Ready to head out on an adventure on the open road with your fifth-wheel trailer in tow? We live and travel full-time in our fifth wheel and did hours of research when deciding on the fifth wheel hitch that would best serve us. This guide will help you understand the different types of fifth-wheel hitches and decide on the best towing system for you.
We will walk you through the intricacies of different types of fifth-wheel hitches, provide insight into their uses, and offer considerations to keep in mind when deciding on the best fifth-wheel hitch for you.
About Fifth Wheel Trailers
First, let’s explore exactly what makes a fifth-wheel different from other towable RVs and break down the mechanics of fifth-wheel hitches. If you are already familiar with fifth-wheel hitches and the differences between traditional kingpins and gooseneck adaptors, jump to our discussion below of different fifth-wheel hitches popular among expert RVers.
What is a fifth-wheel hitch?
The fifth-wheel hitch is the attachment point between the tow vehicle and a fifth-wheel trailer.
Unlike travel trailers which attach to a vehicle’s rear bumper using a ball hitch, fifth-wheel trailers connect to a specialized hitch mounted within the bed of a pickup truck or end of a medium-duty or heavy-duty truck. All fifth-wheel hitches ultimately connect to the truck chassis. This article will focus on the types of fifth-wheel hitches commonly used by pick-up trucks.
Due to increases in stability and weight distribution, a fifth-wheel towing setup is the best option for handling larger, heavier trailers. This is the same reason you are more likely to find higher quality, luxury RV’s in fifth wheels rather than travel trailers.
And the same reason that most tractor-trailers or 18-wheelers you come across are towing those large trailers via a fifth-wheel hitch!
Generally, there are 2 categories of pin box attachments used for fifth wheels:
- Kingpin: Most fifth-wheel RVs come standard with a traditional kingpin. These are the round “pins” you see hanging below the fifth wheel overhang. This pin is inserted into the fifth-wheel hitch sitting in the truck bed. The jaws of the hitch close around the pin, creating a solid connection between the fifth wheel and the tow vehicle
- Popular brands of kingpin pin boxes: Curt, B&W, MoreRyde, GenY, Reese
- Gooseneck: These are more commonly associated with the towing of horse trailers. They look like a coupler that extends off the front of the trailer and connects in the truck bed to a ball using a ball and coupler setup (similar to the mechanism used for bumper towing a travel trailer). Fifth-wheel trailers can be custom-built to have a gooseneck coupler or you can replace traditional kingpins with gooseneck couplers. There are also ways to adapt traditional kingpins to work with a gooseneck system, all of which we will explore further throughout the article.
- Popular brands of gooseneck pin boxes: GenY, Reese
Between the kingpin hitch and the gooseneck hitch, there are also differences in equipment to keep in mind.
- Puck System: Integrated “puck systems” are a common way that truck manufacturers build trucks so that they are ready for fifth-wheel towing. When purchasing a tow vehicle, it is important to ensure that it has either a puck system or gooseneck capability, depending on how you plan to tow and if you are comfortable using an adapter system. While different brands may differ (The Ford puck system is a bit different from the Ram puck system), overall these systems allows for four strong anchor points between the fifth wheel hitch and the truck’s chassis, once installed. You must choose a hitch that matches your specific truck specifications.
- For example: If you drive a Ford and tow a 15,000 lb fifth wheel, you will need a hitch built for the Ford puck system that is rated to tow more than 15,000 lbs.
- Rail System: If your truck does not have the puck system mentioned above, that is okay! There are hitches meant to be installed using a rail system. To install this, you’ll bolt a couple rails to the truck chassis (the rails will be in the truck bed) and the hitch connect to the rails you install. It is more work than the puck system, but a heck of a lot cheaper than purchasing a new truck with the puck system.
- Base: Serving as the foundation, the hitch base is what affixes to the pin box of the trailer. The base of the hitch does not move, allowing a strong anchor point between the fifth wheel and the tow vehicle.
- Hitch Head: This is the component of the hitch that moves and pivots and serves as the connection point between the hitch and the trailer kingpin, as well as the connection with the base and the truck. Typically in an inverted U shape, this is what moves around as you drive, turn and go over bumps to ensure a smoother ride and more stability for the trailer.
- Pin Box: The pin box is what you see exposed at the front of fifth-wheel trailers (the sort of metal arm reaching out from the trailer). This houses either the kingpin or the gooseneck coupler with the goal of bringing the trailer closer to the tow vehicle. The pinbox (via the kingpin or gooseneck coupler) is then placed into the hitch head when hooking up to the tow vehicle for travel days. This can be replaced if you want to upgrade your current kingpin or replace your kingpin with a gooseneck.
- Gooseneck ball and coupler: We purchased our Ram 3500 dually used and it was initially used to tow landscaping equipment using a ball and gooseneck coupler method. This is typically a ball that is integrated into the truck bed via a rail that is welded beneath the truck bed or mounted into the truck bed. Our truck has both an integrated puck system for a kingpin hitch system and a space for a gooseneck ball. Most newer trucks that come with fifth wheel prep (the puck system) will also be prepped for gooseneck towing.
Considerations for choosing a type of fifth-wheel hitch
Both gooseneck hitches and traditional kingpin hitches can be safe options for towing your fifth-wheel trailer, but both come with their limitations as well.
Here are some important considerations to keep in mind when deciding between a kingpin hitch and a gooseneck adapter for your fifth wheel, as well as implications for size selections of kingpin hitches:
truck bed length
Whether your tow vehicle is a long-bed truck (8’+) or a short-bed truck (< 8′) makes a big difference in the type of hitch you will require.
Due to space limitations, short-bed trucks will require a sliding hitch in order to navigate tight turns, while long-bed trucks will be more versatile and work with traditional hitches. If you have a short-bed truck without a sliding hitch, the front cap of your fifth wheel can hit and shatter the rear window of your truck.
We would recommend a long-bed truck if you plan to use a gooseneck method of towing. If towing a reasonably heavy fifth wheel ( > 15,000 pounds), we’d personally be most comfortable replacing the kingpin with a gooseneck coupler rather than using an adapter.
RV size and weight
One of the most important things for peace of mind when towing a large RV such as a fifth wheel is ensuring that you are well within any specified weight guidelines.
The gross trailer weight (maximum weight) is an important factor in choosing the correct hitch for towing. Hitches vary depending on the amount of weight you will be towing, with larger fifth wheels requiring heavier, sturdier hitches.
In addition to carefully selecting a fifth-wheel hitch that meets your RV’s requirements, it is also important to carefully consider the weight capacity and towing capacity for your truck, which includes looking at the tongue weight of your trailer in addition to the total weight of your trailer overall.
Gooseneck vs. Kingpin Hitch
If you currently use your tow vehicle to tow around gooseneck trailers, it may make sense to purchase a gooseneck adapter for your fifth wheel or do a fifth-wheel pin box replacement to go from a kingpin to a gooseneck coupler.
Either of these options could be better than having to deal with the hassle of moving the heavy kingpin hitch every time you want to use your fifth wheel. Our Curt hitch weighs over 100 pounds!
This said, you will want to be extremely careful that your fifth wheel can adequately turn with your truck using a gooseneck replacement or gooseneck adapter if you have a short bed. Sliding hitches are used in short-bed trucks to help with tight turns where the RV could hit the cab of the truck when the truck bed is short.
In most cases, a traditional kingpin hitch is going to give you the stability you are looking for, increased maneuverability, and a smoother ride than a gooseneck. In addition, some forms of gooseneck adapters can be hard on the frame of the fifth wheel and may even void some manufacturer’s frame warranties.
You may have to sacrifice more space in the bed of your truck by going with a traditional puck-mounted fifth-wheel hitch, but the good news is that most fifth wheels come with ample storage space!
With so many hitches on the market, it can be hard to choose which one is best. Next, we dive into the different types of kingpin and gooseneck hitches and adapters and what they offer. We’ll compare their capabilities, features, and impact on towing experience and safety.
Different Types of Fifth-Wheel Hitches
These are the most popular options and hitch types among RVers. As with any RV purchase, be sure to carefully select products that match your RV and tow vehicle’s specific requirements.
The main considerations with fifth-wheel hitches are: how the hitch will connect to the truck bed (your truck-specific puck system, a gooseneck attachment, a rail-mounted kit, etc.) and how much weight the hitch is designed to tow.
traditional fifth-wheel hitch
These are some of the tried and true fifth wheel hitches for long bed pickup trucks (with 8ft beds)
- Curt Fifth Wheel Hitch: CURT 5th wheel hitch options are divided into three distinct series. The articulating A-series™ has an easy-to-operate handle and features a dual-jaw design that completely wraps around the kingpin, providing secure coupling and preventing rattling and chucking. The quiet Q-series™ offers a smooth ride by featuring a spherical axial bearing and three easy-access grease fittings. The economic E-series™ is a great budget-friendly option. It features a cast steel construction that can handle heavy loads and rugged terrain. It also has an easy-to-use handle and head that allow for quick and easy coupling and uncoupling. Curt hitches come in sizes for trailer weights ranging from 16,000 pounds, up to 30,000 pounds.
Amazon has a nice feature where you can select your vehicle and it will tell you if products will fit or not and allow you to see similar products that are good matches for your truck:
- B&W Companion Hitch: Companion hitches come in three varieties. The first is a single-mounted attachment which is different from hitches that attach to a puck system, as they are engineered in a way that allows you to have a clean bed when the hitch is removed. The mounting system is beneath the bed of the truck, mounted to the frame through a four-inch hole in the bed. The second is a traditional puck system mounting, and the third is a mounting system using a rail kit for the truck bed.
- Trailer Saver: Their air-ride hitch is designed to increase the life and value of your fifth wheel. With two air-bags mounted below the hitch head, this allows the air-ride system to absorb both the up-down and fore-aft motion of the trailer and truck. Their pivot point design prevents the fifth wheel from pitching toward the tow vehicle and the 4-way pivot head and jaws completely enclose the kingpin for added safety. This is the “Cadillac” of fifth-wheel hitches!
Here is a great in-depth look at the TrailerSaver fifth-wheel hitch:
- Reese: A family-owned business operating since 1957, Reese specializes in the shock dampening, tighter tolerances, and tighter connection of their Talon™ jaw system. Their hitches are backed by the Reese limited lifetime warranty and are designed for solid and stable towing.
A slider hitch is required if you plan to tow with a short-bed truck (when the length of your truck bed is less than 8 feet). It is engineered to facilitate the trailer’s movement back during sharp turns and tight corners, to prevent contact between the trailer and the truck’s cab
The following brands have specially designed sliding hitches for short-bed trucks:
These are some of the popular options for converting your fifth wheel’s kingpin to a gooseneck:
If you convert your traditional fifth-wheel kingpin into a gooseneck and do not have a gooseneck setup in your truck, but rather a fifth-wheel puck system, you could consider a system like this:
Most newer trucks that come with a fifth-wheel towing prep kit will already have the functionality built-in for a traditional fifth-wheel hitch or a gooseneck ball. If you decide to go the gooseneck route, you may only need to purchase the ball
Pin box replacement: Gooseneck or Kingpin
If you are looking to upgrade your pin box along with your hitch system and replace your pin with a gooseneck rather than use an adaptor or upgrade your kingpin, Gen Y offers top-of-the-line highly rated equipment.
Their Torsion-Flex design is aimed at improving the quality of your ride and towing experience, as well as improving your gas mileage due to a smoother and more efficient towing experience.
What you need to determine the correct pin box replacement:
- RV GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating): Found on the manufacturer VIN label typically on the outside of the RV
- RV loaded pin weight: 22% of the GVWR
- Frame model & bolt pattern
Benefits of fifth wheel towing vs. bumper towing
Fifth wheels can offer a more home-like experience while RVing and are often larger and more luxurious than travel trailers.
In addition, towing fifth wheels comes with many benefits over the bumper towing method used for travel trailers, including safety and smoothness.
- Enhanced Safety: With four anchor points in the bed of the truck and having more weight riding over the rear axle of the tow vehicle due to the fifth wheel’s overhang design, fifth wheel hitches have more stability and less sway than travel trailer bumper towing. We’ve towed our fifth wheel in 50mph crosswinds without issue!
- Smoother Ride: With more equitable weight distribution between the tow vehicle and the trailer, this also lends itself to a smoother ride while towing.
- Our Ram 3500 has an extra leaf spring, which creates even more support for our fifth wheel while towing. This makes for a smooth ride while towing, but quite a stiff and bumpy one while daily driving without the fifth wheel. This is something to consider when purchasing a tow vehicle! How well does it tow (you often need more vehicle than you think to be able to tow safely, but also stop promptly), but also how comfortable is it to drive while not towing?
Additional Resources For Fifth Wheel Owners
Tools You Need To Care For Your Fifth Wheel Hitch
- Torque Wrench: Regular assessments and re-tightening of hitch components using a torque wrench helps ensure safe towing.
- Wrench Set: Every toolbox needs a wrench set. This is really helpful to keep a nut from spinning on the backend of bolts on your fifth wheel hitch. We’ve found ratcheting wrenches to be extremely convenient.
- Impact Wrench: Many hitches require removing bolts to reset the height of your hitch. An impact wrench will make quick work of this! It is also a must have for removing lug nuts on your truck and trailer tires. DeWalt and Makita are reliable cordless tool brands. DeWalt also makes a 12v line of tools. Their 12v impact wrench is great to minimize storage.
- Impact Sockets: Your torque wrench and impact wrench won’t be much good without sockets. We prefer deep impact sockets to reach as many bolt heads as possible.
- Protective Disc or Plate: A Teflon plate can help shield the surface of the hitch head against corrosion and abrasion while towing
- Grease & Grease Gun: Regular lubrication of movable elements and the kingpin itself can help limit friction and wear for optimal performance while towing (and save you from the dreaded high pitch screeches of a kingpin rubbing metal on metal)
READ MORE: Best 5th Wheel Accessories
- Comparing popular fifth-wheel hitches:
- Gen Y Fifth Wheel to Gooseneck pin box conversion:
- Gooseneck adaptor for fifth-wheel kingpins: