Since the only common trait shared by every towable RV is the lack of an engine or drive train of its own, the universe of towable RVs is vast and varied. At one end of the spectrum, you find tiny pop up campers that can be towed by passenger cars–and even some that are designed to be towed by a motorcycle or bicycle–while the other end of the spectrum plays host to enormous fifth wheels and park models that boast all the comforts at home. Somewhere in between, most likely, you’ll find a towable RV that fits you perfectly, and that all starts with identifying the broad categories that these diverse recreational vehicles fit into.
Travel Trailers: the Gold Standard Towable RV
The vast majority of all towable RVs fall into the travel trailer category. All travel trailers share a few common characteristics, such as rigid sides, a solid roof, and a hitch coupler that’s designed for a standard bumper-, frame- or chassis-mounted hitch. Since travel trailers can vary in length from sub-18 feet to over 30 feet, with a corresponding swing in weight ratings, some travel trailers can be towed by light trucks and SUVs, while others can only be towed by medium or heavy duty trucks. That makes for a delicate interplay when choosing a travel trailer to go with an existing tow vehicle, or when choosing a tow vehicle to go with your ideal travel trailer.
Although all travel trailers have rigid sides, some of the smaller, lighter models feature pop-up or pop-out sections. In the case of certain hard-sided pop up travel trailers, the walls are still rigid after the unit has been expanded. In the case of most small, lightweight units, the pop-out sections utilize the same type of soft walls that you see in pop up tent trailers. In the former example, the entire trailer collapses vertically to make for easier storage and offer less wind resistance during travel. In the latter, the point of the pop-out sections is to provide more living or sleeping space.
Moving away from the smaller end of the scale, travel trailers offer most of the same amenities that you can find in fifth wheels, motorhomes, and other recreational vehicles. The more affordable travel trailers typically feature rugged upholstery and budget-minded options for flooring, counters, fixtures and other components, while travel trailers on the other end of the price scale often come with the same finishing touches that you can find in luxury motorhomes.
Approximate ranges for lengths, weights and prices of travel trailers are:
- Length: 11′ – 36’+
- Weight: 2,700 – 8,000+ lbs
- Price: $15,000 – 50,000+
For more information about travel trailers, including manufacturers, specs, and buying advice, see our travel trailer resource.
Fifth Wheel Travel Trailers
Although this class of towable RV is often referred to simply as a fifth wheel, that term actually refers to the type of tow coupling they use rather than the RV itself, since other kinds of trailers can use fifth wheel couplings. Unlike traditional travel trailers, which are sometimes referred to as “bumper pull trailers” or “tag along” trailers, this type of towable RV utilizes a tow coupling that connects to a fifth wheel hitch. This type of hitch is typically mounted in the bed of a truck, which is why fifth wheels are almost always towed by pickup trucks. There are some other ways to tow a fifth wheel trailer, but most people who buy a fifth wheel either have a pickup or end up buying one.
Other than the hitch configuration, fifth wheels are very similar to travel trailers. The main difference is that the combined length of the tow vehicle plus the trailer, everything else being equal, is shorter when you have a fifth wheel, since part of the fifth wheel extends over the bed of the tow vehicle. Many longer and high end fifth wheels have higher ceilings to make up for this, but the portion of the trailer that extends over the bed of the tow vehicle is often used for a bedroom, so ceiling height typically isn’t that much of an issue even in shorter, more affordable units.
Approximate ranges for lengths, weights and prices of travel trailers are:
- Length: 27′ – 40′
- Weight: 8,000 – 18,000+ lbs
- Price: $26,000 – 100,000+
For more information about fifth wheel trailers, including manufacturers, specs, and buying advice, see our fifth wheel resource.
The toy hauler, which is sometimes referred to as a Sports Utility RV (SURV), is a relatively new class of towable RV. At a basic level, a toy hauler is essentially just a travel trailer or fifth wheel that is designed to transport small motorized vehicles like ATVs and dirt bikes. To facilitate this, toy haulers typically feature a fold-down ramp in the back and a sectioned off portion of the interior living space that doubles as a garage on wheels. Some toy haulers also come with built-in gas tanks, which you can use to keep your toys fueled up, in lieu of transporting large volumes of gasoline in small containers.
Bare bones toy haulers are little more than converted cargo trailers, but high end models feature the same kinds of amenities and features that you can find in high end travel trailers, fifth wheels, and even motorhomes. The main difference is that even in high end toy haulers, the rear of the unit has to function as a garage, so it typically has to be sealed off from the living space. In some cases, this space can be used for storage, but many toy haulers include fold-down couches, tables, and even beds that stow away when traveling and fold down when you reach your destination, allowing you to turn the garage space into viable living space.
Approximate ranges for lengths, weights and prices of toy haulers are:
- Length: 18′ – 30′ +
- Weight: 3,000 – 10,000+
- Price: $20,000 – 50,000+
For more information about toy haulers, including manufacturers, specs, and buying advice, see our toy hauler resource.
Pop Up Trailers
Pop up trailers are smaller, lighter, and less expensive than most other types of towable RVs. The very smallest pop ups are actually designed to be towed by motorcycles, or even bicycles, but most are designed with light trucks and SUVs in mind, at a minimum, for a tow vehicle. Most pop ups have soft sides when expanded, which is why they’re often called tent trailers–the sides, and pop out portions, are made of the same material as some heavy duty tents.
The main benefits of pop up trailers are tied to their low prices and small sizes. They tend to be the most affordable type of towable RV, and they’re also exceedingly easy to store and transport. Soft sided pop up trailers aren’t always the most comfortable option in the winter, if you camp in cold climate locales, but hard-sided A-frame pop ups do fare better in those situations. These tiny towables are also best suited to campers who prefer to spend time outdoors, since the quarters can get pretty cramped inside.
Approximate ranges for lengths, weights and prices of pop up trailers are:
- Length: 8′ – 30′
- Weight: 300 – 2,000+ lbs
- Price: $2,500 – $20,000+
For more information about pop up trailers, see our pop up trailer resource, or for more exhaustive information, including manufacturers, specs, and buying advice, and a whole lot more, visit our sister site: popupcampers.us.
The very smallest towable RVs, even smaller than tent trailers, are commonly referred to as teardrops due to their iconic shape. These tiny towables are so small, and so basic, that handy campers can, and often do, build them in their own backyards or garages. They’re also available commercially, of course, and with many surprising amenities that you might not expect to find in such a small RV.
The typical layout of a teardrop includes an interior sleeping space, either enough for one or two people, and storage in the rear for a cook stove and other amenities. Teardrops are the one class of towable RV that don’t offer bathroom facilities, which should almost go without saying, since most of them don’t even have enough headroom to comfortably sit up inside. Like pop ups, teardrop trailers are perfectly suited to campers who want to spend a lot of time outdoors, but who also prefer to have a warm, dry place to sleep.
Approximate ranges for lengths, weights and prices of teardrop trailers are:
- Length: 8′ – 10′
- Weight: 500+ lbs
- Price: $10,000+
More information about teardrop trailers can be found within our larger travel trailer resource.