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Whether you’re a frequent RVer or the most inexperienced novice, it’s likely you’ve heard the term “boondocking.” You may have even done it, out of desire or necessity. Whatever the reason, it’s a fact of RV travel and one that every RVer should understand.

Boondocking is a term used to describe RVing without being connected to water, electric, or sewer. Because you’re not connected to any services it’s also called “dry camping.” Other terms you might see refer to boondocking are free camping and wild camping. Essentially, there are three different types of boondocking :

  1. The Overnight Stay: This form of boondocking consists of two subgroups: Wallydocking and Moochdocking. Once you know what they are, it’s pretty easy to figure out how they got their names.
  • At some point, it’s likely you’ll stay overnight at a Walmart, either to rest or due to bad driving weather. There are other potential stopping places for RVers, including truck stops, rest areas, visitors’ centers, even apartment complexes. However, Walmart is the most popular option for a number of reasons (monitored security being one). Voila – you’re now Wallydocking. If you go this route, we recommend that you follow a “courteous visitor” policy, which would include actions such as:
  • Informing the store personnel that you will be staying in the lot overnight.
  • Parking in an out-of-the-way spot.
  • Making sure you don’t leave any trash.
  • Shopping in the store or eating in the restaurant as your way to say “thank you.”
  • Positively avoiding any tank dumping in your host’s parking lot.
  • Leaving as early as possible to give another RVer a shot at the spot.
  • You might make a quick visit to a friend or relative along your travel route. Before you know it, it’s gotten pretty late. At that point, you spend the night in your RV in your friend’s driveway. And now you’re Moochdocking.
  1. Developed Campground, No Hook-Ups: RVing at developed campgrounds can still be boondocking. It’s not uncommon to find campgrounds, even private campgrounds, offering RV campsites without any hook-ups.
  2. Undeveloped Campsite: Boondocking in an undeveloped campsite, or primitive campsite, is what comes to mind for most people when they think of boondocking. With this type of boondocking, you’re completely off-grid and need to be entirely self-reliant. Although this type of boondocking requires the most planning, it can be the most rewarding.

You Still Need Water

Even on a boondocking trip, you still need water. So where do you get it? How do you conserve it? How do you make sure it’s clean?

Your freshwater tank is likely to be the primary source of water while living in your RV. The size of freshwater tanks in RVs varies significantly. Some hold as little as 10 gallons, others can be 100 gallons or higher. A 45-gallon tank should be enough for a couple of people for a few days, up to about a week, depending on how much you use.

The best way to judge how long your tank will last while boondocking is to go on a camping trip without hooking into water. Go about your daily life and see how long it lasts. Be sure to check the tank’s water levels frequently and learn to adjust your water usage to conserve more appropriately.

How you conserve is up to you, but it makes sense to cut back on the activities that use the most water, which are typically dishes, showers and boiling water for coffee/tea, so those are great places to start.

  • Dishes: Wipe dishes with a paper towel before washing, and only fill your sink halfway.
  • Showers: Take shorter ones and turn the water on and off throughout the shower.
  • Coffee/Tea: Try to measure how much water you’ll need for the number of cups you’re making. If you use more than you need, it’ll likely just get dumped out.
  • Toilets: A low-flow RV toilet will save a significant amount of water.

There are certainly ways to supplement your water supply during a boondocking excursion, such as bringing water jugs and refilling at a convenience store, restaurant, or RV campground (sometimes for a small fee), and RV dumpsites. Remember to bring extra water jugs so you can do an adequate refill. When filling your RV tank from a jug, use a funnel and pour the water from the jug right into the tank fill-up.

In terms of water filtering, it is usually considered a “best practice” to filter after fill-up, especially with water from a public source. Public-source water has been treated with chlorine. Keeping the chlorine intact will help keep the water fresh and free of bacteria and can be filtered later for better taste and odor control. 

If it is filtered before, and the chlorine is removed, it is recommended that the water be used quickly; you should subsequently sanitize your tank at the end of your trip or before your next trip.

A Clean Tank Is a Healthy Tank

As noted earlier, however, your onboard freshwater tank is going to be your main source of fresh water for a variety of uses. Consequently, it’s important to ensure that your tank is as clean and free of bacteria and contaminants as possible.

One surefire way to protect against bacteria growth is the use of a good, inline water filter such as the CLEAR2O® RV and Marine Inline Water Filter. Not only does it take out a number of harmful contaminants, it works at a 1-micron level. So, the vast majority of bacteria that can lead to problems never even make it into your freshwater tank.

Another method to keep your freshwater tank clean is to use that water regularly. Even if you are hooked up to a campground water supply, get in the habit of using the water from your fresh water tank (shut off the campground faucet and turn on your water pump), and then refill the tank as needed. You do not have to put your hose away to accomplish this.

It’s the exact same process as camping in freezing weather. You fill up the freshwater tank, disconnect the water hose, and live out of your freshwater tank. When your tank gets low, get out the hose and fill the tank again - you can do this indefinitely.

Boondocking is sort of an automatic method of forcing you to use that fresh water. Ultimately, you should use any process that forces you to regularly use the contents of the freshwater tank. Full-timers and those who do lots of boondocking can go quite a while without experiencing freshwater tank odors or problems.

If your freshwater tank is older, or if it’s been sitting in your stored RV for a while, it may begin to harbor bacteria. As a result, the tank can develop an unpleasant smell or make your drinking water taste bad. You can solve this problem with a diluted bleach solution, but if you’d prefer to avoid bleach, there are other options, including bleach-free cleaning solution, vinegar, and baking soda.

Beyond ordinary bacteria, organic material such as biofilm, which can be harmful to your health and also cause problems in the flow-rate and longevity of your system can build up in little-used RVs. Biofilms form when bacteria adhere to surfaces by excreting a slimy, glue-like substance, and can include algae, protozoa, and other microorganisms. Regular cleaning of water tanks is a must to help prevent the development of biofilms. And again, the use of a high-quality inline filter will reduce the incidence of biofilms significantly.

You may be away from civilization and enjoying the beauty of nature when you’re boondocking. But don’t let that beauty blind you to the importance of having a regular, clean supply of nature’s most valuable resource.

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