If you’ve never attempted to tow, or if you don’t do it often, it can be downright intimidating. Will you experience trailer sway?  How difficult will braking be? How will your truck handle the extra weight? 

We were shocked to learn that a whopping 30% of light-duty truck owners don’t know how much weight their trucks can tow. Of course, there are countless other reasons to own a pickup truck, but knowing how to tow is a skill any adventure-seeker should learn. To get to the bottom of this uninformed truck owner epidemic, we met up with the team from GMC in the beautiful mountains of St. George, Utah. We started out the trip by learning towing best practices from the pros and then we put these lessons to the test in the 2018 GMC Sierra Denali. We hooked up two Polaris RZR side-by-sides weighing over 3,100 lbs and with our off-roading toys in tow, we ventured out to some of Utah’s most breathtaking national parks to see how the Sierra Denali does in the wild. Here’s how it went.

Learning to Tow like a Pro

To make sure no one in our group did any significant damage to the Sierra Denali, the Polaris side-by-sides, or other unassuming drivers on the road, we started the day by getting a rundown of towing safety tips from GMC engineer, Chris Carino. We made sure to take notes not just for our own upcoming trip but also to pass the towing wisdom on to you.

Know your Combined Weight Rating

It’s important to understand all the components that go into determining the weight of your cargo and how much is safe to tow. You’ll need to know the gross combined weight rating which is the max weight for both truck and trailer. For our truck, which was the 6.2-liter V8 Ecotec3, the maximum weight rating is 9,300 lbs. To determine how much weight your truck can safely tow, you need to add up the weight of the trailer, the cargo, plus the weight of passengers and any other equipment.

Know the Tongue Weight

We also learned that tongue weight will play a critical role in safe towing. The tongue weight is the downward force the trailer tongue will exert on the truck hitch. Trailer tongue weight should be 10-15% of the total trailer weight. Keeping the tongue weight within this range will improve your stability and reduce the risk of trailer sway.

Trailering airstream

Pre-Trip Checklist

There were several precautions that we were told need to be taken before starting the trip:

  1. We first checked that our side mirrors were adjusted to create a clear view that extends to the end of the trailer
  2. We also checked that the turn signals, taillights, and brake lights operate properly on the trailer
  3. Finally, we learned that trailer brakes should be used for any trailer that weighs more than 2000 lbs

Safe Travels

Those that have never towed before had some questions about how to safely drive with the trailer. GMC's team helped us out with a few tips on adjusting our speed, acceleration, and braking. Leaving at least 4 seconds between you and the vehicle in front will ensure you have enough time to stop if needed. It’s also important to check the speed rating of your tires (most are rated at 65 mph). When accelerating, we were told to apply gradual pressure to avoid overworking the engine and when coming to a stop, or passing other vehicles, it’s important to leave extra distance.

Controlling Trailer Sway

Trailer sway was one of the biggest towing concerns GMC addressed, and they gave us four tips for controlling it:

  1. Hold the steering wheel steady
  2. Release accelerator but don’t use brakes
  3. Activate the electric trailer brakes by hand until the sway condition stops
  4. Apply vehicle brakes to come to a complete stop

This advice was certainly welcomed by the towing newbies and for the seasoned towers in the bunch, a refresher course proved helpful as well. Learning about all the safety features in the Sierra Denali made us all feel more at ease about the task at hand.

Sierra Denali Towing Safety Features 

Towing Tips

The 2018 Sierra Denali comes with many standard safety features to make towing easier, even for the first-timer. Plus, there are a number of additional features and accessories available to anyone that wants a little extra trailering confidence. These were the ones we found to be the most useful for the less experienced tower:

  • Trailer Sway Control: This technology automatically keeps the truck and the trailer heading in the same direction. If the trailer starts to sway, it applies to both the vehicle’s and the trailer’s brakes to help control the sway.
  • Trailering Camera System: This is an available option that makes even the most novice tower feel confident. The system lets you get multiple views all around your truck in the center screen.
  • Hill Start Assist: This is a handy safety feature that reduces the risk of rollback when driving up a hill. The system will detect when the truck is on a 5 percent grade or more and will hold the brakes momentarily or until the accelerator is pressed.

Towing Went Off Without a Hitch

GMC Sierra Denali Towing

After the towing demonstration, we were ready for our drive over to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes towing our side-by-sides. There was a 5.3-liter V8 and a 6.2-liter V8 Sierra Denali to choose from and we immediately called dibs on the 6.2-liter version. Before even pulling out of the parking lot, we noticed how capable the engine was for towing our RZRs. We barely felt the extra weight when driving and we were able to confidently handle acceleration and braking. Taking our GMC pros' advice to make wide turns and leave room to pass and switch lanes helped us avoid close calls on the road. Fortunately, we didn’t experience any trailer sway during our drive, but it was comforting to know the Trailer Sway Control had our back if we did.

Riding side-by-sides

As we arrived in Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, we unhitched our side-by-sides and took the ‘off-road tour’ of the park. Once we had gotten enough of the breathtaking views and almost tipped our RZR a few times, we decided we’re ready for a break. Lucky for us, a Sierra Denali HD had brought in an airstream full of fuel, otherwise known as lunch. After the food comas wore off and we dusted as much sand off ourselves as humanly possible, we were ready to hop back in the Sierra Denali for a drive through one of the most revered places in the US. We ditched the trailers in exchange for the freedom of exploring the winding roads of Zion National Park.

On the Road Again

Sierra Denali Rear

The Sierra Denali was a beast on the roads of Zion National Park. Some of the twists and turns were intense but the Sierra Denali didn’t miss a beat. The Denali had good acceleration for a full-size truck and the ride was comfortable, resembling a car more than a truck. Without the weight of the trailer, we were able to get up to higher speeds and braking for slow tour buses didn't pose a problem.

The Sierra Denali infotainment system does a good job of mimicking a smartphone.

The technology in the Sierra Denali did not disappoint. When we got stuck in traffic behind a tour bus, we got a chance to check out some of the infotainment and other features of the Denali. We also learned an interesting tidbit about the infotainment system from GMC engineer, Chris Carino. GMC doesn’t try to compete with other manufacturers when designing their infotainment systems. In this day and age, they need to compete with smartphones which is exactly what they did. The infotainment was intuitive and user-friendly allowing the driver to easily customize their settings.

Sierra Denali Side
This "adventure-mobile" is well worth the price tag.

Overall, the Sierra Denali proved to be a capable and luxurious truck for anyone looking for towing and trailering capabilities. It's the ultimate road trip and adventure vehicle given its comfort and user-centric technology. This truck gives almost anyone the ability to tow with confidence with its safety features and powerful engine. All these features don't come cheap, however. The truck we drove was equipped with the Denali Ultimate package which adds even more luxury. The package includes 22” wheels with inserts, power sunroof, trailer brake controller and tri-mode power steps. The total vehicle price for the model we tried comes in at $64,110.00. If there was a truck equivalent of ‘glamping’ (where adventure meets luxury) it would be a Sierra Denali.

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