How to Choose the Best Toy Hauler

The RV lifestyle is one most of us choose for the freedom it gives us. We pack a few bags, stock the fridge, and take off wherever and whenever we want. There are very few downsides. One of those few downsides, however, is kind of a biggie. While we might be able to leave behind the hassles of home and work and other daily affairs when out on the road or parked up in a cozy campsite, we also have to leave behind the very things that make those days at home or stuck in the office all the more tolerable: our toys.

Or do we?

RVs have come along way in the last few decades. More than any other factor, the emergence of the toy hauler RV has revolutionized the way we do travel time. Now when we set off, that slight bittersweetness that once resulted from having to leave our boats, bikes, quads, canoes, and other toys back home is entirely optional.

But making the decision to treat ourselves to a toy hauler and choosing which model is best for our toys and needs is a huge step, both financially and in terms of lifestyle.

So just how are we to go about it? And how, given the options out there and the varying needs of every toy-owner, are we choose the most suitable toy hauler for us?

In this article, we aim to answer the above questions and provide an in-depth analysis of the various factors to take into consideration before buying.

Let’s start with the basics…

What is a toy hauler?

In a few words, a toy hauler is an RV that boasts a sizable storage space in which you can store your “toys”—boats, mopeds, quads, bikes, golf carts, snowmobiles, ATVs, and the like—while on the move. Also known as Sports Utility RVs (SURVs), they allow you to carry all your motorized and oversized hobby-things the same as you would your clothes and camping gear.

Toy haulers come in a variety of forms, ranging from minimalist, spartan, frill-free affairs to ultra-luxurious, wheeled palaces. What they all have in common is a cargo area or a storage “garage” in which you can stow all your oversized goodies so you can avoid having to double-tow.

Where toy haulers differ is in their capacity and configuration. The three main types on the market are tow model travel trailers, fifth wheels, and motorcoaches.

All three types of toy trailer will have some kind of living quarters in addition to the garage space, and some models even boast a drive-up rear gate and loading ramp that converts into a patio or seating area.

Who needs a toy hauler?

In a few words, if you got “toys” and intend on using them while RVing, then buying a toy hauler is well worth considering. Not only do toy haulers let you avoid double-towing (which is illegal in some states in any case) but gives you all the storage space you need to keep all your kit and caboodle safely stowed separately from your living quarters. In terms of convenience, things don’t get much better than that. Is a home on the road really a home on the road if you have to leave behind some of your most cherished items?

Toy haulers are also ideal for folks who spend a lot of time on the road with work. The cargo area provides plenty of room for all your tools while the front gives you your living and sleeping quarters, potentially saving you a small fortune on hotel bills.

Finally, those who have big families or like to travel with friends will benefit from the ability to roam wherever they wish without a caravan of vehicles and also save on the huge expense entailed in putting up the whole crew in hotels or motels. Many models sleep up to eight people and have the added bonus of large slide-outs for evening entertainment and cargo bays that convert into play areas for kids or an extra sleeping area.

Types of toy hauler

There are four main types of toy hauler on the market: cargo trailers, travel trailers, 5th wheels, and motorcoach toy haulers. Each type comes in a wide variety of sizes with differing specs, floor plans, attributes, and drawbacks. Below, we’ve added a quick overview of each type and a short description of its advantages and disadvantages.

Cargo Trailer Toy Haulers

Cargo trailers are the most basic variety of toy haulers on the market. These trailers, unlike the others in our review, don’t offer any sleeping compartments or other living areas but only a large storage space in which you can haul your toys.

For the most part, cargo trailers use a side entry door and a ramp that allows you to load and unload your gear without difficulty, though some pricier models have double ramps. Cargo haulers are a good choice for anyone who already has the accommodation box ticked and simply needs a large, safe enclosure in which they can transport their toys. Although the most basic of the toy hauler types on our list, the variety of cargo haulers on the market is fairly vast. From small, spartan units that will cost only a couple of thousand dollars to 30-foot custom-built units with reinforced walls, there’s something for everyone and every budget.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Wide variety of size options available
  • Lighter on fuel

Cons

With body lengths ranging from 13’11” to 26’8” and capacities ranging from 500 cubic feet to 1,400 cubic feet, the spartan, frill-free, Silversport utility is a no-nonsense, affordable cargo hauler that’s got room for pretty much anything you could wish to put in it.

Toy Hauler Travel Trailers

Travel trailers are one of the most common and convenient forms of toy hauler available. The reason for this popularity is simple. Most models offer ample living space, room to carry all your toys, usually cost less than motorhome toy haulers and 5th wheel toy haulers, and don’t have any of the awkward compatibility issues related to the hitch and truck type required for towing 5th wheels.

Another winning feature of travel trailers is their convenience and versatility. Wherever you are—at home or traveling—it takes a matter of seconds to detach the hitch and free up your towing vehicle—not something that can be said of either motorhome haulers or 5th wheels.

Travel trailer toy haulers come in a wide variety of forms, ranging from simple, mini haulers with a few sleeping areas and minimal amenities to palatial, 30-foot-plus beasts that are veritable deluxe apartments on wheels. As with every type of live-in toy hauler on our list, how long you plan to be living in there, how big your family is, and what kind of budget you’re working with will ultimately determine which travel trailer is best for your needs.

Another distinguishing factor of a travel trailer toy hauler compared to a 5th wheel is better off-road or backcountry road performance. Owing to their lesser weight, height, and smaller overall size, travel trailers are far more manageable when conditions under your vehicle take a turn for the worse. This being so, if you tend to be more adventurous in the destinations you choose for your RVing, this type of toy hauler is probably the best bet of all the options on our list.

In terms of floor plans and overall use of space, there’s not too much to separate travel trailer toy haulers from 5th wheels. Both types generally have a wall separating living space from cargo or storage space and multiple options as regards how each of these two areas are configured. One more notable difference exists in the price you can expect to pay for each type of hauler: comparably sized travel trailers are, for the most part, a lot cheaper than 5th wheels with similar options and amenities.

Pros

  • Can be towed by most SUVs and pickups
  • Hitch takes up no space in truck bed
  • No compatibility issues (besides hauling weight limit) with towing vehicle
  • Easier to drive on unpaved and icy or snowy roads than a 5th wheel toy hauler
  • Versatility and convenience—easy to hitch and unhitch

Cons

  • Longer than 5th wheels
  • Generally offer less headroom than 5th wheels

Our pick of the bunch: XLR Hyperlite

Offering versatility, luxury, spaciousness, and a variety of floor plans, the XLR Hyperlite Travel Trailer Toy Hauler represents a happy medium between more basic travels trailers and top-end models with every amenity and embellishment you could possibly imagine. At over 37’ in length and with a 102” width (wide-body version), this is one of the roomiest and most livable travel trailers out there. Ideal for weekend warriors and long-term travelers alike.

5th Wheel Toy Haulers

The single greatest difference between a travel trailer and a 5th wheel toy hauler is found in the hitch or receiver. While a travel trailer is hitched to a towing vehicle’s bumper with a ball-and-coupler hitch, fifth-wheelers connect to the bed of a truck with a jaw hitch (or “fifth wheel hitch”).

Understandably, these differences in the configuration of the hitch are significant factors when weighing up which of the two is most suited to your needs. The jaw hitch in a 5th wheel toy hauler is far less convenient than the ball-and-coupler on a travel toy hauler, using up space in your truck bed both when you’re towing and when you’re not. The receiver is bulky, heavy, and leaves you with the option of putting in a lot of effort to remove and then put back in place between uses or just leaving it in there and sacrificing a serious amount of bed space in your truck. This component alone makes a 5th wheel a far less flexible option than a travel trailer.

That said, 5th wheel toy haulers still have a lot of things going for them. For starters, by connecting directly to the truck bed they offer a far more stable ride, particularly in high winds. They also usually offer a lot more in the way of livable space and are available in a variety of formats and with various internal features for those who want more space, luxury, and separation, and also have a big enough budget to buy them. Some optional features potentially available in the cargo of a fifth wheeler include a workshop, large storage areas, fold-up sofas or beds, and, in the very largest of models, room for an additional vehicle.

One of the most attractive features of a 5th wheel to most would-be buyers, however, is the reduction in overall length—because a large part of a 5th wheel’s interior capacity is held in the front end suspended above the truck bed, you lose around 6 or seven feet from the rear, which makes them far easier to maneuver than most travel trailers with a similar overall capacity.

Prices for 5th wheel toy haulers vary greatly, with simpler and more basic models costing as little as $30k and longer, more luxurious models as much as an eye-watering $300k.

One point well worth bearing in mind when considering a 5th wheel is that every model will have at least a few steps in the cabin. If mobility is an issue or you just prefer to have everything on one floor, then you’d be better off opting for a travel trailer or motorcoach toy hauler.

Pros

  • Stability on the road, particularly in high winds
  • Shorter overall length than travel trailers but with similar storage capacity
  • Additional height
  • Generally more livable than travel trailer toy haulers
  • Luxurious
  • Ideal for those who spend most of the time on the road and are looking for a hauler that scores high on long-term livability

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Huge, heavy hitch
  • Less flexibility owing to the difficulty entailed in removing and restoring the receiver hitch after/before every trip

Our pick of the bunch: Keystone Carbon 297

At 35.5 feet in length and boasting a cargo capacity of over 4,200 pounds, dual entry doors, 10’ garage space, and sleeping up to seven people, this hauler is all about luxury, space, and livability. It will set you back somewhere in the region of $70K, but if you plan on hitting the road for long periods of time it’s one of the best options out there without surpassing the $100K-mark.

Motorcoach Toy Hauler

If money were no object, it’s highly likely that every single person in the market for a luxury toy hauler would end up opting for the motorcoach variety.

There are a few reasons why this is the case, but the most notable are simple convenience and downright luxury. Unlike every other type of toy hauler on our list, motorcoach toy haulers (sometimes called “motorhome toy haulers”) have the benefit of offering an all-in-one setup, meaning you don’t have to worry about hitching your towing vehicle to the hauler.

In short, a toy hauler motorhome is a combination of three things: a vehicle, living space, and toy hauling space. While it’s for this very reason that they are pretty much the holy grail of toy haulers, a motorhome toy hauler’s second most notable downside is also found in this all-inclusive format. With travel trailer haulers and to a lesser extent with 5th wheel haulers, when you rock up at your camping destination you have the option of disconnecting your towing vehicle and using it for your daily A to Bs.

For the motorhome toy hauler’s most significant drawback, we need to look to probably the most decisive factor of all pre-purchase considerations: the price. Yep, motorhome toy haulers don’t come cheap. Far from it. While they might offer unparalleled luxury and a true just-like-home feel while out on your adventures, these veritable castles with wheels can—and mostly do—cost upwards of a (very un-) cool $250k.

Pros

  • All-in-one design
  • Smooth ride
  • Spacious
  • Very livable

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Less flexibility (unless you’re hauling your compact car or motorbike in the cargo area!)

Our pick of the bunch: Thor Outlaw Motorhome

With an 80” ceiling height, 38.5 feet in length, sleeping up to 8 people, and boasting an awning, patio deck, and 127 cubic feet of external storage, this beautiful beast of a motorhome is primed for any adventure you could plan to take it on with all the family. It will set you back in the region of $220k, but they’ll have your back when it’s time for retirement, right?

Things to consider before buying a toy hauler

When you’re in the market for a toy hauler, your tick list of desirable features and attributes is going to be long. Very long. Things are further complicated, moreover, by compatibility issues with your current towing vehicle. To help you assemble your list, narrow down the options, and get the perfect hauler for your needs, we’ve assembled a short guide to help you through the decision-making process.

Weight (and Your Towing Vehicle’s Hauling Capacity)

Assuming that you don’t intend on making a double purchase of both a new towing vehicle and a new toy hauler, your towing vehicle, simply put, has to be able to haul the hauler. In a nutshell, this means ensuring that the weight of the toy hauler you plan on buying plus everything that you intend to put in it does not exceed the towing capacity for your vehicle.

In most cases, the towing capacity of your vehicle can be found on the plate inside the driver’s door and/or in the owner’s manual. If you don’t have the manual and are having trouble locating the data plate, a quick online search should be able to help you.

Once you’ve got your hands on your towing vehicle’s hauling capacity, it’s time to get your calculator out and do the sums. When calculating the weight of your would-be toy hauler, remember to factor in the added weight of the optional amenities you’ve included (or will include), the weight of your toys, and also any other items you are likely to want to stow inside the hauler when making a trip.

Certain generalizations can be made with regard to weight that might simplify getting to the point of having a definitive shortlist. First up, motorcoach toy haulers are uncomplicated in that the hauler and the hauled are one and the same, meaning you only have to make sure your toys fit in the garage and weigh within the recommended cargo weight. Secondly, travel trailers are generally a far lighter option than comparably sized 5th wheel trailers, meaning your current towing vehicle’s towing capacity is likely to be the deal maker or deal breaker when deciding between the two options.

Size

The size of your toy hauler is important for three reasons.

First up, you need to be comfortable driving something that’s going to take up a lot of road and be far more difficult to maneuver than your car or a standard motorhome.

Secondly, you need space for all the family, both in terms of sleeping berths and living space. Scrimping in this respect could easily lead to a few episodes of cabin fever and/or family tiffs, particularly on longer trips.

Thirdly, the cargo needs to be spacious enough to accommodate all your toys and the other kit you plan on putting in there.

Finding a balance between all three of these factors—and working within your budget—is the key to narrowing down your long list to a short list.

Drivability

As mentioned above, how easy it is to drive your toy hauler is a huge consideration for would-be buyers. Width, length, and weight all play a big part in determining drivability and, as a general rule, the lighter, narrower, and shorter a hauler is the more manageable it will be on the road.

That said, there are a few exceptions. Heavier vehicles can hold the road better in high winds, but in most cases make braking more difficult. Higher vehicles perform not so well in high winds, losing stability and fuel economy, and can also make life particularly difficult, no matter how short they are, for anyone who has to take one down a forested road with overhanging branches.

Finally, while 5th wheels perform just as well as travel trailers on smooth, flat roads, if you have to head off-road at all, tackling bumpier terrain, or small and steep country roads, then travel trailers are invariably better.

Garage size/Cargo capacity

A bit of foresight is required to get the best garage size in your toy hauler. While it may seem like a simple matter of measuring up your toys and the garage in your toy-hauler-to-be, it’s always wise to think a little ahead. Is there any chance you’ll be upgrading your toys in the future? Any chance an additional family member will be joining you on your adventures? Will the cargo area be used purely for toy storage or will it moonlight as a sleeping area, lounge area, or play area for kids?

Convenience

A number of factors contribute to how any toy hauler scores in terms of overall convenience, most notably:

Sleeping and Living Space

How often you plan on using your toy hauler and how long you envision your trips being is just as important as taking a head count when deciding how many sleepers it should accommodate and how much living space it should have.

Recommending a figure in square footage for any given number of people is a tricky business, and ultimately only you will know how much space will be required to make life more comfortable and less claustrophobic.

Beyond matching the number of sleeping berths to the number of sleepers you anticipate having on your trips, however, it’s well worth aiming for more square footage if you’re likely to be on the road for longer periods of time. While a tight squeeze may be okay for a weekend or short trip, after a week or so “cabin fever” can start to set in, particularly it the weather’s not at its best or there are any members of your traveling party who are not on the best of terms!

Bathrooms

1, 1.5, or 2? While this might appear to be purely a matter of personal preference, when choosing the desired layout of your toy hauler you’ll have to bear in mind that space inside your hauler is a zero-sum game—space used in one place means losing it elsewhere.

For example, on a 35-foot rig with 1 bathroom, the space saving from the lack of a second bathroom will instead be used to make the living area more commodious or add another sleeping berth. If you have a large family or anticipate spending a lot of time traveling with friends, then that extra bed might just be worth an extra five-minute wait to use the bathroom in the morning!

Conversely, of course, a 2-bathroom rig makes life easier on the toilet front, but also means you’re likely to lose one sleeping berth or a large whack of square footage in the living area.  

Slide Outs

Large slide outs on your toy hauler can create very handy living spaces that are big enough for entertaining friends and enjoying some al fresco time outside the rig. Many motorcoach, travel, and 5th wheel toy haulers have anywhere from 1 to 5 slide outs, and plumping for a hauler with more will vastly enhance its livability, particularly if you’re on a longer trip and things are starting to feel a little cabin-feverish on the inside!

Built-In Generators

When buying your toy hauler, it’s important to check if it has a built-in generator. While many travel trailers and 5th wheels do have built-in generators, it’s certainly not a given and could add significant expense—something you definitely want to factor into your budgeting.

Budget

Last but not least…

Budgeting for your RV toy hauler can be a tricky business. A few further factors to consider that will help you define and work within your chosen parameters include:

  • Customization: how much additional expense will there be post-purchase?
  • Generator: is it built-in or will I need to purchase one separately (important if camping out in remote areas)?
  • Fuel economy: how much is it going to cost to run and tow your toy hauler?
  • Towing vehicle compatibility: will my new toy hauler require a more powerful or different type of towing vehicle (maybe the case if you have your eye on a 5th wheel hauler)?
  • Warranty: is an extended warranty included or will I have to pay extra in order to have one?

Conclusion

Choosing a toy hauler should be an enjoyable experience. By the time we’ve made the decision to buy one, after all, we’re usually just a matter of days or weeks from changing our lives for the better. All of the factors to be considered during the decision-making process, however, can make it a more stressful, chore-like and drawn-out affair than we might have expected, and many would-be buyers end up exhausting themselves just juggling all the variables, logistics, and options in their heads.

In the above article, we’ve tried to simplify things for our readers and hope the tips we’ve included will let you skip the stress, streamline the whole decision-making rigmarole, and jump straight to the fun of RV living with all your toys in tow!