It can be difficult when deciding to buy between an Airstream and a fifth wheel. Both are great trailers, but which gives you more bang for your buck? I did a little research and here is what I found.
So which is the better buy? Airstream trailers or fifth wheels? Most people agree that an Airstream trailer is better in most circumstances than a fifth wheel. Airstreams are smaller than most fifth wheelers, but their gorgeous floor plans, abundance of large windows, and classic silver look will make you the envy of any trailer park.
Airstreams are a great way to tour the country in style but aren’t necessarily the easiest to haul and aren’t the best if you’re carrying a large number of passengers either.
If you are looking to make a living on the road with your family in tow, you may want to take a second look at a luxury fifth wheel trailer.
Fifth Wheel VS Airstream Trailer: What’s the Difference?
There is something so quintessentially American about buying a big huge RV, selling your home, quitting your nine to five job at the office, and setting off for a life of adventure.
Maybe you are looking to make that step, or maybe you just want to make all of your neighbor’s heads turn when you go camping for a weekend getaway.
Whatever your reasons may be, an Airstream trailer or a fifth wheel are a sure fire way to start living on the road in style!
But a lot of people can be put off by the technical jargon used when talking about these large campers. Or are they campers? Are they called RVs or not?
See what I mean? Confusing. Let’s go over what constitutes both a fifth wheel and an Airstream trailer so you can see which vehicle would better suit your needs.
A fifth wheel trailer is a large trailer, sometimes upward of 45 ft in length, that requires a large vehicle to haul. The term “fifth wheel” alludes to the hitch that allows the driver to connect a cargo attachment to the back of their vehicle.
These are some BIG trailers and are usually pulled by large trucks or trailers. Don’t fool yourself, you will need a long bed 3/4 or one-ton truck to haul one of these babies.
If you think that you will be getting a lot of use out of it, I would highly recommend the one-ton carrying capacity truck. Especially if you plan on going cross country. A 3/4 is able to handle the job, but realistically, the 1-ton will be a much smoother ride. Better safe than sorry.
Fifth wheels are epic in size and design. Some of the interiors can be absolutely gorgeous. I’m talking about granite cabinets and countertops. Beautiful carpets and full-sized wardrobes.
I can’t tell you how many stories I have read of people planning on sightseeing cross country, but end up staying inside because their fifth wheel trailer was too nice.
Let me say that again.
The Trailer was so spectacularly comfortable that folks don’t even want to leave them.
Does that sound nice? Well, that’s because it is. That’s just something to consider before you buy, but we will talk on that some more later.
Airstream trailers, on the other hand, are smaller in size, but that may be just what you need if you want to be light and mobile. Airstream trailers are famous for their bright and shiny silver exteriors that are sure to turn heads cruising down the interstate.
Crafted with love in every bolt, these babies were built to last, despite their infamy for their ease of denting. Large Airstreams are generally anywhere from 23 to 30 feet, providing ample space for a couple of people.
Airstream trailers have been an American favorite ever since they hit the roads way back in the 1930s.
Now that you know a little more about the two types of trailers, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons each has to offer when starting with the Airstream.
The Airstream Trailer
Have you ever slept in a normal car before? I’m talking about your classic Toyota Corolla, something that you could find on any street or parked in any cul-de-sac across the country.
If you have, then you know what a terribly uncomfortable situation it can be. If there is one thing that an Airstream offers its comfort. And comfort is huge for those that plan on spending any extended period of time on the road.
If you are looking to drive across America with your whole house in tow, then the Airstream isn’t for you. It may not be as big as a fifth wheel, but these bad boys are still spacious and comfortable.
One of the greatest things about the Airstream trailer is its simplistic design. Anyone who has set up a fifth wheel trailer knows how much of a pain it can be. Fifth wheels are usually equipped with slide-out panels that can make set up a huge pain in the butt. Especially when you want to get right to exploring.
This problem is avoided entirely with the Airstream trailer. No sliding panels, or anything like that. All you need to do is park and get ready to go!
Another great thing about an Airstream trailer that a fifth wheel doesn’t have is that it hitches to the bumper rather than the truck bed.
This may not seem like a huge advantage but anyone who has lived on the road for more than a week at a time knows how much that extra space in the back of the truck bed can be. Especially when hauling toys like ATVs or dirt bikes.
Airstream trailers are also a lot shorter lengthwise than a fifth wheeler. I know right now you may be thinking that bigger means better, but not so when you are constantly on the road.
When touring the country with an RV you want to be able to fit into all kinds of roads not just the huge highways that lead into the hot tourist traps.
From the trailer to the truck, a fifth wheel situation can measure over 55 feet in length. Imagine trying to merge on the highway hauling that much length. Imagine trying to park at a national park or other camping sights.
Heck, imagine trying to make a left turn. Just thinking about it give me anxiety.
Now don’t get me wrong, Airstreams are still big. From truck to trailer they will measure anywhere from 30 to 40 feet, but that 15 feet of space opens you up to a whole world of possibilities.
Suddenly you aren’t scared of parking or turning left, and that’s a big deal to someone who is always on the road.
Related to the length of the vehicle, we have the height. Airstreams are short, and while the low hanging ceilings may be unappealing to begin with, trust me when I tell you they become a blessing any time you see a low overpass sign.
Even with large tires, an Airstream trailer usually only measures about 10 feet tall. Plenty short enough to make it through most low hanging overpasses. Although you may still want to research your driving routes to make sure your top doesn’t get torn off.
And then there is the weight. Weight can prevent you from getting into a lot of fun places. Not only does a heavy RV tear up roads and sink deep into the mud, but it can also make driving up hills a pain, and coming back down terrifying.
Airstreams are considerably lighter than a fifth wheel would be. Usually weighing anywhere from 7,000 to 12,000 pounds. Compared to the usual 20,000 pounds you would see on a fifth wheel.
That is 10,000 pounds that you will be saving.
12,000 pounds is no walk in the park either, but at least you won’t feel like Godzilla every time you drive into the city.
Whew! That was a lot of reasons. Here is a summary for quick reference:
- Simple Design
- Hitches to the Bumper Rather than the Truck Bed
- Shorter Length Wise
- Shorter Height Wise
- Weighs Less
The Airstream trailer has a lot going for it, but it has a few drawbacks to which we now turn our attention.
Airstreams are simple, which can be a good thing, but their simplicity can become mundane and boring, Unlike fifth wheel trailers, which boast a variety of different floor designs, the Airstream trailer’s floor designs are much less varied and creative.
If you plan on living on the road for any lengthy period of time, then living in the same boring place can become a drag.
Speaking of design, we all know Airstream’s classic silver bullet exterior design. It looks somehow simultaneously futuristic and retro and most people just love it, but it comes with a catch.
While the exterior of an Airstream trailer looks fantastic new, it can lose some of its charm as it sees experience on the road, and not because it’s dirty. Turns out that the exterior of an Airstream is extremely easy to dent and ding.
It can be a pain to spend thousands of dollars on a pristine Airstream only to have it ruined the second a semi kicks a pebble into your car.
Not to mention the cost it takes to have any sort of body work done on these vehicles.
Speaking of repairs, have you ever gotten an RV of any sort looked at? If fifth wheels are a nightmare to get fixed then getting any work done on an Airstream is like wading through the waking flames of Hell itself.
Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but trust me. Nobody knows how to fix these things.
Let me tell you how it will go if you are looking to get some repairs done. You will spend hours driving to a specialty shop that claims expertise on fixing Airstreams only to arrive and find out the mechanic has no idea what he is talking about.
After leaving it in his care for a couple of days you will receive a phone call saying that not only will the job take a few hundred dollars more than expected, it will also have to be in the shop for a couple of days longer. Yikes.
The way I see it, there are two types of people that buy these kinds of RVs. First, you have the salt of the earth manly guy that loves classic cars and the outdoors and is looking to go fishing in style this summer.
Second, you have the granola millennial that read about living on the road on some lifestyle blog and decided to drop out of college to chase his new dream.
If you are the latter of these two types of men, consider getting some handyman experience before buying.
Here is a quick summary of the cons of the Airstream trailer:
- The Simple Floor Plan Can Become Tedious
- The exterior is Prone to Denting
- Difficult to Find Quality Repairmen
Fifth wheels are the mansions of the RV world. Spacious, durable, and often, downright beautiful. You will be the camping king if you go with a fifth wheel.
Let’s now examine some of the pros and cons of a fifth wheel compared to an Airstream.
Fifth Wheel Pros
If “variety is the spice of life” is your personal motto than a fifth wheel is your kind of RV. The floor plans on a fifth wheel can be as varied and different as people on the planet.
Want your fifth wheel to look like a warm rustic cabin so you never feel far from nature? They got that. How about something a little more modern looking with solid oak floors and warm throw rugs?
They have that too. Want to cover the walls in painted stars and buy a rocket ship bed so you can pretend to be a spaceman every night? Hey man, do your thing.
Point is, customization possibilities are nearly endless on a fifth wheel.
They also offer plenty of storage space for anything you may want to haul. One of my favorite things about a fifth wheel is that you are able to convert part of it to a toy hauler.
I never want to go anywhere without my ATVs and a Fifth wheel allows me to have a toy hauler and a luxurious home in one.
That extra storage space can be used as a living space, as well. When I first looked inside a fifth wheel, I was really surprised by how tall the ceiling was. Seriously, it’s like walking into a normal home.
If your the type of guy that likes to have plenty of elbow room, then the fifth wheel would be for you.
Here is a list that sums up the pros of the fifth wheel.
- Endless Variety of Creative Floor Plans
- Extra Storage Space (Toy Hauler Included)
- Spacious Living
Now let’s devote a second to some of the cons.
Fifth Wheel Cons
The biggest drawbacks about owning a fifth wheel are due to its size. They are so big and heavy that a lot of drivers feel nervous lugging them around, especially if you are transporting children.
Going up and down hills can be dangerous and any turn that you make has the potential for disaster.
The large size limits your potential adventure spots as well. People have a hard time finding a spot to park in trailer parks or any sort of RV park. You will also probably get stuck in the mud and snow. Like, a lot. So make sure your truck has four-wheel drive.
I think the limits fifth wheels place on your adventuring capabilities is a huge drawback.
Here is a summary of the cons of fifth wheels:
- Hauling is Difficult
- Parking is a Nightmare
- Can’t go Everywhere, Lacks Mobility
Both fifth wheels and Airstream trailers are beautiful homes on the road, but in the end, I think the Airstream takes the cake here.
It may be a bit smaller, but it’s classic look and feel makes it the envy of the road. It is also more nimble than a fifth wheel expanding your adventuring capabilities.
But no matter what you end up buying, you are sure to have a blast. So get out there and start driving!
What is a motorhome? Motorhomes, as opposed to a fifth wheel, is self-powered, meaning it doesn’t require a truck to haul it. Motorhomes can be about the same size as a fifth wheel but are usually less customizable.
Some feel because they are made of steel they are safer than a fifth wheel.
Is Airstream a type of RV or a brand? Airstream is a company that has made such a unique looking trailer that it has almost become its own type of trailer.
The shape and signature chrome color of Airstreams’ are easily recognized and are exclusively Airstream. I am not aware of any other company that produces trailers quite the way they do.