What Is Considered A Recreational Vehicle?

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interior picture of a recreational vehicle

The recreational vehicle is becoming more and more popular over the years. From Class A motorhomes to pop-up trailers, these RVs offer a variety of floorplans.

Read on to learn exactly what a recreational vehicle is and what are the different types.

What is Considered A Recreational Vehicle?

A recreational vehicle is a motorized (driveable) or non-motorized (towable) vehicle that includes living quarters. They are used for camping, traveling, and other recreational activities. Lastly, the term is commonly abbreviated to RV.

History of the RV

When it comes to the history of the recreational vehicle you will be surprised to hear it dates back to 1915. That was the first time a family traveled in a motorized vehicle across the country fit with the luxuries of a house.

Camping for fun dates back even further to 1869. Then you either backpacked, rode a horse, or had a wagon. But it didn’t really become popular until the 1960’s when it exploded onto the scene. From there the industry has grown to a $114 billion industry today.

An antique recreational vehicle

RV Types Explained

There are many different recreational vehicle options today. As stated above, they are broken into towables and drivables.

Motorhome class can be broken into three types: A, B, and C. Towables are broken into the following categories: fifth wheels, toy haulers, and travel trailers. The final RV type is a truck camper.


Class A Motorhomes

The Class A RVs are the ones that look like a bus. They are flat in the front and can be very long. They come with either gas or diesel engines, with the latter being nicknamed a diesel pusher. This is because the engine of diesel motorhomes is in the back of the RV.

Class A RVs are great because of their size, space, sleeping arrangements, and towing abilities. If you plan on traveling for extended periods of time a Class A is a great option.

The downside is they are more expensive. These recreational vehicles cost more to purchase and they are more expensive to maintain.

Class A Motorhome towing a vehicle

Class B Motorhomes

Class B RVs, also called camper vans, are RVs that look like a van but have living quarters inside. These are great because of their mobility. You can get in and out of places the larger RVs can’t get to. These are perfect for two people and those that like to go out for a week or two at a time. Because they’re easy to drive, they are great for first-timers and those that don’t want to learn how to drive a big recreational vehicle.

The downside is they are expensive to purchase and maintain. You also have to pack up every time you want to drive and explore. You wouldn’t have a tow vehicle for driving around, so most campers invest in e-bikes or mopeds to get around without their Class B.  

Class C Motorhomes

The Class C RVs are another great option for those expecting to be on the road for more than a weekend. Class C motorhomes provide plenty of sleeping space with a bed over the drivers’ cab.

Just like Class A RVs, Class C motorhomes have the ability to tow a vehicle. They are a great recreational vehicle option because they have all the amenities of a home.

A Class C recreational vehicle at an RV show.

Fifth Wheel RVs

Fifth wheel RVs (sometimes spelled 5th wheels) are the big behemoths you see driving down the road that are the size of semis. These RVs can have up to six slide-outs, creating a large living space.

In order to tow most fifth wheels, you need to have a heavy-duty truck that has the towing capacity to tow them. If you don’t this option could be very expensive because not only do you need to buy the trailer you also need the truck.

5th wheels are luxurious and have plenty of space for the whole family. It’s a great option for campers looking for separate bedrooms for the kids. There are many floorplans that offer bunk beds for the kids and a king or queen-size bed for adults.

Additionally, fifth wheels aren’t too terribly expensive as long as you have the proper tow vehicle. One downside to them is they can be tricky to tow, especially for new RVers.

Toy Hauler RVs

Another behemoth in the RV world is the toy hauler. These RV types are just as large as 5th wheels but the back opens up to a garage. Toy haulers are perfect for bringing along a golf cart, motorcycle, dirt bike, ATV, or other fun toys you may have.

When you’re not using the garage to store toys, you can use the ramp door as a patio. Many full-time RVers convert the garage area to an office, children’s room, or other functional space.

Just like fifth wheels, this recreational vehicle offers high ceilings. Making them a perfect fit for those tall campers.

Pro Tip: If you’re looking to purchase a large fifth wheel or toy hauler, you need the right truck. Read What Are the Best Dually Trucks for Towing? to learn about the best options.

Travel Trailers

A travel trailer is a great option if you have a vehicle that can tow. Travel trailers range in all different sizes and features. Whether you are looking for a weekend toy or something to full time in, the travel trailer can do it all.

Travel trailers are also less expensive than the other recreational vehicles we listed above. However, these RV types take longer to back in, level out, and get situated.

Pop-Up Campers

Pop-up campers are a fun recreational vehicle option that are just a step above tent camping. They are small and light, meaning you can tow them with almost any vehicle. They are perfect for summer camping or weekend getaways.

Some common cons related to pop-up campers include not doing well in the winter, not having many (if any) appliances, and being stuck inside in poor weather. However, this is a great inexpensive RV option that gets you out of the house and into nature.

Truck Campers

A truck camper is a great addition to your pick-up truck. These campers sit in the bed and can easily be removed if you want to.

Some truck campers pop up to provide extended headroom and some even have a side out or two. They are small so they are perfect for solo travelers or adventurous couples.

Truck campers are great recreational vehicles because they are affordable and they fit in your already existing truck. Almost all come with the amenities you’d want on the road, including a small kitchen, bathroom, and a bed.

The inside of a truck camper recreational vehicle with a stove, microwave, and sink.

Things to Consider When Shopping For a Recreational Vehicle

If you’re in the market for a recreational vehicle but aren’t sure where to start, you need to ask yourself a few questions.

First, how often will you use your RV? Weekends, a week or two out of the year, or maybe full-time. If you only plan on taking your RV out a few times a year, then you don’t need to spend the extra money on all the bells and whistles. However, if you’re looking to go full-time, those upgrades and additional amenities will be worth it.

Pro Tip: Read this before starting your full-time journey: Top 5 Worst Things About Full-Time RV Living.

Second, how many people will you be traveling with? Look at the smaller RVs if you will be a solo traveler. The time it takes to set up and tear down a Class A, fifth wheel, or toy hauler is no task for one person. However, if you’re a large family, you’ll want to look at those bigger options to make sure everyone has space.

Third, do you want an additional car to drive? If your answer is yes, you need to plan on bringing a TOAD if you opt for a motorhome. If you only want to deal with one engine, then a non-motorized RV is your best bet.

Recreational Vehicles Are Gaining Popularity

RVs have opened doors for remote workers and retirees alike. There’s nothing better than traveling the US and having all the comforts of home. Each year, RV manufacturers release bigger, better, and more innovative recreational vehicles. With that in mind, we don’t see an end in sight for this popular mobile home.

  1. We went, at first, with a 20 foot single axle travel trailer. The reason for that was because of my wife’s childhood, her family had a travel trailer and that’s what she wanted. We had it a couple of years until June 2019. We were on a trip from southern NM to western NC when disaster struck in the middle of TX. The trailer was broadsided by wind that was funneled between two wind breaks and tipped the trailer on one wheel and bounced around a bit. We were stuck at an RV park that was just down the road for around five days dealing with insurance. Finally got a mobile mechanic to straighten out the sheet metal in the wheel wells so we could drive it back to MN. It took three days to limp back what took us a day and a half to get out to. A little over a month later the insurance finally totaled the trailer, no big surprise there. We took the money and put it towards a new Class C as I did not want to tow another trailer ever again. For us the big things we looked for in the Class C was headroom, a bed that neither of us had to climb over to get to the other side, and shelving on both sides of the bed for our CPAPs.

  2. We have yet to purchase it but we’re going big. Class A tandem axle. Will be hanging a Harley on the back of it an flat towing our Lexus so the reason for the tandem. The size doesn’t worry me and boondocking will be limited since I (Micheal) will be retired but my bride (Melodee) will be working on the road till a suitable time. Many more aspects for our reasoning but we truly believe the class A is best for us.

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