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Towable RV's Part I

Aug 17, 2007
There are two main categories of recreational vehicles (RV's); motorized and towable. Towable RV's include fifth wheels, travel trailers, folding/tent/pop-up campers, toy haulers, and park models. In this article, part I, fifth wheel campers and travel trailers will be covered. Part II of this article will discuss folding/tent/pop-up campers, toy haulers and park models.

Fifth wheel campers are the most expensive of the towable campers (with the exception of some park models). They have a gooseneck hitch that is hooked up in the bed of the truck (a special package needs to be installed in the truck bed to accommodate the hitch).

In addition to the spaciousness and many amenities of fifth wheels, they are a popular towable camper because they are easier to tow than a travel trailer. That is because the weight of the fifth wheel is more centered and better distributed than with a travel trailer that is hooked up to the rear of the towing vehicle. That makes a fifth wheel camper more stable and much easier to control in windy conditions or when dealing with the back drafts from semi trucks on the freeway.

The distinctiveness of the fifth wheel trailer comes from its bi-level design. The raised section is often a master sleeping suite. A popular floor plan for families has the master suite on one end of the camper and a bunk bed sleeping area on the other end. Another popular floor plan, and my favorite, has a master bedroom suite on the raised end and a relaxing area with recliners and a full length window on the other end.

Fifth wheel campers usually have awesome kitchen areas. Some common amenities in the kitchen area include full-size pantries; full-size refrigerators, stoves, ovens and microwaves; ample cabinets and countertop space; and even snack bar areas for casual dining.

Fifth wheel campers are popular with families and people who do a lot of camping because they're very comfortable and roomy.

Almost all new fifth wheels made today have slide-out areas to give you even more room. When you walk through a fifth wheel camper with slide-outs you'll notice how spacious it feels because of the extra interior width they give you. Keep in mind though that every slide-out adds extra weight to the camper, adds to the cost, and adds to the setup time at the campsite.

When looking at fifth wheel campers make sure the ones you are looking at are not too heavy for your truck to pull.

One of the really nice things with having a towable camper such as a fifth wheel is that once you have the camper situated in the campsite, you can unhook the vehicle from the camper and go off and explore. Hooking and unhooking a fifth wheel from a truck doesn't take that long to do either - usually only a few minutes. It usually takes longer to hook the camper up to the water and electric facilities than it does to hook or unhook the hitch.

There are some disadvantages of fifth wheel campers. A heavy duty truck (think more expensive truck) is needed to pull them, which adds to the expense of owning a fifth wheel. The hitch for the trailer is in the bed of the truck which limits the functionality of the truck bed. Some people take the hitch out of the truck bed when they're not using the fifth wheel, but that can be a cumbersome and time-consuming process. And, some people do not like the bi-level design with the extra steps, because the only steps they want to have to navigate are the ones to get in and out of the camper.

Travel trailers are the most popular towable camping trailer in the United States. They come in many different weights and lengths. Some are light enough to be pulled by a van or SUV. A heavy duty truck isn't always needed. Because they are hitched to and pulled by using a rear hitch, a travel trailer doesn't use up truck bed space like a fifth wheel trailer does.

They are lighter than fifth wheels and aren't quite as long as fifth wheel trailers. And, depending on the size the trailer, they can be very spacious with lots of great amenities including: nice-size kitchens, a bathroom, living and dining areas, and multiple sleeping areas.

Travel trailers are less expensive than fifth wheel trailers but can have the same amenities as a fifth wheel trailer which is probably the main reason they are the most popular towable travel trailer sold. They are also the oldest type of RV. Airstream has been making travel trailers for over 70 years.

Slide-outs are popular in today's travel trailers. But again, they add weight, set-up time and cost.

When looking at travel trailers keep in mind that, in many cases, a 30 foot trailer is a trailer that is 30 feet when both the trailer itself and the front hitch are measured together. A 30 foot trailer may only have 27 feet of usable living space. Ask questions and look at the printed specifications when doing your shopping so you know what you will be getting. To be absolutely sure of the dimensions, take along a measuring tape and measure the length, width, and height of the travel trailer yourself - especially if the space in your driveway or storage area is limited.

Because of the popularity of SUV's, many manufacturers now offer lightweight and ultra-light travel trailers. They are attractive to many RV purchasers because the majority of the trailers in these categories can be pulled by SUV's, minivans, or medium-sized trucks. Keep in mind though that "lightweight" is a relative term. In the travel trailer world, "lightweight" typically means a trailer that weighs less than 4,000 pounds.

The biggest disadvantage of a travel trailer is how it tows. Because they are pulled using a rear hitch versus the truck bed hitch used with fifth wheels, they are not as stable. Larger travel trailers can be difficult to control in windy conditions and hard to maneuver into a campsite. If you have a large travel trailer, such as one of the 35 foot models and your towing vehicle is 15 feet long, you have 50 feet of "vehicle" to maneuver from place to place.

That's not to say owning a travel trailer is going to be a bad experience. Millions of people own travel trailers and are very happy with them. Just make sure you have a vehicle capable of towing the travel trailer, a good hitch, good side mirrors on your vehicle for unobstructed views, and have a willingness to learn how to adjust your driving habits to accommodate having a travel trailer hooked to your vehicle.

Please see part II of this article for discussion of folding/tent/pop-up campers, toy haulers and park model towable campers.
About the Author
Dorrie Ruplinger is the publisher of http://www.bestrvsite.com which provides information and resources about Door County Wisconsin parks.
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