RV Types Explained: Towables

New to RVing? Not sure what people mean when they say ‘Towable’, ‘Travel Trailer’, or ‘5th Wheel’? Then this post is for you!

This post is the second half of the RV Types Explained series. In short, during the four to five month period that I was researching and looking at various types of RVs I learned a thing or two, and I wanted to share that information. This will be most helpful for those who know little about RVing and are curious, or those who are in the early stages of RV shopping. I’m going to try my best to explain it in as unbiased a way as possible, so you’ll just have to excuse the somewhat dry language. Let’s get to it.

‘Towable’ is a term typically used to describe any sort of RV that gets towed behind another vehicle, they have no engine in them. In this category we have three basic classes, Fifth Wheels, Travel Trailers, and Pop Ups. General advantages of towables is a lower price since you aren’t paying for an engine. Also if your tow vehicle ever needed to go to a shop to get fixed you can still stay in your towable.

On the other hand, many people feel that maneuvering and backing up towables is harder, since your rig will have a joint in the middle. Plus you will still need to buy a separate vehicle to tow the RV with, and often because they need to be strong enough to pull the trailer, they won’t get very good gas mileage around town. In some states, more commonly in the south, it is legal to tow another vehicle or boat behind a trailer, but be sure that this is legal where you will be traveling before attempting it.

Fifth Wheel: One of the two most popular kinds of RV for extended use, along with Class A motorhomes.  Fifth Wheels are bi-level, with a raised portion (sometimes called a gooseneck) that extends up and over to hitch into the bed of a truck – usually this raised portion contains the bedroom. Larger ones will require stronger trucks, and some people even pull 5th Wheels with medium or heavy duty trucks instead of pickups. Average lengths go from 25′ up to 38′, but longer and shorter ones do exist. Like with Class A’s, there is usually a lot of living space, and many have basement storage underneath the living area. Slide outs are also very common

Since Fifth Wheels are a favorite for full-timing, they usually come with all the comforts of home, and I’ve never seen one that didn’t have a bathroom and kitchen. There are manufacturers out there who make high quality ones specifically for extended use. These are typically heavier, but built of sturdier materials and have larger holding tanks.

Between Fifth Wheels and Travel Trailers, many will say that the 5th Wheel is easier to back up and more stable when driving down the road. This is because the fulcrum is right behind the rear axle in the bed of the truck, which leads to more control rather than on Travel Trailers where the fulcrum is at or near the bumper, which is farther away from the rear axle.

Expect to pay a good amount for a 5th Wheel, especially if you’re looking at one made for full-timing. Of the towables, these on average are the most expensive.

Travel Trailer: Of all the towables, Travel Trailers (or TT’s), have probably the largest range of variance. Two things common to all travel trailers is that they hitch to the tow vehicle at or near the bumper, and that they have more or less, rigid siding and roofs. They come in a large range of sizes, from as small as 12′ up to the mid thirties. The smallest ones can be pulled by some cars; but pickup trucks, SUVS, and vans are more common tow vehicles. Travel Trailers are usually made for vacationing and short-term use, and the number and quality of amenities varies widely depending on brand and size (for example, some will have full kitchens and bathrooms, others won’t). Usually Travel Trailers are shorter in height, and don’t have as much storage as Fifth Wheels, but are lighter in weight. Some will have slides, and some won’t.

But wait, if Travel Trailers typically aren’t made for full-timing, then why am I going to be living full-time in one? Just because your favorite flavor of RV isn’t meant for a specific use doesn’t mean you can’t use it that way. There were a number of factors that lead to me deciding on a Casita, but that’s a topic for another time.

Travel Trailers are on the cheaper end of the RVing spectrum (definitely a factor for why I decided on one), but usually not as cheap as the last big category of towables, Pop Ups.

Pop Up: Considered the entry point for RVing, these are usually the simplest of the various types of RV. As the name implies, Pop Ups, well pop up. They have a hard roof and bottom, but part of the side is made of canvas, allowing the roof of the trailer to be collapsed down to some degree to meet the bottom for ease of towing. The bases of these RVs are usually quite small in length: 10 to 14 feet or so – but the canvas sides can make ‘wings’ that bring the total length up to 26′ on large ones. These extendable canvas areas are almost always made for sleeping space, meaning that despite their small size, Pop ups can have vastly more sleeping room than other kinds of RVs.

Since there are less hard materials on Pop ups, they are the lightest of the six main categories, but also offter the least in storage space and conveniences. Most don’t have bathrooms (but if you look hard enough, a few do exist) and many have abbreviated kitchens without an oven and only a mini-fridge, since anything larger wouldn’t allow them to fold down. Like Travel Trailers, they hitch to the tow vehicle near the bumper.

And that wraps up this basic description of the three different kinds of towables. If you’re curious and have any other basic questions about towables, feel free to ask. If I don’t know the answer, someone else may, or I can help you find additional information.

On the other hand, if you own one of the types of RV listed above and have other information to add, please leave a comment. I’m trying to make this series a helpful reference and would love to hear your input. At some point in the future these two posts will end up under their own little category for people new to the RVing scene, if anyone has other topics they would like to see covered for new RVers I’m all ears.

Images courtesy of (in order of appearance) .Larry Page, Little island, and xray10

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  1. Mike Goad on April 14, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    Sometimes you can do all the research needed to make a purchase and still get it wrong.

    We did all the research, had all of the facts, got the truck first and then the trailer. Unfortunately, aspects that we never anticipated and never read about led to trading our fifth-wheel trailer two years after we bought it for a much smaller Class C.

    Our fifth wheel was a high-profile Big Horn by Heartland. The problem that doomed our travels with it was Karen’s anxiety over it’s size. It loomed over us as we drove down the highway and appeared so top-heavy — it wasn’t — that Karen freaked out if there was the slightest side-to-side tilt in a campsite I was trying to park in. We also found that the camper was too big to go to many of the campgrounds we prefer, such as state and national parks and forests. In two different KOAs, workers had to trim branches so we could get into our assigned camp site.

    I would have been able live with the 5ver for a while, but Karen couldn’t. Basically, it came down to, if we wanted to travel and camp, we were going to have to get something different.
    Mike Goad recently posted..A new, light weight carbon fiber travel trailerMy Profile

    • Becky on April 15, 2014 at 8:22 pm

      Most people fall on the other side of the fence, upgrading to larger and larger RVs, but you aren’t the only one who decided to go smaller for various reasons. I love my small RV and would never want a 5th wheel or Class A. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you and your wife but glad you have something that works better for you now!

  2. Merry on September 24, 2013 at 10:25 am

    My husband and I have been considering getting a 5th wheel RV. We’ve been shopping at RV Four Seasons, and I think your blog has helped us decide. We were trying to choose between a Class A and a 5th wheel, but I think we’re going to end up going with a 5th wheel. It fits better with our budget, and I think that (since it’s just my husband and I) we’ll have enough room to be comfortable. Thanks for the insightful post.

    • Becky on September 24, 2013 at 9:06 pm

      So glad that you found this helpful Merry. There really is no right or wrong answer, just the one that works best for you. But it’s really hard to make an informed decision without impartial information about the options out there – hence this post. 🙂

  3. Carolyn on December 23, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Good facts on the 5th wheel. I have learned there are three profiles of 5th wheels. They are low, mid and high. The low is an entry level, mid being middle or slightly higher level of ammenities and build and the high profile being the elite of 5th wheels (IMHO).

    I went with a mid profile 5th wheel with slides becasue of my budget. I am happy with my choice. I know (or plan) on spending lots of time in it, while traveling the USA. I will be staying (or hope to) in one place for several weeks to months in area I want to explore.

  4. Becky on December 16, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Hehe, no problem Nancy, I make those kinds of errors all the time. My roommate is my dedicated proof reader before blog posts go live, some of these posts would be pretty ugly otherwise. 😛 I think I could delete it if you really wanted to repost? Although really, it’s not a big deal.

    Now that you mention it though, towing capacity is a big issue when looking at towables isn’t it? When I was frequenting Camping World they kept trying to get me to look at bigger rigs than a 1/2 ton pickup (what I had originally planned on buying) could safely tow.

    Fortunately for me I spent a lot of time on RVing blogs and forums using the ‘search’ feature and I had a pretty good idea what was or wasn’t possible, even if the sales people thought otherwise. 😉 Thanks for the suggestion! That’s definitely something I’ll add in when this stuff gets its own page.

  5. Nancy on December 16, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    Hi, Becky,

    I knew about the different types of RVs, but your post was still interesting so I’m sure it will be of great interest to someone who hasn’t decided on what type of home on wheels they want, yet. I traveled out west for 12 months in 2010 with my pup, Jack. It’s 23 feet (used to think it was 18) and I was very comfortable in it. I bought a used Dodge Ram Diesel 3500 to pull it, and I don’t even know it’s back there. I think one of the main things regarding “towables” is that people do research. RV dealers and card/truck dealers will tell you, you can pull any kind of weight without worry. Not true.

    I enjoy your blog.
    Nancy recently posted..MRI ResultsMy Profile

    • Nancy on December 16, 2011 at 7:07 pm

      Sorry. Correction. 6 months (must be wishful thinking) Boy, I apologize. I just glanced over my post, and I realized I should have proof read before posting. I don’t see anywhere to delete and repost so please forgive me.
      Nancy recently posted..MRI ResultsMy Profile

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