Travel Trailers versus Fifth Wheels Guide

Bumper pull trailers and fifth wheels have big differences. Deciding between a fifth wheel and travel trailer is easier when you follow this quick guide to travel trailers versus fifth wheels.

How to Choose the Best Towable RV to Buy

RV shopping can be so overwhelming! Visit any of the best RV shows today and you’ll quickly find yourself confused by the choices. We all want someone to just give us the answer to “What’s the best trailer to buy?” But the truth is, there is no one best trailer out there. Whether you’re buying a fifth wheel or bumper pull towable trailer, the best RV is the one that suits your RV lifestyle.

Before you decide on a trailer to buy for your budget, ask yourself the most important question before buying a towable RV:

Do I have the right kind of truck to pull a trailer in the size that I want?

If you’re here to compare travel trailers versus fifth wheels, my guess is you want more space than a lightweight travel trailer offers. In that case, you need a truck with enough towing capacity to pull a large trailer.

  • Half-ton trucks can pull lightweight travel trailers. Generally, these trucks are the most affordable tow trucks to buy.
  • Three-quarter ton trucks can pull many larger travel trailers and fifth wheels. In my 15 years of RVing, I’ve noticed that most towable trailer owners tow with these mid-priced trucks.
  • One-ton trucks are more than capable of pulling the longest, tallest, and heaviest travel trailers and fifth wheels. But they are also the most expensive tow trucks to buy and own.

Don’t let an RV salesperson convince you that your existing SUV or truck can pull your travel trailer. Or, that your half-ton truck can pull a 30-foot fifth wheel you love. Do your research first. Do not buy a travel trailer or fifth wheel until you know the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) for trucks you want to buy. Or, the GVWR for the truck you already own. Ignoring the GVWR is like putting the cart before the horse. Do that, and you could end up with a dead horse.

Let’s Compare Travel Trailers versus Fifth Wheels

Now that you know the GVWR for your towing vehicle, let’s compare fifth wheels and travel trailers. After 15 years of fifth wheel ownership and full-time RVing, this is what I know about the two types of towable RVs.

Travel Trailer Pros

You keep your truck bed storage area. Got a dirt bike you want to take along? Stick it in your truck bed. Need a place for your dog’s travel kennel? They fit nicely under the truck canopy.

Travel trailers don’t have two floors. They don’t have stairs inside. This makes bumper pull trailers great for people or pets with mobility challenges.

A bumper pull trailer is closer to the ground. Going in and out is much easier for people and pets with physical impairments.

Cooling a single-level RV is faster and easier. Since fifth wheels have two levels, that upper floor gets mighty hot in summer. If you don’t have a second air conditioner up there, prepare to sweat.

You spend less money on a new travel trailer. Generally, the average cost of new travel trailers is less than fifth wheel costs.

travel trailer pros and cons
Travel trailer pros and cons depend on the owner, too.

Travel Trailer Cons

Bumper pull trailers are long, long RVs. Compare a travel trailer and fifth wheel of the same length. Attach each one to a truck, and the overall length of the travel trailer is longer than a fifth wheel. The fifth wheel hitch rests inside the truck bed, giving t a shorter overall length. That’s something to consider because it affects where you can camp. For national parks, and other campgrounds built long ago when RVs were much smaller, a fifth wheel under 30-feet long gives you more campsite options.

Used travel trailers rarely have built-in generators. Up until the early 2020s, travel trailers did not come with built-in generators. Today, some newer travel trailers have built-in generators. If you’re shopping for an older model trailer, part of your truck bed gets taken up by a generator.

Travel trailer sway is real. If you don’t have anti-sway bars on your trailer, or your trailer is too heavy for your tow truck, the trailer sway phenomena can cause you to have a highway accident. It happens because trailer attachment points are at the back of the truck chassis. This awkward design makes an overloaded trailer ripe for a dangerous situation called “fishtailing,” at highway speeds. Flipping over is a real possibility.

Now that you’ve learned a few important travel trailer pros and cons, let’s compare fifth wheels to travel trailers.

Fifth Wheel Pros

Towing a fifth wheel trailer is smoother and easier. The tongue weight of a fifth wheel trailer rests directly upon the drive axle of the truck (instead of hanging off the tail end of your chassis, like a bumper-pull trailer). The result is better traction, less front-end lift of the truck, and easier maneuverability.

Fifth wheels have more storage space. These tall towables have basement storage space underneath the living quarters. You get far more storage than a truck bed can provide.

Living space feels more natural. The higher ceilings and upper floor of fifth wheels give them a more stick-house like feel. Tall people also find them more comfortable. This is a nice feature if you plan on full-time RVing.

Fifth Wheel Cons

Maintaining a comfortable temperature is more challenging. Keeping an ideal temperature inside most fifth wheels generally takes more resources than a travel trailer. Between the high ceilings and split levels, if you don’t have two air conditioners you’ll find it tough to get comfy in cold or hot weather.

You lose truck bed storage. Fifth wheel owners give up truck bed storage, especially owners of short bed trucks like me. Although we do have a small built-in toolbox in the truck bed, without a long-bed truck we can’t store anything else.

Taller is not always better. The taller height of a fifth wheel puts you at risk of hitting tree limbs and overhangs. Ask me how I know.

Fifth Wheels Versus Travel Trailers Conclusion

When it comes to comparing fifth wheels versus travel trailers, there are no right or wrong choices. What works for one RV owner doesn’t work the same for another. And what one person can afford to buy, someone else can’t. So don’t take my word for it. Think about what you value when it comes to camping and the outdoor lifestyle. Do your own RV dos and don’ts research. Know what RV you can afford to buy. Then compare units at RV shows and dealers. And finally, decide for yourself. If you don’t like the towable RV you purchased, you can always trade it in for something else.

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