What Is A Fifth Wheel Camper?

This article may contain affiliate links where we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

There is no question that the RV business is more popular than ever, with over $140 billion in economic impact. But what is a fifth-wheel camper exactly?

A 5th-wheel camper is a towed recreational vehicle that provides the comforts of home for families who want to travel. The camper is attached to the tow vehicle by a specially designed hitch that rests in the truck’s bed (anchored to the frame) and locks onto the campers kingpin assembly.

Americans love the RV lifestyle. If you don’t believe me, just travel our nation’s roadways for an afternoon, and you’ll be surprised by the number of recreational vehicles you see. Since RV owners spend over $140 billion supporting the national economy, it is easy to see the kind of impact these rolling homes have. If you are thinking about joining the millions of RV owners, welcome. (It can be intimidating when you start considering hitching up a fifth-wheel camper or travel trailer to a truck, and there are many questions). For example, what is a fifth-wheel camper? What is the difference between a fifth wheel and a gooseneck hitch? Are fifth-wheel campers better for recreational vehicles? Let’s answer a few of these basic questions, so you can have all the information you need to start traveling down the road.

Table of Contents


What is a Fifth Wheel Camper?

A fifth wheel gets its name from old carriages in the 1800s that were used as a horizontal wheel (5th wheel) to allow the front axle to pivot. The name has carried over to include the type of hitch that connects the trailer to the tow vehicle. A fifth-wheel camper has a diagonal overhang that narrows into a kingpin and latches into a U-shaped locking mechanism attached to the pickup truck’s frame (it sits in the center of the truck bed).

Many fifth-wheel hitches have sliding mechanisms that allow flexibility when making a sharp turn. The trailer can react appropriately, moving with the truck rather than resisting the steering force. Most RV owners believe the fifth-wheel connection provides a quieter, more stable towing experience, which is why most recreational trailers are fifth-wheel campers.

What’s The Difference Between A Fifth-Wheel And Gooseneck Hitch?

While a fifth-wheel hitch has a kingpin connection, a gooseneck has a coupler situated on top of a hitch ball, similar to the tow ball extending from a bumper pull. The gooseneck ball is fashioned into the center of the truck bed and requires the pickup owner to drill a hole in the middle of the bed. The trailer coupler rotates over the ball as the truck turns, and this helps the trailer to react. Most gooseneck trailers are used for agricultural or industrial applications.

A gooseneck connection has a higher towing capacity than a fifth-wheel truck. The gooseneck hitch is easier to remove from the bed of a truck (fifth-wheel hitch assemblies are very heavy).

What Are the Pros And Cons Of Fifth Wheels?

There are several pros and cons of fifth-wheel hitches that are worth considering before taking the plunge.

On the positive side, fifth-wheel hitches provide a steady and secure towing experience. Due to the design of the hitch locking around the kingpin, the trailer tends to be anchored to the tow vehicle when compared to conventional bumper pull hitches. Many 5th-wheel hitches incorporate sliding heads that move from side to side, allowing the camper to follow the truck’s lead. It is vital to have a sliding head if you are towing with a shorter bed so that the front of the camper doesn’t crash into the cab’s rear window.

Part of the reason that 5th wheels offer a better towing experience is because the tongue weight is centered over the truck bed, rather than hanging on the back end of the bumper. The placement of the kingpin offers a quieter, more efficient way of towing and allows the truck’s frame to bear the trailer’s weight.

Unfortunately, fifth-wheel hitches are more expensive than a conventional ball mount, and they are cumbersome (most weigh about 100 lbs or more). They are challenging to move, and the mounting rails will be a permanent fixture in the bed.

A fifth-wheel hitch will not have the towing capacity of a gooseneck hitch. (Some goosenecks can tow as much as 30k lbs, which makes them ideal for livestock uses).

Are There Different Sizes Of Fifth Wheel Campers?

Fifth-wheel campers come in all shapes and sizes, depending on the amenities owners wish to include.

Smaller Fifth Wheel Campers

Some smaller campers weigh around 5 - 7k lbs and are designed with more basic comforts, like sleep quarters, small kitchens, and dining areas. These campers are the perfect choice for families because they sleep 4-6 people and have adequate living space. The advantage of smaller campers is that most can be towed by a half-ton pickup due to the lower weight.

For example, the Escape 5.0 is a 21-foot fiberglass travel camper that is easy to tow and sleeps up to four people. At 5500 lbs of GVWR (3910 lbs dry weight), the trailer is small enough not to be a burden on the road. The unit offers a full-sized bedroom, a small kitchen and bath, and a dinette that converts into additional bed space. Priced at $44k, this trailer is an affordable option for families wanting to try the RV lifestyle.

Another small fifth-wheel camper is Jayco Eagle HT 24RE, which includes a king-size bed, separate entertainment, and a dining area. It is heavier than some models at almost 10k lbs GVWR (and is also longer, too - 29.1 feet). The Eagle offers a luxurious feel, but is still affordable at around $65,000.

Mid-Sized Fifth Wheel Campers

Fifth Wheel campers average around 13.000 - 15,000 lbs and are around 35 feet long. These campers will seat 6 - 8 people and offer very nice amenities and comforts. (Remember that the additional weight and surface area make them more susceptible to crosswinds and trailer sway, which means you need a heavy-duty truck to tow them).

A medium-duty fifth-wheel camper is Forest River Artic Wolf. This RV has almost anything you need, a lovely interior with ample living space. Complete with a large dining area with plenty of storage and separate sleeping quarters. This travel trailer would be perfect for families chucking city life in favor of an RV lifestyle.

Large Fifth Wheel Campers

The largest fifth-wheel trailers are often the most luxurious. Averaging over 40 feet in length, these campers can sleep eight or more people and have refinements like marble countertops, large screen entertainment areas with theater-style seating, and dual bathrooms. While you might not need all the luxuries of the lifestyles of the rich and famous, it’s nice to dream about (or have if you can afford it). Many of these models, like the Jayco 38FLGS have options that can push the price to over $150,000.

Are There Legal Limits For Fifth Wheel Campers?

Most states have limits on the dimensions of a fifth-wheel trailer to be operated on the road. For example, most states require that no fifth-wheel camper can be over 13 feet 6 inches tall or over 45 feet wide. Other states prevent triple towing (pulling a vehicle behind the RV). It is always a good idea to check any state regulations you might be traveling to or through.