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How Long Can You Boondock in an RV?

Unless you're planning on really roughing it, you probably want to boondock while still enjoying certain comforts like running water and electricity. Obviously, your resources are limited by the size and power of your setup and your personal camping habits.Your main limitations are your fresh water tank, gray water tank, black water tank, and batteries. Depending on your rig and personal habits, it's likely you'll find one of these normally runs out before the others. For some campers, the gray water tank is the first thing to fill up and require dumping. Others run out of fresh water. Still others have trouble making their batteries last.How long can you, personally, boondock in your RV? What's the average number of nights campers spend boondocking at a time? How can you make your camping trip last longer? Below, we'll give some example scenarios of a day in the life of a serious boondocker and what it looks like to conserve your resources. Let's get started!
RV Shower

Conserving Water While Boondocking

Let's pretend that instead of a house with a faucet that supplies you with water anytime you like, you have to carry a bucket down to the nearest lake and haul it back home. You'd want to make this water last as long as possible, right?Well, your RV fresh water tank is your bucket, and you will have to abandon camp to get more water if you run out. So use it wisely.It's impossible to say exactly how long your tanks will hold out, but depending on your tank size, the number of people camping with you, and your personal conservation habits, you can usually expect your tanks to last anywhere from a few days to about two weeks. To give you an estimate, many boondockers use about 3-1/2 gallons of water per person, per day. A particularly conservative camper can use as little as 1-2 gallons, while a camper who does not conserve may use 6-7 or more on average.
RV Fresh Water Tank Graphic
Wasted Water = Wasted Waste Tank Space Keep in mind that making your water tanks last is not only about limiting what comes out of the fresh water tank, but also limiting whats goes into the black and gray tanks. In most cases, you'll fill your gray tank (for shower water, cooking, dishes, etc.) much faster than your black tank (where the toilet water goes).For fresh water, you can bring water bottles or other portable water container to supplement your fresh water tank.When it comes to your waste tanks, you can use a portable wastewater tank, but it's still good practice to limit the amount of water that ends up in your tank to begin with. By limiting the amount of water you use and recycling water when you can, you can postpone dumping your tanks for as long as possible and extend your camping trip without having to go find a dump site.
Tips for Conserving Water While Boondocking
Dry Shampoo and Water

1. Keep Showers Short & Sweet

  • Take navy showers. Step into the water, then turn the water off to soap up. Turn it on again to rinse off.
  • Use a low-flow shower head. For boondocking, you'll want a showerhead that puts out 2 gallons per minute (GPM) or less. (Some put out 1.5 or 1.75 gpm, which is even better for conservation purposes.)
  • Explore alternatives to daily showers, such as dry shampoo and wipes.
  • Don't shave in the shower. Fill a bucket or the tub with a few inches of water, and use this water to rinse your razor when needed.
  • If you're super serious about water conservation, you can cut your hair to make it quicker to wash. (This one takes some dedication—I can't say I'd go through with this one myself.)
Toilet paper and Restroom Sign

2. Keep Water Usage Low When You "Go"

  • Depending on how comfortable you are with this (and how much luxury you're willing to forgo for the sake of convenience), you can get conservative with your toilet flushing. Avoid flushing after each use of the toilet and live by the common boondocker's phrase, "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down."
  • Use a toilet with a hand-sprayer to further reduce the amount of water used for flushing.
  • Use public restroom facilities when possible.
  • You may even consider a composting toilet to replace your current setup if you plan on boondocking often. Composting toilets don't require any plumbing or water.
Water Recycle

3. Recycle Running Water

  • Use a dish pan to catch water from your kitchen sink when you do dishes, wash up, etc. Use a bucket to catch shower water (particularly the cold water that comes out before it heats up). Use this water to flush the toilet.
  • Offload your gray water into your black tank to maximize the holding potential of both tanks. You don't want your black tank to dry up, so this has the added bonus of keeping things "liquified" inside the tank.
Wash Dishes

4. Change Your Kitchen Clean-Up Routine

  • Wipe remaining food off your dishes with a napkin or paper towel prior to rinsing them in the sink.
  • Limit dishwashing to once per day (bonus: this gives you a great excuse to put off doing the dishes).
  • Depending on how eco-friendly you want to be, you can use paper plates and throw them away afterward, rather than using plastic or glass plates you have to wash.
  • Try cooking foods that don't require much water to make (for instance, avoid boiling pasta, as this uses a lot of water).
Obviously, you don't have to stick to every one of these religiously, but taking as many steps as possible to conserve water when you can will add up to significantly longer boondocking trips.To give you an idea how much water conservation can affect the length of your stay, and to help you gauge how much water you'll use per day, we've broken down two boondocking scenarios. The first scenario is an estimated length of your camping stay if you are heavily conservative with your water; the second scenario is the estimated length of your stay if you're less conservative.
Scenario 1: Careful Water Conserver
You have a 60-gallon fresh water tank, a 40-gallon gray tank, and a 40-gallon black tank. You are camping with one other person.SHOWERYour low-flow shower head puts out 1.5 gallons of water per minute, and you both take 2-minute navy showers every other day for a total of 6 gallons on shower days. If you use the shower on 7 out of 14 nights, this is 42 gallons of water used from the fresh tank. Let's assume you offload a gallon per shower into the black tank, so you end up adding 7 gallons to the black tank and 35 gallons to the gray tank. KITCHENYou avoid pastas and other foods that require a significant amount of water to cook, and you drink from water gallons purchased at the store. You use paper plates instead of washing dishes in the sink, so you only use about 1 gallon per day for kitchen use, including hand-washing and other quick sink uses throughout the day. You save the 1 gallon of sink water per day to use in the toilet.If you use 1 gallon per day for kitchen use for 14 days, this is 14 gallons from your fresh water tank. You offload these 14 gallons into your black tank.TOILETYou use public facilities or the great outdoors the majority of the time, so you don't need any additional water besides what you save from the sink and shower.
Boondocking Scenario 1
At the end of your 14 day camping trip, you've used about 56 of your 60 gallons of fresh water. You've added about 35 gallons to your gray tank and 21 gallons to your black tank (plus a minimum 1 gallon of water that should already be in the black tank as your liquid "base").
Gray and Black Water Tank Capacity
All in all, you can boondock for about two weeks before you need to refill your fresh water tank and dump your holding tanks. You may even be able to squeeze another day or so out of your tanks.
14 Days Camping Results
Scenario 2: Amenity Appreciator
We'll use the same setup: you have a 60-gallon fresh water tank, a 40-gallon gray tank, and a 40-gallon black tank. You are camping with one other person.SHOWERThis time, you're not as careful with your water consumption. Your shower head still puts out 1.5 gallons per minute. You and your partner take 2-minute navy showers, but you take them every night. This comes to 6 gallons per night. Five nights' worth of showers comes to 30 gallons of water used, which flows into your gray tank.KITCHENYou boil pasta and wash vegetables in the sink (about 2 gallons per day). You each drink half a gallon of water per day from the sink. After 5 days, you've used 15 gallons for drinking, cooking, and washing up.TOILETYou save your recycled kitchen water to flush the toilet, so it goes into your black tank rather than your gray tank. You also use an additional 2 gallons per day from your fresh water tank to flush your toilet, so this is an additional 10 gallons used. Four gallons per day end up in your black tank. After five days, this is 20 gallons.
Boondocking Scenario 2
In this scenario, within 5 days you've used used a total of 55 of your 60 gallons of fresh water. You've added about 30 gallons to your gray tank and 20 gallons to your black tank.
Gray and Black Water Tank Capacity
At this point, you have about 5 gallons of fresh water left but not enough to make it through a 6th day with the same habits.
5 Days Camping Results

Using Electricity While Boondocking

As with your water tanks, your capabilities when it comes to electricity depends heavily on your power usage.When you're camping in the boonies, your power options are pretty limited. Without access to hookups, your options are a generator, solar power, or some combination of the two.
etrailer Generator
GENERATORThe easiest way to ensure you have power anywhere you go is by using a generator. Power needs can vary widely, so we suggest estimating your power needs with the simple calculation shown in our generator help article.Depending on the model and fuel type (diesel and propane are more efficient than gas), a generator can run anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days. If you prefer the "glamping" style of boondocking, you're probably going to want a generator to use devices like your hair dryer, espresso machine, and air conditioner.However, you may not like the noise, fumes, or limitations that come with a generator. Many campsites only allow generator use at specific times of day. Generators are also not designed for continuous use, so even if generator use is freely allowed, you can't run one 24/7. Plus, the constant noise kind of ruins the postcard-perfect nature experience of boondocking. This brings us to our next option below.
Solar Panels
SOLAR POWERSolar power charges your rig's battery bank (and does it silently) by converting power directly from the sun.Provided you have a large enough solar setup (read more about what that looks like here), solar power can last indefinitely if the weather is right. Solar panels don't require fuel, but they do require mild, sunny days to provide sufficient energy to power your camper. In fact, we recommend bringing along a backup generator even if you do have solar panels. It's a lifesaver on rainy days and those times you want to run the air conditioner or other high-power appliances. You may also want to consider a battery charger that can pull power from both solar panels and a vehicle alternator (such as Redarc's Manager30).Keep in mind, there is a LOT to know about solar power before you dive into it. Solar power can be a wonderful green source of energy that allows you to boondock to your heart's content. However, it can also be an ineffective setup that ends up wasting your money.If you're considering solar power, we highly recommend you check out our help articles on the subject to help determine if you're a good candidate for solar power, how much solar power you'd need, and what type of panels would be best for you.
Tips for Conserving Electricity While Boondocking
Sun
1. Become One With Nature
  • Take advantage of the brightest source of light—the sun. The closer you align your sleeping schedule to the sun's schedule, the more natural light you can take advantage of. For instance, if you usually read for an hour before bed, you might consider making this part of your morning routine instead.
  • Park in the shade if possible on hot days.
  • Avoid using high-power devices like hair dryers, coffee machines, etc. If possible, try preparing food and drinks the old-fashioned way—over a fire.
Light Bulb
2. Embrace Low-Power Alternatives
  • Replace inefficient bulbs with LEDs to save energy (how much energy? We answer that here).
  • Avoid using your furnace or air conditioner if you can help it. Try a portable fan with low power consumption or a propane-powered heater.
  • Try using battery-powered or power-efficient devices whenever possible. For instance, a tablet draws less power than a laptop and can easily be charged in your vehicle with a USB outlet. A flashlight only takes a couple of batteries, in contrast to a light bulb.
Power Inverter
3. Power Up & Power Down
  • Supplement your current battery bank with additional batteries. The more battery capacity you have, the longer you can rely on your battery bank to power your rig.
  • If using an inverter to charge your laptop, phone, etc, turn off the inverter when you're finished.
Still have questions?Give our experts a call at 800-298-8924, or contact us online. We're happy to assist any way we can!
Amber S.
About the AuthorAs a content writer for etrailer, I might spend my morning loading and unloading a bike on five different bike racks to figure out which is easiest to use. I might be in the parking lot, taking pictures of an impressive RV battery setup our techs came across in the shop and discussing the benefits of the setup with the owner. I might spend an afternoon in a manufacturer training classes for some hands-on experience with new products, and then sit down to assemble all this information into a coherent article.At etrailer, one of our core values is that we are always learning, and I learn something new every day. I start each morning with the goal in mind of taking all of this information and figuring out the best way to answer the questions people ask us (and the ones they don’t know to ask yet), and helping people get the solutions they need to make their lives easier, safer, and more fun. I’m a DIYer at heart, so it brings me great joy to help a fellow DIYer find what they’re looking for, whether that’s a product, an answer, or a community.
Related ArticlesRelated Products Written by: Amber S.Updated on: 3/11/2020

Questions and Comments about this Article

Dave G.

Great article!

Kempton H.

What a great article! Very helpful. Thanks!



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