I just realized recently that a lot of my personal objections to 5th wheels are based on weight. A 10,000 pound fiver is a load to tow and a chore to set up. I can attest to that from personal experience. But let’s face it, a 10,000 pound trailer in any towing configuration is going to be a load. Heavy usually also means complicated and most of the big fifth wheels have two, three or four slides which add mass and complexity.
The obvious oversight in that line of thinking is that not all 5th wheels are created equal and, these days, they’re not all 10,000 pounds anymore. Technology marches on and that’s why it’s important to not let a bias take root. My experience with 5th wheels is colored by our 10,000 pound Bighorn. It was heavy, complicated and it leaked like a sieve. Today there are better alternatives and, if you’re shopping for a camper, you should keep an open mind.
5th wheels do offer advantages for towing. With the hitch weight centered over the rear wheels in the bed of your truck, a fiver will remain very stable, even in crosswinds and difficult towing conditions. It takes a weight distribution hitch to get the same level of control in a travel trailer and, even then, it’s not as good and putting the hitch weight right over the rear wheels.
Because the truck pivots under the hitch, it’s also a lot easier to maneuver a 5th wheel trailer. Fivers have a tighter turning radius and that’s exactly why semi tractors connect to big trailers with a hitch that works on the same basic principle.
The 5th wheel design also provides headroom in the living area due to the step-up hump. That
design also creates a large empty space under the rise, called the basement, which is most often used for storage. In all but a few fivers the elevated space that hangs over the truck bed is used as a bedroom. With part of the trailer hanging over the truck bed, you actually have a longer trailer in the same footprint. Our 25 foot travel trailer is actually just under 30 feet long including the hitch. A 30 foot 5th wheel would have more living space and still be shorter overall than our travel trailer.
False choices can lead to poor decisions. The choice is no longer between an ultralight travel trailer and a 10,000 pound fiver. These days you can get 5th wheel towing advantages in a lightweight package. A perfect example is the Escape 5.0 TA. Weighing in at a lean 3885 curb weight, the Escape 5th wheel is well inside the towing capacity of most 1/2 ton trucks. It’s got a fiberglass shell which means no rubber roof maintenance. Many of the lighter 5th wheels only have one slide, which cuts out a lot of overhead.
Another 5th wheel winner is the Scamp 5th wheel. This is another all fiberglass model, though do be aware that Scamp has its own 5th wheel hitch, which looks like a gooseneck to me but is something in between. I consider that a disadvantage to an otherwise awesome camper.
If you don’t mind more traditional construction, almost all the RV manufacturers are fielding 5th wheel models that are half-ton towable in the 5,000 to 8,000 pound range. Many are also far less complicated with either no slides, or a single slide.
I still maintain that more weight equals more expense and less fun when traveling. But, with the new, lighter 5th wheels out there, you should definitely check them out when choosing a camper.