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RVers ask: Our RV’s steps hurt our aching knees. What to do?

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.”

DIY 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.

Handrail help

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!

Related:

Save money – extend the life of your entry step covers

Rewrap your assist handle with this mod

Stairstep assist rails at Amazon

##RVT1001

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JOHN H TETREAULT
2 months ago

Torklift glowstep RV steps have a comfortable 7.5″ rise. Best replacement for my factory RV steps I could have ever done.

Alan
4 months ago

Turn around in r v grab outside handle and walk down backwards

Vincee
6 months ago

One small thing I did on my previous motor home to create firmer stable steps was to put a small scissors jack under the steps during camp set-up. This made a world of difference to my wife and me and I also thought it would help in the longevity of the steps. About $12 at Walmart.

Ron Lane
4 months ago
Reply to  Vincee

We do the same thing but due to settling of the leveling jacks over time, I always keep about a 1/4″ of clearance between the underside of the bottom step and the top of the scissor jack. Annnnnd, it’s always the first thing I remove when getting ready to break camp as the steps will retract as soon as I turn on the ignition (assuming the door is closed, of course).

Debbie
6 months ago

We changed to a quad step from the 3 step style that came on our 2003 fifth wheel. Steps are closer together which makes it easier to me. We recently looked at a 2021 model 5th wheel with the type that fit inside the door frame. They were horrible for me

Jeff Arthur
6 months ago

Tork lift revolution steps are the best & safest I’ve ever experienced. We changed our 3 step Lippert for 4 step TLR not as steep, the same distance from step to step, adapts to different terrain levels & mounts in the original space outside so you’re not flipping dirty steps inside. 6th season of use now.

J. Brooks
6 months ago

We made the change to Morryde Step Above. The top step is larger and allows for better foot placement as you go out the door. The first step sets you up for a better foot placement on the second step, etc. We added the handrail and motion under stair lights as well. Morryde has been getting customer feedback for years and make product changes with this data.
Nice people.

Sam Sprott
6 months ago

Our problem is not the external, but the internal steps. We have a DutchStar with 10.5″ risers inside the coach. The steps gyrate to level to result in a flat floor for the passenger’s feet. We snowbird for 4 months at the same site, so even a modification for when not on the road would be an improvement. What have other motorhome owners with high internal risers done to make amends for our aging bodies?

rvgrandma
6 months ago
Reply to  Sam Sprott

I agree – my MH has 9.5 and 10.5 inch steps. I am 5’3″. Needless to say after living in here for 17 years my knees hate the steps in. Outside is not the problem. I have measured and figured a way I could make them not as deep by adding boards to them. But, the first step inside is not very deep – just over half my foot length. I will still try someday to see if I can make them better. Since the battery is under one step not much altering one can do.

Thomas D
6 months ago

I change my steps to one with 1 more riser. All the difference in the world. About $180 and simple
It bolted right in.
My father in law told me to back down the stairs. He was so right. Easier. (he was 99)
No stick built house would pass inspection with the steps that are used by rvs both in width and rise.

Donald N Wright
6 months ago

I have wondered why so many trailers are so high off the ground. Is it the “basement” storage or the frames ?

Tommy Molnar
6 months ago

It makes for better and easier off-roading (i.e., boondocking).

Deborah Mason
6 months ago

I tend to back down the stairs – that way I can hang onto the hand rail, as well as watch to make sure the dogs wait until released to come out with me.

Ran
6 months ago

I purchased a adjustable shaft with plate on both ends to put under the first step which supports and does not wobble while stepping on it. Much less expensive than adding more steps, which for some is worth it. Also, I have the step platform with non-skid adjustable legs (highly recommended) that I use when needing that extra step, which also is great for uneven ground to eliminate tripping.
https://www.amazon.com/s?k=adjustable+rv+step+support&crid=1OA5XJWU6I6MB&sprefix=adjustable+rv+ste%2Caps%2C236&ref=nb_sb_ss_ts-doa-p_4_17

Tom
6 months ago

One overlooked advantage to vintage GMC Motorhomes was the very low entry sill.