Choosing Your RV Size - What’s More Important?

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“We went shopping RVs over the weekend and fell in love with a 40’ luxury fifth wheel. We would be towing this rig all over the country and living in it fulltime. I’m worried about the cost to pull it and finding campsites for it. Will we ever be able to boondock in such a large rig?”

The question of “how big of an RV should we buy” comes up just about daily. The responses usually include:

  • People who bought too small of an RV and want to upgrade.
  • People who bought too large of an RV and want to downsize.
  • People who own the large RV and are happy with it.
  • People who own smaller RVs and are happy with them.

How do you decide how big of an RV to buy?

Compromise on Wheels

RVs are nothing more than a set of compromises on wheels.

The trick is to understand what you are giving up by making a particular choice. Some compromises are immediately obvious. Others only become clear after you are on the road for a while.

Go Big

At first, going big is an easy choice.

Big RVs are impressive inside. There’s no ducking your head. There are ceiling fans. Lots of floor space. No “squeezing past each other”.

Big RVs have lots of storage. You can take more with you. You don’t have to literally sort through every. last. thing. you own to see if you have room for it. Downsizing is stressful. Fewer decisions makes the process easier.

Big RVs can be appealing to people new to RV living. A bigger RV means RV life can be similar to your suburban life. You can cook the same. Keep the same supplies in the pantry. Put your feet up after dinner and watch your favorite shows.

You can have dedicated bedrooms. Office spaces. Laundry. Dishwashers. Patios. Garages.

Pretty swank.

What’s the compromise again?

Over Time

It takes a while.

Then on a drive day you see a great little roadside stand with peach cider, boiled peanuts, and pecan rolls. You wanted to try different foods on your travels, right?

But you’re rolling at 55 MPH and can’t stop that quick. There’s no RV parking. Oh well. Maybe there will be another stand down the road.

Or you get a Facebook message from an old high school friend. You are in their home town. How about you swing by and catch up on old times? Great. You get their address and check it out on Google Maps.

Cul-de-sac.

That ain’t happening.

A quick visit now involves local RV parks. You’ll have to spend a night or two. You’ll have to unhitch and drive the truck over to visit.

Or - that state park you loved as a kid? Checking their website they only have 3 sites that you can fit in.

All booked.

Big Isn’t Bad

Going big isn’t bad. All of these scenarios have options.

If a big rig is what it takes to get you out of a ho-hum suburban life and out traveling with your family, bring on the dually diesel & triple-axle toyhauler.

Our point is the advantages of going big are immediately obvious. The advantages of being smaller may take a while to sink in.

Buy the RV that makes sense at the time. Then be prepared to find your wants and needs shifting over time as you experience actual life on the road.

What About National Parks?

The general opinion (aka “The Facebook Hive Mind”) is that National Parks limit RV lengths to 35’.

This isn’t the case.

National Park length limits are all over the place. Some have “premium spots” for RVs over 30’. Others can accomodate big rigs but only have a few sites that book out early. Some do indeed limit lengths.

Here’s an interesting article that calculates the best RV length for National Parks.

In it, the author lists the percent of National Parks a given length RV would fit into. He concludes:

After quite a lot of research, I consider the ideal RV length for camping in national parks to be 35′ or less.  At that length, you’ll be able to find at least a handful of spots big enough to handle your rig in almost any national park in the country.CamperReport.com

Be sure to scan the comments for input from other RVers.

Also make sure to see if that length limit is total length including your tow vehicle or toad. Some parks specifically state that their numbers are overall length. Others seem less clear.

Go Small

We’ve always been in the medium (34’ Fifth Wheel) to small (30’ Fifth Wheel) end of the RV spectrum. After 6+ years of travel in that mode, we are changing it up.

We’re choosing to downsize into a 19’ Class B Motorhome.

Our goals are:

  • More flexibility
  • Less pre-planning
  • Parking in standard parking spots
  • Less time in RV parks
  • More time in State Parks, National Parks, and National Forest Campgrounds
  • More time boondocking
  • More time moochdocking (staying in friend’s driveways)
  • Stopping at roadside stands, attractions, historical markers
  • Stopping at any beachfront park or county park

Tension

The basic “all hitched up and rolling down the road” tension with RVs is between:

  • What you can have
  • What you can do

The more you want to have, the less you’ll be able to do. The more you want to do, the less you can have.

Sure, if you are towing a car, carrying kayaks, bikes and motorcycles or a bass boat slammed on top of your truck you can stop, unhitch and unload. Then go do whatever you want.

We’ve RVed that way for years. 

We had two kinds of days - travel and explore. Travel days were just about getting from point A to point B. Then we setup camp. And then on another day we’d get out and explore, bike, kayak or whatever.

With the Class B we want to explore on a travel day. Or travel on an exploration day. We no longer want the distinction between those kind of days.

Too Far?

I can’t stand up straight in the Class B. I had to extend the bed. We have no place to take MsBoyink’s favorite kitchen bowl.

We might have gone too far with this downsizing effort.

But we’re excited to try this approach.

And if we don’t like it, we will at least be able to speak from experience rather than conjecture (like so many other online “experts”).

How Did You Decide?

What was your main criteria for deciding on the size of the rig you bought? What would your advice to new RV shoppers be when it comes to size?

10 Comments Choosing Your RV Size - What’s More Important?

  1. Picture of The Tepid Tamale The Tepid Tamale April 27, 2017

    Well, don’t forget us this summer.  Moochdocking would be great!  I have kayaks on site you can use since you have to jettison your canoe.  We would love to have you!

  2. Picture of Dan Dan April 27, 2017

    So glad you sold the fiver. That must be a relief.

    This was a great post. I am going through the back-and-forth process right now. Tow vehicle or motor home? Toad or no toad? I want to be able to have a friend or 2, or my 2 college children, to be able to join me for a week or longer road trip, and I don’t want us to hate each other after a few days. I need good office space, too, as my job allows me to work remotely anywhere I have power and good wifi.

    After endless hours of research, I am narrowing down my choices. I am setting a max of 26 feet. I want a motor home that is nimble enough for excursions into town. I am OK for now with not having access to some narrow roads and out of the way areas.

    My short list includes:

    The Thor Axis/Vegas RUV. smallest Class A. It’s under 26 feet long. Looks like a Class A but is on a van chassis. Powerful gas engine. Great storage. Awesome views from cockpit. Looks killer.

    Winnebago Spirit/MinnieWinnie Class C. Models in 24-26 foot (and larger).

    Winnebago Trend. 24 feet long. Class B+. Roomy for a van camper.

    Thor Gemini. Similar to the Trend in size and features.

  3. Picture of Michael Boyink Michael Boyink April 27, 2017

    @the Tamale - Will keep that in mind! We cancelled Ludington - couldnt see working to get so nimble then sitting still all summer..;)

    @Dan - some good options there!

  4. Picture of Brad Brad April 27, 2017

    In our shopping for our full-timing rig we setup some criteria: 5th-wheel, a slide, good condition, 30’ max.

    We ended up getting a 31’ because it had a triple-bunk room in the back with _a door that closed_!

    8 months in we’ve been really happy with our 281 square feet. Until a few weeks ago we had a few storage compartments we weren’t even using!

    We haven’t had too much difficulty finding spots to fit us, but then again we don’t usually park _in_ NP campgrounds. We’re usually a bit out so we can have full hookups and be closer to coffee shops for working.

  5. Picture of Michael Boyink Michael Boyink April 27, 2017

    We loved our 30’ Fiver - just enough room until the kids got too tall..;)

    We’ve never actually stayd in a NP campground either. Hoping to change that now!

  6. Picture of Tiffany Locke Tiffany Locke June 13, 2017

    I’m glad you talk about how comfortable RVs can be since you wouldn’t have to duck your head or sort through everything. When you’re choosing your RV, you’d probably want to make sure you research the different options and test a variety of the for sale options so you can figure out any additions they include. This could help you figure out which one you feel comfortable with and feel safe driving.

  7. Picture of Michael Boyink Michael Boyink June 13, 2017

    RV Dealer link removed - please contact us for advertising rates or sponsorship opportunities instead..;)

  8. Picture of scott scott August 14, 2017

    It’s interesting that one of the reasons you would choose a smaller RV would be to stop at more roadside destinations. I have been thinking about buying an RV and I wasn’t sure how to choose one. I can see how it would be helpful to find one that is smaller, because It would be easier to park on the side of the road.

  9. Picture of Michael Boyink Michael Boyink August 15, 2017

    OK - seriously.  If you work for an RV dealer and leave comment spam here I will edit the link to point to a competitor.

  10. Picture of Jocelyn McDonald Jocelyn McDonald June 27, 2018

    My husband and I want to start going camping more, and we’re considering getting an RV. Your article had some great tips for choosing a good RV size, and I liked how you said to choose a bigger RV if you want more storage space. Thanks for the help; we’ll keep this in mind when choosing the RV right for us.

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