Fifth Wheel Towing Tips and Tricks: The 101

Fifth wheel towing tips

In the world of van-living and mobile homes, the word fifth wheel is surely familiar. In simpler terms, a fifth wheel is just like an extra space that you can pull at the back of your vehicle as in cargo trucks. Despite the convenience, you may be curious if a fifth wheel can be readily towed in your off-road trips. 

Fifth wheels like some models of Airstreams can go off-road. However, it is essential to note that not all fifth wheels are suitable for an off-road trip and are limited only to the non-extreme adventure trails.

If you are traveling or living in limited-spaced vehicles, a fifth wheel might be the best option for you to get that extra space you need. The big question is if you can still tow it behind, even in an off-road setting. If yes, what features should you consider. In this article, I will talk about Airstream as a fifth wheel and what features it offers suited for off-road. Also, Airstream models you can consider getting and some tips to make towing enjoyable.

Airstream Features Suited For A “One-Tow Away” Fifth Wheel

Airstreams are one of the top options for a fifth wheel. They are spacious, durable, timeless pieces of classic and iconic keeping you stylish. The major downside is it comes with a hefty price tag. This section will discuss the specifications of airstreams that can make them suited for off-grid adventures. 

Body Material

Airstream is no joke when it comes to body material. It is made up of treated aluminum and fastened by rivets that make it durable and have that shiny and polished look. The body’s durability is such a big yes since you will not have to worry that much if you happen to pass by trees and other irregularities in the trail.

Its streamlined-shaped body lessens the drag force when towed by the primary vehicle, which feels like gliding through the wind. This ease of pulling is an excellent factor to consider when going off-road because it will not hinder your off-road stunts. Of course, because of its high-quality build, it will not rot faster than other trailers, making it a good buy. 

Robust Tires and Aluminum Rims

Tires are one of the main things to check when deciding to have the fifth wheel off-road. Airstreams are now being upgraded to cater to various needs of campers, such as wheels suited for off-roading. Even before, Airstreams already possess aluminum rims which makes it even more attractive. They are light but durable and can resist high temperatures. For a solid blend of performance, cost, and aesthetics, aluminum wheels are a good choice. Importantly, they are good off-road since they are impact-resistant however may be prone to scratches.

Airstream’s tires are also replaceable if you want to increase your load capacity. Still, it is essential not to mismatch the wheels and tires to avoid compatibility issues with the parts. These tires are robust, usually serving an average of five years if properly cared for. Make sure to put in the proper air pressure and do a regular tire check-up. 

Features of Airstream NOT for Off-Roading

The saying “You cannot have it all” is also applicable in the iconic Airstream. Sure it has good body material and tires for off-road escapades, but some features might be limited. Here are some of the common ones you might encounter.

Body Weight

Airstreams are pretty heavy, there may be smaller models available, but the standard weight of airstreams is such a big no in off-roading. The extra weight and uneven trail can cause your fifth wheel to roll over, and the worst is it might include your vehicle as well. 

Trailer Coupling

The trailer coupling standards in the older Airstream models are unsuitable for bends and angles that you can encounter in off-trails. Paired with the body weight and possibly irregular terrain in your off-grid drive will put so much strain on the coupling attachment, which will make you move very slowly. Inclinations in the ground will also cause stress on your truck bed, and you will find it hard to maneuver. The best option is to opt for smaller Airstream weight and components if planning to venture on the “real” off-road experience with a fifth wheel.

Ground Clearance

Only a few models of Airstreams are rough-road ready with good ground clearance. So, if you have an old Airstream model with low ground clearance, you might have to spend money on modifying it or buying a new off-road-ready Airstream. Of course, good ground clearance is essential because it will prevent your fifth wheel from “belly-scraping” or hung-up in some trail irregularities you may encounter.

Airstream Model Perfect for Off-Grid Stunts

A smooth towing experience comes on a slippery road. If you have a trip that involves off-terrain activities, there are Airstream models that are the best choice you can check. 

Airstream Basecamp 

Airstream basecamp’s newest models, namely 16X, 20, and 20X releases, are already built to be off-trail friendly. They offer larger tires with good grip and a 12 inches ground clearance from the axle bottom. It is equipped with larger aluminum wheels that are also styled to get that shiny look with a steel front guard for optimum protection. Its window guards are tinted, a life-saver for camping outdoors, and have a double step. These Airstream models are equipped for more rugged terrain, unlike the typical pavement ones. A plus factor is that it has a trailer capacity of around 4000 pounds that is suitable for those with small or mid-sized hauling vehicles. 

Airstream’s Interstate 

Suppose you have been a loyal fan of Airstream ever since the good news is that they released a new camper van model perfect for spontaneous off-road trips. Interstate is another model from Airstream capable of off terrain, specifically Interstate 24GT, Interstate 24GL, and the newest Interstate 24X unveiled in 2021. It is a camper van hauling it from behind your SUV, and the like is no longer needed because it is a four-wheel drive. This is perfect for those who want to try out the road beyond campsites’ driving paths. 

Interstate 24X particularly has off-road tires that allow it to crawl over mud and uneven trails smoothly. It is equipped with a comfortable floor plan for two people in its 24 feet long body. Also, it has a 5G capable antenna perfect for those who still do work while traveling powered by solar panels and a generator. It is expected that sales of this model are going up, especially people now craving for a real wilderness adventure in the most comfortable ways. 

Rough-Road Ready Alternatives to Airstream

You may be pretty sad to know that your favorite Airstream is limited to hauled for your off-road trips, but do not frown yet! Here are some alternative fifth wheels that sure will provide you the comfort you need.

Camper Vans

In areas that you will think are off-limits to your Airstream fifth wheel, camper vans will save the day and are unique as they are. They offer a total comfort that can house your basic needs, lift, and good ground clearance. I will be frank, though, that this comes at a high price. 

Most campervans specially made for rugged trails are easy to maneuver and will not hinder you from getting through those boulders and ditches in the terrain. Some models are designed to withstand extreme heat in arid conditions and come with an external shower too. Again, there are many models available. Just be sure to check the specifications that will meet your needs, and do not hesitate to ask an expert if you are in limbo about what to get. 

Van Modifications and Conversions

Of course, if it’s hard to let go of your van and you want to ride this wherever you go, you can always modify or convert your vans to fit your needs. Be mindful, though, when you convert vans, not to sacrifice your safety. Good van conversion can be the key to make it more rugged, but it will also cost you a fair amount of money. This conversion should include the details like tires, ground clearing, torque, and the likes. 

The Rising Winnebago

A popular name that also comes into the scene is Winnebago. It has off-road capabilities at par, sometimes better than other camper vans. It is meticulously made with a modern feature such as a Led-lit canopy which is excellent. It is a flexible option for those who want to stay on budget and stay in style while driving off-road. 

Simple Reminders For A Safe Off-Road Adventure

With the excitement of trying off-road tracks, there are a few reminders that you should consider when hauling your fifth wheel. These are essential to keep you safe while you do your escapade.

Always Check Your Tires

Before going for a trip, the first thing you must do is to check the PSI on each tire. PSI is essential for it is the amount of air pressure in the tire required to support a vehicle, including its weight and load. Approximately, your tire loses 1 pound per square, especially during winter temperatures.

This is why it is recommended to check it every month and inspect any damage. To determine the PSI of each trailer tire, go to the trailer sticker to see the suggested PSI. It is said that “always run tires at max PSI while others say inflate tires for the load they are carrying,” but to make sure, consider consulting a tire technician. A tire pressure gauge tool is also helpful to make sure of the inflation pressure and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Another thing you should consider is inspecting the lug nut torque because if it is not tightened correctly, rotor runout is affected, and wheels can be ruined, or worse is, wheels might come off, which is deadly. Overtightened lug nuts may strip the threads, affect the brake rotors, damage the wheel, and shear off the lug stud.

Take extra care of your tire by possibly avoiding curbs on the road. However, curbs are inevitable, mainly off-road, reducing your speed so that a “tremendous amount of force is applied”. Also, check the sidewall and treads of your tire since it is the part of the wheel that meets the road. 

Remember, hitting curbs may result in blowout tires, so drive and maneuver your trailer with care and skills. Overheating along with the bearings of your tire is possible, especially when traveling and towing a trailer in a long-distance, so consider using a handheld infrared temperature gun to check your tire temperature.

Backing The Fifth Wheel Properly

Towing any kind of trailer means your RV or airstream is not powered, so it will have a delayed response (the fifth wheels) once you start steering. This is why it is essential to take time to back your fifth wheel trailer and avoid any problems. 

Another tip is always to use a spotter since you are backing a vehicle and a fifth wheel trailer. A spotter can give you hand signals visible in your mirrors, or both of you may use a cell phone or a set of two-way radios for better communication of backing your trailer. Also, a slow backing gives you the chance to correct your missed guided path.

The next tip is coming to the acronym GOAL- Get Out And Look that you can use in backing your trailer because there is no shame in doing this. Along with doing the “GOAL” tip is looking at the path of your tires.

Watch the back of your trailer because it can get you out quickly since it has a swing to its end, and never forget the front of your truck. If you focus only on the back of your trailer, there is a chance that your front view may crash into something.

Make Use of A Towing Mirror

A mirror is essential when driving any kind of vehicle and recreational vehicle. It serves as your eyes at the back so that you can get to view the back part of your vehicle. Mirror serves a multitude of purposes, especially in towing a – a fifth wheel airstream. 

Towing a mirror is recommended when you are hauling a fifth wheel trailer so that it is big enough to provide visibility of the trailer side and back. It is also a great way to give you a reflection of your trailer walls and tires.

This kind of towing mirror is your best friend in hauling your airstream because it helps you monitor the path of your back tire, particularly the trailer tire, if it is still going in the right direction or it may have crashed into some significant curbs (mainly when off-road). It is an excellent tool for checking if your tire has been blown out. Also, a blind spot fish-eye type of mirror is a great add-on. 

Final Verdict: Should Airstream Go Off-Road?

Airstream is indeed a good choice for the fifth wheel that established its name in the industry. It will surely give you the space you need for your RVing, be it permanent or temporary. If you plan to go off-road, you can still tow your Airstream but be sure to get the suitable model that will fit your needs and, most notably, that it’s a model built for off-road adventures. Of course, this is to save you from the troubles you may encounter just in case you haul an Airstream model that is meant to stay on the pavement. 

Do not worry, though; camper trailers are built for off-grid activities that will surely be an excellent alternative to your Airstream. Just make the right purchase and inspect its specifications closely to ensure you get what you pay for to enjoy your next off-road escapade. 

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