As you consider the ideal trailer for you, a fifth wheel might be at the top of your list. Before you can decide, you need more information. What is a fifth wheel and is it a good trailer?
Fifth wheels are a type of travel trailer with a coupling that attaches to a pickup truck’s cargo bed. The trailers measure anywhere from 25 to 40 feet long, with many models boasting room for up to 10 people.
This guide to all things fifth-wheel trailers will tell you everything you need to know. We’ll discuss the history of these trailers, modern models, pros and cons, pricing, and more. By the time you’re done reading, you can decide for certain whether a fifth-wheel trailer is right for you!
What Is a Fifth-Wheel Trailer? What Is Its History?
So what exactly is a fifth-wheel trailer, anyway?
A fifth wheel is a type of travel trailer that features a specialized hitch. The hitch is designed for slotting into the middle of a pickup truck’s bed.
Due to both the inclusion of a fifth-wheel hitch and the shape of the trailer itself, a fifth wheel is not compatible with any other type of towing vehicle than a pickup truck or commercial truck.
This is unique considering that many types of travel trailers are towable with different vehicle types.
You can pull a smaller and more lightweight trailer with a car or SUV, and you can use an SUV and even a heavy-duty pickup truck for larger trailers.
The type of hitch that a fifth wheel uses is like what you’d see on an 18-wheeler truck, but obviously on a much smaller scale.
So where did the fifth wheel come from, you ask?
The design originates from horse-drawn carriages.
Back in the middle of the 1850s, these carriages featured a cargo frame wheel. The wheel was installed horizontally so the front axle had the freedom to pivot as needed.
Thus, the horse-drawn carriages of the day were much more maneuverable and stable than in years past.
Later, in 1914, August Fruehauf and Otto Neumann created the first semi-trailer. Theirs used a fifth wheel pin hitch coupling, but only initially.
They later upgraded another version of the fifth wheel as created by Charles Martin and Hermann Farr for Martin Rocking Company.
That fifth wheel was round and featured hinges for easy travel on uneven and hilly terrain.
What Are Some Features of Fifth Wheels?
Now that we’ve introduced you to the inimitable fifth-wheel trailer, let’s shine a spotlight on the features that make a fifth wheel a fifth wheel!
Travel trailers are sometimes available in hulking sizes that rival bigger RVs, and fifth wheels come darn close too. As we touched on in the intro, the average size of a fifth-wheel trailer is between 25 and 41 feet long.
You won’t feel cramped or cooped up in a fifth wheel, despite that they can look kind of small from the outside.
Tremendous Sleeping Capacity
With so much roominess to offer across the board, it should come as no surprise that a typical fifth-wheel trailer has plenty of sleeping space as well.
At the very least, you can bring eight passengers on a fifth wheel for all your RVing adventures. Some larger fifth wheels that are closer to 40 feet can easily fit 10 passengers at once.
Stop and think about that for a moment – 10 passengers! You wouldn’t have to pick and choose whether all your friends could come with you or not. There would certainly be room for everyone.
Fifth wheels don’t scrimp when it comes to the amenities. Once you walk inside one of these gorgeous trailers, you’ll be very impressed by what you see.
A fifth wheel offers a usually very spacious living area to accommodate every passenger who may be on board. The living area will include plush seating such as a couch or ottoman.
A full bathroom will make it easier to stay squeaky clean when camping out. The bathroom will feature a toilet, a sink, and a shower. Enjoying these luxury comforts when away from home will make life on a fifth wheel plenty nice.
The sizable entertainment systems that may be scattered about your trailer will keep everyone accommodated no matter how many of you there are!
With more than enough storage throughout the entire vehicle, you won’t have to worry about where you and all your friends and family will keep your stuff.
An included residential kitchen will have all the fixings for making delicious homecooked meals like in your kitchen back home. You should have access to a fridge, a stovetop, a microwave, and sometimes even more fixtures still!
As for privacy, a fifth wheel offers plenty of it, as the main bedroom is often separated from the other quarters.
Although it varies by model, fifth-wheel trailers are highly favored for an included picture window or several. Even if your vehicle only has one such window, its placement at the rear of the trailer will let you gaze out and enjoy beautiful views.
Bi-Level Floor Plans
Part of the reason that a fifth-wheel trailer feels so darn spacious is that the vehicle has a bi-level design. This will also benefit you and your passengers in the privacy department.
What Kind of Hitch do You Need for a Fifth Wheel?
We’ve established that a fifth-wheel trailer requires a specialized hitch for a pickup truck bed, but we have yet to talk about the types of fifth-wheel hitches you can select from. Let’s do that here.
If yours is a pickup truck that’s on the smaller side, such as less than eight feet, then you’ll need a sliding hitch for your fifth-wheel trailer.
This hitch can go behind the truck axle. When you take tighter turns, you’ll have more clearance so you can drive safely.
You can choose between auto sliding hitches that move on their own or manual sliding hitches, which require more of your effort.
A gooseneck hitch is a completely different kind of hitch from a fifth-wheel hitch, but you can still use a gooseneck to pull a fifth wheel. That said, your trailer must have a gooseneck adapter, or it’s no dice.
Once you install the gooseneck adapter, you’ll notice that your hitch allows for a different degree of weight distribution than using a traditional fifth-wheel hitch.
That’s due to the lightweight quality of a gooseneck hitch.
You could consider a single-jaw hitch for your fifth wheel as well. These hitches cover the kingpin completely, which makes riding with a single-jaw hitch an exceptionally quiet experience. You’ll also enjoy plenty of smoothness with your ride.
The only downside is that single-jaw hitches are usually quite costly.
If not a single-jaw hitch, then your fifth-wheel trailer could be outfitted with a double-jaw hitch. They’re less expensive than a single-jaw hitch, but the hitch makes more noise.
You’ll have to decide which is more important to you – saving a few bucks or having a quiet ride when on the road for hours.
Slide Bar Hitch
Finally, there’s the slide bar hitch. You get the least tight kingpin connection with one of these hitches, which is understandable when you consider their low price.
You will hear every last thing as you tow your trailer, which can drive you crazy on hour six of your road trip.
Even if you’re on a very tight budget for a hitch, you might want to reconsider a slide bar.
How Much Does a Fifth Wheel Cost?
You’re more serious than ever before about owning a fifth-wheel trailer. That said, you have to know, how much will one of these vehicles cost you?
The average price of a fifth-wheel trailer is between $36,000 and $135,000, with more expensive models still prevalent on the market.
Considering the immense size, the passenger and cargo capacity, and the wealth of amenities that are typically featured in a fifth-wheel trailer, the price is commensurate to all that.
That said, if you’re seeing too many zeros when gazing at the above prices, you can always shop for a used fifth wheel. You should be able to save some serious cash!
Our 3 Favorite Fifth Wheel Models
To show you the potential of fifth-wheel trailers, we wanted to take this section and showcase some of the most exemplary models on the market.
Forest River Cardinal Luxury
Let’s begin with the Cardinal Luxury by Forest River, which received the 2022 Luxury Fifth Wheel of the Year distinction by RV News.
You can select from five floor plans for the Cardinal Luxury fifth wheel: the 320RLX, the 360RLX, the 370RLX, the 380RLX, and the 390RLX.
The 380RLX has a gross vehicle weight rating or GVWR of 15,500 pounds. Its hitch weight is 2,555 pounds, its unloaded vehicle weight or UVW is 12,294 pounds, and its cargo-carrying capacity or CCC is 3,206 pounds.
This trailer has an exterior height of 42 feet and two inches, an exterior width of 13 feet and three inches, and an awning size up to 17 feet. Included are a 60-gallon freshwater tank, an 84-gallon graywater tank, and a 46-gallon blackwater tank.
As for amenities, the living area of the Cardinal Luxury includes a 50-inch LED TV with a soundbar, a furnace, roller shades, designer window valances, crown molding with backlit LEDs, and a ceiling fan.
The kitchen has a 17-cubic-foot fridge, a residential range, contemporary cabinets, a power vent fan, a pull-out bullet kitchen faucet, a 30-inch over-the-range convection microwave, and a buffet dinette with a soundbar and 32-inch TV.
In the bedroom, you’ll enjoy another 32-inch TV, a wall-mounted heater, reading lights, an LED headboard, a 72×80-inch king-sized bed, under-bed storage, and a mattress.
The bathroom boasts a towel bar, power-roof vent, porcelain toilet, AC and heating duct, a shower skylight, a 48×30-inch single-piece molded fiberglass shower, and a three-way glass sliding shower door.
Heartland RVs Bighorn
Next is another favorite fifth wheel, the Bighorn by Heartland RVs.
This sizable fifth wheel offers a variety of floor plans, including the 3120RK, 3970FB, 3300DL, 3502SB, and the 3883MD.
Let’s take a closer look at the 3300DL Bighorn. This fifth wheel has a GVWR of 16,000 pounds, a dry weight of 12,277 pounds, and a hitch weight of 2,330 pounds. Its cargo capacity is a generous 3,675 pounds.
The 3300DL model is eight feet wide, 39 feet long, and 13 feet, three inches tall. The trailer also comes with a 65-gallon freshwater tank, a 90-gallon graywater tank, and a 45-gallon blackwater tank.
The the trailer is beautifully decorated with maple hardwood fascia, a straight roofline, vacuum-bonded laminated floors, roller shades, power theater seating, a 55-inch LED TV in the living room, and panoramic windows.
The kitchen has Amish-style hardwood cabinetry, a stainless steel sink, a live-edge dinette table, and a 30-inch over-the-range microwave.
In the bedroom, you’ll discover a 32-inch TV, a backlit headboard, LED reading lights, dual windows, and a king-sized bed.
The bathroom is incredible as well, featuring a foldable teak wood seat in the shower, a glass shower with a towel bar, and a porcelain toilet.
Crossroads RV Cruiser
Let’s also talk about the Cruiser by Crossroads RV, as it’s another fifth-wheel trailer that’s worth paying attention to.
You can choose between four different floor plans: CR3150RL, CR3601GK, CR3841FL, and CR3851BL.
The CR3841FL model has a dry weight of 12,618 pounds, a carrying capacity of 2,682 pounds, and a hitch weight of 2,420 pounds.
Measuring 42 feet long, the exterior width is eight feet. This trailer also boasts a 64-gallon freshwater tank, an 82-gallon graywater tank, and a 44-gallon blackwater tank.
Designed for convenience, the Cruiser is loaded with features, such as a 15,000-BTU air conditioner, an HDMI CD/DVD player, a heated enclosed underbelly, motion sensor lights, an LED TV, and a sizable fridge up to 18 cubic feet.
Fifth Wheel Pros and Cons
To wrap up, let’s review the pros and cons of fifth-wheel trailers. This section especially will help with your decision-making!
- Many full-time RVers choose fifth wheels for camping for weeks or even months at a clip. This makes sense considering the roominess and amenities of a fifth wheel as well as its great privacy.
- Towing a fifth wheel is usually quite a secure experience. That’s due to how the trailer’s hitch weight goes over the tires or rear axle of your towing pickup truck. Your rig is shorter as a whole so you don’t have to sacrifice maneuverability.
- You’re at less risk of losing control of your trailer via jackknifing due to the aforementioned setup of a fifth-wheel rig.
- You can shop for fifth wheels that have office space so you can get work done on your travels. That makes a fifth wheel perfect for freelancers!
- The ceilings of a fifth wheel are tall enough that even if you’re over six feet, you shouldn’t feel too constricted.
- Most fifth wheel models feature slide-outs in spaces like the wardrobe, bedroom, living room, and kitchen. Even if these rooms feel a little tight originally, once you open the slide-outs, it will be a completely different story.
- You can only tow a fifth wheel with a pickup truck. If you don’t already own a pickup, then you’d have to buy that in addition to a fifth-wheel trailer. That can get expensive in a hurry!
- The driving and living areas of a fifth wheel are separated from one another. If you needed something from the living area and you were driving, you’d have to stop, pull over, and get what you need. That’s inconvenient.
- The more slide-outs a fifth wheel has, the more headaches you could end up with later down the line if the slide-outs malfunction or fail altogether.
- Fifth wheels are big and heavy, which makes storing them for the off-season quite problematic indeed.
Fifth-wheel trailers have long been a reliable choice for the RV enthusiast who prioritizes space, privacy, high-class amenities, and easy towing and parking.
If you still have some doubts that a fifth-wheel trailer is right for you, we recommend renting one for a weekend or even an entire week or two.
After getting some hands-on experience driving, towing, parking, and maintaining one of these trailers, you’ll know whether it’s a suitable purchase for your budget and lifestyle!