Carrying one or more portable water containers gives you the option to refill your fresh water tank without having to pack up and move your RV. Use the containers to bring water to your RV. Then pump, siphon or use gravity to put water back in your tank.
In this article I’ll share which containers work best, where find fresh water, and three methods for transferring the water into your RV fresh water tank.
Who is this for? If you own a smaller RV and want to try boondocking, then this article is for you. Your limited fresh water capacity will limit the number of days you can boondock before needing to refill.
How much fresh water does an RV hold?
Smaller RVs like Class Bs or truck campers have the smallest fresh water capacity between 18-40 gallons. Fifth wheel trailers and larger Class A motorhomes have the largest between 50 to 100 gallons. Class C RVs are somewhere in the middle.
What type of water container is best?
1. Jerry Can (5-7 gallon)
The classic “Jerry can” type of water container is probably the most commonly used. These are rugged containers which can hold up to 7 gallons of water. In fact, you’ll often see them mounted to the outside of 4x4 overlanding vehicles and campers.
Are they the best? Many prefer them for their ruggedness. But there is a downside.
Jerry cans take up lots of space when empty. You’ll typically see folks carrying one, maybe two. Rarely do you see anyone carrying three or four of them.
2. Collapsible Wolverine Water Containers (5 gallon)
I prefer these thick plastic collapsible water containers from WolverineTuff over the Jerry can and here’s why. Each container holds 5 gallons of water. When empty, they fold flat and don’t take up valuable storage space. So you can store several of these empty in your RV until you need them to transfer water.
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3. AquaTank Water Bladder (30 gallons)
Large water bladder style containers (like the Aquatank) hold a large amount of water — enough to refill an entire fresh water tank. They also fold up small and compact when empty.
The downside of these larger bladder-style containers is simply their size and weight when full of water. They can be heavy and difficult to transport. They are best suited for owners of travel trailers or fifth-wheel RVs who also have a large pick-up truck to transport the bladder.
Where to find water while boondocking?
Filling your spare water containers before heading out to your favorite boondocking spot is one way to keep extra water on hand. Another option is to go in search of water when you’re running low.
When searching for a fresh water source, I’ve found this inexpensive gadget to be very helpful when your water source is something out of the ordinary. It’s called a Water Bandit.
Use the Water Bandit to connect a water hose to just about anything. Get one on Amazon.
Here are some likely places to find fresh water.
1. Nearby RV Park or Campground
Many RV parks will allow you to use their facilities to refill fresh water and dump your tanks. Be prepared to pay a small fee of $5 to $10 to do this.
I’ve had good luck with this even if the park doesn’t advertise this service. All you have to do is ask. Even if they don’t have a dump station on-site, they may let you pull through an empty spot to get water.
2. Dump station with potable water
Many roadside dump stations also have fresh potable water available. Again, be prepared to pay a small fee to use their hose. If you’re lucky, it’ll be free.
A great source to find dump stations near you is Campendium.
3. Ask a neighboring camper
If the opportunity presents itself, introduce yourself to your neighbors who are boondocking near you. Be considerate and respect their privacy, but don’t be afraid to wave and say Hi. It’s a nice gesture that communicates
“Hey there neighbor…we’re not crazy people over here. We will look out for you if you look out for us“
If they wave back, strike up a conversation like “where are you from?” and “how long have you been RVing?“. If you’re lucky, they will know where the nearest dump station and fresh water source is.
Another question worth asking is “where are your favorite boondocking spots around here?“
How to pump water into your fresh water tank
The easiest way I’ve found to transfer the water into your RV’s fresh water tank is to use a pump. Using a siphon or gravity filling your water tank are other options.
In many cases the water fill point on your RV is up high which makes the gravity fill method more difficult.
There are three ways to pump water in from a container. All three work equally well but depend on what equipment you have on-hand.
1. Use a Spare RV Water Pump to Transfer the Water
Keeping a spare RV water pump around is smart option. You can use it to pump water in from a water container plus have a replaement pump on-hand if your primary water pump fails.
All you need is a 12 volt power source and some water tubing to create this setup.
How to connect a water pump:
- Use a car battery or other source of 12 volt DC power to run the pump
- Connecting a switch in-line with the positive wire is recommended for controlling the pump
- Connect water tubes to the input and output of the pump
- Place one end in the water container and the other in your RV’s fresh water fill inlet
- Turn on the pump until the water container is empty.
If you’ve got the extra space, consider mounting the pump and switch in your RV somewhere near your water fill inlet and 12 volt power source.
2. Use a Drill Pump
This is my preferred way to refill my fresh water tank since I already carry a good cordless drill in my toolkit. The drill pump is fast, effective and doesn’t take up much storage space.
Here’s how to use a drill pump:
- Attach a water filling attachment to a short water hose
- Connect the water hose to the output of the drill pump
- Place the filling attachment in your water inlet
- Attach the source hose to the pump and place it in your water container
- Attach your drill to the pump and pull the trigger to start pumping.
3. Use the Winterizing Valve and Outside Shower
This method is kind of a hack, but I thought I’d include it because several other RV owners have recommnded this method to me.
How does it work? Some RVs already come equipped with a winterizing valve for pumping anti-freeze into your water system during the winter. Instead of anti-freeze, you can place the anti-freeze intake hose in your fresh water container instead. Then use the hose on your outside shower (if it’s near your fresh water inlet) to fill your fresh water tank.
Your water pump will pull the water from your water jug, through your plumbing system, out of the outside shower hose and into your fresh water tank.
I share this just to give you an idea of a possible solution if you have a winterizing valve installed. I haven’t tried it on my RV though.
How to Gravity Fill Your Fresh Water Tank
Gravity filling your tank will work well as long as you can get the water container above your water fill inlet.
Keep in mind that a 6 gallon water container can weight close to 50 pounds making it difficult to lift. If you are able to lift the container above your water inlet, then this method is worth trying first.
Here are the items you will need to gravity fill your fresh water tank
- Water Can With Spout
- RV Drinking Water Hose
- RV Water Tank Filler Attachment
- Water Bandit Hose Attachment
How to refill water in your RV while boondocking using gravity
- Fill a water jug that has a spout (I use a 6 gallon jug with a spout)
- Drill a small hole in the container above the water line (if it doesn’t already have a air hole) and temporarily put a screw in it to plug it
- Park your car, truck or a ladder next to your RV’s water supply filling point
- Position the water container higher than the filling point (it is ok if the hose droops down below as long as the water can is above the filling point)
- Connect the water filling attachment, hose and Water Bandit together
- Connect the Water Bandit end of the hose to the spout on the water container (I add a zip tie for added tightness)
- Insert the water filling attachment in the RV water filling hole
- Unscrew the small screw at the top of the water can to start the water flow (you may have to lift the hose at first, but once it starts flowing you can let it go)
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