RVers have debated the difference between a 5th wheel vs. travel trailer for ages. It’s important to look at the pros and cons of each. We’ll examine which is best for families, full-time RVing, and boondocking. Let’s see how these two styles compare.
Table of Contents
- 5th Wheel vs. Travel Trailer: What’s the Difference?
- 5th Wheel vs. Travel Trailer Pros and Cons
- 5th Wheel Pros
- 5th Wheel Cons
- Travel Trailer Pros
- Travel Trailer Cons
- 5th Wheel vs. Travel Trailers for Families
- 5th Wheel vs. Travel Trailer for Boondocking
- 5th Wheel vs. Travel Trailer for Full-Time RVing
- Travel Trailer vs. 5th Wheel for Towing
- Which Towable RV Style Is Best for You?
5th Wheel vs. Travel Trailer: What’s the Difference?
Both of these styles of RV are towable, but they have significant differences. 5th wheels are generally larger RVs and hitch in the truck bed as opposed to the bumper. Because 5th wheels attach to the truck bed over the axle, they offer a more stable towing experience and tend to be larger and heavier than travel trailers.
In contrast, travel trailers are sometimes called “bumper pulls” because this style of RV hitches to the tow vehicle’s bumper. Depending on the size and weight of a travel trailer, you can pull it with a truck or SUV or even car.
5th Wheel vs. Travel Trailer Pros and Cons
As with any RV style, both 5th wheels and travel trailers have their own sets of pros and cons. Here are the top considerations for selecting a 5th wheel vs. travel trailer.
5th Wheel Pros
5th wheels are the top choice for many RVers who want to spend a season or full time in the trailer. Here are some of the benefits of this style of towable.
Variety of Floorplans
5th wheels offer the widest variety of floorplans of any kind of RV because of their size and shape. Consumers can choose a front, mid, or rear kitchen, living room, and bedroom. Because of their height they can include different levels and have a very home-like feel.
More Stable Towing Experience
5th wheels have the most stable towing experience of any towable campers. That’s because the hitch sits in the bed of the truck. The connection point over the axle offers more stability when towing because the weight of the hitch aligns with the wheels. Ever notice this is how semis tow? Its great for heavy loads.
More Interior and Exterior Storage
5th wheel campers provide more interior and exterior storage because of their larger size. You’ll generally find more cabinets throughout and large storage bays on the exterior. Given their height much of this s storage can be underneath in areas called the “basement”.
5th Wheel Cons
5th wheel campers are a great choice, but they have downsides too. Here are some less than stellar features.
Big and Heavy
5th wheels can be significantly heavier than travel trailers. These RVs can also be really long — up to 45 feet or longer. The length of your camper is personal preference, but a larger RV requires a larger truck.
Overheight clearance is also problematic for many fifth wheels because they need to be taller to fit over the truck bed.
Usually Requires a Bigger Truck
Trucks can be just as expensive as campers, especially if you choose a 5th wheel. The largest fifth wheels require a one-ton truck or larger, and hefty trucks come with a hefty price tag.
Many larger 5th wheels require a dually truck to pull them. Dually trucks aren’t ideal as daily drivers, but you might be stuck with them if you’re a full-time RVer. These trucks are a bit harder to maneuver around small city streets due to their rear width.
Finally, 5th wheels are the most expensive type of towable camper. New 5th wheels can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 or more. When you combine the cost of a large 5th wheel with the cost of a truck capable of towing the RV, you can almost buy a house.
Travel Trailer Pros
Travel trailers are a popular choice for RVers, especially newbies. How do they stack up when you compare a 5th wheel vs. travel trailer, though?
Travel trailers are the most affordable style of RV. You can purchase an entry-level travel trailer for as low as $10,000 new and even cheaper if you buy used. This makes travel trailers great for RVers on a budget or those who want to try out the lifestyle without committing to a bigger purchase.
Variety of Lengths and Styles
Travel trailers can come in a wide variety of lengths and styles. Furthermore, you can tow smaller travel trailers with some cars and SUVs. This makes travel trailers even more attractive for consumers who don’t want to buy a truck.
Height is not as much of an issue with travel trailers as they tend to be shorter. Without the need to sit over the bed, many are not much taller than their tow vehicles.
Bunkhouse and Office Floorplans
Don’t let the smaller size fool you; travel trailers have many great floorplan options. While you won’t find the same variety in travel trailer floorplans as you would in a 5th wheel, you still have a lot to choose from. There are even travel trailers with extra bedrooms or office space for families and remote workers.
Travel Trailer Cons
Travel trailers are great entry-level campers, and they’re also used and loved by experienced RVers. But there are some downsides.
Less Stable Towing Experience
Travel trailers hitch to the bumper of the vehicle, and this can mean a less-stable towing experience. Additional products are usually used to make towing travel trailers easier, like sway bars and weight-distribution hitches. These help but having the weight so far back on the vehicle still introduces bounce and a less comfortable towing experience.
This doesn’t mean travel trailers are unsafe to tow. But without proper weight distribution, they can be difficult to tow properly.
Less Interior and Exterior Storage
Travel trailers are smaller than their 5th wheel counterparts. The floorplans make use of all available space, so there isn’t as much interior storage. These campers are shorter than 5th wheels, so they have less exterior storage too.
5th Wheel vs. Travel Trailers for Families
If you’re wondering which type of towable RV is best for families, you might be surprised — because it’s really up to you!
Fifth wheels are popular with full-time RV families because of the floorplan options storage and towing comfort. But travel trailers make a great choice for families, too. Travel trailers can be especially appealing to RV families on a budget.
5th Wheel vs. Travel Trailer for Boondocking
Both types of towable RV can do well while boondocking, but you’ll be able to camp longer in a fifth wheel. This is because fifth wheels are larger and can support more weight, so they have bigger holding tanks.
Any boondocker knows that the determining factor in how long you can boondock (besides power) is how much fresh and waste water your RV can hold. For that reason, 5th wheels win this category.
5th Wheel vs. Travel Trailer for Full-Time RVing
Both 5th wheels and travel trailers can make great full-time RVing rigs. Fifth wheels offer a more residential feeling and provide more creature comforts on the road. But travel trailers have many great amenities and features, too, and are a popular choice among full-time RVers.
➡ Need more help deciding on a full-time rig? Check out our expert advice here: How to Determine the Best RV to Live in Full-Time
Travel Trailer vs. 5th Wheel for Towing
When it comes to towing, 5th wheels win. Towing 5th wheels is a more stable and comfortable experience, but they require a truck.
If you need to tow with something other than a truck, of course, the travel trailer is the only option. (unless you have a crazy trailer like this one!)
Which Towable RV Style Is Best for You?
The answer is different for every person. For some, a 5th wheel may offer the size and storage they require. For others, the cost savings of a travel trailer will prove more appealing.
If you’re having a hard time choosing between a travel trailer and a 5th wheel, we recommend renting each style to see how you like it. With RVs, you can “try before you buy” via rental services.
Have you tried out both types of RV? Leave a comment below with your preference.
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Monday 6th of June 2022
We currently have a Grand Design Imagine 2500RL. We're thinking of upgrading to a 5th wheel as we spend the winters in Utah skiing as well as other places for periods of time mountain biking. My concern is how much longer can I go? The Imagine is 30 feet in total length. I can park it in my backyard however I do have to jackknife it to fit it on the pad. There's not much extra room for that turn. I'm assuming I can add about 5 feet to the length for a 5th wheel, up to 35 feet, and still be comfortable parking it as I understand the hitch is right on top of the rear axle. I have a 2013 F350 Long bed 6,7L diesel. Thank you for any comments.
Thursday 29th of July 2021
We have had 2 travel trailers 19 and 25 foot, a 32 foot 5th wheel and a 32 foot motorhome in the span of 20 years. We are now going back to a 25 foot travel trailer. It fits into smaller RV sites, 5th wheel height is an obstacle on those beautiful low hanging tree lined streets and low bridges. Travel trailers have come a long way with luxuries and amenities like large bathrooms, recliners, large exterior storage, off road and boondocking capabilities and power stabilizers, awnings and tongue jacks. And a real plus is you get to keep the bed of your truck so add that to your exterior storage. Can't wait to downsize!
Mortons on the Move
Thursday 29th of July 2021
You make some great points about travel trailers. We hope you enjoy your smaller rig! :)
Tuesday 27th of July 2021
I have an TRAVEL TRAILER with a Hensley hitch and it has no sway and distribute the weight perfectly. I am pulling with a 3/4 ton gas truck.My friend has a 5 th wheel and had to buy a 3/4ton diesel . He spent approximately 27 thousand $ more than me .My trailer is 38 feet and his 5th wheel is 37.5 feet. He pays twice as much for oil change than me .Gas mileage is very similar .I have more interior space he has more exterior space quality of trailer are very similar. With the Hensley hitch and the 27 thousand $ I saved puts me way ahead .
Sunday 22nd of August 2021
Fern a diesel is not necessary to pull a fifth wheel it is just a preference like buying a fifth wheel over a bumper pull. No where does it say, “ a fifth wheel must be pulled with a diesel”. If you have identical gas and diesel trucks the gas can tow more because the diesel engine weighs more and that weight has to be subtracted from the towing capacity. The diesel is usually a $9k-$12k option that you only pay for while you own the truck. The diesel’s oil change is more than gas but a diesel will get more miles between oil changes, and the engine will last longer. Your friend will also get better resale value in the future on his diesel.