A discussion of 5th wheels vs travel trailers is a battle of the towable RVs.
So if you have decided that towing an RV is better for your needs than driving a motorhome, this article is for you.
Of course, towing an RV means that you have to match the RV with the right tow vehicle. But that is a discussion for a different time.
In this article we just want to provide the pros and cons of both 5th wheels and travel trailers. Then, armed with that knowledge, you can make the choice that fits you best.
Just keep in mind that there is no answer that fits the needs of all RVers. The right RV for you can depend on several factors and we will discuss that as we go along.
Fifth Wheels vs Travel Trailers – What Are They?
A fifth wheel RV is easily identified because it has a hitch that mounts in the tow vehicle bed, usually over the rear axle.
So a fifth wheel has a front section that juts out from the rest of the RV. And it looks like this:
A travel trailer on the other hand attaches to the rear bumper of the tow vehicle. So travel trailer RVs look more like a box than fifth wheel RVs, like this:
The Pros Of Travel Trailers
Now lets cover the pros or advantages of choosing travel trailer RVs.
- They come in all sizes from 12 feet to 35 feet and everything in between. So you easily can find a size that fits your needs best.
- They are usually less expensive to buy if you just want to try RVing out for a while. This is especially true with smaller travel trailers.
- Many travel trailers can be pulled by SUVs and 1/2 ton pickups. This avoids the need for more expensive diesel engines in your tow vehicle.
- Smaller travel trailers can fit in almost any size camping spot. This is great for national park campgrounds and boondocking spots.
- Travel trailers allow for more storage space in the bed of the tow vehicle. Fifth wheels take up a huge amount of space in the pickup bed with the hitch alone.
- Easy on and off highways while traveling. Also easier to get in and out of fuel stations and restaurants while traveling.
The Cons of Travel Trailers
Now here are the cons of travel trailer RVs.
- They often have fewer slides than fifth wheels, so they can feel less roomy inside.
- Travel trailers often have fewer and smaller appliances and luxury items to keep the towing weight as low as possible.
- Towing travel trailers by the bumper can be more difficult as the center of gravity is moved to the bumper. But in fairness, much of this can be aided by weight distribution hitches and sway bars.
- There is less storage area in the RV itself. The storage compartments are smaller and cargo capacity is often less than in a fifth wheel.
- The build quality in travel trailers is often lower than what is found in fifth wheels. These RVs are usually designed for occasional weekend use, so the build quality only meets those needs. Of course, the exception to this is Airstreams, Olivers, and Casita travel trailers.
Fifth Wheels vs Travel Trailers – The Pros of Fifth Wheels
Having covered the pros and cons of travel trailer RVs, lets do the same with fifth wheels.
- Fifth wheels often have lots of living space compared to travel trailers. Many people remark that they feel more like an apartment than a camper. This is often because of taller ceilings and more slide outs.
- Fifth wheels also tend to have more amenities and luxury items as standard equipment.
- They are also usually easier to tow because the center of gravity is moved to the rear axle of the tow vehicle. And the longer the RV, the more easy it is tow a fifth wheel compared to a travel trailer.
- Fifth wheels also usually have larger storage compartments and can handle more cargo capacity.
- They often come with an onboard generator, making boondocking easier. This is especially true of newer fifth wheels.
- When compared to most travel trailers, fifth wheels usually boast better build quality and materials. This is because they are often designed for longer term living arrangements and camping options.
- Fifth wheels have a shorter turning radius because of the hitch position. So that makes them easier for many to back them into a tight campsite.
The Cons of Fifth Wheels
So now here ae the cons of choosing a fifth wheel as your RV.
- Fifth wheels usually are more expensive to buy when compared to the same size travel trailer. This extra cost can be difficult for newer campers just getting started.
- There are less size options to choose from. Fifth wheels usually start around 30 feet long and max out around 45 feet.
- Because of their size, fifth wheel RVs can be more challenging to fit into smaller campsites.
- They are bigger and heavier than many travel trailers and therefore require larger tow vehicles to pull them safely. The vast majority of fifth wheel RVs will be best pulled by a tow vehicle equipped with a large diesel engine. This of course adds more overall cost to the rig.
- There is less bed space for storage in a tow vehicle used for pulling a fifth wheel. This is because the hitch takes a lot of space and is difficult to remove and reinstall very often.
- Fuel costs for RV travel with a fifth wheel are also higher because they are bigger. This added weight and size leads to poorer fuel economy than a smaller travel trailer.
Fifth Wheels vs Travel Trailers – Which Is Best For You?
So having considered the overall pros and cons of these two major types of RVs, what conclusions can be drawn? Who best fits the use of a fifth wheel in their RV travels and camping? And who best fits travel trailers instead?
Well, generally speaking, travel trailers are a good fit for weekend RVers. After all, that is the kind of use that most travel trailers have been designed for.
They also are good for beginning RVers on a budget. Maybe you want to dip your toe in the RV world without committing too much hard earned cash. In that case, travel trailers can be a good choice.
But travel trailers are also a great solution for boondockers or those who like to camp in National Parks. In these cases, being small and nimble is a big asset. So there is plenty to choose from that will be perfectly suited for this type of camping.
On the other hand, fifth wheel RVs are a good choice for part-time or full-time RVers with a larger budget to spend. They are often built better and will stand up to more rigorous use on a prolonged basis.
But fifth wheels also are good for RVers who simply want more living space. For those who want more of an apartment feel and less of a camper feel while RVing.
And of course, some of us want more amenities and luxuries than others while RV camping too. In that case, fifth wheels often fit the bill a little better than most travel trailers.
The point of this article is to emphasize that both fifth wheels and travel trailers have advantages and disadvantages.
There are plenty of RVers who regularly use either of these type of RVs. And they are happy with what they have.
So the decision really is what kind of RV camper are you? Which of these RV types makes the most sense for your style of travel and camping, as well as your budget?
Just review the pros and cons as outlined above and decide whether a fifth wheel or a travel trailer fits your needs best.
Then find the RV you want and get out there making memories and having adventures as soon as possible!