In this entry I'll talk about the various types of recreational
vehicles, how to choose one for the kind of TV lifestyle you are
considering, and the reasons for our decision to travel and live in a
5th-wheel coach on an almost full-time basis.
DEFINITIONS & TYPES OF OF RVs
Here are some basics about types of RVs and the wide variety of places
to park them when you're traveling:
I use the term "RVing" in a broad sense that includes traveling in
all types of motorized and towable rigs from pop-up tent campers to
bus-like Class A motorhomes. All of them provide mobile living quarters
-- they are literally "rolling residences."
Here's a quick look at the various types of RVs:
Motorhomes, which combine a motor vehicle chassis and living quarters
in one unit, include Class A, B, and C rigs (L-R in diagrams below). Full-timers often choose a Class A
or C motorhome for their convenience, features, and
interior space. They appear to be the most expensive RVs -- until you
realize that you need a motorized vehicle to tow all the other types of
Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between a Class B and a Class
C motorhome. Both are built on a van chassis but the Class C typically
has a sleeping area over the cab. To confuse things even further, at
least one manufacturer has a new, short Class A motorhome (Winnebago
Via, shown below) built on a Sprinter chassis that looks like an longer-than-usual Class B.
The Mercedes-built Sprinter chassis has pretty much revolutionized the motorhome industry in recent years. A variety of RV manufacturers now
offer more fuel-efficient diesel Class As, Bs, and Cs.
The new 25½-foot diesel Winnebago Via Class A motorhome
Note that the picture of the Class B van in the middle is too large in proportion to
the Class A on the left and Class C on the right. Some bus-like Class As are 45
feet long. Class Cs are usually shorter than As but almost always longer than
the van-like Bs.
Towable RVs include travel trailers, fifth-wheel coaches, pop-ups/folding
campers, and truck camper inserts, shown L-R below:
These pictures are also out of proportion, with the two on the
right being too large in comparison to the two on the left. Trailers and
5th-wheels typically stretch from about 20 to 40 feet.
Depending on their size, some travel trailers and pop-ups can be pulled
by a truck, SUV, van, or car. These units hitch to the tow vehicle's
bumper. We've even seen some tiny pop-ups that can be towed by a
motorcycle. You need a pick-up truck to haul a 5th-wheel coach or truck
camper. Fifth-wheels attach to a large hitch in the bed of the truck.
The heavier the travel trailer or 5th-wheel, the heftier the truck
required to safely haul it. Usually a ¾-ton
or 1-ton pick-up will tow about any 5th-wheel out there, but we've seen
semis occasionally used to haul them! This Mobile Suites 5er from DRV is
one of the heaviest you can purchase (one of the brands warranted for
Note that all or most of these recreational vehicles can be called by several names:
RV, camper, rig, coach, unit, and probably some more I can't think
of right now. I'll be using all of them in this series.
I went into excruciating detail about purchasing an RV in a series I
wrote early last year. Check out the 2010
journal for those entries. The next section focuses more on
choosing the best type of RV if you plan to travel and live in it
full-time or for extended periods of time.
WHAT TYPE OF RV IS BEST FOR ME?
Figuring that out can be fun if you have a laid-back Type B
personality. If you're too O-C about it, you might just drive yourself
There are many considerations, including cost to purchase and operate
the unit, how much space you need/want, and what you want your RV
lifestyle to be. Keep in mind that the smaller the RV, the more places
you can park it and probably the better your fuel mileage will be. The
downside is lack of space in the smaller units.
Although this site at Brazos Bend
SP in Texas is plenty big for our Cameo and truck,
we are limited in where we can
park a 36-foot 5th-wheel. (March, 2010)
Let's start with the smallest RVs in size and work up to larger ones.
We don't know anyone who lives for extended periods of time in a
pop-up tent camper, even ones with solid and not canvas sides. Some
people might do this but it's too primitive for most.
Truck camper tops don't have wheels per se; they slide onto
the bed of pick-ups. With some effort, the camper top can be removed at
the campsite and used on its own, with the truck detached.
Although Jim and I can't imagine spending much time in one of those, we've known
several retired runners who travel all over the country to marathons and ultras
in them. I think most of the men still
have a home base but they are driving to and from races the majority of
the time. Some have done the 50 States & DC marathon/ultra circuit
in one year and/or multiple times over a number of years.
I personally think it'd be a recipe for disaster if two people tried
to live in one of those for any length of time! YMMV.
L - R: Class B, Class C (I
and truck camper. They belong to ultra running friends of ours.
We know several couples and individuals who are quite content to travel around in
rather small Class B (van-like) and Class C motorhomes, however.
Most of these units do not have slide-outs that can be opened while
parked to give more interior space. WYSIWYG.
One of the better known
couples is prolific 100-miler Hans-Dieter Weisshaar and his wife Susi.
Although they own houses in both Germany and Mexico, Hans has spent
considerable time traveling to races all around the U.S. during the past
decade, often accompanied by Susi and their dog in an older German-made
Class C motorhome they shipped over here in the early 2000s. It's the
small van-like RV shown in the middle above. Many Class Cs are larger
than this one.
Another one of our friends purchased a very nice used Class B
Airstream motorhome based on the Sprinter chassis a couple of years ago.
It's the van on the left in the photo above. He enjoys traveling in it
so much that he sold his house last year and RVs full time in it now.
Many folks who full-time need/want more space than that and purchase
larger Class A and C motorhomes, travel trailers, and
Towable RVs can vary in length from about 15 feet to 40 feet, plus the length of the vehicle
that tows it. This is an example of a medium-sized travel trailer
with at least one slide-out to give more interior space while parked:
Class As and Cs can be even longer than that
and are often seen with a "toad" behind them (smaller, more
fuel-efficient towed vehicle to drive when the motorhome is parked at a
The next two photos show larger Class C motorhomes than the one that
Here's another Class C that's pretty much at the top of
its class in size, luxury, and cost:
This handsome Dynamax Class C has a full
wall slide on the other side
and a smaller one on this side.
I was invited into the Dynamax shown above for a tour. I loved the attractive
interior, which "lives" as large as many Class As -- and is
more expensive than many of them. I noted, however, that it didn't have as much room as our old 34-foot HitchHiker 5th-wheel with three slides! Our Cameo is two feet longer and
has three slides that are bigger than the HitchHiker -- at a much
lower cost, even with the cost of a tow vehicle.
Many of these larger RVs have one to five slide-outs to offer
space. Materials used to construct them can range from quite basic to very luxurious --
with price tags to match. Some motorhomes end up costing more than
sticks-and-bricks houses. In fact, in the most depressed housing
markets right now, there are many "real" houses that cost less than most
new Class A and C
rigs! An average Class A coach can run you over $200,000, a
luxury one well over $600,000.
Several Cla$$ As are parked
facing South Mineral Creek near Silverton, CO. (June, 2010)
Their "toads" are usually Jeeps
so they can drive around the multitude of 4WD roads in the area.
One younger couple we know who still work at least part of the year
to earn income to maintain their active lifestyle (ultra and adventure
races) have a "toy hauler" in which they live. This type of travel
trailer is becoming more and more popular with folks who like to take
their off-road vehicles, bikes, motorcycles, or other "toys" with them.
The next photo isn't their camper but shows a toy hauler with a large rear solid door instead of windows:
heard of some people who've turned the storage space of toy haulers into work space
(office, workshop, etc.). More and more people are finding a way to make
a living while traveling in their RV.
If you've never had an RV you'll have to start from scratch in your
research for a suitable rig. You're miles ahead, so to speak, if you've
already had some experience with one or more of the types of campers and
have a better idea of their advantages and disadvantages.
This is an unusual Class A with
an upper "observation deck." I don't know the brand. (Jan., 2011)
So much depends on your budget, your space requirements, and how you
want to travel and live in your RV.
If you'll be traveling by yourself, you don't need as much space as a
couple with two big dogs, for example. If you want to fit into just
about any campsite out there, particularly little ones in public
campgrounds or at trailheads, you'll need a smaller rig. If you love to cook and want to
prepare meals like you make in your house, you'll need a kitchen with
adequate counter/storage space and appliances (refrigerator, range,
oven, microwave). If you want the
convenience of moving from the passenger seat to the bathroom in
transit without getting out of your RV, or you don't want the bother of
hooking/unhooking from a tow vehicle, you'll want a motorhome instead
of a trailer or 5th-wheel.
Those are just a few examples of some of the decisions that should be
made prior to choosing a particular type or model of RV for extended
use. I guarantee you the consequences are greater the more time you plan
to live in
WHY JIM & I PREFER "FIVERS" FOR OUR PARTICULAR LIFESTYLE
I'm going to open a can of worms here . . .
From what I've read, it appears that full-timers are pretty evenly
split between owning motorhomes (especially Class As) and 5th-wheel coaches. Each has
advantages and disadvantages. Your task is to figure out which type of
RV will suit you the best. Good luck!
Most folks we know who are living in Class A, B, or C motorhomes
wouldn't trade them for a 5th-wheel. Most people we know who are
full-timing in 5th-wheels wouldn't trade them for a motorhome.
Does that tell you anything?
We see a lot of military retirees in FamCamps like
Hill AFB in Utah
that have Class A or C motorhomes and 5th-wheel
coaches. (September, 2010)
Neither Jim nor I have ever owned a motorhome so we can't speak as
knowledgeably as people who have traveled and lived extensively in them. Over the years we have gradually gotten larger and larger towable campers to
accommodate our lifestyle. The last three were 5th-wheel coaches of 27
feet, then 34 feet (we thought until a few days before trading it in that it was
only 32!), and now 36 feet long.
The advantage of the larger models is more comfort. The
disadvantages are more weight to haul, lower fuel mileage, higher costs in
general, and fewer options of where to park.
Each time we've knowingly
chosen comfort over all that! After all this time, we know ourselves
pretty well. We'd be miserable constantly tripping over each other or
our dog(s), having inadequate space in the kitchen or bathroom, or being
scrunched against the walls in the bedroom.
Our old HitchHikerII fiver: not built for
extended-travel RVers but OK while it lasted
When we literally wore out our 34-foot NuWa HitchHikerII 5th-wheel a
year ago we purchased a new 36-foot Carriage Cameo 5th-wheel coach. (See
series starting January 29, 2010.) Even
though we aren't technically full-timing yet we worked hard to find a
sturdier, better insulated -- and yes, more comfortable --
camper because we use it nine to ten months of the year and aspire to be
full-timers. We live as lightly as we
can in our RVs but they still wear out over time, especially considering
all the miles we travel.
We didn't realize until we were
looking for the new rig that only two companies at that time warranted
their fivers for full-time use. That came as a surprise to us; we
verified that information and
focused on products made only by those two companies:
We have a 9-foot bedroom
slide-out and a 14-foot living area slide-out on this side
of our 5th-wheel, and another
12-foot slide-out on the door side ; that one is deeper (three feet).
The dry weight of the Cameo is about 2,000 pounds heavier than the
old HitchHiker was but our fuel mileage hasn't significantly
deteriorated. One reason is that we started driving slower when we
got the Cameo, usually
60 MPH now on freeways instead of 65-70. That makes a big difference. We
also try to carry less weight in the camper, particularly less fresh, grey, or black water in our tanks
when we're in transit (only enough for the nights we'll be boondocking
somewhere like WalMart) and fewer heavy items like canned goods (we wait until we get to our next destination to
buy what we need for a few days).
We average 11-12 MPG in mountainous
terrain and up to 14-15 MPG on flatter ground -- especially
heading back east, which is more downhill and with a prevailing tailwind! That's
not too terrible for a camper that weighs 14,000 to 15,000 pounds loaded.
I don't know if Jim and I will ever get a Class A
or Class C motorhome (Bs are too small for us). They are considerably more expensive, don't offer any more
living area (usually less) than what we have, and require a different "toad" than what we
already own. In our opinion, well-built 5th-wheel coaches have the most room and features for
Most satisfied motorhome owners will quibble with that, however. You have
to figure out what's best for you.
IT'S YOUR TURN
Do plenty of research if you haven't already purchased an RV to
accommodate your intended lifestyle. Check out the series of entries I
January, search the internet for other
buying tips, go look at all the different categories of rigs at RV shows
and dealerships, learn as much as you can about different features,
investigate the companies whose products you prefer, and maybe rent one
or more types of campers for short trips to see how they drive and
It can be a long process to find what you want at an affordable price but
everything you learn along the way will help you select the right RV for
Next topic in this series: endless camping options --
how in the world do we figure out where to stay??
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil