Fifth Wheel Towing 101

Basics & Beyond
August 19, 2020
By: Jim Mac, RoadTravelFoodie


  • This popular camping trailer (affectionately nicknamed a "fiver") is recognizeable by the bulkhead resting above the pickup truck's bed.
  • With abundant outside storage, larger interiors, and a variety of floor plans, it's a favorite of many, especially those who like to travel for extended periods of time.
  • While fifth wheel RV's are intimidating at first glance, they are suprisingly easy to tow.

The thought of towing a fifth wheel camping trailer can seem daunting. Some of the bigger models can weigh over six tons empty, stand 13-feet tall, and stretch over 40-feet in length. But don’t let the size deter you. A fifth wheel offers benefits galore, not the least of which is unsurpassed towability. Experienced RVers will tell you that they would prefer to tow a fifth wheel compared to a conventional travel trailer.   

“From a towability standpoint, there is nothing better than a fifth wheel,” says RV Enthusiast Technical Editor Chris Dougherty. “What makes a fifth wheel extraordinarily stable is the hitch location. Unlike a conventional travel trailer where the hitch is at the back end of your tow vehicle, the hitch-point on a fifth wheel trailer is positioned directly above your tow truck’s rear axle.

“The result is an extremely stable platform that virtually eliminates trailer sway and dramatically reduces the effects of crosswinds and buffeting.  Another advantage of a fifth wheel is that you can have a longer trailer with an overall shorter vehicle and trailer length because part of the trailer is above the bed of the truck.”

Selecting the Right Floor Plan

With two levels of living space, no RV offers more choices in floor plan configurations than a fifth wheel. Not only do you see the traditional front-bedroom model, but today you’ll find a head-spinning number of variations. Modern offerings include a front bath-front bedroom floor plan, front kitchen floor plan, living room floor plan, and floor plans with a rear den and garage, just to name a few.  

Tow Vehicle

While a pull-behind camping trailer can be towed with a properly equipped car, van, or SUV, a fifth wheel requires a pickup truck.

Fortunately, in this respect, RVers have many choices. Half-ton, three-quarter, or one-ton? Gas or diesel? Short bed or long? Single or dually? Domestic automakers, in particular, have identified the RVer’s needs and offer a variety of models ideally equipped for RV towing.

GMC Engineer Frank Bruneel detailed the process his team used in creating the new GMC Sierra and the ProGrade trailering system.

“We interviewed thousands of customers on what they want to get from their truck while they tow. Three key factors came out of this research:  customers want a truck that helps them feel safe, enables them to see more, and gives confidence while towing.”

Bruneel says the GMC engineers built a trailering experience around these pillars. For example, to provide better visibility while towing, the new Sierra gives the customer many options to “see around their trailer” as Brunell put it. 

Also, worth noting, GMC collaborated with Keystone’s electronics partner, ASA Electronics, to link Keystone’s iN-Command monitoring and control system to the MyGMC app, making access to the in-Command features seamless.

Consider the truck and fifth wheel as a towing combination. For the best towing experience, match the capabilities of the truck you plan to purchase to the fifth wheel weight. Or, if you are planning to use your existing truck, buy a fifth wheel that falls within your truck’s capabilities.

We recommend the tow vehicle you select have a trailer weight rating to handle at least the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the RV you plan to tow.

Proper weight and load distribution are absolutely essential to safe towing. Keep the loaded tongue weight between 15% and 25% of the total weight. 

Read more about towing considerations and weight distribution in your Keystone RV Owner's Manual.

RV Towing Terms

GTW (GROSS TRAILER WEIGHT) – The weight of a fully loaded trailer.

TW (TONGUE WEIGHT) – The downward force of the trailer tongue on the hitch ball. Also referred to as "hitch weight" or "pin weight."

GVWR (GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT RATING) – The maximum loaded weight of your vehicle as determined by the manufacturer. Overloading your travel trailer could result in an unsafe towing situation.

GCWR (GROSS COMBINED WEIGHT RATING) – The maximum total weight of a loaded tow vehicle and trailer as determined by the tow vehicle manufacturer.

Understanding Your Vehicle's Tow Rating

Knowing what your vehicle can tow safely is a good place to start. Check with your manufacturer to make sure that your vehicle can tow the fifth wheel that you are interested in.

Towing Hardware

In addition to a properly equipped truck, you will need a fifth wheel hitch. The fifth wheel hitch provides the link between the trailer and the towing truck.

The “fifth wheel” in the name refers to the U-shaped coupling mounted onto the cargo bed of the tow truck. It’s similar to the equipment found on over-the-road tractors hauling commercial semi-trailers. A pin-box on the front of the fifth wheel camping trailer locks onto the fifth wheel coupling on the truck.

Some fifth wheel hitches mount permanently to the pickup bed, while others can be removed with minimal labor, freeing up the space for hauling cargo.

Hundreds of hitch models are available sized to fit the towing truck, bed length, and trailer weight requirements.

A note about installation: Many new vehicles offer a factory-installed “puck” mounting system as part of the fifth wheel towing package. Selecting this option will save you labor and money when it comes time to mount your hitch.  

Hitching Up
  • As is the case when hooking up a travel trailer, hitching the truck to the fifth wheel requires a little practice and aid by a helper or rear-view camera.  Using the front trailer jacks, raise or lower the trailer to at or slightly below hitch height
  • Back the truck slowly until the kingpin on the trailer pin-box slides into the horseshoe-shaped coupling
  • Visually verify that the hitch pin is fastened securely by the hitch jaws, then lock the hitch handle with a pin or padlock
  • Attach the emergency breakaway cable to your truck bed
  • Raise the trailer jacks out of the way

Related Article: Six Tips for Safe Trailering and Towing from GMC