If you know you want a towable RV, you’re probably wondering “Should I buy a 5th wheel or a travel trailer?” You need to know which is better before you buy.
The truth is, we wouldn’t sell both if there were a clear winner in the 5th wheel vs travel trailer matchup! A travel trailer may be better for Steve, but a fifth wheel better for Susan, or vice versa. How you’re going to use your camper and how you’ll tow it determines which is the best choice for you.
We’ve been selling travel trailers and fifth wheels for decades. We’ve learned a lot about why one RVer chooses one towable RV over another. Here we’ll share what we know about both types so you can decide which is best for you and your future outdoor adventures!
Travel Trailer vs 5th Wheel
Travel trailers and fifth wheel campers are both towable RVs. How they tow, what they cost, their floor plans, and sizes are different. There are pros and cons to both types for different RVers.
Travel Trailer Benefits
- Less expensive
- Cheaper hitching system
- Usually easier to resell because more RVers can afford and tow them
Travel trailers just plain cost less to build than fifth wheels. Jayco sells an Eagle fifth wheel and an Eagle travel trailer. The travel trailer version is thousands of dollars less, even though it has a similar floor plan and other nice features similar to the fifth wheel Eagle.
The added structure for a fifth wheel’s step up for the gooseneck hitch requires more labor and more materials to build. The Eagle fifth wheel is also larger than the travel trailer. More materials and labor mean more money spent building the RV and more money you’ll have to pay to buy it.
If you don’t need the benefits of a fifth wheel, it may not be worth spending extra for an RV that costs more for materials.
5th Wheel Benefits
- Easier to Tow
- Usually Larger/More Spacious
- Better Trim Packages (sometimes, but not always)
- More Outside Storage Bays
A fifth wheel is easier to tow, because of the way the weight is loaded onto the tow vehicle. A truck is designed to handle weight directly in the bed of the pickup, not behind it. Travel trailer hitches have improved over time, but the weight distribution on a 5th wheel hitch is more stable so it will tow and handle nicer.
Ready for glamping? Fifth wheels generally have more luxurious finishes. More travel trailers are offering luxury finishes, but the average fifth wheel still has nicer trim packages than the average travel trailer. Of course, you’ll pay more for these finishes. But, if you plan to stay in your RV for extended periods, you may find the added features are worth the added expense.
How will You use Your Travel Trailer or 5th Wheel?
So, it’s clear to see, both towable types are better in different ways. I just depends how you’ll use the RV and what you’ll use to tow it, or, if you plan to tow it at all.
You’ll want to think about your needs, wants, and desires before you choose a fifth wheel or travel trailer.
If you’re on a limited or conservative budget and plan to take shorter, less intense trips, a travel trailer may be better for you. But if you’re a high-frequency traveler and/or plan to spend a lot of time in the RV, you may prefer a fifth wheel.
To decide which is a better match for you, you can consider:
- How much do you want to spend?
- Will you be parking your RV permanently?
- How do you prefer to tow?
- Are you towing short or long distances?
- What’s the weather and terrain where you plan to tow?
These questions all factor into which type of towable is better for you. Here are some scenarios to help you understand which type of towable may give you the features you want at the price you can pay.
If you don’t plan to tow at all, a travel trailer will get you more for your dollar. A travel trailer is harder to tow, but if you’re moving your RV somewhere to park permanently, you don’t need the enhanced towability you’d pay for in a fifth wheel. If you’re not setting up camp regularly, you also don’t need a fifth wheel’s fancy (and costly) jack and leveling systems.
If you don’t need it, we say you probably don’t need to spend money on it! A destination travel trailer may be the best fit for you in this scenario.
If you’re interested in a destination travel trailer you may want to check out
Jayco Eagle Travel Trailer (with many fifth wheel features, but all on one flat deck).
A bigger floor plan, more outside storage, and nicer finishes may still appeal to you, however, and may be worth it to you to spend extra for a fifth wheel.
If you want to tow your RV a little here and there, but you’re not planning to live life on the road all the time, a conventional (stick and tin) trailer will probably get you your best value.
Conventional travel trailers have a lot of features per dollar. You just won’t be paying extra for things like a smooth skin aluminum skeleton or a fancy suspension system. These features are meant to improve high-mileage towing. If you’re not doing that – you don’t need to pay for them!
Lots of Towing:
Unlike the conventional trailer, a laminated (or smooth skin) travel trailer with enhanced suspension system will make it easier to tow long distances. If you’re able to spend more, this may be the point where you also consider a fifth wheel.
Learn more here about the different types of travel trailers and their benefits.
Full Time RVing or Many Long Trips:
If you’re spending most of your time in the RV, go on long haul trips, spend weeks bouncing around, or go on extended trips, a fifth wheel is usually best.
A larger fifth wheel gives you more room to live. Enhanced towability will make long trips more comfortable and less stressful. The extra features like floorplan space and luxury finishes can also make long-term daily living more pleasant.
How Will You Tow Your RV?
One of the biggest and most overlooked factors when you choose a travel trailer or fifth wheel is the truck you’ll use to tow it.
Unfortunately, too many dealers are afraid to lose a sale, so they don’t investigate and dig into what you can safely haul. Your safety is more important than commission, so make sure you understand what your truck can tow and the tow weight of the RV you’re interested in.
Can a Half-Ton Truck Tow a 5th Wheel?
One of the bigger towing misconceptions we see is the idea that a lot of fifth wheels can be towed by a half-ton truck.
Yes, some half-ton trucks can tow some fifth wheels, but it’s not as common as many are led to believe. Very few half-ton pickup trucks are built to handle fifth wheel RVs.
You may be outraged reading this, because you have a half-ton with a monstrously high tow rating and have faith it could tow most anything. Unfortunately, there’s more to it than simple tow rating. Just because the weight is something you think you can tow, it doesn’t mean you really can (or should).
The Keystone Cougar, for example, has a hitch weight on the front that’s more than the payload capacity. The payload capacity is how much weight you can press down into the bed of the pickup truck before your suspension, brakes, etc. are overloaded.
There are so many different factors to understand what capacity you need to tow before you hook up a fifth wheel. It’s a case-by-case scenario for every fifth wheel and every truck.
Need more help to know what you can tow? Josh the RV Nerd has it covered:
Some fifth wheels really are half-ton towable. The Arctic Fox is one, lighter example. To get this RV down to the weight rating to be towed by a half-ton, there are things that have to be omitted from the RV. You’ll have features in a Keystone Montana that you won’t be able to find in a lighter half-ton towable 5th wheel.
There are so many different options that there’s bound to be a towable RV that’s just right for you. Shop around to find the right towable RV from the dealership that’s best for you.
Find Your Fifth Wheel or Travel Trailer
At Bish’s we have something for every RVer, and we’d love to help you find your perfect fit! When you are ready, come check us out to decide for yourself if Bish’s has what you need.
If you’re not sure which towable RV is right for you, reach out to talk with or schedule a one-on-one session with our no-pressure RV Outfitters to help you decide what’s best for you.
See more from Josh the RV Nerd:
Bish’s RV Content Writer & Editor
Thinks nature is great. Thinks it’s greater with a comfortable bed and working bathroom.