Two of the most common RVs in the industry are fifth wheels and travel trailers. They’re both distinct and great options we think you should consider. But which is best? Let’s take a close look and see if we can help you decide.
What’s the Difference Between a Fifth Wheel and a Travel Trailer?
The most significant difference between a fifth wheel and a travel trailer has to do with hitching. A travel trailer hitch uses a ball hitch and coupler. A fifth wheel uses a fifth-wheel hitch and kingpin, similar to what you’d find on a semi. Because a fifth wheel hitch puts the weight directly over the tow vehicle’s rear axle, it provides a smoother towing experience.
While both travel trailers and fifth wheels come in various sizes, larger fifth wheels can be 40 feet or longer. There are a handful of travel trailers that are 40 feet long, but not many. Fifth wheels aren’t only longer but taller as well. Being longer and taller allows fifth wheels to provide more storage than you’d find in a travel trailer.
Travel Trailer Pros
There are many things that RVers love about travel trailers. Let’s take a look at several of the benefits of choosing a travel trailer.
Variety in Models
There’s no shortage when it comes to travel trailer models. There are toy haulers, bunkhouses, front living, rear living, and several more. There’s also a wide variety of lengths for each model.
It may seem overwhelming at first to sort through the various types of travel trailers, but rest assured, there’s a model that will fit your unique situation. Creating a list of “must-haves” is the best way to narrow down your search.
Lighter-Duty Tow Vehicles for Some Models
While some larger travel trailers require large tow vehicles, there are many travel trailers that lighter-duty tow vehicles can handle. If you have a lighter-duty vehicle, you’ll be able to find a travel trailer to meet your needs without upgrading your vehicle.
Make sure you’re aware of the towing specs of your vehicle before making a purchase. Factor in the weight of all the gear you’ll be taking with you. If you want to stick with a lighter-duty vehicle, you’ll need to keep all of your towing numbers in mind while shopping. If you do your research, you can find a travel trailer that you can safely tow with your lighter-duty vehicle.
Value for the Money
Travel trailers provide a tremendous amount of value for the money. A travel trailer can be very budget-friendly. You can typically find new travel trailers between $11,000 and $35,000. There are also many used travel trailers on the market. By shopping around, you may be able to find very lightly used travel trailers for a considerable discount.
One of the perks of a travel trailer is the ranch-style layout. This means you won’t have to climb a small flight of stairs to access the bedroom or living space. The entire trailer is one level, which is especially great when walking through the trailer in the dark or struggling with steps.
Fits in Most Campgrounds
Not all campgrounds are created equal, and since travel trailers tend to be shorter than fifth wheels, you’ll have an easier time fitting into most sites. Many state and national park campgrounds can’t handle longer rigs due to their designs, so a travel trailer is a great option. The longer the rig, the less likely you’ll fit into a site.
Travel Trailer Cons
There are a few things you may not like as much about camping in a travel trailer. Let’s take a look!
Less Space and Storage
Space and storage both come at a premium in a travel trailer. If you have a larger family or older kids, it can be quite difficult. There’s not much space for people to move around in, let alone for storage.
Because the ceilings in travel trailers aren’t nearly as high, there’s less overhead cabinet space, and it can feel a bit claustrophobic. There will be times where you’ll need to stay inside all day due to weather conditions; the lack of space can make it challenging.
Higher Potential for Sway
Because of how a travel trailer hitches to a tow vehicle, trailer sway becomes a bigger issue. You’ll notice this when winds pick up, or oversized vehicles pass you on the interstate. If there’s a lot of sway or unexpected sway, it can create a hazardous situation.
You can use sway bars to help reduce the risk of sway, but they’re not cheap and add to the time it takes to hitch and unhitch your trailer. Distributing the weight in your RV is also another way to reduce sway.
May Not be Self-Sustaining
A travel trailer has minimal roof space for solar panels and rarely has an onboard generator. This can make it difficult to boondock. Travel trailers also aren’t known for having much storage, which is essential if you plan to upgrade your battery for self-sustainability. Additional batteries take room, and if there’s no room, you’ll be stuck with the stock battery.
Not Ideal for Full-Timers
Travel trailers are typically built for a few local weekend adventures each year, not full-time travel. Most manufacturers don’t anticipate RVers crisscrossing the country in their travel trailers. Many travel trailer manufacturers will even void the warranty if they discover you traveling full-time in your travel trailer.
Fifth Wheel Pros
There are many things to love about a fifth wheel. Let’s take a look at several of the benefits of these RVs.
Plenty of Space and Storage
When it comes to space and storage, you can’t beat a fifth wheel. With high ceilings and massive under-storage, you’ll have room for just about anything. There are even toy haulers that allow you to bring your favorite off-road toys with you.
You’ll have plenty of seating and living space, even on those rainy days when everyone is stuck inside. And with all of the extra cabinet and storage space, you can even bring games and other activities to keep everyone entertained.
Fifth wheels are typically heavier and more structurally sound than travel trailers. This means if you find yourself in a storm, high winds, or another emergency, you’ll be safer than in a travel trailer.
Easier to Tow
Because a fifth wheel hitch places the hitch weight directly over the rear axle, many fifth wheel owners often forget there’s a massive trailer behind them. This setup creates an incredibly smooth and easy towing experience. The trailer follows a much closer path to what the truck is taking, which makes navigating parking lots and crowded campgrounds easier than with a travel trailer.
More Comforts of Home
A fifth wheel can offer a more residential feel than a travel trailer. Whether you’re full-time RVing or looking for a relaxing weekend in a campground, a fifth wheel can genuinely feel like a home on wheels. With large recliners, kitchen islands, and multiple bedrooms, you could forget you’re inside an RV when you camp in a fifth wheel.
When it comes to being self-sustaining, a fifth wheel is one of the best options. You have plenty of storage space for an onboard generator or battery bank, massive freshwater and wastewater tanks, and plenty of roof space for solar panels. This is a must-have for getting off the grid. You’ll not only be able to camp in places you never thought possible, but also for longer.
Great for Full-Timers
Because of the massive storage and living spaces, a fifth wheel is a fantastic option for full-time RVers. With more storage space, you can bring more on the road with you without feeling cluttered. With large freshwater and wastewater tanks, you can also extend the time between dumping your tanks, which can be a pain when you’re RVing full-time.
Fifth Wheel Cons
While a fifth wheel has many great features that RVers love, it’s not for everyone. Let’s look at a few of the negatives to owning a fifth-wheel RV.
Requires Heavy-Duty Tow Vehicle with Correct Hitch
A fifth-wheel RV can weigh upwards of 20,000 pounds, requiring a heavy-duty tow vehicle equipped with the correct hitch. You need a truck that can pull a massive amount of weight and a hitch rated for that weight.
This can be frustrating if you’re planning to use your tow vehicle as your daily driver. Large, heavy-duty trucks don’t get great fuel mileage and can be expensive to own and maintain. If you don’t already own a heavy-duty truck, that’s another major expense on top of the RV.
While RVers love fifth wheels for the auto-leveling systems and many other fantastic features, they contain a lot of equipment that will wear down over time. You don’t have to RV long before something breaks. More space means more maintenance.
When you first start driving a fifth wheel, it can be a white-knuckle experience. It’s the massive length and height that makes it difficult. Having a massive rig like a fifth wheel means planning ahead for stops. You don’t want to get yourself into a parking lot without a plan for how you’ll exit. This often means stopping at truck stops for fuel and avoiding typical gas stations.
Difficult to Store
When you’re not using your RV, you need to find a place to store it. But the massive size again makes this a challenge. If you do find a spot, you’ll probably pay a premium. Many storage locations also pack RVs in as tightly as possible to maximize their profits. This means you’ll be testing your backing up skills to squeeze your RV into your assigned spot.
Fifth Wheel Versus Travel Trailer: Which Is Best?
If you’re in the market for an RV, both fifth wheels and travel trailers are great options. While a massive fifth wheel can provide a more residential feel, it’s not for everyone. If you’re looking to get the whole camping experience but still have some luxuries from home, a travel trailer is a great option.
Which RV is best will vary depending on your camping style. Whichever RV you choose, we hope you get to use it often and make memories with those you love. If you had to pick between a fifth wheel or travel trailer, which would you choose?
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