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What is a Fifth Wheel RV?

A fifth wheel RV and a red truck parked on the side of a camp site.

If you want the same luxuries that are provided by a full-size RV that you drive but do not want to pull your vehicle along when trips but would rather drive it instead, a fifth wheel recreational vehicle is a great option for you to explore.

My daughter is married to a man who travels for his job. Due to the pandemic, she is homeschooling their four children and is pregnant with baby number five. They are currently researching different types of campers and a fifth wheel travel trailer is high up on their list.

It will provide them with plenty of room for all the children, their homeschooling materials, and computers, along with many of the luxuries of home. They can still have a stove and refrigerator, a bathroom, their own private areas to sleep and be able to travel throughout the country, and get an education in history and culture through first-hand experiences.

They already have a large enough pickup truck to pull a fifth-wheel trailer so it is definitely a viable option for them. It also makes more sense than a motorhome since my son-in-law will need his truck to drive to his job sites to do his work while they are at each new location.

If this sounds like an option you are looking to explore, this article is for you.

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What is a fifth wheel RV?

This is a large Arctic Fox fifth wheel RV with a red truck at a camp site.

A fifth wheel RV is a large camper or trailer that needs a fifth wheel hitch to be in place for a powerful pickup truck to be able to tow it from place to place. In other words, the “fifth wheel” is referring to the U-shaped coupling that is mounted onto the cargo bed of the truck that will be towing your camper from place to place. A pin-box is located on the front of the fifth wheel camping trailer that will lock into the fifth wheel coupling on the truck to secure your camper so you do not lose it while you are driving down the road.

It is very similar to the type of device found on a semi-truck’s trailer that hauls tons of products all over the country. Fifth wheels are very heavy so you will need a full-size, one-ton truck to tow your camper.

Fifth wheels are very popular RVs and for a lot of good reasons. Given their super-duty hitches, they can be a lot heavier, which means they have a lot more available room for the amenities of home that you may like to have while you are camping. Most fifth wheels today also come with at least one slide-out and usually several slide-outs, which means the space provided can be expanded when you set up camp.

More Spacious

This is a close look at the living room area of the fifth wheel camper interior.

The fifth wheel RV is also referred to by experienced campers as a “Fiver” since many people use them to take extended trips and to even travel across the country. They are also great for people, like my daughter, who will be using it as a home away from home while out on the road for their jobs. A slide-out is like a room addition on a house.

Also, the prominent overhang that normally rests above the tow truck bed is frequently part of a bedroom suite. In some of the newer models, a living room or even a kitchen is located in that space.

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A fifth wheel RV has way more space first the storage of larger items than a pop-up camper has available. Because of the overhang above the truck that contains an entire room for your camper Anne a slide-out or two or three, there is plenty of space for a large family to be very comfortable with plenty of bedrooms, living room space, a kitchen area, dining area, bathroom, and more.

Many fifth wheel RVs are equipped with what is called an auto-leveling system that makes it easier to set up your camper at the campsite you choose on your trip. The split-level design feature in fifth wheel campers is great because it creates separate living areas which means more privacy for parents away from the children for much-needed breaks during a trip. Multiple slideouts for the kitchen area, living room space, bedrooms, and even wardrobes allow for even more space in your fifth wheel RV.

There are a variety of floorplan layouts for you to choose from and some even include bunkhouse models and campers that have an office area or is space where you can do crafting or other hobbies.

Most fifth wheel campers are 25 to 40 feet long and can sleep up to nine or ten people. These types of RV’s also have higher ceilings that make your camper feel more open and spacious as well as allow for plenty of headspace for your taller family members or guests. An added bonus to this is that you can have taller cabinets in your kitchen that go all the way to the ceiling which provides a ton of more storage area for your dishes, glasses, and food items. This also means you can have a taller refrigerator that also has more space in it for your refrigerated food items and plenty of drinks for you and your family.

Another advantage to fifth wheel RV’s is that you are free to use your vehicle for side trips to the store, the beach, or like in my daughter’s case, so her husband can drive his truck with his tools in it to his job sites. Higher ceilings for more headspace and taller cabinets

The Way a Fifth Wheel Works

CURT 16180 A25 5th Wheel Hitch, 25,000 lbs

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As stated before in this article, the fifth wheel in the name refers to the U-shaped coupling that is mounted in the bed of your truck that will pull your RV from one place to another. A pin-box on the front of your fifth wheel camper will lock into place onto the U-shaped coupling on the pickup truck which will allow your camper the ability of right and left rotation along with up and down movement as you head down the roadway.

Gooseneck Hitch Conversion

Shocker Gooseneck Surge Air Hitch for Bloomer Horse Trailers, Round 4" -Straight Pin 30K Coupler 9" Forward

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A gooseneck is another type of hitch that you can find quite often on a farm, as well as construction sites since this type of hitch, is used a lot on farm and construction equipment, including bulldozers, and tractors. To be able to convert your fifth-wheel RV to a gooseneck hitch system, you will first have to check with the dealer where you purchased your fifth wheel RV or the owner’s manual that came with your camper to see if this is even possible or recommended.

Since a gooseneck hitch will put a different type of pressure on the frame of your camper, it may cancel out your fifth wheel camper’s warranty if you make this change which you do not want to have happened.

A Generator

This is a man firing up his gas-powered generator.

Some fifth wheel campers come with a generator and if not, you can purchase and hook one up. This is very important, especially if you will be traveling a lot since you need electricity no matter where you set up your camp. Most campgrounds have electric hookups available but if you stay at one that does not, or a storm happens at the location you are staying at and knocks out the electricity for a period of time, a generator will be much-needed and very much appreciated by you and your fellow campers.

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The large front area, called a pass-through, that is located in the overhang area, is great for storage but also a great spot to install a generator.

Fifth Wheel RVs are No Light-Weights

Fifth wheel campers are heavy. They weigh much more than a pop-up camper does and the total weight will depend on the make and model of your fifth wheel camper as well as the floorplan you choose for your camper. Some models are about 6,000 pounds each but many are as many as 14,000 pounds and that is when the camper is empty.

This is the reason you need a powerful truck to you’re your fifth wheel camper with a secure fifth wheel hitch in place to secure the load that you will be pulling down the highway.

Travel Trailer VS Fifth Wheel Camper

This is a close look at a car pulling a travel trailer behind.

Travel trailers offer some of the same types of floor plan layouts and sleeping areas and have a price point that is similar to two fifth wheel trailers but there are some major differences.  You can haul a travel trailer with your minivan, car, or a pickup truck that is not powerful like the one you need for a fifth wheel RV. Since the hitch weight of a fifth wheel trailer is placed directly over top of the pickup truck bed, it is much more stable when you are driving down the road than a regular pull-behind travel trailer.

A travel trailer offers ranch-style single floor plans while a fifth wheel offers a split-level floor plan. If you have trouble getting up and down steps, you may prefer a travel trailer instead of a fifth wheel. If you do not have trouble navigating stairs, the privacy of the bedroom area and other spaces in a fifth wheel are great and may be just what your family needs.

Due to the pass-through that is offered in a fifth wheel camper, you will have much more storage area than you would in a travel trailer. Travel trailers tend to have more bedrooms or bunk rooms while fifth wheel campers normally have only one bedroom but there are couches and table benches in the living room and kitchen areas that can be converted into beds to sleep up to nine people usually.

While fifth wheel campers are taller and allow for more headspace, you also have to be careful while driving them around to ensure you do not damage the top of the camper on a lower hanging tree limb or low bridges and tunnels.

Fifth Wheel Trailer VS a Motorhome

A white truck pulling a fifth wheel camper behind.

Class A motorhomes offer tons of luxuries and amenities as well as plenty of space, much like a fifth wheel RV but there are some reasons why you may want a fifth wheel over a motorhome.

With a fifth wheel RV, you do not have to pull your vehicle behind it like you would with a motorhome. This can be a very tricky feat and can sometimes even be a little dangerous. With a fifth wheel, you will already have your truck when you get to your location to camp that you can drive to other places , including work sites or tourist attractions.

5th wheel campers are the largest RV’s that are available for you in today’s market and they provide you with the best quality for your money when it comes to living space. If you already have a truck that will be capable of pulling a fifth wheel camper, it will be a lot cheaper to purchase a fifth wheel RV than it would be to buy a Class A motorhome.

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5th wheel campers may take a little longer to set up once you get to your camping spot and then it would be if you had a motor home but that works to your advantage if you only camp once in a while or if you enjoy setting up the way you want to each time you go to a new location. Once you have your fifth wheel camper in place can you pull the slide-outs in place, your fifth wheel RV is it such a beautiful and wonderful home away from home that you may even forget it’s on wheels.

FAQs About Fifth Wheel Recreational Vehicles

What are the Disadvantages of a Fifth Wheel RV?

There are several disadvantages of a fifth wheel camper, including the fact that it can be very pricey to purchase a truck powerful enough to pull your fifth wheel camper. You are looking at around $70,000 if you purchase one brand new plus the cost of your fifth wheel camper. When it is all said and done, you may have very well been able to purchase a luxury motorhome instead.

Now, if you already own a heavy-duty pickup truck or another type of powerful truck, a fifth wheel camper may very well be the option you should go for. Some dealerships offer a combo package between the powerful truck and the fifth wheel camper. Tesla now manufacturers a cyber truck in the fifth wheel combo that you can purchase.

Your fifth wheel camper may be too large to park at certain state and National Park campgrounds. There are always exceptions to rules but overall, the size of a fifth wheel RV can prohibit you from setting up camp in certain areas that you may want to.

5th wheel campers area also very tall so it makes driving while pulling a fifth wheel camper a little challenging, especially when you’re going through an area that has low-hanging branches and a lot of trees. It’s also a little hazardous if you’re traveling in there are low bridges that you have to go under or a low tunnel.

Gas Guzzler

While no recreational vehicle gets great gas mileage, towing a fifth wheel camper can be really awful on your gas tank and your wallet. Since you are pulling a heavy load and you need a big powerful truck to do it, it’s going to cost you a lot of money for gas and you will have to make several stops on each trip to refuel. On most travel days, you are probably only going to get numbers in the single digits when it comes to your mileage per gallon rate.

You will have to keep this issue in mind when you are figuring out your budget for what will work best for you and your family when it comes to purchasing a camper.

Driving May Not Be Fun

Not only will it be a little stressful to drive while pulling your fifth wheel camper, but when you get to your campsite and want to explore the area, you will have to drive the big powerful truck that you needed to pull your fifth wheel camper around the area. It also may be difficult to drive a big truck around small-town America because the streets may be more narrow and it can be a little stressful since you will have some tight squeezes and turns to make. It may also be difficult to find a parking space large enough for your big truck.