First, let’s go over your vehicle’s towing capabilities. Knowing these numbers will help narrow down the choices, and with so many RVs out there to consider, from used towables to the customizable Happier Camper and everything in between, you’ll want a reason to slim down your options. Then let’s take a look at what fifth wheels and travel trailers have in common. We’ll finish up with a breakdown of how they’re different—the differences are ultimately what can help you decide what’s right for you.
Everyone’s needs and travel styles are different, but by the end of this article, you should have a clearer idea of what type of towable RV you’re looking for.
Your Vehicle’s Capability
Choosing to go with a towable RV means you will need a vehicle to pull it. What vehicle do you already have? A truck, an SUV, a minivan? Can it tow an RV? Use Camping World’s towing guide to plug in your vehicle information and find out right now. If you don’t consider the tow limitations of your vehicle from the outset, you risk choosing an RV that your vehicle is able to tow. This is dangerous for everyone.
If you’ve decided you will be purchasing both a tow vehicle and an RV, you can look at all of the towable RV options. If you fall in love with an RV, you can then purchase the right vehicle to tow it. Though, some think it is easier to decide on your vehicle first and then further refine your RV search. For help regarding what your vehicle is rated to tow, take a look at our helpful towing guide.
Fifth Wheel vs. Travel Trailer: Similarities
With both fifth wheels and travel trailers you’ll be able to park your RV, detach your trailer, and drive away. The advantages here are ample.
Advantages to a towable
If you’re an avid fan of the outdoors you can explore with the added 4×4 capability many truck (or SUV’s) have. You’re free to explore backcountry roads without your RV holding you back. Even with your RV in tow, you will be able to reach more places than with the majority of motorized RVs.
If backcountry roads aren’t calling out to you, and you prefer RVing to explore cities, attend concerts, or sporting events, it’ll be easy to detach and explore the city in a regular-sized vehicle. This isn’t to say this is only possible with a towable RV, but in the majority of situations, being agile and nimble in crowded traffic is much easier than maneuvering a class A, class B, or class C motorhome.
Financially, towable are a sound option. Both fifth wheels and travel trailers offer many options that can get you in an RV and out adventuring at a relatively low price point. Typically, anything without a motor onboard will be cheaper.
Another advantage is the towables’ ability to sleep multiple people. Most travel trailers and fifth wheels are ideal choices for family travel or camping with guests. The majority of your options will sleep 4 or more people.
Fifth Wheel vs. Travel Trailer: Differences
Range in Sizes
Fifth wheels and travel trailers vary wildly when it comes to length. Fifth wheels generally range in length from 25-45 feet, so you’ll be committing to a fairly large rig. Due to their large size, they’ll require a more powerful truck to tow. Their size, plus the “upstairs” master bedroom or living area, allow for fifth wheels to feel very much like an apartment, making them ideal for full-time living. Fireplaces, washer/dryers, and dishwashers are not uncommon in fifth wheels. But what if you don’t have a truck? Or, are you worried about fitting in National Park campgrounds? Or maybe you just want to tow something smaller?
Travel trailers may be the option for you. They are available in a greater range of lengths—from 12-35 feet. You can get the same roomy feel of a fifth wheel with a large travel trailer, but you also have the option to go much smalle. The smaller options allow you to tow with a smaller vehicle, like an SUV. In other cases you may be able to tow with a mid-size truck rather than a full-size truck. Be sure not to choose a rig that’s GVWR is exactly at your vehicle’s max capacity though, you never want to push your limits.
With the exception of small travel trailers, like teardrop campers, the consensus is that fifth wheels have the upper hand when it comes to driveability. A fifth wheel can be easier to maneuver and, in some cases, even safer to tow. Why? It has to do with where the hitch point is located. Fifth wheel hitches (located closer to the midline of your vehicle in the bed of your truck) provide a better turning radius, even weight distribution, and also reduces sway while you drive. A travel trailer’s low hitch point means the wind will throw you around a bit more, and your turning radius will be larger than in a fifth wheel.
There are accessories you can purchase to reduce sway and improve stability if you fall in love with a travel trailer. Of course, travel trailers that are very small are the easiest to tow and maneuver.
Total Rig Length
If you are planning on taking your RV to nearby campgrounds most of the time, total rig length (the length of your rig plus your tow vehicle) may not be a concern. Any time you have a rig longer than 24 ft., you should definitely double-check that a campground can accommodate you. Being that both fifth wheels and travel trailers are on the longer side, this is something you should do no matter which RV you buy.
However, if you plan on taking longer trips with your RV, total rig length will be something to consider. When you take longer trips you will need to stop for gas, stop for food, and likely make overnight stops outside of campgrounds. With a fifth wheel you will always be able to have the same roominess as a travel trailer at a shorter total rig length. When your RV is attached, you will need more space to park a 28 foot travel trailer than you would for a comparable fifth wheel (due to the hitch points).
This difference in total rig length comes into play when you are trying to take up fewer parking spots as you stop for food. This makes a difference when you try to maneuver in and out of busy, often crowded gas stations along the way. Walmarts can nearly always accommodate even the longest total rig lengths overnight, but it does make life simpler if you can fit in just two parking spaces front to back, instead of five across. The same with stopping for snacks or food. Most rest stops and Cracker Barrels can accommodate even the longest total rig lengths. Still, if you’re more agile and nimble, travel will be easier.
Finally, let’s look at how fifth wheels and travel trailers differ in price. Travel trailers have the upper hand here—they’re easily the least expensive way to start RVing.
Overall, travel trailers tend to be less expensive, partly because of the wider range in sizes available. Fifth wheels will usually require a full-size truck, and are generally heavier. Some travel trailers can be pulled by SUVs or mid-size trucks.
Enjoy the process of touring different fifth wheel and travel trailer floorplans. There are many to choose from and it can be fun to narrow down your choices as you begin to look at floorpans. Remember to always keep your vehicle’s tow capacity in mind no matter what. Overall, a fifth wheel will feel like being in an apartment, but you will sacrifice some maneuverability and some spontaneity. Travel Trailers at the small end of the spectrum can easily fit anywhere and will allow you more flexibility. If you decide to go big, fifth wheels do have some significant advantages when it comes to driveability and ease of towing. Shop, whether buying a brand new RV or trading in your current rig and find your perfect travel trailer or fifth wheel at Camping World RV & Outdoors.