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Old 10-29-2013, 02:34 PM   #1
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Airstream 25' vs Fifth Wheel Trailer

My husband will be retiring from the Navy soon. We want to buy a trailer and live in it for a year. We really like the Flying Cloud 25'. But friends have told us that we really should look into a fifth wheel trailer. Has anyone had both and can they tell us pros & cons for towing and lifestyle with Airstream vs. a nice approx. 25' fifth wheel? Other than the cost.

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Old 10-29-2013, 03:06 PM   #2
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First off, I don't think the nominal length is comparable between 5th wheels and bumper-pull trailers. I think both are usually measured hitch-to-bumper, and with a 5th wheel that means the body of the trailer would be longer than the nominal length, with a bumper-pull the body is shorter than the nominal length.

Are you planning to live mostly in one place and just move around a couple of times in the year, or not at all? Or are you thinking of only staying a few weeks at a time in any one location and traveling all the time? IMHO a big 5th-wheel would be better while you're parked, especially if you didn't plan to own the same trailer for 20 years.

Now, if you're traveling, an Airstream is an excellent trailer to tow and is well-designed for the purpose of actually traveling. The shape and height of an Airstream make it better to tow, but reduce the space available to store stuff.

A 5th wheel will really demand a premium tow vehicle... and a big one. They're tall and relatively blunt, so they dramatically increase the frontal area you have to push through the wind, and they have a fairly high center of gravity. <EDIT> By that I mean you'll want a 1-ton turbodiesel truck, and for on-road stability you might want a dual-wheel 1-ton.

IMHO, think about how you want to use it. If you're moving every 2 weeks (or more often) I think an Airstream is the way to go. If you're parked for 2 months at a time and want lots of storage and slide-outs, a 5th wheel would probably make you much happier. Try to find a big RV show that has Airstreams (they'll all have big 5th wheels) and tour a bunch of trailers.

Congratulations on the impending retirement, and of course we all hope you'll choose the Airstream lifestyle.

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He has all of the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire. — Sir Winston Churchill
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Old 10-29-2013, 03:15 PM   #3
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We are both retired from the Navy and I think that experience may be useful in small space living, such as Airstream. We travel six months a year in ours applying the idea of Less is More and wouldn't have it any other way.

We can use a small truck, even some SUV's, to tow our Airstream and have a very pleasant daily driver. Not so with a fiver. We can travel easily in windy conditions when the tall fivers stay put. We don't have slide-outs that leak, get stuck, or need to be pulled in when heavy winds come up during the night.

Our Airstream is an American icon, never out of style or looking aged, and with reasonable care will last a lifetime (probably more). It's expensive, but worth something throughout our lives, not a throw-away.

You will be part of a group of loyalists who love their trailers even when things go wrong, and find it very worthwhile to keep them up. You are eligible for Wally Byam Caravan Club International, attend their rallies and caravans, a lifestyle itself based on travel and friendship.

Right now we are camped for a couple of days in a military RV park, 114 fifth wheels, plastic trailers, big motorhomes, and one Airstream (ours) so I guess not everyone would agree with us. But its a curiosity here, lots of complements, and the most common question is "Do they still make those?"
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Old 10-29-2013, 03:26 PM   #4
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The 25 ft 5th wheels unless you want to buy new can be found used for really great prices. You can probably find a used that has only been used a few times and buy it for less than half price of new. Many times people will buy them, go camping for one week and never use it again. I pull campers for a living and as far as towing a 25 ft. 5th wheel you can easily tow it with a 3/4 ton truck without any problems. Many of the guys towing for a living are only using single rear wheel 3/4 ton trucks. If you look around you might be able to find a 5th wheel and a truck for what you would pay for an airstream. If you are going to keep it for many years then the airstream may be the way to go but I would still want the 3/4 ton truck to tow the airstream. A few on here will disagree with that statement but I would rather overkill with my TV and be safe as to tow with some of these rigs recomended on here and put myself, my family and possibly anyone else on the road in danger because my TV was too small for the load.
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Old 10-29-2013, 03:30 PM   #5
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Thanks for the GREAT feedback. Yes we love the Airstreams and will probably go that route. Now I am researching great military RV parks.
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Old 10-29-2013, 03:37 PM   #6
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Welcome to Airforums.

There are many people who fulltime. The Escapees is an organization supporting fulltimers, extended timers, part-timers. Here is a link to their blog It has a wealth of knowledge on fulltiming.

If you only fulltime for one year, then it may not make that much of a difference. However, if you plan to fulltime for multiple years then your choice becomes much more critical.

People fulltime in all types of rigs but according to an Escapees survey there are approximately (if I recall correctly) 45% in fifth wheels, 45 % in motorhomes and 10% in all else ( travel trailers, truck campers, etc.). My own personal observation by attending several Escapades is tha only about 1 & 1/2 % of fulltimers are in an Airstream.

Airstreams don't have a lot of storage compared to 5th wheels. IMHO I believe that fulltimers in Airstreams are Airstreamers first and fulltimers second; that is people who love their Airstreams and decided to fulltime.

The Airstream will be closer to the ground than a 5th wheel; thus fewer steps on entry. The 5th wheel will also have steps inside to the bedroom.

You won't need a monster truck to pull a 25' fifth wheel. The size of the truck is going to be dependent upon the full weight of the RV. As the RVs get bigger and heavier, a more powerful truck will be needed. Most fulltimers plan on going fulltiming for more than one year. Using a RV 24/7/365 can be hard on an RV if it is not made to be a fulltiming RV. Many RVs are made for weekend and vacation use only. Many manufacturers won't warranty the unit if it is used for fulltiming. RVs made for fulltiming are usually heavier as they are made for more use.

Go look at both a 25' Airstream and a 25' fifth wheel. Sit at the dinnette imaging that you are eating many meals there. Walk into the shower and see how much room there is. Lay down on the bed and walk around it as if in the middle of the night.

Just food for thought.

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Old 10-29-2013, 03:47 PM   #7
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Just a note on military RV parks. We use them while traveling, handy and most are well-priced. A few are right on the beach at the coasts. But there isn't much of anything going on there. Our destination is usually state/national parks or private RV resorts with much better amenities and activities.

Which brings up another Airstream point. They are small and fit nicely into places where big rigs may have problems. And they are self-contained for extended periods of boondocking (no hookups), just add a solar system or generator. We use solar.

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