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5th Wheel VS Travel Trailer: The Showdown

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5th Wheel VS Travel Trailer

The 5th wheel vs travel trailer debate is an interesting one. Both sides have their pros and cons, and today, we’ll be breaking them down fully.

In general, 5th wheels are larger, more luxurious, and use a special hitch (and cost more). It sounds like travel trailers don’t have much of an advantage, but in reality, things like mobility, fuel economy, and of course price all go to travel trailers.

Let’s see how these two popular towables match up.

But first, who are we here at RV Properly? Hi, my name is Julie. I’ve lived in an RV full-time for 2 years, and another 2 years part-time. Our founder, Anthony, has lived full-time for 11 years.

In this article, we’ll be going in-depth into both 5th wheels and travel trailers.

Ready to begin? Let’s get started.

5th Wheel VS Travel Trailer: Overall Pros and Cons

Both fifth wheels and travel trailers are great choices depending on your situation. For example, if you want to be able to tow your RV with a wide variety of vehicles, then you might want to get a travel trailer. On the other hand, if you want something that’s more stable in windy weather, like on mountains, then a fifth wheel might be better suited for you.

As you can see, there’s no clear winner between these two types of RVs. But fret not. We’ll explain fully all the factors you need to consider when choosing between these two RV types for you to easily make your choice.

Before we go into detail about their pros and cons, here’s a quick breakdown of both RV types.

5th Wheels:

  • Pros
    • Stable in windy conditions
    • Can make tight turns
    • Spacious
    • Have separate sleeping and living space
    • Taller
    • More luxurious
    • More storage space
    • Easier hook-ups
  • Cons
    • Limited range of towing vehicles
    • More pricey
    • Poorer fuel efficiency

Travel Trailers:

  • Pros
    • Wide range of towing vehicles
    • Cheaper
    • Better fuel economy
  • Cons
    • Less stability
    • Cannot make tight turns
    • Smaller than 5th wheels
    • Living and sleeping area together
    • Lower ceiling
    • Fewer amenities
    • Storage space smaller
    • Harder hook-ups

Now, let’s explore those pros and cons in depth!

Ease of Towing

5th wheels place more weight over the towing vehicle’s rear axle and have a more streamlined shape. As a result, they tend to be more stable, with less swaying and bouncing. This makes them much easier to tow, as you don’t need to be as careful, especially on rocky terrains.

Many fifth wheels are also easier to back up because the position of fifth wheel hitches allows for tighter turns as compared to the trailer hitch.

That said, travel trailers are of course lighter, and there are ways to improve towing ease. These include sway control devices and weight distribution hitches.

Another thing to consider is the vehicle towing your RV. Naturally, you’ll have a more limited range with 5th wheels because your tow vehicles need to have a higher towing capacity. Basically, you’ll need a pickup truck.

Also, note that a half-ton truck may not always be able to tow a fifth wheel. I automatically assumed so for my first fifth wheel and ended up getting into a lot of trouble with the insurance company lol.

Drivability

As mentioned above, 5th wheels are heavier and more stable. But their larger size makes them harder to drive, just like how larger cars are harder to drive.

If you find driving a challenge, a 5th wheel might not be suitable for you. However, you would also be forgoing the smoother rides and aerodynamics that they come with.

Price

Needless to say, fifth wheel trailers are more expensive. They’re bigger, more luxurious, and better constructed. On average, you can expect to pay anywhere from $30,000 to $200,000.

For travel trailers, you’ll be looking at $10,000 to $50,000.

Cost is definitely a huge factor. If you’re short on money, then the obvious choice is the travel trailer. Don’t forget to add in fuel costs too.

Layout

5th wheels, with their larger space, will always be better to live in. Everything, from the living area to the bedroom and bathroom, will be more spacious.

Space-wise, both fifth wheels and travel trailers can accommodate the same amount of people.

You shouldn’t be deciding by group size, but rather how much luxury you want. Four people living in a 5th wheel will have much more space than four people in a travel trailer.

Dimensions: Length

5th wheels tend to be longer, from 20-45 ft, while travel trailers tend to range from 10-40 ft.

However, even if the bottom part of a 5th wheel is the same length as that of a travel trailer, they’ll always have that iconic overhang. That extra space is invaluable, as it can be used for sleeping and storage. That also means your bedroom won’t be taking up extra space on your RV.

As such, if you want to have more space to walk back and forth, or just want more length, you would be leaning towards a 5th wheel.

Multiple levels

Another advantage of 5th wheels is tiered designs. You usually have a different level for the bedroom or bathroom. If you’re staying alone or as a couple, this might not be a huge deal. But for groups of friends or larger families, this added privacy can mean quite a lot.

Perhaps the one con with it is mobility. Those with issues getting up and down could find it very inconvenient, in which case a travel trailer is the obvious choice.

Fuel Economy

5th wheels no doubt use more fuel, not just for the 5th wheel itself, but the tow vehicle too. It’s probably not going to break the deal, but just something to keep in mind. Plus, there are ways to reduce the costs, such as maintaining the right tire pressure, or cruise control.

Ceiling Height

Fifth wheels of course have a higher ceiling. This means the interior not only feels a lot more roomy, but you also have more freedom to hang up stuff to make your RV feel more like home. These can be fans, decorations, and even chandeliers!

Having said that, this height can bring about clearance issues in places with low-hanging obstacles like bridges or trees. The higher center of gravity also decreases stability in fifth wheel RVs.

Nonetheless, due to the way fifth wheels are designed, they’re still more stable than travel trailers.

Luxury Amenities

5th wheels are supposed to be as good as it gets when it comes to towables. As such, it should be no surprise that you’ll often get much better amenities than travel trailers.

Some such amenities are dishwashers, entertainment systems, and washers./dryers. You’ll also get top-notch construction, such as granite countertops and hardwood floors.

But it’s also important to note that these all increase maintenance and energy costs too.

Storage Space: Basement Storage and Truck Bed Storage

The living space aside, fifth wheels also have some additional storage compartments that travel trailers don’t have.

The first is the basement storage area that’s below the raised section. This space is big enough to store large gear like bikes and kayaks.

The second is the space in the truck bed above the hitch. This is a smaller space, but is enough to store luggage, coolers, and toolboxes.

Hook-Ups

5th wheels are more stable once parked, so hook-ups are easier as there is less uncertainty.

The location of the hook-up also tends to be more convenient with fifth wheel RVs. It’s often on the driver’s side near the front, which is quite easy to access.

More pricey fifth wheels may also have surge protectors or water softeners. These make hook-ups even simpler.

At the end of the day though, it still boils down to the model. Certain travel trailer models can be better than certain fifth wheels. It’s just that in general, fifth wheels tend to allow easier hook-ups.

5th Wheel VS Travel Trailer: Which is Right for You?

Now that we’ve gone over all the differences between both towables, it’s time to make your choice.

It really boils down to personal preference, but to make your choice easier, we’ll be going situation by situation and letting you know which we recommend for each one, starting with families.

For Families:

Both options can work, but I would recommend the fifth wheel due to its better space, privacy, and safety.

Travel trailers are workable, but tend to be quite cramped. They also don’t allow for much movement space, which isn’t healthy for kids, or adults for that matter.

Still, travel trailers are the more wallet-friendly option. If you’re on a tight budget, you may have no choice but to get a travel trailer.

For Boondocking:

If you love boondocking, fifth wheels are once again a better choice. This is because they often have larger holding tanks for black, gray, and fresh water. This allows you to stay off-grid for longer periods of time.

Travel trailers do have a case though for their lower energy consumption and easier maintenance, making them cheaper to live in.

Once again, it comes down to cost and convenience. You can stay off grid longer and enjoy more luxury with fifth wheels, but travel trailers are the more affordable option.

For Towing:

For towing, you need to first consider the tow vehicle you have and whether it can tow a fifth wheel.

If your vehicle can tow both fifth wheels and travel trailers, then the next thing to consider is cargo and passengers. Fifth wheels will impose limitations on the cargo and passengers in your towing vehicle.

If you’re fine with that, the last thing to consider is clearance. Are you fine with your fifth wheel having trouble passing through some bridges, tunnels, and low-hanging tree branches?

Once you go through all these considerations, the answer as to whether to get a fifth wheel or travel trailer should be quite clear.

For Full-Time RVs:

For full-time living, the decision, once again, hinges on cost. Basically, do you want to pay more for luxury, or spend less and live less comfortably?

This is a personal choice, but I’d advise you to start by reducing your possessions and joining RV communities for guidance and to make some friends who you can rely on on the road.

Our RV Buying Tips

Before we end off, here are two RV buying tips to help you on your journey:

  1. Rent before you buy: This is the best way to really be sure of whether you prefer a 5th wheel or a travel trailer, or whether you even want the RV lifestyle.
  2. Buy second-hand: Second-hand RVs can be as good as new if taken care of properly. Just as with cars, a used RV can warrant you a huge discount. If you’re on a budget, this may be something you’re interested in. And even for those not on a budget, buying second hand will allow you to get something more luxurious than if you had bought a new RV.

Think long and hard, and don’t rush into the decision.

Once you’ve made up your mind, if you decide on a fifth wheel, you can check out our list of the best fifth wheel RVs. Otherwise, if you decide on a travel trailer, you might also want to check out our list of the best travel trailer brands.

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AUTHOR

Noelle bought a camper van in 2019 and lived in it for the summer while hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail. That’s when she discovered a love for RV life. So when her husband suggested trading the van for full-time truck camper living, she jumped at the opportunity. When she’s not enjoying views out the back door, she’s planning new routes for exploring.

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