If you’re renting an RV, you’re going to want to learn all about the vehicle before you hit the road! The rental company should give you all the information you need, but we’re going to help you get started so that you already know some of the basics. Our beginner’s guide to RV hook-ups will help you take a look at the hook-ups you’ll be using in your RV!
A Beginner’s Guide to RV Hook-Ups
No, no, no. Not those kinds of hook-ups! Those are up to you mama! We’re here to give you a beginner’s guide to RV hook-ups. The thing that makes RV camping more appealing than tent camping to most people is that you can have access to water, electricity, and a real bathroom in an RV. This is also what’s making RVing so popular right now during the pandemic. With a kitchen and bathroom and running water in both- you can be fully self-sufficient and reduce visits to public bathrooms and restaurants while traveling.
There are three types of hook-ups for a standard RV. Water, electric, and sewer.
Water Hook-Ups and Fresh Water Tanks
A water hook-up connects you to a reliable, potable water source to provide water for your RV kitchen and bathroom. When hooked up to a water source via a hose, you will have unlimited fresh water for your sinks, shower, and toilet.
Some campgrounds don’t have water hook-ups at every site. This is why every RV has a fresh water holding tank. If a campground doesn’t have water at each site, chances are there is a public water site. You can use this to to fill your fresh water tank. Once at your site, the RV will use this tank for water. It is limited, however, and once you use all the water in your fresh water tank- you’ll need to refill!
It’s also important to remember that you have a separate hose for fresh water. Fresh water hoses are generally white hoses and they are safe for drinking from. They are thicker than a regular hose and are lead free, BPA free, phthalate free and UV stabilized. You won’t get scary things leeching into your water from a fresh water drinking hose the way you might from a regular garden hose. You will use this hose to connect to your water source- whether it’s right at your campsite or you’re filling up your fresh water tank at a public water site. Your fresh water hose should come with it’s own storage. You don’t want it getting anywhere near your sewer hoses- but more on that below!
Electrical hook-up connections connect you to electricity. You’ll need electricity to run your lights, your fridge (can also run on battery for a bit in most RVs), and your air conditioning if you have air conditioning. There are different levels of electrical connection- including 20 amp, 30 amp and 50amp. This number basically (and I mean very basically) means how much power you have to use when you’re hooked up. Different things you’ll plug in use a different amount of power. Some things, like an air conditioner, use a lot more power. It also affects how many things you can have plugged in at a time. Most RVs have 30amps while most of the larger RVs are 50amp. 50amp offers roughly 3 times more power than a 30amp (in watts) meaning you can use larger appliances and have more appliances plugged in at the same time.
When you rent your RV, the company will tell you what you need and provide you with the right cords for connection. If you want to delve a bit deeper into this topic- here’s a great article that explains how this works!
RVs are amazing. They are really are. But sewage and dumping are hands down the worst part about RVing. Don’t worry though- you can totally do it! If you’ve got a toilet in your RV, all that sewage has to go somewhere. Your RV has three tanks. We talked about the fresh water tank above. There is also a gray water tank and a black water tank. The gray water tank collects water from your sink and shower. It’s dirty water, but it’s not sewage. The black tank collects the contents of your toilet. That’s the gross stuff!
Some RV sites have a sewage hook up directly at the site. This means that you’ll use a sewage hose to connect your black tank directly to a sewage outlet in the ground for drainage. If you book a site that doesn’t have a sewer hook up, you’ll have to use a public dump site. Most campgrounds have a dump site. There are also dump sites at some truck stops. When using a dump, you’ll monitor your black tank until its about full, then drive to the dump to dump it!
It’s important that your sewer hose and all sewer connections are stored in a separate container because they are covered in- well- sewage. You don’t want them anywhere near your fresh water hose as it can contaminate your fresh water source and cause illness. When hooking up your sewer hose, be sure to wear a pair of disposable gloves and be aware of what you touch to prevent cross contamination. When you rent an RV, the rental company will teach you how to use your sewer connections. Pay really close attention and don’t be afraid to ask questions so you really understand what to do and how to do it safely!
What Hook-Ups Do I Want?
It depends! If you want all the comforts of home- you want sites with “Full Hook-Ups”. Full hook-up sites include water, electrical and sewer. If you’re staying in one place for most of your trip, this is the ideal set up. You’ll drive to your campsite, hook everything up, enjoy your vacation, then unhook everything when it’s time to leave.
In most cases, sites with “Full-Hook Ups” are found at RV parks where the RVs are all lined up in a row. The pros- you have all the modern conveniences of home and you’re not constantly monitoring and dumping your tanks. The cons- these sites are more expensive and chances are you’re going to to be able to reach out and touch your neighbor.
Another popular option is “Water and Electric Only“. This means you’ll have water and electric hook-ups but no sewer hook-up. This isn’t a bad option at all! Unless you have enough people to comprise a small circus in your RV or you’re staying in one campsite for a really long time, you should be just fine without the sewer hook-up. You’ll have all the conveniences of water and electricity, you’ll just have to drive over to the dump station to empty your black tank if it gets full.
It’s less common, but sometimes you’ll find a site that is “Electric Only“. (“Water Only” sites exist but are even less common). Sites offering only one hook-up are most common on sites like HipCamp or Harvest Hosts, where you’re actually camping on someone’s property (a farm or a winery for example) and they provide you with an extension cord for electricity.
Lastly, you’ll find sites with “No-Hook Ups“. There are two types of camping where the sites have no hook-ups: Campgrounds and Boondocking. The nice thing about campgrounds with no hook-ups is that they generally have public water and sewer available. You might have to move your RV to the fill and dump site to fill your fresh water tank and empty your black water tank- but you can do that right in the campground. Boondocking, or dispersed camping, means you’re wingin’ it. You’re on your own! Most people boondock on BLM land (Bureau of Land Management) that is common west of the Mississippi. It’s totally legal to camp on BLM land- but there are zero amenities because it’s just land, not a campground.
Now that you’ve read our beginners guide to RV hook-ups, you’re ready to decide which kind of RV campground you want to stay at! Let us help with that too! Our post “Different Types of Campsites for RV Camping and Tips for Booking” covers everything you’ll need when it comes to deciding where to camp in your RV!