Water, Water…

Posted January 15, 2019 – Narrated by Jim

To listen to the podcast, click the play button

“Water, water, every where,
      Nor any drop to drink.”

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (audio) a poem about survival on the sea, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (full text)

Two adults. Fourteen days. 59 gallons of water. Good times!

Water is an albatross – a mixed blessing for travelers – a precious commodity but a burden to carry and maintain.

Partnering with water rather than fighting it or just giving in to bottled water is the key to making RV travel an adventure rather than a nightmare.

Whether we’re dry-camping through Paso Robles wine country or boondocking in Quartzsite, some of our best memories were made possible with water purification and water conservation technology and techniques.

RV water conservation
Dry camping at Shuswap Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada

No water source? No plug-ins? No sewer? No problem!

Sure, campgrounds with full-hookups are nice but this is what our Beauty was made for …

RV water conservation
Boondocking at Serenova Tract, Land O’Lakes.

Free or almost-free campsites without hookups are usually more remote, scenic and quiet. Far from the hubbub, free public lands and Harvest Hosts are our preferred destinations.

Hiking, wildlife viewing and a serene natural landscape appeal to us more than what is offered in most developed campgrounds.

RV water conservation
LIB boondocking at Water Canyon Recreation Area: Winnemucca, Nevada. Nearest neighbor was ¼ mile away.

Off-grid camping is better than a crowded, rundown, full-hookup “resort” where the rules prohibit line-drying our laundry.

RV water conservation
Boondocking on BLM land on Walker Lake, Nevada – no neighbors for 5 miles

Successful dry-camping is a cheap thrill.

We’re still learning, but we’ve managed to live comfortably for 14-day periods without replenishing our tank – so, that’s enough of a record to share what we’ve learned about conservation, technology, techniques and equipment on the three big issues: Water, power, and waste storage.

In Vinnie Lamica and That Lucky Old Sun, we shared our power solutions so, this post will focus on potable water. Here’s a post about our black water tank protocols.

RV water conservation
Dry camping in the Grand Tetons – 11 days on 59 gallons of water

No Bottled Water

Bottled water would be a huge inconvenience for LIB – everything from the expense, bulk and waste. For us, fresh, free water filtered into our tank from a potable source is the answer to our hydration, bathing and cooking needs. With periodic tank flushes and solid filtering technology we are free from the hassles of store-bought water – and our water is delicious!

Conservation serves our lifestyle.

The average person in the United States uses 80 to 100 gallons of water per day. While boondocking, we average 2-4 gallons per person, per day. But even in places where we have 24-hour access to water we average only 4-8 gallons per day. At this point, it’s effortless to camp 7-8 days without replenishing our tank.

14 days on 59 gallons …

… that’s our best achievement to date – accomplished in August 2018 at Jasper National Park, Whistlers Campground.

RV water conservation
Whistlers Campground in Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada

UPDATE: We also managed 14 days on 59 gallons of water at Big Bend National Park in March 2019, Little River State Park in November 2019, and 12 days at Dead Horse Point State Park in September 2020.

Does that sound impossible?

That personal record impressed us quite a bit until Carmen’s dad shared that he and my mother-in-law, Pat, did that in Alaska twelve years ago. They have the advantage – those from an era when indoor plumbing and free-flow water was a luxury.

RV water conservation
Bureau of Land Management – Quartzsite, Arizona

But it’s like learning to ride a bike – once water conservation is in your bones, you never forget it.

We think it’s fun to rein in wasteful water behaviors so we can venture further out into the world. And, having water conservation skills can be potentially life-saving during crisis conditions.

Water rationing during serious droughts and toxic blooms like the one we experienced in Salem, Oregon last summer are now common. But, with some teamwork, advanced planning, routines that border on the religious, and some specialized equipment, our water use puts us at ease that our LIB lifestyle is sustainable.

Here are our tips:

Begin with a potable water source and a filter.

All our water is filtered by a Clearsource water filter system. This system not only cleans the water and removes bad tastes and smells, it removes bacteria like e. coli and legionella, cysts like giardia, viruses, heavy metals (like lead and mercury), petrochemicals, and trace pharmaceuticals

We change the filter every 3 months with the Clearsource Premium filters.

To assure the water is flowing slow enough into the Clearsource system, we use a water pressure regulator attached to the water hose before it reaches the filter.

We use this Flexzilla Drinking Water Safe Hose to fill our fresh water tank.

Filter twice

In addition to filtering ‘all’ of our water, we have a secondary under-sink system. Drinking and cooking water is filtered through the Seagull IV.

RV water conservation

Consistent water flavor! Whether we’re in San Diego, Canada or Florida, our water tastes the same with the Seagull IV combined with the ClearSource system!

The Seagull filter is changed annually with the General Ecology Seagull IV Replacement cartridge.

Don’t hook up!

  • We never hook-up to a water source. Rather, we use a potable water hose to refill our fresh water tank.
  • WHY (many ask)?
  • First, we live in our trailer full-time so constant use of our fresh water tank guarantees a fresh, properly filled and filtered tank.
  • Second, hooking up to a water source can flood our trailer. Pipes can break – especially in vehicles that go bumping over graveled roads and railroad tracks. A pipe break would be a catastrophe if it happened while hooked up while we were out on an all-day hike. But any potential leaks would impose minimal damage when not hooked up.
  • And, third, we always travel with a full tank. Though we usually have some idea where we’ll spend the night, our plans tend to get mushy when we have a blowout, truck water pump failure, catalytic converter breakdown, or when there’s a craft brewery alert on our GPS. A full tank of fresh water is road hazard insurance.

“Think Water”

  • Every time we wash our hands, flush the toilet, cook, do the dishes, fill the ice maker, bathe Pico or wipe down the countertops, we are mindful of our water limitations and recycle as we use.
  • The water pump switch is the most used inch in our trailer – we switch it on with every use. That’s right. Want a drink of water? Switch on the pump, draw water, then switch the pump into the off position. Same for flushing the toilet: on and off. Take a shower: on and off. Moisten a cloth: on and off. Yes, it’s a challenge to get in the water pump switch zone and to maintain that behavior. It is the opposite of everything we’ve been conditioned to. That’s why we stick to the on-off technique even when we have an unlimited water source. Recently at a friend’s house, Carmen paused before the kitchen sink feeling she’d missed something … But, dedication to the water-pump switch is the first inch toward serious conservation and is impossible to learn fast. We get into the groove early because the first day of extreme conservation is the most important. Waste on the first dry-camping day sets the pace. Our plans can be ruined if we’re not in the zone.
RV water conservation
Inch toward water conservation!
  • Using the switch dozens of times throughout the day is not just a mechanism to retrieve water, it’s also a reminder to conserve.

Restrict the flow of water.

Water in a RV usually exits from 4 places, and each place provides an opportunity to conserve.

1. Kitchen faucet

  • We replaced our old kitchen faucet with a new 1.5 gallon per minute Moen with a built-in sprayer that uses very little water with high efficiency.
RV water conservation
  • Kitchen tips
  • MEAL PLANNING. Before setting out to boondock, we do a lot of pre-cooking. We bake sweet potatoes, beets, spaghetti and acorn squash – we boil eggs, make cauliflower rice, make a tortilla or crespéou, we smoke fish, grill carnitas and pre-marinade raw meats we plan to grill.
  • ICE – Also during extreme water conservation, we buy ice instead of using our ice maker. We store the ice in our cooler.
  • COOKING: We clean as we go – no hardened food on dishes, pans or cutting boards. It requires less water to wash hot pans before they cool, handling them carefully, if necessary, with silicone mitts.
  • After scraping solids and hot fats into the trash with a silicone spatula or a wet paper towel, we go over them with a brush dipped into a cup of hot soapy water as a pre-wash.
  • A potable water source is within walking distance is gold. But most dish-washing stations in many state and national parks do not offer hot water. It is common to see campers struggling with the sink, overusing water unnecessarily to try to get oily dishes clean in icy cold water. Here is our technique if there is a pump or a sink nearby.
    • Fetch the water in a bucket. We use a rectangle, collapsable silicone bucket which fits beautifully into one side of the sink.
    • Carefully place the bucket full of water in the sink. Divide the water into washing water and rinsing water. The rinsing water goes into a pitcher and the washing water goes into a kettle.
    • Heat the water until it is sufficiently hot to clean dishes.
    • Pour the hot water into the silicone bucket.
    • Wash the dishes … or soak them for a while if the water it too hot to touch. A long handled brush is a good tool for the job. Place washed dishes on the empty side of the sink or in a large bowl.
    • Rinse the dishes by holding them over the silicone bucket and pour water over them from the cold water in the pitcher. This is to avoid overfilling your gray tank.
    • Cloth dry, or drain the dishes on a rack.
    • If your dish brush and scouring tools need to be cleaned: reserve some of the water in a small sauce pan, bring to a boil, add a couple of drops of soap and allow the tools to soak. When cool, wipe them with a paper towel.
    • Take the bucket with the used dishwater back to the dishwashing station and dump it in the designated receptacle. If there is no dishwashing station, a toilet is also appropriate for this small amount of water. If the campground allows dispersement of grey water, then do so away from your rig to avoid attracting varmints.
  • We use two spray bottles to wash dishes. One bottle for hot water mixed with a couple of drops of dish soap and another bottle filled with warm rinse water. Clean ups are nearly effortless.
  • We really don’t like to use paper plates, but will use them occasionally if we have to.

2. Bathroom faucet

  • We replaced the 2.2 gallon per minute faucet aerator with the Danco 0.25 gallon per minute model. It takes less than a minute to replace.
    • What a difference! This was exactly the fix we needed to tame our problem gusher sink.
RV water conservation
  • However, be warned – this aerator severely restricts flow – the Danco gives a wide, strong spray with a range that suits our sink and our needs, but may be too extreme for some. 
RV water conservation

Here is an aerator that is not as extreme and you can quickly and easily adjust the water volume.

3. Toilet

  • We recently installed the new Dometic 310 with attached spray head. The 310 uses one pint per flush.
RV water conservation
  • The Dometic is very efficient and everything goes down where it needs to be … but when dry-camping we only water-flush when necessary. Water-flushing down your #1’s will run you out of water in no time!
  • For those #2’s, we have a handheld sprayer. The sprayer uses half the water of the regular flushing mechanism and is more efficient.

When extreme dry-camping, we clean the toilet with water captured from the shower (see below) – also to flush, and to make a ‘water seal’ which prevents black tank odor from escaping.

4. Shower

  • Replacing our old shower head with an Oxygenics Shower head greatly increased our conservation. It uses only 2 gallons per minute at full flow.
RV water conservation
  • Adjusting the shower to half speed – with the faucet water handle pulled out only half way – results in basically the same experience while using half the water.
  • Avoid the drip, drip, drip… Yes, the Oxygenics is great water saver, but it drips when turned off at the shower-head (it’s designed this way) – so, we turn off water at the faucet handle instead.
  • Capture cold water – Our shower releases about a quart of cold water before hot water arrives – so we capture that precious quart in a handy plastic pitcher and use it for other jobs throughout the day.
  • Capture grey water – A large shallow bowl on the shower floor captures water while bathing. The toilet gets a good scrub from that leftover warm soapy water – and sometimes we use it for Pico’s dirty dog feet.
  • For the notorious Military/Birdbath Shower– we use a gallon sized shallow metal bowl. Fill the basin with about a quart of hot water and a few drops of soap. With a clean washcloth begin working from top to bottom and rinse off with the shower head. It’s amazing how about two quarts of hot water does the job!
  • Hair conditioner – We find that occasional hair washing is fine as long as we don’t use traditional conditioners which require way too much rinse water. So, when dry camping, we use a leave-in hair conditioner/detangler.
RV water conservation
  • Campground showers. Most boondocking campgrounds don’t have showers, but we use public showers if they are available, in good condition, and have hot water. Water is the ticket. So giving our shower a break means more water for a longer stay and more freedom to change our plans. When dry-camping in urban areas, we use the locker room showers at public pools and the YMCA.

General water saving tips

  • 5-gallon water can – If, despite our best efforts, we still run out of water – and our gray water tank is not full – we access our emergency ‘jerry can‘ filled with fresh filtered water. Five gallons is plenty for one more day.
RV water conservation
  • Nano Towels– Our Nano Towels keep everything clean with less water and without chemical cleansers. Reusable and durable our Nano’s keep dishes, countertops, cabinets, floors, and upholstery nice and clean. Our set has lasted for nearly three years and they still look good.
RV water conservation

Okay, that’s the best we can do for now, but we’re always learning. If you have any other water saving ideas, tips or suggestions please leave them in the comments section below. With your help, this post can be a fantastic ongoing resource for water conservation!

Dry camping at Yahk Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada

If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.

58 thoughts on “Water, Water…

  1. Spray dishes with pine sol water mix and scrub with a brush, rinse off with about 3 or 4 seconds of water from the tap. Navy showers, get wet, shut the water off and soap up, rinse off quickly every 2nd or 3rd day. I can make 100 gal water tank last for 14 days. Including flushing the toilet a few times a day and drinking and cooking. About 7 gallons a day.

    1. Barb, a wall-mounted hand-sanitizer container is a great idea to explore. We use hand-sanitizer on the countertops but this is probably a better idea. Thanks!

  2. I have lived on a private well for most of the last 40 years. One gets very accustomed to doing things to conserve water. It is particularly important if your well is not a big producer. Our first trailer had potable water system that was completely unusable–it had been parked over the winter with water in the system. We camped in it for three seasons without a working water system using one gallon jugs. You learn really quickly how to conserve when the running water requires running out to get more! 🙂

    1. Mark, you are so right that you learn really quick on how to conserve when getting water requires running out to get more. With a trailer, we would have to pack, up, hitch up and go find a potable water source. It is easier to conserve!

  3. Use paper plates and plastic utensils. You don’t need to shower everyday. Plan meals that require few pots and pans to wash. Water is our limiting factor when boondocking.

    1. Kay and Russ, we do on occasion use paper plates but some foods are just not pleasant to consume on paper – but paper is a definitely a solution for some. Carmen requires a shower every day, so the half-military-half shower is her answer.

  4. I grew up on well water, and have a well at my home in MI, however since leaving the country and moving to the city I began using purified water. That’s what I use in AS as well.

    1. Jean, we really like the taste and convenience of using our dual filter system for consistently great tasting water.

  5. When brushing teeth, fill a small cup about half full of water. Dip your toothbrush into the cup to wet it. Brush your teeth. Rinse the brush out in the cup, then use the same water to rinse your mouth.

  6. So far our dry camping record is 12 days at Burning Man. We did have some help from our friends but, we left with water in the tank. I keep thee spray bottle on my sink. water, water with a little dish soap and vinegar. To wash dishes I scrape as much as possible, spray with vinegar and then wipe clean with a paper towel. Sometime I spray with water, too. I keep a plastic tub in each sink and recycle that water for toilet flushing or cleaning counter tops, etc. I prefer not to do such extreme dry camping but it is empowering and it make a 3-5 day stay at a campground with no hook-up a breeze.

  7. One thing we do when you shower we run the water into a bucket until it is hot then use this to rinse off with also shower right after one another so just get wet suds up and use the water in the bucket to rinse

  8. We are lucky at home, we have a 36 gallon per minute well. So I’m spoiled and I like my shower daily. Not sure I could do 14 days on 59 gallons. I’m totally impressed that you can….

    1. Mark, if we had 36 gallons per minute water source in our trailer we would certainly have a harder time conserving water! Because we bathe or shower daily, 14-15 days is probably our limit.

  9. Great tips. We use most of your tips. We managed to dry camp at Bryce Canyon NP for 10 days before our 37g gray tank showed 95%, black was 90%. We use a plastic basin, a metal pan, that fits perfectly in one side of our double kitchen sink. We fill the pan with a couple of inches of warm water and soap to wash dishes. We wipe plates with paper towels before rinsing. We cook oven dishes in disposable tin foil pans to keep clean up simple. We only have a 35 gal freshwater tank and it seems a couple of gallons remain when the water pump can’t draw out anymore water. Since there was low humidity at Bryce, strip washers from the bathroom sink sufficed. The last night we were there I took a navy shower while the wife took a shower at the general store. There was water available at the campground at Bryce and used an old water pump connected to our water filter and softener pumped from a couple of 5 gal containers. Most of the time we only stay 7 days before getting itchy feet. Our dry camping is limited to national parks and forest service campgrounds. We are not confident towing our low clearance Airstream over rough roads but we can see the appeal of boondocking.

    1. Kelvin, thank you for your comments. For you to be able to survive for 10 days on 35 gallons of fresh water is way beyond our 14 days on 59 gallons. Carmen and I like your tips and suggestions and will look into incorporating them into our routines. We have taken “Beauty” down some rough roads to reach a boon-docking spot, but we have been lucky in that the effort has been worth the wonderful location and experience. We too fear low clearance could some day cause us a problem. Safe travels!

    1. Hey, Deborah, baby wipes are a valuable option for those who can use them, but I’m allergic to common preservatives and sensitive to others so I had to stop using baby wipes years ago. But I’ve found that cotton rounds and witch hazel are a nice substitute. I always keep them with me in a ziplock bag in my purse for a quick freshening. We’re finding that chemical-free works best for me and that just means more water … vicious circle!


  10. We had an unreliable septic and a farm, and plan to boondock often, I appreciate people sharing. I’m looking for ideas because I am aiming for a 28 days boondocking stretch. But we will be getting nature’s head toilets so that will help some.

    1. Crystal, Wow! 28 days boon-docking. Not sure how that is possible, but we would love to hear how you plan to make that happen.

  11. Menu planning avoids things that are to messy. We use plastic wash basins that drop into the kitchen sink. This makes it take less water to wash with and keeps water from leaking out of the stoppers. The wash water gets dumped and the rinse becomes the next wash. IF there is any gray water dump available the kitchen water goes into a bucket and carried to the grey dump. In the bathroom I run water into a cup and work from that. For the shower I use 2 2 quart containers for wash and rinse water. If there is any toilet available I use that instead of the RV toilet. If there is any water available I will fetch 2 one gallon jugs of water and use that for washing and cooking a couple times a day.

    1. Pam and Ed, menu planning a a major key for us when preparing to dry camp. You offered some great suggestions! Thanks!

  12. Close the water going to toilet and use soapy water from rinsing cutlery and pots to flush. Use paper plates and bowls for no washing. Shower only every second day.. and that is a navy shower. In-between sponge bath.

    1. Suzan and Art, your idea of closing water to the toilet is worth consideration.Skipping showers isn’t possible for Carmen so she developed the half-navy-half-shower for everyday consistency. But, whatever works. Taking a freshwater swim is always a nice way to skip the shower.

  13. I have one of those bathroom faucet adapters that uses only point five gallons per minute of water so that saves a fair bit in the bathroom got a whole card of them from Amazon for $110 you know these are the kind that you see in the big box stores when you use the bathrooms at put up the fingers of water rather than a solid stream

  14. It’s really grey water tank space “dishes” that’s the limiting factor. We put a dish pan in the sink and collect the rinse water for “off tank” disposal. Get a water bladder and transfer pump for unlimited fresh water.

    1. Lyle and Jan, we agree that a full grey water tank is many times the problem before running out of fresh water. Your suggestions are great for reducing water down the grey tank – off tank disposal is a great solution in parks where there is a dishwashing station or a toilet. Thanks

  15. Drinking water, 2 gallon container/with spout. Freshwater, filled. Toilet, bucket in the bathtub that gets filled with used dish waters. Shower, just use the freshwater, I dont use wipes. 5gal jug in back of pickup just in case. I can go 4-5 days with out needing water.

    1. Vicki – We don’t use wipes on our bodies because I am allergic to most of them, but we do use a bleach wipe periodically on surfaces. I made the wipes in the past, but now I’m buying a Clorox product.

  16. Often I camp where my 5 gallon canning pot gets plenty of use heating and boiling creek water for washing, cooking and even drinking. Recently retired it and breaking in a new one.

    1. If you’re talking about places like Planet Fitness, yesterday we saw one in the small town of Laredo Texas. They are everywhere!

  17. I have long hair and recently learned a new shower technique. Condition the ends first and leave it there, soap body and shave, then shampoo scalp and rinse it all off together. Only need to run the water a little up front and for final rinse. Made a huge difference to water consumption.

  18. Holy awesome blog! Thank you so much for sharing. The Seagull IV seems like it’s pretty dang worth it and requires zero electricity. The counter argument to the Seagull is it requires a new filter every year.

    1. Chris, we agree the Seagull is worth it, but expensive. We have been using the same one now for almost 25 years. We do change the filter every year at a cost af about $120, or about .32¢ a day.

  19. I used to backpack on trips of 5-7 days and you really can’t carry all the water you need (too heavy!), but there are some very good filters made for back packers. I recently invested in an Katadyn expedition grade filter (made to supply multiple people for long periods) that could be used to filter a ton of water from a “wild” source. If you were boondocking with a stream nearby you could fill a 5 gal jerry in no time and use that to replenish Beauty’s tanks with water that is likely at least as good as most campground sources and then your on board filters can do the rest (triple filtered water but the time it reaches you!) or reserve it for specific tasks. Katadyn makes some well-respected filters (their new BeFree gravity filters could be interesting), but there are other good ones out there too.

    1. Joe,

      Thank you for your suggestion on a Katadyn water filter. Excellent idea. I looked at these filters on Amazon and really like the Katadyn Pocket Water Filter. We will discuss possibly buying this for emergency situations. Thanks for the tip! Jim

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