5th Wheel Vs Travel Trailer Pros And Cons
When buying a trailer, one of the tough decisions to be made is 5th wheel vs travel trailer RVs. Which one is better for your own requirements. In this article, we will study almost thirty selected attributes that you will need to consider when making this choice. Through this study, I will do a comparison of these “5th wheel vs travel trailer” features that will for sure guide your purchasing decision.
Before we dive into the details, the quick answer is that for huge campers of 28′ or more, 5th wheels are the best option. For RVs of 28′ or less, however, travel trailers are better suited. This is a quick one-paragraph answer.
The reason for this statement is that 5th wheel tows better (UPDATE: Still true, but let me tell you that travel trailers have narrowed this gap quite well, as I explain below) and has higher ceilings and multiple levels.
These features make them better suited for RVers with very large camper requirements. On the other hand, travel trailers cost less, allow for a bigger range of towing vehicles and have more storage, with the exceptions of those fifth wheels with a toy hauler.
So now, let´s walk through each of the main features that I have distinguished, and discover the pros and cons of 5th wheel vs travel trailer RVs.
Anyway, Rent First
If you are thinking about purchasing a travel trailer or a fifth wheel, it is a good idea to rent one first to ensure that it suits your requirements. Campers are a huge investment, and not buying what you really want would be a costly mistake. To help you in your decision 5th wheel vs travel trailer, better rent first an RV in your local area. Find the Outdoorsy closest to you.
The fifth wheel is much easier to tow as it deposits more weight on the towing vehicle centered between the axles, bringing the center of mass towards the front on the towed vehicle. This means that towing a fifth-wheel is much more secure and stable.
In the 5th wheel vs travel trailer discussion, there have been changes in the RV industry regarding towability. Of course, I am not coming to you and try to pretend that a travel trailer tows as well or better than a fifth wheel RV.
Nevertheless, what I do think since the last updates of this article, is that the travel trailer manufacturers are closing that gap. I think that the travel trailers today tow exceptionally well. I use a Blue Ox weight distribution hitch and there are a lot of times where I really forget that the travel trailer is actually there and that I am towing it.
If I am pulling a 34 foot 8,000-pound travel trailer you will have some sway whereas in a fifth wheel you will eliminate completely, or almost completely eliminate that sway. However, my consideration is that current travel trailer models have notably closed the gap with fifth wheels as far as how well they tow.
A truck suspension is designed to carry weight above the bed, not behind it. Your suspension, your tires, your axles and everything there right below the kingpin of the fifth wheel.
However, travel trailer hitching has come a long way from what it used to be. The anti-sway systems and weight distribution systems for travel trailers have come a long way too. It will never be as good as a fifth wheel but a travel trailer plus a good hitch and a good anti-sway system and a good weight distribution system will nowadays compensate the difference in the 5th wheel vs travel trailer comparison regarding towability.
I believe that today’s travel trailers probably tow better than a 20-year-old fifth wheel. I hear in RV parks everyone talking about how well a fifth wheel tows. They do too well but travel trailers are closing that gap, as I wrote above, so the advantage of the 5th wheel vs travel trailer is nowadays insignificant.
Looks also matter
In terms of looks, one reason I would I chose a travel trailer over a fifth wheel is the looks of a travel trailer. To me, the lines of a travel trailer look a lot better than the lines of a fifth wheel. The fifth wheel kind of looks like a broken travel trailer.
Of course, I am completely aware of why they are designed that way. They have to sit over the rear axle, and the design is affected by its functions. For that, they are very well designed.
But for me, and just considering the aspect, it is hard to make them look as good as a travel trailer. So for me, the look of the travel trailer is much better than the look of the fifth wheel. 5th wheel vs travel trailer in terms of aspect: for me, the travel trailer.
Seating Capacity in the Towing Vehicle
Before deciding, you need to check if the towing vehicle you want to use is compatible with a fifth wheel. If you have more than four passengers, using a truck is not a good option as all 5 seats in the truck would be used. I am thinking now in a Ford F-150. Likewise, if there are more passengers, a car and a fifth-wheel / truck would have to be used to get to your destination. This is not ideal!
This is the most important aspect for almost everyone in the 5th wheel vs travel trailer discussion.
Is it a good decision to spend two or three times as much on a fifth wheel than what you would spend to purchase a travel trailer? You cannot even start to get into the fifth wheel market until you are looking at spending 40 50 60 thousand dollars for a fifth wheel suitable for a family of four.
Value-wise, travel trailers are so much more appealing, that this one, this feature analysis, goes for travel trailers. You get the same RV parks or campgrounds, you get the same campfires, you get the same camping experience that you would enjoy in a fifth wheel, but you do it for a third of the price.
Of course that the build quality of the fifth wheels cannot be compared to the build quality of a travel trailer. Therefore, unless you are a full-time RVer, you will not need the super heavy-duty build quality of some of those fifth wheels out there.
Fifth-wheel trailers are expensive, and the reasons are obvious as you know. It needs more engineering to get the raised part above the truck bed and has a different connection. The gooseneck connection is more complex, and using more materials and more complexity justifies the price.
However, the actual difference, even if it is justified, is very large and travel trailers can easily cost one-third of the price of a fifth wheel.
No doubt that a travel trailer will save you money. It is physically smaller than a fifth wheel. If you perform a comparison of a 27-foot trailer and a 27-foot fifth wheel, the travel trailer costs less and weighs less, even if they are similar in length.
There is less physical construction in a travel trailer, less material, less labor, it is just is smaller and cost less. Likewise, that means it is easier to purchase, easier to tow, easier to resell because there are more people that can tow a travel trailer. 5th wheel vs travel trailer lose always due to the higher costs: travel trailer wins.
Truck Bed Storage
This consideration is about the access to the bed of the truck, the bed of the tow vehicle. Here, even a lot of fifth wheel owners will recognize to you that they really miss the access to the bed of the truck.
Basically, the gooseneck hitch takes up most of the bed of the tow vehicle as you know. There is nothing you can store in the bed, as the gooseneck hitch needs all the surface of the bed for rotation.
I have a tonneau cover on my truck. Therefore, I can enjoy a little bit more storage and the tonneau cover is waterproof as well. Some others have a cap in their truck. This cap would not be possible if you have a fifth wheel. With that said, fifth wheel owners like I said above, miss the availability of the truck bed.
A fifth wheel uses up the whole truck bed and this is a drawback. Although you may be able to fit in a few items (what I doubt because the gooseneck hitch requires a radio to turn), you are essentially losing the entire truck storage. If you want to take things like bikes or an ATV with, you will have to find another solution.
In this 5th wheel vs travel trailer analysis for the truck bed space utilization, if you decide to buy a fifth wheel, you will not be able to take an ATV along, while you will be able to fit in dirt bikes or an ATV in the truck bed with a travel trailer. The only way to do this on a 5th wheel is by having a toy hauler 5th wheel.
If you already have an ATV or are thinking of getting one in the future, a travel trailer is a right option for you.
Therefore, if you want your RV solution to be flexible enough to take a canoe, or even an ATV with, a travel trailer would be a much better solution for you.
The same as the price, in the 5th wheel vs travel trailer comparison, the resell value is a decisive feature to consider.
Anytime we make a large purchase like that, we think to ourselves how easy would it be to resell it.
All RVs are going to lose their value as far as depreciation is concerned. Nevertheless, there are a lot more people out there who are capable of towing a travel trailer versus a fifth wheel, because of the towing capacity of their tow vehicles.
Regarding the 5th wheel vs travel trailer market of buyers, there are no doubts. You have a larger market of potential buyers as there are more people able to afford a travel trailer, especially a used travel trailer versus a fifth wheel. Therefore, the worst-case scenario, if we ever had to sell, the travel trailer would be easier to resell.
A fifth wheel has a huge area that hangs over the truck bed, and it, therefore, gives far more living area while extending less behind the truck. This means it is a lot easier to maneuver around town and get into smaller camping sites, even though it has a bigger living area.
A fifth wheel always has a few steps in the interior cabin, normally to get up to the master bedroom and the bathroom. This is something worth considering. The multiple levels in 5th wheels do however also block sound and make each room feel a lot more private.
So younger people, in the 5th wheel vs travel trailer dispute, will pick the fifth wheel in terms of privacy.
However, now let´s look at it from a different point of view. If you are older, if you have had surgery, if you have got a bad back, bad knees or a medical condition similar to those indicated, you really need to consider the extra steps in these fifth wheels.
That extra step up and down every morning, and every time you want to go to the bathroom or the bedroom. Instead, as you know, on a travel trailer, the floorplan is deployed on a flat deck. A lot of retirees look to fifth wheels for permanent RVing. Their reasons are pretty obvious: more space, better towability, and more amenities. But probably they are not happy with these extra steps.
Fuel Economy And Efficiency
A fifth-wheel trailer has a much higher profile and is often very heavy. This will reduce the fuel efficiency of the vehicle towing it by a fair amount. If you are already in a large gas mileage that is not that great, this is an important factor to take into account in this 5th wheel vs travel trailer comparison, where our readers are mostly thinking in price and reduction of costs.
On a fifth wheel, the exterior storage area under the living area is often huge and this space comes in very handy for storing bigger items. This space underneath is opened up due to the multi-level design of fifth-wheels.
5th wheel vs travel trailer discussion gets difficult at this point. Travel trailers have a limit on how much you will be able to fit into, as the weight will sooner or later become an issue. Some fifth wheels are huge and have an unbelievable number of features that often compete with any motorhome or class A RV.
If you are considering buying at the very high end and are basically looking for a luxury apartment to attach to your truck, a fifth wheel is a right option for you.
It will be difficult to find a travel trailer going for between $100,000 and $200,000, but this is definitely an option in the fifth-wheel market.
5th wheels normally have ceilings that are significantly taller than those in a travel trailer. If you are exceptionally tall, or simply feel cramped when in a travel trailer, a higher ceiling could really be handy. Do however remember that although the ceilings in fifth wheels are higher in the living area, they are in fact lower in the bedroom, just like in an “a frame camper”.
If you are thinking only in the height of the ceiling, then, your options are 5th wheel vs travel trailer vs a frame camper. However, if you are very tall, you cannot sleep with comfort in an A-frame camper, due to the short size of the bed.
Boondocking and Off-Roading
You know that I do not like boondocking, and I always go to RV parks. Nevertheless, despite my personal opinion, in the 5th wheel vs travel trailer comparison we are doing, let me tell you that the travel trailer is by far the better option when it comes to off-roading your way to a campsite and boondocking. A fifth wheel that weighs 12,000 pounds and is attached to your vehicle makes driving on an icy road or declining down a dirt road a serious challenge.
A fifth wheel is also so high that it will be bumping into tree branches at many boondocking camps. This could cause serious damage to your RV. When you are planning to camp off the beaten path, height is a serious consideration that has to be taken into account.
This feature is related to another one we analyzed above regarding towability because as you have noticed, in this 5th wheel vs travel trailer discussion, towability is the second most important attribute for people after the RV price.
Travel trailers are almost always significantly lighter when compared to a fifth-wheel trailer. Before deciding which one to buy, make sure that the tow vehicle can support both the bed weight and the tow weight of a fifth wheel. A Ram 2500 or an F-250 will often not be enough to handle bigger fifth wheels.
Although it is generally believed that it is easier to hook up 5th wheel vs travel trailer RVs, this should not present any problems. Hooking up a travel trailer is not that difficult, especially if you take some time practicing it. Slight advantage for the fifth wheel.
If you are planning to tow a smaller trailer with a boat or an all-terrain vehicle behind the RV, a fifth wheel is a better choice. In some states, you are only allowed to do a second tow if the trailer is a fifth wheel.
An attribute where travel trailers are closing the gap on fifth wheels is storage capacity. The manufacturers of travel trailers are doing a really good job of designing smarter floorplans.
Normally fifth wheels had much more storage capacity. This is still the case, but pay close attention to what travel trailer manufacturers are doing: they are improving a lot in this area.
Some fifth wheels have built-in generators, although this is not always the case. This option does save money and these generators tend to be convenient and quiet. Not enough to consider this an advantage in the 5th wheel vs travel trailer discussion.
Return on Investment
If you only go RVing a few times per year, you will not be able to justify the return on investment in the 5th wheel vs travel trailer. However, if you are a full-time RVer, get a fifth wheel for sure.
If you live full time or almost full time in your RV, the towing experience of a 5th wheel vs travel trailer RVs is just superior.
Cooling and Heating
Fifth wheel owners often complain that the cooling in a fifth wheel is uneven when compared to a travel trailer. The interior space of a 5th wheel is bigger the ceilings are taller. Likewise, fifth wheel RVs also have stairs and levels.
This bigger space combined with the segmented area does present cooling and heating challenges.
Although this problem might not be the same for all fifth wheels many owners note that the bedroom area in the upper level tends to get extremely hot.
Riding in a trailer that is being towed
Although it is permitted to remain in a fifth wheel RV while it is under towing in many states of the country, there are very clear regulations governing this practice. To do so in a teardrop camper or any other towable RV is not legal. In spite of it being illegal, it is always dangerous and a stupid idea, and doing so would be looking for trouble.
For our few readers from the European Union, it is always illegal to ride inside a fifth wheel or travel trailer of any type there in that jurisdiction.
In fifth wheels, it is common to have 3, 4, or even 5 slide outs. This improves the spaciousness of the rig substantially. Only one or two are normally found on travel trailers. This is because each slide outweighs roughly 800 pounds and the increase in weight when more than two are added to travel trailers will make them very difficult to tow.
It is difficult to say if this activity becomes easier in a travel trailer or a fifth wheel. They respond differently and people will feel either one or the other is easier, but there is no definitive answer.
A travel trailer, that is towed, has the tendency to overreact to insignificant turns of the steering wheel. Therefore, it is required that you learn to manage compensation adequately and this takes some getting used to before you will learn not to overcompensate. A fifth wheel does the opposite and needs larger turns of the steering wheel to turn.
Long term parking
If you plan on parking your rig in a covered storage unit, you will have fewer options that are more expensive for a fifth wheel as it is so much taller. Virtually any commercial storage unit will be suitable for a travel trailer.
Fifth Wheel Tow Receiver Space
Related to what we studied above about the space in the bed of the truck and the issues that fifth wheel owners have in this situation. 5th wheel vs travel trailer discussion always goes to this topic.
When you tow a fifth wheel, it occupies a valuable surface in the bed of your truck, but this is also true even there is towing as the RV is parked. The tow receiver of a fifth wheel is a big, heavy piece of steel. You will have to either perform a huge activity to remove the tow receiver from the bed of your tow vehicle when you are not towing the camper, or maintain it installed and sacrifice most of the space you would normally have.
The quantity of bathroom is always in favor of the 5th wheel vs travel trailer RVs. A huge advantage for families with children.
A fifth wheel often has either 2 or one and a half bathroom, considering a wet bath, and this could be an interesting incorporation to have. Although there might be travel trailers around that have 2 bathrooms, I have not personally come across any.
5th Wheel Vs Travel Trailer: Conclusions
Fifth wheels keep being superior in terms of amenity level. However, you have to consider how much are you going to be using it, how far you are going to tow it, and furthermore, what do you tow it with.
Thus, there are a lot of factors that go into it. Neither product is necessarily superior to the other. They are different. They serve different needs but helping you understand those needs is one of the things I wanted to do today above, in this article.
If you were to decide that you want to become a full-time RVer, a fifth wheel is definitely the better option. If you are however looking for flexibility and need an SUV’s seating while towing, a travel trailer is much more suitable.
As I sell RV accessories and spare parts, I can tell you that for the majority of RVers, that the main factor they consider in their decision is PRICE. And this will also be the trend in the future. In this category, the battle 5th wheel vs travel trailer has the latter as the clear winner.
Having said that, a fifth wheel has a number of amazing advantages and features that will attract many.
The bottom line is that if you want the trailer to function as a modern super apartment with plenty of space and separate areas, you have the right truck to tow it and can afford the price tag that it comes with, a fifth wheel becomes an excellent choice.
If you, however, need flexibility in terms of the tow vehicle, do not want to pay as much, and do not need anything bigger than 28′, a travel trailer is the right option for you. So take that number 28 as a basis for the 5th wheel vs travel trailer dispute.
I am Tony, an RV designer and RV developer. I create bill of materials for RV manufacturers for travel trailers and fifth wheels. I worked as a freelance transportation consultant for Lyft. As an RV development consultant, I create customization trees for RV manufacturers who want to offer a solution to prospective customers to design their custom RV with variant configuration. Apart from this, I sell in Indiana trailer hitches, hitch balls, goosenecks and weight distribution systems where I provide advice to customers who want to know which is their towing capacity, which hitch ball should they utilize and how to deploy a weight distribution system. I do my best to explain all these processes and their installation, here in RV Favorites.