Towing one type of trailer can be very unlike towing another. For instance, there are distinct differences between tent trailers, travel trailers, and fifth wheels, including weight, shape, and size. Of these three trailer types, which is the easiest to tow?
You can most easily tow a tent trailer over a travel trailer and a fifth wheel. Tent trailers are lightweight, even the hard-sided ones, which you cannot say about travel trailers or fifth wheels.
In this post, we’ll guide you through the differences between tent trailers, travel trailers, and fifth wheels. We’ll also share some recommended towing vehicles for these trailers and discuss your hitch options. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll be able to put together a towing setup that’s secure and roadworthy!
Tent Trailers vs. Travel Trailers vs. Fifth Wheels: What’s the Difference?
Before we get into all that, let’s clearly define the differences between tent trailers, travel trailers, and fifth-wheels.
What Is a Tent Trailer?
A tent trailer is also known as a pop-up camper. Both names are attributable to the style of this trailer, as it has sides that pop up and out. Those sides are also collapsible if you want to compact your vehicle.
The trailer frame, roof, and box of a tent trailer are all hard material. Some models feature hard-sided walls too that make this trailer sturdier but also heavier. Since they can open up for more space, you get a surprising number of amenities in a tent trailer. These amenities include storage cabinets, at least two bunks, interior lighting, a power system (often 12-volt DC power), a sink, a freshwater tank, and a fold-down dinette.
The downside to using a tent trailer is that, compared to fifth wheels and travel trailers as well as RVs, you typically devote a lot more time to getting your trailer set up just so.
Tent trailers weigh between 1,300 and 2,700 pounds with tent sides and up to 3,700 pounds or more with hard sides.
What Is a Travel Trailer?
Of the three, travel trailers are by far the more common trailer type. We’ve discussed travel trailers in this post about towing them with an RV. Travel trailers come in all shapes and sizes, from miniature teardrop-shaped trailers to those that exceed the size of a Class B motorhome.
The mid-sized and larger travel trailers have divided rooms, including kitchens and living rooms. You can typically fit appliances to their true size, just like at home, and there’d be a dedicated eating area and sometimes even a bathroom with a tub or shower.
How much a travel trailer weighs depends on the model. If you go back to that article about towing a travel trailer with an RV, we cited some real travel trailer models and the weights for each. Those trailers were between 4,845 and 4,995 pounds. On the lighter side, a travel trailer may weigh 2,800 pounds. The biggest travel trailers are 6,700 pounds and up.
What Is a Fifth-Wheel Trailer?
The third type of trailer is a fifth wheel. These trailers are typically on the heavier side, even more than a travel trailer. The reason they’re called fifth wheels is due to carriages at the time of the invention of this trailer, which did have a fifth wheel. The last wheel was a horizontal one that gave the front axle the freedom to pivot. Although that extra wheel had not much to do with the fifth-wheel trailer itself, the name has lived on.
Fifth-wheel trailers require a specific hitch for connecting to a towing vehicle. The hitch is appropriately called a fifth-wheel hitch. Later in this article, we’ll cover towing hitches in-depth, so make sure you keep reading.
We published a great post about fifth wheel weight on the blog. As a recap, the lightest fifth wheels are 10,000 pounds or under. Mid-weight trailers are up to 14,000 pounds and the biggest models exceed that. These large fifth wheels can accommodate up to 10 passengers.
As their size would suggest, fifth wheels have room for all the accommodations and amenities you could want on a traveling vehicle. From bathroom and kitchen space, storage areas, living and dining compartments, and a bedroom nook, you’d be living nicely in a fifth wheel.
Can You Tow Tent Trailers, Travel Trailers, or Fifth Wheels More Easily?
You now know a lot more about these three types of trailers, so it should be clearer to you why we picked the tent trailer as the easiest to tow. The tent-sided trailer is easy-breezy and lightweight, keeping your overall towing setup manageable. Since the sides of a tent trailer can compact, you shouldn’t worry about the wind catching in the tent material and making your rig unstable.
Even hard-sided tent trailers only weigh around 3,700 pounds. Go ahead and look again at those average weights for travel trailers and fifth wheels. By comparison, 3,700 pounds for a tent trailer is nothing.
Of the three trailer types, we’d say the fifth wheel is the most difficult to tow. That’s for three reasons. The first is that fifth wheels are exceedingly heavy, even more so than a bigger travel trailer. Second, fifth wheels have a strange shape, so they’re not very beginner-friendly for towing.
Last but certainly not least, you cannot tow a fifth wheel with just any old hitch. You need the specialized fifth-wheel hitch, which just adds a greater degree of difficulty to towing.
What Kind of Towing Vehicles Are Ideal for Towing a Trailer?
The trailer you’ll tow is only half the equation of your setup. You also need a towing vehicle, or that vehicle you use to pull the trailer. Depending on your trailer’s weight, different towing vehicle classes are more appropriate. Here are three such vehicles to select from.
Motorhome or RV
Motorhomes or RVs are among the most hulking vehicles on the road, weighing between 6,000 and 26,000 pounds or more. RVs are split into three classes, class A through C. The class A RV is the largest class, weighing close to 30,000 pounds. The towing capacity is around 10,000 pounds. You could use a class A RV to tow any of the trailers we’ve discussed, especially travel trailers and fifth wheels.
Class B RVs are the smallest of the three, resembling a glorified camper van. Commensurate to their size is their much lower weight, which is up to 8,000 pounds max. That limits the class B to a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds. All tent trailers should be towable with a class B and some smaller, lightweight travel trailers too. You’d need something heftier to tow a fifth wheel than a class B.
The third RV class is class C, which is bigger than a camper van but still not as large as a class A motorhome. Still, the average weight of a class C RV is up to 12,000 pounds. That gives these vehicles a towing capacity that can be on par with a class A.
Heavy-Duty Pickup Truck
Pickup trucks can also tow some trailers, but the trucks need to be the heavy-duty variety. For example, the Ford F-450, one of the most powerful trucks on the road, can tow between 27,500 and 32,500 pounds. That’s even more than a class A motorhome can tow! You’re free to tow almost any type of trailer you wish with the F-450, including fifth wheels.
The Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD is another exemplary towing truck. It can tow slightly less than the F-450, only 23,300 pounds. That’s absolutely nothing to sneeze at. The Ram 3500 Heavy-Duty Pickup is one of the leading towing vehicles available with a tow rating of around 31,200 pounds. If you need to tow a hefty fifth wheel, this truck is ready.
Sure, SUVs don’t have the reputation for towing like pickup trucks do, but don’t discount them. Some SUVs have impressive towing capacities, such as the 2020 Dodge Durango, which can tow 8,700 pounds. For a tent trailer or a mid-sized travel trailer, you’d easily be able to tow your rig. The 2020 Lincoln Navigator has a similar towing capacity.
One of the best SUVs available for towing is the 2020 Ford Expedition. It has a max towing capacity of 9,300 pounds, so you might be able tow a very lightweight fifth wheel as well as mid-sized or larger travel trailers.
Hitch Options for Attaching Your Trailer
You’ve got your trailer and your tow vehicle, but before you hit the road, you need one more thing: your hitch. Here are the different types of hitches you might use depending on your towing setup.
Weight Distribution Hitch
The rear hitch known as the weight distribution hitch manages tongue weight so it never exceeds 15 percent of the gross vehicle weight or GVW. A weight distribution hitch features spring rods attached to a chain, which is then linked to the hitch’s connection points.
One of the easiest hitches to use, a bumper hitch hooks right onto your towing vehicle’s bumper via its receiver tube. This tube is typically square-shaped so it will be compatible with most bumpers. The only downside to using a bumper hitch is that you’re very limited on hitch weight, so skip this hitch when towing a travel trailer.
The pintle hitch is named that due to the inclusion of a part known as a pintle. This is a hook-like apparatus that connects to a pickup truck. The pintle attaches to a secondary part called a lunette, which is a sturdy ring.
You have several mounting options when using a pintle hitch. One such option is to side-mount to a hitch receiver. The other setup is for dump trucks and commercial trucks, in which you’d mount the hitch to the truck’s frame. Given that there are two parts to a pintle hitch, these hitches can be a little noisy, but you get a tow rating between 10,000 and 60,000 pounds, so the loudness is a small price to pay.
You can only install gooseneck hitches on pickups. These hitches don’t take up too much room on your truck bed so you can use that to the fullest as well. Gooseneck hitches are ideal for towing industrial and commercial haulers, car haulers, and livestock trailers, but you can rely on them for towing tent trailers or travel trailers as well. After all, a gooseneck hitch can tow around 30,000 pounds.
As we discussed earlier, a fifth-wheel hitch is made for a fifth-wheel trailer. These strong hitches also fit onto a truck bed, but they’re different from gooseneck hitches since the coupling device is separate from the trailer and is instead built into the hitch. That allows the hitch to move and pivot, which will come in handy when you make turns and drive over bumps in your rig. You get a towing capacity of around 24,000 pounds with a fifth-wheel hitch.
The opposite of the bumper hitch, a front-mount hitch goes on the front of your towing vehicle. The included receiver allows a front-mount hitch to be used in various ways, such as for holding a spare tire, using your towing vehicle as a snowplow, or even connecting a winch.
Rear Receiver Trailer Hitch
The last type of hitch is the rear receiver trailer hitch. Like a bumper hitch, the rear receiver trailer hitch includes a square-shaped receiver tube.
There are five classes of trailer hitches that make them applicable for different uses. Class 1 hitches for crossovers and cars have a towing capacity of 2,000 pounds. Upgrading to a Class 2 increases the towing capacity to 3,500 pounds for using minivans, crossovers, and cars as towing vehicles. Class 3 is for trucks, SUVs, vans, and crossovers with a max towing capacity of 8,000 pounds.
By the time you get into Class 4, you have a towing capacity of 10,000 pounds, so only SUVs and pickup trucks should use these hitches. Class 5 is split into two subcategories: Commercial Duty and Xtra Duty. The Commercial Duty Class 5 hitches for cab trucks have a towing capacity of 18,000 to 20,000 pounds. Xtra Duty hitches can tow up to 17,000 pounds.
Between tent trailers, travel trailers, and fifth wheels, you’ll have the least difficulty towing a tent trailer since these vehicles are so lightweight. Fifth-wheel trailers are the bulkiest and least accommodating, necessitating a heavy-duty pickup truck for the towing vehicle as well as the appropriate hitch. Best of luck towing!