What are the Differences between Travel Trailers and Fifth Wheels?

What is the best way to go; travel trailer or fifth wheel? You might have asked yourself this very question while shopping for a new camper. It’s one of the first questions you should figure out to help narrow down what kind of camper you are looking for.


The second most important question to ask yourself is “What vehicle do I plan on towing it with?”.

Fifth wheels can only be towed with a pickup truck. So if you don’t have one, and don’t plan on purchasing one, then a fifth wheel is out if you plan on hauling it yourself. A pickup truck can pull a fifth wheel or travel trailer. If you plan on hauling your new camper with a car, SUV, jeep, ect., then a travel trailer is the way to go. You will also want to check your vehicles tow weight capacity to see how much weight you can actually tow behind your vehicle. This is super important– I cannot stress this enough! You don’t want to put unnecessary stress on your car or truck or buy a new camper only to find out that you can’t tow it. Most fifth wheels tend to be on the heavier side, so you may have to have a half ton or even a one-ton truck to pull it. Your salesperson will be able to help you determine your tow capacity.

“ Hooking Up”

Fifth wheels hook up to a hitch that’s mounted into the bed of your pickup truck. This makes for a better weight distribution-the weight is pressing down between the cab of the pickup and the rear axle. You will have to install mounting rails into the bed of your truck-this requires you to drill holes into the frame. You may want to have a professional install this for you.  Fifth wheel hitches are more expensive than bumper hitches. Most RV dealerships that have a service department can do this for you. The hitch is a large flat plate that has a U shape-like a horseshoe. These are designed to support much heavier weights. The trailer connects to the fifth wheel hitch by inserting its king pin into the U-shaped plate and locking it into position.

Columbus fifth wheel camper


While you are hooking up to your fifth wheel, you will want to make sure you lift your leveling legs to the proper position to align your kingpin to the same height as your hitch. Next, make sure your tailgate is open, so you don’t knock the king pin into it! As you back up, the king pin will lock into place- you will hear it lock. Next, you will need to secure it with either a padlock or hitch pin and retract your leveling legs all the way. The great thing about hooking up to a fifth wheel is that you can do it by yourself! This is a one person job as all you have to do is look in your rearview mirror as you are backing up and you can see it lock into place. Keep in mind that the fifth wheel hitch takes up a lot of space in the bed of your truck, so even when you are not using it to tow, it will still be there. It is removable, but it is very heavy and you will need two people to take it out.Fifth wheel hitch for pickup truck


Travel trailers are towed from a receiver hitch that’s installed on your bumper. A lot of vehicles are already equipped with a receiver hitch, but you will need to purchase a ball hitch that goes into it. You will want to make sure you get the right size ball. The standard size is 2 and 5/16th for the majority of trailers, but always double check for the correct size. These are very inexpensive.

North Trail travel trailer


Backing up to hook up to a travel trailer will be much easier with two people unless you have a backup camera. Unlike the fifth wheel, you cannot see what you are doing! To hook up to your travel trailer, you will want to start by raising the tongue to the right height to fit onto the ball. You will want it to be just a hair above the ball. When you reach the point of your ball being right under the coupler, you will lower the coupler onto the ball and retract the tongue jack all the way up and lock it into place with a hitch pin. Travel trailers also come with chains on each side for extra safety that you will need to attach to your vehicle.

Hitch receiver for travel trailersDrop down hitch ball for travel trailers


With both a travel trailer and a fifth wheel, you will want to make sure your breakaway cable is attached, all your lights are working, adjust your mirrors for towing, and adjust your brakes to the correct amount.

“On the Road”

On the road hauling an RV in Colorado

Fifth wheels can feel intimidating to some at first (this was me). But once I hauled my first one, I realized what a smooth ride it was! The weight is more balanced because of the way it sits over the bed of the truck, and it pulls like a dream. You don’t feel it swaying much at all, even on windier days. You can also make 90 degree turns with a fifth wheel. You still need to be careful and make your turns wide, but you really cannot jackknife a fifth wheel. In my opinion, a fifth wheel is a little easier to back up. Now I’m definitely not an expert in backing up trailers, but I do find that they follow the way I want more than a travel trailer does.

Heartland Torque fifth wheel camper


Because of the bigger size of fifth wheels, you can plan on spending more money at the gas pump. If you plan on taking a trip to the mountains or where the terrain is hilly, this will eat your fuel up faster.

On the road hauling an RV in the mountains

Pulling a travel trailer has its benefits too. You can fit in much tighter spaces, and this makes it an excellent option for visiting National Parks where often the terrain is curvy and uneven with lots of trees. Travel trailers are not as tall, so you don’t have to worry as much about your camper roof hitting the tree branches. A travel trailer is great for traveling through the mountains! They will be better on fuel and will not work your vehicle as hard, providing that you have a smaller travel trailer.Vintage Cruiser travel trailer hooked up and ready to hit the road


Because travel trailers are attached to the bumper instead of being centered over the axle like a fifth wheel, you can feel the trailer sway more than you would on a fifth wheel. If you are pulling one on a windy day, you will feel it more . You can purchase a weight distribution equalizer hitch for hauling a travel trailer and this will help balance the weight of the trailer and help with sway control. Equalizer hitch to help when hauling a travel trailer


They do make some great travel trailers that are up to 42 feet long, and these are usually called destination trailers. These are an excellent option for someone that is not going to be traveling around with it all over and would work best for someone that has a seasonal campground site somewhere. They are not the best to drive all over the country.

Heartland Resort destination travel trailer


“The Inside”

Fifth wheels are often larger than travel trailers (but not always, the destination trailers I mentioned above are fairly large). You get what I like to call a “bonus space” in the part of the fifth wheel that goes over the bed of the truck. Most of the time, this is where the master bedroom will be, and this bonus space is often part of a closet, which gives you a lot of extra storage space. Sometimes, this part of the ceiling may be shorter, but generally, the other rooms have taller ceilings than in a travel trailer which is great for you tall guys out there! Often, there are stairs that lead to multi-levels in a fifth wheel. This is really nice for privacy, and it also just makes the camper feel more prominent and more like a home on wheels. Most also come with washer/dryer hook-ups! Washer and dryer combo unit in a Keystone Cougar fifth wheel camper


If you are looking for a camper that has an abundant amount of storage, a fifth wheel is going to have it. The underneath of fifth wheels have substantial storage compartments, most of them go through all the way to the other side of the camper. They also usually have more slide outs, which is going to extend your living space. If you have a large family or plan on being a full-time RVer, you will appreciate the extra space a fifth wheel provides.Storage compartment in a Keystone Cougar fifth wheel camper


While travel trailers are often smaller than a fifth wheel, they can still come with the same amenities, such as fireplaces and bunk rooms. They do not have multi-levels, but this can be a better option for people that have trouble with stairs. Also, they make some great travel trailers that are small enough just for two people- these are great for adventurous couples that want some simple conveniences-like a soft bed and a place to cook a meal but don’t need a large camper to haul around.

Most travel trailers have slideouts that are going to extend your living space and can make it feel very open still. If you are looking at purchasing a destination travel trailer, these often have taller ceilings, sliding glass doors, and full-size refrigerators; making it feel like a home away from home.

“Hauling Toys”

Toys and camping tend to go hand in hand. So let’s say you want to bring your ATV, dirt bike, golf cart, etc. with you on your camping trips. If you have a fifth wheel, you can’t fit them in the bed of your truck because this is where your hitch is. If you have a truck and a travel trailer, then you can fit them in the bed of your truck because it will be open.

If you are hauling a travel trailer but with no truck, then you are out of luck. Some states will allow you to haul a boat or a small trailer behind a fifth wheel, depending on your overall length. But if you plan on bringing your toys with you frequently, then you may want to consider a toy hauler. A toy hauler works excellent for this! It is like a garage in your camper! Travel trailers and fifth wheels both have models that are toy haulers, but the fifth wheel versions are going to have taller ceilings in the garage area for larger toys.

Travel Lite Aura toy hauler travel trailer

AURA TRAVEL TRAILER TOY HAULERHeartland Cyclone toy hauler fifth wheel camper


There are many differences between fifth wheels and travel trailers. A fifth wheel may be great for a large family that has a heavy duty pick up truck. A travel trailer may be great for a smaller family that loves adventure and wants to camp in the mountains a lot. There are many different scenarios. I hope this article has helped you understand the main ones. Both have there pros and cons, and there are lots of questions to ask yourself before deciding on which one is best for your camping adventures.

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