Did you know these are a thing? I didn’t, but I think they are worth a look. When we looked to up-size from our travel trailer (TT) to a more capable/comfortable tow-able we discovered this niche. Its not for everyone, but if you are budget conscious and don’t mind doing a little math, it might be worth your time to investigate these as an option.
So, here we are two years in and after a couple of longer trips we came to a conclusion last Thanksgiving. The TT we have, a KZ Sportsman 261BHLE, while excellent, is too small for the camping we enjoy. While we do run out for the occasional long weekend and 4-to-5-night adventure, we were finding ourselves taking longer and longer trips and our little TT was beginning to seem cramped. So, as we were doing the planning and prep for this year’s summer trip, we started exploring the available options.
Pretty quickly we came to a realization that we wanted to move into a fifth wheel camper (5’er). The additional space you gain over the back of your tow vehicle, while maintaining a relatively short overall length, was very appealing. The desire to section off the camper with bed rooms separated by doors, not curtains, also was advantageous. We also realized that we were quickly outgrowing our little starter camper and wanted some features we just couldn’t add to our existing TT.
So, the first challenge we ran into was the size, more importantly the weight of most 5’ers. Our wants; a bunk house model for our growing 11-year-old son, enough space for our two, soon to be three, dogs (we are planning on being puppy raisers for Southeastern Guide Dogs,) simplified hook up and disconnect situation with auto leveling jacks and less work for set up and tear down, a larger bathroom, a better storage situation all around and package it in about 30ish feet of towed vehicle. When you dialed most of these features up on the ole show me your camper selector, the weight of most of the 5’ers we were looking at was greater than the towing capacity of our tow vehicle.
The second challenge was our tow vehicle, a 2017 Ford F-150, 4 door, short bed, 2-wheel drive, 5.0 L gas motor that we would need to modify to tow via fifth wheel instead of at the receiver hitch. The stout little truck has served us well and we had no intention of getting rid of it, nor could we afford it really. That meant we had a couple new parameters to dial in on, namely pin weight, Combined Vehicle Weight Rating and Cargo capacity. You know those numbers on your handy dandy door sticker? If we weren’t going to upgrade to a 250/2500 or 350/3500, we had to do some math (ugh not math.) This quickly eliminated just about everything we were looking at. Then there is also the reality of the short bed 4 door pickup truck, that was going to limit things. Enter the Half-ton towable.
Forrest River, Jayco, Keystone and Grand Design have all started offering half-ton towable 5’ers in recent years. Many are feature packed campers with an eye on weight savings. While not every half ton pick-up truck can tow every half-ton towable 5’er, knowing your numbers and doing the math can open some interesting possibilities. Where weight can be spared it is, but most of the features you are looking for can be found. For instance, if we added a fifth wheel hitch to our tow vehicle, four (4) Grand Design Reflection 150 series 5’ers could be towed by our truck. They had even figured out a way around the short bed fifth wheel hitch, with something called a rotating pin box.
We shopped around and did a lot of checking finally settling on a Grand Design, Reflection 150 Series 278BH. It features a full walk around Queen sized bed with actual hanging storage and 4 drawers in the bedroom. There is a bathroom big enough to change more than your mind without having to step out into the kitchen/living/dining room. Both bedrooms have pocket doors that close and actual block out a most of the sound and light. Overall it’s a great camper, with an eye on weight savings.
An important feature that makes this 5’er towable by our short bed pickup truck is this Lippert swiveling pin box. It takes the pivot position from the king pin pictured here in the red circle and moves it back to the pin box pictured here in the blue circle. It uses a wedge on the face of the pin plate to lock the pin in position within our fifth wheel. I can put the trailer 90 degrees on to the truck without touching the trailer to the cab of the truck. Its innovative and took a little getting used to.
I am not advocating everyone out there who wants a 5’er to go out and tow it with an F-150 or 1500. Read your labels, do the math, check the numbers and when in doubt scale it. If I were buying a new truck tomorrow to replace my F-150 I would probably upgrade to an F250 or F350 spec ’ed to tow more, depending on what I planned to tow in the next decade. I am confident that the truck I have can tow the load I’m putting in it, I have done the math and I know my the truck’s capabilities. In the end, we had an onboard air compressor, and airbag kit installed to help smooth out the ride. This equipment does not increase towing capacity, gross vehicle weight limits or cargo capacity! We had a fixed fifth wheel hitch mounted in the bed that works best with the pivoting pin box. Do not use a sliding or live hitch with a pivoting pin box, too many points of weakness and moving parts.
I am in the process of upgrading the factory mirrors to folding, telescoping mirrors that continue to support blind spot warning and keeping the truck features as original as possible. There are other cheaper aftermarket alternatives, but I chose to get used Ford tow mirrors. I just prefer to keep all the features on the truck working as designed. Here are some links to the stuff I added/had installed, as well as our new camper. Many more adventures to come, as well as new technical info about hooking up the camper, new systems, new processes and what not. I really appreciate your taking the time to read this and would offer up any information I can if you are facing these same questions. What challenges did you face when looking to right-size your camping kit? Until next time. I hope you have a great 2022 and continue wandering on your own journeys!