5th Wheel vs Travel Trailer

A Towable RV Comparison Guide

Are you in the market for a towable RV?  Trying to weight the differences between the 5th wheel vs travel trailer? Then look no further.

We know how daunting of a task gathering all of the information on both of these choices can be.  That’s why we’ve created this comparison guide.  In this article, we’ll discuss the similarities and the biggest differences between 5th wheels and traditional travel trailers.

Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of each of these vehicles so that you can make a more informed choice when buying.

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5th Wheel vs Travel Trailer: Similarities

Before we look at differences between the 5th wheel and travel trailer, let’s look at their similarities. They both have a few key components in common with each other that set them apart from drivable RVs.

More Affordable Than Motorized RVs

5th wheels and travel trailers are generally much more affordable their motorized RV counterparts.  This is for the obvious reason that motorized RVs have the driving component built right into them.  Whereas with a 5th wheel or travel trailer, you’ll need to have a separate towing vehicle.

Detachable From Towing Vehicle

The first thing that both of these RVs have in common is the fact that you can detach and leave them at a campsite. This is a huge plus if you’re looking to explore narrow backcountry roads and areas that a motorized RV can’t get to.

This is also helpful if you’re looking to just run a quick errand during your camping trip.  Don’t feel like packing up your entire campsite just because you need to make a quick run into town?  You can detach the 5th wheel or travel trailer at the campground and take your towing vehicle with you.

Another similarity is that both larger 5th wheel and travel trailer models have enough living space for families.  The size of your family will partly determine the model of RV that can accommodate your travel needs.

5th Wheel vs Travel Trailer: Differences

5th Wheel Size vs Trailer Trailer Length

The first noticeable difference between the 5th wheel and travel trailer is the length. Depending on the model, you will see a lot of variation in length between the two types of RVs.

Fifth wheels being the larger of the two, generally range in length from 25-45 feet.  The larger size of 5th wheels makes their living space feel like an apartment rather than a trailer. Which can be great for larger families and your privacy, but this added size also comes with added weight and cost.

Another thing to keep in mind for the larger 5th wheel is the towing capacity and size of your truck.  You won’t be able to get away with using a smaller truck to safely tow a full-size 5th wheel.

On the other end, travel trailers are usually the smaller of the two RVs.  They range from 12-35 feet. As a result, shorter travel trailers generally require a smaller towing vehicle.  This can be a plus if you’re looking to spend less on fuel or if you only need space for 1-2 people.

However, it is still possible for you to get the feel of an apartment on wheels, if you use a large travel trailer.

5th Wheel vs Travel Trailer Weight

One of the main size components to keep in mind between 5th wheels and travel trailers is the weight.  5th wheels are heavier in almost all instances.

For example, if you were to compare a 20-foot travel trailer and its 20-foot 5th wheel counterpart, the 5th wheel would almost certainly be heavier.  The reason for this difference in weight?

There are usually more features and amenities built into 5th wheels than travel trailers.  Amenities such as an onboard plumbing system, a full-size kitchen, slides, and more.  We’ll compare these in detail later in this article.

5th wheels can vary widely in weight depending on the model you choose.  The average 5th wheel will weight in between 10,000 and 15,000 pounds.  On the other hand, the average weight for travel trailers ranges between 1,000 pounds to 8,500 pounds.  Quite a large difference.  Especially when you factor in the gear you plan to bring on your trip as well as the water weight once you fill up your tanks.  Both of these factors can easily add another 1,000 pounds to your overall weight load.

5th Wheel vs travel trailer weight

Because both of these RV options require you to tow them using a separate vehicle, weight is a very important factor to keep in mind.  Some important questions to ask yourself are:

  • Does your current vehicle have an acceptable towing capacity for a heavier 5th wheel? (generally, a safe rule of thumb is to not exceed 80% of your vehicle’s total towing capacity weight)
  • Will you need to purchase a larger vehicle to handle the heavier RV?
  • How much do you plan to budget toward fuel costs on your trips?
  • Do you plan on using the extra amenities offered with 5th wheels?

Living and Storage Space

Living and storage space is another giant factor when you are comparing the fifth wheel vs travel trailer.  5th wheels are built taller than most travel trailers, which gives them more spacious living conditions.  Compared to other bigger RVs classes, 5th wheels can achieve the same functional space for your family but at a much more affordable price.

You’ll also find much more storage space available in the 5th wheel than in travel trailers.  Since most fifth wheel models are built using a two-level design, they can utilize space underneath the bedroom area for storage as well.  They also have larger water tanks than similar travel trailers.  This is important when considering what type of traveling you’ll be doing.

The fifth wheel would be an ideal choice for those with larger families because of its range of storage options and functional living space.  For this extra living and storage space, the 5th wheel is also a more expensive option.

On the other hand, if you have a smaller family or are just looking for a towable RV that will accommodate just 1-2 people, then a travel trailer may be a good solution for you.

An average travel trailer will have less overall living and storage space included, but will both cost and weigh less.  Another plus for a smaller travel trailer is being able to fit into smaller campsites and areas to spend the night.

Comfort and Flexibility

Overall, when you compare 5th wheels vs travel trailers, you’ll find that on average 5th wheels provide more comfort and flexibility.  Again this is all dependent on the size of your family and what you’re specifically looking for in an RV experience.

With multi-level living spaces, a full-size bedroom, and more slide outs, 5th wheels are more comfortable than similar-sized travel trailers.  Also, you will find king-sized bed floor plans, which generally are not included in travel trailer layouts.

Privacy

Privacy is a significant factor to consider when choosing between a 5th wheel vs travel trailer.  Generally, travel trailer layouts are built on one level and have a more open living space.  As a result, travel trailers may not be ideal for families that want more private spaces.

Because of their multi-level layout, 5th wheels will block out more of the noise and give each room a sense of privacy.  For example, in almost all 5th wheels, the master bedroom is located above the hitch, so you have a natural partition from the rest of the living space.  This results in more privacy away from the kids while you sleep.

5th Wheel vs Travel Trailer RV Amenities

Fully Loaded RV

If having amenities while on the road is important to you, then you should go for a 5th wheel rather than a travel trailer. Fifth wheels are equipped with much better appliances and are far more spacious.  They also offer a variety of onboard amenities compared to travel trailers.

5th Wheel RV Amenities

Some of the amenities included in some 5th wheel models that aren’t usually featured in travel trailers are:

  • Full-size appliances
  • Full-size kitchen
  • King-sized master bed
  • Washer/dryer (hookups in some models)
  • Central vacuum
  • Full-sized shower
  • Multiple bathrooms

A well equipped 5th wheel comes with almost the same features that would be included in a class A RV.

Bathrooms

With regards to bathrooms, 5th wheels are the clear winner.  5th wheel RVs usually have either 2 or at least 1.5 bathrooms, where travel trailers consistently only include one bathroom.  Having more than one bathroom in your RV can come in really handy when you are traveling with your family.

The master bathroom will generally have a full-sized shower stall with glass doors and a separate toilet and sink.

There are travel trailers that do come with 2 bathrooms included in their layout, but they are rare.  When they do have more than one bathroom, it usually comes at the cost of making another designated area, such as the kitchen or bedroom smaller in size.

Slide Outs

For 5th wheels, you’ll usually find that they have around 3-4 slide outs included in their layout depending on the model.  This greatly improves the functional living space when you set up your campsite.

5th wheel slide outs

For travel trailers, they usually top out at around 2 slide outs.  The reason for this is to cut down on the overall weight since the heavier the trailer the more difficult it is to tow.

Built-In Generator

Most 5th wheel RVs come with a built-in generator to operate the onboard amenities. This is not the same for travel trailers.  So consider that you will most likely need to purchase a separate generator after initially purchasing your travel trailer.

Be sure to thoroughly check out the generator on the 5th wheel to make certain that it will handle the usage you have planned for it.  For example, some generators are powerful enough to operate the air conditioner but not anything else simultaneously.

If you plan on cranking the A/C while watching movies, and cooking, you may require a second generator.

Heating and Cooling

Generally, 5th wheel RVs have temperature control issues.  This is due to both the size and multi-level design of most 5th wheel models.  The mutli-level layout can cause uneven cooling at various regions inside the fifth wheel, which puts pressure on the air conditioner, thus increasing power usage.

Similarly, there tend to be uneven heating issues inside fifth-wheel RVs as well.   For example, some owners complain that the master bedroom, which is located a little higher than the rest of the trailer will remain hot when the rest of the RV is cool.

In contrast, the inside of a travel trailer is not segmented with any levels.  Therefore it has less trouble with consistent heating and cooling throughout the RV.

5th Wheel vs Travel Trailer Maneuverability

Except for the small travel trailers, the fifth wheels overpowers the travel trailers when it comes to maneuverability.

You can maneuver a fifth wheel with much ease than you would a travel trailer. It’s even much safer to tow a 5th wheel than a travel trailer.

The main reason for this is the location of the hitch point for 5th wheels vs travel trailers. The 5th wheel’s hitch point is over the rear axle of the towing vehicle.  As a result, this offers you a better turning radius and reduces the possible sway of the trailer when driving at higher speeds.

On the other hand, travel trailers have a low hitch point on the back of the towing vehicle.  This provides a poor turning radius and increases the chance of sway when you are driving.

That being said, if you choose a travel trailer there are accessories you can buy to help you improve its stability.  For example, weight distribution hitches can help with towing.

Very small travel trailers will be easier to maneuver and tow than the smallest models of 5th wheels.  So if you’re looking to get into a very small towable RV for one person, then a travel trailer may be the best solution for you.

Towing a Secondary Trailer (Double Towing)

Say you’re planning on towing your family boat or ATV behind your RV using a secondary trailer.  The 5th wheel is the clear winner here because it’s ease of maneuverability.

Laws differ from state to state, but you should be aware that in some parts of the country you can only double tow if you’re using a 5th wheel.  It’s best to look up the specific driving laws in your state to make sure that you’re operating your RV legally before running into expensive tickets.

However, depending on what toys you want to bring along, you may not have to tow a toy hauler behind your RV.  If you’re using a truck with a travel trailer and want to bring your motocross bikes, mountain bikes, or an ATV, you can just throw them in the truck bed.  Although, this will depend on the size of your truck bed.

Backing Up

When it comes to backing up the towable RV, both the 5th wheel and travel trailer have their own feels and tendencies.  These differences in feel are a result of where the RV is hitched to the towing vehicle.

Neither of them is really easier than the other, just different.  It’s really more of a personal preference of which type you like more.

Since travel trailers are hitched to the rear of the towing truck, they tend to be very sensitive to even the slightest movement of the steering wheel.

5th wheels are exactly the opposite.  They tend to require larger movements of the steering wheel when backing up because they are hitched right above the rear axle on the towing vehicle.

Either way you go, both of these towable RVs require practice and finesse when backing them up.

5th Wheel vs Travel Trailer Towing Vehicle

Another very important area to consider when weighing 5th wheel vs travel trailer RVs is the towing vehicle.  You’ll need a larger truck with a special 5th wheel trailer hitch installed in the truck bed to be able to tow any 5th wheel RV.

That means that you will be restricted to using a truck to pull your 5th wheel RV.  No SUVs, hatchbacks, or cars.  If you have a larger family that requires more than 5 seats in a vehicle then this may be a dealbreaker for you.

Travel trailers, on the other hand, can be towed by a number of vehicles.  These include SUVs because they can utilize a hitch that is attached to the back of the vehicle.

It’s still very important to make sure you are using a hitch and towing vehicle that can safely tow your travel trailer.  Don’t try to pull your 40-foot travel trailer with your 2-door Honda just because it has a hitch on it!

So while you’ll have more living and storage space on a 5th wheel at camp, you’ll have less riding space on the towing vehicle for the trip.  Travel trailers offer the exact opposite in most cases.  You can utilize your 7-passenger SUV, to pull your travel trailer during your trip, but will have a bit less functional living space once you set up camp.

5th Wheel vs Travel Trailer RV Hookups

5th Wheel RV Hitch

5th wheel RV hitch

photo credit: RV Education 101

This is a standard 5th wheel hitch.  Notice that the hitch is situated in the center of the truck bed instead of at the rear-end of the truck.

Travel Trailer RV Hitch

travel trailer RV hitch

photo credit: fraserwayrv

This is a standard ball hitch with an equalizer.  These are a standard type of hitch that is used to tow a travel trailer.

The hitch hookup system for 5th wheels is generally easier to use than average travel trailers hitch hookups.  This is simply due to the fact that there are a few more steps involved in hitching and unhitching a travel trailer compared to a 5th wheel RV.

Check out both of these videos if you’d like to compare how to hitch a 5th wheel vs how to hitch a travel trailer.

How To Hitch a 5th Wheel Trailer

How To Hitch a Travel Trailer

Whether you choose a 5th wheel or a trailer, the steps to hitch your RV to your towing vehicle become pretty easy after a few doing it a few times.

Since this is a matter of safety on the road it’s very important that you follow each step when connecting your RV hookups.

Maintenance and Upkeep

This is an area is completely dependent on which model of 5th wheel or travel trailer you purchase.

Like any RV, both fifth wheels and travel trailers require scheduled maintenance and regular upkeep.  However, because there are usually more features included with fifth wheels than travel trailers, they tend to require more repairs on average.

If essential features in your 5th wheel such as plumbing, electronics, and interior appliances stop functioning correctly, they’ll need to be repaired or replaced.  Those costs can add up quickly.  On the other hand, if your travel trailer simply doesn’t have these options included then obviously you won’t incur any repair costs for them at any time in the future.

Now there are also travel trailers that do have the same added features included.  At that point, the repair or maintenance costs are pretty comparable to 5th wheels.  Wiring, brake pads, and tires are all examples of components that are included in both RVs and need to be repaired.

Travel Trailer Maintenance

The best advice here is you should weigh the benefits of having a specific feature included in your RV versus the costs you’ll end up paying to maintain that feature.  That way you can decide before buying what features you really want out of an RV.  If you don’t have a large budget for your RV then you may want to stick to a compact travel trailer with fewer features included.

5th Wheel vs Travel Trailer Pricing Differences

There is quite a difference in price between 5th wheels and travel trailers.  The cost of a new 5th wheel can range anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 with an average cost of $35,000.

In contrast, a new travel trailer on average will cost you between $10,000 and $35,000 with an average cost of $20,000.

Keep in mind, if you’re looking to buy one of these towable RVs on a budget, shop used models.  You can save a ton of money on a slightly used 5th wheel or travel trailer that’s only a few years old.

Even if you just buy last year’s model, you can typically save around 20% on your purchase.  Smart buying like that will allow you to spend more on your gear and vacations.

5th Wheel vs Travel Trailer Pros and Cons

Travel Trailer Pros

  • Less expensive
  • Can be towed with a range of  different vehicles
  • Has better fuel economy
  • Heating and cooling takes less power usage
  • Lower height clearance

Travel Trailer Cons

  • Less living space throughout the RV
  • Less storage space
  • Not as many amenities included
  • Less maneuverable and more sway problems
  • Unable to double tow in some states

5th Wheel Pros

  • More living space throughout and multi-level floorplan
  • Privacy for master bedroom
  • More storage space in the RV
  • More maneuverability and less sway while driving
  • Higher ceilings inside
  • More amenities such as bathrooms and kitchen space included
  • Ability to double tow additional trailers

5th Wheel Cons

  • More expensive up-front cost
  • Not as fuel-efficient
  • Only larger trucks can be used to tow (less seating in the motorized vehicle)
  • Higher maintenance costs
  • Clearance issues because of the additional height

5th Wheel vs Travel Trailer Conclusion

As you can see, there are lots of differences between the 5th wheel and travel trailer RVs worth noting.  While they may seem trivial at a glance, you can begin to see how these differences can greatly affect your day-to-day while out on a road trip.

Your budget, family size, and how you’ll be using the RV will determine what the best choice is for you.  Before you make any big decision, we would recommend renting first.  This will give you a better idea of what you want and need from your RV.

We hope this RV comparison guide helped you learn the differences between 5th wheel vs travel trailer RVs.  If you have experience with either of these RVs, we’d love for you to leave a comment below.

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