Travel Trailer vs. 5th Wheel

There is nothing better than a long road trip to satisfy your cravings for travel and adventure. Unlike traditional trips that include going to and from a hotel or other fixed spot, a road or camping trip has no final destination. The possibilities of experiencing something new are endless. The only problem is that what you gain in adventure, you lose in comfort.

One way to travel to any destination - while carrying all the luxuries of your home with you - is with a towable RV. The purchasing decision, however, isn’t all that straightforward. Towable campers come in different shapes and sizes, from simple pop-ups to huge luxury trailers that offer everything you would find in a five-star hotel room, and then some!

If you are looking for a high-end experience, you are undoubtedly in the market for either a travel trailer or a fifth wheel. These campers are quite large and offer built-in showers and rooms, giving users something of a house-like experience. So, what exactly are the differences between a travel trailer and a fifth wheel? And which one should you be looking to purchase? This article will help you find out.

Travel Trailer vs. Fifth Wheel: An Overview

As mentioned before, both of these towable RVs lean toward the larger side and tend to offer most of the luxuries that you would find in an apartment. However, a few key differences exist between a travel trailer and a fifth wheel that could be more suited to your requirement and capabilities. As a more detailed explanation, we will go through the following topics:

  • Aesthetics
  • Towing Vehicle Capacity
  • Dimensions
  • Layout
  • Drivability
  • Price

Keep in mind that the information provided could vary based on the make of the camper and the price range you choose to shop in. However, you will likely be able to apply most of these learnings to your purchasing decision.

Aesthetics

Before you decide which one to invest in, you want to understand what each looks like. A fifth wheel is easy to identify because of the large “tongue” that sits over the truck’s bed. Fifth wheels are generally larger and weigh much more than a traditional travel trailer.

On the other hand, travel trailers have a more rectangular shape and can usually be towed using an SUV or vehicle with a moderate towing capacity. They are also much lighter than the fifth wheels.

Towing Vehicle Capacity

A towable RV will need an additional vehicle to pull it, and the type of vehicle you have or intend to use will play a significant role in which type of camper you decide on. If you don’t already have a pickup truck or don’t intend on buying one, then a fifth wheel is out of the question for you. However, a travel trailer can be towed by most SUVs; or any vehicle with a respectable towing capacity.

If you already have a towing vehicle or intend to buy one, check its Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) to make sure it’s capable of towing the camper you desire. It is imperative that you never exceed this towing capacity.

Dimensions

Both travel trailers and fifth wheels have a wide range of sizes, specifically when considering the length. Fifth wheels are generally larger and can range between 25 – 45 feet long. Besides, additional features such as extra floors and fireplaces add to the weight, which means that fifth wheels will need a more powerful towing vehicle. Fifth wheel campers are also quite a bit taller than travel trailers, which is something to keep in mind if you are planning to drive through terrain that may have low-hanging tree branches, low bridges or tunnels, and so on.

Travel trailers start much smaller, ranging from about 12 to 35 feet long. This smaller size makes them a much better option for those looking for a simple, lightweight trailer they can tow with a standard SUV. They are also shorter than fifth wheels, and they can provide some of the same spacious feel if you select a bigger model.

Layout

As fifth wheels are much larger and heavier, they usually carry more luxuries than a standard trailer. Amenities such as large living rooms and kitchens, fireplaces, and multiple bathrooms have been elevated to different floor heights, providing a more private, roomy feel. Also, a fifth wheel generally has between 3 – 5 slide-outs that can be used to expand the overall living space inside.

On the other hand, travel trailers focus more on the necessities and are generally limited to a maximum of two slide-outs, as they substantially contribute to the overall weight.

Drivability

Since you have been reading that fifth wheels are much longer, taller, and heavier than a travel trailer, you might automatically assume that they are much harder to drive, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Since the hitch of a fifth wheel sits over the rear axle of a tow vehicle, this pivot point gives the fifth wheel a larger turning radius and makes it less likely to sway while driving. However, keep in mind that a fifth wheel can be much more of a challenge to reverse than a traditional trailer.

The lightweight body and hitch point on a travel trailer make it much more prone to swaying and much harder to maneuver. You can improve this by adding aftermarket sway bars to your tow vehicle, but it wouldn’t compare with the sturdiness of a fifth wheel.

Price

Of course, travel trailers have the upper hand in this segment due to their smaller size and design. Sure, you can upgrade both to have luxurious amenities, but you will discover that travel trailers are almost always cheaper than a fifth wheel.