Choose and (safely) use the proper ladder for RV care


By Greg Illes

Most every RV has some kind of built-in ladder to get up on top and inspect or maintain the rig. So why have a separate, portable ladder? There are multiple reasons, and each owner will have a slightly different set of requirements for a suitable portable ladder.

• Inspecting and cleaning are the most common needs for getting up in the air, especially on tall rigs with high windows.

• Comfort is sometimes an issue with the built-in ladders. Portable ladders offer a slanted climb, instead of the monkey-grab vertical ascent of the built-in.

• Branches and obstacles sometimes need moving or trimming to get the rig in or out of a location. A portable ladder is very much more handy than trying to do the job from the rig’s rooftop.

Ladder types fall within three general categories: the standard fold-up stepladder we all know, a specialized super-compact fold-up that collapses in two directions to a slender column, and the telescoping ladder which extends into a variable length.

• The fold-ups are the most common and least expensive, but they are also bulky and awkward to store. Many folks just hang them onto their built-in ladders, which I think looks clunky — and it also can create chafing and scraping on the ladder and the rig. The taller versions are risky on uneven ground.

• Super-compact ladders are a little more trouble to deploy, kind of easy to pinch a finger, but they are very easy to store. I have one of them tucked into a bedroom corner and secured with a velcro strap and it’s nearly invisible until I need it. They cost more, but for some they are worth it. They have the same footing risk as the generic fold-ups.

• Telescoping ladders are heavy and expensive and they must be leaned against an object, but they store easily. They are somewhat more stable and safer than a four-legged ladder type.

There is also a variation on the fold-up ladder, typically called a step stool. If all you need is to reach up to the top edge of your rig to clean it up, maybe one of these light, inexpensive units will do the job.

Whatever your particular needs, buy a quality unit that will be safe and will last, and use every possible precaution when using your ladder. It’s always a good idea to have someone steady it for you. Take your time and keep your weight always over the ladder (don’t reach out). Take pains to ensure that your next trip is not to the local ER, but instead to an exciting destination.

photo: Milesbaim/Wikipedia (public domain)

Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it. You can follow his blog at

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