The Van Life: A Travel Trailer Versus 5th Wheel Compromise

chigger

One of the most exciting things about full-time RVing is the possibility of growing or shrinking your rig based on your travels or needs. It’s an adventure that so many of us dream about. A lot of people ask me, ‘Are there any pros and cons to a travel trailer versus a 5th wheel?’

In this article, I will be going over the main differences between a travel trailer versus a 5th wheel.

Travel Trailers

Travel trailers are a great way to travel the country and expand your horizons. They are economical and easier to tow than most 5th wheels. Travel trailers can be towed by a variety of different trucks and SUVs that make it more accessible to those who don't have a full-size pickup truck. It is much easier to find parking for a travel trailer than a 5th wheel. You can even find parking at many Walmart stores! Some campgrounds have larger spaces available for 5th wheels but they usually also have plenty of space for smaller rigs as well.

5th Wheel Travel Trailers

5th wheels are luxurious, spacious, and moveable homes on wheels that offer all the comforts of home in an easy, towable package. When you arrive at your destination, simply unhitch from your truck and enjoy your life on wheels.

Advantages of a 5th wheel over a travel trailer

  • There is no need for a truck bed for towing. This means that you can use a more powerful and stable truck, which will make your ride safer and smoother.
  • The floor plans are usually better than in travel trailers. The reason for that is because the hitch is located over the truck’s rear axle, allowing for more space inside the RV.
  • 5th wheels offer more storage space than travel trailers do. This is especially true if you compare towable vehicles of the same size. If you like to store your belongings in the vehicle, this might be an important feature to consider.
  • It is easier to get around inside a 5th wheel than in a trailer or motorhome. This is due to the fact that they have two entry points, while motorhomes have only one and travel trailers have none.

Advantages of a travel trailer over a 5th wheel

  • Can be towed with a 1/2 ton truck or SUV. This means you can use your existing vehicle/truck/SUV instead of investing in a new one that can handle the weight and size of a 5th wheel.
  • Easier parking and maneuvering. Travel trailers are shorter, narrower and less top heavy than 5th wheels, which makes them easier to park, maneuver and back up. They also have better visibility while driving because they don't have the hitch-in-the-back problem that plagues 5th wheels (more on that later).
  • The other advantage of travel trailers and 5th wheels is that they are self contained with their own kitchen and bathroom facilities so you don't need to use campground facilities if you choose not to do so.
  • Also, many people prefer the "open floor plan" of the travel trailer where there is one large room instead of several smaller rooms like in a motorhome.
  • Travel trailers are very easy to unhook from your vehicle once at your destination. This makes them convenient for day trips or shopping trips when you're not staying in your campsite. Just unhook your trailer and drive off with your vehicle! You're not limited to just driving around the trailer park or campground perimeter. You can go anywhere you want!
  • Travel trailers have better access to storage underneath and behind the trailer compared to 5th wheels. This makes them great for storing outdoor gear like bicycles and kayaks during transit or while parked at a campsite.

The price tag

There is a much larger variety of travel trailers on the market because they have less components and are manufactured in higher number than their 5th wheel counterparts. This makes them more affordable for most families.

Travel trailers are usually less expensive than their counterpart fifth wheels. Because they are attached to a vehicle rather than a bed, they require a special hitch that needs to be installed in your vehicle. This can cost up to $1,000 depending on the size of your trailer and the model vehicle you drive. If you already own a truck with sufficient towing capacity, then this cost won’t be an issue for you. However, if you don’t own a truck and plan to buy one for your travels, then you need to add that into the cost of your travel trailer.

5th Wheels often cost more than a travel trailer. Buying either a travel trailer or 5th wheel will all depend on your needs and budget.

The higher upfront costs make 5th wheelers harder to justify for people who don't intend to full-time RV, so they're a much less common choice for families. They are popular among people who are looking for a home away from home, though, and they're particularly appealing to winter Texans (who are mostly retired couples) because they can house more amenities than smaller RVs can.

Fuel efficiency of travel trailers versus 5th wheels

Travel trailers are towed by your tow vehicle and can fit on most trucks or SUVs. This will mean that you can usually choose a vehicle that has a good gas mileage to tow these.

5th wheels will use more fuel as they are usually larger than travel trailers.

Maintenance and repairs

The biggest difference between a 5th wheel and a travel trailer is how they are attached to the tow vehicle. A travel trailer attaches to the tow vehicle at the bumper, while a 5th wheel attaches via a special hitch in the bed of the truck. Because of this design difference, there are some major differences in terms of cost and ease when it comes to maintenance and repairs.

Because of their lighter weight, travel trailers tend to be built with lighter materials like fiberglass. This means that they can't stand up to heavy use as well as a 5th wheel. They also aren't as sturdy when driving and towing over rough terrain.

Comfort and features

5th Wheels are insanely more comfortable than other forms of RVs. The beds, kitchen, bathroom and living area are all larger and more comfortable (in most cases) than those of an equivalent sized travel trailer or motorhome. They also have more storage space than some other types of RVs.

Travel Trailers are all about comfort and convenience. They're designed to be roomy, easy to drive, and offer great features you can use while on the road. 5th wheels, on the other hand, are typically more spacious but require a more powerful truck to tow them.

Travel trailers can be luxurious and feature-filled, but they don't offer the same comfort and space of a 5th wheel. There's no way around it: Travel trailers are less roomy than 5th wheels, motorhomes or RVs, but that's because they're smaller. Even a big travel trailer can usually be towed using a 1/2 ton vehicle and is much more maneuverable than a 5th wheel. And travel trailers offer more setup options: Many campgrounds prohibit 5th wheels, especially the high-end ones, which are taller than 13 feet.

Subscribe

Stay updated with our newsletter


Tow Vehicle Options

Travel trailers are generally lighter than 5th wheels. This makes them easier to tow with a wider range of vehicles. A large selection of trucks can pull a travel trailer, whereas many of the larger 5th wheels require a specialized diesel truck.

Travel trailers can be towed by any vehicle with a tow hitch, whereas 5th wheel trailers need a special hitch.

Storage

With their lighter weight, travel trailers tend to have less storage space than 5th wheels. However, many travel trailers are available with modular storage systems that add storage space where you need it most.

Size

Fifth wheels are larger than travel trailers because they have to be long enough to accommodate the "gooseneck" style hitch that connects them to the truck bed. The slide-out rooms in larger models make fifth wheels feel even bigger inside than their floor plans suggest. We traded up from a 36-foot travel trailer with two slide outs to a 40-foot fifth wheel with four slide outs. More space means more comfort, but it also means more weight and less maneuverability.

Vehicle weight

When it comes to vehicle weight and tow capacity, the trailer is king. If your tow vehicle isn't up to the task, it may result in an accident. The first thing you need to do is find out what kind of load your vehicle can carry. The easiest way to do this is through your owner's manual. You'll find a table in there that tells you what your truck or SUV can handle when it comes to Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) among other types of weight.

  • Tow rating
  • This is the maximum amount of weight your vehicle can safely tow, according to the manufacturer.

  • GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating)
  • This is the maximum amount of weight your vehicle and trailer can weigh combined, according to the manufacturer. is important because it tells you both how much you can tow and how much your trailer can weigh when fully loaded (for travel trailers, this includes the tongue weight).

  • GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating)
  • This is the maximum amount of weight your vehicle and trailer can weigh combined, according to the manufacturer. The GCWR is important because it tells you both how much you can tow and how much your trailer can weigh when fully loaded (for travel trailers, this includes the tongue weight).

  • GAWR
  • GAWR is an acronym for Gross Axle Weight Rating. This rating is based on the maximum amount of weight that can be carried by a single axle on your travel trailer or fifth wheel. A higher GAWR means that your vehicle can carry heavier loads without risking damage to its frame or tires.

  • GTW
  • GTW means Gross Trailer Weight. This is the weight of the fully loaded and ready to go travel trailer or 5th wheel.

  • Curb Weight (CW)
  • This is the base weight of the trailer itself. It does not include passengers, fresh water, LP gas, cargo, or dealer-installed accessories. It does include the weight of standard equipment, fluids (engine oil and coolant), full fuel tank and air in tires.

  • Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC)
  • The amount of weight you can add to the trailer before you exceed its maximum allowable GTW. This includes everything you carry in or on your travel trailer or 5th wheel, including people, food, clothing and other supplies. The CCC includes both dry and wet weights. Dry weights refer to cargo that is fixed in place while wet weights refer to cargo that moves within the trailer (like water in the fresh tank).

  • Pin Weight (PW)
  • This is the vertical weight pressing down on your hitch ball when you connect your tow vehicle to your trailer.

For full time RV living, you need to think about these things:
  • A dedicated office space for work
  • A dedicated bedroom space for sleep
  • A dedicated bathroom space
  • WITHIN those spaces, lots of storage!

Facts about travel trailers versus 5th wheels

  • 5th wheel trailers are typically more comfortable than travel trailers because you have more space, more closet space and more floor space.
  • 5th wheel trailers cost more than travel trailers because they're bigger and the tow vehicle needs to be stronger.
  • 5th wheel trailers are harder to drive with a long wheelbase.
  • Travel trailers are easier to move in and out of parking spaces with a short wheelbase.
  • Travel trailers can be towed by any vehicle with a tow hitch, whereas 5th wheel trailers need a special hitch.
  • Travel trailers can be parked in places that don't allow motorhomes (RV's).
  • Because they're smaller, travel trailer are cheaper to buy, own and operate.
  • You can park a travel trailer in your driveway or even in your backyard if preferred.
  • A travel trailer typically has a smaller, lighter frame than a fifth wheel.
  • Travel trailers come in all shapes and sizes.
  • Fifth wheels use a heavier weight rating than travel trailers.
  • Fifth wheels are also more expensive due to the fact that they need to carry more weight for stability and structural integrity.
  • Fifth wheels typically have larger slide-outs or can be purchased as an expandable model that is even larger than a standard fifth wheel.
  • Fifth wheels can also be self-installed so you can save on cost if you're handy with tools.

Cooling and Heating

Most RVs come with a roof air conditioner, but if you plan to live in your RV full-time, it may not be enough. You'll need a heat pump for cold days and nights. Standard trailers use truck heating systems, which can be loud and inefficient. A quieter, more efficient option is an RV add-on furnace that uses fuel from the vehicle's tank or propane tanks.

5th wheels tend to struggle more with cooling and heating over a travel trailer due to their larger size. Depending on where you are in certain types of 5th wheels, you can either be feeling more heat over cold.

So, which is better – travel trailers or 5th wheels?

The answer isn’t that simple.

Travel Trailers are more maneuverable than 5th wheels and also tend to weigh less, which makes them easier on your tow vehicle. But they also ride lower to the ground, so you can feel more movement when you’re driving down the road. Some people find that unnerving and uncomfortable.

5th wheels are larger overall (especially the living area) and give you a bigger size-for-size option than travel trailers. They also tend to be sturdier than travel trailers because they ride on top of your truck bed instead of behind it, which gives you more stability while you drive. The downside is that they’re harder to back up and take some getting used to.

Conclusion

Once you’ve made the decision to go with trailer or a 5th wheel, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of each type. Specifically, you’ll need to consider whether or not you prefer the level of mobility that comes with a travel trailer. In practical terms, trailers offer more flexibility for traveling around and a more realistic option for people who need towing capabilities. However, if convenience is your top priority, then a 5th wheel may be your best bet. With the break from the tow vehicle that comes with a 5th wheel, you can more easily pop open the door and take care of things on your own.

The best thing to do when comparing the 5th wheel to travel trailer is to determine which one will suit your needs the best. Both have their perks and it's up to you to decide how much space you want as well as how many features are important to you.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.