What Is a Fifth Wheel?

A truck has a fifth wheel towed behind it and is ready to camp!

When it comes to choosing an RV for your adventures, it can get overwhelming. Should you go with a drivable RV or a towable? In the towable market, your choices are travel trailers, truck campers, and fifth wheels. What is a fifth wheel anyway, and is it the right choice for you? Today, we will look at what a fifth wheel is and help you decide if you should consider one for your adventures. 

What Is a Fifth Wheel? 

A fifth wheel is an RV that mounts to a hitch in the bed of a truck. This style of camper has a distinct look and rests over the bed of a truck during transit. The kingpin sits under the front of the trailer and easily connects with the hitch.

A fifth wheel driving down the highway.

What’s the Difference Between a Fifth Wheel and Travel Trailer? 

A fifth wheel differs from a travel trailer by how it secures to the tow vehicle. A travel trail does not affix to the bed of a truck and instead secures to the tow vehicle via the A-frame to a ball and receiver. They typically weigh more and feel more residential than a travel trailer.  

Why Is it Called a Fifth Wheel? 

The fifth wheel design dates back to the mid-1850s. They used the design for horse-drawn carriages. They placed horizontal wheels on the cargo frame to allow the front axle to pivot to increase stability and maneuverability. Manufacturers initially built these by hand. By the 1900s, a version was available for motor vehicles. 

How Much Do Fifth Wheels Weigh? 

The lightest fifth wheel on the market is the Scamp 19-foot Deluxe. Weighing only 2,400-2,600 lbs depending on options, it features a pin weight of only 400 lbs. This means even light-duty trucks can tow it.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are fifth wheels, such as the Jayco Pinnacle 36SSWS, with a gross vehicle weight rating of 16,750 lbs and a pin weight of 3,270 lbs. Those towing one of this size will need to have a heavy-duty truck capable of handling such weight. 

The heaviest one is manufactured by Starcraft weighs 37,000 lbs dry and can hold up to 8,000 lbs in cargo. To move this massive rig, you will need a large tractor-trailer. 

Between these extremes, you can find a vast range of sizes and weights.  

How Long are Fifth Wheels?

The shortest of the fifth wheels on the market is also the lightest, the Scamp 19-foot Deluxe. The smallest size can still sleep up to six people.

The biggest ones measure over 40 feet. The largest is the 37,000 lb, 57-foot Starcraft RV. This custom RV won’t fit into many typical campsites. On average, these RVs range from 30-40 feet. 

Fifth Wheel Pros

Many people believe traveling with a fifth wheel is the only way to go. Let’s look at what makes them such an attractive option. 

Lots of Storage

Fifth wheels have a lot of storage options making them a great choice. Looking closer, you’ll find large pass-through storage compartments. Inside, you can find plentiful cabinetry and often under-bed storage. 

Great for Families

Families may enjoy these spacious RVs for the residential feel providing a sense of comfort away from home. Many offer two bedrooms, giving both parents and children privacy. You can find an abundance of bunkhouse models too. 

Widest Floorplan Variety of All RVs

Scroll through any fifth wheel manufacturer, and you’ll find seemingly endless floorplans. Regardless if you want a front living, bunkhouse, rear kitchen, or mid bunk, you will find it in a fifth wheel model. Families, solo travelers, and couples can all find a floor plan that fits their travel lifestyle. 

More Stable Towing Experience

Fifth wheels essentially extend the tow vehicle. Towing a fifth wheel gives a feeling of extra stability. They reduce the sway that often comes with towing a travel trailer. 

Fifth Wheel Cons

Just because they work great for some, fifth wheels may not fit everyone. Here are a few things that might make you rethink choosing one for yourself. 

Long and Heavy

Even the smallest one may not fit in many campsites. Because of their height, you’ll need to be careful of low clearance bridges. Your gas mileage may suffer as a result of their weight. 

Expensive

Fifth wheels can come with a hefty price tag. You can easily spend over $50,000 on a rather typical one. As RVs are a quickly depreciating product, you may not want to sink so much money into one. 

Requires Bigger Truck

If you do not already own a truck capable of towing a fifth wheel, you will need to invest in a bigger truck. Trucks can come with a shockingly high monthly payment. A truck payment combined with the cost of a fifth wheel can easily exceed your budget. It can be tempting to use a smaller vehicle that causes less of a hit to your bank account, but you need to ensure you have a car that can do the job safely. 

What Kind of Vehicle Do You Need to Tow a Fifth Wheel? 

What is a fifth wheel able to tow? You may find many marketed as half-ton towable, but most will require a minimum of three-quarter to 1-ton truck. Be sure you are within the towing capacity of your vehicle. 

Fifth wheel towing requires a hitch designed specifically for securing it. If the vehicle you own does not come prepared for a fifth-wheel hitch, you will need to install one. Because you will need to drill holes in the bed of your truck and securely mount it, it’s often best to have a professional do the work for you.

Endless Options

Many enjoy the almost endless options that come along with owning a fifth wheel. They work great for virtually any traveler type, from the weekend warrior to the full-time traveler. If you can think of a layout, you will probably find one that has it. Do you travel with a fifth wheel? Would you choose one again?

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