Meet the RVs: The Towables

Recreational vehicles take many different forms—from small and simple tow trailers to mobile mansions with king-sized beds and granite countertops

Consumer preferences have changed drastically since the start of the pandemic with travel being no exception. Thousands of Americans and Canadians have opted out of airline tickets and hotel reservations in favor of RVs, a safer method of travel that allows for self-contained excursions with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen all on-board.

Travel trailer at Rivers Run RV Resort, Bakersfield, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re here, you’re probably wondering if the RV lifestyle is for you. Good news—it most likely is! Because RVs offer so much variety in form, function, and value, there’s bound to be an RV that suits your lifestyle and travel needs. Just like families, RVs come in all shapes and sizes. From large class A motorhomes and fifth wheel trailers to compact pop-ups and camper vans, there is an RV that will fit your lifestyle. From weekend getaways to touring the great outdoors to working from the road, there’s an RV for every family and every budget.

When deciding between different types of RVs, it is important to understand the features and amenities associated with each and the pros and cons. The categories are not super difficult to grasp. Motorhomes come in Classes A, B, and C and trailers break down into fifth wheels and travel trailers. I’ll dive right into each category including its pros and cons, model details, features and amenities, and approximate cost. In today’s post we’ll focus on the various types of towable RVs.

Fifth wheel at Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trailer Types

A trailer is different from a motorhome in that it must be towed behind another vehicle. To match the towing vehicle with the trailer requires knowledge of the weight of the trailer and the towing capacity of the tow vehicle. The most common types of trailers are fifth wheels and travel trailers, each of which has different requirements.

Fifth wheel at Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fifth Wheels Trailers

A large picture window at the rear of the RV for panoramic views is one thing that sets fifth wheels apart from other RVs. Fifth wheels often come with the same amenities as a Class A motorhome. It is common to have three or more slideouts in a fifth-wheel. These trailers are constructed with a raised forward section that provides a more spacious bi-level floor plan. They are designed to be towed by a pickup truck equipped with a device known as a fifth-wheel hitch.

The term “fifth wheel” comes from the configuration of the trailer itself. The front of the trailer is elevated off the ground and extends over the bed of a truck where a hitching mechanism fixes it to the truck bed. This setup makes the fifth wheel trailer easier to navigate than trailers towed behind a car’s bumper as the fifth wheel tracks more closely to the truck.

Fifth wheel at Leaf Verde RV Park, Buckeye, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Model Details

Length: 21-40 feet

Cost: $43,000-$120,000+

Sleeps: 2-8

Typical Features & Amenities

Large living area

Large residential kitchen

Large bathroom with walk-in shower and toilet

Fifth wheel at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pros:

Spacious and potentially luxurious

Lots of storage space

Better maneuverability than a travel trailer

Cons:

Require tow vehicle equipped with a fifth-wheel hitch

Use of a truck means less room for passengers

Travel trailer at Sonoran Desert RV Resort, Gila Bend, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel Trailers

Travel Trailers are the most popular type of RV because they come in all shapes and sizes and can accommodate solo travelers all the way up to large families. As long as the vehicle is equipped with a standard trailer hitch, smaller travel trailer models can be towed by mid-size vehicles including an SUV or minivan while larger models can be towed with a pickup truck.

Travel trailers are lighter and less expensive than fifth wheels and can range in size from cozy to roomy.

Travel trailer at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Model Details

Length: 20-35 feet

Cost: $25,000-$80,000+

Sleeps: 2-8

Typical Features & Amenities

Residential kitchen

Full-size bathroom

Living area

Travel trailer at Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pros:

Less expensive

Easy to move

Many vehicles can tow them

Cons:

Less spacious

Fewer conveniences

More difficult to maneuver that fifth wheel trailers

Pop-up camper at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pop-up campers

Pop-up campers, also known as folding camping trailers, appeal to budget-conscious consumers looking for a lighter weight RV that allows for towing behind many typical family vehicles, including some small cars. Pop-ups are folded down to a more compact size for easy storage and travel. This style of RV also allows the user to feel closer to nature and connected to the outdoors by mimicking the feeling of sleeping outside.

Model Details

Length: 15-23 feet

Cost: $5,000-$25,000+

Sleeps: 2-8

Pros:

Budget-friendly

Low-profile and easy to tow

Can be towed by most vehicles

Cons:

Less spacious

Less insulated from weather

Few amenities

Expandable Trailers

A cross between a travel trailer and a pop-up camper, the expandable trailer ends pop out to offer more sleeping space. Expandable units are lighter than conventional travel trailers and more affordable.

Model Details

Length: 8-16 feet

Cost: $10,000-$20,000+

Sleeps: 2-8

Typical Features & Amenities

Expandable roof and/or sides

Light-weight

Towable by family car or SUV

Pros:

Budget-friendly

Low-profile and easy to tow

Can be towed by most vehicles

Cons:

Less spacious

Less insulated from weather

Few amenities

Toy hauler at River Run RV Resort, Bakersfield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sport Utility RVs

Sport utility RVs, also known as toy haulers, are built for those who want to take motorcycles, dirt bikes, ATVs, or other motorized toys on the road with them while RVing. The back of the RV drops down forming a ramp for access into a garage area where sporting equipment and motorized toys can be stored safely and accessed quickly. This type of RV can be made as a travel trailer, fifth wheel, or a Class A motorhome. The garage area and living quarters are usually separated by a wall.

Model Details

Length: 19-40 feet

Cost: $30,000-$250,000+

Sleeps: 2-8

Typical Features & Amenities

Garage for toys and sports equipment

Lots of storage

Full kitchen

Pros:

Defined space for sports equipment

Lots of storage space

Choice of motorized or towable

Cons:

Reduced livable space

Extra length required for garage

Truck camper at Saguaro Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Truck Campers

Truck Campers are portable units designed to be loaded onto the bed of a pickup truck. Because truck campers are easily loaded and unloaded from the truck they can be used as a pickup when not used as a camper. They are easy to drive and the truck’s bumper hitch can be used to tow boats, ATVs, and small trailers.

Model Details

Length: 8-20 feet

Cost: $20,000-$40,000+

Sleeps: 2-6

Typical Features & Amenities

Nimble and easy to drive

Easy to park

Good on rough terrain

Pros:

Fits in a garage

Truck can serve double purpose

Can go most anywhere

Cons:

Tight living quarters

Reduced livable space

Limited storage space

Worth Pondering…

The attraction of recreational vehicle travel is to see the country, visit new places, meet interesting people, and experience the freedom of the open road.

The Ins and Outs of Renting an RV

You don’t have to buy a home on wheels to enjoy the experience of camping in comfort

Ever see that classic movie The Long, Long Trailer about newlyweds, played by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, hoping to make the honeymoon last as they travel across country in, well, a long, long trailer?

Class C motorhome at Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Their RV dreams didn’t go exactly as planned but RV travel has come a long, long way since then. Especially with the need for social distancing and a sharp rise in the number of people working remotely, the RV experience is appealing to travelers who never considered it before. From young couples looking for new experiences to parents eager to make memories with their children to seniors enjoying their retirement freedom, people are hitting the road.

Class C motorhomes at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can park your RV at a campsite in a national or state park or a 5-star RV resort. And, if you’re not ready to buy your dream home-on-wheels, no problem! Rentals are available for you. Want to know the ins and outs? Read on…

Airstream travel trailer at The Barnyard RV Park, Lexington, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where Can I Rent an RV?

Renters have two primary options: A major rental company that owns a fleet of its own RVs (e.g. Cruise America) or individuals who rent out their personal RVs when they aren’t using them (e.g. RVshare, the Airbnb of renting RVs).

Class A motorhome at Hacienda RV Resort, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Do I Have to Choose From?

You can rent everything from a tricked out van with no bathroom to a home on wheels complete with kitchen, living room, bathrooms, and all the amenities.

Fifth wheel trailer at Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Much Does It Cost to Rent an RV?

Simply put, as much as you want to spend—from a small RV rental to a luxury RV rental. Just to give you a ballpark, I found a drivable RV that sleeps 6 on RVshare.com for $179 a night or $1759 for 7 nights, including taxes and fees.

Class C motorhome at Palo Casino RV Park, Palo, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are There Additional Fees Besides Taxes?

Most of the rentals have a mileage charge and some have a generator fee. At Cruise America, for example, the mileage fee for a 400-mile trip in a standard motorhome was $140. A kitchen kit (your dishes, pots, and pans, etc.) costs $110 if you add that option, though you can skip it and bring your own; the same is true of a personal kit (very basic linens, towels), which costs $60 per kit. With those additions, a four-night rental with a base total of $620 inches up to over $1000 by the time you add standard fees and taxes. And then there’s the damage deposit, though with any luck, you’ll get that back.

Class A motorhome at Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Do I Know What to Rent?

That depends on your needs and your comfort level as a driver. Are you an off-the-grid adventurer happy to rough it or a family of five requiring a bathroom and a shower? More than two people would be cramped in a truck camper or souped-up van while a Class A motorhome can sleep 7 to 10.

There’s an awful lot to choose from out there, but basically, RVs break down into two main camps (no pun intended): towable and drivable.

Towable RVs at Gila Bend KOA, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Towable RVs

  • 5th Wheel: Requires a fifth-wheel hitch in your truck bed and a truck with sufficient towing capacity, a three-quarter-ton or more.
  • Travel Trailer: Attaches via trailer hitch and comes in different sizes, suitable for SUVs and pickups.
  • Popup Camper: Pull it behind just about anything. It expands (i.e., pops up) to give you more space once you reach your campsite.
Motorized RVs at JGW RV Park, Redding, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Motorized RVs

  • Class A: Think “big-as-a-bus house on wheels”
  • Class B: Think “oversized van”
  • Class C: Think “cab over driver”

(Why the smallest RV is a Class B and the mid-sized RV is called a Class C, we have no idea. It’s just one of those mysteries of the universe.)

Fifth wheel trailer at Lost Duthman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cruise America’s fleet includes large, standard, and compact RVs, as well as truck campers, all of them attached to the truck or chassis cab you’ll need to pull them. RVshare offers both drivable and towable RVs which you’ll rent from the owners. (You’ll need your own vehicle for the towable ones if you drive it yourself; some owners will deliver to the campsite for a fee.)

Worth Pondering…

The attraction of recreational vehicle travel is to see the country, visit new places, meet interesting people, and experience the freedom of the open road.