Many motorhomes and towables come with RV ladders attached. But many rigs aren’t equipped with RV ladders at all.
What’s the purpose of an RV ladder? Why would RV manufacturersinstall them on some rigs and not others? If they’re really necessary, why wouldn’t every RV have one? If they’re not needed, why would anyone have one?
And what can you do if your rig isn’t equipped with a built-in RV ladder and you find that you need one?
We’ve been on the road full-time for nearly 20 years and use our ladders all the time. (That’s right — we said ladders — we’ve got more than one!) In fact, we can’t imagine being without them.
Let’s take a look at who needs an RV ladder and why many rigs aren’t equipped with one.
And if your rig didn’t come with a ladder built onto it, we’ll show you a few good options for carrying one.
Why Do RVs Have Ladders on the Back?
We’ve all seen RVs with ladders permanently mounted on the back, like ours. It’s pretty obvious why those ladders are there simply by noting where they lead… to the roof!
RVs have ladders on the back to allow easy access to the rig’s roof. But do you really need one?
Well, that likely depends to some degree on your style of RVing and camping.
There are RVers like us whose rigs are our permanent homes. At the other end of the spectrum are those who camp on summer weekends, not all that far from home.
Although we all have our own styles of traveling, we all need access to our RV roofs for various reasons.
Let’s take a quick look at why an RV owner needs direct access to the roof.
We talk about RV roof inspections on this blog a LOT. That’s because maintaining the integrity of an RV over time involves regular roof inspections to spot potential leaks before they happen.
If you’ve seen our post on RV roof leaks, you’ll understand why avoiding them at all costs is so important.
Preventing RV roof leaks with Dicor maintenance is a key way to keep your RV in good shape over many years.
Ignoring the maintenance of your rig’s roof sealants is a sure way to experience significant damage to the roof and underlying structure over time.
Of course, you’ll need access to the roof to inspect and maintain it. This is one of the most important reasons to have an RV ladder.
Keeping your RV roof clean is more important than you may think.
Your RV roof can be stained by tree sap, acidic bird droppings, leaves, and road grime.
If you’ve ever noticed black streaks down the sides of an RV, your seeing the results of an RV roof that isn’t often cleaned. (If you’ve already got black streaks and need to get rid of them, check out our post on RV black streak removers.)
In our complete guide to your RV roof, we discussed how to care for each type of RV roof. And more recently, we published a post specifically discussing how to clean a rubber roof on an RV.
The bottom line is that you need to be able to get up onto your RV’s roof if you’re going to care for it properly.
If your rig didn’t come from the factory with a ladder on the back, you still have options. Installing one is a possibility, but a portable collapsible model may be an easier solution (and a more versatile one… read on to see why we have two ladders!)
Important Note: Some RV roofs are not suitable for walking on (check with your manufacturer if you’re unsure). But some maintenance and cleaning can be done from a portable ladder placed alongside the rig.
Roof Maintenance – Repair of the Roof Itself, or Items Mounted on the Roof
In addition to cleaning, RV roofs can also require repair. If you need to repair RV roof holes or other damage, you need access.
And if anything mounted on the roof needs attention, you’ll need an RV ladder to get to it.
Remember that your RV is likely to have RV plumbing vents, RV roof vent fan(s), air conditioner(s), and maybe even a cell booster or some solar panels.
At some point, all of these rooftop items will need inspections, maintenance, or repairs.
If you live or travel in a region that’s cold enough to find snow or ice on your RV roof, you’ll need to remove it to reduce weight and prevent ice damming, which can cause serious problems.
As the snow melts and refreezes, ice can trap pools of water on the roof of your rig. This is called ice damming, and you don’t want that! It can allow melted ice to penetrate seals and other openings, bringing us right back to the problem of an RV roof leak.
All of these are important reasons to gain access to your RV roof, and to do this, you’ll surely need a ladder. Here’s a video showing another reason we access our RV’s roof:
All this begs the question…
Why Don’t All RVs Come With a Ladder?
Some RV designers and manufacturers opt to omit RV ladders for any or all of the following reasons.
Some manufacturers don’t include RV ladders for cosmetic reasons.
High-end motorhomes now often have cosmetic rails or spoilers that hide equipment on the roof, making the rig look sleeker.
A ladder would detract from that look and also require a very tall RV ladder to get up over those rails. This would add additional height to an already-tall RV and result in a more “functional” than “sleek” appearance.
There are also structural reasons why RV manufacturers may not include RV ladders on their rigs.
Not all RV roofs are approved to support the weight of a person walking on them. For that reason, the manufacturer may not want you to be encouraged (by the presence of a ladder) to go up there.
RV manufacturers may be leery of supplying exterior RV ladders to protect themselves from liability in the event of an accident.
After all, a ladder is an invitation to climb (that’s what it’s for, right?). If someone falls off the ladder or roof after being “invited” to climb up, a lawsuit could follow. Some manufacturers may simply want to avoid that risk.
Finally, there’s the issue of cost. In the competitive RV market, anything a manufacturer can do to keep prices down is an incentive for them. Our attitude on this one is simple: If they’re omitting a ladder only to save money, include it on the options list so we can choose for ourselves!
Can I Install a Ladder on My RV?
You might be able to install a ladder on some RVs. The biggest concern, of course, is safe, secure mounting.
If you’re looking specifically for a fixed/mounted RV ladder, you’ll need to find out if the structure of your RV is conducive to the addition.
Screwing into an exterior RV wall in just any old spot won’t hack it for supporting weight. We’d suggest contacting the RV manufacturer to learn more about this critical information.
Your RV will need to have studs or blocking within the structure at the points where you intend to install the ladder.
For a fixed/permanent DIY ladder installation, you’ll need to buy a ladder of appropriate length for your particular RV.
You’ll also want to consider the ladder’s weight capacity as it compares with the weight of the person who’ll most frequently need to access the roof.
If you’re unsure about any of this, inquire about a dealer installation. Just remember that you’ll be climbing on it, so it has to be secure!
There are other options available for those who either don’t have the space or the desire for a permanent, fixed ladder installation.
For portable and collapsible RV ladders, there are four main considerations to keep in mind when researching and shopping.
- Maximum Height
Let’s take a look at some options for RV ladders.
Permanent/Fixed RV Ladders
You may be able to purchase a ladder from your RV dealer. If a ladder was optional on your rig, that exact ladder is likely available from the parts department as a replacement. Other popular choices for permanent RV ladder installations are from Stromberg-Carlson and Surco.
Stromberg Carlson Universal RV Ladder
This ladder is made from 1-inch diameter heavy-duty aluminum tubing, with a maximum length of about 8 feet. It can also be cut to fit a shorter length and has a weight capacity of 250 pounds.
The ladder weighs 10 pounds, and the rungs are one foot apart. This particular model allows 5 inches between the ladder and the RV.
Despite the description calling it a “universal” RV ladder, it’s really not that simple. You’ll want to ensure your particular RV can accommodate it without many modifications.
Surco 501L Universal Motorhome Straight Ladder
This RV ladder weighs only 5 pounds, has a maximum length of 97″, and can be cut shorter to fit. The rungs are 12″ apart.
The top rails of this ladder are 17″ long, and the stanchions that provide support are 5″ long.
It has wide non-skid steps and is made of heavy-duty 1-inch diameter aluminum.
This model has a weight capacity of 250 pounds and will sit about 5″ away from the RV.
If you’ve got the storage capacity to accommodate a folding ladder, there are several good lightweight options.
We’ll start with the ladder we use, as we can personally testify to it being incredibly useful and durable over the 17+ years we’ve owned it.
GP Logistics 7′ Compact Folding Ladder
We mentioned that we have two ladders. Our rig came with one on the back, and we bought this one, too. We wanted to be able to reach high along the sides of the RV (think waxing the paint, changing bulbs in our security lights, etc). We’ve used it regularly for over 17 years, and it’s still in great shape.
It’s important to note that our rig is a 43′ Class A RV with large basement storage areas. We carry our ladder on our full-width pull-out tray, so it’s super easy to access. It’s also pretty lightweight at only 14 pounds.
It has a weight capacity of 225 pounds, and we find it very easy to move around as needed. It folds up into what is essentially a long stick.
The best thing about this model is its free-standing RV step ladder. That means we can use it anywhere without leaning it against the RV.
One potential downside is that it isn’t that tall (about 6′). So without at least the upper portion of our built-in ladder, we wouldn’t be able to access our roof with this ladder alone. But since we already have a roof-access ladder, that doesn’t matter to us.
The steps are also a bit narrower than you’ll find on a traditional stepladder. We haven’t found this to be a problem at all, but you might want to keep it in mind.
Little Giant Ladders “Velocity” M17 Multi-Position Ladder
This 17-foot multi-position ladder easily converts to an extension ladder or A-frame, a 90-degree ladder, a staircase ladder, a stepladder, or a trestle-and-plank (Velocity Trestle Brackets sold separately).
It has wheels for easy movement from place to place.
This 17-foot version is rated to hold up to 300 pounds. The ladder itself weighs 32 pounds and requires a storage height and depth of 4’7” and 9”, respectively.
Little Giant also makes a 13-foot (25-pound) version, a 22-foot (39-pound) version, and a 26’ (50-pound) version of these Velocity multi-position ladders.
This is a great ladder — very stable and versatile. However, it’s not for everyone because it’s pretty heavy and requires a fair amount of storage space.
Our friend Tyler from Tough Top Awnings uses these heavy-duty ladders to install slide toppers and awnings. So you may have seen Tyler (and us) climbing all over them in many of our YouTube videos!
Little Giant Ladders, Velocity with Wheels, M17, 17 Ft, Multi-Position Ladder, Aluminum, Type 1A, 300 lbs Weight Rating, (15417-001)
- Multi-position ladder converts to A-frame, extension, trestle-and-plank, 90-degree and staircase with ease
- Rock Lock adjusters quickly alter your ladder into different configurations
If you saw our post about collapsible ladders, we specifically discussed this as a good option for some RVers.
Unlike the folding ladders listed in the previous section, this type of ladder extends and collapses in a telescoping fashion. It can be extended to the length that best suits your needs.
If you don’t have a built-in ladder, these can be great for accessing the roof because they’re so tall. Just lean it against the top corner of your RV (a couple of old towels wrapped around them at the correct height will protect your finish).
PEAYLI Telescoping Extension Ladder
This ladder is 16.5 feet long when fully extended and only 3.1 feet long when fully retracted for storage.
Made of aluminum alloy, this telescopic extension ladder has multiple sections. Each one has two buttons that extend, retract, or lock the ladder in place securely.
The weight capacity of this model is a whopping 330 pounds, and the ladder itself weighs just under 30 pounds.
The only disadvantage of this type of telescoping ladder is that it has to lean against something during use. So while you might have no trouble accessing your RV’s roof, it can’t be used as a freestanding stepladder.
SocTone Telescoping Ladder
This is a smaller, 12.5-foot (fully extended) aluminum telescoping ladder that weighs less than 22 pounds and still has a 330-pound weight capacity.
It retracts to 33″ for easy storage and portability.
SocTone’s ladder uses a couple of triangle stabilizers to reduce wobbling.
Do You Have an RV Ladder?
Does your RV have a ladder that’s permanently installed? If not, do you carry a portable ladder? Or, like us, do you have more than one? 😂
Many RVers don’t carry a ladder at all and only use a stepladder at home when doing rooftop maintenance jobs.
If you have a permanently-attached RV ladder or carry a portable one, drop us a comment and let us know which type you have and how you like it.
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