Though you don’t need to memorize the ins and outs of all RV types before buying one, a basic understanding of the terminology will help you find your dream rig. Do you know what a diesel pusher is? How about the difference between a Class C and a Super C? With this complete guide to RV types, you will learn the terms and explore the pros and cons of each so you can start shopping.
How Are RV Types Classified?
There are two primary RV types: motorized and towable. The first decision to make when RV shopping is whether you want an RV you drive or one you tow. If you envision getting behind the wheel, you’ll want a motorized RV, also called a motorhome, motorcoach, or just a coach RV. If you’d rather drive a traditional vehicle and pull the RV behind you, you are looking for a towable RV.
After making the big decision between motorized or towable RVs, there are a couple of significant divisions within each category to consider:
- Within the towable realm, the hitch is what connects the RV to your vehicle. A conventional rear receiver hitch is used for most travel trailers, while a fifth wheel hitch is used for specially equipped trailers. For these, a coupling device is mounted in the pickup bed.
- Within the driveable realm, you’ll find various classes and chassis (more on these below). The chassis is the foundation (think frame, engine, etc.) the motorhome is built around. You’ll also decide between gas and diesel models.
Towable RVs come in various sizes and shapes, from tiny teardrops to large, luxurious destination trailers. How do you even begin to decide which is right for you? Here are some items to consider:
- Towing capacity: Start with your tow vehicle. If you already have one, you need to find a travel trailer suitable for the towing capacity, which is how much weight your vehicle can safely pull. Use the Camping World Towing Guide as a starting point for finding yours. Conversely, you may go RV shopping first and then buy a new vehicle to fit the trailer of your dreams. It’s all about finding the perfect match for safe towing.
- Hitch types: Most towables use a conventional rear receiver hitch, while fifth wheels use special bed-mounted hitches. Consider the cost of equipment and the installation procedures when deciding between these.
- Considerations for choosing: After considering your towing capacity and hitch, the rest comes down to lifestyle preferences. If you are traveling with children, consider a bunkhouse, which has dedicated beds for the kids. If you’ll be camping in the winter, look for a four-season trailer. Other considerations include decor, materials, amenities, and – of course – price.
There’s a lot you can do with a rectangular box! When you start looking at travel trailers, you’ll appreciate the many ways a bed, kitchen, and bathroom may be arranged. This variety is one of the main pros of the travel trailer segment of the RV market.
As the largest segment, it offers an almost endless array of options, from lightweight trailers to off-road options. What makes travel trailers so popular? First, there is the price. Aside from some pop-ups, travel trailers have the lowest starting price, especially if you already own a vehicle that can tow one.
Thanks to the wide range in trailer weights, an equally wide range of vehicles can tow a travel trailer. SUVs and lightweight pickups may tow smaller trailers, while large, heavy trailers may require a half-ton pickup.
Despite these advantages, travel trailers include some drawbacks. In some models, storage space is limited, especially for large outdoor toys and equipment. Additionally, towing a rear receiver hitch trailer can make for a bumpier ride compared to a fifth wheel hitch or motorhome. \
If you are looking at travel trailers, consider these elements:
- Towing requirements/weight: Weight will likely be your starting point if you have a tow vehicle you plan to use. Weight will vary a lot based on the size, construction materials, and amenities. Some manufacturers build the same layout in various lines, with several lightweight and heavier model options.
- Sleeping capacity: When considering sleep capacity, remember that the manufacturer will count both dedicated and convertible beds in the count. Dedicated beds are the most comfortable and require less setup, but you may need a longer trailer to get more of them.
- Features/Options: Travel trailer manufacturers offer upgraded amenities in certain packages or à la carte. You might find luxury packages, four-season builds (with thicker insulation and heated tanks), off-grid capabilities, solar power, and more.
What is the most popular type of RV?
Travel trailers remain the most popular RV type on the market, largely due to their price point and towability. Travel trailers often appeal to those looking to buy their first RV because their current vehicle is often capable of towing some version of a travel trailer from its hitch. A fifth wheel, for example, might require an expensive tow vehicle upgrade. In addition, travel trailers are typically more affordable than a motorhome.
If you’ve decided bigger is better, a fifth wheel trailer may be for you. While some fifth wheels are petite, many take advantage of the towing setup to offer longer, heavier units that offer more substantial fifth wheel floorplans.
The heavier weight of fifth wheels is often related to two benefits of this type of trailer: heavy-duty, durable building materials and residential features, including more furniture, larger appliances, and solid interior construction.
Despite the length and weight of a fifth wheel, many RVers consider this type of RV to be easier to tow and turn due to how the trailer couples to the pickup over the pickup’s rear axle. The driving experience may be smoother.
While RVers revere fifth wheels for their space and amenities, some would need to invest in a bigger truck to accommodate the fifth wheel hitch and to handle the weight of these large RV types. Though smaller fifth wheels are available. Plus, there’s the issue of installing and handling that hitch in the truck bed.
When choosing between a travel trailer and a fifth wheel, carefully evaluate your budget, equipment, and lifestyle. The fifth wheel might win out should you prefer a more residential setup, especially if you plan to park it and leave it for weeks or months at a campsite. The travel trailer might win out if you have a stricter budget, prefer to keep your tow vehicle or enjoy road trips with lots of travel.
If you are looking at purchasing a fifth wheel, keep these considerations in mind:
- Sleeping Capacity: Many fifth wheels can accommodate large families and groups, with some sleeping ten or more. However, smaller fifth wheels may feature a single dedicated bed that sleeps two.
- Features/Options: Fifth wheels offer similar features and options to travel trailers, with upgraded packages and amenities. You may also find luxurious interiors with residential furnishings and appliances.
Interested in buying a fifth wheel? Check out the ten best fifth wheels from Camping World.
As their name implies, toy haulers have a specific purpose: hauling toys. While some RVers have serious toys, like side-by-side utility vehicles, others desire a roomy setup for bikes and kayaks. Toy haulers are available as both travel trailers and fifth wheels. The distinguishing feature is a large rear door that opens to a storage space.
The rear storage space of a toy hauler is versatile. Many toy haulers come with a lift bed and convertible sleeping space. The open floor space is also good for setting up a spot for remote work, hobbies, or pets. As an added benefit, many rear garages have special hooks and tie-down for securing freight..
Conversely, this rear storage space may also be a drawback. If you store items in it, the garage may take up a significant amount of your trailer space, reducing the living space. Plus, toy haulers are typically wider, heavier, and longer than other trailers, requiring a heavy-duty tow vehicle. Remember to include the weight of the toys themselves when considering tow capacity.
When considering a toy hauler, keep these items in mind:
- Sleeping Capacity: Sleeping capacity varies, with some models offering dedicated beds for two. Those with beds and convertible sleep spaces in the rear garage may offer sleeping space for four or more. Plus, some models have bunk beds.
- Features/Options: Some toy haulers have fuel stations. Another popular feature turns the rear lift door into a patio. Add a screen door to let the fresh air in.
Destination trailers are designed for travelers with seasonal or permanent campsites. These large trailers offer luxurious residential interiors with eye-popping amenities like sleeping lofts, kitchen islands, and upgraded appliances.
Despite their space and luxury, destination trailers are often less aerodynamic and heavier than other trailers. But liveability and durability take priority over navigability since they are not designed for frequent towing.
When shopping for a destination trailer, keep these items in mind:
- Features/Options: Aside from the plethora of interior amenities, two important features to consider are holding tanks and removable hitches. Some destination trailers have holding tanks, like traditional travel trailers, while others require onsite hookups. Removable hitches are desirable.
Want to learn more about these more substantial towables? Check out these luxury destination trailers.
Good things can come in small packages, and that is the case for pop-up trailers. The entire camping space folds into a rolling box that is easy to tow and store. While traditional pop-ups have soft-sided walls, a-frame trailers have hard sides that fold in.
Pop-up trailers offer many benefits. If you have a vehicle with a limited tow capacity, a lightweight folding camper may allow you to enter the RVing lifestyle without doing a vehicle upgrade. The price point for an entry-level pop-up may be significantly lower than a travel trailer.
Thanks to screened-in walls, pop-ups let in a lot of natural light and fresh air, although the temperature may be harder to regulate. Plus, the soft-sided walls require care and maintenance.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind while shopping for a pop-up trailer:
- Sleeping Capacity: Pop-ups often offer the most “beds per dollar.” Many have two or more pop-out beds, making it easy to sleep four or more. Plus, the interior may feature convertible dinettes and sofas, expanding the sleeping capacity.
- Features/Options: Modern pop-ups are being made with both glampers and off-grid campers in mind, with many additional packages and amenities. Some come outfitted with interior bathrooms. Off-road packages add higher ground clearance, and amenities like solar power and large water tanks can make off-grid camping more comfortable.
Check out our guide to 2023 pop-up campers to learn more.
Teardrop trailers function the same way as traditional travel trailers. However, this segment of the RV market is popping with innovation. The aerodynamic teardrop shape is iconic, dating to the earliest travel trailers. However, modern designs are uniquely future-forward. Not all are in the traditional teardrop shape, as the term now applies to a broad range of small trailers.
Today’s teardrops come in a fun array of styles. Retro models offer a blast from the past, with checkerboard floors and colorful interiors and exteriors, while sporty models appeal to off-grid adventurers. If micro camping is for you, exceptionally tiny teardrops are available, many of which can be towed by a sedan.
A teardrop’s space limitations may be an issue for you. Some do have slide-outs or pop-out beds, allowing you to expand the interior. Others do not have dedicated beds but feature convertible dinettes and sofas instead. Check out these teardrop additions that can help you make the most of their space.
Check out these need-to-knows before shopping for a teardrop:
- Sleeping Capacity: Most teardrops sleep up to two people, while larger models may have added bunks or convertible furniture.
- Features/Options: Teardrop trailers cater to various lifestyles, with off-grid, off-road packages available. Models with interior bathrooms may have wet baths. Also, some teardrops save space by not having an interior kitchen. Exterior rear kitchens are a unique option.
Truck campers are often an overlooked RVing option, but modern manufacturers continue to innovate in this realm. The interest in off-road camping is helping to drive demand for truck campers, as these allow RVers to add a comfortable living space to the pickup of their choice.
Navigability is one of the main benefits of a truck camper since you are essentially driving a traditional pickup with no towing involved. Plus, you can remove a truck camper from the truck bed and leave it at the campsite. Truck campers are also more affordable than many other RV options.
Limited space may be the biggest drawback to truck campers. However, newer models feature pop-ups and slideouts, making it possible to expand the space. Just keep in mind that larger truck campers with generous amenities weigh more. Instead of worrying about your tow capacity, you’ll need to consider your pickup’s payload.
While totally unfamiliar to those living in the lower half of the U.S., ice houses are a popular RV in some northern states, where winter temperatures freeze the lakes and ponds, creating unique fishing opportunities.
Ice houses can be towed onto frozen waters to be used as fishing RVs. Specially designed ice holes make it possible to fish from the inside of the trailer, surrounded by the comforts of home. You might find kitchens, bathrooms, and bedrooms.
Like destination trailers, ice houses are not designed for road-tripping, so they may be less aerodynamic than traditional travel trailers. Also, water is an important feature to consider in ice houses, as not all offer plumbing and running water tanks.
Now, let’s look at the motorized segment of the RV market, broken down by classes, ranging from small camper vans to large motorhomes. Class Bs are the smallest, Class Cs are midsized, and Class As are the largest.
Often, deciding which class is right for you comes down to how well the defining features fit your travel needs and liveability and driveability. To get a feel for each, tour models in each class and consider the size of the living space. Then, test drive some to see which feels most comfortable for you.
Camper vans have been a viral sensation in recent years, with social media showcasing the adventures van life offers. Spurred also by remote work, the pandemic, and the popularity of full-time RVing, the ease of hitting the open road in a vehicle not much bigger than a regular SUV appealed to many
The size of a Class B is both a benefit and a drawback. They are the easiest to drive, but they have the least living space. However, some use slide-outs and pop-up roof tents to expand the interior.
A specific type of Class B is known as the Class B+. These utilize a larger van or bus chassis. The exterior walls expand to increase the interior living space while maintaining the van profile, unlike Class Cs, which often have a higher profile.
Class B considerations:
- Sleeping Capacity: Class Bs are best suited for solo and couple campers, with most sleeping two. Larger models may have room for more.
- Features/Options: When shopping for a Class B, some will have wet baths, and some will have separate spaces for the toilet and shower. Other popular features and options include off-road models with higher ground clearance, solar packages, pop-up roof tents, and more.
Class C RV
Class Cs are the most popular segment of the motorhome market. Since Class Cs start with a traditional van or truck chassis, the driving cab will feel familiar and offer many of the safety features of regular road vehicles. Unlike Class Bs, the rear portion is cut away and replaced with an expanded living space.
Class Cs come in a range of lengths and offer a variety of floorplans. This diversity adds to their popularity, with models designed to appeal to everyone from the solo traveler to larger families. Take your pick from a variety of chassis, including both diesel and gas models.
Having the living space and driving cab integrated can be an advantage. Some RVers like the simplicity of driving with no trailer in tow. However, with this RV type, you will either need to bring a tow vehicle behind the motorhome or else drive the motorhome every time you leave the campground, which may involve unhooking your utilities and stowing gear.
If you consider a Class C, keep these features in mind:
- Sleeping Capacity: Class Cs can accommodate large families, often featuring sleeping space for four or more. Bunkhouse models are also available.
- Features/Options: Cab-over bunks are a popular feature. These beds are located over the driving cab, keeping them out of the way. Other special features include four-season packages, extra safety features for driving, solar power, and exterior storage. Pay attention to the towing capacity if you’ll be pulling a vehicle.
Like regular Class Cs, Super Cs are built on a pickup chassis. However, these models use some of the largest chassis available, such as the Ford E-450 or Chevrolet Silverado 5500, which bring additional power. Some are even built on semi-truck chassis.
The additional power offered by a Super C adds to the towing capacity, allowing them to tow larger cars and trailers. The large chassis also enhances the size of the motorhome, making these more comparable to the largest Class As. Unlike Class A RVs, regular service centers may be equipped to work on Super Cs.
The size may be a drawback, as the driving experience may not be as smooth as that offered by a smaller vehicle. The price point for Super Cs may be significantly more than most Class Cs, Class As, and other RV types. However, for that price, you can expect a luxurious interior outfitted with top-of-the-line amenities.
Consider these items when buying a Super C:
- Sleeping Capacity: The large Super C interior can be outfitted with a generous number of dedicated bedrooms, bunk beds, and convertible furniture. The largest models can easily sleep as many as ten people.
- Features/Options: If towing a car or a trailer (perhaps with sports utility vehicles), pay close attention to the towing capacity. You can find models rated up to 25,000 pounds.
With a body resembling a bus, Class A motorhomes are among the largest RV types. Some are built on commercial bus or truck chassis, while others use a specialized chassis for motorhomes. Class A motorhomes offer diverse floorplans, amenities, and levels of luxury.
These spacious RVs have plenty of interior space and storage. Plus, you can easily access the kitchen and bathroom during travel stops. While the driving experience is quite different from a regular vehicle, the huge Class A windows offer a delightful way to look out on the scenery.
The driving experience may be a drawback, as some RVers are less comfortable behind the wheel of these large, wide vehicles, especially at longer lengths. Some states even require a special license for the operation of a Class A. The size can also make them more difficult to park and reduce fuel efficiency. Also, the driving cab may not have the same safety features as a traditional car or truck.
If you are shopping for a Class A, consider this:
- Sleeping Capacity: Class A RVs come in a variety of floorplans and may offer private bedrooms, bunk beds, cab-over bunks, and convertible furniture, giving them the ability to sleep as many as 10 people.
- Features/Options: In addition to special packages and upgrades, Class As may have multiple bathrooms, additional safety features for driving, rear- and side-view cameras, washer/dryer hookups, and more.
- Gas versus Diesel: Class As are available in both gas and diesel models. Those called “diesel pushers” feature a rear-mounted engine.
These Class A RV get their name from their fuel type and engine placement. Located in the rear of the motorhome, the engine pushes the RV forward. Diesel pushers are more fuel efficient than their Class A gas counterparts and can travel further between fill-ups. They are better suited for hilly and mountainous travel, offering more torque, and their engines typically last longer. Plus, with the engine located in the rear, the ride is notably quieter than Class A gas RVs.
The drawbacks? Diesel pushers have a significantly higher sticker price, and repairs and maintenance are often more expensive than other RV types. Parts, too, can be harder to find and can lead to increased repair times.
Class A Gas
Diesel pushers have a lot going for them, but Class A gas RVs offer similar luxury, mobility, and size at a much lower price tag. In addition, repairs and maintenance are more affordable than diesel pushers, and parts are widely available. Class A gas motorhomes remain a popular option among RVers.
While it may be daunting at first to tackle the terminology and choose between types and styles, the wide array of RV types means there is a rig out there for practically every buyer at every level. Narrow down your search by thinking critically about your needs and then visiting a dealership near you.
Did this complete guide answer your questions about the different types of RVs? Which type of RV is your dream rig? Let us know in the comments below!