If you’re new to the world of RV camping, the lingo and things to know about each type of vehicle can be daunting. There are Class A motorhomes and fifth-wheel toy haulers. Some vehicles require you to provide a truck for towing and others are self-contained. Some larger RVs may have a bit of a learning curve when it comes to driving them.
One way to differentiate RVs and campers is by class. Each class of RV has certain characteristics, so you can make some general assumptions about your vehicle simply based on the class of camper you are renting or purchasing.
Understanding RV Classes
There are two main categories of RVs – motorcoaches and towable rigs. Motorcoaches are completely self-contained. They have their own engine, and the driving compartment is connected to the living space in the back. Towable rigs require a separate vehicle to tow them. The back living space is in a trailer that can be attached or detached from the towing vehicle (usually a large truck).
There are advantages and disadvantages to both options. A motorcoach allows you to access items in your living space any time you stop, while trailers make those items harder to access until you have set up camp for the night. However, trailers prevent the need for a separate vehicle to use for exploring once you’ve set up. Simply detach your truck or towing vehicle and use it to drive around. If you’re traveling with a motorcoach, you may need to pull a smaller vehicle behind the rig to get around once you arrive at your destination.
Different Types of RV Classes
Here are the different types of RV classes, along with the pros and cons of each. You’ll want to consider several things before you decide on an RV class. How many people will you be traveling with? How many comforts of home do you want on your trip? How comfortable are you driving a large vehicle? Will you be bringing bikes, kayaks, or other extras along with you?
All of those considerations will affect your choice of RV class.
Class A motorhomes are the largest class. They are the large RVs that look similar to a bus – celebrity tour vehicles, for example, tend to be Class A motorhomes. Class As are usually between 20-45 feet long, although they can be even longer. Larger Class A RVs can sleep eight to ten people. Class A vehicles can run on diesel or gas, and they get very low gas mileage because the rig is so big.
Class A motorhomes usually have many of the amenities you have at home including roomy beds, bathrooms with showers, a kitchen, an eating and entertainment area, and sometimes even a washer and dryer or a fireplace. They usually have at least two slideouts, so you have even more room after you park and set up camp.
Although there are many reasons to choose a Class A RV, there are a few drawbacks. Renting or purchasing a Class A is going to be much more expensive than selecting a smaller vehicle. Fuel costs are going to be higher. Also, drivers who aren’t used to driving such a large motorhome may be nervous and will want to set aside some time to practice before heading out on a long trip.
Notable feature: Class As include all the comforts of home like a bathroom with a shower, a kitchen, roomy beds and sleeping spaces, a dining and entertainment area, and sometimes even laundry machines and fireplaces.
Sleeps: Class A RVs usually sleep 4-8 people but some can accommodate 10 or more.
Class B campers are the smallest class of RVs. Class Bs are also referred to as sleeper vans or campervans. Because they’re smaller, Class B vans are a great option for travelers who are headed out on steep, winding, or unpaved roads, and they’re much easier to back up or otherwise maneuver. Class B campers can fit into just about any camping spot. They’re also the cheapest option when it comes to renting or buying an RV, and they get much better gas mileage than Class As.
The drawbacks of a Class B campervan are obvious – there’s much less room inside compared to other camper classes. However, you may be pleasantly surprised by just how much can be tucked into a sleeper van. Most Class B vans come with a bed, small kitchen, toilet, and storage space. Some vans even include showers, although they will not be as spacious as a home shower! Class Bs can sleep from 2-4 people.
Notable feature: Class Bs are small, easy to maneuver, and can winding or unpaved roads easier than larger motorhomes.
Sleeps: Class Bs sleep 2-4 people.
Class C motorhomes are jokingly referred to as the Goldilocks of campers since they’re right in the middle – not too big and not too small. Class C campers have many of the amenities of larger Class A RVs, but are less cumbersome to drive and get better gas mileage.
Class C campers are built onto a regular truck chassis and have a sleeping area above the cab of the truck, as well as other bedrooms in the back. Class Cs can sleep between 4-8 people. They usually include bedrooms, a bathroom with toilet and shower, and a kitchen and dining/entertainment area.
Notable feature: Class Cs have many of the amenities of larger Class As like bathrooms and kitchens but are smaller and not as cumbersome to drive and park.
Sleeps: Class Cs sleep 6-8 people.
Different Types of RV Trailers
Along with choosing an RV for a road trip, you could also consider a trailer. Trailers are entirely separate from the driving vehicle, which provides its own pros and cons. As you consider different types of RV trailers, you’ll also want to consider the type of tow vehicle you’ll need – larger trailers are going to require powerful vehicles to tow them.
Pop-up or foldable trailers
Pop-up trailers are a good option for small families. They’re lightweight, which means you can tow them with a midsize or larger car, an SUV, or a minivan. They’re also the cheapest trailer, and their light weight means they won’t affect your gas mileage as much as a heavier trailer.
Pop-up trailers do require more work to set up – they must be unfolded manually, and are sometimes raised with a hand crank. They are made of canvas, so you’re basically staying in a raised tent. This means all the challenges of tent-camping – very little control over the temperature inside, no soundproofing, more vulnerability to rain or other weather – are all challenges you’re going to face in your pop-up trailer as well. Generally speaking, pop-up trailers do not have bathrooms. You may also need to allow time for the canvas sides to dry before packing your trailer away to store it. However, if you enjoy the closeness to nature that tent-camping brings, this could be the perfect choice for you!
Notable feature: Pop-up trailers are lightweight, and are great for people who want a step up from tent camping
Sleeps: Tent trailers usually sleep 4-5 people.
To begin with the obvious – teardrop trailers are just adorable. These tiny, hard-sided trailers are lightweight, rounded on one end and tapered on the other. They can range from simply a bedroom to trailers that include a bed, kitchen, dining area, and small bathroom. Larger options can sleep up to four people.
Because they’re so small, teardrops can be towed by a small truck, a crossover vehicle, an SUV or minivan, and even in some cases, by a motorcycle. Teardrop trailers are a great choice for people who don’t need a lot of room, but want a hard-sided trailer that offers more warmth than a pop-up.
Notable feature: Teardrop trailers can be towed by a variety of vehicles and offer more protection from the elements than canvas tent trailers.
Sleeps: Teardrop trailers sleep from 2-5 people.
A “travel trailer” can refer to a lot of different trailers. Usually, classic travel trailers range from 10-35 feet long, are large enough for people to stand up inside, and include one or more bedrooms, a bathroom with a toilet and often a shower, a kitchen, a dining and entertainment area, and plenty of storage.
Travel trailers often have slide-outs to allow for more room when the trailer is set up. Because the size of trailers varies, the size of the tow vehicle will also vary. Small trailers can be towed by SUVs or crossover vehicles, but larger travel trailers will need to be towed by a heavy-duty truck.
Notable feature: Travel trailers have plenty of room to stand up and move around, and offer amenities like bathrooms with showers, a kitchen, and sleeping space.
Sleeps: Travel trailers usually sleep up to 8 people, although some extreme trailers can sleep more than 10.
Toy haulers are a type of travel trailer that was designed to carry “toys” like bicycles, kayaks, jet skis, 4-wheelers, snowmobiles, or other extra cargo.
Many toy haulers are built with a garage area in the back, or with spaces where the furniture can be taken out to make room for recreational items. Toy haulers usually have a ramp or lift to reach the garage for easier loading and unloading. Although the trailer itself is as large as a classic travel trailer, you’ll find you have less room inside because the garage will eat up some of that space.
Toy haulers almost always require a heavy-duty truck, like a half-ton pickup at the least, in order to pull them. Be sure to check the towing requirements before arranging a vehicle to pull your toy hauler.
Notable feature: Toy haulers offer plenty of room for jet skis, snowmobiles, ATVs, kayaks, or extra gear.
Sleeps: Toy haulers sleep from 8-10 people.
Airstream trailers are a brand of travel trailer that is easily recognized by their silver, rounded exterior that gives them a vintage look. They have been around since the 1930s and now have their own cult following.
The simply-shaped Airstreams don’t have slide-outs – what you see is what you get as far as space is concerned. They often include a bathroom, bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining/entertainment area, and storage. Airstream trailers are not terribly lightweight – smaller ones can be towed with the right SUV, but larger ones may require a bigger truck to tow.
Notable feature: Airstream trailers’ classic shape and siding make them easily recognizable, and they don’t have slide-outs or other features to set up once you arrive at camp.
Sleeps: Airstreams sleep 4-8 people.
Fifth Wheel Trailers
Fifth wheel trailers are the largest trailers on the market, and rival Class A motorhomes for the amenities and number of people they can sleep. In some cases, fifth wheels can actually be bigger than Class As. Fifth wheels can have multiple slide-outs, so there is plenty of room inside once they are set up.
People towing fifth wheel trailers don’t need to worry about having a vehicle to drive around once they set up camp. Simply use the tow vehicle for day trips and other exploring in the area after detaching the trailer. Also, for owners who already have a tow vehicle, the cost of purchasing or renting a fifth wheel as opposed to a Class A motorhome can be much lower.
Because they are so large and heavy, fifth wheels require a fifth wheel hitch, installed in the bed of the towing truck, in order to pull them. This hitch helps stabilize the trailer, and can help cut back on the trailer sway while the trailer is being driven. Fifth wheel trailers need a full-size, one-ton truck to tow them.
Fifth wheel trailers can take longer to set up than a Class A motorhome, which makes them a good option for longer trips where travelers plan to stay at the same campground for several nights in a row.
Notable feature: Fifth wheel trailers can be even bigger than Class A RVs, so they offer plenty of room for sleeping spaces, a kitchen, a bathroom with shower, a dining and entertainment area, and other spaces.
Sleeps: Fifth wheels usually sleep 4-8 people but some can accommodate nine or more.
It’s possible to rent any one of these types of motorhomes or trailers with a peer-to-peer RV rental site like RVshare. In fact, for people considering purchasing an RV or trailer, renting through a website is a great first step. It allows customers to try out several different classes or types of RV or trailer to see which fits their family and lifestyle best before committing to purchasing a vehicle.
RVshare connects actual owners with renters. First-time renters can ask owners any questions they have, and the company itself has 24/7 roadside assistance and a 24-hour customer service line to help with problems or answer questions while renters are on the road. It’s a great option for people who have not tried out an RV or trailer before.
RVshare is a contributor to the Broadry Newsroom network.
Editor’s Disclosure: Broadry Newsroom and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.