RV 101: The Different Types of RVs

RV 101 – A Series

This is the first in a series called RV 101. This series will explain things that we learned in the process of buying our RV, as well as basic aspects of our motorhome. We hope that you find it to be a good ‘basic course’ on RVs and what they have to offer!

This post summarizes the different type of RVs. They fall under 1 of 2 categories: towable or self contained. From there, they then fit within other buckets.

Towable

Towable RVs must be towed by a truck or SUV. They do not move on their own. While traveling, any passengers or pets must be contained in the truck or SUV, as staying in the trailer is dangerous – not to mention it cannot be climate controlled while going down the road, so things get very hot inside! Here are the types of towable RVs:

 

Travel Trailer

Travel trailers are very common and can vary in size greatly, anywhere from 15 feet or so (this could be towed by a small SUV) or a 40 foot model that you’d need a big truck to tow. Because they are essentially all the same shape (rectangle), travel trailers have a lot of different layouts to choose from. We’ve read that the larger ones  can be difficult to tow  because of the sway factor. Since there is just a hitch connecting the truck to the trailer, and the trailer is very long and boxy, the wind and other vehicles make it sway all over the road. There are anti-sway hitches that help with this.

Sometimes travel trailers have names called “lite” or “extra lite”. This is an effort by the manufacturer to lighten the trailer so you don’t need such a big vehicle to tow it. They use lightweight materials, which is usually a step down in quality (think particleboard and fixtures that look like steel but are really plastic). They also use a wavy aluminum to cover the outside, which is cheaper than fiberglass. One con of travel trailers is that they have very little storage because the whole unit is the living/sleeping space – no compartments underneath.

Travel trailers are probably the most popular type of RV, simply because there are so many variations. If you were just doing weekend trips, a small travel trailer would be perfect.

Airstream trailer
An Airstream travel trailer
Jayco Jay Flight travel trailer
Medium size Jayco Jay Flight travel trailer
 

Fifth Wheel

Fifth wheels can only be towed by a pickup truck. They are mounted with a special hitch in the bed. We found that the majority of fifth wheels have the bedroom and bathroom in the upper part of the trailer (the part that fits into the truck bed) which means that Tim (who is 6’5” tall) couldn’t stand up in them. We started out wanting a fifth wheel. They are very spacious and feel the most “house like” out of all of the RV’s. A lot of them have bunkhouses or lofts, which would have been perfect for Calla.  Fifth wheels are supposed to be easier to maneuver than a travel trailer because so much of the RV is inside the truck bed, making the turning radius shorter.

Even the smallest fifth wheels are about 30′ long, and the longest are 42′. They do have some storage compartments underneath, which is an advantage over a travel trailer. The downside to fifth wheels is that you need a very large, powerful truck to tow them. Then once you are parked in the campground, this big truck would be your daily driver.

It seems like most people that full-time in their RVs either have a fifth wheel or motorhome.

Fifth-wheel
Small fifth wheel – 99% of the ones we see are much larger than this
Jayco Eagle fifth wheel in Utah
Fifth wheel with slides out

Pop-Up

Pop-up trailers are small and easy to tow. Some of them are small enough that they can be towed by a car! The trailer opens up (it has soft fabric sides) and beds fold out of either side. Usually they do not have a bathroom – just beds and a small kitchen. Pop-up trailers are another popular choice for those camping on the weekends.

Pop Up Camper

Teardrop

Teardrops are hard sided campers that are small and easy to tow. Most people can’t stand up in them, and there usually no bathroom – it’s used for sleeping only, and there is usually a small outdoor kitchen that opens up in the back.

Turtle1500TeardropTrailer
Teardrop

Truck Camper

These campers are small and fit into the bed of a pickup truck.  They come in many sizes and configurations.  The larger ones need a heavy duty truck, but have slide-outs, a bathroom, and can sleep several people!

Truck Camper

Self-Contained

As the name explains, self-contained RVs are just that. They are not towed by anything. Instead, the RV itself is built on a vehicle chassis and the whole thing moves down the road as one unit. The downside to this is if something breaks on the vehicle itself, the whole thing has to go in the shop. In the case of the travel trailer or fifth wheel, just the trailer (or just the truck) would go. The advantage is less setup, easier to drive (when backing up or turning you only have to worry about one vehicle instead of two), and you can climate control the RV while you drive, meaning you, your pets, and your kids can all stay in the same vehicle.

 

Class A Motorhome

Class A motorhomes are built on commercial truck chassis (or chassis specifically produced for class A motorhomes).  They can be either diesel or gas. We will go into the pros/cons of gas vs. diesel in another post, because there’s a lot to say (and consider) on that topic. How to tell a Class A motorhome from a Class C motorhome? Class As have no separation between the cab and the “house” and have the big windows in front – the windshield is as tall as the vehicle itself. Class Cs have a visible “seam” between the cab and the “house” and often have a sleeping area over the front cab.

Class As have a lot of storage compartments underneath, some of which ‘pass through’ to the other side of the RV, making them big enough for large objects, such as a ladder.

Class As also have varying layouts, but not as many choices as a fifth wheel or travel trailer. The front of the vehicle is (obviously) always taken up by the dashboard and the driver and passenger seat. This means you lose the first 6′ or so of the vehicle length to the driving area. So if you RV is 38 feet long, you really only have ~32 feet of living space. Contrast this to a trailer, where the whole thing is living space – so you get your whole 38 feet. Motorhomes will usually have a couch, a kitchen area, bathroom, bedroom, and sometimes a dining area as well.

Rv classa
Itasca Suncruiser Class A Motorhome
2015 Coachmen Mirada
Coachmen Mirada Class A

Class C Motorhome

Class C motorhomes are usually smaller than Class As. This is a general rule though and it’s not always the case. Class Cs vary in length from 22′ to 34′ or so. They do make 40′ Class C motorhomes that are built on larger, commercial truck chassis (called ‘Super Cs’) but these are rare.  As I mentioned above, they often have sleeping space above the cab. These sleeping spaces would come in handy for a child or guest, but we wouldn’t want to sleep in it every night. They are usually pretty cramped and don’t have much height. You wouldn’t even be able to sit up in bed, and you’d have to climb a ladder to get in/out. Luckily, the majority of Class Cs also have a full-sized bed in the back.  Some even have murphy beds!

The downside to the class C is that they have less storage space underneath and they are generally smaller inside than a Class A, so they feel a little more cramped (or cozy)!.

Motorhome-RV-Class-C-Sprinter-Ford-Chassis
Class B on the left, Class C on the right
Chevrolet 3500 Itasca Spirit Motorhome (14913427589)
Also a C

Class B / Travel Van

These are vans that have been converted to be lived in! They have a small kitchen, (sometimes) a wet bath (which means that there is no separate shower – the whole bathroom IS the shower), and a sleeping area that usually doubles as the couch area. Vans are small, but easy to navigate. You can fit in pretty much any camping spot with these! ‘Vanning’, as living in a travel van is called, has become very popular and would be doable for 1-2 people only.

Leisure Van – A very expensive travel van!

 

Toy Hauler

A toy hauler is a sub-category of RV. It has a large room in the back of it with a big fold down door.  It serves as a garage – you can strap your ‘toys’ in the back – golf cart, motorcycles, etc, hence the name.  It also usually has beds that raise up out of the way when not in use.  Some even have lofts above!  Many families use the toy hauler space as a child’s bedroom.

Travel trailer toy hauler

What Works for You

Hopefully now you are more educated on the different type of RVs available. Choosing one, however, is a whole different story! That process took us months, and there are so many considerations, many of which I have not even discussed in this RV 101 article.  Maybe I’ll get into that next!

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