So what is it like living in a 5th wheel full time? We started out, long ago, with a pop-up camper. Then we had a small pull-camper, light enough to hitch up to an SUV. With both of those there was not much to do to get on the road except to get the hitch ball and the trailer socket lined up and connected, the lights cable hooked up, and off we would go. Then we got our first really heavy trailer, Ward the Canadian travel trailer. This camper was much more work to connect to, because we had an equalizer hitch and anti-sway bar to deal with. And of course, everything you had to do to get hitched up had to be undone to set up at your destination.
When we made the leap to a used motorhome a couple of years ago, we loved it for the simplicity. We could arrive at a site and have the AC running and our feet up within a very short time. No hitches to unhitch, no jacks to crank down, and no real need to stabilize. But there were other, more subtle disadvantages, like not having a toad to drive around in, and the draftiness and high maintenance costs of the old boy. So now we have changed again, to something we had never had – a 5th wheel camper and a pickup. We may finally have found a happy medium (see pic below).
After sitting in a suburban driveway for a couple of weeks, we finally made it to a real RV site a few days ago and did an actual set up. Things are different once again, but we feel the benefits are worth the added work, compared to the motorhome. And compared to the pull campers we've had, it's actually an easier process. The first big difference is that I am having to learn to back in a trailer again. But because the 5th wheel is closer to the truck and the responsiveness of the camper is a bit quicker than with a pull trailer, it feels easier.
But first things first – there's that whole 5th wheel hitch thing to deal with. Backing in to hitch up, I've found, is a delicate process. What looks like a lineup from a few feet away can become off by a few inches when you get into position. Oh, and don't forget to put the tailgate down, or you may have to buy one of those fancy new ones with a cutout. Once you're lined up, there's a satisfying moment when, after lowering the camper with the electric jacks to just the right height, you connect to the kingpin and the latch snaps into place. No sway bars, no chains, no ball to grease up, and the connection is solid and tight.
So while there are differences in setup, sequence and actions from unit to unit, so far we like how the 5th wheel works. We get to the site and back into place much more easily than with the pull camper. Once you're roughly where you want to be, the first thing to do is check the side to side level. Use your choice of blocks, plates, pads or bricks to put under the wheels for leveling, but be careful not to over-compensate. Especially if you are on a grassy spot, settling will happen. Next, unhook from the truck hitch and use the electric jacks to raise up the camper. Don't forget to disconnect the power cable, and you're ready to pull away from the unit.
Now you do the end to end leveling, and this is where the 5th wheel is a real joy. With a bubble level attached to the side, use the motorized jacks to raise or lower the camper until level. That's it for leveling, and it's a very easy thing to do. Put down the 2 rear stabilizers and you're done – or are you? Some people like to have a stabilizer jack in front under the kingpin for more stability. So far we've used one and it seems to help, but I'm sure there will come a time (around midnight in some new RV site, maybe) when we'll do without it. Then we'll know if it's really necessary. But once you've set it up – which only takes a minute – then you are ready to relax. Which, after all, is the point of this whole approach to living, isn't it? So to date, though it has been a short time, we are very happy living in a 5th wheel full time.