Read More About Our Setup
There are a lot of different ways to live on the road, from lightweight truck bed campers to massive Class A all-in-one land yachts.
We chose a truck and fifth wheeler trailer combination, which you can see in the image above. Our truck is a 2012 GMC Sierra 3500HD, and we’re towing a 30-foot 2011 Heartland North Trail 27RL fifth wheel. Both are new to us and purchased specifically for this trip.
Why did we choose the truck and fifth wheel setup? A couple reasons.
Reason 1: We wanted the ability to detach and explore cities.
Driving a big RV around crowded cities would have been impossible, so we had three options:
- Truck and trailer
- RV towing a car
- Short RV, like a Class B
Seeing as we’re planning on living in this thing for a while, Option 3 was out. We then went with Option 1 because, truthfully, I didn’t really consider Option 2 at the time.
We’ve seen a lot of RVs towing cars since we hit the road, and that honestly looks like a really good setup for one big reason: When we boondock in parking lots with our truck and trailer combo, we can’t really detach the trailer and take off. It’s bad RV etiquette to leave your trailer unattended at a Wal-Mart. And to be honest, it’s your home with all of your property. Leaving it unattended is just begging for someone to come mess with your stuff.
In the end, I really do like driving a truck versus a Class A/C RV. It’s a more familiar experience.
Reason 2: We wanted a fifth wheel and not a travel trailer because of how much better they tow.
Disclaimer: Or so I’ve been told. I’ve actually never towed anything, big or small, so this whole experience is new to me.
In my research I read almost everyone say that fifth wheel trailers seem more controlled, don’t sway as much, and aren’t as impacted by the wind or passing vehicles as compared to travel trailers. My dad, who’s towed a 20-foot travel trailer for 15 years, says the fifth wheel tows like a dream.
In my first 5,000 miles of towing I feel very in control.
Second, the fifth wheel also has the added bonus of overlapping with the truck bed, giving you a few extra feet of usable space without adding to the overall truck-and-trailer length.
Third, fifth wheels have an arched roof to accommodate the over-truck hitch area, which gives us more headspace and feels much more spacious. No offense to those rock-solid Airstreams, but we didn’t want to feel like we were living in a sardine can. Our 2011 Heartland North Trail 27RL measures 11’10” at its tallest point (the top of the fan) so we don’t run into many bridge clearance issues.
The Truck: 2012 GMC Sierra 3500HD SLE
Though I’m describing the truck before the trailer, we actually purchased the camper first. This gave us prior knowledge of exactly how much truck we’d need.
We went to a used truck lot in New Hampshire to see what they had. We had two requirements:
- Extended cab (for driving comfort)
- 8-foot long bed (to accommodate the fifth wheel hitch)
You can still use a short bed truck, but you need to install either a sliding hitch in the truck bed or sidewinder on the fifth wheel camper. Read here for a little more info.
Gasoline or diesel? That’s the next big question. We test drove one of each and ultimately settled on the gasoline truck, our 2012 GMC Sierra 3500HD.
After having pulled through the Canadian Rockies, I can attest to how much of a luxury it would have been to own a diesel truck. Ultimately we went gas because the truck was in mint condition, we’re familiar with GMC/Chevrolet, the specs were more than we needed, and it already had rails installed for the fifth wheel hitch.
- Length: 20 feet, 9.5″ inches
- Engine: 6.0L V8
- Horsepower: 322 at 4400 RPM
- Torque: 380 ft-lbs at 4200 RPM
- Curb Weight: 6,968 lbs
- Max Towing: 18,000 lbs
- Max Payload: 6,033 lbs
- Gross Vehicle Weight: 13,000 lbs
- Fuel Tank: 36 gallons (260-300 miles per tank)
The Trailer: 2011 Heartland North Trail 27RL
We went to the RV Expo in Boston in January 2019 to see fifth wheel layouts, just so we’d have an idea of what we did and didn’t like when shopping for a used fifth wheel. Ultimately we decided that something between 24-28 feet long had a nice balance of space and comfort as well as maneuverability and weight.
But when we started shopping for used fifth wheels in our area, we had a hard time finding any under 30 feet.
Then we found our new home. From bow to stern she measures exactly 30 feet. A little longer than we were looking for, but she has a great layout, weighs what we want her to, and was attractively priced.
She checks all our boxes:
- Not too long but roomy enough inside
- Not too tall
- Plenty of storage
- Even more windows
- Gently used
Let’s take a look at the inside on the day we picked it up.
It’s not as sleek as the newer RVs, but the wood makes it feel warm. And Dawn’s decorative touches make it feel like home.
After we picked up the RV, the first thing we did was test every system. The second thing was upgrade our bed.
Having a comfortable bed is not a luxury to us. It’s a necessity. You spend so much time on that thing, and with all of the hiking and exploring we expect to do on this trip, we’ll need to get a good night’s sleep.
What did we change? First, we enthusiastically tossed out that terrible 3″ spring mattress and replaced it with a 10″ memory foam mattress, which only weighed 60 lbs. We also purchased a moderately heavy comforter with a comforter cover. The cover makes cleaning it way easier.
Oh, and credit Dawn for the southwestern theme.
With our slide out, the camper has about 270 square feet of floor and counter space. That’s the smallest space we’ve ever lived in, though not by much (we lived in a 375 square foot apartment in Hawaii).
But amazingly it feels much more spacious than that. These things are (somewhat) intelligently designed to make the most of each space. Even though we live in only 270 square feet, each “room” in our home has a distinct space to it–the living room, the kitchen, the dining room, the bedroom, the shower/sink, and the bathroom.
We both work from the confines of the RV (unless it’s an especially nice and mosquito-free day), so it’s extremely important that we be able to work comfortably at the same time. As I write this Dawn is sitting at the dining table working while I’m on the couch with my feet kicked up on our ottoman (which doubles as extra storage, of course). With my noise canceling headphones in, I hardly even notice her there. Given how easily I get distracted, that’s an impressive feat.
Overall, we love our fifth wheel.
Initially, the plan was to outfit the rig with everything we’d need for life on the road (mainly solar and mobile Internet) and then sell it when we’re done. Now we’re hoping to keep her for the long haul, maybe even take our future kids on trips if we ever settle down and live the suburban life.
- Dry Weight: 7,180 lbs
- Gross Weight Rating: 11,580 lbs
- Height: 11 feet, 10 inches
- Length: 30 feet
- Width: 8 feet
- Axles: 2 with ST225/75R 15-E tires
- Fresh Water Tank: 53 gallons
- Gray Tanks: 80 gallons
- Black Tank: 40 gallons
- Hot Water Tank: 6 gallons
- Hot Water Heater: Both electric and propane
- Refrigerator: Both electric and propane
- Propane Tanks: 2 at 30 lbs each
- Slideouts: 1 in the living room
- Awnings: 1 on the entry side
- Stove: 3 burners
- Bed: 1 with a really bad queen mattress
- Air Conditioner: 13,500 BTU
- Heater: 25,000 BTU