Do you want to travel the country — for part of the year, or even full-time — in comfort and style? Have you been looking into the best way to make this possible for a while now? The fact that fifth wheel travel trailers are among the most luxurious, safe, reliable, and convenient solutions for nomads will not have escaped you.
Those who are ready to explore the possibility of vacationing, or living, in a fifth wheel further will already have looked beyond the initial “Yes! Fifth wheels seem awesome!”, and are ready to consider the practical questions.
What kinds of fifth wheel travel trailers might your current truck be able to tow safely, or what trucks should you be shopping for if you already have your heart set on a particular fifth wheel model? For answers, you need to start with the basics. How much does a fifth wheel weigh, and how does that affect your towing capacity?
Why Do They Call it a Fifth Wheel?
There is no question that fifth wheel travel trailers can look intimidating and unwieldy to folks who are not familiar with the design. These RVs, towed by heavy pickup trucks, are, however, both extremely secure and maneuverable. This is thanks to the unique fifth wheel hitch coupling shaped like a horseshoe, which allows the trailer to rest directly within the truck’s bed.
So, why do they call it a fifth wheel? That question needs to be answered in two parts.
Fifth wheel trailers are named after the fifth wheel coupling that connects these RVs to the towing vehicle. Over time, “fifth wheel” became an affectionate shorthand for recreational vehicles designed to be towed in this manner, something that has since become so common that “fifth wheel” is very frequently used as an official term to describe travel trailers with fifth wheel hitches.
Go further back, however, and the name gets its inspiration from 19th-century horse carriages that relied on a literal — and horizontal — fifth wheel that made it possible for the front axel to pivot. Despite all the technological advances that were made since that time, the fifth-wheel carriages of the past and modern fifth wheel trailers have their maneuverability in common.
How Much Does a Fifth Wheel Weigh on Average?
That’s a tough question! Fifth wheels can generally be categorized, on the basis of their weights, as ultra-lightweight, lightweight, mid-size (or mid-profile), and full-size luxury fifth wheels. Because there’s always got to be something bigger and badder, the fifth wheels to top them all would be “toy-hauler fifth wheels”.
Most fifth wheels weight anywhere from 7,000 to 20,000 pounds, although it is possible to find lighter as well as heavier fifth wheels. If we were pressed to offer an average weight, it would be around 14,000 pounds. Don’t take our word for it, though — let’s examine some popular fifth wheels in each weight class and see what these bad boys weigh!
In the lightweight fifth wheel category, some of the most loved examples are:
- Forest River Arctic Wolf 261RK: 7,773 lbs, 30′ 7″
- Jayco Eagle HT 24.5CKTS: 7,460 lbs, 29′ 5″
- Coachmen Chaparral Lite 274BH: 8,692 lbs, 35′ 11″
Notable examples of mid-profile fifth wheels, which generally start at 10,000 lbs, include:
- Highland Ridge Mesa Ridge 330BHS: 9,790 lbs, 39′ 4″
- Grand Design Reflection 337RLS: 10,697 lbs, 35′ 6″
- Heartland Bighorn 3120RK: 11,972 lbs, 37′ 6″
In the luxury fifth wheel category, the unloaded vehicle weight goes up a fair bit. Considering that these fifth wheels are equipped with full-sized electrical appliances , kitchens, and bathrooms, that is no surprise.
Luxury fifth wheels can have a UVW of anything between 11,000 pounds and 20,000 pounds, as the following examples demonstrate:
How to Calculate 5th Wheel Towing Capacity? Does a 5th Wheel Increase Your Towing Capacity?
Your truck’s towing capacity is the upper weight limit it can safely tow — and you are certainly not alone if you wish you could simply look that number up on the world wide web and receive an accurate answer a few seconds later. Because your truck’s towing capacity depends on numerous factors that include the number of passengers, the way in which you distribute the weight, and how your set up is configured, that is is not going to be possible.
Yes. That indeed means that manufacturer estimates are not going to cut it, and you’ll have some calculating to do; especially if you are gearing up to invest in a fifth wheel but you want to use your existing truck.
The simplest way to go about determining fifth wheel towing capacity is to follow these steps:
- Find out what the Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR) of your truck and your fifth wheel is. You do this by adding the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of your truck and the CVWR of your fifth wheel.
- You will need to know the weight of everything else you are carrying as well — that includes your total cargo, remembering that even many little things add up quite quickly, the driver, and the passengers you will be carrying. Remember that the weight your truck is carrying and the load you have in your fifth wheel both need to be considered.
- Next, you need to know the curb weight of the tow truck — meaning the weight of the truck in is operational capacity, so including fuel, oil, and other fluids. Tires and batteries should also be counted.
- Finally, subtract the truck’s curb weight from the total Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating of the tuck and the fifth wheel, including cargo, the driver, and passengers.
Depending on how well you performed your calculations, you will now have solid insights into the fifth wheel towing capacity. Because nobody is perfect and you will not always be able to start your calculations with accurate data, however, it is imperative that you put a safety barrier in place.
Some RV-ers are confident in hitting the road with a towing capacity of 100 percent or even beyond. Most, however, advise that you leave yourself a 10 percent, or ideally 20 percent, “error zone”. That way, you know that you are likely to remain safe even if your calculations had some oversights.
Fifth wheels, however, do allow you to carry heavier loads more safely and effectively than any other hitching method currently available.
These strong hitches are therefore more forgiving of calculation errors than common ball hitches — but that does not mean that you should not still make safety your foremost priority by doing the math right before you hit the road with your fifth wheel.
Still struggling? You are not alone! Before turning to a professional, you may want to:
- Have a look at ExploreUSA’s tow rating guide, which shows you which fifth wheels your truck can tow safely.
- Play around with Fifth Wheel Magazine’s weight calculator, with safety margins chosen by you.
- If you own a Ford truck, head straight for their to find out more. Other truck manufacturers often offer similar handy charts to help you determine your towing capacity.
What Is Hitch Weight on a 5th Wheel?
Hitch weight — also called tongue weight — refers to the weight, or more specifically the amount of force, a trailer applies to the hitch to which it is mounted. It is an important factor to consider as you decide whether your truck can safely tow a particular fifth wheel travel trailer, and should be calculated in addition to the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating as you are attempting to figure out your truck’s towing capacity.
The terms “hitch weight” and “tongue weight” are general and typically refer to campers. In the case of fifth wheels, you will hear people talk about the pin weight instead. Some fifth wheel manufacturers, will, however, use the term hitch weight — and now you know what that means. The dry hitch weight does not tell the full story, though, and the truck’s bed length also plays a role.
What Does Dry Weight Mean on a Travel Trailer?
When you are shopping around for fifth wheels, you will quickly notice that manufacturers include various weight specifications. They include the fifth wheel’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), the amount of cargo the fifth wheel is able to load, and the dry pin or hitch weight.
The other number that will be included is the Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW for short). This refers to the weight of the fifth wheel when it leaves the factory — so it is going to include appliances, furniture, engine, and generator weights, among other things. This UVW is calculated with the weight of a full fuel tank, generator, and fluids in mind, but it will not include anything else that you may load into your fifth wheel.
Sometimes, the manufacturer will instead specify a dry weight, which is the same as the Unloaded Vehicle Weight but without fuel, fluids, and any optional equipment that you may or may not have chosen to add as you customized your fifth wheel and its floor plan.
How to Figure Out the Pin Weight on a 5th Wheel?
Those few folks who may have full access to a commercial scale can test the pin weight on their fifth wheel in real time. The rest of us have two options. We can either make a rough calculation of the pin weight by figuring out what 20 to 25 percent of the fifth wheel’s Gross Trailer Weight Rating is, or turn to the manufacturer’s dry hitch weight data for further information.
If you do both, you’ll have an added advantage. You know the load you are carrying, after all, while the manufacturer has run tests to determine the dry hitch weight.
Is a Gooseneck Hitch the Same as a Fifth Wheel Hitch?
No. While the two coupling systems are similar, they also have marked differences.
A gooseneck hitch attaches to a gooseneck trailer with a hitch ball, and is generally mounted on the underside of the truck bed. These simple but reliable hitches can, like fifth wheel hitches, be counted on to tow loads of up to 30,000 pounds and offer the advantage of a straightforward installation process. They do not have the same stability in the connection they make, however, and are most often used in agriculture.
A fifth wheel hitch is more difficult to install as well as significantly more expensive, but it offers a stable, smooth, and low-noise connection as well as being able to carry more weight. These qualities make fifth wheel hitches superior for recreational and full-time nomads alike.
The good news? If you already have a gooseneck hitch, you can convert it to a fifth wheel hitch without too much trouble. Several very good adapters are currently on the market to make this possible.
Or What Size Truck Do I Need to Pull a 5th Wheel?
To offer a general guide, you will generally be able to tow a fifth wheel that falls within the lightweight weight class — generally around 7,000 pounds, but sometimes significantly lighter — with a half ton truck. A mid-profile fifth wheel can be towed with a ¾ truck or one ton truck, while most luxury fifth wheels will require a full one ton truck with a long bed.
However, armed with the information from this guide, you will be able to make much more accurate calculations that tell you more precisely which fifth wheels your existing truck can tow, or what trucks you should consider shortlisting for your current fifth wheel.
In conclusion, choosing the right fifth wheel for your truck — or, for that matter, the right new truck for your fifth wheel — is quite the task. Do your research correctly, however, and you’ll reap the benefits. You’ll enjoy your fifth wheel for many years, knowing that safety is your utmost concern, and you’ll be able to travel the country, or even the continent, without any worries.
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