RV Types: A Complete Beginner’s Guide


RV types

RV Types: A Complete Beginner’s Guide

RV sales and rentals skyrocketed this summer as many people tried to salvage whatever travel plans possible with coronavirus restrictions in place. Among those coming out of the woodwork to grab a unit were singles, couples, and families new to the world of RVing. RVs come in a variety of styles, shapes, sizes, and price tags, each with their own benefits and faults. It’s a wonder how people new to the industry can differentiate between RV types and figure out which one best fits their lifestyle needs.

Fifth wheels and travel trailers and motorhomes, oh my! How does one even begin the process of identifying RV types? The first step to understanding which RV is what is to know that there are two broad categories of RVs, towable and motorized RVs.

Towable and motorized RVs

Towable RVs: These are RVs (generally referred to as “trailers”) that are designed to be pulled by another vehicle. The type of vehicle needed to tow is determined by the size and weight of the trailer. After settling in a campsite, the owner/renter can detach their towing car or truck and use that vehicle to get around. There are five main types of towable RVs: fifth wheels, travel trailers, toy haulers, pop-up trailers, and truck campers.  

Motorized RVs: Just as the name implies, these are RVs with engines. Another term for motorized RVs is motorhomes. These units have the “cockpit” and living space all enclosed under the same roof. Unless the user wants to tow a vehicle behind, there is no hitching or unhitching involved like with the towables. There are three general types of classes of motorized RVs: Class A, Class B, and Class C motorhomes.

The following list and explanation of RV types have been arranged based on the towable or motorized category. Each description includes a photo, brief summary, and basic figures as outlined by Consumer Reports of the unit.

Towable RV types

Fifth wheels

The largest type of towable RV is the fifth wheel. Fifth wheels are easily recognizable for two reasons:

  • (1) They are pulled by a truck. A full-size, one-ton truck is preferred when pulling one of these behemoths. A fifth wheel is attached using a special fifth wheel hitch located in the bed of the truck.
  • (2) Fifth wheels also have a distinctive front overhang, sometimes referred to as a “gooseneck.” This raised forward section hovers over the bed of the truck and houses the unit’s bedroom or living room area.
RV types

Fifth wheels are popular because of their spacious interior and high ceilings. Manufacturers will double the living space with multiple slide-outs.

Floor plans vary, and with the most basic plan, units come complete with a bedroom, living room, kitchen, and bathroom. As will most RV types, the level of comfort, quality, sophistication in design varies. Fifth wheels can be outfitted with your desired level of luxury, automated technology, and the number of appliances. 

Fifth wheel basic figures:

  • Length: 20 to 40 feet
  • Weight: 7,000+ pounds
  • Sleeping Capacity: 4 to 8 people
  • Retail Price: $20,000 to $150,000

Travel trailers

Travel trailers, also called pull-behinds, are towed by a bumper hitch that sits out in front of the unit. A variety of brands and styles fit under this category of RV types.

Well-known brands like Airstream and trailer styles like teardrops are included under this umbrella term. Since travel trailers vary widely in size and weight, the type of vehicle capable of towing changes as well. Tow vehicles can include trucks, crossovers, SUVs, and even some motorcycles.  

Airstream travel trailer. Photo via Airstream

Travel trailers have a variety of floor plans, from simple to chic. They are self-contained units, including a living area, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. Travel trailers can be constructed with slide-outs as well. 

The RV industry continues to evolve in travel trailer design plans. Many companies have built hybrid models that include expandable sections in place of hard-sided slide outs. These fold-out portions are made of durable fabric like a tent. They afford more square footage to the unit when extended but also decrease the unit’s weight making it feasible to tow with a less heavy-duty vehicle.

Travel trailer basic figures:

  • Length: 8 to 40 feet
  • Weight: 1,000 to 10,000 pounds
  • Sleeping Capacity: 2 to 8 people
  • Retail Price: $10,000 to $150,000

Toy haulers

Toy haulers, or sport utility RVs, are a subcategory of fifth wheels and travel trailers. (You’ll read a bit later that they are a subcategory of some motorhomes.) Some prefer this RV type because it is built with a garage to carry all kinds of cargo for camping adventures.

Toy hauler. Photo via Aluminum Toy Haulers

Toys include motorcycles, ATVs, golf carts, snowmobiles, kayaks, and much more. The back of the toy hauler completely flips down and becomes a ramp to load and unload outdoor gear and vehicles. Besides storage space, this cargo area can convert into an additional bedroom or living space. 

Toy hauler basic figures:

  • Length: 18 to 40 feet
  • Weight: 3,000 to 10,000 pounds
  • Sleeping Capacity: 4 to 8 people
  • Retail Price: $10,000 to $150,000

Pop-up trailers

Pop-up trailers, otherwise known as fold-out campers, have a utility cargo trailer-like base and a heavy-duty canvas top. Some hybrid models have hard wall sides as opposed to fabric. This alternative provides better insulation. Pop-up trailers are raised using a manual crank or powered system.  

The SylvanSport Go. Photo via website

These trailers are considered great starters for people new to RVing because they provide a smooth transition from tent camping to towing and operating an RV.

The pop-up folds up into a compact unit about 4 feet high and is easily pulled since it has a low profile and is lightweight. Pop-up trailers are built with little to no intricacies in appliances and internal systems compared to other RVs, so they lay out a decent introduction to learning about how an RV works. 

They are the most inexpensive towables and still provide enough room for 4-8 people to enjoy sleeping areas, a galley, and a sitting area. Not all models are designed with a bathroom, but if it’s furnished with one, it usually consists of a shower/toilet combination at most.  

Pop-up trailer basic figures:

  • Length: 8 to 20 feet
  • Weight: 1,000 to 4,000 pounds
  • Sleeping Capacity: 2 to 8 people
  • Retail Price: $10,000 to $30,000

Truck campers

Truck campers fit snugly into the bed of trucks.  These compact units may have an overhang that extends atop the cab and may have slide outs and/or canvas extensions for additional headroom.  When it comes to these campers, the key is to have a truck that is rated to carry the weight.  Heavy-duty trucks are necessary for many instances.

Lance Camper. Photo by Galaxy Campers

Truck campers are also referred to as cab-overs or slide-ins.  They can be outfitted with room to sleep, eat, and prepare food.  They can also have a wet bath or toilet/shower combo. The compactness of a camper truck makes off-roading a possibility too.

Truck camper basic figures:

  • Length: 6 to 12 feet
  • Weight: 1,000 to 3,000 pounds
  • Sleeping Capacity: 2 to 4 people
  • Retail Price: $15,000 to $50,000

Motorized RV types

Class A motorhomes

When people think of RVs, a Class A motorhome often comes to mind. Class A motorhomes look like a bus.  They can either be equipped with a gas engine or a diesel engine. Due to their size and weight, these units are not the most fuel-efficient and nimble, so many RVers will tow a small vehicle in the back and use it to get around once they have settled at a campsite.  

Class A motorhomes. Photo via General RV

Class A motorhomes have been referred to as diesel pushers.  This is a motorhome with the diesel engine installed in the rear of the RV.  A diesel puller, in contrast, has the engine mounted up front.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but overall, diesel engines have a longer lifespan and are more durable than their gas-powered counterpart.

Class A motorhomes are considered the most sizable and expensive RV type on the market. Diesel units are more pricey than gas engines, and the more lavish models come at a high price as opposed to the more basic designs.  Interior furnishing can be as luxurious as granite counter tops, tile floors, his and her bathroom sinks, walk-in closets, leather sectionals–you name it.  Class A motorhomes can also double as a toy hauler.

Class A basic figures:

  • Length: 25 to 45 feet
  • Sleeping Capacity: 6 to 8 people
  • Retail Price: $90,000 to $400,000+

Class C motorhomes

Class Cs have a notable attribute that sets it apart from Class A motorhomes. They have a “cab-over” profile that typically makes room for a bed or additional storage. A modified version of this standard motorhome is the Super C, which is essentially a Class C on steroids–bulkier and more powerful. Class Cs can also double as a toy hauler.

Class C RV. Photo via RV Trader

These RVs are usually built on a truck chassis and can be constructed with a gas or diesel engine. Class Cs are not as large as some Class A motorhomes, so they can go to more places. They are a self-contained unit with designated rooms for sleeping, eating/cooking, lounging, and taking a shower. Gas and diesel options are available.

Class C motorhomes basic figures:

  • Length: 22 to 35 feet
  • Sleeping Capacity: 4 to 8 people
  • Retail Price: $70,000 to $200,000

Class B motorhomes

Class B motorhomes are nicknamed camper vans. As their name implies, they are built on a van chassis. They are the smallest, most fuel-efficient, and most agile member of the motorhome clan. They maneuver like a standard passenger vehicle and can be outfitted with a gas or diesel engine. A hybrid model of the unit is a Class B+. It is a cross between a Class B and C motorhome.

Class B RV. Photo by Coachmen RV

Since they are limited in space, the floor plans are designed with functionality and versatility in mind. Seats fold out into beds, storage is carefully carved out, and enough corner room is made for a wet bath.

Class B motorhomes basic figures:

  • Length: 20 to 26 feet
  • Sleeping Capacity: 1 to 4 people
  • Retail Price: $85,000 to $150,000

Learn more about RV types

There is so much to learn about RV types. This guide has only touched the tip of the iceberg on each unit. The following video from RV Education 101 gives a bit more detail and footage on the RV types explained above.

RVs are not created equal, and all of our needs and wants differ. When deciding on the best unit for you and your traveling crew, it’s important to understand what each RV provides and their pros and cons in comparison to your lifestyle. In this research stage, it doesn’t hurt to talk to other RVers about their experience with certain RVs. You can do this by logging onto platforms like iRV2 forums.

Natalie Henley

Natalie Flores-Henley and her husband, Levi Henley, workamp around the country in their 26-foot motorhome. Along with writing for RV magazines, they recently published their first book together, Seasonal Workamping for a Living: How We Did It. They share their experiences and RV-related tips on their own blog henleyshappytrails.com as well as videos on their YouTube Channel, also called Henley's Happy Trails.

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