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Dry camping primer

by Tom Jones

This primer is a compilation of information from various sources, including messages in the RV forum and the writer's own experience.

For the purpose of this article, I'll define dry camping as any form of RVing without the convenience of water, electricity or sewer hookups. Dry camping includes boondocking, staying in a campground such as a forest service campground that has no hookups, blacktopping at a WalMart parking lot, staying overnight in a rest area or truck stop, or an overnight stop in the street outside a friend's house.

The key to successful dry camping is the combination of planning and conservation. A few additions to your rig might also help.

Water conservation also means more holding tank capacity

The following tips will help conserve water and slow the rate at which your holding tanks fill:
  • Do not let any fresh water run down the drain until it has been used.
  • Capture the initial cold water from the shower in a pitcher and use it for other purposes e.g. drinking water for the dog.
  • When taking showers wet down, then turn water off at shower head. Wash and then turn water on again to wash off soap.
  • Shower every other day and use a wash cloth the other days.
  • In dry climates wet wash cloths or baby wipes work good.
  • Use bottled water for drinking and coffee.
  • Since the grey water tank fills faster than the black water tank, use a dish pan to wash dishes, then dump the dishwater in toilet.
  • Use paper plates to minimize dishwashing.
  • When brushing teeth, use a glass of water to first dip the toothbrush in, then use half to rinse the mouth and the rest to rinse the brush. Don't run water while brushing the teeth.
  • During the day put some water in the hand bowl and use it to rinse the hands in; Just add to it when rinsing the soap off.
  • Have enough changes of clothes to be able to go two weeks without having to do laundry. If and when necessary, use laundromats.
  • If in a location that has bathrooms, extend the gray holding tank capacity by doing dishes in a bowl and dumping the water in the bathroom. Extend black water tank capacity by using the campground bathroom instead of your own.

Battery consumption

Deep cycle batteries work well, but only if you take care of them. Check the fluid level of flooded wt cell batteries often, especially in hot weather, and top up as necessary.

Batteries will also require periodic charging. This can be accomplished by running the generator for a few hours. Don't allow batteries to completely discharge before recharging.

Generator use

A generator will recharge your batteries and power "a/c only" appliances. Before leaving on your trip ensure that you have sufficicent fuel to run the generator. Remember that typically the fuel pickup for the generator will be higher in the fuel tank than the pickup for the engine. This is done to ensure that your generator will not use all your fuel and leave you stranded. But it does mean that your fuel tank needs that much more fuel if you intend to run the generator for any length of time.

Inverter

An inverter can power "a/c only" appliances that would otherwise require you to start the generator. This is especially nice for the midnight snack or early morning coffee. However, be advised that nothing is free. The inverter will consume capacity from the batteries and therefore the batteries will need charging more often and/or for longer periods of time.

Propane

It's tough to beat propane for heating water or powering the furnace in cold weather. Be sure to fill up the propane tank before leaving for your trip. Also take time to clean the burners and check for spider webs in burner tubes.

Alternative energy sources

Solar panels can provide "free" electricity, given sufficient size and sunlight.