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 it’s time to buy a travel trailer, yet 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 choosing a top rated travel trailer that you and your family will enjoy for years to come.
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, then 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 wheels can range in price from under $10,000 for a basic unit with so-so features to well over $100,000 for a top of the line, fully-loaded 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 basically, 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’s manual to determine the maximum weight that 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 supplies and gear. This is the total weight and is not a weight you want to exceed. 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 and trucks, make sure 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(s) 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, or golf cart? Travel trailers come in different flavors to suit your style of RV-ing. Let’s take a look at the different types of trailers.
Fifth Wheel Travel Trailers and Toy Haulers: One of the best travel trailers you can buy is a 5th wheel travel trailer. It 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 trailers due to the fact that they are big and oftentimes 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.
If you are going to select one of these trailers, keep in mind that 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 should 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.
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, and other recreational vehicles in the back.
- They will need more caution and will require more skill to maneuver than a motor home, but 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 other types of RVs, fivers have more storage capacity.
- The vehicles that tow the 5th wheel can be used for transportation.
- 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 the 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 maneuver in tight areas.
- You have to be careful of height clearance. It can possibly hit branches or other low obstacles. The problem is compounded if you’re carrying things on top of the 5th wheel.
- It 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 RV-ers. 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.
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 your small cars, ATVs, motorcycles, dune buggies, and other recreational vehicles. The other sub-type is the expandable travel trailer. Expandable trailers are very cool because they have a rather low profile then 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.
- Inexpensive and great for first-time travel trailer buyers.
- Very lightweight trailer and 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 its small size.
- Since it is small, it is more useful for short trips and weekend camping.
- While driving, the living area is not accessible.
- Towing a vehicle behind the trailer is not recommended.
- Minimal or no insulation which 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 are also very small and very lightweight. Other names for this type of trailers is camper trailers, folding campers, pop-up camper trailers, and tent trailers.
- 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, it allows for easier entry and exit to storage area.
- Can easily be towed by pick-up truck or SUV that is outfitted with a standard ball hitch.
- 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 vehicles 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, or camping area? Where do 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 units to travel trailers with fancy upgraded cabinets and upholstery, large flat-panel television with surround sound, and high fidelity sound system. How about slide-outs that add more interior space without increasing the overall dimensions of the trailer or 5th wheel? There are many options and features to choose from, and while 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.
|Photo||Model/Length||Towing||Gross Vehicle Weight LBS||Sleeps||Manufacturer's Website|
|Sport 16/ 16 Feet||Ball Hitch||3,500||2-4||Airstream Sport 16|
|4100W / 44 Feet||5th Wheel Hitch||21,000||6-8||Weekend Warrior 5th Wheel Toy Hauler|
|Jayco 1005XR / 16.8 Feet||Ball Hitch||2,975||5-6||Jayco Jay Series|
|Work and Play 34RLS / 35.8 Feet||5th Wheel Hitch||16,783||6-8||Forest River|
|Stryker ST-2512 / 30 Feet||Ball Hitch||9,999||6-8||Stryker Toy Hauler|
|Aliner Expedition / 18 FeeT||Ball Hitch||3,000||2-4||Aliner Expedition|
|Coaxhmen Freedom Express 21TQX/ 22.7 FeeT||Ball Hitch||5,800||6-8||Coachmen Freedom Express|
|Heartland Prowler P22 / 26.6 Feet||5th Wheel Hitch||7,102 Dry||6-8||Prowler 5th Wheel|
|Evergreen Amped 24FQS / 28.7 Feet||Ball Hitch||11,900||6-8||Evergreen Amped|
|Evergreen Element 26RBSS / 29.9||Ball Hitch||8,795||2-4||Evergreen Element|
So, what are the best travel trailers and how will you go about purchasing the right one for you and your family? As you can see, there are some important considerations you must look at in order to make an informed buying decision. The most important factor other than budget is what do you want your 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 top 10 choices that we think are excellent top rated travel trailers, but 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.