Rolling on four wheels, not five, you could say that a fifth-wheel is three steps up from a travel trailer. Well, sorta. There are, after all, three steps up to the forward section, which is just one of the many characteristics that differentiate fifth-wheels from their travel-trailer counterparts.
Take the hitch, for example. Instead of an A-frame and coupler on a travel trailer and a hitch receiver bolted to the frame or bumper of the tow vehicle, a fifth-wheel setup utilizes a pin box and king pin on the trailer, which attaches to a hitch “saddle” in the truck bed. What’s the difference? The fifth-wheel hitch configuration allows a larger, heavier trailer to be towed, as the trailer’s weight (called “pin weight” in a fifth-wheel) is carried over the truck’s rear axle instead of on a hitch receiver. This design also creates greater stability when towing, as the hitch pivot point is moved forward compared to a typical travel trailer. This reduces the amount of leverage that can be applied to the tow vehicle in high winds or when being passed by large trucks, for example.
Popular with full-time RVers, roomy fifth-wheel trailers are easy to hitch and easy to tow. Make sure you choose the right equipment and to tow it with. Fifth-wheel trailers are available in a wide range of sizes all the way up to 45 feet (larger if you order a custom model), but the most common size range is 30-40 feet. A rear living area with a front bedroom is by far the most common floorplan layout, though in recent years we’ve seen a number of variations on the theme, including rear bedroom/front living area layouts and bath-and-a-half designs. This variety means that you can find anything your heart desires — even bunkhouse models for large families — which were largely absent only a few years ago.
Fifth-wheels are arguably the most “livable” RV. Larger models, especially those with opposing slideouts in the living area and an island kitchen, really feel like a home. However, they are not for the faint of heart; they can be difficult to hitch, and owing to the pivot point location in the bed of the truck, are slower to maneuver than a travel trailer. This can make backing into campsites or other small spaces intimidating until you’ve had some practice.
Choosing the right truck is of great importance when considering a fifth-wheel. Since about 20% of the trailer’s weight will be in the bed of the truck, consider not only the truck’s tow rating, but also its payload and gross axle weight rating (GAWR). If you don’t have the truck already, shop for one that is “fifth-wheel ready” with a so-called puck mounting system. This arrangement will save you the time and trouble of having the truck frame modified to accommodate a fifth-wheel hitch, and makes the hitch easier to install/remove.