Maximizing Water, Battery, and Propane While Boondocking

November 20, 20147

No hookups means a finite supply of water, power, and propane. Often times, one is dependent on another, such as your propane heater also requiring battery power for the fan. They key to boondocking is to bring as much supply while limiting consumption. Here are some tips for doing both.


Always start your trip with a full tank, which can be difficult to do given how the reservoirs and fill hoses are configured. You can use a quick tire ramp mod to slightly tilt the water reservoir for improved filling. This helped me get an additional 2-4 gallons in my tank.

If you need more than what your popup camper will store, you can fill your water bottles and hydration backpacks before leaving rather than using the camper’s faucet for this purpose. Or if you’ll be camping next to water, you can fill a bottle from that local source and sterilize it with the Steripen.


For larger amounts I recommend the Aqua-Tainer. It’s rectangular design allows for easy storage. A hideaway spout and screw on vent cap make for easy dispensing.  Each will hold 7 gallons of water.

Once at the campsite, conserve water use wherever possible. Some quick tips:

  • Use hand sanitizer instead of washing your hands.
  • Use baby wipes instead of washing your face.
  • When washing hands, don’t keep the faucet running. Wet your hands, turn the water off, soap down, and then turn the water on only to rinse. Use only a trickle of water.
  • The same thing for brushing teeth – don’t keep the faucet running.
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables before leaving rather than with precious campsite water.
  • Wipe your dishes off before washing them.


The easiest way to not run out of propane is to bring twice as much. See how easy it is to install dual propane (LP) tanks.

To conserve propane, try the following:

  • Use Reflectix insulation to keep the cold air out. This made a significant impact on my furnace cycle time and use.
  • Instead of turning up the furnace thermostat, wear heavy pajamas, use extra blankets, and put on a stocking cap to keep your head warm. Remember: your furnace uses both propane (for heat) and battery power (for the fan).
  • Cook on the campfire instead (propane free).

Battery Power

Similar to propane, an easy way to increase your battery capacity is by simply adding a second battery.

To conserve what battery power you do have, you can:

  • NEVER run your fridge on 12-volt mode.
  • Prop open your roof vent but don’t run the powered fan.
  • Replace incandescent light bulbs with LEDs.
  • Limit furnace fan use by trying the suggestions mentioned above for propane conservation.

You’ll also want to monitor battery consumption. This can be as simple as a multi-meter reading taken directly from the battery or a more convenient battery monitoring solution placed inside the camper. Just remember that you don’t want to draw your deep cycle battery down below about 50% unless it’s an emergency. The chart below will help you understand how much power remains.

Voltage Charge
12.6+ 100%
12.5 90%
12.42 80%
12.32 70%
12.20 60%
12.06 50%
11.9 40%
11.75 30%
11.58 20%
11.31 10%
10.5 0%

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I've been camping regularly since I was a kid, from quick Cub/Boy Scout trips to week-long backpacking trips and everything else in-between. We got a popup camper when our kids were 1 and 3 years old to enjoy more time outdoors together alongside a few conveniences like heat and running water. Since then, we've spent over 75 nights together as a family in our popup camper. I've learned a lot about the intricacies of a popup tent camper during this time and love to share those lessons here for the benefit of others.


  • Bill Kelty

    April 29, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    I just found your website today. Its full of excellent advice. Some other ways to boondock longer in a pop up is using solar to charge battery during the day. We have 4 15W Goal Zero panels and it keeps our group 24 battery topped off for as long as we need. They are lighter than an extra battery too. We have also replaced our lights with leds. Something that helps with battery and propane conservation is to replace the cheap thermostat with another cheap digital thermostat for the furnace. Less on off cycles and it holds much less temperature swings.

    • Popup Camping 101

      April 30, 2015 at 4:37 pm

      Excellent points Bill, thanks!

      We changed out our lights to LED almost on day one (

      We looked into solar, but went with the second battery simply to avoid the hassle of setting up the panels (or having them blow away in a strong wind while on a hike). Sure, we could mount them to the roof, but I don’t like caulking holes either 🙂 As a computer engineer only a few college credits short of an electrical engineer – I will offer one tip…don’t skimp on the wire size. Most of the kits sold out there downsize the wire and you waste almost half the energy the panels collect. A couple links that go into more detail on this subject:

      And finally, thanks for the tip on the digital tstat. We hadn’t though about the improved accuracy for cycle times, which obviously helps save battery. We were only focusing on a disinterest in changing out the battery required by a digital tstat.

      • Bill Kelty

        May 1, 2015 at 8:57 pm

        Here is a link to our solar install. No holes in camper, only take them when we need them and have survived 60 mph gust on Mogollon Rim camping in AZ. As far as cable size, we just bought the complete kit from GZ. We looked into alot of other ideas and this was the only one I could talk the wife into. Since then I have put together a solar kit for a friend for about a forth of what I paid for my GZ kit. But with the GZ kit I really dont worry about sun angle. One weekend we had heavy cloud cover and tree shade and were still able to top off battery, with 2 panels there was a slight draw each day. We take the batteries out of the tstat when not in use. We keep 2 spare AA tstat batteries in camper tool box if needed.

        • Popup Camping 101

          May 1, 2015 at 9:15 pm

          Love the bungee cord mounting! Thanks for sharing…

  • Cris Escobar

    July 8, 2018 at 2:24 pm


  • Aardvark

    July 9, 2018 at 2:31 am

    Bear question: I dream about going boondocking, and have a new popup, having just retired my old one. I can manage with an extra propane tank and an extra battery for quite a while – I don’t need luxuries. Someone mentioned something that had never occurred to me in the past: bears. The Adirondacks now require that you carry food in a bear-proof can when backpacking, and Vermont now requires residents to take down their birdfeeders on April 1, because bears raid them,and they don’t want to have to put down a bear that has become too familiar with humans (when I disobeyed the law because of late snow on April 15, a bear did take out my feeder).

    I’ve never had trouble in the past, but haven’t done much boondocking.

    How big a risk are bear in our soft-sided popups?

    • Popup Camping 101

      July 12, 2018 at 12:25 pm

      Technically, you should follow the same precautions in bear country regardless of if you’re at a campground or dispersed. This includes storing all food and other smell items in a bear-proof container, such as a locked tow vehicle or bear box. This is one reason why we never use the popup’s fridge. Keep in mind that beyond your own safety, a fed bear is a dead bear….meaning they will get used to feeding on human food and degrade their normal hunting/gathering behaviors.

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