There are two different types of towable RVs: 5th wheels and travel trailers. The best choice for you depends on a number of factors including where you plan to camp, how much space you need, the amenities you desire, the type of vehicle you drive, your vehicle’s towing capacity, and your personal preference. To help you decide, this guide explains the difference between a travel trailer and a fifth wheel. I’ll also outline the pros and cons of camping in a 5th wheel Vs travel trailer. I’ll cover RV size, ease of towing, tow vehicles, amenities, cost, storage space, and more.
Over the past 10 years, I have camped in both 5th wheels and travel trailers extensively. In this guide, I’ll share my experience. Hopefully, this guide helps you choose the best type of RV for your camping style.
5th Wheel Pros
- Easier to tow
- The total rig length is shorter because part of the 5th wheel overhangs the truck bed
- Easier to maneuver
- 5th wheels are safer to tow because they are less susceptible to sway
- Easier to back up
- More living space, more slide-outs, and higher ceilings
- More amenities
- The fit and finish is higher-end
- More storage space
- Better bathrooms
- More sleeping spaces
- In some states, it’s legal for passengers to ride in a 5th wheel
5th Wheel Cons
- Fewer tow vehicle options. You have to use a pickup
- More expensive
- Poor fuel economy
- Harder to heat and cool due to the high ceilings
- 5th wheels are heavier
- 5th wheels are taller
- There is less useable space in the truck bed
- The hitch is heavy and must be professionally installed
- Harder to store due to the height and size
Travel Trailer Pros
- More tow vehicle options. You can use SUVs, pickups, or sedans
- Cheaper to buy and maintain
- Better fuel economy
- Trailers are easier to heat and cool
- Lighter weight
- Shorter height
- The hitch is lighter and easier to install
- Easier to store due to the smaller size
Travel Trailer Cons
- Harder to tow
- Longer total rig length
- Harder to maneuver
- More susceptible to sway
- Less living space
- Fewer amenities
- The fit and finish is less luxurious
- Less storage space
- Harder to reverse
- Fewer sleeping spaces
- The bathrooms are less spacious
- Fewer slide outs or no slide outs
- It’s illegal for passengers to ride in the trailer
Fifth wheels are the largest type of towable RV. They come with a premium fit and finish with all of the luxury amenities you could need for camping or full-time living.
A travel trailer is a towable RV. A number of different types of travel trailers are available including teardrop trailers, pop-up trailers, off-road trailers, and toy haulers. Travel trailers are also known as caravans or campers.
Generally, a 5th wheel is the better choice for RV living, families and large groups, those who want some luxury, and those who already own a heavy-duty pickup.
Travel trailers are better for beginner RVers, solo travelers and small families, those on a tight budget, and off-road adventurers.
What is the Difference Between a Travel Trailer and a Fifth Wheel?
The main difference between a travel trailer and a fifth wheel is the hitch design. Travel trailers use a traditional ball hitch. The ball hitch mounts to the tow vehicle’s frame and protrudes from the bumper. The trailer has a coupler that fits over the ball. The coupler rotates on the ball.
A fifth wheel connects to a pickup truck via a special hitch, known as a fifth wheel hitch or gooseneck hitch. This is a large steel hitch that is bolted into the bed of the pickup truck. It has kind of a U-shape. There is a kingpin on the trailer that locks into the hitch. The kingpin rotates against the fifth wheel hitch.
Another difference is the type of tow vehicles that can be used. You need a pickup truck to tow a fifth wheel. Travel trailers can be towed with other types of vehicles, such as SUVs, vans, pickups, and even some sedans.
Another difference between 5th wheels and travel trailers is the size. 5th wheel trailers are generally larger than bumper pull travel trailers. They offer more interior space. The larger size allows manufacturers to fit more amenities in fifth wheels.
The fit and finish is also different. Fifth wheels generally offer more luxurious accommodations. Travel trailers are usually fitted with slightly lower-end furnishings. This is a generalization. There are luxury travel trailers available. Additionally, fifth wheels often have more diverse floor plans due to the multi-level design.
Of course, there are also many similarities. Both 5th wheels and travel trailers allow you to detach the trailer at camp and drive the vehicle around normally. Oftentimes, the amenities are similar as well. Both types of RV can have full kitchens, bathrooms, plenty of sleep spaces, storage, and exterior amenities.
5th Wheels Vs Travel Trailers
Ease of Towing
5th wheels are generally easier to tow than travel trailers. There are a few reasons for this. The main reason that 5th wheels are easier to tow is their gooseneck hitch design. The 5th wheel hitch bolts into the bed of a pickup truck. The hitch location moves the weight of the trailer forward into the truck’s bed. This allows for better weight distribution across both of the towing vehicle’s axles. This results in increased stability while driving.
Travel trailers utilize a traditional ball hitch that connects to the rear of the towing vehicle. This can lead to less stability. The likelihood of sway is higher, especially in windy conditions or when making sharp turns. A sway bar can help to stabilize the load and reduce sway.
Another advantage of the 5th wheel hitch design is the enhanced maneuverability it provides. The hitch’s location in the truck bed allows for tighter turning angles. In other words, the turning radius is smaller with a fifth wheel. This makes it simpler to navigate through tight spaces, such as campgrounds or small parking lots.
Travel trailers, with their rear-mounted hitch, also tend to have a larger turning radius. This can make maneuvering in confined areas more challenging. Particularly if the trailer is long.
One potential drawback to towing a 5th wheel is that the trailer tends to cut the corner when you’re turning. This can take some getting used to. You really have to pay attention to where the trailer is going when you turn so you don’t cut a corner and hit another vehicle or run over a curb. Travel trailers follow the tow vehicle through corners. This makes them a bit more intuitive to tow.
In addition, fifth wheels are also usually taller than travel trailers. They have more surface area that can catch the wind. You can get blown around on a windy day. Travel trailers are shorter and have less surface area facing the wind. The trailer won’t get blown around quite as much. If it gets too windy, you’ll have to pull over.
Sometimes travel trailers are easier to tow. Tiny trailers such as teardrop trailers and pop-up campers are easier to tow than large 5th wheels due to their smaller size and lighter weight.
It’s important to note that your towing vehicle plays a major role in the towing experience. A suitable towing vehicle, equipped with the necessary towing capacity and features such as trailer sway control, can greatly improve the towing experience, regardless of whether you’re towing a 5th wheel or a travel trailer. If your tow vehicle is underpowered, you’ll have a bad time.
Winner: 5th wheels are easier to tow than travel trailers.
Tow Vehicle Options
It’s important to understand the tow vehicle requirements and compatibility for each type of RV to ensure that you can tow your RV safely and comfortably. If you don’t already have a tow vehicle, you’ll need to buy a suitable tow vehicle to tow your RV with.
Fifth wheels give you fewer tow vehicle options than travel trailers due to their size and design. You need a heavy-duty 3/4 ton or 1 ton pickup truck to tow a fifth wheel. Most models are too heavy to tow with a half-ton truck. Because fifth wheels are larger and heavier than travel trailers, you’ll need a truck with a heavy payload capacity to handle the weight. Due to the unique gooseneck hitch design, which connects directly to the truck bed, a pickup is the only class of vehicle that you can use to tow a fifth wheel.
Full-size, heavy-duty trucks such as the Ford F-250 or F-350, Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD or 3500HD, and Ram 2500 or 3500 are popular choices for towing fifth wheels. They offer the necessary power, payload capacity, and towing capabilities to handle these large and heavy RVs.
If you plan to tow a large 40-foot fifth wheel, you’ll need a truck with a towing capacity of 20,000-25,000 pounds. You could tow a smaller 5th wheel with a truck with a towing capacity of around 10,000-15,000 pounds.
Travel trailers offer a wider range of tow vehicle options due to their traditional ball hitch design. Larger travel trailer models can be towed with a pickup truck, large SUV, or even a full-size van, provided the vehicle has the appropriate towing capacity. Vehicles like the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Tahoe, and GMC Yukon are popular choices for towing larger travel trailers.
Smaller travel trailers, such as teardrop trailers and pop-up trailers, provide even more flexibility when it comes to tow vehicle options. These compact and lightweight travel trailers can often be towed by smaller vehicles, such as compact SUVs or even sedans, as long as the vehicle meets the minimum towing capacity requirements. Examples of smaller tow vehicles include the Subaru Outback, Toyota RAV4, and Honda CR-V. These vehicles are capable of towing trailers in the 2500-3500 lb. range.
When calculating the weight of your trailer, don’t forget to include the weight of all of your gear, the weight of freshwater and wastewater, and the weight of passengers in your vehicle. This can add over 1000 pounds to the weight of your trailer.
Another important consideration when choosing a tow vehicle is how many people you plan to camp with. Most heavy-duty pickups can seat 5-6 people. SUVs often have third-row seating and can seat up to 8 people comfortably.
It is usually illegal for people to ride in a travel trailer. In some states, it is legal for people to ride in a fifth wheel.
Winner: Travel trailers give you more tow vehicle options than 5th wheels.
RV Size (Length, Width, Height, and Weight)
Size is an important factor to consider when comparing fifth wheels and travel trailers. Understanding the average dimensions and weights of these RVs, along with the total length when paired with a tow vehicle, can impact your decision.
Fifth wheels are generally larger than travel trailers. On average, a fifth wheel ranges in length from 22 to 45 feet, with widths of about 8-8.5 feet and heights of approximately 12-13.5 feet. The weight of fifth wheels typically falls between 12,000 and 20,000 pounds, depending on the specific make and model.
Trailers come in a wide range of sizes ranging from 10 feet all the way to 45 feet, widths around 8-8.5 feet, and heights of 8-12 feet. Travel trailers can weigh anywhere between 1,000 and 9,000+ pounds.
There are smaller travel trailers available, such as teardrop trailers and pop-up trailers, which offer a more compact and lightweight RV option. These small trailers may measure just 10-12 feet long and weigh under 3000 pounds. There are also large travel trailers that are as large as fifth wheels.
Winner: There’s not really a winner here. It depends on what you’re looking for. 5th wheels are usually larger than travel trailers. Small trailers are available. 5th wheels don’t come in small sizes.
Total Rig Length
It’s important to consider the total length of your rig, including the tow vehicle. Some campgrounds have limits in terms of the total rig length that they can accommodate. If your rig is longer than around 24 feet, you should check with the campground first to make sure they can accommodate you. Some campgrounds can’t accommodate large RVs.
This is important because both fifth wheels and travel trailers tend to be on the longer side. Some campgrounds have small sites or narrow roads that large rigs can’t access.
Fifth wheels have an advantage. Due to their unique hitch design, the fifth wheel trailer overhangs the tow vehicle, effectively shortening the overall combined length of your rig. When comparing a fifth wheel and a travel trailer of the same size, the fifth wheel will have a shorter overall length.
In other words, a 40 foot fifth wheel and tow vehicle will be shorter than a 40 foot travel trailer and tow vehicle. Alternatively, a fifth wheel can offer more interior space at the same total rig length. A fifth wheel and truck that measure 50 feet total in length will be far roomier than a travel trailer and truck that measure the same 50 feet in length. This is possible thanks to the extra space in the area overhanging the truck bed.
This shorter rig length makes a fifth wheel easier to maneuver in tight spaces. You can navigate campgrounds more easily with a shorter rig. A shorter rig also makes it easier to stop for gas, groceries, restaurants, etc. A shorter rig is easier to park. It takes up fewer parking spaces.
A shorter RV allows you to fit in more campgrounds. Some national parks, state parks, and even private campgrounds have RV length limitations. Oftentimes, the rig needs to be less than 28 feet long. Most fifth wheels measure 25-45 feet long. This makes them too long for some campgrounds. In this case, a shorter travel trailer is better.
Of course, 5th wheels don’t always have a shorter rig length. There are small trailers. A 20 foot travel trailer will have a shorter total rig length than a 40 foot fifth wheel. It will also have far less interior space.
Winner: The total rig length with a fifth wheel is often shorter because part of the trailer overhangs the bed of the pickup. Travel trailers often make for a longer rig length. Short trailers are available.
5th wheels are almost always heavier than travel trailers. 5th wheels are heavier because they are larger and have a heavier frame. Before buying a 5th wheel, it’s important to make sure that your tow vehicle has enough power to pull it. Check your vehicle’s towing capacity. It needs to be greater than the weight of your 5th wheel.
Usually, a 1/4 ton truck, like a Ford F150, isn’t powerful enough to tow a 5th wheel. You’ll at least need 3/4 ton truck like a Ford F250, Chevy 2500, or Ram 2500. If you plan to pull a larger 5th wheel, you’ll need a 1 ton truck like a Ford F350 or Ram 3500. For some trailers, you’ll need a dually truck (a truck with two rear tires on each side) to handle the weight.
Travel trailers, being lighter, can be towed by smaller and lighter vehicles. You can tow a travel trailer with a midsize pickup or SUV. Some travel trailers can be pulled by compact SUVs and sedans. Large trailers require a heavy-duty truck.
Winner: Travel trailers are lighter than 5th wheels in most cases.
Fifth wheels are taller than travel trailers. The extra height means you need to be careful when driving under overpasses. You need to keep an eye out for low clearance signs while driving. You also need to be careful when approaching low-hanging tree branches.
Travel trailers are shorter. With a travel trailer, you don’t have to worry as much about overpasses and low-hanging tree branches. You still have to keep an eye out.
There are some places you simply can’t drive with an RV. For example, you can’t drive through parking garages or through drive-thrus.
Winner: Travel trailers are shorter. This allows you to drive in more places without worrying about clearance.
Fifth wheels are more maneuverable than travel trailers. The increased maneuverability of fifth wheels can be attributed to their hitch, which is positioned further forward in the bed of the tow vehicle. This forward placement allows for tighter turning angles and better control during turns. The turning radius is smaller. This makes it easier to navigate through tight spaces such as campgrounds, parking lots, and narrow roads.
Another factor that contributes to the maneuverability of fifth wheels is the overhang that extends over the tow vehicle’s bed. This design feature effectively shortens the overall rig length, allowing for improved maneuverability when compared to travel trailers of the same size. A shorter rig can more easily maneuver through tighter spaces.
Fifth wheels are also less susceptible to sway. The weight distribution is also better. This is the case due to the location of the hitch. This improves maneuverability.
Travel trailers tend to be less maneuverable due to their hitch location. They utilize a traditional ball hitch that connects to the rear of the towing vehicle. This results in a larger turning radius and reduced control during turns.
This hitch design can also make trailers more prone to sway, especially in windy conditions. This sway also reduces maneuverability.
There are several benefits to driving a more maneuverable RV, such as increased safety, reduced driver fatigue, and easier parking. A more maneuverable RV can help drivers feel more confident on the road, which can ultimately lead to a safer and more enjoyable RV experience. Furthermore, improved maneuverability can make it easier to find and access suitable parking spaces, whether you’re stopping for a quick break or setting up camp for the night.
Winner: 5th wheels offer better maneuverability than travel trailers.
Trailer Sway and Safety
5th wheels can be safer to tow than travel trailers. There are a few reasons for this. Most importantly, 5th wheels are less likely to suffer from sway.
Trailer sway is a dangerous phenomenon that occurs when a trailer begins to oscillate or fishtail. Sway is usually a result of crosswinds, sudden lane changes, or insufficient weight distribution. Sway can lead to loss of control and potential accidents. It’s incredibly dangerous.
Thanks to their hitch placement and design, 5th wheels are less prone to sway. This is because the hitch is positioned directly over the tow vehicle’s rear axle. This hitch placement provides better weight distribution and increased stability. This configuration also results in a lower likelihood of rollovers.
Travel trailers can be more susceptible to sway. This poses a safety risk. Due to the ball hitch position at the rear of the tow vehicle, travel trailers are more likely to experience uneven weight distribution. This makes them more prone to sway under certain conditions. Particularly during a sudden swerve or lane change or in windy conditions.
There are some precautions that you can take to mitigate sway while towing a travel trailer. One solution is to use a sway bar or weight distribution hitch. These are designed to improve stability and reduce sway by distributing the trailer’s weight more evenly across the tow vehicle’s axles.
You can also reduce the likelihood of sway by properly packing your trailer. Ideally, you should pack about 60% of the weight toward the front of the trailer.
Winner: 5th wheels are safer to tow than travel trailers because they are less susceptible to sway.
In general, fifth wheels offer larger and more spacious interiors than travel trailers. Travel trailers offer a wider range of sizes and floor plans to suit the needs of different travelers.
Fifth wheels are known for their generous living spaces. They are the largest type of towable camper. Due to their unique design, they often feature two levels with stairs. Fifth wheels usually include slide-outs to expand the interior further. Some models feature as many as six slide outs.
The unique design of a fifth wheel allows for an upstairs bedroom situated over the truck bed. This provides a private and spacious sleeping area separate from the main living space. This separate bedroom makes fifth wheels an appealing option for extended trips or full-time RV living. Sometimes the over bed space is used for a living room instead.
Travel trailers offer a wide range of sizes and floor plans. While travel trailers may not provide the same level of spaciousness as fifth wheels, they still offer plenty of room for comfortable living.
Many larger travel trailers also feature slide-outs, which can significantly increase the interior space when parked. There are also compact travel trailers such as teardrop trailers. These are far less spacious.
Winner: 5th wheels offer more living space. Travel trailers come in a wider range of designs and floorplans.
Fifth wheels tend to offer more luxurious amenities than travel trailers. The kitchen area typically includes a full-size refrigerator, oven, stovetop, microwave, dishwasher, and ample storage and counter space.
The bathroom in a fifth wheel is often larger than those found in travel trailers. There is more room for showering and personal care. There is more counter space. Some models have a bathtub. Some larger models have 1.5 or two bathrooms.
Sleeping arrangements in fifth wheels vary but typically include a master bedroom with a queen or king-size bed, as well as additional sleeping options such as a convertible dinette, convertible, sofa, or fold-down bunk beds.
Entertainment systems in fifth wheels are often top-notch, featuring large flat-screen TVs, surround sound systems, and satellite capabilities. Outdoor amenities may include an outdoor kitchen, a large awning for shade and protection from the elements, and ample storage compartments for your camping gear. Sometimes there is an outdoor entertainment system as well.
Travel trailers offer a wide range of amenities, depending on the size and model. Larger travel trailers may provide full kitchens, complete with a refrigerator, oven, stovetop, microwave, and plenty of storage.
The bathroom and sleeping spaces in travel trailers may be more compact than those found in fifth wheels, but they still offer comfort and functionality.
Entertainment systems are also available in travel trailers. Outdoor amenities might include an awning, exterior storage, and even an outdoor kitchen in some models.
It’s also worth noting that smaller trailers, such as teardrop trailers and pop-up trailers, come with fewer amenities. These compact RVs often have limited kitchen facilities. Often times there is just a small stove, fridge, and sink. They may or may not include a bathroom. If there is a bathroom, it will be a small wet bath with a cartridge or composting toilet. If there is no bathroom, travelers will have to use external facilities or portable solutions.
Winner: 5th wheels offer more amenities and more luxurious amenities than travel trailers. Large travel trailers can also offer the same amenities. Smaller models may lack some amenities.
Both Fifth wheels and travel trailers provide a variety of sleeping arrangements. There are some differences based on the size and layout of the RV.
Fifth wheels are known for their spacious and comfortable sleeping spaces. They often feature two large beds, such as a king and a queen. Usually, there is one bedroom in the space over the truck bed. The second sleeping space is in the main living area. This is great for two couples camping together. There is some privacy.
Additionally, fifth wheels may include a convertible bed, such as a sofa bed, dinette bed, or even bunk beds to accommodate more guests. Most fifth wheels can comfortably sleep 4-8 people, with some larger models offering sleeping arrangements for as many as 10 individuals. This makes them great for large families or groups.
Travel trailers offer a range of sleeping spaces depending on their size and floor plan. Travel trailers typically have one large bed, such as a queen or king-size, along with a convertible bed or bunk beds to accommodate additional guests.
Smaller trailers may only have a convertible bed, such as a dinette that transforms into a sleeping space. Some models only have a bed that is not convertible. These models are more suitable for couples or solo travelers. Travel trailers can sleep anywhere from 2-10 people, depending on their size and layout.
It’s important to carefully consider the specific needs of your traveling group when selecting an RV, ensuring that everyone has a comfortable place to sleep. Consider how many people you’ll be camping with and think about who will sleep in each bed.
Winner: 5th wheels usually offer two large beds. Trailers offer one large bed and convertible beds.
Fifth wheels usually offer more spacious and luxurious bathrooms than travel trailers. Many models have one and a half bathrooms. There is usually one master bath and one guest bath.
The bathrooms in fifth wheels are often more comfortable than those found in travel trailers. They often come with premium fixtures and fittings. Some models have a bathtub. There is usually more counter space. There may be double sinks. This comes in handy when getting ready in the morning. Using the bathroom in a fifth wheel is the same as using your bathroom at home.
In contrast, travel trailers usually offer one bathroom, with the size and facilities varying depending on the model and floor plan. Larger travel trailers may have a separate shower, toilet, and sink area. Smaller models might feature a more compact wet bath, which combines the shower and toilet into a single space-saving unit.
It’s important to note that some of the smallest trailers, such as teardrop trailers or pop-up trailers, may not have a bathroom at all. Instead, travelers have to rely on external facilities or portable solutions.
Winner: 5th wheels have better bathrooms and more bathrooms.
Luxury Features and Fit and Finish
5th wheels tend to offer more luxury features and a more premium fit and finish than travel trailers. They may come with higher-end appliances, marble countertops, hardwood floors, leather upholstery, nicer mattresses, better TVs and sound systems, etc. They look and feel a bit more luxurious inside. You can even find fifth wheels with a dishwasher, washer and dryer, a large bathtub, a fireplace, a bar, a projector, and more.
All of these features make the RV feel a bit more luxurious. This is nice if you plan to live in your fifth wheel full time. It feels like a home.
Travel trailers, on the other hand, may have a bit of a cheaper feel. The appliances may be slightly lower-end. Manufacturers may use cheaper materials for the flooring, cabinetry, and countertops. The beds may not be quite as comfortable. There aren’t as many luxury features.
Travel trailers are designed for shorter-term camping trips. You don’t need luxury if you’re only camping for a few days. This design also keeps costs down.
This is just a generalization. There are luxury travel trailers available if you prefer a higher-end fit and finish. There are also some cheaper 5th wheels.
Winner: 5th wheels offer more luxury features and a higher-end fit and finish than travel trailers.
Fifth wheels offer more storage space than travel trailers. Fifth wheels have a large basement storage area under the main living area. This large, easily accessible space is perfect for stowing away bulky items such as outdoor furniture, bicycles, firewood, bug tents, and other camping gear.
The spacious design of a fifth wheel also provides plenty of room for built-in storage. For example, there are plenty of cabinets and wardrobes, ensuring you have ample space for your clothing and belongings while on the road.
Travel trailers offer varying amounts of storage space depending on the size and layout. Larger trailers may provide a decent amount of storage in the form of cabinets, under-bed compartments, and exterior storage areas. The storage capacity may be more limited in smaller models. For example, teardrop trailers have extremely limited storage space.
Regardless of the type of RV you choose, it’s important to remember that you’ll need to keep it within the maximum weight limit set by the manufacturer. You must consider the weight of your belongings when packing. Particularly if you like to bring lots of stuff with you.
Winner: 5th wheels offer more storage space than travel trailers.
When comparing fifth wheels and travel trailers, the cost is a crucial factor to consider for most buyers. Both types of RVs come with varying price tags.
5th wheels are generally more expensive than travel trailers. The average cost ranges from around $40,000 to over $150,000, depending on the size, brand, and features.
The higher price tag is often due to the spacious layouts and more substantial construction of these RVs. Larger RVs require more materials and labor to build. The more luxurious amenities also add to the cost. Premium materials are more expensive.
Travel trailers, on the other hand, offer a wider range of prices, making them more accessible to a variety of budgets. Larger travel trailers can cost between $30,000 and $80,000. Smaller trailers, such as teardrop trailers or pop-up trailers, can start as low as $10,000-$30,000. Premium trailers can cost over $150,000. The cost of a travel trailer will depend on factors such as size, brand, and features included.
It is also important to factor in the cost of the tow vehicle when comparing fifth wheels and travel trailers. To pull a fifth wheel, you need a large pickup truck. Heavy-duty 3/4 ton or 1 ton pickup trucks capable of towing fifth wheels are expensive. Prices start at around $40,000 for a basic model. Larger 1 ton models and models with more towing features cost around $50,000 to $80,000.
Travel trailers can be towed with smaller trucks and SUVs. These vehicles are more affordable. Prices start around $30,000 and go up depending on the make and model.
Additionally, it’s important to consider the cost of fuel over time. Towing a 5th wheel with a heavy-duty truck will result in higher fuel consumption compared to towing a smaller travel trailer with a more fuel-efficient vehicle. This increases the cost of ownership. I’ll talk more about fuel economy in the next section.
Insurance is another cost of ownership. A more expensive RV costs more to insure. The maintenance cost for travel trailers and 5th wheels is similar.
Winner: Travel trailers are cheaper than 5th wheels.
Fuel Economy While Towing
Fuel economy is an important consideration. The type of tow vehicle you use and the weight of the RV being towed significantly impact your gas mileage. This, in turn, affects the overall cost of fuel during your travels. Fuel is a major expense of RVing.
Generally, you’ll get worse gas mileage when you tow a fifth wheel. When towing a fifth wheel, heavy-duty pickup truck is required due to the weight and hitch design of the RV. These trucks tend to have lower fuel efficiency than smaller trucks or SUVs. On average, a 1 ton diesel pickup truck will get 8-12 mpg when towing a fifth wheel. Factors such as the size and weight of the fifth wheel, as well as the specific make and model of the truck, can influence the exact fuel economy achieved.
In contrast, towing a travel trailer with a smaller truck or SUV usually results in slightly better fuel economy. Depending on the size and weight of the travel trailer, the tow vehicle’s mpg can range from 12-18 mpg. Maybe even more with a small trailer. Again, the specific make and model of the tow vehicle, along with the travel trailer’s size, weight, and aerodynamics will impact the actual fuel efficiency experienced during towing.
As a rule of thumb, a vehicle loses around 7 mpg when towing a travel trailer. If your vehicle usually gets 20 mpg on the highway, it will get 13 mpg while towing a large trailer. Smaller trailers may affect your gas mileage a bit less because they are lighter.
Aerodynamics can also affect your mpg. Large, boxy trailers and fifth wheels create more drag, reducing your fuel efficiency. Some trailers feature an aerodynamic design, which reduces drag. For example, teardrop trailers, pop-up trailers, and airstream trailers are designed with aerodynamics in mind. You’ll get better mileage towing a teardrop than towing a large boxy travel trailer. Fifth wheels are less aerodynamic than travel trailers due to their height. They stick up and create wind resistance. This reduces fuel efficiency.
The difference in fuel economy between towing a fifth wheel and a travel trailer can lead to a significant cost difference over time. For example, if the average camper travels 5,000 miles per year, and the fuel cost is $3.50 per gallon, the annual fuel cost for towing a fifth wheel at 10 mpg would be $1,750. In comparison, towing a travel trailer at 14 mpg would result in an annual fuel cost of $1,250. This is a savings of $500 per year. If you drive further, your savings will be even greater. Over the life of the RV, the cost of fuel adds up.
Winner: You’ll get better gas mileage when towing a travel trailer. This saves you money.
Both 5th wheels and travel trailers offer a wide variety of layouts to suit the needs and preferences of different types of travelers.
5th wheels are known for their spacious floorplans. They often include multiple levels and slide-outs to maximize the living area. Fifth wheels usually have more slide-out sections than travel trailers.
A popular fifth wheel layout feature is a raised master bedroom located over the truck bed. This gives you a private and cozy sleeping space that is separate from the main living area. Another common floorplan includes a large living area in the rear with comfortable seating, an entertainment system, and large windows, creating an inviting space to relax and unwind. Many fifth wheel floorplans also incorporate a spacious kitchen with ample countertop space, storage, and modern appliances, as well as an adjacent dining area.
Travel trailers also offer a wide range of floorplan options depending on the size of the trailer. Larger travel trailers may include slide-outs to expand the living space and provide more room for amenities such as a full kitchen, a dinette, and comfortable seating. Common travel trailer layouts include a front or rear bedroom with a queen-size bed, a central living area, a spacious kitchen, and a compact bathroom.
Winner: 5th wheels are more spacious. Travel trailers have more floorplan options.
While driving an RV, one of the most important skills to master is backing up. There is a learning curve for backing up any type of trailer.
Both fifth wheels and travel trailers behave differently while reversing. Some people find it easier to back up a fifth wheel. Others find travel trailers easier to back up.
Backing up a fifth wheel is generally considered to be easier than backing up a travel trailer. This is mainly due to the pivot point being further forward. Fifth wheels don’t react as quickly to movements of the steering wheel while backing up due to the location of the pivot point. This allows for more controlled and precise adjustments. You will need to turn the wheel further when backing a fifth wheel to achieve the desired movement.
One issue you may encounter while reversing a fifth wheel is that you can easily push your truck’s rear end too far one way or the other. This can throw off your angle. When this happens, you’ll have to pull forward and try again.
One potential risk when backing up a fifth wheel is jackknifing. This is when the trailer’s angle gets too sharp and it ends up pointing in a different direction than the tow vehicle. This can cause the front of the trailer to hit the truck’s cab and potentially break the rear window. To avoid this, use slow and controlled movements. Pay close attention to the angle of your trailer in relation to your truck.
Backing up travel trailers can be more challenging for some people. This is because they tend to overreact to minor steering wheel movements. They are very sensitive. This sensitivity can make it harder to control the trailer’s direction and requires more finesse to position the travel trailer accurately.
Learning how to make subtle adjustments and anticipate the trailer’s reaction to steering inputs can help improve your travel trailer backing skills. It takes some time to learn how to not overcompensate.
Of course, there are exceptions. A small travel trailer will be far easier to back up than a large fifth wheel. Some people feel more comfortable backing up a travel trailer because they’re already used to it. For example, if you have experience driving a trailer with a boat, you may feel more comfortable backing up a travel trailer because it already feels familiar.
With some practice, you can learn to back up either type of trailer. There is a learning curve. Each type of RV presents its unique challenges.
Winner: Many people find 5th wheels to be easier to back up than travel trailers.
Because 5th wheels have a higher roofline, they usually come with taller ceilings than travel trailers. They often have the highest ceiling of all RV types, including motorhomes. This makes fifth wheels the best choice for particularly tall travelers. Tall ceilings also allow for the use of ceiling fans. This can help keep the living space cool during hot summers.
It’s important to note that the ceiling height in the section over the truck bed is lower. You will have to crouch down to walk around in this room.
Travel trailers typically have lower ceilings. In large models, the ceiling is usually 6.5-7 feet tall. Most travelers can walk around just fine inside.
Smaller trailers, such as teardrop trailers may have lower ceilings due to their aerodynamic design. It is sometimes not possible to stand up inside.
Winner: Fifth wheels have higher ceilings than travel trailers.
When it comes to carrying toys like dirt bikes, ATVs, golf carts, and kayaks during your RV adventures, the type of RV you choose can greatly impact your hauling capabilities. With a travel trailer, the bed of your pickup truck is free, allowing you to easily load and transport your toys.
Hauling toys with a fifth wheel can be more challenging because the hitch and trailer occupy the truck bed. if you want to haul toys with a fifth wheel, you’ll have to choose a toy hauler fifth wheel with a built-in garage.
These specially designed RVs provide dedicated space for your toys inside the RV. Another potential option is to tow a second trailer with your toys behind your fifth wheel. This is only legal in certain states.
Winner: It’s easier to haul your toys when you use a travel trailer.
Heating and Cooling
Travel trailers are easier to heat and cool evenly. This is because the trailer is one big space. The inside is basically just a big box. The ceiling is the same height throughout. This makes it easier to keep the entire space at your desired temperature. The ceiling in travel trailers is also lower. Less energy is wasted on heating and cooling as a result.
5th wheels are harder to keep at an even temperature throughout. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the living area is more divided up. There is an upstairs space over the truck bed. Depending on the placement of heat vents and the air conditioners, there may be hot or cold spots inside.
The main living area might be at a comfortable temperature then you go to the bedroom and it’s too hot or too cold. Some models have a second upstairs space in the rear that can get too hot or cold.
The ceiling in a 5th wheels is also taller. It is less efficient to heat and cool a space with a tall ceiling. More energy is wasted.
Winner: travel trailers are easier to heat and cool than 5th wheels.
5th wheels tend to have more slide outs than travel trailers. Slide outs are sections of the sides of the RV that move out to expand the living space inside. Most slide outs operate with an electric motor and a simple switch on the wall.
There are 5th wheelers with as many as 5 slide outs. Some models have 2, 3, or 4. Slide outs greatly increase the useable space inside. They can make a narrow RV feel like a spacious room inside.
To compare, travel trailers tend to have only one or two slide outs. This makes the trailer feel less roomy inside. Small travel trailers and older travel trailers often don’t have any slide outs at all.
The reason travel trailers have fewer slide out sections is because they are heavy. Each slide out can add 500-800 pounds to the weight of the RV. Travel trailers become more difficult to tow when they are heavier. They are also more likely to sway.
You don’t have to worry about the extra weight as much on a 5th wheel due to the stability added by the 5th wheel hitch. 5th wheels are also towed by heavier-duty trucks that can handle the extra weight of the slide outs.
There are some drawback to having more slide outs. Firtst, they add more moving parts. These parts require some maintenance to keep them operating smoothly. Slide outs can also develop leaks. They also add a significant amount of weight to the RV. The extra weight reduces your mpg. It also takes a bit more time to set your RV up when you arrive at camp when you have slide outs.
In addition, some RVs aren’t really usable when the slides aren’t deployed. In some cases, you can barely walk through the trailer. If you need to get something out of your RV without opening the slide outs, you might have to do some climbing.
Winner: 5th wheels have more slide outs than travel trailers.
Truck Bed Space
One major drawbacks of 5th wheels is that they take up space in your truck bed, whether you’re towing the trailer or not. While towing your trailer, the 5th wheel overhang and bed mounted hitch both take up most of the bed space in the pickup. While you’re not towing your camper, the bed mounted hitch still takes up space in your truck bed. This greatly reduces truck bed storage.
A 5th wheel hitch is not easily removable. It is a heavy piece of steel. The hitch alone can weigh 150-200 pounds. It is also firmly bolted to the bed of the truck. It is possible to remove the bed mounted hitch while you’re not camping but it isn’t something that you’d want to do often. It’s a bit of a job. Some models are easier to remove than others.
There is still some useable space in the truck bed while you’re towing your 5th wheel. You can store some stuff around the hitch. Particularly if you use a gooseneck hitch. These take up less space in the bed than a standard 5th wheel hitch. For most campers, a standard 5th wheel hitch is the better choice.
With a travel trailer, you have full use of your entire truck bed. While you’re camping, you can haul an ATV, a dirt bike, a golf cart, kayaks, and other bulky items in the truck bed. While you’re not camping, you can use the pickup normally.
If you wanted to haul toys with a 5th wheel, you’d have to use a toy hauler with a garage. If you tow with an SUV, you can use the cargo space inside to haul extra gear.
Winner: You’ll have more useable bed space in your pickup when you use a travel trailer. When you use a 5th wheel, the RV takes up most of the bed space.
Most 5th wheels come with a built-in generator. These generators are quieter and more convenient to use than standalone generators. Not all 5th wheels come with a generator but most do.
Trailers usually don’t come with a built-in generator. If you need extra power, you will need to purchase a portable generator. Alternatively, you can install a solar system for electricity.
Winner: Most 5th wheels come with a built-in generator while travel trailers don’t.
Hitches and Hook Up
When comparing 5th wheels and travel trailers, the type of hitch and hookup process for each RV is an important factor to consider. The hitch design affects the towing experience as well as the ease of installation and compatibility with your tow vehicle.
Fifth wheel hitches are designed to handle the weight and size of larger RVs. They provide a secure connection between the tow vehicle and the trailer.
To install a fifth wheel hitch, you’ll need to purchase the appropriate hitch for your specific vehicle and trailer combination. You must ensure it meets the weight capacity requirements. It also needs to be compatible with your truck and trailer.
The hitch must also be positioned precisely so the pin of the fifth wheel is located correctly in relation to the center point of the tow vehicle’s rear axle. This positioning ensures a stable and smooth towing experience without any sway. A properly set up 5th wheel hitch can handle a heavy trailer. The ride is also a little less bumpy.
Once the hitch is installed, hooking a trailer up to a 5th wheel and unhooking it is faster and easier than hooking and unhooking to a ball hitch. There are fewer steps involved in the process.
While fifth wheel hitches offer a strong connection and improved maneuverability, they can be more complex to install compared to travel trailer hitches. Most people opt for professional installation to ensure the hitch is positioned correctly.
Fifth wheel hitches are also fairly expensive. A 5th wheel hitch can cost $1000-$1200 alone. Professional installation can cost around $150-$300. Fifth wheel hitches are also less versatile. They are only used for hauling large trailers.
Trailers, on the other hand, typically utilize a ball hitch design that is both cheaper and easier to install. Installation usually involves mounting the hitch receiver to the tow vehicle’s frame, followed by inserting the hitch ball mount and securing it with a pin. It is possible to install a hitch on your own vehicle if you have the proper tools.
Most trucks and SUVs also come with a tow package option. You can purchase your vehicle with a tow hitch already professionally installed. This usually adds around $1200 to the price of the vehicle. This package usually includes a wiring harness for trailer lights, a transmission cooler, and possibly upgraded suspension and brakes. These upgrades help with towing performance. You can tow a trailer straight from the factory.
It’s also possible to buy an aftermarket trailer hitch for around $150-$450. You can install it yourself or pay a professional about $100-$250 for installation.
One major benefit of ball hitches is that they are more versatile than 5th wheel hitches. They can accommodate a variety of trailer sizes and weight capacities. For example, you could use the same ball hitch to tow a boat, a car trailer, a horse trailer, or a general-purpose cargo trailer. This can come in handy.
It is a bit more difficult to hook up and unhook a trailer from a ball hitch. Once the hitch is installed, connecting the travel trailer involves lowering the trailer’s coupler onto the hitch ball and locking it in place. It can be a challenge to align the coupler and latch on the ball mount. It helps if you have someone to guide you. The ride can also be bumpy. The trailer pushes down on the back of the vehicle when you hit a rough surface.
Winner: Travel trailer hitches are lighter, easier to install, and less expensive than 5th wheel hitches.
When choosing between a fifth wheel and a travel trailer, storage is an important factor to consider. Where are you going to put your RV when it’s not in use?
Storing fifth wheels can be more difficult due to their size and height. These large trailers won’t fit in a standard garage.
When your fifth wheel is not in use, you may need to pay for storage. Some indoor storage facilities can’t handle trailers that are so tall. Many fifth wheels measure over 13 feet high. You may have to store your trailer at a specialized RV storage facility. Storage fees can add up. A storage facility could charge anywhere from $50-$250+ per month to store your 5th wheel depending on the location.
Trailers, on the other hand, offer more flexibility when it comes to storage. Smaller trailers, such as teardrop trailers or pop-up campers, can often fit in a standard garage. This makes them much more convenient and cost-effective to store.
However, larger trailers may still present storage challenges similar to those of fifth wheels. If your travel trailer is too large for your garage or other available storage spaces, you may need to rent a storage unit or park it at an RV storage facility. It may be cheaper to store a travel trailer due to their smaller size.
If you have a large property, you could just store your own trailer. Even if you have space on your property, local zoning regulations and neighborhood association rules may also impact where you can store your RV. For example, you often can’t store an RV on the street. It’s important to consider where you’re going to park your RV and check for restrictions before committing to a purchase.
Winner: Travel trailers are easier to store than 5th wheels due to their smaller size.
Off-Road Performance and Boondocking
When it comes to exploring off-road, travel trailers are the better option. Trailers are easier to tow off-road and to remote locations. The reason is that trailers are lighter and more compact. It’s easier to tow a smaller and lightweight trailer down a narrow forest road.
If you like off-roading or camping in remote areas, you can buy a travel trailer that is specifically designed for off-road use. These are often referred to as “off-road campers” or “Overlanding trailers.”
Off-road campers come equipped with features such as reinforced chassis, rugged tires, higher ground clearance, and even independent suspension systems to handle rough terrain. These trailers are suitable for towing behind a variety of overlanding vehicles, including 4×4 SUVs, trucks, and off-road-capable vehicles like Jeeps. For more info, check out my guide to overland trailers.
5th wheels are not well-suited for off-road use. This is mainly due to their large size and heavy weight. Their tall design makes them difficult to navigate narrow forest roads or trails. Low-hanging tree branches can cause damage to the trailer. Being taller, 5th wheels can also rock side to side while driving over uneven terrain. It would be easier to tip a 5th wheel.
Additionally, the weight of 5th wheels can impact their handling off-road. It can be challenging to drive on uneven surfaces, dirt roads, or icy patches. The risk of getting stuck in a fifth wheel in such conditions is considerably higher, making them less ideal for off-road adventures. It is also difficult to maneuver such a large trailer. You can’t turn around. If you make a wrong turn down a narrow path, you might have to back out.
Winner: Travel trailers perform better off-road than 5th wheels.
Triple towing is the practice of towing two trailers at once behind your tow vehicle. For example, you could tow an RV and a boat behind it. Triple towing is only allowed in certain states.
5th wheels are better suited for triple towing than travel trailers. Since 5th wheels are more stable due to the hitch design, they can typically handle the additional weight of a second trailer in tow. The weight distribution of 5th wheels also helps with handling. 5th wheels are more stable. You can tow a larger trailer behind a 5th wheel than a travel trailer.
It is possible to triple tow with a travel trailer. You will likely be limited to a lighter and smaller second trailer. The load won’t feel as stable. You have to be careful with weight distribution to reduce sway.
It’s important to note that there are requirements in terms of the total length and weight of the rig. In most jurisdictions, the maximum length of a recreational vehicle is 60 or 65 feet. Your vehicle needs to be able to handle the additional weight of the second trailer. In some jurisdictions, you need a special license for triple towing. The laws vary by state. Be sure to check the laws everywhere you plan to drive before triple towing.
Winner: 5th wheels are better suited for triple towing than travel trailers.
Riding in the RV While Towing
In some states, it is legal for passengers to ride in the travel trailer or 5th wheel. In some states, it is only legal for passengers to ride in a 5th wheel but not in a travel trailer. Sometimes, it’s illegal to ride in a trailer, regardless of the type.
In areas where it is legal for passengers to ride in the trailer, there are usually some additional requirements. For example, you may need to have a communication device for the passenger to speak to the driver. Sometimes the trailer needs safety glass windows. Be sure to check the laws before allowing passengers to ride in the trailer.
Even though it may be legal for passengers to ride in a 5th wheel or travel trailer, it should be avoided. In the event of an accident, the passenger could be seriously injured or killed. It’s dangerous.
Winner: It is legal to ride in a 5th wheel while it’s being towed in more places. In most places, it is illegal to ride in a travel trailer. It’s best not to carry passengers in the trailer, regardless of the local laws.
Is a Fifth Wheel Better than a Travel Trailer?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to this question. The best choice ultimately depends on your specific needs, preferences, and budget.
When it comes to size and living space, fifth wheels generally offer more room and a more luxurious feel. If you’re looking for a big, luxurious RV, fifth wheels are hard to beat.
Trailers, on the other hand, come in a wide range of sizes. If you’re looking for a small or medium sized RV, a travel trailer is a great option.
In terms of maneuverability and ease of towing, fifth wheels are often considered easier to handle. Travel trailers, conversely, can be more susceptible to sway.
When considering tow vehicle requirements, trailers generally offer more flexibility. They can be towed by a wide range of vehicles. 5th wheels demand a large pickup truck with a specific hitch.
Cost is another critical factor to consider. 5th wheels typically come with a higher price tag. Trailers, especially smaller models, can be more budget-friendly and fuel-efficient.
Ultimately, the question of whether a fifth wheel is better than a travel trailer boils down to your individual needs and preferences.
Who Should Choose a 5th Wheel?
Families or larger groups
Those who prefer premium amenities
Those who already own or have use for a heavy-duty pickup truck
RVers who value stability and towing ease
Campers who don’t require off-road capabilities
Who Should Choose a Travel Trailer?
Solo travelers, couples, or small families
Those who own smaller tow vehicles
Those on a tight budget
Campers who value versatility
For my style of camping, a travel trailer is the better option. I usually camp alone so I don’t need the extra space of a fifth wheel. A travel trailer also fits my budget better. I can drive a smaller vehicle that’s better on gas. I don’t really have any use for a 1 ton truck.
smaller travel trailer also allows me to go places that I couldn’t go with a fifth wheel. I enjoy camping in off-the-beaten-path destinations sometimes. I’m also not the most confident driver. I can drive with a small trailer. I don’t know how I would handle a large fifth wheel.
If I decide to start a family, I’ll probably upgrade to a larger trailer or a fifth wheel. A fifth wheel would also be my first choice if I ever decided to start full-time RVing. The luxury interior of a fifth wheel would be great for full-time living.
The choice between a 5th wheel and a travel trailer ultimately depends on a number of factors including where you camp, who you camp with, your budget, your RV lifestyle, your personal preferences, and the towing capabilities of your vehicle.
Both 5th wheels and travel trailers offer unique advantages and disadvantages. It’s important to carefully consider your camping needs before making a decision. By understanding the pros and cons of 5th wheels Vs travel trailers, you can make an informed decision.
Generally, 5th wheels are larger and more luxurious. They require a heavy-duty pickup. It can be difficult to maneuver such a large RV. Trailers are smaller and more affordable. They may be lacking some amenities. It’s also important to consider the towing capacity of your vehicle when choosing an RV.
Whichever type of RV you choose, I hope this guide has helped you in making your decision.
Do you camp in a 5th wheel or a travel trailer? Share your experience in the comments below!
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Zachary Friedman is an accomplished travel writer and professional blogger. Since 2011, he has traveled to 66 countries and 6 continents. He founded ‘Where The Road Forks’ in 2017 to provide readers with information and insights based on his travel and outdoor recreation experience and expertise. Zachary is also an avid cyclist and hiker. Living as a digital nomad, Zachary balances his professional life with his passions for hiking, camping, cycling, and worldwide exploration. For a deeper dive into his journey and background, visit the About page. For inquiries and collaborations, please reach out through the Contact page. You can also follow him on Facebook.