Looking into towable RVs for the first time? You’re probably finding that there are a lot of products out there, and the terminology can be confusing: what is the difference between a fifth wheel and a travel trailer anyway? What about toy haulers? Which one is right for you?
We want to help answer some of these questions so you have more direction and knowledge as you shop around. The truth is, all three of these products are towable RVs, which (unlike motorhomes and campervans) means you will need a tow vehicle. Your type of tow vehicle and it’s tow capacity will affect which towable RV you can have. This can be limiting if you already own your tow vehicle. If you buy your RV before your tow vehicle, you will have more options.
There are three different types of towable RVs: travel trailers, fifth wheels, and toy haulers. Here’s what you need to know about them.
The most popular towable for new RVers is the travel trailer. This is largely due to its lighter weight and cheaper price tag. While these can vary widely in size, they are typically smaller than fifth wheels and toy haulers. That said, they come with plenty of space, especially for smaller groups of travelers (you and your partner vs a whole family). They may also have lots of amenities, so depending on which RV you select, you won’t be lacking luxury.
The real distinguishing feature of travel trailers is the way they attach to your tow vehicle. These connect with a bumper level hitch, so as long as your vehicle has a towing hitch and the proper tow capacity, you can haul a travel trailer. This means you could have a truck, SUV, or even a van as a towing vehicle. There is a lot of flexibility.
The best choice for large families or people who want to embrace extended-stay RV living is the fifth wheel trailer. The fifth wheel gets its name from the 1850s, during which horse-drawn carriages had a horizontal wheel on the cargo frame (the fifth wheel on the otherwise four-wheeled carriage) that enabled the front axle to pivot. In the case of fifth wheel trailers, the fifth “wheel” isn’t a wheel at all. It’s a u-shaped hitch that attaches to the bed of a truck (as opposed to a bumper level hitch). This offers better maneuverability than other travel trailers, which is necessary considering their larger and heavier size.
Besides the size or weight of fifth wheels, there is little difference between them and travel trailers. They both come with space, comfort, and amenities, but fifth wheels have raised forward section that provides extra space with an additional level to the floor plan.
Because of the hitch style on a fifth wheel, you are limited to what kind of tow vehicle you can use. It must be a truck, it must have enough tow capacity, and it must have the required hitch in its truck bed. For some people, this isn’t an issue, especially if they need a larger trailer. But keep in mind that fifth wheels are more expensive than travel trailers.
Last but not least is the toy hauler. Its name is pretty self-explanatory; it gets its name from its ability to haul toys like motorcycles, ATVs, dune buggies, or even golf carts. The back of a toy hauler features a large ramp leading to a compartment big enough to hold recreational vehicles.
Just like travel trailers and fifth wheels, you get a spacious RV with all of the amenities you’d expect. But in terms of overall size, they are larger and heavier than travel trailers because of the garage on the back and its sturdier frame. Its added features also make it more expensive than travel trailers. However, they are the ideal choice for thrill-seeking RVers that want to bring their toys camping.
Much like travel trailers, toy haulers attach to the standard bumper hitch as opposed to the fifth wheel component in truck beds, giving you more options for tow vehicles.
If you are a first time RVer, we’d recommend going with a smaller travel trailer. But if you are planning on living in an RV or camping with a large family, fifth wheels may be more suitable. And of course, if you need to tow recreational vehicles as well as an RV, toy haulers are the obvious choice. Just pay close attention to your tow vehicle's Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) so you don’t buy an RV that is unsafe for you to tow.