So, you’re ready to invest in a camper for your outdoor adventures! Congratulations—that’s an exciting first step.
If you’re like most first-timers—or if you’ve just decided to upgrade your current camper—you might be wondering which style would work best for you. What’s the difference between camper trailers and 5th wheels, and which one is better? We’re here to tell you everything you need to know about the travel trailer vs 5th wheel debate.
But the main difference is a fifth wheel is attached to the vehicle by a jaw hitch that is mounted to a bed of a truck while a travel trailer is a ball and coupler hitch mounted under the rear of a truck.
What Are The Advantages Of A Fifth Wheel Over A Travel Trailer?
Because of the stability they offer, 5th wheels are far easier to tow than regular travel trailers. They also have higher ceilings and, often, multiple levels, which opens up the living space.
5th wheels are better suited to larger trailers as a result of their unique construction. If you’re looking for a trailer that measures longer than 28 feet, these are the units to consider.
What Are The Advantages Of A Travel Trailer Over A Fifth Wheel?
Travel trailers are a far more versatile option, as they can be towed behind a broader variety of vehicles. They also tend to be cheaper than 5th wheels, with a great deal more space devoted to storage.
As we mentioned above, you should consider a travel trailer if you’re looking specifically for a trailer that measures under 28 feet in length. It should also be your primary option if your towing vehicle is an SUV or crossover, since these aren’t compatible with 5th wheels.
Why Are Fifth Wheel Campers Expensive?
Essentially, 5th wheels cost more because they’re so much roomier than travel trailers. The high ceilings and multiple levels make you feel as if you’re in a small house, rather than a camper. They also usually come with a number of slide-outs to expand the living space still further.
It’s not unusual to find fireplaces, dishwashers, and washer-dryer units in 5th wheel trailers. These perks, coupled with the excess weight that they contribute, is enough to drive up the price tag.
Travel Trailer and 5th Wheels Differences: Important Considerations
If the main differences weren’t enough to tip the scales in one direction or the other, here’s a breakdown of the specifics. When you’ve finished reading, you should have all the information you need to make the decision that’s right for you.
If you don’t have a pickup truck that’s compatible with a fifth wheel trailer, your decision just got a lot easier—that is, unless you’re in a position to purchase a new vehicle in addition to your new camper.
Similarly, you should think about how many seats you’ll need in your towing vehicle. Because 5th wheels have to be towed by a pickup truck, families of five or larger would probably be better off with a travel trailer.
On the other hand, remember that the configuration and weight distribution of 5th wheels gives them much more stability, which makes them easier to tow. This is an important consideration if you’re not yet comfortable with the towing process.
5th wheel trailers take up the entire bed of a pickup truck (and then some). If you want to use the truck bed to haul extras such as bicycles or kayaks, you’d be better off with a travel trailer.
While 5th wheels offer a great deal of living space, much of that length is positioned over the truck bed. This configuration makes them easier to maneuver into small campsites and parking spaces.
You can expect the average travel trailer to weigh significantly less than most 5th wheels. If your vehicle has a relatively low towing capacity—even if it’s a pickup truck—a travel trailer is likely your best bet.
If you do opt for a fifth wheel, it’s still a good idea to check the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)
before making your final decision. This number will tell you how much the truck can safely weigh when it’s loaded with passengers and cargo.
The heavier the load, the more fuel you’re likely to burn. That means that 5th wheels will put more of a strain on the fuel economy of your towing vehicle. Don’t forget that heavy-duty pickup trucks already get relatively low gas mileage to begin with, so 5th wheels aren’t aren’t the most economic choice.
As we mentioned earlier, fifth wheels are often outfitted with a bevy of luxury features. If it’s a posh camping experience you’re after, you’d be hard pressed to find a travel trailer that offers the same amenities as a fifth wheel. Because travel trailers can only fit in so many extras before they get prohibitively heavy, they tend to be comparatively simpler.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some gorgeously appointed travel trailers out there—just that fifth wheels have a definite leg up in this department. This is yet another reason why fifth wheels drain the wallet faster than the competition.
True backwoods adventurers, meanwhile, should choose travel trailers over 5th wheels every time.
Why? Because travel trailers do much better when it comes to off-roading. 5th wheels are so tall, you’ll run the risk of destroying whole rows of trees if you attempt to maneuver one down a narrow dirt road.
Additionally, if you want to try boondocking (camping off the grid), a small to medium-sized travel trailer is always the best option. These will allow you to make quick trips into the nearest town for firewood, food supplies, or anything else you might need.
Campers who want to bring along a boat or a second trailer should narrow their list to include only 5th wheels. Even if double-towing is permissible in your state, the process is easier when the second trailer is that much closer to the towing vehicle.
Heating and Air Conditioning
Travel trailers are more efficient when it comes to heating and cooling. That’s because the high ceilings and chock-a-block layouts of most 5th wheels tend to restrict the airflow, leading to lower levels that are too cool and upper-level bedrooms that are uncomfortably hot. This isn’t the case with all models, but it’s something to be aware of if you plan to do extensive camping in extreme climates.
Planning ahead, where will you be storing your camper? It’s generally easy to find a space that will accommodate a travel trailer. Because 5th wheels are taller, they’re also tougher to accommodate, especially if you hope to keep the unit under cover during the winter months.
Product Comparison Guide
To help you make more sense of the distinctions, let’s take a look at one of the top-rated models from each category.
Travel Trailer: 2020 Jayco Jay Flight 28BHBE
The Jayco Jay Flight 28BHBE is a larger model, measuring over 33 feet. Because it can sleep up to 10 people, it’s a great fit for large families or camping enthusiasts who like to invite friends along.
This is a travel trailer for cooking enthusiasts, with a well-appointed kitchen that includes a refrigerator, microwave, double sink, three-burner range, and plenty of storage space. The bathroom, adjacent to the rear bunkhouse, features a sizable stall shower in addition to the sink and toilet. While this unit might be a tad large for some towing vehicles, we think it offers a solid representation of what travel trailers do best.
5th Wheel: 2020 Keystone Montana 3781RL
At nearly 42 feet in length, the Keystone Montana 3781RL is a behemoth even when placed against other 5th wheels. Though it sleeps just 4 people, the interior is luxurious enough to qualify as a “glamping” experience.
The master bedroom is distinguished by a queen-sized bed, but a king-sized option is also available. Just outside the sliding barn door is a bathroom with twin sinks, toilet, and large stall shower.
In the kitchen, you’ll find an 18-cubic foot refrigerator, dinette with additional storage, double sinks, a pantry, and an oven with a three-burner range. There’s also a washer/dryer combo to keep those linens fresh.
The living space is outfitted with a fireplace and entertainment center, both of which can be viewed from the plush pull-out sofa or power theater seating located on the opposite wall. If you can afford it, the Montana 3781RL offers a uniquely appointed interior and enough space to feel like a true home.
Travel Trailer And 5th Wheels Differences
|Compatible With||Size Range||Maneuverability||Cost||Living Space|
|Travel Trailers||Trucks, SUVs, Crossovers||25-45 ft||Medium||Moderate||Varies|
|5th Wheels||Heavy-Duty Pickups||12-36 ft||Easy||Expensive||Roomy|
For a visual demonstration of the differences between the two, take a look at this video tutorial.
The Bottom Line
The choice between a travel trailer vs 5th wheel comes down to your budget, the configuration of your towing vehicle, and the type of camping experience you prefer.
If you’re new to RVing and want to start small, travel trailers are your best bet in terms of size and overall expense. On the other hand, if you have a heavy-duty pickup truck and prefer the feel of a small apartment to a camper, then a fifth wheel is the clear choice.
Best of luck, and happy camping!
Check out our article on: 6 Bunkhouse Fifth Wheel With Outside Kitchen