How to Conserve Water While Boondocking

In January 2017, we threw caution to the wind and decided to join in on the Escapee’s Xscapers QuartzsiteConvergence.  We ‘camped’ with approximately 70+ other Campers and RV’ers rounded up in a single location on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) to boondock in Quartzsite, Arizona. Yes, we camped…meaning, we “boondocked”…meaning, as in being self contained…living off the grid…with no utilities. It was just us in our RV with no tethers to shore power or hoses. OH, but there was so much more to that story…
Thinking we were well prepared, we’ve actually faced one of our toughest challenges not only as RV’ers but also as a married couple.

It came down to one word:  WATER

Did you know:

  • 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water
  • 5 oceans
  • 117 million lakes
  • 165 major rivers
  • Countless streams, springs, and ponds.
  • The oceans alone hold 97% of all of the Earth’s waters which is undrinkable without desalinization and treatment.
  • Only about .3% of our Earth’s fresh water is found on the earth’s surface in rivers, lakes, swamps and ponds.
  • Over 68 percent of the fresh water on Earth is found in icecaps and glaciers.
  • Just over 30% is found in ground water.
  • Of all the water on Earth, more than 99% is unusable for consumption.

Think about that a moment…

So, what does Earth Science have to do with our RVing?

Three years ago, when we purchased our first fifth wheel, we never really gave much thought about our holding tank capacities because we didn’t really entertain the thought of boondocking except for an occasional stop-over at a Casino, Cabela’s or Home Depot parking lot for the night.


Our dream just three short years ago was to travel and stay in some posh park or resort and tether our coach to utilities; water, electric and sewer; also known as FHU (Full Hook Ups).  Now, we have become interested in going a complete 180; living off the grid. As we have learned, boondocking is not for everybody and let us tell you why.


 When you purchase a camper or RV, it has three tanks; fresh water tank (potable drinking water), gray tank (used water in your system) and black tank (human waste). Depending on size of your camper or RV will dictate size of your tanks; the bigger your coach, the bigger your tanks are.  But make no mistake, even the largest RV’s have their limits.
If you’ve never boondocked or plan to, this is a must-read…


Our 5th wheel’s fresh water tank holds 80 gallons, gray tank holds 90 gallons and our black tank holds 45 gallons.



Our black tank (yellow and brown stuff) is going to need water for dilution. We never ever want a dry black tank of ‘just’ human waste or we’re going to literally be in deep doodoo.  Its called ‘piling’ or for a lack of better phrase, ‘piled clumped dry crap’. To alleviate that, of that 45 gallons, at least one quarter of that will be water to dilute the crap.


Normally, we are going to procure that water to flush from your fresh water tank or from a campground, park, or resort water hookup and if we are on sewer hookup, once every few days or so, depending on use, we’re simply going to pull the valve to flush it down into the premises’ holding tanks or sewer. Each tank has a gauge (control panel inside) that is supposed to alert monitor levels but in our experience, they are never accurate.  Crap and toilet paper may get stuck on the sensors inside.



That said, when boondocking for extended time periods, we are completely reliant on all of our tanks and systems’ efficiencies.  Prior arriving at our boondocking site, we need to completely fill our water tank and empty both; our gray and black tanks and treat our black tank with chemicals (to break down the sludge (crap).


Along with filling and emptying the water/sewage, we’re fill our propane (for heat, stove, oven and refrigeration) and top off our generator fuel tank(s) which is used to power our coach.  We’ve learned that having a water bladder and extra fuel tanks for our generator(s) needs is a plus.


That’s considered being ‘self-contained’.  This is where the fun begins. This is a critical time where it’s all about water conservation and energy management.  We’ve come to realization of just how precious every drop of H2O, fuel and propane is…and our willingness, patience and adaptability of not only ourselves but each other.


When we lived in our S&B’s (Sticks & Bricks house), we never thought twice about running the faucet in the kitchen until it got really hot for doing dishes or really cold for a drink of water. Mindlessly, we let it run while rinsing dishes or brushing our teeth.  It took this experience to pay attention to how wasteful we were with water. Boondocking changed that.

Boondocking is state of mind!


We officially became boondockers or off-the-grid RVers.  Now, we plan and measure ever drop of water without even giving second thoughts.

Every ounce counts!!

So, now that we’ve talked about the science and engineering, let’s talk about our personal perspective and tips.


The morning before we left the comforts of FHU’s (full hookups), we took long hot showers.  Yes, we wasted lots and lots of hot water but hey, we made up for it when we boondocked. The night before, we did the last bit of laundry.  We left the comforts of FHU’s squeaky clean and with clean clothes.


The first days of our boondocking experience were ‘ops normal’…until…
We had to sit down together and do some math and put our collective minds to adapt and improvise. We planned on boondocking a week but because we were having such a great time networking with the Xscapers, so we had to come up with our own plan of water conservation:


      • Saved our fresh water tank for “sea showers”, occasional short rinsing of dishes and toilet flushing.
      • Took ‘sea showers’ every other or every two days depending on our physical activity; just like on ships we served on in the Coast Guard.  Step in…turn water on to rinse…shut water off…soap lather…turn water on to rinse and done.  We used approximately only 3 gallons each.  When we sponge-bathed, we only used a third to a half gallon of water each.  Since it was not hot and humid and we didn’t work up sweats, this worked for us.
      • Instead of washing our hands with soap/water, we bought Lysol Antibacterial wipes ($6 for 2 containers for water closet and kitchen) and used baby wipes.


      • Purchased 15 individual gallon jugs of fresh drinking water ($15).  We picked up extras as we needed from the grocery or dollar store.


      • Washed and rinsed our dishes in two separate dishpans.  Our clean rinse water became our wash water the next time we did dishes.
      • Heated water in a pan on the stovetop instead of allowing it to wastefully run down the drain while waiting for it to get hot.
      • We washed each other’s hair in the sink every other day using only jug water. Again, we heated water on the camp stove and mixed it in a bowl with the room temperature water from our jugs.  Each hair washing only took one gallon each as both of us have short hair. We also used dry shampoo.
      • Used our little red baskets with parchment paper liners or paper plates to alleviate necessity of washing dishes.


    • We wiped our Corelle plates and bowls after meals with our used napkins.
    • We saved washing our dishes to only once a day to conserve water.

     Things we will do differently, add or modify in the future:

    • Purchase a water bladder and install RV fittings to be able to get larger quantity of water for longer term boondocking. (DONE January 2018)
    • Install a more efficient tank monitor system
    • Buy more beer.  It saves on water consumption…and all this math stuff…well, we needed more beer!


  • So, as see, boondocking takes a bit of science and sacrifice as well as love and understanding added in the mix.  We are still married and did not run out of water nor starve.  In fact, we’re proud of ourselves for having faith and knowing we could do it.  Its something we all have to prepare and plan for…even if we’re NOT boondocking or living in an RV.

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