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Did you know that 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water? There are 5 oceans, 117 million lakes, 165 major rivers and countless streams, springs, and ponds. The oceans alone hold 97% of all of the Earth’s waters which is undrinkable without desalinization and treatment.
Surprisingly, only about .3% of our Earth’s fresh water is found on the earth’s surface in rivers, lakes, swamps and ponds. And, over 68 percent of the fresh water on Earth is found in icecaps and glaciers.
But the big number is of all the water on Earth, more than 99% is unusable for consumption.
Think about that a moment. If that doesn’t make you really think about how precious potable drinking water really is? If not, it should! This is how we learned the hard lesson of how to conserve water. Because realistically, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, about 1.7 trillion gallons of water are wasted every year.
How to Conserve Water While Boondocking
When we purchased our first fifth wheel in February of 2014, we never really gave much thought about our holding tank capacities. We figured that being hooked to utilities is what RVing is all about. We certainly didn’t know how to conserve water.
Our original dream as new RVers was to stay in nice campgrounds or posh RV parks being tethered full hookups (water, electric and sewer). But, it didn’t take but a couple years later to discover what great enjoyment we’d find in true boondocking.
To us, boondocking was one of those unicorn terms RVers used loosely that meant an occasional stop at a Walmart parking lot for the night.
Well, weren’t we just silly dummies back then?
Actually, parking at Walmart or other big parking lots is called LOTdocking. BOONdocking is when you find a secluded or dispersed camping location to park your RV for days, weeks or even months. It’s a way of saving money and saving sanity; getting away from the crowds and enjoying a bit of nature.
Looking back now, we admit that we failed miserably at our first boondocking experience. It was all because we didn’t really know how to conserve water which forced us back to the RV park to try to reason with each other.
Was this boondocking life really for US? Well, I guess there’s only one way to skin this cat (no offense Krissie and Kandi). That is to learn everything about boondocking which, starts with knowing our holding tanks and all that goes into them.
Knowing Your RV Holding Tanks
I seriously just laughed out loud as I typed those four words above. Because to be quite honest, I’m glad it’s just a distant memory. But, boy have we learned through the years of what real boondocking is and how to make the best of our experience.
And let me tell you, that whole boondocking thing is not for everybody!
When purchasing an RV, you’ll know that it has three tanks; fresh water tank (potable drinking water), gray tank (used water in your system) and black tank (human waste).
The size of your motorhome or camper typically dictates the size of your RV’s holding tanks. In other words, the bigger your coach, the bigger the tanks. But make no mistake, even the largest RV’s have their limits.
Also, each tank has a gauge (control panel inside) that is supposed to alert monitor levels of usage and capacity. However, in our experience, they are never accurate. All that crap and toilet paper gets stuck on the sensors inside. In turn, it gives false readings.
So, that’s why it’s so important to monitor your holding tank levels down to the last drop. The more you RV and boondock, the more you’ll become proficient at knowing exactly when to pull the lever.
But, what about your water tank?
Let’s use our RVs as an example:
Our former fifth wheel’s fresh water tank holds 82 gallons. The gray tank holds 90 gallons and our black tank holds half at 45 gallons.
Now, our small Class C Winnebago motorhome’s fresh water tank holds 30 gallons of water. And our gray tank takes in 36 gallons while our black tank holds 40 gallons.
Our onboard water will be used for drinking, cooking, hand washing, dishwashing, showering, and flushing the toilet.
Now, when hooked up to utilities at a campground, we typically use much more water. But when we’re boondocking, it’s a whole different ball game. Every ounce counts!
“how on earth does one conserve their water while boondocking off the grid if we have to do all that with our water and survive?”
Preparing to Boondock
First, let’s just review how we prepare our RV to boondock.
The night before, we do the last bit of laundry and we both take long hot hotel showers. Yes, we waste lots of hot water but hey, we’ll make up for it when we boondock. I’ll give a good interior cleaning and oftentimes, Dan will give our RV a good bath.
After doing all of that, we completely fill our water tank. We also empty and flush both; our gray tank and black tank.
On our way out, we find a place to fill our propane that’s used for heat, cooking and hot water. Lastly, we top off all of our fuel tanks in our vehicles, RV and generators. We also fill a small gas can to keep extra fuel for our portable generators (when we had the fifth wheel).
Our first boondocking experience
But all that boondocking preparation I described above, that’s not really how it happened our first time. We were so ill-prepared, we were literally like fish out of the water. And that’s why we failed at boondocking our first time. We originally planned on boondocking for a week. But I digress.
Dan and I had to sit down, do a little soul searching (because we yelled at each other…A LOT), figure a little math and put our collective minds together to figure this whole boondocking thing out. We military types call it adapt and overcome.
That’s how we prepare our RV for boondocking. May the games begin!
How to Conserve Water While Boondocking or Camping Off Grid
We typically save our fresh water tank for dishwashing, toilet flushing and sea showers (we Coasties refuse to call them Navy showers). Here’s how we conserve water:
Took sea showers every other or every two days depending on our physical activity and if it was hot and sticky outside. We sponge-bathed between those times. Sponge bathing only uses a third to a half gallon of water each.
Instead of washing our hands with soap/water, we bought antibacterial hand wipes and used baby wipes. Except when we went to the bathroom; hot soapy water always! In fact, before setting out on our boondocking adventure, I always stock up on three or four canisters.
So, as you can 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.
What’s a Sea Shower?
A sea shower is a maritime term that dictates how short a shower will be and how little water you use. Simply step in the shower stall, turn the water on only enough to rinse your hair. Shut water off using the shower head water saver shut off valve. Lather and scrub your hair and scalp. Turn the valve to rinse your hair and whole body. Shut water off. Soap and lather all your body parts. Turn water only enough to rinse your body.
Voila! That’s a sea shower! If you do it as I just posted, a sea shower uses less than 3 gallons of water. So, figure that into your water computations.
It’s tempting to just allow the water to run while washing and rinsing your dishes. However, when boondocking, that’s a huge no no. That’s wasting what little precious water you have.
So, you’ll need to get two dishpans; one for washing and the other for rinsing your dishes. Also, you’re not going to fill your dishpans up. Really, I only fill them half way with water.
Now, instead of wasting water while waiting for it to get hot, just use that water for your rinse tub. Again, only fill your wash tub until it gets hot. Then, throw a little dish soap in the wash dishpan and only fill half way with the hot water.
Now, what I do before putting our dirty dishes into my wash tub is I wipe the remaining food and oils from your dishes with a used napkin. Only after do I put the wiped dishes into the hot soapy wash water.
After washing each dish, I put them in my rinse dishpan.
Now, here’s another boondocking tip. Do not toss your rinse water. After all, it’s just clean water with maybe a few suds. I save that water for my next dishwashing as my wash water. Only then, I’ll heat a few cups of clean water on the stove and dump into the wash water so it’s hot to clean. And then, I just repeat the process with the rinse water again.
Okay, I know this is sort of taboo but hey, I want to share as many boondocking water conservation tips possible to save you from the same strife we endured.
Now, while I mentioned earlier in this article that we generally use our water tank to include toilet flushing, we do have another tip should your water tank be on the short side.
When boondocking or camping off grid, we sometimes won’t use our potable water in our tank to flush the toilet if we’re running low on H2O.
Instead, we take our collapsible water jugs to fill up wherever potable water sources are available. We use those for dishwashing or flushing the toilet. Using that method also controls how actual water we dump in the toilet because we can see it.
That said, we are always conscious of using enough water to prevent the God-fearing poop pyramid.
I just cannot stand dirty counters and tables. So, instead of wasting water to dampen and lather a dish cloth, I keep a container of multi-surface antibacterial wipes.
These are different from the hand wipes I mentioned above. I go through several a day; before and after meals, before and after preparing our meals and one final wipe down after the dishes are washed, dried and put away.
I also use them for cleaning up cat garf and wiping down our outdoor camping gear.
Exterior RV Cleaning
It’s no secret that we’ve found an amazing waterless RV cleaner that requires no water to do it’s job! So, whenever Dan feels compelled, out of boredom or if our RV is dirty, he’ll grab our waterless spray wash and soft cleaning cloth.
How we get water without moving our RV
It didn’t take us too long to realize that it was a pain in the behind having to pick up everything and drive/pull our RV just to go get fresh potable water. As the saying goes, “if there’s a will, there’s a way”.
We found a collapsible water bladder that we can take in our Ram truck or Jeep and fill at a clean potable water source. Then, we bring it back and dispense it into our RV.
Now, I know you’re probably wondering, how do we get rid of all this water that we’ve put into our gray and black tanks without moving our RV? Well, low and behold, we figured out a solution for that too (link below).
That’s a Wrap!
So I hope you learned at least a few things from this article of how to conserve water. Here’s the thing though. There may be times when you camp or park at a campground that only has a dump station instead of sewer hookups. Or, if you take in a few overnights at Harvest Hosts or Boondockers Welcome locations.
Lastly, these same tips can be applied even if you are hooked up to utilities because it gives you good practice and of course, makes you more environmentally mindful of how precious that 1% of our globe’s consumable water really is.
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