During our RV adventures across the Western U.S., my wife and I may go weeks without staying in a conventional campground with hookups. Dispersed camping in the boondocks is our preferred place to camp. It’s quiet, typically close to the places we want to explore, and the price is right.
While there many ways to save water when dry camping, sooner or later we need to fill up our fresh water tank. A lot of the times we fill our tank at the common and convenient locations, while other times we have been surprised by where we were able to find fresh water for dry camping.
1. Fuel stations
These are one of the most common places for us to find fresh water for dry camping. So, places like Pilot, Flying J, Travel America, and others will typically have a fresh water spigot available. But, if one is not readily available, just ask.
As a result, we find that most attendants will make an effort to meet your request. Additionally, on occasion, many mini-markets will have a janitor sink in the back where, with the attendant’s help, run your hose through the back door to the sink.
2. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service ranger stations
These areas typically have a faucet available for hikers and campers. Actually, the BLM station in remote Hanksville, Utah, has a very accessible faucet in the back that we have used on several occasions.
3. Rest stops
Many, especially those with dump stations, will often have a faucet for public use
4. Dump stations
Most have potable water available. Some are free, others have a fee.
5. National Parks
Sometimes water spigots are at the visitors center. If not, simply ask and a ranger will likely direct you to one. Even if you are not staying the night, most national park campgrounds will let you pull in and take on water. After all, you did pay the entrance fee to be in the park.
6. City, County, and State Parks
Water spigots are throughout these parks. While you always have to be cautious it’s potable water—and not for irrigation purposes—non-potable water spigots are typically labeled.
7. Any business you patronize
Don’t be afraid to ask after you have purchased propane, groceries or other products. In fact, we once filled up at a restaurant, another time at an Office Depot.
There are numerous passages in the Bible about thirst and water (John 7:37 for example). Stop by a church and ask the pastor or office staff if they would be kind enough to provide water to a stranger. You won’t be turned down.
How to successfully obtain water:
- Carry a Water Bandit or similar product. These allow an easy connecting to a non-threaded spigot.
- When asking for water, mention, “I am RVing, do you mind if I take on some water?” If you tell someone you need gallons they may think twice.
- Also, carry an extra length of water hose (or two) to reach those out of the way faucets.
- To ensure clean, safe drinking water for RVing, perhaps invest in an in-line water filter for your RV that can remove most contaminants and bacteria.
- Finally, use common courtesy and don’t forget to say “please” and “thank you!”
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.
Water thief or bandits should not be used.. there is a reason most of these places have non threaded spigots.. mostly due to limited water supply.. You fill up and for the rest of the day there is no water for anyone else
Thanks for a sensible, good-neighbor policy!!! Kudos.
that is why you ask first……it usually isn’t a question of limited supply for those spigots, but them not wanting to pay for the water. But by asking first, they probably won’t care.
It’s unfortunate how many people think the name, Water Bandit, implies water theft. Always ask permission, threaded spigot or not.
You’re right. Key word being “Bandit.” Stealing is stealing.
Mike Beaulieu says
Raymond is right, all that condensate that goes on the ground should be captured, filtered (only because the water comes down the gutters and can contain contaminants), this water is as pure as the air around, so if you can capture that water while running two A/Cs all day long, that’s quite a bit of water.
Raymond B Clark says
There is a company in Florida that makes water coolers that get their water from the air using a dehumidifier.
I’m surprised RV makers don’t use this and the A/C drip to fill the freshwater tank
Helen Schultz says
You haven’t seen how filthy my rv dehumidifier quickly gets.
I can see using the AC condensate for dish washing or to fill the toilet, but I do not think the condensate is truly potable water. Given the air flow over the units I would think it would contain considerable contaminates and bacteria.
Just saying you need to be cautious
Marc Rodstein says
Well and good to take on water but where do you dump your waste? Most dump stations have a potable water faucet.
Rob Woodward says
Terry Hennessy says
(Most) dump stations have a NON-potable; if potable, they separate by some distance to prevent the IDIOTS from putting bad things into good water; there are MANY videos of these violations on youtube that will make your skin crawl and wonder how those people still survive death?
Will Barnett says
That was covered . . . read the article next time.
I can’t imagine asking to take on water without offering to pay. These places have to pay for their water.
Dave K. says
The words “take on” would make me think twice, as that sounds like a lot.
Billy Bob Thorton says
So, what should be a fair price to pay for public water supplied through pipes and mains, 10 cents gallon?
Not So Free says
re: #3 and 4.
Make sure it is potable. You can’t know for sure at dump stations. Some hoses aren’t marked.
Mike Beaulieu says
In McAllen TX at HEB we pay 25cents a gallon as I recall, It’s Reverse Osmosis but it’s potable water. So if you have a 30 gallons tank, It’s a pretty cheap fill up still.
Jon Olsen says
Great ideas but I would offer to pay like $5-10
I agree with paying for your water. I think asking others to subsidize our RV lifestyles is in bad taste and gives us all a leach-like bad reputation.
Every party needs a pooper, that’s why we invited you……Party Pooper….
Mike Beaulieu says
We have found water at a restaurant next to the place we parked for the night which happens to also be a restaurant, but since there were no spigot in the back of the restaurant we parked at, I looked around at the other place and there was a young man washing some pots and pans in the back of the restaurant, so I asked him if we could fill up and he said sure. So we let him finish his work while I move the 5th wheel to the back of the other restaurant, took out our hose then I asked him to disconnect the hose he was using, connected our hose and filled up. We were considering having breakfast there the next morning to thank them for being so nice but they opened to late, we would be on the road for 2 hours by then.
Steve Hericks says
I disagree with the ‘water bandit’s facilitate theft’ comment/intent. In my experience, most of the time you find a non-threaded spigot, It is to keep some RV’er from monopolizing a public spigot by hooking it to his ‘city water’ inlet (in a campground) long term or using it to wash his rig (making a mudhole around the tap), both at the expense of everyone else. I believe the intent is to avoid situations where RV’ers abuse an opportunity. If you agree, then you likely agree the intent is not violated to use the bandit to get water into your tank then leave. I don’t think the ‘scarce resource’ idea has any merit.
On the issue of ‘water theft’, lets put some numbers to it and know what the costs are. At my home in CA, I pay $1.13/hundred cubic feet for water. This amounts to $0.00155/gallon. I’d bet that California water is on the expensive end of municipal water rates. At this rate, The cost of filling my 40 gallon truck camper is $.062. I cannot see how a reasonable person can see that as a significant expense for a business to bear (rising to the level of ‘theft’). It probably costs more than that in toilet paper for your use of the bathroom just once. Furthermore, as marketing expenses go, its likely a hugely cost-effective producer of good will. What I think we have here is the offended class making an issue about which they have no knowledge, and hope you don’t either.
Lastly, ‘Taking on some water’ IS deceptive. It is intended to obscure how much you plan to get. I see nothing wrong with that. What I say is ‘Do you mind if I top off my water’. It is equally deceptive. BUT, what I am trying to do is to eliminate that alarm bell from ringing in the uneducated mind that results in their saying ‘no’ simply because they don’t know. I am not trying to ‘take advantage’ of a business or employee because I know how much $ I will actually be getting and am quite sure that if they did too, there would not be a problem. I would certainly be willing to pay 2-5x the actual cost of the water but I doubt anyone who is in a position to need to name a price, actually knows their cost. Many places that do have a set price are often asking 20x-50x their cost which I think is unreasonable and could/should be seen as price gouging.
Will Bennett says
He was probably an employee with no authority to give the owners water away and you were basically stealing and he couldn’t have cared less.
I very strongly agree…… the actual cost of the water is insignificant, but if the place is in a spot where it gets asked a LOT if they can supply some water, and they ARE willing to let people fill up, they will incure unreasonable costs over time…. and then the upkeep of the area, as there are many inconsiderate people who feel if they have to pay for the water they take on, then whoever owns the place can clean it up…. so its possible that the cost, however unreasonable it may seem, is justified…. what really sucks is when you have an rv park, like one in McDermitt, NV, that has a very nice and easy accessable dump station and water spigot right near the highway, but wont allow you to take on any water (or dump the tanks), at any reasonable cost, unless you are a guest at their park…..
I don’t understand how you can say your stealing water if it’s from a public place and you ask?? All water should be free.
Rocco Valdina says
Apparently, the term “Water Bandit” congers up the vision or thought of somehow “Stealing” water. The “Water Bandit” product is sold at Camping Supply and Campground Stores. It is shaped like a small funnel and made of soft, flexible rubbert. it’s purpose is to slip over a faucet that might have non-standard or stripped threads. Also used to make a fast and easy connection without the need to fumble around with getting a water tight fit and possibly stripping the treads on your water hose. Water Bandits are used even when “taking on water” is authorized and in no way has anything to do with “stealing”. It’s just a clever marketing term for a unique product. So says a New Jersey Cop…
Trina Stephenson says
Water is not free. The cost of drilling a well and maintaining a well pump as well as getting permits is as much as $20,000 in the desert southwest for one home and there are limits to the amount you can draw. If you are on a public water supply there is usually a cost for gallon plus my current water bill has a monthly well fee, a water conservation fee, a water fee, sales tax, and a separate water usage fee. Definitely Not FREE! My water and sewer bill exceeds my electric bill every month and I use much less than 2,000 gallons per month.
Carol B says
I also found a dump station and water at a county fairground in Texas. I’m assuming many others have a similar camp area for their vendors during events. Dumping and water were free. II didn’t ask about camping there. Just a big gravel area but good for an overnight stay.
Potable water is often available at municipal airports (sometimes overnight parking as well), fair grounds, and hospitals as well as sewerage treatment facilities.
Mike Sainz says
Tipically water is 15 cents per 1000 gallons plus a $15 monthly fee or 1/2 of a cent to top off a 40 gallon tank.
A cashiers time is around 33 cents a minute in total cost to a store owner.
I usually buy something and overpay or donate or drop 50 cents in the change tray.
In Canada the free rural municipal dump stations have a rubber spigot without threads.
How do you feel about taking on stream or lake water, in sufficient volume, given that it’s not in a polluted body of water and you have a purification device? Is sticking with city or town water still a better bet normally ?
Taking without asking is stealing, asking and being given permission is not. Charging 20 to 50 times cost is gouging but that is free enterprise at work. You are not compelled to buy it. $5 dollars for a 50-100 gallons is reasonable when you consider the convenience also being offered. YMMV. If the next guy 20 miles down the road is offering it free, is it worth the time and the $5 in fuel to go get it.(~10mpg=2 gal @2.50/gal. not including the return trip if needed) You gotta weigh everything not just the actual price of the water.
Terese Sundseth says
I love traveling through Canada in my RV! The free municipal dump stations are a treasure!
james Babeshoff says
I agree there are many places you can ask for water for your RV. I offer to pay for the water first if they say no then I try not to make a mess. If it is a church I make a donation say $5 dollars. Many parks have water available just bring enough hoses and a water filter. As for drinking water I buy those gallon jugs ay Walmart for 85 cents a piece.
In any case ask first and only take enough for what you need.
What about 5 gallon water bottles. Can get them refilled and can pay for them no problem. most grocery stores around me have them not sure about very rural areas.
If you are boondocking, 9 out of 10 people will not be running an air conditioner unless they run a generator non stop to power it.
Kevin C. says
I believe that code calls for an anti-siphon devise on a spigot. I have seen the non-threaded spigots without an anti-siphon device because you can’t have it siphon without a house attached. Think of someone using it to flush their black tank and having it siphon back into the potable water system, not good.