When I conduct my dispersed camping seminars, I am typically asked what is the best RV for dry camping. While some types of RVs are more friendly for this type of RVing than others, the question really should be, “What should I look for in an RV if I want to use it for dry camping?”
Ready to set up a dry camp? The following are a series of features to look for or modify in an RV:
1. Freshwater capacity
We need water to drink, cook, and bathe. When you run out of freshwater in the sticks it’s typically time to break camp to get some more.
Therefore, large capacity freshwater tanks are critical. I would consider anything less than 60 gallons too small for an RVing couple.
Note: Some manufacturers include the water heater capacity in the total freshwater capacity listing, so make sure you’re getting the true freshwater tank capacity.
2. Gray tank capacity
The next capacity to be concerned about is the gray water holding tank. While there are ways to minimize wastewater and legal ways to dispose of it, a large capacity gray tank is ideal, handy, and an important feature to consider when choosing an RV for dry camping. You may also want to consider RV gray water recycling systems.
3. Room for batteries
Conserving battery power is vital when dry camping. While you can survive with just one battery, you will enjoy the road less traveled more comfortably with a larger battery bank. I recommend a minimum of two quality deep-cycle batteries. Therefore, make sure the RV you are looking at has a rack designed to hold two batteries.
4. Generator storage
Those new to dry camping will want a place to carry a generator. While solar power is definitely part of the dry camping experience, beginners will want to carry a generator until they learn to determine their consumption of power.
Some RVs have options for built-in generators, many do not. Remember, you don’t want to operate or store a generator in a compartment that is not airtight from the living space of the RV.
That leaves you with storing the generator in the bed of your pickup truck (for owner’s of towables), on the bumper of the RV or on the tongue of your RV if you have a travel trailer.
5. Ground clearance
I left this for last as many remote locations are accessible by most any vehicle. However, the more ground clearance you have, the more options you have in selecting a location. Quite often, good ground clearance gets you to the more isolated, scenic spots.
On a final note, I am sure many of you are asking what about the black tank? Running out of freshwater or filling your gray tank to capacity will happen long before your black tank needs dumping.
See also: 5 Boondocking Lessons: How To Camp In The Wild Like A Pro
Dave Helgeson’s many roles in the RV industry started before he even had a driver’s license. His grandparents and father owned an RV dealership before the term “RV” had been coined, and Dave played a pivotal role in nearly every position of an RV dealership. He and his wife Cheri launched their own RV dealership in the Pacific Northwest. The duo also spent 29 years overseeing regional RV shows. Dave has also served as President of a local chapter of the Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), worked on the board of advisors for the RV Technician Program of a local technical college, and served as a board member of the Manufactured Home and RV Association. Dave’s reputation earned him the title of “The foremost expert on boondocking,” bestowed by RV industry icon, the late Gary Bunzer (The RV Doctor). When he’s not out boondocking, you’ll find Dave in the spotlight at RV shows across the country, giving seminars about all things RVing. He and Cheri currently roam in their fifth travel trailer, with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications to his own unit.
Would think propane would also be a necessity…?
Dave Helgeson - Adventures in RVing says
Unless you are camping in real cold weather, propane will be the last consideration. Typically I am good for 2-3 weeks on one 7 gallon LP and my RV has two bottles on it.
If propane is the last consideration, why are you using it?
Our trailer is all-electric. We don’t have solar yet, and use a 110 ceramic space heater. I would think if you were going to dry camp, you’d need propane capacity!?
I’m guessing you thought I was asking about propane REFILLS. I wasn’t. I was suggesting you need propane capacity, with propane bottles and a propane heater & stove–which it sounds like you definitely have.
But not everyone has those. If you don’t, you need a generator or solar and to be hooked up properly with them for cooking and heating, or massive battery capacity and a full inverter-plug-in system.
I thought it was presumptuous of the article to assume “everyone” had propane and not even mention it. These days, it’s not a given!
The article very much did talk about generators.
You are correct, I was referring to refilling propane.
I was unaware any of the RV manufacturers were building an all electric trailer for recreational use.
Sorry for the assumption.
Our trailer is a 1973 fiberglass “egg” that we rebuilt with littel thought of dry camping. At this stage, we’re limited to campsites with electric hook-ups. Our microwave and heater require it.
There are a few fiberglass manufacturers (all-molded shells) that offer new, all-electric, especially some of the very newest ones. There aren’t many of these out there, and they don’t sell many trailers, but usually they run at more than full capacity. They’re just a smaller market than the standard camping rigs.
We saw one new one that was totally solar (with option to plug in) with built-in cooktop and heater that could run on solar–that takes some extensive solar panels, these were built on outside rather than being a simple DIY add-on.
Anyone who plans on doing dry-camping would do well to first make sure they either have great solar, a generator (which does require gasoline), and/or good propane!
We wouldn’t have gotten propane for a number of reasons, but if you plan on dry camping it’s possibly the #1 consideration–make sure you have the capacity. The article’s other five considerations are, of course, extremely important as well.
I agree totally with Dave
Most of us are guilty of ASSUMING propane. Clearly there are coaches with all electric systems, but you are normally a small minority of rver s, and, at least the full electrics that I have seen are usually well endowed with generators. Without a propane frig and propane heat, you do need to do some extra planning for dry camping. Good luck.
I have a double door refrigerator.In the summer the fridge will use a full 7 Lb tank in 3 days.I don’t like that but I do like the double freezer
Well nice ideas but will make camping more expensive.
Dave Helgeson - Adventures in RVing says
It might be to upgrade an existing RV with these features, but if you keep these features in mind when shopping for a RV, many RVs offer these features with little to no price increase.
Hi Dave, as a rookie I found this very helpful. I want a fairly small TT or 5W (~20-25′) but have noticed they have very small water and gray water capacities. Are there brands you recommend, or can something bigger be added? Thank you.
Dave Helgeson - Adventures in RVing says
Chris – Shop around, you should be able to find something with at least a 50 Gallon fresh water tank and a couple of 35 – 40 gallon holding tanks. My trailer is a 23ft (27ft with tongue) and it has a 60 gallon fresh water tank along with a 40 gallon black tank and 40 gallon gray tank. If your tow vehicle is a pick up truck you may consider another fresh water tank that you can carry in the bed of your truck. You can then just park the truck higher than the RV and gravity feed the water from the truck into the RV tank when needed.
Tractor Supply sells a 25 gallon tank with a 12 volt pump on it. Very handy gadget.
james boylstein says
where I go fishing I have to dry camp .I have a generator. there is a well at my campgrounds. what electric pump would anyone recommend to pump the water from the well (out of a bucket) to my rv.
That depends on what the well requires- for example my home well requires 240VAC and a fair amount of it.
Some wells may only require 110VAC but those are somewhat rare in my experience.
The more popular portable RV/low noise generators do not produce 240VAC
I have a 42′ 5er. We plan on doing some dry camping. Problem we have is we have 2 electric refrigerator’s. We have a 3000 watt inverter/charger & 4 6volt batteries (provisions to add another set). I have 1280 watts of solar panels with a 80 amp charge controller. We have 2 gray tanks for a total of 134 gal, 2 black for a total of 104 & 60 gal of fresh water. Propane is not a problem too. We use jugs of water for drinking. We have collapsible water jugs to add more fresh water as we need.
I’m looking forward to “popping my cherry” so to speak at dry camping soon. We plan on heading to Arizona to the BLM.
Is there anything that I may be missing?
Geronimo John says
I’ll focus on the transit part of your planned trips:
Be aware that with a 42 foot trailer your roads will need to be paved or exceptionally well maintained.
Practice turns with cones in a parking lot to get a good understanding of you rigs turning radius’ requirements.
be mindful that longer trailers do not like ditches and berms due to insufficient ground clearance issues.
Finally, is you must go off-road, please be especially careful in rain/mud situations as side slope can cause dire consequences.
Dave Botsford says
I have a Gen and propane in my 20 ft. class C. I use little electricity. And wear a headlamp for reading at night. Occasional tv or movie at night. My conservation tip is to put some grey water in black tank. I.e. after washing dishes or hands, in a dishpan, pour grey water down the toilet.
Thanx for your common sense tips
I have put 2 55 gal barrels in my truck. Put a valve near the bottom with a hose hook up. Had to cut the male end off the hose so it would fit into my water inlet on the camper. Also made a shelf out of 4 by 4s and plywood to get the valves higher than the camper inlet. Works get and didn’t cost much.
Charlene Edwards says
55 gals of water in a drum is alot of wieght to lift unless you are able to travel with the drums up on the 4x4s without it falling of
Dan Fowler says
There is a Scenario where the black tank matters. I have toilets in my new motorhome that simulate flushing. One has a high and low water flush, One has the worlds longest flush cycle. It does however has a switch that leaves it in manual mode.
We found with a couple of little kids dry camping with us that we filled the black water tank. Who knew? We then taught them how to low water flush which made it better. But even then the black water tank built up.
My point is with these new type of toilets, you need to manage the black water tank while dry camping
Suggest you turn the water switch off except when needed. If it’s yellow, it’s mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down. Also, put a pail in the shower to catch the water that is not hot yet, then use it later to flush your toilet.
“Running out of freshwater or filling your gray tank to capacity will happen long before your black tank needs dumping.”
Unless you discover after the fact like I did- that my shower dumps into the black tank.
So in our case we fill the black tank much faster than the grey which only has the kitchen sink. connected to it.
Great idea there Thor 🙁
We’ve always found black tank to be the first challenge of the three. Fresh, no problem. Gray, somewhat. Dumping black is what makes us have to leave. In a 41’ motor home.
wow propain issus !
i usely take off with out even checking my tanks lol… dont use very much
electricity i got a gen… i dont run it much….
batteries 2 6V never run out of power..
i use 2 100Watt solar 2000 watt windy nation inverter i have a stack of western DVD’s
dry camping is dry camping no plug in…. wow really . just shout id throw a bone there….
theres lots of ways to cut down on black water i have a honey wagon load it up take it out to the dump station ….
i have a EXTRA 20 gal fresh water tank taped in so i can use river water to flush wash and poop with .we dont drink it…..
we customized our 5th wheel puma its ho-me sweet ho-me
We carry 2 six gallon water jugs with spouts (Reliance Rhino Pak) that make filling side port on camper fast and easy. 12 gallons will last us at least a day, more if heavily conserving.. Also have a 5 gallon jug with tap which we typically keep outside on a table. Have considered getting an Aquatank2 if we were ever to need more capacity, for example camping in a very remote location. They look slick – available in many sizes, 30, 60 gallon, etc. One could fit in back of a truck or SUV and store easily when empty. Good feedback on Amazon – would be interested if anyone here has used.
Kenneth Brewer says
Some RVs do not have gray and black water tanks, of course, and combine them into 0ne tank, and have f0r years. These tend to be all electric coaches. They are not, therefore, badged as RVIAA compliant.