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Ask Dave: Can I walk on my RV’s roof? Can I add on a ladder? Help!

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Dear Dave,
Since this is not the RV we intended on purchasing, I am learning as I go. It did not have a ladder on the back and was told not to have one mounted, nor a topper on the slide. I have been told it was better not to have a topper on this model and also that the roof was not meant to walk on. My weight is 215. Any ideas on an aluminum retractable ladder? Can my roof take my weight to maintain it? Thank you for your help. I value it immensely. —Sharon, 2021 Forest River Wildwood 22RBS

Dear Sharon,
Your Wildwood has a construction method we call “stick and tin/” That means it typically has wood framework, loose fill insulation, and Mesa outer skin. This means that there is typically not enough structural integrity to walk on the roof or install items like ladders.

I did some research on the Forest River site and other places and found a few things that might contradict what the dealer is telling you.

First, it does seem you have the Mesa or ribbed outer sidewall material which comes in 18-20” widths and has a seam every 18”. Look at it closely and you will see a fold-over seam. I’m guessing you can probably push the wall in an inch or two.

(photo provided by owner)

A stronger construction method uses an aluminum framework, block foam insulation, and a one-piece fiberglass outer skin. This does not mean your unit is not a good unit. It just doesn’t have the structural integrity in the sidewall or back wall to mount items like a ladder or awning rail for a slide room awning.

RV roof

However, according to the Forest River website, it does have a 3/8” roof decking that is listed as “Walk On,” but you would want to stay at least one foot away from any cut out such as a vent or roof air conditioner. If you are concerned about the structural integrity of the roof, what I do is lay down a 2’ wide by 8’ long piece of 3/8” plywood that distributes the weight and I can walk on any roof!

Slide room

It also states that the sidewall is 2” thick and 16” on center or less. That means there are vertical wood studs in the sidewall similar to a home build. You might be able to mount an awning rail to those above your slide room to install a slide topper.

Since the slide room is approximately 10’, there would not be any full-length vertical studs in that area. There should be a long wooden beam at the top of the opening called a header and short supports going up to the roof called “cripples” that help support the weight of the sidewall at the opening just like a window or garage door opening in a house. You should be able to find these or mount the awning railing to the very top of the roof to the sidewall joint as there should be sufficient backing there. Most dealers just don’t want to take the time to go through this process and owners don’t want to pay for the extra labor compared to units that have pre-set or easy-to-find fastening points.

As for the ladder, you might be able to install one that goes up the back wall, has a U-shaped curve, and attaches to the roof and not the back wall, so the weight is on the roof and at the bottom. Check out this article, complete with photos, where one of our readers installed this type.

If you want to go the easy route and just get an extendable ladder, I would go with the version that Tony wrote about here.


Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and the author of the “RV Handbook.”

Read more from Dave here

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bill
19 days ago

I would find it extremely dangerous to mount a ladder where none existed nor was recommended by the manufacturer. 215# going up a straight ladder probably mounted to dubious supporting structure would require a helper with speed dial set to 911.

Jim Johnson
19 days ago

I agree, follow the link to Tony’s review of telescoping ladders. Our 2017 Keystone TT lacked a built-in ladder. The 12′ telescoping ladder easily fits in a bay and weighs 20 pounds. Attached ladders go straight up and are harder to climb – plus there are two more holes in the roof membrane to worry about sealant failure. The only pro for a built-in ladder is the industry has built non-ladder accessories for hanging lightweight items like lawn chairs.

I also own one of the 16′ articulating-frame telescoping ladders for use at the house. Yes, in many ways nicer than a traditional extension ladder, but twice the weight, twice the thickness, twice the price and more work to raise and lower. If you really need it in a RV setting, fine. But so long as I have something against which to lean, in my books the single telescope is better for RV’ing.

Read the user reviews carefully before buying. There is also a lot of cheap junk in telescoping ladders – with latches that easily break.

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