Best Travel Trailers – Our 5 Step Buying Guide

Choosing the best travel trailers to consider buying isn’t  easy. You’ve talked about it with the family and you all have decided that its time to buy a travel trailer. But you’re still not sure which is the best travel trailer to buy or worse yet you have no idea about how to go about choose a top rated travel trailer that you and your family will enjoy for years to come.

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In this guide I will go over the things you need to consider when selecting and purchasing a travel trailer, 5th wheel, toy hauler or even a pop-up camper. I will break this down into sections that will discuss budget, towing requirements, type of travel trailer, length and options. I am also including an extensive comparison chart that compares many of the best travel trailers in the industry.

It’s important that you try to choose the best travel trailer from the very beginning otherwise you’ll end up with a trailer that will sit in the driveway and never used.  When deciding to buy a travel trailer understand that it’s usually not about the price but rather about the type of outdoor and camping experience you want to have for you and your family. Once you have an idea of what your perfect camping experience should be than choosing a travel trailer to enhance and complement that experience will be easy.

Let’s take a look at our 5 step plan to buying the best travel trailer for you and your family.

Step 1 – Your Travel Trailer Budget

Travel trailers, pull behind campers, toy haulers and 5th wheel can range in price from under $10,000 for a basic unit with so-so features to to well over $100,000 for a top of the line, fully-load with option unit. Visit a travel trailer lot and you will be inundated with all sorts of models in a multitude of prices. By setting a budget before you walk into a dealership or before you start shopping online you will be less tempted to look at models out of your price range and will instead focus on models and options that are within your price range. Overall set a realistic budget that you can afford and that at a minimum will get you what you need in a travel trailer. Temper your expectation to the budget you have set and don’t expect champagne on a beer budget.

Step 2 – How Much Trailer Can You Tow?

In choosing the best trailers to choose from for you and your family you need to consider the vehicle you will be using to tow your trailer. First take a look at your owner manual to determine the maximum weight the your car, SUV or truck can safely tow. So how do you know what your travel trailer weighs? The rating you are looking for is the GVW or the Gross Vehicle Weight. The GVW is the weight of a trailer once it is fully loaded with supplied and gear. This the total weight and is not a weight you want to exceed since then you will of course be exceeding what the travel trailer itself can safely handle. Don’t confuse GVW with Dry Weight which is the weight of the trailer without your gear and supplies. Since travel trailers can be towed by both SUV’s ad trucks make your your hitch is the right rating for your trailer.

Step 3 – Type of Travel Trailer to Choose

So how do you plan to use your trailer. In order to select the best travel trailer for you you will need to determine what kind of a camping/outdoor experience you are hoping to have. Will you be setting up under the stars and hanging out with family and friends? Will you be bringing along your ATV, Jet Ski, golf cart? Travel trailers come in different flavors to suit your style of RVing. Let’s take a look at the different types of trailers.

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Fifth Wheel Travel Trailers and Toy Haulers: One of the best travel trailers you can buy a 5th wheel travel trailer is designed to be towed by a truck with a special hitch in the truck bed. 5th wheels provide some of the more luxurious accommodations found in travel trailer due to the fact that they are big and often time have two levels of living area.  In addition many have one, two or three slide-outs that add additional living space.They are perfect for short or long getaways and for some folks it is their permanent home. Below is an example of a 5th wheel travel trailer.

5th wheel travel trailer

If you are going to select one of these trailers keep in mind you are going to need a pick-up that can tow it with ease. Depending on the size of your 5th wheel a one or two ton truck will be needed. Also keep in mind that you will need to install a 5th wheel trailer hitch on your pick-up bed and obviously there is a cost associated with that plus you do limit the use of your truck’s bed somewhat. Below is a photo of what a typical 5th wheel trailer hitch looks like installed on a truck bed.

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The 5th wheel trailer category has one sub-type and that is the 5th wheel toy hauler. A toy hauler can also be designed as toy hauler travel trailer and we’ll take a look at those below. What distinguishes a toy hauler is the unusually large back door that serves as a ramp to allow you to store your atv, small cars, dune buggies, motorcycles etc. in the back.

5th Wheel Pros

  • They will need more caution and will require more skill to maneuver than a motor home, but a typically safer and easier to tow than a travel trailer.
  • Fivers are spacious and offer more than ample room for those considering living full-time in a 5th wheel.
  • A 5th wheel and motor-coach of the same length will have more space because it doesn’t need a motor and associated components.
  • Compared to to other types of RVs fivers have more storage capacity.
  • The vehicles that tows the 5th wheel can be used for transportation.
Fifth Wheel Cons

  • The obvious one is that you will need a truck with a hitch.
  • The bigger the 5th wheel the bigger the truck you will need to tow it.
  • Unlike a motor-coach where driving area and living area are accessible while on the move you can’t do that with a 5th wheel.
  • Unlike a motor-coach you can’t tow another vehicle (small car) behind the fiver.
  • Some of the larger models might be difficult to maneuvers in tight areas.
  • Have to be careful of height clearance. Can possible hit branches or other low obstacles. Problem is compounded if carrying things on top of 5th wheel.
  • Needs a large storage facility.

Pull Behind Travel Trailers and Toy Haulers

These models of recreational trailers are connected to and towed by a vehicle (truck, SUV) via a ball hitch. They are designed mostly for recreational travel and typically are not suited for full-time RVers. They are also referred to as pull-behind, conventional trailers and even tag-along trailers. Below is an example of a travel trailer with the ball hitch.

best travel trailers

Within this type of travel trailer family you will find three sub-types that we recommend. One is the travel trailer toy hauler which like the 5th wheel toy hauler is used to stow you small cars, ATV, motorcycle, dune buggy etc. The other sub-type is the expandable travel trailer. Expandable trailers are very cool because they have a rather low profile than expand typically vertically to add more space. Some expand horizontally and provide tent-like compartments adding additional living space. The third sub-type is the tear drop trailer which is nothing more than a small camper. It gets its name from the profile and shape that looks somewhat like a teardrop. These small travel trailers are rather basic in functionality and feature. Below is an example of a tear drop trailer.

teardrop-trailers

Travel Trailer Pros

  • Inexpensive and great for first-time travel trailer buyers.
  • Very lightweight trailer can easily be towed by small truck , SUV or car.
  • The towing vehicles can be used as transportation.
  • No worries about height clearance since it is a low profile camper.
  • Can be parked in a driveway or in the garage as storage requirements are minimal.
  • Easier to reach less accessible camping sites due to small size.
Travel Trailer Cons

  • Since it is small it is more useful for short trips and weekend camping.
  • While driving the living area is not accessible or during rest stop.
  • Towing a vehicle behind the trailer not recommended.
  • Minimal or no insulation does not make it ideal for cold weather camping.

Pop Up Campers / Tent Trailer / Folding Camper

The best travel trailers aren’t always the biggest. A trailer that folds or collapses into a low profile is called a folding trailer. Due to the small size and weight it can be towed by a small SuV or even a car. There are some that can also be towed by a motorcycle but these a also very small and very lightweight. Other names for these type of trailers is camper trailers, folding campers, pop-up camper trailers and tent trailers.

pop-up camper trailer

Pop-Up Camper Pros

  • Lots of space, open floor plans with lots of features. Useful for many uses including full-timers.
  • More interior space as compared to equal length motor-coaches because it doesn’t need a motor and associated components.
  • The towing vehicles can be used as transportation.
  • Due to small and lower profile allows for easier entry and exit to storage area.
  • Can easily be towed by pick-up truck, SUV that is outfitted with a standard ball hitch.
Pop-Up Camper Cons

  • Required skills to tow as it can be one of the least stable travel trailers.
  • The bigger of a trailer you get the bigger the tow vehicle you will need.
  • Typically has less places for storage than a 5th wheel.
  • While driving the living area is not accessible. Usually not a big deal.
  • Towing a vehicle behind the trailer not recommended.
  • Larger trailers will require larger storage space

Step 4: Choose Your Length of Travel Trailer

The length of the trailer you choose is an often overlooked but very important consideration. Buy one that is too small and you will have inadequate living and storage space, choose one that is too big and you will have trouble handling it in traffic or tight space if you do not have the experience. In the 12 foot or so range you will find small campers that have one bed and usually a small kitchen whereas larger trailers in the 35 foot range can have tow room with multiple beds each, a kitchen area and living area as well. Don’t forget to also add the length of your towing vehicle to the length of the trailer. The combined length of the two can easily reach 45-50 feet. Are you comfortable handling that size of a trailer and vehicle in city traffic, gas station, camping area and where you plan to store it. Don’t forget backing up a larger trailer is inherently more difficult too. Choose wisely and you won’t be disappointed.

Step 5: Options and More

So what kind of an outdoor/camping experience do you want? Now is the time to choose the options and features you’ll want in order to maximize your RV experience. From basic unit to travel trailers with fancy upgraded cabinets and upholstery, large flat-panel television with surround sound and high fidelity sound system. How about slide-out that add more interior space without increasing the overall dimensions of the trailer or 5th wheel. There are many option and features to choose from and while they all will add to the cost they will also add to the GVW as well and that is something to keep in mind.

10 Best Travel Trailers Comparison Chart

Below is a comparison chart of 10 of the Best Travel Trailers we recommend. As we stated earlier keep your budget in mind as well the camping/outdoor experience you are looking for. We are sure one of the best camping trailers listed below will get you the experience you want.

PhotoModel/LengthTowingGross Vehicle Weight LBSSleepsManufacturer's Website
airstream-sportSport 16/ 16 FeetBall Hitch3,5002-4Airstream Sport 16
Weekend Warrior 4100W4100W / 44 Feet5th Wheel Hitch21,0006-8Weekend Warrior 5th Wheel Toy Hauler
Pop-Up CamperJayco 1005XR / 16.8 FeetBall Hitch2,9755-6Jayco Jay Series
Forest River Work and PlayWork and Play 34RLS / 35.8 Feet5th Wheel Hitch16,7836-8Forest River
Stryker 15 Toy HaulerStryker ST-2512 / 30 FeetBall Hitch9,9996-8Stryker Toy Hauler
Aliner ExpeditionAliner Expedition / 18 FeeTBall Hitch3,0002-4Aliner Expedition
Coahmen Freedom ExpressCoaxhmen Freedom Express 21TQX/ 22.7 FeeTBall Hitch5,8006-8Coachmen Freedom Express
Heartland Prowler 5th WheelHeartland Prowler P22 / 26.6 Feet5th Wheel Hitch7,102 Dry6-8Prowler 5th Wheel
Evergreen AmpedEvergreen Amped 24FQS / 28.7 FeetBall Hitch11,9006-8Evergreen Amped
Evergreen ElementEvergreen Element 26RBSS / 29.9Ball Hitch8,7952-4Evergreen Element

In Conclusion

So what are the best travel trailers and how do I go about purchasing the on that is right for me and my family? As you can see there are some important consideration you must look at in order to make an informed buying decision. The most important other than budget is what do you want you outdoor living experience to be. Once you have that nailed down then choosing a great travel trailer, 5th wheel, toy hauler or pop-up camper should not be too difficult. In our comparison chart we gave you the 10 we think are excellent top rated travel trailers, ultimately the choice will come down to what makes you happy. Happy Camping!!!

Are you a pop up camper fan? Then check our our pop up campers buying guide.

Comments (2)

  1. Pamela Staton
    • Ray

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