Lots of water under the bridge since you first asked the question back in the middle of January. But I'll reply anyway, in case others have a similar question.
Originally Posted by bskip
We (only the wife and I) are planning to purchase our first, a small to medium size 5th wheel compatible with our F250 short box with a 5.4 and towing/camper package.
You don't give much info about your truck, so I'll use the following as an example:
2005 F-250 SuperCab shorty 4x4.
GCWR 16,000 with a 3.73 axle or 18,500 with a 4.10 axle
Wet and loaded pickup ready for towing, including sweetheart, 5er hitch, full tank of gas, and normal tools, jacks, extra fluids, etc. will weigh about 6,500 pounds. (Confirm your wet and loaded weight on a CAT scale.) So if your truck weighs 6,500 pounds as you back up to the 5er, and if you have the 3.73 axle ratio, that leaves 9,500 pounds for the weight of the wet and loaded 5er before you bust the GCWR of your tow vehicle.
Unlike the folks with PowerStrokes, you have plenty of GVWR to handle the hitch weight of a 9,500 pound 5er.
But as others have noted, the 5.4L in an F-250 is not really noted as a towing machine. The heaviest trailer I'd want to tow with that powertrain would have a GVWR of about 8,000 pounds.
2 Understanding what the sidewinder does, is that a necessary function with the newer trailers.
You definitely need something to prevent trailer to cab contact when making sharp turns. The Sidewinder is one way, a manual sliding hitch is another, and best of all is an automatic sliding hitch such as the Pullrite SuperGlide. I would not want to tow a 5er with a 6.5 bed unless I could do it with a SuperGlide.
PullRite has a SAFER, STRONGER, BETTER designed hitch for you
The hype that some newer 5ers can be towed by a shorty pickup without a slider hitch is a bunch of hooie. It's true only if you never back the 5er. But when backing, you can jacknife in a heart beat, then WHAM!!!
, there went your back window and probably with a huge dent in the back of the cab.
3 Which trailer manufactures would you suggest we look at for a smaller, although very comfortable rig, for extended weekend use.
A lot of RV trailer manufacturers went bust in the latest Obama economy, so I'll just name a few that are still around.
Keystone makes 5ers from the economical thru the mid-grade to the luxury. But glancing at their 5ers, the lightest has a GVWR of 9,900 pounds. I bought a new 201 Keystone Sprinter 25' mid-profile 5er and drug it all over the lower 48 for over 10 years. Just me and the wife and a puppydog, and we enjoyed the heck out of it. But our Sprinter had a GVWR of 7,900 pounds, and the replacement is now called the Copper Canyon by Sprinter, and the same size 5er how has a GVWR of 9,600 pounds. That's more trailer than I would want to tow with your 5.4L.
My new TT is a Skyline. Skyline makes Layton Alumabond fifth wheel models 213 and 214 that have GVWR of 6,700 pounds. They both have one big slide, sovery roomy for a compact RV. Keystone also has several other larger 5ers, but the GVWR jumps to at least 9,600 pounds. With your tow vehicle, I'd try to find something with a GVWR less than 8,000 pounds, and those two do it. Layton Recreational Vehicles by Skyline
If you have the 4.10 axle ratio, then I might take a chance on one of the three the LaYton 5ers with GVWR of 9,600 pounds, but only if Darling Wife insisted. Then expect to learn why I suggested a max of 8,000.
If comfort is you goal, then the first mod to your new RV will be to replace the stock queen-size mattress with a good one from Sam's Club. (Sam's Club price is about half the "sale" price at most sleep shops.) I donated my brand new RV mattress, still in the plastic wrapper, to Habitat for Humanity and replaced it with this:
SertaŽ Perfect SleeperŽ Edgebrooke Cushion Firm Eurotop Mattress - Queen - Sam's Club
Now that's a mattress!