There’s a lot of new skills to pick up when you start camping and one of the most important, is learning how to save water. When your regular mains water supply is unavailable, and you have to rely upon what you’ve got stored, it suddenly becomes like precious liquid gold.
I’ve seen several budding campers go through a very steep learning curve regarding water usage, especially when camping in more remote locations. Unlike at home, you are only able to carry a certain amount, and if you are not careful with it, you will run out. This is particularly the case for caravans and camper trailers that have showers on board. As convenient and luxurious as they are, it’s easy to empty the water tanks by enjoying a couple of long showers.
7 days off-grid with only the water we brought.
Next time your water bill comes in, have a look at the amount of water you are consuming at home each day and then think about the storage you have for water when camping. The average consumption in Australia is anywhere from 100 – 300 litres per person per day. You just can’t get away with that when camping, not without a very elaborate setup, (which we discuss further down). If anything is going to encourage awareness around water usage and help a person appreciate the need to conserve water, then spending time off-the-grid will do it.
So, how can you save water when camping?
Bush baths for our two little boys.
Learn how to clean yourself efficiently
Hands down, showering is the largest consumer of water when camping. For this reason, a vast number of people decide to forego showering altogether, which is the ultimate way to save water. Instead, they regularly use wipes and sponge baths which although not overly glamorous, are quick and easy, and do leave you clean and feeling refreshed.
Our outdoor shower set up with water-efficient showerhead.
However, if you do have a shower, there are many advisable habits you can embrace to conserve water, or you’ll find yourself with empty tanks in no time. The first is to make sure you have a conservative pump and showerhead. The second is to adopt a new practise: before turning the water on, get organised with undressing and have everything you need ready to go. Turn the water on, wet yourself down, turn the water off, soap up, turn the water back on and quickly rinse yourself before turning it off once more and hopping out.
By using this method, our little family of 4 (including 2 toddlers) can each have a reasonable shower using under 14 litres of water in total. That’s 3.5 litres of water on average, and we repeat this regularly.
Another fantastic tip is to consider using dry shampoo. This is particularly useful for those with longer hair, as you will use a tremendous amount of water wetting and rinsing liquid or bar shampoo out.
Electric pumps can make you waste water easily.
Make the water ‘harder’ to get
On our previous camper trailer, we had much less water storage, and it also came with a hand pump. This manual device requires you to lift a knob up and down, thus building the pressure for water flow. More effort and time is required, but hand pumps have one very distinct benefit; they will save you water because with each stroke you are consciously pulling water out of your limited supply.
When you can flick a lever, or turn a tap on, it’s very easy to allow water to run down the drain, and when you have a limited amount this is an issue. For kids especially, a hand pump is a fantastic way to conserve water.
Alternatively, make sure your pump and piping don’t empty your tanks with a high flow rate. Anything around the 4L/minute is going to do you very well. Lastly, you will use less water from a small tap on a jerry can than an electric pump that just chugs it out with no regard for your water conservation. You want to be comfortable, but anything that makes you conscious of your water usage is a good thing, which leads us to the next point.
Our flow metre is showing we have 107 litres of water left.
Metre the water
A large majority of people rely on rudimentary water gauges or being able to visibly see the water levels in a jerry can (or feel the weight). A game-changer for us has been the flow meters we have on our new camper trailer. These are reset when the tank is full and calculate every single litre as the water gets used, displaying the remaining volume on the digital screen.
This is a brilliant way not only to know precisely the amount you have left (as the level sensors are average at best) but you can keep an eye on consumption doing individual things. This is how we know we are only using 14L of water for our family showers.
Washing hands regularly or using a sanitiser is crucial for maintaining hygiene. Image: Sea to Summit
Keeping your hands clean
Hygiene when camping is essential, and frequent washing of hands is a crucial part of this. We primarily use hand sanitiser for its convenience, effectiveness, and because it requires no water. Washing your hands several times per day with soap and water eats into your supplies, and although this method is still necessary from time to time, compensating with sanitiser does reduce our consumption.
Camping near freshwater is handy for bucket washing your socks and jocks.
Washing your clothes efficiently
Laundry on the road isn’t the easiest thing to do, especially when you have restricted water. Many people take their washing to a laundromat, therefore saving their stored water.
However, this is not always possible, and clothes washing on the road is common. Whether you are using a bucket for your laundry, or a small washing machine or wash bag, one of the best things you can do is use a wool wash based detergent, as this doesn’t require rinsing off, and as such you’ll save a heap of water.
Collecting clean water from a creek.
Use other water available
Of course, you have to use the water for the right applications and always maintain awareness of your environmental impact by using eco-friendly products that will not contaminate any waterways. That said, camping near a water source is such a valuable asset.
Rivers, creeks and lakes – We regularly take water from creeks, rivers, lakes and even occasionally the beach. This is never for drinking, but we do regularly use it for showering and bathing (not the seawater), and if it’s nice and clean, we will use it to pre-rinse filthy dishes (like after a roast!). With a stainless steel bucket and fire, if you are camping with access to clean water, you can have hot water exceptionally quickly which is magic for a camping shower or bush bath for the kids, and it costs you nothing.
Use seawater – Now, you might think that the only good thing about seawater is seafood and boating, but that’s not exactly true. We use it for cleaning the bulk of muck off our dishes regularly, before giving them a rinse in freshwater. It’s also the perfect thing for cleaning seafood and any rust-proof gear. If you have stubborn things to clean that need a bit of muscle, mix a little sand from the beach with some water, and you’ll be scrubbing for half the time – it works like magic!
Catch what you can – You can also get creative if the weather turns during your trip, by collecting the rainwater instead of cursing it. There are parts of Australia that receive a heap of rain, and a few creative people make use of this. If you have a tarp or awning, you can direct the water into a bucket, or some vans even have a set up to channel rainwater straight into a secondary tank. Rainwater is brilliant and providing you are careful with how it’s collected and used, it is a terrific way to keep your water topped up.
Many camp oven meals are one-pot wonders and use fewer dishes.
Conserve what you have
One of my favourite ways to conserve water is to use what nature has given us, however, if that is not available then here are some tips to help save each precious drop of what you have stored.
Limit the dishes and use spray bottles – Anything you can do to reduce the number of dirty dishes you create will conserve water. One-pot meals are a huge winner for many reasons but especially in regards to dishes and water consumption. Many people like to use a spray bottle filled with water and a small squirt of detergent. For most plates and bowls, all that’s required is a bit of a spray and a gentle wipe followed by a dribble rinse with fresh water.
Baby wipes – Although you need to dispose of them responsibly, baby wipes are one of the most compact and useful items when camping. Besides their obvious use with children, they are fantastic for general cleaning around camp and yourself. We always have some with us, not just to use on the kids for us as well.
Cook on the fire – We’ve fallen in love with cooking over the hot coals of a campfire! The meals are delicious, and you often have far fewer dishes, making the cleaning up quick and easy. We use a small fold-out grill that is perfect for reducing our clean-up, or the camp oven is a great way to make one-pot meals too.
Put fires out with collected water.
Put fires out with collected water
You should never leave your camp with a fire that is still burning or has hot coals. There have been too many people who have stood on old fires and received terrible burns. Covering them up with loose dirt is not a solution either, as they can continue burning for a long time. A number of children have received 3rd-degree burns from stepping on sand covering hot coals.
Water is the best way to put out a campfire. This can come from the ocean, a creek, river or lake, or you can use your greywater to do it. Don’t use your good drinking water if you can avoid it.
MSR Guardian Water Purifiers are another filtration system. Image: MSR
Make your own water
Last but not least, it is even possible to turn dirty or brackish water into perfectly safe, drinkable H2O. If it has no salt, a filtration or chemical treatment can be used. Surprisingly, freshwater can be created from saltwater using an RO unit (reverse osmosis). This is not for everyone as having an RO system requires a lot of space and energy, and the initial setup can be costly. However, it is the ultimate way to create more significant volumes of freshwater every day. Alternatively, if your requirements are minimal, purification systems like the MSR Guardian Water Purifier or the Grayl Ultralight are great compact and portable solutions.
Some people travel full time with impressive solar and battery systems that enable them to operate their RO unit providing endless fresh water on demand. They do need to be camped near a water source though, but even beach camping allows them the option.
A hot shower when camping is nothing short of amazing.
It takes time
New habits take time and practice to learn, and these methods shouldn’t feel like an enormous sacrifice or a significant inconvenience. Instead, they are just a part of camping that you learn to do and appreciate. A hot shower when you are out bush or camping on the beach is nothing short of amazing, and it’s possible with the right water saving methods in place.
What other tips do you have for saving water when camping?
About the writer...
If it involves four-wheel driving, Aaron loves it. When he isn’t writing for his blog, 4WDing Australia or the Snowys Blog, you’ll find him camping and driving around Western Australia.