One thing that will detract from your enjoyment of the wilderness is running out of water, especially when the nearest supply is far away. The camping location in the photo at left is perfect, except that the nearest source of drinking water is 25 miles down the mountain. Many novice RV users are dismayed to find out that their water only lasts two or three days because they're using it like they did at home. As with many things RV, there are numerous tricks to making your water last longer so you can spend more time enjoying your chosen location, and less time driving back and forth for water and dumping.
What we do is employ several strategies to get the washing of dishes and people done with minimal water use.
The first and most important rule is, never run water down the drain.
Don't warm up the water by running it until the water is hot enough to use – catch the water that comes out and heat it on the stove, and THEN use it.
Don't run water to rinse small dishes and utensils – use a container to dip them in. Get a container that fits into your sink with a wide, flat bottom for use as a wash basin. Use this basin for soapy dishwater, rinse water, and other things. I found the perfect one by accident- it's a dog bowl some day visitors used to give their dog some water at a park I was staying at, and left behind. Since they parked in my campsite, I felt I was entitled to some compensation, and this bowl is perfect. It's stainless steel, so you can heat water in it directly on the propane burner instead of using a pot and pouring the hot water into the basin.
Second strategy – make sure the regular dish washer is the one who's good at saving water. Sharon washed the dishes once, and used about half a tank to wash two plates, two cups, and some silverware. She has been relieved of duty, and no matter how much she begs, I'm not going to let her wash the dishes. You've got to get up pretty early in the morning to pull a fast one on me, and… hey, wait a minute…
Here's how I wash dishes – heat your water on the stove in your wash basin, put just enough soap in there to make it sudsy. Too much soap means extra rinsing. Wash the utensils, dishes and pots/pans, letting them drain in the sink next to the wash basin as you do the big items that won't fit in the basin. The better they drain the less water you need to rinse them. Pitch the wash water, get some rinse water in the basin, and dip the small items in it before putting them on the drying rack. Only the big items that won't fit in the basin get a trickle of water over them from the faucet. You should be able to wash up dishes for a meal for two in about a gallon of water.
Shampooing is another task where a lot of water goes down the drain needlessly if you're not careful. Sharon has her hair done by the famous stylist Mr. Campskunk, who cancels all his other clients when she's in town and needs a shampoo and set in a hurry. We use a big plastic basin, since all we're doing is catching the water to throw out, not washing anything in it. About a pint of hot water to wet your hair, then lather up over the basin until you're ready to rinse. I pour a steady stream on the scalp starting at the back of the neck and working forward until it's all rinsed – maybe a gallon to a gallon and a half total. This is a two person operation, so put your lazy significant other to work and save water.
Bathing? The only time we take regular long hot showers in the Roadtrek is when we're onsite where the water and dump is. Sure, a gas station or water treatment plant isn't an ideal location as far as esthetics go, but you have an opportunity to dump, fill up your fresh water, waste all you want, then dump again, fill up again, and you're all clean and refreshed, and so are your tanks. We sponge off in a basin for a day or three, then take a “navy shower”. Wet yourself down, turn off the water, soap up and scrub, then turn the water back on to rinse. Maybe two gallons if you're sloppy, less if you're diligent. Heat the Roadtrek interior if the weather is such that you aren't going to be comfortable standing there all wet. Use propane, not running hot water, to stay warm. We still hit campgrounds with facilities often enough enjoy long, hot daily showers while we're there, and maintain acceptable levels of hygiene in between.
My Roadtrek has two tanks, 10 gallons in the back and 15 in the front. We fill the back tank last and use it first for weight distribution purposes. Normally, we can get about six days out of our 25 gallons, provided a long hot shower awaits us at the end of it.
Another trick I have used is to buy two of the Coleman Solar Shower bags – they're less than $10 in Walmart and most other places with a camping supply aisle. They hold five gallons and can be used both for their intended purpose – heating water to shower with outside – and also to carry extra water, provided that you have the weight carrying capacity – 10 gallons weighs 80 pounds. They're marked “not for drinking water”, but all that means is that they didn't bother to go through the drinking water certification process, not that they're full of pathogens.
I take a new one and fill it with a dilute bleach solution, just like the tank sanitizing procedure, let it sit, and then rinse it out. We fill these at the pump or faucet, take the orange nozzle off the end of the hose, carry it with us on the floor of the Roadtrek to our campsite, and hold it aloft while the water runs into the Roadtrek tank. In places where there's a hand pump but no dump, we keep our fresh water tanks full this way. We use the basin in the sink to catch all the wash water and throw it out the door onto the ground just like the tent campers do, and can go two weeks easily without a trip to town to dump. By the time the black water tank is full, we're out of groceries anyway.