How to Recognize RV Camper Types: Class A-B-C, Fifth Wheel, Travel Trailer, Popup

Updated on February 15, 2018
Don Bobbitt profile image

Don has been an avid traveler and motorhome owner for most of his life and shares his experiences with valuable tips.

My first Class A motorhome, a 1996 Pace Arrow Vision
My first Class A motorhome, a 1996 Pace Arrow Vision | Source

Introduction

My wife and I started out like so many young couples, vacationing with a cheap used tent and a few bucks. For entertainment, we had our very young kids.

Our first actual RV was an 18-foot teardrop-shaped camper that we found in someone's back yard. After some gunk on the roof to stop leaks, and two new tires, we were officially campers, with a real camper to stay in.

Since those early years, we have owned a variety of camping trailers, fifth-wheelers and motorhomes, and learned a lot about the world of camping. And my wife and I spent over ten years with a house-boat, which in itself is a great experience, and not unlike RVing on water.

In this article, I am listing for your reference the major varieties of campers that are used. Each presents its own advantages and challenges for traveling and camping.

The outline of a typical Class A Motorhome
The outline of a typical Class A Motorhome | Source

Class A Motorhome

The Class A Motor Home is very popular and is also referred to as a coach, a bus or sometimes, a big rig.

Today a Class A is manufactured and built on a special frame, and has the shape of a bus, which makes sense, as many of the first motorhomes were made by modifying coach buses.

Probably the biggest reason for the popularity of Class A motorhomes is the way the driver and passengers operate the vehicle in comfort from within the coach, and are able to use its amenities while camping and while on the road.

No hitching and unhitching with these babies: you just pull into your campsite, and either run your generator for power or connect to the campsite power, and there you are, with all of the conveniences of home.

A typical Class B Camper outline. These RVs are built by customizing vans.
A typical Class B Camper outline. These RVs are built by customizing vans. | Source

Class B Motorhome

The Class B Motorhome is a customized van with certain camping appliances and sleeping facilities built into the van.

Most have a raised roof to facilitate walking around, and AC and ventilation systems.They are smaller than Class As, and obviously easier and cheaper to drive.

These once-simple campers can now be as full of accessories and amenities as a Class A. In fact, some of these Class B campers have evolved into such complex machines, with multiple slides and high-tech amenities, that they are labeled as Class B-Plus campers.

They are popular with campers who need very little living room and value fuel economy and driving convenience. Many owners of Class B campers use them for shorter periods at campgrounds than other campers do.

Outline of a Class C Motorhome, built using the chassis and drive train of a "delivery style" truck.
Outline of a Class C Motorhome, built using the chassis and drive train of a "delivery style" truck. | Source

Class C Motorhome

The Class C Motorhome is basically a camper mounted on the frame and chassis of a small- to mid-sized truck.

The front end or cabin of the camper has very few differences from the design of the truck's front end and cabin.

The area behind the driver's seat opens into the camper body where there are the same amenities as in a larger Class A motorhome.

Class C is very popular with some campers as it can include a lot of the coach options of a Class C, at a lower much price.

Of course, the size and weight limitations of the truck chassis keep these Class C campers a little smaller than Class A motorhomes. But with advances in truck technology and drive trains there are Class C motorhomes that are over 40 feet long.

The distinct shape of a typical fifth-wheel camper.
The distinct shape of a typical fifth-wheel camper. | Source

Fifth-Wheel Camper

A fifth-wheeler is a towed camper with a large-connector hitch system similar to that used on a tractor-trailer rig.

These campers are generally pulled by pickup trucks, with the special hitch mounted in the bed of the truck. This type of hitch system provides more towing stability than the smaller ball-type hitch used on smaller and lighter trailer campers.

The fifth-wheelers or “fivers” on the market today can be a luxurious campers for many people. They can include multiple slides, air conditioning, high-tech entertainment systems, and many options found on more expensive units.

Many people will purchase a fifth-wheeler because they already have or can get a pickup truck to tow the camper. One advantage of this choice is that they can use their pickup truck for many years, and not just for camping.

Towable travel-trailer style of camper, sometimes referred to as a mobile home.
Towable travel-trailer style of camper, sometimes referred to as a mobile home. | Source

Travel Trailer

The travel trailer style of camper has been around for decades.

Simply put, it is a hard-body trailer with a hitch that connects to a “ball hitch” on the vehicle that pulls the trailer down the road.

Today’s travel trailers can also have multiple slides, and some very exotic accessories, but generally they are built and priced for the camper who wants to make only a moderate investment in their camping enjoyment.

A popup camper is popular for its low cost and basic camping provisions.
A popup camper is popular for its low cost and basic camping provisions. | Source

Popup Campers

The original popup campers were not much more than a fold-away tent built onto the chassis of a trailer. The tent part had a hard roof and could be folded away easily and quickly.

Popups provided the camper with room for storage of accessories and for sleeping. They had simple fold-away beds, and some even had a small icebox/fridge, a dinette table, and even a "portable toilet."

Today, popups can be loaded up with better options such as a roof AC, a propane heater, TV connections, and more.

What Is a Toy Hauler?

Toy haulers, which appeared on the RV scene in the past decade, may be travel trailers, fifth wheels, Class Cs, or even Class As; the difference is that they have a rear section designed to carry a vehicle, a motorcycle, a golf car, or other specialized equipment.

The advantage of these is that they provide a single vehicle for you to camp and live in, while at the same time having your other vehicles and peripheral equipment stored with you for use at your destination. And you do not have to deal with exotic towing solutions.

Typically, these are popular with people who use motorcycles or ATVs that they enjoy operating in the wild.

Other Camper Styles

One should never underestimate the ingenuity of people, especially campers. You would not believe some of the interesting designs that have been custom built: bus conversions, hybrids, park models, van conversions,

There are enough varieties of campers to fill almost anyone's needs; you simply have to look for what suits you.

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 Don Bobbitt

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      • WillStarr profile image

        WillStarr 

        19 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

        Another consideration is size. My neighbors bought a 32 foot fifth wheel and then discovered that it's too big and too heavy for their needs. They sold it and bought a 24 foot fifth wheel which suits them much better. Size and needs can also be determined by renting first.

        We sold our motor home because we discovered that we weren't using it enough to warrant the expense. For instance, tires have to be replaced every four years or so because they age, even with minimum mileage. We put on two new sets ourselves at $1500.00 a pop, and the new owners, (our son and his wife), had to put on a new set too!

        Again, if you aren't going to use one more than twice a year, consider rentals.

      • profile image

        Thanks! 

        19 months ago

        Really appreciate this article!

      • tirelesstraveler profile image

        Judy Specht 

        3 years ago from California

        LOL !My husband said "Those pop-outs sound like leaks waiting to happen".

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        3 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        tirelesstraveler- Love the Pod thing!

        Those slide-outs do give you more room but ...... They can be a mechanical nightmare depending on the designer.

        Anyway, Keep the faith! Who knows, you might inherit a big Motorhome from an unknown cousin? LOL!

        Thanks for the read and comment,

        DON

      • tirelesstraveler profile image

        Judy Specht 

        3 years ago from California

        I don't think I could ever talk my husband into anything bigger that a Pod. Some friends are planning to RV around the country when they retire. They are looking at a trailer that has 5 pop outs. Who needs a house with that many pop outs.

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        3 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        WillStarr- Great Point. I should have mentioned it. For the Novice, with no experience camping, just going out and purchasing an RV and finding out the lifestyle isn't what you expected, can be quite costly.

        As Will says, a newbie should always consider a one or to week vacation in a rental whenever they can just to get the feel of things.

        Again, Good Point Will!

        Don

      • WillStarr profile image

        WillStarr 

        3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

        Something I would add to Don's excellent advice is to consider renting various types of RV's before buying, so you can get a feel for what you want to own. They all have advantages and disadvantages.

        Or, if you only plan to use a rig once or twice a year, you might be better off to just rent rather than own.

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        3 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        teaches12345- Good Luck to you on your future camping plans.

        But I need to advise you to make your first camper a sed one, in good shape. I have met so many people who retire and take a big hunk of their savings and buy what they think is going to be their "perfect" camper. Then, once they start to hit the road, they find that some of their fellow campers have a camper that would be better for their lifestyle.

        Bigger and newer is absolutely not Best for a camper.

        Each of us will have different lifestyles and along with that different needs to make their camping experience ideal for them.

        So, I always recommend that the newbie purchase a cheap older camper and learn what they really like and dislike.

        Thanks for the read and comment,

        DON

      • teaches12345 profile image

        Dianna Mendez 

        3 years ago

        I would love the class A but reality says I will own a pop-up. Thanks for sharing this information. One day I plan to travel in an RV to see the country. Till then, I'm dreaming as I read about this.

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        3 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        Steven Lay- A Pusher refers to the fact that most Diesel Motorhomes have the engine in the rear and thus are called "Pushers". They were originally made like this because most of the original "Pushers" were modified city Buses that had diesel engines in the rear. These diesel engines were the ideal size and Horsepower to drive a motorhome versus the much higher powered Diesel engines/transmissions that were designed for the Front of Diesel Tractor-Trailer trucks.

        Thanks for the read and check out my web site rvandcamper.org for even more information of Camping and Recreation Vehicles (RVs).

        DON

      • StevenLay profile image

        StevenLay 

        3 years ago

        But, what is a pusher and all the other categories one hears about?

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        3 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        Will Starr- You are very kind, my friend.

        In all honesty, pretty much everything I write about with RVs is knowledge I have gained from doing things wrong the first time.

        And when I write about it, I first put it on paper, and then I go back and remove the expletives. LOL!

        Thanks again,

        DON

      • WillStarr profile image

        WillStarr 

        3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

        Iris,

        Don, (not Dod...sorry about that!) is the best I've seen on making the RV world understandable. I read everything he writes.

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        3 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        Iris, Thanks.

        This is why I write, and I like to think the same is true of others who wrote trying to explain things in their minds to others.

        I have it (superfluous information? or valuable knowledge?) in my head, and I just want to share it.

        Thanks again for the comment,

        DON

      • Iris Draak profile image

        Cristen Iris 

        3 years ago from Boise, Idaho

        This is really good info for those new to all that RV lingo. Very informative article. :)

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        3 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        MSDora- Thanks for the read and comment, but if you read my series of articles labeled "My Retro-Winnie" you will notice that I had to back off and let my "BIG RIG" go and eventually, I bought want anyone can afford; an older used motorhome. I now have the same amenities without an enormous payment.

        PS. I was grand for a couple of years though! LOL!

        Thanks again,

        DON

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        3 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        Kathy McGraw2- WOW! That sounds like a great project.

        BTW, in case you are interested, there are a number of RV graveyards around the country, with one of the largest being in Arizona. I forget where, but I used to go to their site for good pricing on their used parts. Parts like; small sinks, water pumps, DC fuse panels, holding tanks, Roof AC, etc were available there. Even body parts.

        Good Luck with your project.

        DON

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        3 years ago from The Caribbean

        I used to stare at these beauties as they pass by; and when I worked in the licensing department, we passed the photos around , oohing and aahing over motor homes like yours. Thanks for the classifications.

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        3 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        Will Starr- Thanks so much for the read and comment. I agree with you about different sizes being best for different kins of camping.

        A PopUp is perfect for getting out there and "roughing it". They're lightweight and easy to get into small spaces.

        Thanks again,

        DON

      • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

        Kathy McGraw 

        3 years ago from California

        It really is amazing all the choices in RVs today. Glad to see you had an other section as I am converting my Suburban into a camper.

      • WillStarr profile image

        WillStarr 

        3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

        We have a Class C on a Ford E350 chassis, but I'm also looking for a used pop-up tent trailer to pull behind either my Jeep or 4wd pickup so I can go back in the boonies. The Class C is just too big for that.

        Another good Hub, Dod

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