Finding a Fifth Wheel Trailer or Toy Hauler to be a Full-time Home!

May 2019 – We’ve been on the hunt for a new fifth wheel trailer to replace our current one as our full-time home for a few years now, and in the last week or so we’ve been closing in on what we want.

Search for a new fifth wheel trailer RV-min

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It’s been a long and wild ride, but I know a lot of our readers have been going through the same roller coaster of emotions — from elation to frustration — in the search for an RV, so I thought I’d share a little about what we’ve seen and been thinking about in our own quest.

Banana bread served in an RV-min

An RV home can be very warm and inviting and cozy.
Warm banana bread in on a cold morning…what could be better?

We love our life on the road and we have a cozy home, but our zippy and fun RZR out back has sent us on a wild goose chase for a way to bring it along and still enjoy all the comforts of home. Triple towing is a tricky business, so buying a toyhauler seemed like the obvious solution at first and our search began there.

Luxe Fifth wheel toyhauler from The RV Factory-min

The Luxe toyhauler is very high end.

We started our search without a budget in mind. We wanted to see what was available regardless of price, so we visited The RV Factory where the semi-custom Luxe trailers are built.

These trailers have 3.25″ wide walls with graphite infused styrofoam insulation, and they feature 8k lb. Dexter axles with 17.5″ wheels and disc brakes along with gorgeous cabinetry and top of the line everything.

Luxe RV fifth wheel toy hauler frame with disc brakes-min

Disc brakes are standard on the Luxe

These are such high end trailers that all the drawers have dovetail joints.

Dovetaile joints on drawers in Luxe Fifth wheel toy hauler RV-min

Dovetail joints on the drawers…sweet!

The interior of the finished toy hauler they had on display at the factory was bright white and sumptuous. During our visit, we ended up chatting with a Luxe owner at the factory who was getting a few minor repairs taken care of. He’d owned his trailer for six months and was very happy with it. We just weren’t sure we wanted to tow a trailer this heavy.

We submitted our ideal toy hauler floorplan to both New Horizons and Space Craft (we also submitted it to Featherlite which we discovered is no longer building toy haulers). Both companies expressed concern that our truck, even with its dual rear wheels and 4.10 rear end, might not be able to tow one of their trailers if it exceeded 40 or 41 feet in length.

Our design was likely in the 42 to 43 foot range, but despite several phone calls and one two hour long in-person meeting, we never got far enough in our discussion with either manufacturer for them to put the design in their CAD software and draw it out.

This made us look more closely at the mass market toy haulers which are all in the 42 to 45 range. They are a bit lighter than the high end rigs, if less durable, of course.

White interior Luxe fifth wheel toy hauler RV-min (1)

Clean and crisp white Luxe toy hauler interior

Luxe fifth wheel toy hauler RV White interior-min (1)

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By far, the most ruggedly built trailer for its weight that we saw was the Aluminum Toyhauler Company fifth wheel trailer. These folks come to the toyhauler market from the stackable race car end of the trailer world. The ATC fifth wheel toy hauler has a truly massive cargo carrying capacity, but it lacks some of the other toy hauler features most RVers take for granted. When we visited the factory in September 2018, the ramp door didn’t convert to a patio. It may now.

ATC Toyhauler fifth wheel trailer-min

Aluminum Toyhauler Company (ATC) makes a rugged but lightweight rig

The ATC is purpose built for outdoor enthusiasts who expect their equipment to hold up under harsh conditions. All the interior cabinetry is aluminum and custom made in-house, and the whole trailer can be power washed inside and out. There are no slideouts but future models may include them. They have a basic open box model that you can modify to your own needs, and they’ll install a garage wall if you’d prefer an enclosed garage.

ATC Toyhauler fifth wheel trailer interior-min

ATC prides itself on having no wood in the rig — that way nothing can rot, no matter how wet ‘n wild it gets!

Another interesting tour was the Sundowner factory tour at their plant in Oklahoma.

These aluminum trailers are also really well built although they are using Lippert axles in the current builds (they used Dexter until a few years ago). Coming to the toyhauler industry from the horse trailer world, they are designed around a gooseneck hitch. The beauty of the gooseneck hitch is that the bed of your truck doesn’t have a big ol’ fifth wheel hitch hogging up all the space when you’re driving around unhitched.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV-min

Sundowner makes beautiful gooseneck hitch toy haulers

Sundowner builds its own entry doors and ramp door, and like ATC, their ramp door didn’t convert to a patio at the time of our visit. But it may at a later date.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV Garage-min

Looking into the garage of a Sundowner toy hauler

When a trailer is designed to use a gooseneck hitch, the height of the trailer is kept quite low. The Sundowners are around 11′ tall as compared to 13′ 6″ for most conventional mass market toyhaulers. This makes them more aerodynamic but also means the bedrooms are not standing height. They are more like the bedrooms in a truck camper.

Gooseneck trailers are designed this way because the arm of the gooseneck hitch is quite long, and the higher the trailer roof is, the longer this lever arm becomes and the more the roofline will sway from side to side as the trailer goes down the road, putting all kinds of lateral stresses on the frame.

Sundowner does a lot of custom and semi-custom work, and they will happily design a trailer that is 13′ 6″ tall and has standing height in the bedroom, but that is not typical of their designs.

One interesting thing with both the ATC and Sundowner trailers is that because they are coming from the stackable car trailer and horse trailer markets, their trailers sit quite low to the ground and the ramp doors have a shallow angle. This is great if you are driving your muscle car or sports car into the garage because the back end of the car won’t drag as you drive in. But it is less important for the folks with a rock climbing RZR that can drive up onto anything.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV Interior-min

The cabinetry and finish work in the Sundowner is top notch and many different woods and fabric are available.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV Bedroom-min

The gooseneck hitch means the ceiling is low in the bedroom, but that
doesn’t mean it can’t be romantic!

We also visited several mass market trailer factories in Indiana. At the time we were most interested in the Keystone Raptor and KZ Venom. We saw a beautiful Keystone Raptor 421CK at a dealership in Wyoming prior to going to Indiana. It was the first toy hauler we had ever walked into and said, “Wow. We could live in this!” However, the garage was only 11′ long and we’d decided we needed at least 12′ to fit our RZR and bicycles.

KZ RV Fifth wheel frame with flooring installed-min

A KZ fifth wheel gets its flooring

The thing about toyhauler garages is that the patio doors and railings take up anywhere from 8″ to 16″ at the back of the garage when they are folded up against the closed ramp door. Also, there is a slope at the back of the garage floor that is about a foot long. It is there to extend the ramp angle of the ramp door so the ramp angle isn’t too steep. These two things combined can eat into the garage length by quite a bit. The 13′ garage might may have only 10′ 8″ of flat floor space, and that was typically what I saw with my tape measure in the various garages we looked at.

KZ RV Fifth wheel trailer under construction-min

KZ fifth wheel walls and front cap get started

Also, if there is a side patio and some of it is built onto the garage sidewall, the garage will lose about 8″ of width where the side patio folds into the trailer.

Likewise, if there is a 2nd bath or half bath in the garage or living area, some of the garage floor space or living area floor space will be lost to the bathroom.

It makes a big difference in the livability and usability of both the garage and living space if the door to that half bath opens into the living area or into the garage. Whichever way it is, you don’t want to block the bathroom when you’re parked!

Some Heartland Road Warriors now have a moveable partition around the half bath that becomes a wall when you’re parked but folds out of the way when you need the extra inches for your toys.

KZ Durango. You don’t realize how huge the openings are for the slideouts til you see it like this!

Most toy haulers have a loft area above the garage that runs the full width of the trailer along the wall that separates the garage from the living area. It’s worth some thought to decide if you’d prefer the loft area to open into the garage or into the living space. It may also be possible to modify the loft wall on one side or the other post-purchase so you have access from both sides.

KZ RV Fifth wheel trailer being built at the factory-min

The sidewalls of the main part of the trailer are quite minimal!

We also visited the Highlander RV plant which is the Open Range toy hauler brand.

Highlander Open Range fifth wheel toyhauler RV-min

The Highlander toy hauler from Open Range

Open Range is owned by Jayco which is owned by Thor. The Highlander toy haulers come in at a lower price point than most. Jayco is known for employing Amish people on the assembly lilnes, and they really do. We saw their buggies in the parking lot and driving around the area.

Highlander Open Range Toyhaulers with Amish buggy in Indiana-min

Lots of Amish people work on the RV assembly lines

Amish buggy in Shipshewana Indiana-min

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From what we saw, all fifth wheel trailers and toy haulers are in a very similar way that aims towards a specific price point. I don’t know that there is much quality difference from one mass market brand to the next since it seems the same overall manufacturing methods and materials are used in all the brands. Certain features are given different names in the marketing literature to distinguish each brand, but it often boils down to the same basic things.

I was astonished when our guide pulled out an 8′ wide roll of a material that looked like aluminum foil and said it gave their trailer an extra R-14 of insulation throughout. All I could think is that there are aspects of RV manufacturing that are pure smoke and mirrors, and to me this was one of them.

This metal foil has been used to produce great insulating R factors in certain scenarios, but it has to have at least two inches of air on either side of it, among other things, for the insulating properties to work. When it is installed in such a way that is is flush up against the other layers of material in the wall or ceiling, that big R-factor vanishes.

Hydraulic lilnes for auto-leveling and slide-out mechanisms on fifth wheel trailer-min

“So, which hydraulic line goes to the curbside slideout? ’cause I think it’s leaking!”
Not all of what we saw inspired confidence.

Some of what we saw made it obvious why customers often have so many problems with their RVs, but our visit to the MORryde plant was an immersion in quality, much like our factory tours at Trojan Battery and B&W Hitches in the past. They had a cool toy hauler out front with their logo on it that was used for trade shows.

MORryde trade show toy hauler-min

The MORryde tradeshow toyhauler

On the Independent Suspension assembly line, MORryde’s signature RV product, we saw axles marked “NH” and “DRV” for New Horizons and DRV. Those trailer brands offer the Independent Suspension as an option. How cool is that?!

fifrh wheel ready for MORryde IS upgrade at the factory-min

An unpainted DRV waits for a MORryde Independent Suspension upgrade.

We had been visiting dealerships on a regular basis for several years prior to our Elkhart visit, and we continued to look at toy haulers after we finished our factory tours in Indiana. Road Warrior (Thor/Heartland) was a brand we looked into, and the 427, which is now the 4275, was a possibility in part because of the side patio and MORryde ramp door.

Unfortunately, my favorite floorplans were the older Road Warrior 427s that had a big sliding glass door going out to the side patio and a tiny fireplace/entertainment system that didn’t block the door. As the model years went by for the 427, the door with the big view onto the patio got smaller and the fireplace and TV got bigger.

Grand Design Momentum 399TH Toyhauler slide patio-min

The Grand Design Momentum 399TH has a nice big sliding glass door heading out to the side patio.

One thing that is very enticing about a toy hauler is the ability to put a workbench in the garage. Most bigger toy haulers nowadays have a 2nd bathroom with the door going into the garage, which limits the wall space for putting in a workbench if you are toting a big RZR.

Fuzion Toy Hauler Fifth wheel garage-min

Will a small 30″ workbench fit between the two doors in this Fuzion 429?

At first, the idea of two bathrooms didn’t excite us because it is a mammoth waste of space for a couple. But then we realized that with a 2nd bathroom you get double the black tank capacity because most designers place a black tank below each toilet to let gravity do its magic of filling the tank as the toilet is used. Some of them drain the little half-bath vanity sink into the rear black tank too.

It is my understanding that the DRV Fullhouse uses a macerator on the toilets to pump the fluids from both toilets to a single black tank, so adding a 2nd bathroom doesn’t double the black tank capacity in those trailers.

The more we did our own soul searching about what we really wanted in our new trailer, the more we realized that we couldn’t go backwards when it came to tank capacities. Our current Hitchhiker has 70 gallons of fresh water, 78 gallons of gray split between two tanks (50 for the shower and vanity and 28 for the kitchen sink) and 50 gallons of black.

Reducing any of these numbers would impact the way we live since we rarely get water or sewer hookups. Unfortunately, although most toy haulers offer over 100 gallons of fresh water, which is awesome, many have a bit less than 50 for the black tank unless they have a 2nd bathroom.

So the decision for us became a trade-off between living space (giving up part of the living area and/or garage to accommodate a second bathroom) and black tank capacity. Argh! Big black tanks do exist. The Arctic Fox 35-5Z has 65 gallons of black tank capacity with just one toilet.

The Keystone Raptor 421CK floorplan that we loved (except for the 11′ garage) was replaced with the Raptor 423 which has a 13′ garage. But it has just a 44 gallon black tank which contributed to taking it out of the running. Also, the designers took 2′ out of the bedroom to increase the garage length from 11 to 13 feet, and they turned the bed so it was “north/south” or parallel to the driving direction instead of being perpendicular to it.

Trailer designers are constrained in overall square footage for their designs by the RVIA (RV Industry Association). This group increases the maximum allowable square footage a little bit now and then, but for right now the limit is 430 square feet.

This seems to be a bit of an arbitrary number, but it is an important one. When you see very long trailers with very shallow and short slide-outs, it may be due to this maximum square footage. Turning a perpendicular bed that’s partly in a slide-out into a “north/south” bed that’s parallel to the curb with no slideout eliminates a few square feet. The designer can then use those square feet somewhere else in the trailer, like lengthening the garage.

We spent a lot of time lying on these “north/south” beds and opening and closing the small wardrobes in the driver’s side slideouts. This type of bedroom was not as appealing as the perpendicular bed with the big closet in the front cap, but it is the predominant design these days, probably due to the square footage constraint.

Grand Design Momentum Toyhauler Bedroom-min

Many toy haulers have a “north/south” bedroom where the bed runs parallel to the road rather than perpendicular. You can walk around a queen but a king goes almost to the curbside wall.

The biggest challenge in our search is that most dealers stock only a few toy haulers of whatever brands they carry. So there were several floorplans we wanted to see that we still haven’t seen, even after two years of traveling around and a visit to the factories in Elkhart Indiana. The KZ Venom 4012TK is an open floorplan U-kitchen design much like the Raptor 421CK/423 that I’d love to see. Maybe someday!

I’d also like to see a DRV Fullhouse, specifically the LX450. Until we began our search, I didn’t realize that even though DRV is not an independent company any more, they still allow some customizations to be made to their trailers. Working with a good dealer — we heard that Rolling Retreats in Oklahoma was outstanding — you can ask for all kinds of customized things and some might be granted.

I was very surprised when I found out that the factory would be willing to remove the 2nd bathroom and the dinette cabinetry in the Fullhouse LX450. I had other ideas for those spaces that would work better for us. But I have yet to see a Fullhouse toy hauler in person — they always seem to be at least 400 miles away and never in the direction we’re headed. And ordering any trailer without seeing something pretty similar in person first makes me uneasy.

The other thing that made the search particular frustrating is that all the folks selling toyhaulers also had regular fivers on their lots. So, although we couldn’t see the KZ Venom toy hauler we wanted to see, the dealer had the KZ Durango Gold 380FL available. We walked inside and instantly fell in love with the huge rear bedroom with its 2nd entry door on the driver’s side. This didn’t help our search for a toy hauler!

Where Raptors were sold we often saw Montanas, which are also Keystone products, and Mark fell in love wih the storage space in the massive pullout shelf under the raised living room in the Montana 3790/91. This was yet another reminder that If you don’t have a 13′ dedicated garage and you’re willing to go up to 40′ or longer in a trailer, you can get a really spacious rig!

And where Momentums were sold, Grand Design Solitudes were also on display. We both fell totally in love with the massive bedroom and walkin closet of the Grand Design Solitude 373FB. The twin vanity sinks and gargantuan closet were wonderful, and the big bright windows opposite the bed along and the window over the bed’s headboard were fabulous.

I’d never been in a fifth wheel where I felt I could spend happy daytime hours in the bedroom, but in that rig I surely could.

Grand Design Solitude 373FB Fifth wheel trailer RV bedroom-min

The Grand Design Solitude 373FB has a gorgeous bedroom suite with an enormous bathroom and walk-in closet

Grand Design Solitude 373FB Bedroom-min

Good morning sunshine — the Grand Design Solitude 373FB bedroom has a wall of windows!

So, the toy hauler idea went out the window because we began to think we’d triple tow with something like this beautiful Grand Design Solitude 373FB. The only problem is that it is 41′ 4″ long and that would put us over the limit for triple towing in every state except for South Dakota where the limit is 75 feet!

Back to the drawing board we went where we revamped our search to be for smaller trailers. Suddenly, at long last, we were able to see an Arctic Fox 35-5Z after wanting to see one for a long time. This is a really well made trailer built on Northwood Manufacturing’s own in-house constructed frame with a traditional floorplan.

The great thing about Northwood Manufacturing / Arctic Fox is that they are the only trailer manufacturer left that offers a long list of options. All the others pump out identical trailers one after another except for a very few items the customer can choose such as dual pane windows, an onboard generator and exterior paint.

Arctic Fox 35-SZ fifth wheel trailer RV living room-min

The Arctic Fox 35-SZ is built on a custom in-house frame and offers lots of choices for options

At Arctic Fox you can choose to have either one air conditioner or two. You can get an electric fireplace under the TV or you can have wooden cabinets in that space instead. You can opt for a 10 cubic foot propane/electric RV fridge, which gives you an extra foot of counter space and upper and lower cabinetry to boot, or a 12 cubic foot RV fridge or an enormous 18 cubic foot RV fridge. You can also get a residential 110v AC electric fridge.

This is awesome because there are some RVers, like ourselves, who would prefer to have more cabinet and counter space and let the veggies and beer fight it out for themselves in a smaller 10 cubic foot fridge.

Also, since we dry camp all the time, we power our 8 cubic foot fridge with propane 24/7. When we’re not using propane for heat and are just using propane to power the refrigerator, the hot water heater and the stove, we go through a 30 lb. (7 gallon) tank of propane every three weeks. In our experience, it is not always so easy to find places to fill our propane tanks, especially in certain parts of the country.

If we were to go from our current 8 cubic foot refrigerator to an 18 cubic foot fridge, we would more than double the amount of propane our fridge uses. We would probably go through that same 7 gallon tank of propane in about 9-12 days instead of 21 days. If the trailer’s LP tank compartment allows 5″ of extra height, then we might be able to switch to using the taller 40 lb. (10 gallon) tanks instead and we might make the propane last a little longer. But those big tanks are unwieldy to carry around.

Lastly, RV propane refrigerators are expected to last only about 8 to 10 years. A replacement 8 cubic foot fridge is around $1,400. A replacement 18 cubic foot fridge is $3,700. That’s a huge difference!

Even if you have an extended RV warranty (which is an excellent idea – here’s why), the warranty contract will cost a lot more to purchase if your rig has a big expensive refrigerator in it than it would if the fridge were a smaller cheaper model. After all, the warranty company has to calculate their potential costs if things in your rig (like the refrigerator) fail.

KZ allowed buyers to order trailers with smaller RV fridges and opt out of the electric fireplace until last fall, and that is one of the reasons we were so interested in the KZ trailers.

Grand Design Solitude 373FB fifth wheel trailer-min

Many Grand Design Solitude trailers have a TV that lowers into a cabinet revealing a nice big window behind (on the right in this pic). This is fantastic for folks who don’t watch TV during the daytime.

Perhaps the biggest thing for us, though, is the tank capacities. Small tank capacities certainly rule out a lot of brands! The Grand Design trailers have excellent tank capacities, especially the toy haulers with a 2nd bathroom where you can get as much as 157 gallons of fresh, 106 of gray and 106 of black. Wow!!

Double vanity sink in bathroom of fifth wheel trailer RV-min

No more lines for brushing teeth!

So, last week we were back to looking at toy haulers. We went to a dealership where we saw a Fuzion 429 which had a very cool walk-through kitchen layout with the sink set on an outside corner with long counters running along either side. There was tons of cabinet space and it had and an interesting country style decorative motif.

But the slide-outs were so shallow we would be challenged to replace the furniture if we ever wanted to because the fronts of the theater seats and sofa were all set on rollers to roll in and out with the slide room. The fronts of replacement furniture could be set on casters, perhaps, but it might look a little funny.

I’m not keen on being married to an RVs furniture just because it is on rollers.

One thing I’ve noticed with most of the Thomas Payne theater seats is that if I sit with my back touching the backrest, my feet can’t reach the ground. They’re about 2″ short. This is really uncomfortable! I’m 5’4″ but have fairly long legs for my height, so I imagine that most women would be in the same position. So, for me, replacing the furniture at some point is a likely scenario.

We prowled around other toy haulers, and as I stood in the kitchen of one and thought about where I’d put my dishware (I’d already resigned myself to storing pantry goods in the 18 cubic foot fridge because that’s where the bulk of the kitchen shelving was), I realized there was no cabinet in the kitchen for plates or glassware. Those would have to go in a drawer in the kitchen island or in a cabinet outside of the kitchen area.

A similar thing had happened when I stood in the kitchen of another toy hauler a few months earlier and opened the slim upper cabinet door above the sink. The shelf in there was big enough for just one coffee mug — as long as it didn’t have a handle — and no more.

Space is at such a premium in a toy hauler that the designers have to be super creative to make a living area that has both comfortable seating and sufficient usable storage.

Ironcially, Mark had skimmed through Craigslist before this last dealership trip, and he found a 2011 36′ Hitchhiker Discover America for sale. We walked inside it and knew we’d found our rig. It was just like the one we’d lived in for the last 12 years but with some important differences!

Woo Hoo!!

This Hitchhiker had factory installed 8k lb. Dexter axles with 17.5 inch wheels and disc brakes. This was huge!

Every new trailer we’d looked at so far, including most of the toy haulers, would require an upgrade to disc brakes and in many cases an upgrade to bigger axles too, and none but the highest end manufacturers offered those things as a factory installed option. Almost all the trailers had tandem or triple 7k lb. axles and 16″ wheels. Many were Dexter brand, which is terrific, but the cargo carrying capacities were really skimpy almost across the board.

One lovely 38′ fifth wheel had a mere 1,800 lbs of cargo carrying capacity. This would have to include fresh water, solar and battery add-ons and all of our belongings. Several toy haulers had just over 3,000 lbs. of cargo carrying capacity which leaves little room for food, clothes, lilnens, appliances and kitchenware once the 1,200 lb. toy is loaded and the 850 lbs. of fresh water and 450 lbs of fuel are put in the tanks (water is 8.3 lbs per gallon).

Hitchhiker Discover America 349RSB fifth wheel trailer RV Living Room-min

Hitchhiker Discover America – Looks familiar!

Besides the big axles, this old Hitchhiker’s 17.5″ wheels were a massive plus too. Bigger tires on fifth wheels are much less prone to problems caused by grinding the tread into the ground when making tight turns. Blow-outs are all too common with fifth wheel trailers, and although bad tires are often to blame, it’s also possible that the steel belts eventually fall apart under the twisting lateral loads induced by tight turns.

How funny this was, though. We’d come full circle and were right back where we’d started trailer-wise, more or less.

It was only after we began making calls to line up folks to replace the stained carpets and do a detailed cleaning so we could get our soon-to-be new-to-us home back on its wheels as soon as possible after the closing that we realized the handyman projects on an 8 year old trailer were feeling more like work than like fun!

That wasn’t what we wanted!

Totally stressed out, we walked away from the deal at the last minute. We felt better immediately.

Hitchhiker Discover America 349RSB fifth wheel trailer RV-min

There are some incredible deals to be found on the used market for highly regarded brands of yesteryear.
But buying used has its challenges too.

This whole process can be both exhilarating and depressing. Just like buying a sailboat or a house.

Our offer for our cruising sailboat Groovy was the 5th offer we put in on a boat over the course of a year. One deal went so far south we had to get the California Boating and Waterways agency involved. On another deal we paid $1,300 to get the boat surveyed (like a house inspection), and backed out when we got it hauled out of the water and saw the forest of seaweed growing on the hull.

But our persistence and careful approach paid off. In the end, Groovy was a much newer, cleaner and far cheaper boat than any of the others we’d made offers on!

In the RV industry there are very few structurally well built and cleverly designed new trailers out there, and going with a used one that was well built and beautifully crafted in its day years ago opens a whole new can of worms. For those who love renovating, it’s a great way to go. But not everyone does.

On our way home we decided to take one more look at some new fifth wheels just to change our mindset, so we pulled into a dealership and asked to see a line of trailers we hadn’t seen before.

Lo and behold, the first rig we walked into was fantastic. Holy cow! It had almost everything we wanted and the few things it didn’t have were upgrades that would be fun and exciting to do. Who woulda thunk?!

Home sweet home

Home sweet home.

Is our search over? We don’t know, but we’ve got a hunch it is. We’re giving this latest idea a few weeks to simmer and we’ll let you know.

In the meantime, have faith that your ship — or RV — will come in. It’s out there somewhere. It just takes a ton of online research, dozens of walks through dealership lots and, more than anything, some heartfelt soul searching to find it.

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Triple-Tow or Toyhauler? How to Haul a RZR in the Full-time RV Life!
What Are the Most Important Features in a Full-time Fifth Wheel Trailer?

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50 thoughts on “Finding a Fifth Wheel Trailer or Toy Hauler to be a Full-time Home!

  1. Holy smokes E&M, what an experience and a great article. We took a four hour tour of Northwoods Manufacturing. We have been down that same road to find our HH. We have a question about upkeep on your rig. What have you guys used to keep your decals from peeling or even aging? Ours were really bad so we had the trailer rubbed out, the decals removed and replaced about two years ago. We are now going to change out some of them because the sun has cooked the cap and the door side. The product is covered, but we pay the labor again. The manufacturer of the decals is 3M, so you would think it would hold up? The company that did the work is VIP in San Bernardino, CA. We were told not to put any wax on the decals, however we were told you can use 303, an areospace product, once a month. Do you know anything about that?

    • Our decals are badly faded and peeling,. We haven’t done anything other than wax the gelcoat. Some RV dealerships in Arizona recommend getting a ceramic coating put on (to the tun of $80/linear foot). They claim that you don’t have to do anything with that on the exterior and it is guaranteed for three years. At that point you can do it again. Over a 9 year span you’ll spend about the same as you would have on painting the exterior. We’ve been told that wax doesn’t hold up in temperatures over 88 degrees Fahrenheit. I haven’t researched that, but if true it’s something to consider as well.

  2. Thank you. I’m going to save this article for reference, and see what you decided with. I’m curious how big a rig if your’s isn’t big enough? Also, I’m curious why tankless water heaters are used. I would think you could then combine the water capacity and only heat what is needed on demand. Regardless, I really appreciate this article. Great job.

    • Everyone has different needs, but for us (and probably many others), the ideal would be to have a rig that is 25′ long when you’re towing and 55′ long when you’re parked and set up!

      When we started full-timing in 2007 we had owned a popup tent trailer for two years, so the 27′ travel trailer we bought to live in full-time seemed enormous. After a winter of short days and long dark nights, we realized we needed a big fiver and that that is why so many full-timers had them.

      Our 36′ fiver is getting tight on space because we have both taken up the hobby of photography and we have a lot of camera gear that needs a place to live, from camera bodies to lenses to tripods to raid array hard drives. We also now have a dog who has stuff that needs to be stored too. In a house those few extra items would disappear and not be noticeable, but in a 350 square foot apartment the cabinets they consume must be emptied of other things first.

      One wonderful thing nowadays is that many fivers are “wide body” units that are 6 inches wider than the norm (8′ 6″ versus 8′ wide). That doesn’t sound like much, but if you multiply those six inches by the length of the trailer, you suddenly have 18 square feet that you didn’t have before.

      We have loved our trailer and that is why this search is taking so long. Our last search for a fifth wheel took just one year, and there were half a dozen independent manufacturers who were building good quality affordable fifth wheels. The RV manufacturing world is not like that any more, and almost everything that makes up a fiver has changed since our last hunt, so we had a big learning curve to get over.

      Whatever we buy and move into now has to be at least as good as what we’ve been living in for the last 11 years, and that is really hard to find!

      • Thank you. One of the reasons why I’ve been following you is I have the same interest in photography, and ride motorcycle. So I’ve always known I want a toy hauler, but trying to decide on what I need is a challenge. Still some years out before my wife and I decide to go full time, but still hoping to get to this phase. Also imagined doubling the toy hauler into a small studio on the road. Looking forward to your next post.

        • You are welcome, Chris. If you just wanted a place for the motorcycle, I’d look at the hybrid toy haulers that have the bed that raises up and down with the small garage underneath: Raptor 427, Montana High Country 380TH, Grand Design Momentum 376TH. There are others. You do get a real “room” but it won’t have windows or a door and will be quite small so might not work as a studio. Keep looking and enjoy the shopping. There’s no reason to rush the decision if you’re still a few years out. Who knows, the future rigs might be soooo much better than what’s on the market today!

  3. Great article. Your inspiration into fulltiming started our search about 5 years ago. My husband, Greg, spent every night after work searching the internet and researching what to buy (we did not yet know 5th wheel/Motorhome/trailer) at the time. After three years of searching, he quit his job as a chef and went to work for LaMesa RV and his job was orientation tech. That job taught him a lot of the bad things about RVs, but it confirmed his decision to go with an AF 295K, which is a 35’ long fifth wheel. We have lots of storage (tank wise) great construction and it came with Thomas Payne furniture. Two years into full timing, we have replaced the furniture (it was horrible) with LaZBoy (they have lots of smaller units and all of the backs come off for ease of install in an RV) and the best in covering options (we have two cats and they have a fabric line that deals with claws!). We got a custom table/credenza and a couple custom side tables and bedroom cubbies (we have the king bed with no nightstands). With very few exceptions, our rig has been superb. We do have cap fading issues due to hot summers. But we are very happy with our rig overall. Good luck in your search. I cannot wait to see how it all turns out!! And thank you for all of your inspiration.

    • Wow, I’m so glad to know that we were part of the inspiration that started you on your full-timing adventure, Laura. How cool is that! Thanks for letting us know.

      We LOVE the Arctic Fox 29.5 and I chose to feature it in my Trailer Life article that surveyed full-time fivers. That is a classic floorplan that used to be all the rage years ago. Friends of ours who had a gorgeous custom fifth wheel built for them chose that floorplan.

      We have La-Z-Boy recliners in our rig now too. Wonderful chairs! And how cool that you had some custom furniture made too! The new Arctic Fox table that rotates from being two chairs facing opposite each other at the table to two chairs side by side looking out the window over the table is truly ingenious.

      Happy travels to you and your kitties and thanks for reading!

  4. Great article. We miss our 2002 Alpenlite. 100 gallons of fresh. 50 black 50 grey. 14 cu ft dual fridge etc. but we aged out. We had a MDT to pull it with. Freightliner fl60. It had a RV conversion by Mountain Master. It stopped the trailer on a dime. We saw conversions that had “garages” between the cab and the hitch where people kept their atv and such,
    Even little electric cars. Anyways, when we had to downsize we found there is no market for these MDT trucks. In that you could probably get one, used, way below what you would think. And the view is spectacular from up there and the ride wonderful with air ride suspension and seats and it took up no more room going to town and such than the one ton pick up and being a caterpillar diesel there was like zero maintenance.

    • We have special friends who built one of the first MDTs with the big garage in the back of it (and they ended up building quite a few for other RVers who loved the idea!), Mary. They also live in an Alpenlite, and they are loving life on the road after 30+ years of full-timing. That is a great way to go and is certainly something worth considering. Thank you for the vivid description and tip!

  5. I’m always beyond impressed by how much patience you have in all your research. I know it all does pay off for you. You end up with a purchase that you love so much that you keep it for years. How long have you had your current 5th wheel? I’m the same way with my cars. My current Honda Accord is a 2006 and I still LOVE it! I can’t wait to see what you end up with. I’ve got my eye on the Vanleigh brand for our replacement RV. But I’ve got lots of time to research it.

    • Our fifth wheel is a 2007 and we bought it new in the spring of 2008, so it’s now 11 years young, but it is showing its age. It was the model line that Hitchhiker tried to build more cheaply as the RV market began to slide in the 2006-07 timeframe. So, it has a Lippert frame rather than the Young’s Welding frame that the higher end models were built on. The frame and suspension have been our trailer’s weakest points which is why we’re so concerned about the foundation of any new trailer. And 98% of new trailers are built on those frail Lippert frames (Arctic Fox, New Horizons, ATC, Sundowner and Space Craft are not built on Lippert frames).

      Shopping is easy and fun and you have no true migraine type headaches until you write the check and put your name on the title. Up until that moment the only headaches are minor ones like, “Why did the manufacturer do this silly thing here?” After you write the check, you own their mistakes and oversights and you have to figure out ways to overcome them.

      So, we look, think, soul search for what we really want, and wait. Our rig’s wheels haven’t completely fallen off yet, so we still have plenty of time to make the big commitment.

      One thing lots of folks forget to think about is the rapid depreciation of a trailer. If you are buying a new trailer to own for 10 years, you’ll be throwing away 50% to 75% of the purchase price. So, it’s worth it to take your time. It’s not like buying a house where all you have to do is see enough appreciation to cover the 6% realtor fees when you sell. Of course, in a bad economy that can take years, but in general, with property, your don’t going into the contract knowing you will kiss most of your purchase price goodbye within the next decade.

  6. Great article, Em! Glad that you and Mark have the time, energy, and fortitude for this frustrating search…course, most of the search is lots of fun, with the right ATTITUDE (No pun intended).

    One of your best, and truest statements is towing a “short” trailer, and living in an “extra long” trailer; along with having your bikes, and your Razor, to explore all those beckoning roads, byways, and pathways that you and Mark encounter in your travels.

    And your reader’s comments flesh out or illuminate others’ experiences, so they make your articles much more interesting – if – it’s possible – to add more “zip” to the already, exceptional prose, writing, and images, done by you and Mark. You two are definitely “Artists in Residence”! Take care, safe travels, and best of luck in your search for the Holy Grail (s)….Glen & Bette Horsmann

    • Wow! Thank you, Glen & Bette. “Artists in Residence” — I love it! It’s a great life and this big decision is a wonderful one to be making. Whenever it gets stressful all we have to do is think of big decisions we faced in other lives that weren’t so much fun! Thank you for reading and appreciating our many articles over the years, and thank you to all our readers for their insights here in the comment section!

  7. It’s been great following your process towards the purchase of your next home. We started out many years ago with a little 18’ TT and an old International Harvester crew cab. Had to give it up when my second child was born and needed to settle into a new job.

    After many years and four children I retired and picked up a used 25’ TT and started following you guys. My wife and I have really enjoyed our travels and soon realized that if we wanted to stay out longer that a couple of weeks, we were going to need a larger trailer (we also travel with two large Huskies). No problem though. After all, we’ve been following your blog. So we jumped in the truck with the two dogs and drove to Kansas. I bet you can guess why . . . Kansas RV Center!

    Yup, we purchased a NuWa just like our blog mentors. Here’s where your post made my jaw drop . . . we bought a 2011 Hitchhiker Discover America. That was two years ago and we truly love it. We’re not full timers but we love going out for a month or more at a time.

    Good luck with your next purchase and thanks for all the inspiration you’ve given us over the past years. Please give Buddy a big squeeze and lick from Boo and Togo.

    • Gosh, Lew, how fabulous that you bought a 2011 Discover America in Chanute KS, a great area with great people and you got a great rig to boot! Thank you for being a part of our travels all these years via the magic of the web. I remember when you bought your truck and your excellent questions about our experiences with ours. Happy travels to you and your pups and enjoy your beautiful Hitchhiker!

  8. I enjoyed your “hunting” and found many similarities to what you experienced. I have RV’d for over 35 years, have had buses, super C’s, and 5th wheels, including one toy hauler. When I was recently in the market again, I swore I’d never consider a new 5th wheel due to the poor assembly of Chinese parts! Yes, I had 2 AF, including the 29.5K. Toy hauler was a Momentum, but in the shop for 10 weeks of warranty work before my first trip. So I like you, looked at used. Always wanted a Cameo or Hitchhiker but when built, I could not afford one. This time I found a 2010 HH Champagne Edition, 36 LKRSB. Less than 2000 miles, kitchen never used! Boy am I happy. The quality is suburb, but the decor a bit dated…but that is the easy thing to change. You just can’t go wrong with a HH!

    • You are so right, Chuck. The Hitchhiker Champagnes and Discover Americas were well built and there are still some out there that were barely used. The NuWa engineers understood dry camping and always equipped their rigs with plenty of tank capacity too. Teton Homes, Alpenlite, Newmar and Excel are a few other brands that were expensive when built but are well within reach now. Enjoy your Champagne living and thanks for sharing your experiences!!

  9. Enjoying “the search” with you! Was excited to see you’d chosen another NuWa home but sad it didn’t work out. We’ve had 4 RVs now. Second one was a 1997 29′ Hitchhiker that we lived on 14 months while on a job in FL (we live in ID). We LOVED it! Decided to downsize a bit when we came home so went to an Arctic Fox tow trailer. Nice enough, but things were not “thought out” like on a Hitchhiker – for example, cabinets that were in the perfect spot to bump your head, both in the bedroom and kitchen! So we traded the AF for another Hitchhiker – a 2008 29 (32′) footer – LOVE IT! We’re not officially full-time but jobs often make us full-time for a year or more at a time. We can’t imagine living on board anything other than a Hitchhiker. Too bad they’re no longer made.

    Regarding decals – hubby talked with the president of Hitchhiker a few years back about our peeling decals. The EPA made RV manufacturers change the glue they used to apply decals “because it was bad for the environment.” They were forced to go to a lesser glue – thus, the peeling. Big gubermint struck again!

    Here’s hoping you find just the right rig but don’t turn loose of your HH until you’re sure that you’re sure! :o)

    • So many Hitchhiker fans writing in — this is wonderful. Former NuWa CEO Mike Mitchell would be delighted! We sure with they were still being made and that by now they had a slick toy hauler line going too.

      It was fun to stop by Kansas RV Center last fall to look at what was on the lot and find ourselves talking to the very man who had sold us our rig in 2007. He didn’t remember us, but I knew his full name the moment I saw him. Our fifth wheel purchase was such a big deal and big day in our lives!!

      The LS models were not as well built as the Discover Americas and Champagnes, and we’ve had problems with our rig that wouldn’t have happened on the higher end models. So, in a way, we’ve experienced a little of the downside of owning a Lippert frame with cheap chinese parts on it already. However, the floorplan, cabinetry and systems layout is top notch and very well thought out.

      We’ll see where our search takes us. For now it’s nice to have our money in the bank and an endless array of choices in front of us!

  10. Emily,
    Most people unfamiliar with the RLT think those towing their homes on wheels have to give up the comforts of traditional homes. Your article show just how wrong they are. 🙂
    Bob

  11. Now you know what I go through buying shoes to fit! Find a style and nobody has ‘em.
    Also I think the 430 sq ft RVIA regulation is a get around to the 440 sq ft Federal Law on housing (?).

    • Isn’t it crazy — the more choices we have, the fussier we get!!! I’m sure you’re absolutely right about the RV square footage limitation being linked to the federal laws for housing units. I’m not really up on all the laws but was intrigued when I asked about the shallow depths of the slides on long trailers that the answer had to do with the upper limit on RV square footage!!

  12. Wow – you guys do exhaustive research for sure! We have lived in our Grand Design Momentum 380th fulltime for over 2 and 1/2 years traveling from coast to coast. We had it for 2 years before we put a toy in the garage – a 2012 Honda Goldwing weighing in at roughly 900 lbs. We went thru some serious downsizing to make sure we were not overweight before we bought the motorcycle. Steve had to seriously downsize his tool collection and I went through all of the living quarters to pare down the kitchen, entertainment and closets contents. Downsizing and purging is a constant in the fulltime RV life, isn’t it? When we originally bought out toyhauler, we thought we would get 4-wheelers, or dirt bikes, or a side-by-side, or a CanAm Spyder…. so we researched and waited a while before we bought our toy. We went full circle back to the 2-wheeler Goldwing which is what we had BEFORE we went fulltime – LOL. We learned that, for us, off-roading was not going to be our long term activity, so we use the Goldwing for sightseeing instead of driving the dually. Fortunately, we bought enough truck and enough trailer to handle what we needed. Good luck on your final decision, and hopefully, one day, our paths will cross! Blessings to both of you and little Buddy too.

    • Downsizing is definitely an ongoing activity in the full-time RV lifestyle, and if you get behind on it the task grows ever larger! You guys were smart to anticipate your desire for a toy in the garage, and even smarter to pitch a bunch of stuff to remain within weight when you bought the Goldwing. I’m sure that sightseeing on your motorcycle is a super fun way to go — comfy but out in the fresh air and able to park it and maneuver it so much more easily than the dually truck.

      How much do you use your garage and patio for living space? As we’ve studied toy haulers it seems that if you change your thinking about RV living and use the garage as a living space like a casual living room (nice big windows!) and do an indoor/outdoor thing with the patio off the garage, you can end up with a really nice and breezy “lanai” or screened porch kind of space that opens onto the patio… Do you use yours that way??

  13. you two are so amazing I follow your blogs all the time . I have said this before we bought a 2006 LS Hitch Hitcher in 2011, we are going to be full timers in a few years and I have learned a lot from both of you. We just like you two have just looked at different trailers. I think if we should ever get a different trailer I would want the living room in the front vs the back of the trailer I think :). But then you look at tank storage and I so agree ours has a lot of tank storage . We have looked at the states that allow triple towing and was not happy with the states that do not allow triple towing :(. but that is something you have to give and take.Again thank you for all your travel stories.So excited to see what you guys decide.

    • With these new looong trailers there are so many options for floorplans. My favorite is the kitchen up front like the Raptor 427 with the window in the front cap. You don’t need a lot of headroom in the kitchen, and you can get a ton of counter space without an island, and you can have the dining table with the chairs next to each other looking out over the living room below (where tall headroom is really nice). Then you can get a big spacious bedroom in the rear like the KZ 380FL.

      There are a lot of choices and trade-offs and it’s a matter of figuring out what’s most important to you so you can prioritize what to give up. If we could find a toy hauler with a floorplan that gave us a 75″ sofa, 70″ space for theater seats or twin recliners and a dining table in the main living area, we’d go for it in a heartbeat. But that animal doesn’t exist yet. If we want to visit states that don’t allow triple towing we’ll have to drop the RZR and its trailer off at a storage facility for a while… Thank you for being such a loyal reader, Cheryl, and happy travels in your Hitchhiker!!

  14. I’m exhausted! What a search. But really no different than finding the right house or making any other big purchase. Your methodical analysis, research, and testing will pay off. Fingers crossed that you have found the right thing.

    • Thank you, Edith! It has been quite a search, but like you say, it’s no different than buying any major asset. The shopping has been a lot of fun, despite the frustration that so many manufacturers trade quality for flash, and we’ve learned a lot in the process. It’s amazing how much an industry’s products can change in ten years!

  15. Very impressive post. Really admire the time you are taking to do the research. RV factory tours are a real eye-opener. Sorry the SpaceCraft approach didn’t work out. Amazing trailers, but make more sense if you have a Class 8 tractor to pull them. 🙂 Looking forward to posts about your final decision.

    • We’ve been really fortunate that we’ve had the time and the ability to travel long distances to see a lot of different rigs and visit some factories. Writing the three articles for Trailer Life about full-time fivers, entry level fivers and toy haulers have focused our thinking too. With such a big purchase and change in towing and lifestyle with the RZR, we really wanted to educate ourselves about the market. I’ve always felt that once you know more about what you’re buying than the salesmen selling it to you, then you’re ready to buy!!

      We were really disappointed that the Space Craft trailer didn’t work out. Ever since we first saw their factory in 2015 we’ve thought we’d soon be proud owners of a Space Craft, and I spent endless hours designing the “ideal trailer” for our lifestyle. On the other hand, all trailers depreciate quickly, and all trailers have problems. A new owner we met at Space Craft had a sudden water leak under the kitchen sink in his trailer when he was waiting in their lot for some minor warranty touch-up repairs. And whether the trailer costs $300k or $30k, the depreciation over time will still be a significant percentage of the purchase price. Before writing the big check it’s worthwhile to remember that if you keep the trailer for ten years, half of the check you’re writing is going to vanish into depreciation. With a pricey trailer that’s a lot of money!

  16. Howdy. What a great post. We can so relate to the types of dilemmas you are ‘enjoying’. Have you concidered getting that lovely fiver with the spacious bedroom etc, and buying a second car to tow the RZR, not as much fun not driving in the same vehical when moving the ‘house’ but a couple of walky talkies can keep you connected….Just a thought.
    Anyway Thanks for sharing

    • We have joked about it, Ian, but not talked too seriously. We’ve met lots of folks who have a setup where both people drive something from place to place so they can have all the goodies with them that they want. But we’re not quite there yet. Maybe that will be the ultimate solution, who knows. It’s all an evolutionary process, so we’ll keep taking it one step at a time and see where we end up. Thank you for reading!

      • Thank you for writing such a useful and informative article! I’ve enjoyed your articles and pictures for years and more recently in rv magazines.

        Can you share more about your opinion of Luxe RV. You seemed to like the Luxe toy haulers but may have been concerned about its heavy weight?

        My wife and I part time in an Airstream 4-6 months a year. We are currently on a 6 month road trip to the Pacific Northwest. We have decided to switch to full timing next year and although we love our Airstream we want more room and a larger high quality rv.

        We have researched Luxe RV for several years and love their 39FB and 42MD units (neither are toy hauler units). But neither being especially handy or ever owning a fiver I’m curious to know more about your opinion on their build quality and long term durability. Also, will a properly equipped new dually pull and safely stop such a rig?

        Thanks!

        • We were very impressed by many aspects of the Luxe. We toured both toy haulers and fifth wheels on their lot and spent a lot of time on the factory floor (it was not in operation at the time — it was a Saturday).

          A one ton dually with a 4.10 rear end could probably tow a fully loaded smaller unit of theirs (in the 36-40 foot range).

          If I were considering Luxe I’d study Space Craft and New Horizons with equal scrutiny. The trailers have different fundamental features. Luxe uses 3.25″ thick walls insulated with graphite infused styrofoam but their trailers are built on Lippert frames. Space Craft trailers have 2″ walls insulated with a super high grade styrofoam that is structurally so strong it is extremely difficult to break, and they are built on in-house designed and manufactured frames. I’m not 100% sure about the insulation on New Horizons trailers, but they are built on in-house designed and manufactured frames as well.

          With any expensive custom or semi-custom trailer it is advisable to study the company’s history as a corporate entity as well. Look at the Better Business Bureau ratings for any company that interests you and search for complaints or any history of lawsuits against the company. Trailers in the $200k+ range are a huge investment and you will never see a lot of that money again, depending on whether you sell after two years, five years, ten years or more. So, making a cautious and well researched decision is paramount.

          Good luck and have fun shopping!

  17. Hi Emily & Mark. If you’re still shopping, Kansas RV in Chanute has a DRV LX455 as they transition to a different business model. You may get a deal…

    • Thanks, Rick! We’d love to see a DRV toy hauler but Kansas is a little far to travel (we’re in AZ right now). The model that intrigued us is the LX450, and if we could see one (none in the country right now, although a special order is going to Lake Havasu in a few months), we’d surely special order one. The DRV folks have said they would make certain modifications for us (like eliminate the 2nd bathroom and dinette) if we wanted. But we don’t want to order one without seeing one first, and I’m not sure we want to wait until one is built and shipped to a dealer that is within shooting distance!

  18. Whew! Hi Emily…..I finally had time to read the entire post & all the comments. So what was the make of the rig you’d never seen before? And is the search over?

    • There was a ton of info here, kind of a tour-de-force, but we’ve done a lot of study. We’re keeping the possible new rig quiet for the moment as we triple check that it’s what we really want!!!

  19. Wow what an informative post, thank you for working this all out! I am a year or two out from being able to buy any sort of rig due to job obligations, but I’ve been doing research and from what you’ve been sharing, I’m glad I’m doing it early!

    I’m curious to hear your thoughts on perceived quality from the Grand Design and Northwood 5ers and TT’s you’ve viewed? Do you think those sort of rigs will hold up well for full time living from a durability perspective? I hear they are well insulated for winter use which is great since I love the cooler weather.

    As a potential solo traveler, I hoped I could get away with a small 20-25′ trailer. Unfortunately, even if I go full time, I have a job that requires a beefy workstation laptop and 2 monitors which would be a huge pain to set up and then break down 4 days a week. If do this, I need to find *dedicated* space for them – and I’d rather not give up my living area or dinette entirely to do so!

    I absolutely love the idea of a toyhauler garage with a patio option I can use as an office/multipurpose space, but the only small ones in the Grand Design lineup are the G series – I’m not sure “lightweight” and “affordable” are the adjectives I should be gravitating towards for full time use…

    Then there’s Northwood models, which for some reason seem to be *impossible* to find in my area. I’d love nothing more than to tour an Arctic Fox 29-5T – with it’s open recliner space I think I can repurpose for a computer desk & chair, and it’s decent cargo and holding tank capacities for boondocking – but I can’t just buy one sight unseen, so hopefully one shows up in my area soon…

    I’m curious if you’ve ever come across any other well-built 5ers/TT’s that can provide extra work space without getting too large, and while still providing decent boondocking capability? It’s such a mishmash of features!

    • The Arctic Fox 29-5T would be a terrific trailer to full-time in and was actually the model from Northwood Manufacturing that I chose to review in my Trailer Life article about full-time fifth wheels. It is a classic floor plan that was very popular for many years, and it has great carrying capacity and holding tank capacities too, if you are interested in dry camping at all.

      RV manufacturing is a “marketing driven” business, as opposed to a “design driven” or “engineering driven” business, and as such is primarily about buyer perception and manufacturer positioning in the market. Something like insulation is easy to make look phenomenal with enormous R-values, but in reality no slide-out floors are insulated because there isn’t enough vertical space to put in any insulation. Also, roofing insulation is completely absent where there are skylights or roof vents and the huge RV windows have an R-value of 1. Lastly, the aluminum foil “radiant barrier” can only provide the claimed R-factor if it is installed with at least two inches of air space on either side of it. So any R-values that include an additive number for that sheet of foil are terribly misleading.

      Every mass-market brand has reports of terrible quality control and after sale misery. Just talk to folks who own new rigs at any campground you visit. The exact same people who founded Keystone founded Grand Design, so how different can it be in the long run? Any company owned by a bigger player — Thor, Forest River or Winnebago — can’t possibly have the kind of employee passion that is found in small independent companies. It’s just the nature of the beast and is true in every industry. Also, pretty much every mass-market trailer is built with Lippert frame, windows and door, and all but the biggest units have Lippert axles too, so the nuts and bolts of the foundation are identical across manufacturers and brands.

      I’m not sure that any brand is going to be a slam-dunk as far as quality, customer service or freedom from major problems goes, largely because the components are all from the same suppliers and mass-market trailer manufacturers are more assemblers than from-scratch builders. Unless you go to the highest end — Space Craft or New Horizons — the purchase will be a gamble. The price at that highest end is as much as $5k per linear foot or more. If you have the ability and the space to work on it and bring it back to life, buying an older Alpenlite, Hitchhiker, Excel, Teton Homes or other quality independent brand from the past may be a great option.

      Try to see as many units in person as you can. You can always start with a small and cheap used unit and then buy the bigger dream trailer once you get on the road and are able to visit dozens of dealerships across the nation.

      Good luck with your search!

  20. Interesting & frustrating. We also are looking for a new rig but finding it very difficult. The CCC we need for FT is not in alignment with our budget!! Plus, we need a mid-den or bunkhouse floorplan which also hurts. Hoping the Vanleigh company will be our answer. Hope you find the rig of your dreams!!

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