Travel Trailer vs. 5th Wheel

Travel Trailer or 5th Wheel?

Chevy truck towing a travel trailer

As I write this, thousands of hibernating campers-to-be are coming out of their caves and venturing forth into new territory – the RV market. For most of them, a motor home is out of the question. The cost and maintenance of a motor home makes it an unwise choice for someone who has yet to determine of the RV lifestyle is for them.

What most people will be deciding, however, is whether to go with a travel trailer or 5th wheel. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Let’s look at a few.

Travel Trailer

A travel trailer can range anywhere from a pop-up to a 40′ “park model.” For this discussion, we’ll focus on a conventional travel trailer, ranging in length between 16′ to 35′. While a pop-up is a good choice for some, we’ll save that comparison for a future article.

Benefits of a Travel Trailer

Travel trailer make up about 80% of the towable sales, and for good reason. I’ll highlight a few here:

Wide range of tow vehicles – depending on the size, a travel trailer can be towed with a 6-cylinder sedan, a 1/2 ton pick-up, an SUV, or even a minivan. Remember, most of us have to use our tow vehicle every day, so having a choice ranks high for many the weekender.

Better fuel economy – the biggest factor in towing fuel economy is the front cross section of the trailer. A travel trailer has a lower profile than a 5th wheel, so they tend to average 2-3mpg better fuel economy. Be sure to factor in the savings you’ll get by having a smaller vehicle for every day use as well.

Lower Cost – a travel trailer tends to cost $8-$10k less than a 5th wheeler of equal size.

Level floor plan – some folks don’t care for the short stairway in a 5th wheel, so a level floor plan is an important feature.

Benefits of a 5th Wheel

Cardinal 5th Wheel Trailer

5th wheel trailers are still popular, mostly among seasoned veterans of the RV lifestyle. They tend to be larger, ranging in sizes from 24′ to 45′. Here are some benefits to consider:

Spacious living area – if you so tall that you experience your own weather patterns, the 5th wheel is a good choice. Or maybe you simply enjoy the feel of a large living area. Some models even come with ceiling fans.

More stable ride – 5th wheelers gained popularity as a way to overcome the trailer sway inherent in travel trailers. While products like PullRite and the Hensley Hitch have eliminated that concern, the 5th wheel still maintains the reputation as a solid towable.

Luxury – you’ll be hard pressed to find a more luxurious towable than some of the mid to high end 5th wheel trailers. Even at $100 to $250k, they’re still more affordable than a luxury motor home. Save me a spot in the hot tub.

Overall length – the living area of a 5th wheel overhangs the tow vehicle by 4 or 5 feet, which means you can get the same living space that you would in a travel trailer, but your overall length would be anywhere from 6 to 8 feet shorter (the travel trailer living space sits at least 36″ behind the rear bumper of the tow vehicle).

Either way…you’re ahead

Whether you choose a 5th wheel or travel trailer, you’ve chosen a method of travel that is still far more economical than a hotel stay.Even if gas prices rise, everything goes up with it – hotels costs, food, air travel, etc. So you’re always ahead of the game.

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