factor, upgrade.
USE the Cub, it doesn't require WD pressure for sway control.
BTW the 500lb limit is without weight distribution.
Load up for camping, go to the CAT scales, and stay below the tire and axle ratings for trailer and tow vehicle, adjust WD for best handling.
GVWR is just, if not more important than the illusive PAYLOAD number.

Disclaimer...I no nothing, we only towed a single axle Safari for 16yrs and been using an Arrow since '05.

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Old 04-13-2021, 06:56 AM   #5
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Does your F150 have a higher hitch rating using a WDH? My GMC 1500 hitch has a 700 lb. limit with a weight carrying hitch and a 1,250 lb. limit with a weight distribution hitch.
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Old 04-13-2021, 07:22 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dennis C View Post
Does your F150 have a higher hitch rating using a WDH? My GMC 1500 hitch has a 700 lb. limit with a weight carrying hitch and a 1,250 lb. limit with a weight distribution hitch.

X2. The 2019 Ford tow guide states that F-150's support a TW of 1,320 when using a weight distributing hitch. The Cub is a WD hitch. I'd use the CUB.
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Old 04-13-2021, 07:30 AM   #7
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I agree that you need to check again about the 500 lb weight limit on the hitch. I bet that is for no WD hitch and that the limit is higher when using a WD hitch. My Dodge is 500 without and 1000 with.

I can see no advantage to not using the Hensley Cub hitch that you already have. You made a good choice. With that hitch you will have a rock solid outfit that tows well.
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Old 04-13-2021, 08:37 AM   #8
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Trailers have been safely yanked for countless millions of miles , on the ball only, for decades.Its not irresponsible.
But the limitations must be understood, with ALL bumper pull combination vehicles.
This is one of those things that can be debated endlessly.
Excessive speed is the leading cause of problems.A lot of youngsters here don't even realize that the USA had a nationwide 55 MPH speed limit.Many major trucking companies were engine governed at 55 MPH, and some still are.
There are many good reasons for that.Safety is #1
Deaths went down.
The difference between problems encountered at 70 MPH + 55 MPH is huge.Dont kid yourselves.
Me personally, I think that anyone pulling a bumper pull trailer at 70 MPH , needs to rethink things.Its the most problematic way to tow.But, due to the huge variety of small tow vehicles, and small trailers, it's just the way it is.But, it's up to the driver to do it safely.
The Super Truckers of all shapes and sizes will, of course, say how "unsafe" 55 MPH operation is, because those drivers "get in their way"
Slow down out there.Speed kills.Every hour, of every day.
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Old 04-13-2021, 09:09 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dennis C View Post
Does your F150 have a higher hitch rating using a WDH? My GMC 1500 hitch has a 700 lb. limit with a weight carrying hitch and a 1,250 lb. limit with a weight distribution hitch.
My GMC 1500 Sierra has the same set up. My 2018 22FB Sport was bought used from a private owner who threw in the Equalizer WD Hitch and anti-sway bar system and I wouldn't tow without it! Yes, I am the primary driver and the hubby is co-pilot/work-horse :0)

We live in Wyoming which has wind. A calm day is usually 20-25 mph. Our hitch set-up has been a blessing as I have encountered 60-75 mph cross winds while passing semi trucks, etc. and have had no problems.
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Old 04-13-2021, 09:33 AM   #10
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Good luck returning it. Hensley would not take mine back even though it was still in box and never had been opened. No luck reselling yet either
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Old 04-13-2021, 10:02 AM   #11
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Appreciate all the responses and insights, thanks. I've learned a valuable lesson for carrying capacity - 440lbs initially seemed like plenty, and then now I find myself choosing between carrying a full tank of water or using the rock-solid hensley.

When I had the 23' Avion I was in my early 20s and didn't concern myself with such details. Glad I'm a bit older and wiser now.

SailorSam205 is correct - the 500lb hitch limit on the F-150 is for weight-carrying. For WD, that number goes up to 1,320. I don't see us upgrading the airstream anytime soon - the unit we found had some great upgrades and the market right now is a little nutty. For us right now it's good enough. Eventually when we can travel for months at a time I'd love a 25FB or 27FB - but then I'd want to upgrade to a 3/4 ton truck... but that's likely at least 5 years away.

Thanks for the note about GVWR, Bob - if we have to carry water in the truck I suppose we can do that. The hensley will let us fine-tune the setup even if we don't 'need' it based off the initial numbers.

I've got another couple weeks before my 60-day return period on the hensley passes... really appreciate the perspectives and wisdom shared, thank you all.
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Old 04-13-2021, 10:21 AM   #12
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You seem to be creating a problem that you do not have. The weight of the hitch is carried by the truck. Not by the trailer axles. So you do not have to choose between the hitch and the water.

Install the hitch. Hook up the trailer. Go to the CAT scales and weight the trailer axles. Look at the axle rating. The difference is how much capacity you have to add load. With the truck put the big loads in the truck bed.

You have what many would consider to be a perfect rig. A Bambi. A F150. A Hensley Cub. Use it and enjoy it.
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Old 04-13-2021, 10:30 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill M. View Post
You seem to be trying to create a problem where you do not have one. The weight of the hitch is carried by the truck. Not by the trailer axles. So you do not have to choose between the hitch and the water.

Install the hitch. Hook up the trailer. Go to the CAT scales and weight the trailer axles. Look at the axle rating. The difference is how much capacity you have to add load.
Ah! Thank you! I was under the impression that the full weight of the hensley would be subtracted from the carrying capacity of the airstream. Makes sense though to weigh exactly what the axels are carrying and then go from there as far as leftover carrying capacity. Sounds like a plan - may be less restricted than I'm thinking we are which would certainly be a welcome discovery. I often find it's the other way around.
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Old 04-13-2021, 10:52 AM   #14
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I’ll add a few more thoughts. Check the specs on your Airstream; don’t just rely on the brochure or the published numbers. Airstream says that my trailer should weigh 4,806 lbs. (with LP and batteries) with a hitch weight of 439 lbs. and a cargo capacity of 1,194 lbs. The sticker for my specific trailer shows a weight of 5,214 lbs., and a cargo capacity of 786 lbs. I used a Sherline scale to get my hitch weight, which is about 535 lbs when loaded for camping. This is a fairly significant difference! I’ve got some options on my trailer that obviously add weight, like a solar system, a gas oven, etc.

I’d also recommend getting a cargo scale and weighing your cargo. You’ll find that some of your best guesses on cargo weight aren’t very accurate. Knowing the weight of your cargo helps to ensure that you load your trailer and your tow vehicle in the best possible way. After weighing my cargo, I changed the way that I load my vehicles. For example, I now place my toolbox, my leveling blocks, my X-Chocks, and all my camp chairs and tables inside the trailer, ahead of the axles. I used to carry all that stuff in the truck. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but those items and a few more that I used to carry in the truck bed add up to 172.9 lbs. My truck and trailer loading is now more balanced because I know how much my gear weighs.
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Old 04-13-2021, 11:00 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill M. View Post
You seem to be creating a problem that you do not have. The weight of the hitch is carried by the truck. Not by the trailer axles. So you do not have to choose between the hitch and the water.

Install the hitch. Hook up the trailer. Go to the CAT scales and weight the trailer axles. Look at the axle rating. The difference is how much capacity you have to add load. With the truck put the big loads in the truck bed.

You have what many would consider to be a perfect rig. A Bambi. A F150. A Hensley Cub. Use it and enjoy it.
That is my understanding also. While the hensley counts as hitch weight (what the truck carries) it does not count as tongue weight (part of the trailer weight).

However tongue weight is part of the trailer gross weight when figuring out how much payload you have left in the trailer. So axle weight plus tongue weight equals gross weight.
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Old 04-13-2021, 11:18 AM   #16
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Check the specs on your Airstream; don’t just rely on the brochure or the published numbers.
Ah, yes - I did find this too. Published carrying capacity is 640lbs, sticker on my unit is 440lbs. Not sure where those other 200lbs are, but apparently it's somewhere!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dennis C View Post
I’d also recommend getting a cargo scale and weighing your cargo.
Appreciate this insight, too - to make loading easier, I've gotten some plastic tubs to 'group' items into so then I can just put those in the truck. My thought was after a few trips to get the 'what we need' dialed in, I'd then weigh each of the tubs and put that number on a paper along with a list of contents. That way I'll know when I need to re-weigh as things will invariably shift over time. I don't doubt that my 'estimated weights' are probably off quite a bit... your suggestion though leads me to go ahead and weigh the large individual items before our next trip (grill, bikes, chairs, cooler, etc.). That will optimize our first CAT scale trip, too.

Thanks for sharing!
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Old 04-13-2021, 11:31 AM   #17
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That is my understanding also. While the hensley counts as hitch weight (what the truck carries) it does not count as tongue weight (part of the trailer weight).

However tongue weight is part of the trailer gross weight when figuring out how much payload you have left in the trailer. So axle weight plus tongue weight equals gross weight.
^
????

Stay under max axle, tire and GV weights. And CAT it.
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Old 04-13-2021, 10:04 PM   #18
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I realize you’ve already received a lot of good info, but another item to consider. My 2018 F150 squatted a couple inches without WD (2 AGMs, full 20 lb propane tanks, and full 23 gallon fresh water tank). To solve it, I recently added the Roadmaster Active Suspension to the rear leaf springs which raised the rear end 1-1/2”+ and smoothed out the ride very noticeably. I readjusted my ProPride hitch and now my Caravel 16rb rides level with much less WD.

My F150 w/o WD: tongue 500 lbs, towing 5,000 lbs
w/WD: tongue 1,160 lbs, towing 11,600lbs
Load capacity: 1,286lbs
My 16rb tongue is listed at 490, and adding the ProPride adds a few more. Too close to even consider NOT using WD.
My 2 cents: use your Hensley, eliminate the worry & stress over weight, you and your F150 will appreciate it.

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Old 04-14-2021, 10:12 AM   #19
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My 2018 F150 squatted a couple inches without WD (2 AGMs, full 20 lb propane tanks, and full 23 gallon fresh water tank). To solve it, I recently added the Roadmaster Active Suspension to the rear leaf springs which raised the rear end 1-1/2”+ and smoothed out the ride very noticeably.

Thank you for sharing, Bob -- I was looking at the Roadmaster Active Suspension and wondering if I should try the Hensley without it first, but your feedback makes me reconsider just going ahead and adding it while getting everything dialed in. Did you go with the standard or HD version? May I also ask what drop you're using with the ProPride?
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Old 04-15-2021, 10:09 PM   #20
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I installed the “Standard” version of the RAS, with the harder/stronger setting (thicker of the two discs for measuring the spring tension). Installation is very straight forward, easy to follow instructions.

The drop on the ProPride? The hitch bar is currently set up so it matches the 3P while the bottom of the trailer frame is level (parallel to the ground front to back, which is 16-1/2” in my case). If I recall, the Hensley doesn’t have an adjustable hitch bar. I considered getting the Hensley Cub, but wasn’t impressed with their sales and website info. Also, I would have needed the Hensley Arrow due to our trailer’s tongue weight. So, I opted for the ProPride with better support.

I hope that helps.

- Bob
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