By Gail Marsh
Paula and Larry S. recently wrote to us with a concern. They wrote, “What do people with bad knees or legs do for better entry steps? The ones that come with campers nowadays are much better than the ones before 2019, but our camper is 2008. We need steps closer together and with a better handrail now that we are well over 65. I am sure others do too, as everyone seems to have bad knees in our age group! I think it would be difficult to carry around custom-made RV steps. We have looked up steps that can be purchased for a hefty price that fold up. Is there any other way for good entry steps? What are others doing?”
Good question! RV entry steps may be difficult for many people to use safely, especially as the years go by.
Rise and tread matter
Most residential sticks ‘n bricks homes feature steps with a standard rise of about 7.5 inches. Some RV steps have rises as much as 12-14 inches! (Step “rise” is measured from the top of one tread to the top of the next tread.) Navigating a deep rise step can feel as impossible as mountain climbing, especially when your knees ache!
Making matters worse, some RV steps feature very narrow treads (the part of the step you stand on). It can be scary trying to navigate narrow, steep steps, especially when there is a single handle rail on only one side (usually the left). This handrail may be difficult to reach until you’re standing on the first step.
Some improvements in RV steps
Step design is a big issue. As our readers point out, many newer RVs have a step design that is generally sturdier, with a shorter rise and wider tread than older models. It’s been a game-changer for many people. Our first RV (older pre-owned model) had three steps. The step rise was OK, but the tread was only about nine inches deep. When I would step up onto the first step it felt “squishy,” not nearly as solid as our current RV steps that rest on the ground. Improvements in step design over the years have been very helpful.
Step challenges remain
But back to our readers. Owners of older RVs and even newer truck campers still face the challenge: How to upgrade the rig’s entry steps to make them safer and more user-friendly. The good news is that several manufacturers make add-on steps that fit over your existing steps. Other companies make after-market replacement steps as well. The bad news? These special-order steps can be costly. And many feature a “step rise” greater than seven inches. See for yourself. Google “RV steps.”
Some folks have built their own entry steps using wood. Wooden steps are very sturdy, and you can build them with a step rise that feels comfortable. Many of the plans I’ve seen online seem like they’d be a hassle if you change locations often, with the setting up, taking down, and storing. You can check out a sample of wooden steps that appear to come apart, store, and reassemble fairly easily in this video. If you’re handy with wood, you can try making your own. Or see if you can hire a local carpenter to make steps like this for you.
There are also tons of options for new RV steps and step covers on Amazon.
Another possibility to consider is finding an additional handrail to add on the right side of your current steps. Some folks find that they can reduce pressure on their legs by holding onto both left- and right-hand rails simultaneously. Google “RV add on handrails” for ideas.
Body movement matters
No matter what kind of steps you have, a few tips for maneuvering up and down might also help. (Note: Check with your doctor or physical therapist for individual assessment and suggestions.) Always wear supportive shoes and use the handrail(s). General guidelines, whether you are climbing up or down, follow:
When climbing up:
- Lead with your stronger leg
- Place your heel on the step first
- Take time to align your knee over your second toe (not bending inward or outward)
- Lead with your body, by bending forward. This will transfer your weight to the hamstrings and glute muscles rather than taking all the weight on your knee.
- Push from the outside of your heel to go up
When descending steps:
- As you lower, make sure your knee is aligned over your second toe (knee should not bend inward or outward from your torso)
- Catch your body weight with the ball of your foot
- Slowly lower your foot until your entire foot is on the tread, keeping your knee aligned over the second toe
Most RVers want to continue their traveling journey as long as they possibly can. Entry steps can very well slow or possibly halt that journey.
What suggestions do you have for a better entry step? Please share them with us and Paula and Larry in the comments below. Thanks!