Ask the Experts: Fifth Wheel or Travel Trailer

As we draw closer to the closing date of selling our house, I’ve begun to think more and more about our future RV. Though we have been researching and ‘touring’ RVs since last fall, it’s all fun and games until you have to hand over the money.

We are still teetering between purchasing a fifth wheel or travel trailer. Both have a few pros and cons as we see it, but since this is a big purchase for us that we want to be happy with for a year on the road, I decided to reach out to several seasoned RVing families to ask their advice when it comes to choosing a fifth wheel or travel trailer.

Fifth Wheel or Travel Trailer

For any other future RV families out there, here’s all the information I’ve gleaned, which has increased our list of pros and cons for both types of RVs and made our decision just a little harder. Based on this compilation, there are a lot more pros for fifth wheels, but alternately, a lot more cons. In a world where price and time are no objects, we would choose a fifth wheel without hesitation. But there is much more to consider, such as size, resale value and new vs. used (post coming soon!). In the end, our RV choice will likely come down to what is on the market when we decide to buy next month and who is willing to negotiate.


Fifth Wheel Pros

  Travel Trailer Pros

– Roomier floorplans, more space for larger families      – Affordability, generally cheaper
– Better maneuverability backing in      – Can tow without a truck
– Split bedrooms with doors      – Accessibility, less height restrictions
– Options for second bathrooms and king-sized bed      – Easier for boondocking/dry camping
– More space and privacy in master bedroom      – Generally smaller size makes traveling more
– Generally taller so more headspace for taller people         nimble
– Greater stability and smoother towing      – Can use back of truck like a garage
– Easier to hook up
– More storage
– Overall length is shorter than a trailer of same size
   because the fifth wheel overlaps the truck bed


Fifth Wheel Cons

  Travel Trailer Cons

– Generally heavier: Harder for boondocking      – Larger trailers tend to sway more
    down on unpaved roads      – Generally smaller
– Generally longer: Some campgrounds have      – Less storage
   limited spots for RVs longer than 30 feet     – Lower ceilings
– Taller: Height doesn’t always fit into camping
   spots with overhanging trees
– Typically more slides: More can go wrong
– Generally more expensive



Why Fifth Wheel or Travel Trailer?

Straight from the sources, here’s what these seasoned RV families had to say about their preferred type of RV.

Erin Hill, Find the Hills, Travel Trailer family

When looking at our options, we were very much caught up in the thought of, “What’s going to give us the best probability for success? What’s the best layout for our day to day?” However, we were not so concerned about how big our purchase was or the reality of pulling it down the road, parking it or where we couldn’t go with it (campground size limits, backroads, etc.) Of course, time and experience has changed a lot. Now our youngest is close to a year old and we realize we don’t need as much space as we thought we did.

Heather Gebbia, Four Radical Roadschoolers and a Fat Cat, Fifth Wheel family

We had a travel trailer before we went full-time. It was nice for weekend camping trips, but we didn’t feel it was enough space to live in. Our fifth wheel is much bigger with much more living space. We love that the kids have their own bedroom and I also love that they have their own bathroom. It’s wonderful to have a second bathroom.

Jon McCartie, Take Me On Adventures, Travel Trailer family

We loved the space our fifth wheel provided, but wanted to downsize for a few main reasons. It was very tall, long and heavy. This made towing a little scary in some places. And with two slides, we were always nervous about something breaking (and either costing us a fortune to fix, or leaving us stranded somewhere). Also, the further West we went, the smaller the national park campgrounds got. We started getting shut out of good campgrounds in the summer, too, as there were limited spots for rigs over 30′ (on his reasoning for downsizing from a fifth wheel). And we wanted to boondock (dry camp) more and towing 10,000lbs down dirt roads was pretty nerve-wracking.

Mike Johnson, Living a Good Story, Fifth Wheel family

The main reason we bought a fifth wheel vs. a travel trailer is the size of our family. We have a 15 year old , a 12 year old, a 10 year old and a 6 year old and we really wanted a relatively big floor plan. The fifth wheel we got is 42 feet long. With something that big the stability that a fifth wheel provides was a must for us. Bigger tow trailers have a tendency to sway a lot easier. In general, fifth wheels tow a lot more smoothly. I have towed a few travel trailers and at high speeds or in windy conditions I could feel the travel trailers swaying the truck around a little. With our fifth wheel, I have only felt it swaying us around in the wind a couple of times in 6 months. So the main reason was ease and safety of towing.

Fifth wheels overlap the track bed, so if you are towing a 30-foot-long fifth wheel vs. a 30-foot-long trailer pull, your overall length is smaller on the fifth wheel.

Margie Lundy, The Lundy 5, Fifth Wheel family

Ultimately we decided we would be living in it more than driving in it and the fifth wheel floor plans are so much roomier. They’re usually taller than travel trailers and just feel bigger. Plus, they’re much easier to tow and hook up. We also wanted the kids’ bedroom in the back and ours in the front, all with doors. And the second bathroom for them has been wonderful.

Caleb Simpson, Freedom in Tow, Travel Trailer family dreaming of a Fifth Wheel

While we have only towed with a bumper pull, we have also recently extensively looked at both bumper pulls and fifth wheels, and I have to say we really like the fifth wheels much better…at least the ones that offer a split bedroom arrangement for our kids. The down sides of the fifth wheels are that they tend to be much heavier. Fifth wheels do tend to have more space in the master bedroom though, which we are really liking, and look forward to having in our next rig.

Also, fifth wheels have more maneuverability when backing in (you can’t jack knife them) and they tend to have way more storage than the bumper pulls. We we seem to have just enough with our bumper pull, but sometimes do wish we had more.

Gretchen Holcomb, Boxy Colonial on the Road, Travel Trailer family

We never seriously considered fifth wheels for a couple of reasons. They’re significantly more expensive than travel trailers–both the RV itself and because it would have meant buying a truck instead of a van, and vans are typically cheaper. We have four kids, and we just wouldn’t fit comfortably in a truck. We tow with a V10 Ford e350 passenger van that seemed like by far the most affordable way to do it. If we’d had one fewer kids, we probably would have at least seriously looked at trucks, which might have led us to look at fifth wheels–who knows?

Mandy Emanuel, Simple RV Living, Travel Trailer family

Note: I chatted with Mandy for more than 30 minutes, grilling her on the reasons she liked her travel trailed and preferred a just a 26-foot trailer for her family of five. It was great to ask questions off the fly and get so much insight in one sitting.