The Pros & Cons of Travel Trailers vs Fifth-Wheels
As a follow-up to our post on identifying and remembering the 5 most common types of RVs, we began a 3-part series looking at the Pros and Cons of the most common types of RVs. We began with the Pros and Cons of the 3 motorized types of RVs. Today we’ll be looking at the Pros and Cons of Travel Trailers vs Fifth Wheels. Next time we’ll wrap up the series with the Pros and Cons of Motorized vs Towable RVs.
You should keep in mind that we are looking at the topic of this series from the perspective of the Full-Time RVer as we travel full-time in our own RV. Still, the information below will apply if you are planning to part-time or even just rent an RV for a single trip; you may just weigh certain considerations differently. If there is anything you would like a little more detail on, ask away in the comments section and we’ll be happy to answer based on our experience.
Our Experience and Switching Rigs
As we mentioned last time, we quickly learned that it is very common for RV owners to switch RVs. A little over one year into our full-time RV travel we are no exception. We began in a Travel Trailer and have wonderful things to say about traveling in a Travel Trailer, but after our first ever trip to Yellowstone we decided to swap our Travel Trailer for a Class C (a motorized unit) in November of 2017. We’ll delve a bit further into why we decided to make that switch in the last part of this series when we discuss the Pros and Cons of Motorized RVs vs. Towable RVs.
Our Travel Trailer
We set sail on our Full-Time RV adventure in a 28 ft Forest River Grey Wolf Travel Trailer (for a good laugh and plenty of learnings, you can read how Night 1 of our adventure went here and here!). Forest River, we would say, is one of the more ‘budget friendly’ RV manufacturers. We had a great experience traveling the country with our Grey Wolf and actually still own it.
Travel trailers, also commonly called ‘campers’, provide the most options to you in the towables category. You have some that are small and light enough to be pulled by an SUV yet they range all the way up to large bunkhouse floorplans with ample room to sleep a family with kids.
This wide range in options makes it so that you don’t necessarily have to own a truck to pull a travel trailer. The smaller floorplans also increase the drivability and maneuverability. The many options also mean that you can have a towable that will be small enough to fit at more National Park campgrounds.
Value is another benefit afforded by the wide range of travel trailer options. Especially when purchasing new, a travel trailer is very likely going to be the the towable option that gets you on the road at the lowest price point. This may be in part because if you don’t already own a truck, you have options where you wouldn’t need to get one. It can also be as a result of being able to go with a lighter and shorter rig.
We would also point to style as a benefit of Travel Trailers. Among others, brands like Airstream (look out for the Airstream Nest), Happier Camper, and NuCamp RV are really taking style and design to another level. It can be tough to find North American RV manufacturers with modern design and styling that isn’t all brown, but they’re out there and a good deal of this innovation is going on in the Travel Trailer segment.
Jon and I were originally going to go with a Forest River Wolf Pup, although we ultimately went with a Grey Wolf since at the beginning we were very worried about having enough space. We also really like NuCamp RV’s T@b teardrop campers, Forest River’s R-Pods, CrossRoads RV’s Sunset Trail Super Lite, the Winnebago Winnie Drop and the Winnebago Minnie Travel Trailer. As Floridians we also have a very soft spot for the Airstream Tommy Bahama Special Edition Travel Trailer.
When compared to a Fifth Wheel, with the exception of the smallest travel trailers, like teardrop campers, the Travel Trailer’s biggest drawback is it’s drivability. It is more difficult to tow a Travel Trailer due to where the hitch point is. Wind is going to throw you around a bit more, and your turning radius won’t be as good.
Travel Trailers do come in large-sized floorplans with slides that extend your interior living space, but they won’t really be able to afford you the same amount of space as many Fifth Wheels. That being said, for not having the space of a Fifth-Wheel you will often have a total rig length (your vehicle + your rig) that is longer than if you were in a truck and Fifth-Wheel. This is something that can become frustrating if you are planning to make trips that require overnight stops before your final destination.
Something else to keep in mind is that the larger Travel Trailers will not always fit in all campgrounds. In our 28 ft Travel Trailer we tended to feel we were too big to fit in National Parks. We would have been able to fit in a few that we visited, but we felt the site was tight or the campground roads too tight to maneuver comfortably.
Travel Trailer Pros & Cons at a Glance
Living Space ★★★★ ( but it does depend on the Travel Trailer)
Flexibility ★★ (but it does depend on the Travel Trailer)
Fifth-Wheels are essentially towable apartments and we believe this to be their greatest strength. If you are looking to full-time or part-time travel in your RV and are worried about adjusting to the smaller square footage that comes with RVing, Fifth-Wheels are definitely worth a look for you.
Many Fifth-Wheels come with full-size appliances. If you are planning on staying at campgrounds you may even be interested in floorplans that include a full washer and dryer! The ample space in Fifth-Wheels also make them strong contenders for those traveling with more than two people. You can get a decent amount of roominess in some Travel Trailers, but it will be easier to tow that same roominess in a Fifth-Wheel.
That brings us to another benefit of the Fifth-Wheel. Due to the way it hitches to your truck, it’s easier to tow than a comparably sized Travel Trailer (But it’s not going to be easier to tow than a small teardrop camper though!). Some would even consider the Fifth-Wheel to be a safer option due to its hitchpoint. Fifth-Wheel hitches reduce swaying while driving, and provide a better turning radius, making Fifth-Wheels easier to handle than comparably sized Travel Trailers.
If you are planning on using your RV to take trips that require one-night stays along the way, you’re going to likely look at staying at a Walmart or Cracker Barrel overnight. Compared to a similarly sized Travel Trailer, you will be shorter in length overall (truck + rig) in a Fifth-Wheel and have an easier time finding a spot or fitting in the first place.
The greatest strength of a Fifth-Wheel can also be it’s greatest weakness. Fifth-Wheels are big. There are a few that don’t have slides or that are of a shorter length, but they are few. You do not have the range in size options that you do with Travel Trailers.
You can find a Travel Trailer that will fit in National Park campgrounds or that allows you to travel more nimbly, but a Fifth-Wheel will not be as flexible as some of the smaller Travel Trailer options.
Fifth-Wheels can also cost more. They do generally cost more to purchase, but they’re also more expensive on account of needing a truck. With Travel Trailers, depending on their size, you may not need a truck. And even if you do, you might be able to get away with a small, fuel-efficient truck. We pulled our Travel Trailer with the smaller GMC Canyon (diesel engine). In our case, had we wanted a Fifth-Wheel, we would have needed the larger GMC Sierra.
In our opinion, if you are doing some city travel and visiting friends and family, and you are going with a towable, you could travel with greater ease if you are willing to consider the smaller Travel Trailers.
Fifth-Wheel Pros & Cons at a Glance
Living Space ★★★★★
Flexibility ★★★ (this does depend on how big you go)
Stay tuned, next time we will take a look at the Pros and Cons of a Motorized unit versus a towable unit and our experience switching from a towable to a Class C. Let us know what you think or if you have any questions in the comments below!