Home » The Essential Guide to RV Types – Finding the Right RV For You

The Essential Guide to RV Types – Finding the Right RV For You

by Doug and Michelle
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Couple enjoying a fire next to motorhome

If you’re new to RV’s and wondering where to start, this is for you. What is a Class A, Class B or Class C? Travel trailer? Fifth wheel?

It can be overwhelming to dive into something new, and RV’s are no joke. There are many types, brands, models and terms you may not be familiar with. It’s hard to know where to start, or what would be right for you. Decision fatigue can set in fast.

Hang in there. We’ve got you.

In this article we break down everything you need to know to find the RV that is right for you. We explain each type of RV, the pros and cons of each, and what you need to consider to find the one that’s right for you.

Looking for information on a particular type of RV? Feel free to skip ahead with the links below.

What to Think About When You Think About RV's

Before we cover each type of RV, let’s cover what you need to think about when you think about RV’s. It’s easy to get distracted by sleek designs and bells and whistles but try and stay focused on what functionality is most important to you.

Here are some things you should consider before choosing the right RV for you and your family.

1. For whom the RV rolls

How many people will be with you on your journey? Are you venturing off on a solitary adventure across the land? Just a couple of love birds? A big family traveling with kids?

You need a place to fit everyone, with the right sized beds for each size person. RV sleeping areas come in a range of sizes, and not everyone is going to fit everywhere.

Some RVs have fold down couches or collapsible dinettes that can turn into beds, but these may not be the best option for long-term sleeping. Your backs will thank us. Others have bunkhouses to sleep small children, but they could quickly grow out of them.

Think about how many people you need to sleep, and how to make them most comfortable. The hiking should be the hard part, not the sleeping.

2. The places you will go

RV’s come in all different sizes, and so do RV parks and camping sites. Think about where you would like to stay and what size RV will fit best. The smaller the RV, the more options you will have.

Larger motorhomes can be a luxury but may limit the RV sites available for your rig. You’ll want to find RV parks that are big rig friendly or will quickly feel the pain of driving into one that isn’t. If you’re in an unfamiliar place, you may want to drive ahead in a smaller vehicle or use drone footage or satellite images to check out the area first.

If you’re not living in your RV full time, you’ll need to park it somewhere while not on the road. A small pop up trailer can be parked in most garages. For larger rigs, make sure you have enough space for parking, and that you’re allowed to park it there. Some cities or neighborhoods restrict what you can park in your driveway, and for how long. And you may need to find RV storage during the off season.

Size will determine all the places your RV can go. And all the places it can’t.

3. To tow or be toad? That is the question.

If you’re spending any significant time at your destination, you’ll want a vehicle to get around.

While it’s true that you can drive a smaller motorhome around town, you probably won’t want to. This could require disconnecting utilities, removing leveling blocks, and stowing everything for travel. Depending on the extent of your camp setup, this could take a while. We don’t recommend depending on your motorhome for transportation while at your campsite.

That leaves you with a few options. The first option is to tow a trailer with your vehicle. If you already have a truck, this tends to be the simplest option. You may need a heavy duty truck to pull a large travel trailer or fifth wheeler. Make sure you know your vehicle tow capacity. Once you setup your trailer and unhook, you’ll be free to drive your vehicle.

The second option is to tow a vehicle with your motorhome. The vehicle you tow is sometimes called a toad. This option requires some research. Not all vehicles can be towed the same way. Some require a dolly, or elaborate procedures in order to flat tow with tires on the road. You’ll need to find out what it takes to tow your vehicle, and modifications may be required. And keep in mind that you can’t backup while towing a vehicle.

There is a third option. You could ask someone to drive a second vehicle. For short trips close to home, this may be easier than towing a vehicle. But for long distance trips or long term RV living, most people will choose to tow or be toad.

4. Do you hate stopping to pee? Enjoy a sandwich while driving?

If the answer to either of these is yes, you may want a motorhome.

One of the benefits of a motorhome over a towable trailer is the accessibility while driving. When traveling long distances, it’s nice to get up to go pee, grab a sandwich, or stretch your legs for a minute. The driver’s not so lucky, but with any old stop along the road you can get what you need.

If you’re a parent, you can avoid your kids asking you to stop to pee every five minutes just so they can beg for candy. Is that just our kids? Full disclosure: This also means your kids can raid the RV refrigerator without you noticing. Hide the juice.

Not all motorhomes are completely accessible while driving, though. Be sure to bring the slides in when touring RV models to learn what you will and will not have access to while driving.

5. Oh, right, money. How much is too much?

Now that you know what you need, decide how much can you afford. Or maybe vice versa. Look for the RV setup that provides your must-have needs and a few nice-to-haves while staying within your budget.

Pop up campers and travel trailers tend to be less expensive, but you could need a larger vehicle to tow them safely. If you’ll have to upgrade your vehicle to be able to tow, the final price tag could be about the same as a motorhome. Make sure you’re considering all costs and comparing apples to apples.

RV Types and Classes

Now that you’ve thought about some things, let’s cover the different types and classes of RV’s to consider. There is a wide variety of RV’s to choose from, even within each type and class. No two models are made the same, and each type we discuss will have a lot of variation.

Most people kick off their RV lifestyle with a towable trailer. This is just what it sounds like – a trailer that you tow. They come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. You can start with an inexpensive pop-up camper to give you some basic shelter or pull a luxury apartment on wheels. It almost doesn’t make sense to group them together.

Let’s break down the different options.

Pop-Up Camper - The Tent with Amenities

  • Length: 8ft. to 16ft. closed length
  • Weight: 700 lbs. to 4,000 lbs.
  • Capacity: Sleeps 2 to 8 people
  • Typical Amenities: Kitchen sink, cook top, small dining area, screened in sleeping quarters with double beds
  • Price Range: $9,000 (Coachmen Viking Express) to $40,000 (Turtleback Trailers)
  • Pros: Small and lightweight, can be safety towed by some small SUV’s, easy to store
  • Cons: Not insulated for weather, may not include bathroom

The pop-up camper, also known as a tent camper, is your entry level towable trailer. They tend to be small, lightweight and inexpensive. The lighter units can be towed by a small SUV or sedan, so you may not need a large truck. Still check your tow capacity though, as they do vary in weight and your Subaru may not safely pull as much as you think.

One of the benefits of a pop-up camper is they can feel like you’re camping in a tent, with a few more amenities and less fuss to assemble. They still take some work to setup, though. Don’t expect to roll into camp and go right to sleep. If that’s your goal, look at a travel trailer or motorhome instead.

Some of the higher end luxury pop-up campers are small and compact and built for off road adventures, so you can easily take them wherever you go. Others offer more luxury amenities on the inside. They generally aren’t climate controlled, so plan for weather to keep yourself comfortable.

Travel Trailer - All Shapes and Sizes

  • Length: 10 ft. to 40 ft.
  • Weight: 1,100 lbs. to 12,000 lbs.
  • Capacity: Sleeps 2 to 10 people
  • Typical Amenities: Kitchen, dinette set, bathroom, bedroom with king or queen mattress, may include bunkhouse for kids
  • Price Range: $10,000 (Sunset Park RV Sunray) to $185,000 (Airstream Classic)
  • Pros: Provides all basic amenities, wide range of options
  • Cons: May require a large truck or SUV to tow safely

A travel trailer is any hard-bodied towable trailer. They come in small, medium and large, and a variety of options are available. Even the most basic travel trailer will have a kitchen, bathroom and sleeping quarters. High end luxury trailers such as Airstreams may offer upgraded furnishings and appliances, or even an office.

Most travel trailers offer dinette sets and couches that fold down into beds if needed, increasing the sleeping capacity of the trailer. This may not be a good long-term option for most adults, however. Think extra sleepover space for kids instead.

Travel trailers can sleep up to 10 people but remember that you won’t have access to the trailer while driving. Make sure you have a comfortable ride when traveling long distances.

Fifth Wheel - Apartment on Wheels

  • Length: 22 ft. to 48 ft.
  • Weight: 7,000 lbs. to 29,000 lbs.
  • Capacity: Sleeps 4 to 10 people
  • Typical Amenities: Larger kitchen, dinette set, full bathroom, living room with television, bedroom with king or queen mattress, may include bunkhouse for kids
  • Price Range: $25,000 (Palomino Puma) to $270,000 (New Horizons Majestic)

  • Pros: Largest trailer you can buy, plenty of room for a family
  • Cons: Requires a heavy-duty truck with truck bed tow hitch

A fifth wheel is a large, hard-bodied travel trailer that requires a fifth wheel hitch to tow. A fifth wheel hitch is a U-shaped hitch coupling that sits in the bed of a pickup truck and connects with the trailer. It provides more heavy duty tow capacity, which is why fifth wheels tend to be the largest travel trailers on the market.

You can recognize these on the road by the front portion of the trailer that extends over the bed of the truck. These are very popular RV’s since the heavy duty hitch allows for higher weight capacity, offering a large amount of living space and amenities for families.

Keep in mind you will need a full size, one-ton truck to pull these bad boys. A truck with a fifth wheel can be easier to drive than a bumper hitch, however. Fifth wheel hitches help facilitate turning, and may be a good option if you’re not comfortable towing or plan to navigate difficult spaces.

If you’re looking for an all-inclusive vehicle to hit the road, you want a motorhome. A motorhome is simply put a motorized vehicle with living quarters included.

Motorhomes comes in three classes – Class B, Class C and Class A. Just to be difficult, the Class B is the smallest size, followed by Class C, and Class A tends to be the largest.

Let’s look at the options.

Class B Motorhome - The Camper Van

  • Length: 17 ft. to 25 ft.
  • Weight: 4,000 lbs. to 11,000 lbs.
  • Capacity: Sleeps 1 to 4 people
  • Typical Amenities: Small kitchen, heating unit, folding beds
  • Price Range: $73,000 (Gulf Stream BT Cruiser) to $270,000 (Winnebago Revel)
  • Pros: Compact size, easy to drive
  • Cons: Limited amenities and living space

A Class B Motorhome, also referred to as a camper van or sleeper van, is a semi-integrated motorhome built on a van chassis. Some common chasses used include the Mercedes Benz Sprinter, Dodge Ram Promaster, Chevrolet Express and Ford Transit. They are built similar to Class C motorhomes, but are contained within the body of the van and often don’t include extra space above the cab area.

The beauty of a Class B Motorhome is that you can park anywhere a van can park. They are easy to drive, and can go pretty much anywhere. Without slide outs and elaborate hookups, these RV’s can easily be used as a primary driving vehicle while not at the camp site.

Class B’s are a great option for one or two people heading out to explore who want a no fuss, no muss option. You can buy one off the shelf, or buy a conversion van and custom build the camper van of your dreams.

Class C Motorhome - The Mid-Sized Truck

  • Length: 20 ft. to 39 ft.
  • Weight: 10,000 lbs. to 13,000 lbs.
  • Capacity: Sleeps 4 to 8 people
  • Typical Amenities: Kitchen, dinette set, bathroom, small living room with television, bedroom with king or queen mattress, large sleeping area above the cab, may include bunkhouse for kids
  • Price Range: $65,000 (Forest River Forester LE) to $175,000 (Entegra Coach Esteem)
  • Pros: Most amenities are accessible while driving, no need for heavy duty tow vehicle, easier to drive than a Class A
  • Cons: More compact than most Class A’s, may not be large enough to tow vehicle

A Class C Motorhome is a trailer-style body mounted on a van or truck chassis, most commonly a Ford E350 or E450. You can recognize them by the truck-like cab with an overhead compartment. They usually include slide outs on one or both sides to give more interior space when parked, as well as a ‘basement’ for storage accessible from the outside of the vehicle.

When touring Class C Motorhomes, make sure to see them with slides in and slides out. Get a feel for what’s accessible while driving, and how much room you’ll have to maneuver. In some cases, the kitchen, bathroom or bedroom may not be accessible until the slides are put out.

These motorhomes make a great mid-sized option for families who need more sleeping areas, or couples that like a little room to spread out. You can find all the basic amenities including full kitchen and bathroom, private bedroom, living room with television, outdoor kitchens and more. And the truck cab up front can make them feel less intimidating to drive than a Class A motorhome.

Class A Motorhome - The Big Bus

  • Length: 20 ft. to 45 ft.
  • Weight: 12,000 lbs. to 55,000 lbs.
  • Capacity: Sleeps 4 to 10 people
  • Typical Amenities: Full kitchen, dining set, multiple bathrooms, living area with television, bedroom with king or queen mattress, may include bunkhouse for kids and large sleeping area above the cab.
  • Price Range: $85,000 (Thor Motor Coach Axis RUV) to $1MM+ (Foretravel Realm Presidential Series)
  • Pros: Most amenities are accessible while driving, plenty of room for full time living, large enough to tow a vehicle.
  • Cons: Higher entry level cost, limited RV spots due to size, can be intimidating to drive.

The Class A Motorhome is a fully integrated motorhome with a big bus exterior and a cohesive interior, with no separation between the driving area and the living area. In most Class A’s, the driver and passenger seats can swivel around to become seating in the living area while parked. The large front windshield can provide a great panoramic view of your surroundings, but can be intimidating for new drivers.

You can find an entry level Class A Motorhome for about the same size and price as a Class C, or you can go big. The largest, high end luxury Class A’s are used by celebrities or politicians on tour. They come equipped with a private suite, office and maybe even an escape hatch in the back. You’re sure to find whatever amenities you can dream of, for the right price.

Class A Motorhomes can make a comfortable home on wheels for retired couples or families with children. They offer plenty of sleeping room, and large living spaces to kick back and relax. You can even find perks like toy garages and patio seating. And they can easily tow the family car behind you.

We couldn’t possibly cover all of the shapes and sizes available, but we hope you have a better idea of the major styles and classes of RV’s available.

Now it’s time to hit the RV shows and dealer lots and put your butt in a few seats. Just remember not to be dazzled by the bright and shiny interior and forget what you came for. Have a list of the priorities for your family so you can find the RV that’s right for you.

Leave us a comment and let us know what you chose to kick off your RV journey! Regrets or recommendations to share? Help your fellow RV travelers by commenting below!

Decision Time

We couldn’t possibly cover all of the shapes and sizes available, but we hope you have a better idea of the major styles and classes of RV’s available.

Now it’s time to hit the RV shows and dealer lots and put your butt in a few seats. Just remember not to be dazzled by the bright and shiny interior and forget what you came for. Have a list of the priorities for your family so you can find the RV that’s right for you.

Leave us a comment and let us know what you chose to kick off your RV journey! Regrets or recommendations to share? Help your fellow RV travelers by commenting below!

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