I have a Rockwood 25-foot travel trailer. It was a recent purchase, and I’m quite happy with it. Still, when I was going through the buying process, I was met with a difficult dilemma. Should I buy a 5th wheel or something else? This writing focuses on the 25 differences between a travel trailer and a 5th wheel and what you’ll read is the info I comprised to make my final decision.
Before I get into the list below, I wanted to give you a brief outline of the differences. In short 5th wheels are meant for bigger trailers, meaning those beyond 28-feet in length while travel trailers are best for those trailers under 28 feet. 5th wheels are better for towing, have higher ceilings, and are made of multiple levels. On the other hand, travel trailers have more storage space, are much cheaper, and can be towed by many different types of vehicles.
For the full comparison, please read below where I outline 25 keys differences.
#1 – Price
This is the first major concern for most buyers. Let me be very frank, buying a 5th wheel trailer is not cheap. They are FAR more expensive when compared to a travel trailer. Sure, the differences between the two in terms of functionality might appear nominal, but this does not mean they are similarly priced. If you are concerned about saving money, the travel trailer is your first (and maybe only) option.
#2 – 5th Wheel Is Better for Towing
As mentioned above, 5th wheels are far superior to travel trailers when it comes to towing. This is because its weight is centered between the axles of the vehicle (most likely a truck), which centers the mass forward to the truck that is towing it. This means it is much more secure behind you and more stable on the road.
#3 – Is Your Vehicle Compatible?
This is a major concern. Because of the extra weight, a 5th wheel requires a bigger truck to tow it behind. If a truck is not an option for you, then a travel trailer becomes the only available option.
#4 – Seating Inside Your Vehicle
While the 5th wheels are bigger, towing them behind requires a specific type of heavy vehicle. This means that seating is limited if you are driving a pickup. For families, this is a point of non-contention.
#5 – Truck Bed Is Fully Occupied
Again, when you are using a truck to pull a 5th wheel, it will take up the entire truck bed. This means that you can’t store anything in the truck. While the 5th wheel does have extra space inside when compared to a travel trailer, it is still impossible to fit some of your heavy items like bicycles, ATVs, motorcycles, etc. Losing that extra truck bed space might make you worried.
#6 – No ATVs or Dirt Bikes
I was definitely worried at the prospect of not being able to bring my ATV out on our camping trips when thinking about which type of trailer to purchase. So much so that a travel trailer was the only logical choice. This is also true for dirt bikers and motorsport enthusiasts of all types.
#7 – More Levels, More Rooms
The 5th wheel trailers have the extra level, which means it has separation between the bathrooms, bedrooms, and living quarters. If moving around inside the trailer makes you nervous, then a travel trailer is definitely a better option. However, if you want more privacy or more freedom to live comfortably, then a 5th wheel might be up your alley.
#8 – Extra Storage on the 5th Wheel
The available storage in the basement portion of the trailer is significantly larger in a 5th wheel compared to the travel trailers. This is also because of the multi-level design. While it may not be enough to stash your ATV, it definitely is enough to bring more comforts from home with you on the road.
#9 – 5th Wheels are Not as Long
Because of how the 5th wheel extends over the truck bed, it will extend much less into the road behind your towing vehicle. This unique design helps give you more living space inside and easier maneuverability when squeezing into smaller campsites and driving on tighter roads.
#10 – 5th Wheels Have Higher Ceilings
This is important for tall people. The ceilings in the 5th wheel are much higher, allowing you to walk more comfortably without fear of banging your head into anything. That said, the bedroom space in the 5th wheel does have lower ceilings, so this advantage only holds true for the living space. That’s a payoff, for sure, but one you should be well aware of before purchase.
#11 – 5th Wheels Weigh More
As mentioned in the introduction, 5th wheels are best suited for bigger vehicles. This is in part thanks to the added weight they possess over the travel trailers. They are MUCH heavier machines, thanks to the multiple levels and other design features. This means you should really consider whether or not your truck can even tow such a beast. Many heavy-duty pickups are not up to the task.
#12 – More Weight, More Fuel
Because of the added weight, you will spend much more fuel when towing a 5th wheel behind you. Trucks are notorious for lower gas mileage already, so this may be worth considering if you are counting mpg on the road.
#13 – 5th Wheels Are Easier to Hookup
Most owners of both travel trailers and 5th wheels speak about the connectivity difference between the two. As someone who has owned and used both, I would definitely concur that connecting a 5th wheel to the truck is a TAD easier. The travel trailer is not much more difficult, though.
#14 – 5th Wheels Mean Luxury
If you are really interested in going all out with the plush features, then a 5th wheel is your only choice. Travel trailers are smaller and designed much differently, so there is a limit as to how many luxury features can be squished inside. That said, high-end travel trailers are available, but these machines can cost anywhere between $150,000 and $300,000.
#15 – And Built-In Generators
Many 5th wheels come stock with a generator built-in. This is not true for all, but definitely true for the higher end models. As far as I know, there are no travel trailers with built-in generators on the market.
#16 – Travel Trailers Take You Off-Road
Imagine driving down a difficult path with the massive 5th wheel behind you. That’s a laughable thought, considering the added weight and difficulty in maneuvering. Also remember that 5th wheels are much taller and can connect with trees and obstacles of all types when you are driving through a forest in search of your camping destination. If you are considering going to off-road campsites, then you really should only consider buying a travel trailer.
#17 – 5th Wheels Add a Second Tow
Well, I did say that it’s impossible to stuff an ATV in your truck bed with a 5th wheel. However, you can definitely add a second tow behind these trailers with an ATV or similar vehicle inside. I should say that most states don’t allow you to tow anything behind a trailer other than a 5th wheel. So, if you want to tow more, stop at the 5th wheels.
#18 – Risk a Ride Inside
Going back to the legality of these trailer types, it is illegal to ride in a travel trailer that is being towed. However, in some places throughout the country, it is perfectly legal to ride inside a 5th wheel. Do I recommend you do so? Absolutely not. This is one of the most dangerous things you can do with your trailer. If I had any sway in who is allowed to own such vehicles, I would revoke the ownership ability from anyone who has ever ridden inside a towed trailer. Or even considered doing so.
#19 – 5th Wheels Are Easier to Back up with (Slightly)
Sure, neither option is truly great if you need to back your vehicle up. This difficulty is worsened should you find yourself in a difficult road or on a dangerous pass. However, travel trailers have an added level of difficulty when backing up. In fact, both have problems, albeit different ones.
The travel trailers overreact when you make minute adjustments to the steering wheel. This means that you’ll spend a great deal of time learning how to steer accordingly with your travel trailer behind you. However, the 5th wheels mean you must overturn quite a bit in order to get the desired angle. Because of the added weight, these trailers can even cause your truck to spin off its angle when backing up.
#20 – More Slide Outs on a 5th Wheel
Many 5th wheels come standard with at least three slide outs. Some have as many as four or five. This is a great feature when you are considering how roomy and spacious your rig will feel. For travel trailers, it is common to find only one or two. This is because each of them weight around 800 pounds, and that added weight is not warranted for a travel trailer.
#21 – More Beds on a 5th Wheel
I already spoke about more rooms and added spaciousness on the 5th wheels. However, many people start counting beds before they plan a camping trip. The more beds, the better for some.
#22 – So More People Can Join You
More sleeping quarters (and more privacy) means you can take more people out with you on your camping trip if you buy a 5th wheel. This means more family or friends, depending on your intention of getting away. A bigger party (with the right company) is always preferable!
#23 – More Bathrooms Too!
It is not uncommon for 5th wheels to have two bathrooms (or at least, one and a half). I have friends who go camping with their wives and daughters, so they love the extra bathrooms.
#24 – But Harder to Store
Because of the extra size, 5th wheels are quite difficult to store. In contrast, travel trailers fit into most commercial storage unit spaces.
#25 – 5th Wheel Tow Receiver Is Huge
The 5th wheels are big machines. Their towing receivers follow suit and take up a large space on your truck bed. The travel trailer hitch takes up zero space, which I love.
Charles Joseph is one of the original authors of Camper Smarts from when it first started.