Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

RV Glossary

The RV and Camping communities have their own lingo. Sometimes it can be confusing and even experienced campers misunderstand and misuse some terms. Here are definitions and explanations for some common words and phrases used in and around RVs.

RV: Recreational Vehicle. This a broad term and sometimes includes riding toys like ATVs  and otehr OHVSs but it usually refers to a motorhome, truck camper, or camping trailer with living space.  In typical use, when someone talks about an "RV" they usually mean a motorhome, but it could be used for a travel trailer too.

BLM:  Bureau of Land Management.  The federal government agency responsible for management of federally owned lands, most of which are west of the Mississippi River.  Many of these areas are open to dispersed camping and sometimes OHV and other recreational activity.

DRV: Disaster Recovery Vehicle -- an RV used as an emergency disaster shelter.

OHV:  Off Highway Vehicle such as a dirt bike, ATV, dune buggy, or side-by-side.

Motorhome: A self-propelled recreational vehicle. To be considered a motorhome, it should have sleeping and kitchen facilities and most also have bathrooms and living room areas.  Some more complete van conversions are considered Class B motorhomes.

Winnebago: Winnebago is a specific brand of motorhomes.  They were one of the first companies to manufacturer commercial motorhomes and their name has become synonymous with "motorhome".

Travel trailer: A recreational vehicle that has to be pulled by a car, truck, or SUV.

Fifth wheel: A travel trailer that uses a fifth wheel hitch similar to the one on a semi-trailer instead of a standard ball hitch.

Gooseneck trailers are similar to 5th wheel trailers except they use an ordinary ball mount in the bed of the pickup instead of a fifth wheel hitch.

Bumper pull: A travel trailer that uses a conventional ball hitch that connects to a hitch mounted on or beneath the bumper of the tow vehicle.

Class A: A motorhome in which the driver's cockpit is an integral part of the living space. Class A motorhomes are usually built on a heavy duty truck or bus chassis.

Class B: A motorhome based on a van. These are usually elaborate van conversions that incorporate the living facilities of a motorhome within a standard van body. They may have an extended or popup  roof for added headroom but not other significant body modifications.  Some expanded Class B's are marketed as Class B+.

Class C: A motorhome built on a cutaway van or truck chassis. Also called a "mini motorhome".   Mostly built on cutaway van chassis, there are some that were built on a pickup chassis.  The driver's compartment and the front of the motorhome are retained from the original van and a fairly large living space similar to a travel trailer built in place of where the cargo area would have been. For a while, some Class C's (sometimes called "micro-mini motorhomes) were built on a Toyota pickup chassis. Some new luxury Class Cs, known as Super Cs are built on heavy duty truck chassis like those used to pull semi-trailers.  A "micro-mini motorhome" is a special sub-class built on a Toyota pickup chassis.  There are also some custom micros built using a Volkswagen bug chassis.  You may even see some Class C' built on standard pickups.

Tent trailer: A towable recreational vehicle that includes canvas sides. Their light weight and collapsible low profile allows them to be towed by smaller vehicles than hard sided travel trailers.  The light weight helps minimize fuel consumption by the tow vehicle.

Self-contained: A recreational vehicle that includes complete sleeping, cooking, and sanitation facilities. A self-contained vehicle usually also includes an on board generator to supply 120-volt power. Water is stored in a fresh water tank and waste water from sinks and shower is collected in a gray water tank. Sewage from the toilet is collected in a black water tank. The stove, furnace, hot water heater, and usually the refrigerator are powered by propane.

Boondocking: refers to camping without hookups, usually in a remote or primitive camping area.

Off the grid: refers to camping without hookups; stopping in a rest area or Walmart parking lot, or camping in remote Forest Service campgrounds without hookups is considered camping off the grid.

Dry camping: same as boondocking and camping off the grid, e.g. without hookups.

Converter: an electrical device that converts 120-volt AC into 12-volt DC power.  Input is from a 120-volt AC source, such as shore power or a generator.  The 12- volt DC output powers lights, fans, pumps, and other 12-volt accessories in RVs and sometimes also charges batteries.

Inverter: an electrical device that changes 12-volt DC battery power into 120-volt AC power; some large inverters include a powerful battery charger.

Mini-motorhome: another name for a Class C motorhome.

Micro-mini-motorhome: the extra small Class C motorhomes once built on the Toyota pickup chassis.

Super-C motorhome:   A Class C motorhome built on a heavy duty truck chassis, often like those used to pull semis.

Bus Conversion:  Some large luxury motorhomes are converted bus chassis.  Provost is the most prominent in the current marketplace, but the Wanderlodge, built on a BlueBird bus chassis has also enjoyed a long and noble history.  After the fact conversions, often do it yourself projects, are built on retired school, Greyhound or city bus chassis.

Primitive campground: A camping area without water, electricity or sewer hookups.

Dispersed camping:   open areas within a Forest Service or BLM area where camping is permitted but there are no designated camp sites.  You are usually free to camp anywhere in a dispersed camping area, but there are sometimes special rules or restrictions in some areas.

RV/Marine Deep Cycle Battery: a 12-volt battery designed for powering RV lights and appliances. They are designed to accommodate frequent discharge and charging needed for off the grid use. Ordinary automotive starting batteries are designed for the heavy load of turning the engine over and do not stand up to frequent discharge/charge cycles.

6-volt Golf Cart Batteries: as the name implies, they are used to power golf carts, but are often used in series to create 12-volts, replacing RV/Marine Deep Cycle Batteries. Golf cart batteries are even more heavy duty than RV/Marine Deep Cycle Batteries and will deliver more power and last longer.  Two 6-volt golf cart batteries wired in series would deliver better performance (i.e., more power and longer life) than two 12-volt Deep Cycle batteries wired in parallel.

Holding tanks: normally refers to the waste water tanks on self-contained recreational vehicles but technically includes the fresh water tank.

Gray water:   the waste water from sinks and showers.

Black water:  the waste from the toilet.  Some RVs also catch water from the shower in the black water tank to minimize filling of the gray water tank and to provide extra liquid to facilitate chemical breakdown of wastes and flushing of the tank.

Fresh water:  potable water stored in a tank or supplied by a hose connected to city water.

City Water Connection:  an externally mounted female hose connection used to connect an RV to a campground faucet to get fresh water.

Shore power:  electrical power (120 volts AC) supplied to an RV (or boat) via a heavy cable to power on board 120 volt electrical appliances.

Dump station:  usually a concrete pad or basin connected to a sewer system into which the holding tanks of recreational vehicles are emptied.

Full timers:  people who live in their RVs year round.

Part timers:  people who use their RVs for more than just weekend outings and vacations but don't live in the full time.

Galley:   the kitchen of a recreational vehicle or boat.

Head:   the bathroom in a boat or RV and sometimes used to refer to the toilet facilities in a campground.  Often it means the toilet specifically.

LP Gas: LPG is short for liquified petroleum gas; this gas is used to power the stove, hot water heater, furnace and even the refrigerator in most RVs.  Also known as propane but sometimes includes a percentage of butane.

Pull-through: describes a campsite in which the driver can drive in one side and then out the other without ever having to back up. Particularly convenient for large trailers and motorhomes towing a dinghy vehicle.

Back-in: a campsite where an RV must back in

Toy-hauler: an RV equipped with an integrated "garage" space to haul Off Highway Vehicles and other motorized or non-motorized "toys" or equipment. Most toy-haulers are travel trailers but there are a few toy-hauler motorhomes as well.

Rig: many RVers refer to their RV (motorhome, camper, or trailer) as their "rig".

Iron ranger: the collection box where you deposit your fees at campgrounds without a human attendant.

Water thief: a device that attaches to an unthreaded faucet via a rubber connector that allows you to temporarily connect a garden hose to the faucet.

Automatic Transfer Switch:  an electrical device that automatically connects the output of an RV generator to the breaker panel when the generator is running; normal (default) position connects the shore power cord to the breaker panel.  RVs without an Automatic Transfer Switch require the user to plug the shore power cord into a receptacle powered by the generator.

Generator:  a portable or on board device that generates 120-volt AC electric power for RVs.  On board devices may run on gasoline, diesel, or propane.  Portable models usually run on gasoline.  On board generators usually have an electric starter so they can be started from inside the vehicle.  Portable units usually use a pull starter but may have an optional electric starter.  These devices consist of two major components:  a motor and a generator.  When running, the motor turns the generator which creates electrical power.

Levelers:  Electric/hydraulic jacking systems used to level and stabilize an RV.  Automatic leveling systems level  the RV at the touch of a button; manual controlled systems use a separate switch or lever to manipulate each jack until the vehicle is level.

Stabilizing jacks:  jacking or jack stands used to support and stabilize the body of an RV to level and prevent rocking.   Some popular versions of permanently installed active stabilizing jacks are scissor  jacks, hydraulic jacks, and ratcheting jacks similar to a permanently mounted bumper jack.   Portable, pyramid shaped  adjustable aluminum jack stands can also be used for stabilizing smaller vehicles like travel trailers.  Taller version are available to larger RVs.   There is a large bolt like extension on the top that screws up and down to adjust the height.  They are mostly used for stabilizing because they don't really have sufficient lifting capacity to raise an RV to level it.

Leveling blocks:  originally leveling blocks were usually home made from pieces of dimensional (2" thick) 6" or 8" wide lumber that could be stacked to raise wheels of an RV to level it.  Modern versions are often made of plastic and fit together like giant legos.  They are lighter and easier to clean than the old wooded blocks.  Blocks are placed in front of a wheel that needs to be raised to level a vehicle and then the vehicle is driven up onto the blocks.  Some version  have chocks to keep from driving too far and to hold the tire in place so it doesn't roll off once it is in place.

For additional details enter "RV glossary" into your favorite search engine.

Managing Black Water

Black water is the term used to describe toilet wastes from an RV.  Black water isn't really black.  It is usually brown, green or blue, depending on the type and amount of holding tank chemicals -- or lack thereof.  Doesn't really matter whether you have a motorhome, travel trailer, truck camper, or van conversion -- the process is pretty much the same. Tent campers usually don't have any black water unless they are using a port-a-potty. Dumping or spilling black water onto the ground is nasty and is NEVER permitted. Black water should only be drained into an approved dump station or pumped into a proper sewer system. The only way to manage black water accumulation in remote areas is to limit filling your black water tank or plan to drive to approved dump stations. That means taking advantage of pit toilets or outdoor latrines as much as possible. When the tank gets full, you'll need to go to a dump station or drain the tank into an approved portable holding tank for temporary storage and subsequent disposal. Dealing with transporting temporary holding tanks any distance to a dump station is cumbersome. Some people find it helpful to use them if the campground has a dump station but no sewer hookups in each site. You can periodically drain black water into the portable holding tank and drag the portable tank to the dump station instead of having to disconnect everything and drive your RV. Some of the larger portable tanks have wheels and are designed to be pulled by a motor vehicle.  When boondocking, you will have to either limit filling your holding tanks or take time to drive to an approved dump station before your tank fills. If you wait until the sewage is backing up or the toilet won't flush, you'll have a really nasty mess to deal with.

Use the right toilet paper.  There is a special grade of toilet paper designed for use in RV holding tanks and porta-potties.  While ordinary household paper does the job, it is usually thicker and doesn't break down as easily as RV toilet paper, leading to difficulty dumping the tanks.  If you can't get RV toilet paper, use the cheapest, single-ply residential paper you can find.  It is likely to break down easier than the fancier, multi-ply brands.  Of course, be somewhat selective.  Remember the old poem:  "Roses are red, violets are blue;  Toilet paper's no good If your finger goes through"!  Avoid putting facial tissue in the toilet as it doesn't break down well either.  Never put paper towels or sanitary napkins in your RV toilet. They are almost sure to cause a clog or get stuck in the tank when dumping.  Even "flushable" baby wipes should be avoided.

The other part of managing black water, besides limiting accumulation and dumping, is controlling odors and facilitating the break down of solid wastes. This is controlled by the use of proper holding tank chemicals and making sure there is adequate liquid in the tank. RV toilets usually use only about a quart of water per flush, compared with 3-5 gallons in a residential toilet so solid wastes can build up in the tank if there isn't enough liquid. Some RVs drain shower water into the black water tank to increase the liquid to solid ratio. If yours does, overfilling the black water tank will result in a very unpleasant and unsanitary back up into your shower!  Holding tank chemicals serve two functions:  1) they assist breaking down solids and 2) they control odor.   If your holding tank develops foul odors between dumpings you probably need to add more chemicals. You will normally need more chemicals in hot weather than cold. Improper or inadequate dumping of holding tanks can also contribute to bad odors. First of all, the tank needs sufficient liquid to flush out all the solid waste. Normally, with proper chemical treatment, the solids will have begun to break down and will flush out easily. Rinsing the tank after it has been dumped is necessary to ensure no residue is left behind to cause odors. There are several ways to rinse the black water tank. The "old school" method is to use a "wand" attached to a garden hose. The wand is put down through the toilet and is rotated so the jet of water coming out one side sprays around inside the tank to wash away any debris stick to the walls and roof of the tank. Using a wand can be messy if you aren't careful to keep the spray aimed inside the tank. If you pull it up too high, it will hit the down tube from the toilet and spray back in your face! The water in the wand is probably clean, but what it picks up from the down tube can be nasty. There are back-flushing devices that allow you to attach a garden hose to special connectors on your dump hose. These are usually pretty effective but lack the ability to be aimed all around inside the tank. These nozzles are designed to spray back up inside the tank past the dump valve without washing sewage off the inside of the hose, which can happen if you just run water back through the dump hose.  Lacking a backflush adapter you can simply run clean water back into the dump hose until it flushes out the holding tank. The most effective and convenient method uses an "EZ-Flush" system. This is a permanently mounted nozzle in one of the walls of the holding tank that is connected to a female hose connection like the one for your city water hookup. You just hook up the hose and turn on the faucet and let it run until the stuff draining from the dump hose is clear. "Black water" is usually actually blue, green, or brown depending on the type and concentration of chemicals -- or lack thereof!  Properly treated black water have a somewhat unpleasant odor but won't smell excessively bad, but inadequately treated waste will be horrific!

A cool idea. If you suspect solid wastes are building up in your black water tank (e.g., the sensors read full or you can see a pile of stuff in the tank when you flush the toilet even after you've just dumped the tank ) you might try dumping some ice cubes and water down the toilet and driving around. Be sure to add plenty of water. You want enough so the water and ice cubes will slosh around and loosen stubborn deposits while you drive. The ice will help scour and loosen deposits but will then simply melt and flush out without leaving any additional solids behind.

Another suggestion for keeping the black water tank clean is to add some fabric softener to the black water tank after you've dumped and rinsed it the first time along with some clean water.  Then drive around for a while to mix the softener and slosh it all over the inside of the tank.  It is said to help keep stuff from sticking to the walls of the tank as well as mitigating odors.

You might get odors from your holding tanks while driving. This is usually caused by a partial vacuum inside the coach generated by an open window. It may also be caused by a clogged vent (birds and other pests sometimes build nests inside the vent caps on the roof). If the odors are strongest inside a kitchen cabinet the problem may be a faulty vacuum breaker. This is a device in the gray water plumbing that prevents the water seal in the P-traps being siphoned out when the tanks are dumped. Sometimes tapping the device lightly will release a stuck valve, but don't hit it too hard. It is made of plastic and if you break it you'll have far worse problems than bad odors.  You can usually distinguish whether the odors are coming from the gray water or black water tank.  Black water tank odors are more pungent and usually come from the toilet (perhaps the shower if the shower drains into the black water tank).  Gray water odors will be more musty or smell like dirty dishwater and usually come up through a sink drain or escape through a faulty vacuum breaker inside a cabinet.  A faulty vacuum breaker won't release black water tank odors into your RV.  If your shower drains into the black water tank, make sure there is water in the P-trap to avoid odors from entering your rig.  If the shower hasn't been used in a while,  run a cup or two of water down the drain to fill the P-trap.  If you overfill the black water tank it may back up into the shower, creating a REALLY nasty, smelly mess!

Dumping of holding tanks is one of the least appealing tasks associated with owning an RV.  Many people find it revolting, but done right it doesn't have to be.  Proper dumping requires a good dump hose and a proper dump station.  Most dumping of holding tanks is done using gravity only using a 3" dump hose but there are pumping systems, called maserators, that grind solid waste and pump it out through a 1" garden hose.  This allows you to pump waste uphill and, if you don't have access to a proper dump station, you might be able to pump waste into a toilet or through a clean-out plug on your home sewer system.  Periodically check your sewer dump hose to make sure it hasn't developed loose connections or leaks.  The hose may wear through while in bouncing around in storage, so be sure to check it out BEFORE you need to use it.  Cap one end and raise the other end about chest height and fill the hose with clear water.  If there are any worn spots you should see little sprays or drips of water.  If you do, replace the hose before dumping your tanks or you'll have a nasty mess to clean up.  Sewer hoses come in different thickness or grades.  The heavier or sturdier the hose, the longer it will last and the less likely it will leak.  Lighter weight hoses are often much less expensive and will do the job (for a while), but plan on replacing them more often.  Properly designed black water systems should drain completed through the dump valves but you may need to raise the side of some RVs opposite the dump valve to ensure complete flushing.  Locate the dump valves and position the vehicle so he dump valves are in line with the dump station and so that the dump station is within reach of your dump hose.  Some people carry extra lengths of hose and connectors to tie them together in case they can't get close enough to the dump station.  Most dump stations are designed so you can get the RV very close and the most common use of extended sewer connections is for use with full hookups when the dump port isn't near the position of the dump valves when the vehicle is parked in the site.

Proper dumping and cleaning of holding tanks can help keep the sensors clean so you get accurate readings on you gauges on the monitor panel inside. 

Porta-potties and other portable toilets require about the same procedures as RV black water tanks. They will need to be properly dumped and flushed regularly and treated with appropriate chemicals to control odors and break down wastes.

Black water systems are subject to freezing when the temperature drops below 32° F.  Depending on the concentration of chemicals and biological contaminants, the freeze point might be a little lower, but protecting it at 32° should always be safe.   If your dump valves are in an enclosed cabinet, leaving a 100 watt incandescent light bulb burning may be enough to keep them from freezing.  Since 100 watt incandescent bulbs are being phased out, you may have to settle for a 60 or 75 watt bulb.  Or use a bulb for a heat lamp or get a reptile warming light from a pet store.  If your valves are exposed you'll need heat tape and/or antifreeze to protect them. Adding RV antifreeze to the black water tank may prevent it from freezing solid and splitting the plumbing or the tank. Check with your local RV shop to determine how much antifreeze you need for the size of your tanks.   A gallon should usually be enough added to an empty tank to fill and protect the valves, but you may need a lot more to protect the entire tank if you're using the RV in sub-freezing weather.  The chemicals and waste products in "black" water may lower the freezing point some, but I'd rather not risk having the tanks freeze. Clean water freezes a 32°F; chemicals and other contaminants may lower the freeze point some.  If a tank or pipes freezes and splits you're going to have a very, very nasty mess in and/or under your RV when it warms up!  Exposed drain pipes are even more susceptible to freezing and need to be protected with heat tape or antifreeze if the RV is used in freezing weather.

One of the most important keys to keeping black water tanks functioning properly is appropriate use and regular, thorough dumping and cleaning.   Appropriate use includes using the right toilet paper, avoiding putting clog-inducing materials (diapers, sanitary napkins, paper towels) in the toilet, and using the right amount of water when flushing.   When boondocking you want to minimize your water usage, but using too little water to flush will result in solid waste buildup that will inhibit dumping and create nasty odors.

Flush it!

Managing Gray Water

Gray water is the water from the sinks and showers in an RV or the water from dishpans and wash basins when tent camping.  Gray water is usually just soapy water, but dishwater can often be quite greasy and contain quite a bit of food residue.  The question of dumping gray water on the ground comes up frequently. Tent campers often just toss their dishwater or wash water out in the bushes or dump it on the grass. This really isn't a good idea since soap and other contaminates can damage the environment and sometimes spread disease.  Never use this method if it is prohibited in the campground. When you are allowed to use this method, such as when boondocking in a remote location, don't dump it all in one place. Spread it out so it can filter through the soil before entering any aquafiers in the ground. I've seen people camping in RVs in the desert run a garden hose 25-50 feet from their RV and let the gray water drain out onto the ground or into a gopher hole or snake hole. Neither of these is a good idea and is often illegal. Allowing it to flow out onto the ground will usually result it soapy residue after the water evaporates and soaks into the ground. Running into a hole may flood some animal's home.  That might force dangerous animals like poisonous snakes out into your camp site!   All that being said, the technique is useful for extending your stay  in a remote location -- IF  you can do it discreetly and legally.     If you feel you MUST drain gray water out into the desert, be sure to run the hose away from the camp so it doesn't flow back toward any occupied areas or create any muddy "traps" where campers might walk or vehicles might sink in -- and always make sure it isn't prohibited by local regulations to prevent damage to the environment and avoid costly fines.

The general rule, is only dump holding tanks (both gray and black) into approved dump stations. In many jurisdictions it is illegal to dump ANY holding tank waste onto the ground. Even in remote locations, like the desert camping described above, it is unwise to dump gray water onto or into the ground. At the least you will likely be leaving residue that will create an unpleasant or offensive smell near your camp site. Another camper may end up parking or setting up a tent on top of your discharge. Next time you visit the area it might even be you! Some campgrounds have special places called sumps for tent campers to dump their waste water. They are often partially submerged perforated 55 gallon drums beneath a gravel covered dumping basin with sand and gravel in the bottom so the waste is contained and filtered before entering the eco-system. These are adequate for small amounts of water like a dishpan or wash basin full of soapy water but should NOT be used to empty RV holding tanks, which would overwhelm the capacity of the sump and probably overflow onto the surrounding ground.

The best way to limit how quickly your holding tanks fill up is to limit your water usage, which also helps your fresh water last longer. Be stingy in your water usage. Don't let it run to rinse dishes. Wipe them off with a paper towel or wad of old newspaper. When you take a shower, catch the water you run while adjusting the temperature into a dishpan and use that for rinsing dishes and other routine cleanups around camp. When washing your hands and face, brushing your teeth, or showering, turn off the water when you aren't actually using it to wet or rinse your body. If your RV shower doesn't have a shut off at the shower head one can usually be added fairly easily and inexpensively.  Sometimes you can drain off little grey water into a bucket and use it to drown the campfire to reduce filling the holding tank. The heat of the campfire plus the filtering effect of the ashes helps purify the water before it enters the ground. Don't run a hose from your dump valve and drain your whole tank onto the fire. It will probably quickly overrun the fire pit and contaminate your campsite.  If you run a hose to drown the campfire, make sure you have a shutoff valve or have someone monitoring the dump valve to shut if off as soon as the fire is out so you don't flood the area around the campfire with potentially smelly water.

Gray water tanks may develop foul odors if not properly maintained but usually proper flushing is all that is needed to keep them fresh and clean. Chemicals can be added to further reduce odors if necessary. There are chemical treatments especially designed for gray water tanks but, in an emergency, you could use a reduced amount of the same chemicals you use in your black water tank. Since you have no access to use a wand to flush gray water tanks, you either have to run sufficient water down the drains to refill and rinse the thanks, use a back-flush system on your dump hose, or use an "EZ-Flush". The EZ-Flush is by far the easiest to use and the most effective. It consists of a permanently installed nozzle on one of the walls of the holding tank that is connected to an external female hose fitting like your city water connection on the side of your RV. You simple hook up a garden hose, turn on the faucet, and flush the tank until the water from the dump hose runs clear. Water from the gray water tank will usually be, well, gray or cloudy until it has been thoroughly flushed. Being careful what you put into your gray water tanks is another way to avoid odors. Avoid odor-causing deposits by NOT rinsing excess food from dirty dishes down your sink drain. Use paper towels or old newspaper to wipe the garbage off instead of rinsing them in the sink. Most soapy water, like from doing dishes, bathing, or washing your hands and brushing your teeth won't be a problem.  In fact, the soapy water will actually help clean the holding tank and the dump hose after dumping the black water tank.  Be cautious changing diapers and cleaning baby bottoms. You don't want fecal matter in your gray water tank! It is surprising how little it takes to foster a bad smell.  Odors are more likely to develop in warm weather than cool so you might be more likely to need gray water odor treatments during hot summer camping trips.

You might get odors from your holding tanks while driving. This is usually caused by a partial vacuum inside the coach generated by an open window. It may also be caused by a clogged vent (birds and other pests sometimes build nests inside the vent caps on the roof). If the odors are strongest inside a kitchen cabinet the problem may be a faulty vacuum breaker. This is a device in the gray water plumbing that prevents the water seal in the P-traps being siphoned out when the tanks are dumped. Sometimes tapping the device lightly will release a stuck valve, but don't hit it too hard. It is made of plastic and if you break it you'll have far worse problems than bad odors.

Annual gray water tank cleaning. Spring cleaning, when you de-winterize your RV and get it ready for a new season, is an excellent time to give your gray water tank a thorough cleaning. Here is one way to easily do it. Dissolve 2 cups of powdered water softener in 1 gallon of hot water and pour it down a drain in your RV. Powdered water softener is found in the laundry section of the grocery store. Pour 2 tablespoons liquid dish washing soap down the drain. Run the water in your camper until the gray water tank is three-quarters full. Drive the RV around for a few minutes to agitate the solution in the tank, then drain and flush it completely. Thoroughly clean the gray tank in this manner at the beginning of each season and thorough flushing at each regular dumping should be sufficient to keep your gray water tank from going sour on you.

Proper dumping and cleaning of holding tanks can help keep the sensors clean so you get accurate readings on you gauges on the monitor panel inside.

Daily odor control. If you start to notice odors from your gray water tank, add a cup of vinegar through one of the drains for each 10 gallons of water in the tank. Note, this is not for each 10 gallons of capacity, but each 10 gallons in the tank. For example, if you have a 60 gallon tank and it is half full in will contain 30 gallons of waste water: add 3 cups of vinegar. Vinegar is a safe and natural disinfectant that kills germs and reduces odors.

Gray water is mostly water and is susceptible to freezing when temperatures drop below 32° F.   It may resist freezing until a few degrees cooler, depending on the type and concentration of detergents and other stuff in the water.  If you are camping or just storing your RV in sub-freezing temperatures, you must takes steps to prevent the gray water system from freezing. Exposed pipes can be wrapped with heat tape (assuming you have 120 volt power available). Drain pipes and dump valves can be protected with antifreeze. About a gallon of antifreeze added to an empty tanks hould fill and protect the dump valves.  You may need a lot more to keep the contents from freezing if  you're camping in sub-freezing weather.  See your local RV shop to determine how much antifreeze you need for the size of your tanks. Dump at least 1-2 cups of antifreeze down every drain to protect the P-traps if when the interior isn't heated. Without protection your gray water tank and plumbing could freeze solid and split. When things warm up, the contents will leak out making a heck of a mess!  Always use the special, pink-colored, Marine/RV antifreeze.  Regular green, orange, or blue car engine antifreeze is toxic.

Read more: How to Remove Gray Water Tanks on an RV for details on how to replace a gray water tank that is no longer serviceable.  Any significant physical damage would make a tank unservicable.  A tank that has accumulated too much residue inside may be so difficult to clean that it can no longer be used.  Doing proper cleaning on a regular basis can prevent this from happening.

Keep it clean!

Using a "Water Thief"

A "water thief" is a rubber adapter that allows you to connect a garden hose to an unthreaded faucet like those often found in primitive and non-hookup campgrounds. One end is a tapered and ribbed  rubber fitting that slides tightly over the unthreaded faucet. The other end is a male hose fitting onto which you can screw a standard female hose connector. It gives you a temporary way to connect a hose to fill your RV fresh water tank or use a short hose to more conveniently fill your water jugs when tent camping. With it you can leave your jugs on the ground and use a short section of hose to fill them instead of having to hold them up to the faucet. 4-5' potable water rated hoses are about the right size for filling jugs and are available at most RV stores. Always use a hose rated for potable water if you can to avoid adding a plastic taste to your water. An ordinary garden hose isn't likely to be toxic or contaminated unless it has been used to flush holding tanks, but it often adds an unpleasant taste to your water supply, especially in hot weather when the plastic is heated and softened in the sun.  Keep in mind that unthreaded faucets are used to discourage any semi-permanent connections, so never tie up a public faucet beyond your fair usage. Here is what one looks like:

                                                    Image result for RV water thief photo

To use a "water thief", push the rubber end of the device as far onto the unthreaded faucet as you can.   They are designed to be fit tightly and normally don't require any kind of clamp.  Then simply screw your garden hose to the threaded end.  I've seen people use hose clamps to keep a water thief secure but it kind of defeats the convenience of the water thief and the purpose of the unthreaded faucet when you clamp it on and make it semi-permanent.  Using a clamp may also damage the rubber and quickly make it unusable.

DO NOT attempt to use a "water thief" to connect your city water connection to your RV. The rubber adapter is intended for a temporary hose connection and not designed to withstand the pressure if the other end of the hose is shut off, as it would be when connected to an RV. It may hold for a short while but will soon blow off. Besides that, it isn't polite or ethical to hog the faucet. One of the reasons they use unthreaded faucets is to discourage semi-permanent connections since the faucets are shared by several users.

If you use a "water thief" to fill your RV fresh water tank, be considerate of other campers who may be waiting to use the faucet. The number and location of faucets in the campground is intended to give reasonable access to water based on the number of campsites each faucet is expected to serve and short uses for each site. If you tie it up for a long time filling a 100 gallon RV tank you may be depriving other campers much needed and deserved access. If you need to fill a large RV fresh water tank, do it when other usage is low. Avoid tying up the faucet around mealtimes. Using a water thief to attach a hose to make filling your water jugs easier could actually help you reduce how long you are using the faucet since you can move the hose from jug to jug faster than you can switch jugs if you're filling them directly from the faucet.

"Water thief" adapters are usually available at most RV stores for around $5.00. They take up little room in your camping supplies and can add convenience to your camping experience.

Fill 'er up!

City Water Hookups

Using city water hookups is pretty easy and adds a lot of convenience when camping in a campground with hookups. Just connect your potable water hose between the faucet and the connection on the side of your RV.  Do not use an ordinary garden hose.  Potable water  hoses are made with compounds that won't leach chemicals or taste into the water.  They are also usually reinforced to stand up to constant pressure between the faucet and the RV's water system.  To protect both your hose and your RV's plumbing, use a pressure regulator between the faucet and the hose.  The connection on the RV will be an external female hose connector on the outside (usually on the left side) of your RV and should be clearly labeled. It may be recessed or flush mounted so it sticks out.  It should have a plastic cover over it when not in use.  Some RVs have similar connections for flushing the holding tanks and those should also be clearly labeled. If they are not labeled, look underneath to try to see where the lines go. The city water connection will usually be about midway up the side of the wall. The flush connections are usually lower, near the bottom of the wall near the holding tanks, and you can probably see where the hoses run underneath to the holding tanks. Connecting your fresh water hose to the sewer flush connectors could contaminate your hose and thus your water supply. One-way valves in the flushing system normally prevent any sewage from leaking from the connectors but having used the your sewer rinse hose on them previously after the hose was used to clean the large sewer dump hose or handling by less than clean hands may have contaminated the connection. Though the pollution level may be very low, I for one, don't relish the thought of adding any sewer residue to my fresh water!

The city water connection on your RV should contain a check valve and possibly a restrictor to reduce pressure to protect your plumbing.  Without the check valve water will spurt out the city water connection when you turn on your water pump.  Check valves can get stuck and I've even seen them removed from some RVs.  Screwing a male hose plug into the female connector is an easy, inexpensive, and fairly easy way to temporarily solve the problem until you can replace the connector.  Why would anyone remove the check valve you ask.  They may have been trying to get better flow or pressure from a city water source into their RV. 

Another potential and fairly common problem with city water hookups is water pressure. You never know what the pressure will be unless you test it. Low pressure is inconvenient, high pressure can damage your RV plumbing. To be safe, use an in-line pressure regulator right at the faucet so it protects both the hose and the RV water system from excess pressure. Regulators are fairly inexpensive (under $10) and can avoid costly repairs. For better control and allegedly better flow, adapt an adjustable residential pressure regulator.  Make sure your water line lies flat on the ground so it doesn't become a trip hazard. I also like to use an 90° elbow right at the RV connection so the hose hangs straight down instead of getting kinked where it connects to the RV. These special elbows have a male hose connector on one end to connect to the RV and a female connection on the other end to accept the male end of your potable water hose. If you know or suspect the water may have a high mineral content or other particulates, use an in-line filter to clean the water before it gets into your RV system. In-line filters are usually around $20 each and last a few months. Place the filter near the faucet so its weight doesn't stress the connection on the side of your RV.  Your RV might have a built-in filter for the whole water system. If so, all you need to do is make sure the cartridge is changed periodically. The cartridges usually last longer than in-line filters before they have to be changed. If your RV doesn't have an on-board filter, you may be able to purchase one at a home center and install it yourself or have one installed by a qualified RV technician. Having a permanent filter adds convenience and usually reduces cost.  I'm told that adapting a residential filter is usually less expensive than installing one marketed specifically  for RVs but just as effective.

Before you connect your hose to the RV, run a little water through it to rinse out any or dust or bugs that might  have gotten into it during storage and to get rid of any stale water that may have been left over from the last time you used it. Be careful where the water goes so you don't muddy pathways or flood someone's site (including yours!). To keep stuff out while in storage, use hose end caps or simply screw the two ends of the hose together. Be sure you dump all the water out first. Otherwise, the trapped water could develop biological contamination (algae, mold, mildew) from naturally occurring micro-organisms in many water sources. Flushing the hose after you've hooked it up to the faucet but before you connect it to your RV or start filling your RV ensures most contaminants are washed away. If, when you flush your hose, the output is unacceptably dirty or foul smelling, you may want to purify the hose with vinegar or a 10% bleach solution then thoroughly rinse it before using it.

It is not a good idea to connect to faucets at dump stations to fill your fresh water tanks, let alone use it for a city water connection. The chances of the connections having become contaminated is too great. It is unlikely that any sewage has been flushed back into the water system, but the connections themselves often are dirtied by unclean rinse hoses or even dirty hands/gloves. When in a campground, always connect only to the faucet assigned to your designated camping space or get permission from the designated user to share it. NEVER tie up a nearby public faucet for your personal use or use the faucet from someone else's camp site without permission.

Monitor your water system so you can detect any leaks before they cause serious damage to your RV. Listen for water flowing or hissing when all the fixtures are shut off. Watch for damp spots where there shouldn't be any. If you think you have a leak, turn off the water at the faucet and only use it as needed instead of leaving it connected all the time.

Always use a pressure regulator attached to the faucet to protect both your hose and your RV plumbing. Another handy accessory is an elbow so the hose hangs straight down from the side of your RV instead of kinking where is screws into the fitting.

Sunlight can heat the water in your city water hose quite a bit during summer months. One enterprising RVer solved this problem by buying an inexpensive soft-sided cooler at Walmart and coiling the extra hose in it and putting it under his RV out of direct sunlight and minimizing the amount of hose left in the sun. When it came time to pack up he just rolled the rest of the hose together with the pressure regulator inside the cooler and zipped it up. In camp it keeps the hose cooler. On the road it keeps the hose clean and contained and captures any residual water that drips out of the hose so it doesn't wet other items in the storage compartment.  I either use end caps on my fresh water hose or hook the two ends together to prevent left over water from draining into my storage compartment and to keep bugs and debris from getting into the hose.  Leave one end of the hose at ground level while coiling up the hose to drain out as much water as feasible before storing the hose.

City water hookups need special attention during freezing weather. If you do any camping in freezing weather, you will have to protect your hose and the faucet using heat tape or they will freeze and split. A frozen hose in inconvenient and you'll spend a least $25 replacing it. If you leave your hose connected to a campground faucet without protecting it with heat tape, the pipes may freeze and you'll probably be liable for the cost of repairs. Digging up a frost-free faucet and replacing it is not a trivial nor inexpensive task. The frost-free faucets used in cold weather campgrounds are designed so that the water drains out below the freezing level when the faucet is shut off and the hose disconnected. Leaving the faucet on or leaving the hose connected leaves water in the pipe. Don't be surprised if you get assessed $100 or more for repairs if you leave your hose connected and cause the campground's pipes to freeze.  Those frost-free faucets are not cheap and it takes a lot of work to dig them up and replace them, especially when the ground is frozen!  You can wrap your existing potable water hose with heat tape or purchase a heated hose.  The heated hose will be more convenient to use but they are fairly expensive -- and you'll  still need heat tape for the faucet if you leave your hose connected in freezing weather.  Leaving the hose connected defeats the frost-free design by trapping water in the exposed parts of the faucet and plumbing.

Drink up!

Kitchen Utensils for Camping

You probably haven't given much thought to choosing kitchen utensils for camping. And that's OK. Most people have enough experience in the kitchen to know that they're going to need and just duplicate that, or as much as they think they'll need for camping. However, there are some choices for camping that work better than what you normally use at home and having dedicated utensils for camping will make loading and unloading for each trip easier. What you take with you may depend partially on whether you're in an RV or are tent camping. If you're in an RV, you probably want to maintain a pretty well stocked kitchen, similar to what you have at home. If you're tent camping, you may need to limit the amount of stuff you have to carry around. Even in an RV your drawer space will probably be a lot smaller than at home so you may want to downsize some items and seek multi-use tools to reduce how many things you have to sort through when you need something. You probably won't need everything you have at home. Your menus will, to some extent, dictate what utensils you will need.  If you stick to a simple menu, you should be good to go with basic utensils. Another factor is the potential to be cooking on a campfire.  For campfire cooking you will not only need fire resistant utensils, but you will probably want ones with extra long handles for  safety and comfort.

The biggest difference will be the need for durability and resistance to fire. The plastic utensils we favor to protect our Teflon cookware at home may not hold up to the rigors of camp cooking, especially if you're cooking on the campfire. Camping also brings frequent distractions and plastic utensils left in the pan may quickly begin to melt. I prefer solid stainless steel utensils, but steel items with wooden or heat-resistant plastic handles usually work well, are sometimes less expensive, and last a long time if you keep the handles away from flames. Old-fashioned porcelain covered "speckleware" has a nice pioneer ambiance and works well for camping. I have a meat fork, serving spoon, and ladle in "speckleware" or "graniteware". I also have a set of speckleware soup spoons that are fun to use. For really heavy duty stainless steel utensils, check out a restaurant supply store. However, you probably don't need to invest that much. I've used the ones I bought at my local "dollar" store for decades without any problems. The only issue I've had, is my wife liked my ladle so well she commandeered it for the home kitchen and I had to find another one.

Which utensils you need will ultimately depend on your menus and cooking style, but here are some basics most everyone will find useful:

      * cooking/serving spoons (I suggest at least 2)
      * slotted spoon
      * meat fork
      * spatulas (again I suggest having 2)
      * ladle
      * paring knife
      * small or medium butcher knife
      * dish towels and/or paper towels

 If you are into basting, you'll need a baster and/or a basting brush. I would get a plastic baster rather than a glass one since it is less fragile and less likely to break rattling around on the road. If you like spaghetti or pasta, a claw-style spaghetti spoon is good to have. You'll need some cutlery too. I like to have at least a couple of different sized butcher knives, a bread knife, and a paring knife or two. Having sharp instruments rattling around in the kitchen drawers dulls them and makes retrieving anything from the drawers dangerous so I like to keep them in one of the wood-block knife holders on the counter or cupboard and secure it with Velcro or small bungee cords.  Another good way to keep them safe and handy is to store them on a magnetic knife rack.

Make sure you have can and bottle openers. I once arrived in camp many miles from home and didn't realize until I started to fix some canned chili for dinner that I didn't have a can opener on board. Now I make sure I have manual can opener in my motorhome, in my truck camper, and in my tent camping tub. And I carry a supply of Army "P-38" or "P-51"can openers. They are small and sometimes difficult to use, but they are better than trying to open a can with a pocket knife.  P-38 and P-51 can openers are especially convenient for hiking and back packing but are a handy addition to any camp kit.  They take up almost no room.  P-38s are about 1 1/2" x 1/2".The P-51s are larger, giving  you a bit more leverage.  Either one can be carried on a key ring with your keys but I found the sharp edge sometimes cut my pockets.

Measuring cups have many uses in camp.  Most sets stack within themselves so they take up little room but collapsible measure cups are even more compact.  They can even be hung on the inside of an RV or chuck box cabinet door for convenient access without taking up much usable space.

An item I've seen promoted as the best kitchen utensil ever for RV use is a pot strainer.   This is a flat, crescent shaped strainer with a handle that you can use on just about any pot or pan, eliminating the need for a collander or bulky strainer.

Having dedicated utensils for camping adds convenience and helps reduce the possibility of forgetting something you need. I have a Class A motorhome, a truck camper, and a tent camping setup and I keep all three stocked separately so I'll have what I need when I need it without having to remember to transfer things for each outing. My RV and camper stuff is conveniently stored in the galley cabinets and drawers. Tent camping utensils reside in a translucent plastic tubs that are easy to transport to the campsite and keeps things clean and sanitary in camp and between trips. I know for sure from experience that if I have to switch things around for each trip, I will forget something!

Don't let these recommendations keep you from camping with what you have on hand. If dedicated utensils for camping aren't in your budget yet or you don't have time to get them before your trip, borrow from your kitchen and hit the road. Just be careful that you don't destroy or lose your home utensils in camp. When you are ready to buy a set of utensils dedicated to camping, check our your local dollar store or thrift store before spending lots of money in department or restaurant supply stores. That way, if something does get lost or destroyed, you're not out a lot of money and can easily replace it.  Sometimes it makes sense to upgrade your home cookware and re-purpose the old stuff for camping.  Also, before you head to the store, be sure to check out what you have on hand.  If you have duplicates you can spare or some old stuff you were saving to give to charity, you may be able to fill your camping needs without spending any money.  If painted handles have worn you can easily sand them down and repaint them to give them new life in your camp kit.  That way you can even make a matching set out of a bunch of odds and ends.  Using a unique color will also help you keep track of your stuff in camp and avoid getting them confused with other people's stuff or with  the stuff  you use at home.

Camp cooking is fun!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Remote or Primitive Tent Camping

Tent camping offers opportunities to REALLY get "off the grid". You can start by car camping in remote or primitive campgrounds. If you really want to get away from it all, try back packing, hiking in, or horse camping. Remote camping lets you experience nature in ways you cannot in developed areas. The proximity of other campers in campgrounds often disturbs the peace and tranquility you might be seeking. Light pollution is another problem in many developed campgrounds. Light from offices, camp stores, street and parking lot lighting, nearby communities, and other camp sites can inhibit your view of the stars. It is surprising how far the glow from city lights will extend into the surrounding countryside, especially when the sky is overcast so it reflects off the clouds. Getting out into raw country eliminates these problems. Unless you depend on getting your water from the campground and prefer even smelly pit toilets to digging your own latrines, tent campers have no need to be tied to developed campgrounds.

Primitive car camping is a good way to start remote camping. You may choose remote Forest Service campgrounds or even seek out open camping areas on completely unimproved BLM and Forest Service lands. The biggest difference between really boondocking in a tent and staying in a primitive campground is that most campgrounds have a source of water and at least pit toilets, if not flush toilets or even complete restrooms with showers. When really roughing it in undeveloped, open camping areas, you'll have to bring along all your own water and may have to dig your own latrines. Developed campgrounds usually have fire rings or fire pits for your use at each designated camp site. In an undeveloped area you may have to build your own fire pit. If you are camping in an area where others have camped before, take advantage of any fire pit that may already exist. If you have to build your own, do it right. Clear the ground where you're going to build your fire and at least 5' all around it of any combustible material. Create a ring of rocks or dig a hole and make a berm around it to contain your fire. In some popular primitive camping areas you may find rock fire pits left behind by previous campers. Try to take advantage of these whenever you can. It will save you time and effort and reduce your impact on the environment. If you are creating a new fire pit, make sure it is far enough way from trees and bushes to be safe -- and that there will be room for you and your companions to move safely around the fire. Build it downwind from your tent and vehicles so blowing sparks don't create a fire hazard. Be sure to observe all fire safety practices. Check on fire conditions BEFORE you build any fire in a remote location. Be sure to check on whether there are any fire restrictions in effect. Open fires except in approved fire pits are often prohibited during fire season.  When you go completely off grid you'll have to provide for your own sanitation needs.  That usually means digging a latrine but some campers prefer to bring along a folding portable toilet.  It makes "going" more comfortable but you have to deal with disposing of the waste collected in plastic bags.

You may be able to drive right to a remote campsite in some forest service and BLM areas. That may give you the best combination of getting away from civilization but not having to pack a lot of equipment very far on your own back. Some forest service campgrounds provide fairly good privacy and separation from other camp sites. In places like that you can have the best of both worlds -- a primitive camping experience but still have access to safe potable water and maybe pit or even flush toilets.

In most primitive camping areas you'll have to deal with rocks, twigs, and other debris that could damage your tent floor or interfere with a good night's sleep.  With that in mind,it is a good idea to bring a small, collapsible rake so you can clear your spot before you set up your tent.  Using a site that has been used before may give you a spot where someone else has already cleared the debris.

Back packing combines hiking and camping and gives you really good chance to practice your survival skills. For back packing you'll need light weight gear -- tent, sleeping bag and a single-burner back-packing stove. You can forgo the stove if you can do all your cooking on a campfire. Fire restrictions may prohibit open fires, so be sure to check with the local ranger before you hit the trail. You will want to pack some extra clothes in case you get caught in a sudden storm and what you're wearing gets wet. It is also nice to have something to wear while you rinse out the clothes you've been hiking in for days before they take on a life of their own. Dehydrated meals are compact, light weight, and easy to prepare on the trail, but they are somewhat expensive. Military "MREs" (Meals Ready to Eat) are also popular choices but can also be kind of pricey and a little heavy and bulky to carry. If you'll be hiking in an area with lakes or streams you might be able to catch your dinner. Unless you are really good at foraging or fishing you'll need to bring along enough food for your entire trip. Energy bars are sometimes adequate for lunches and can give you a much needed afternoon boost from time to time. When planning a back packing trip, be sure to do your homework. Know your routes. Carefully plan your menus and calculate your water needs. Unless there is proven safe potable water along the trail you'll have to find a way to carry all you need with you or be prepared to purify available water along the way.

Horse camping offers a chance to explore a cowboy experience. Horse camping can give you greater range than back packing and you can usually take more food and equipment along, especially if you have a pack horse. Cowboys got by with what they carried on their saddles, usually a canteen, a bedroll, and what would fit in their saddle bags. A cowboy bedroll is a canvas enclosed sleeping cocoon. The canvas protects you from ground moisture and from rain. Cowboys usually didn't carry tents, but you can always tuck a back packing tent into your bedroll or saddle bags or carry a larger tent on a pack horse. There are detailed instructions on the Internet for making your own cowboy bedroll or you an buy one for around $100. Depending on availability of pasture for your horses along the trail you may need to carry feed for them as well. You will need to provide a way to keep them from wandering off when you camp. Hobbles will restrict how quickly they can move. Some trail systems that cater to horse back riders have corrals along the way or you might make your own from fallen timber or even just rope. A common way of tethering horses is a "high line" -- a rope to which horses are tethered with a long enough lead to allow them to graze. A battery-powered electric fence is also a modern option. For a true cowboy experience, plan on doing all your cooking on the campfire. For more convenience, bring along a back packing stove. If you have an extra horse and a pack saddle, you may be able to bring along a little more equipment and creature comforts than you could carry in your saddle bags.

Camp OUT!

Tent Camping in Campgrounds

Tent camping in campgrounds has several advantages and a few disadvantages. Campgrounds usually provide level, often grassy spaces, free of debris to set up your tent. You will usually have designated parking places that are paved or at least graveled. Very often there will be community water spigots where you can get water as you need it. There may be toilets, sometimes even full service bathrooms with hot showers but sometimes just primitive pit toilets. But that still beats digging your own latrine! Some campgrounds provide an area with sinks and counter space where you can wash  your dishes.  Campgrounds will usually provide picnic tables and approved fire pits. What is special about an approved fire pit? Well, it has been constructed according to Forest Service standards and has been inspected and approved for use. Forest areas often come under fire restrictions during hot, dry summer months when fires are only allowed in approved fire pits. The fine for having an open fire in a restricted area can be very heavy and the penalties for allowing your unapproved fire to get away from you and start a brush fire or forest fire can run into the millions of dollars in fire fighting costs and property damage.

Access to campgrounds is usually via good roads making them within easy reach by family car. Primitive/remote sites may be require more rugged transportation to be reached. If you are planning to camp "off road" you may need a high-clearance 4 wheel drive vehicle just to get there.

Campgrounds may also give you access to camp stores and local businesses in case you need some supplies and to a ranger or camp host who is knowledgeable about the area and can give excellent advice regarding trails and activities. You will also have fellow campers around you who can be a good source of information and assistance.  Most campgrounds try to have at least some shade, natural or artificial (canopy) for your comfort.

Disadvantages mostly consist of increased proximity to civilization, including fellow campers, that can intrude on your solitude if you are seeking a truly pristine camping experience. Light from parking lots and nearby businesses may limit your view of the night sky. Some frequently used camp sites may suffer from abuse. You may encounter dirty tables, left behind trash, and non-combustibles in the fire pit. Of course, if everyone observed proper camping etiquette, you wouldn't run into these problems, but, unfortunately, not everyone is as considerate as they should be. Sites in some campgrounds may be closer together than you might like.  And, of course, you must pay a fee to use most developed campgrounds, especially if there are amenities for your convenience.

Unless you are in an open camping area you will be in a designated site. Be careful to keep your stuff within your designated area and not intrude on space allocated to other campers. It is also a good idea in open or primitive camping areas to keep all your belongings close. Not only is it more considerate to other campers, it keeps them more convenient for your use and allows you to maintain better security over your things.

Happy camping!

Friday, October 26, 2012

RV Camping Without Hookups (Boondocking)

Camping without hookups is often called "dry camping", "camping off the grid", or "boondocking". While technically you are "dry camping" if you stop in a rest area or a Walmart parking lot, it is usually used to describe more extensive camping in a primitive camping area. In some cases there may be designated camp sites but no hook ups, as is sometimes the case in Forest Service campgrounds. Very often, boondocking occurs on BLM or other public lands in open or dispersed camping areas where there are no designated camp sites. The same principles of self-contained operation apply any time you aren't where you have full hookups. Boondocking is probably more different from using commercial campgrounds with hook ups for RVers than it is for tent campers. Tent campers usually don't rely too much on camp ground amenities, although they do often benefit from water and sanitation stations and sometimes even electricity. The ability to go boondocking is a major consideration for most people who buy RVs, even though something like 70% of RV owners report that they mostly stay in full hook-up campgrounds. Personally, in more than 30 years of RVing I have seldom stayed in a full hook-up campground.

Even though surveys show about 3/4s of all RV owners camp in full hookup campgrounds, those same owners chose RVs that are self contained and capable of camping "off grid".   My family and most of my camping buddies are in the other 25%, mostly boondocking in remote areas where we can ride our OHVs and being self  contained is essential.

One of the first considerations for boondocking is where to go. Some forest service campgrounds accept RVs but have no hook-ups. In Western states there are many open camping areas on BLM land where you can camp virtually anywhere. Be aware that some locations do restrict camping to designated areas so be sure to verify your options BEFORE you go. In primitive forest service campgrounds the spaces will usually be clearly designated and marked. In some USFS domains camping is allowed within 150' of any Forest Service Road, but always check with the local ranger station before blithely driving off the road somewhere.  Rangers can usually guide you to the best places even when there are no specific restrictions.  That can mean easier access for your RV and to various trails and activities.  In open camping areas you can choose where to set up camp. Try first to use areas that have been used before. Doing so usually makes your setup easier and minimizes the impact on the environment. Using an existing site usually means someone else has already taken to time to locate the most level spots for RVs or setting up tents and may have already created a rock fire pit. It usually means there is reasonably good access so you won't get stuck or damage your vehicle.  If you have to set up in a pristine location, it is a good idea to walk the site before you drive onto it to avoid unnecessary damage to both your vehicle and the site. Figure out the best place to park, where you want to set up your tent, if you're using one, where you want your picnic table and where to build your campfire. If you can determine the direction of prevailing winds, try to park with your vehicle nosed into the wind.   Some beach areas offer off-grid camping.  There are several wonderful places along Highway 1 on the California coast that we have enjoyed.  Open camping directly on the beach is often prohibited but if access is allowed, exercise caution to avoid getting stuck in the sand or damaging your tires on buried obstacles such as broken bottles.

 If you are camping with a group, make sure you pick a spot with sufficient room for everyone. The best way to organize a group camp is the old wagon train format and "circle the wagons", with individual RVs or tents surrounding a central common campfire and group meeting area.  It is most convenient if all the doors face the center of the circle where  you will most likely build a communal campfire, but facing vehicles into the circle might allow you to get more rigs around the campfire.

Choosing your camp site.   When camping in hot weather it is always nice to have a shady campsite.  Of course you aren't going to find much shade in the desert!  Shade is your friend, regardless of whether you're camping a tent or an RV.  Because many RVs have air conditioners, having a shady place to set up your tent will be more important than a shady place to park your RV.  However, having shade for outdoor leisure activities will always be helpful in warmer weather.  The only time you may want to avoid shade is if it is provided by a single tall tree that might attract lightning if there are any storms in the forecast.  Camping under trees can also be hazardous if you get wind, which can cause dead branches to come crashing down on you.  Another major consideration will be choosing a site that will not be in danger of flooding if there you get any rain -- locally or in nearby mountains.  Avoid putting your tent or your RV in depressions that may collect water if it rains and don't camp in a dry wash or old stream bed.  Even areas that appear to be fairly "high and dry" may be subject to runoff when it rains.  I have gotten up some mornings to find the grass mat under my awning all but completely buried in mud when the previous nights' rain created enough run off to deliver a powerful stream under my RV.  Although it wasn't obvious until it rained, we were parked smack in the main path of run off from nearby hills.  Had I set a up a tent in the same location it would undoubtedly been flooded out during the rain.

If you are tent camping in a primitive area, your main concerns that will be different than camping in a developed campground, will be water and sanitation. You may also have to build your own fire pit (see previous post on Campfire Safety). Since there won't be a handy faucet to re-fill your water jugs, you'll need to bring along enough to last your entire trip. Lacking access to even a primitive pit toilet, you'll have to provide your own latrine. A "porta-potti" is a convenient, portable toilet that is especially appreciated by the ladies. The only drawbacks are they can be heavy, take up space, and the capacity is very limited so they have to be dumped regularly. If you don't have access to a dump station or a toilet you can haul your porta-potti to, you may fill it long before your trip is over. Other options include a simple portable toilet that consists of a toilet seat with legs like a camp stool. Plastic bags are attached to the bottom to capture the waste. You then seal the bags with twist ties and dispose of them when you have access to appropriate facilities to do so. In a more primitive situation, you will need to dig your own latrine, if doing so isn't prohibited by local regulations. If you are going to be camped in the same place for several days, you may want to make a multiple use latrine. Dig a hole or trench a safe distance from camp, trails, roads, and water sources. Choose a spot where trees, bushes, or rocks provide some natural cover for privacy or erect a temporary shelter, such as a shower enclosure. For comfort and convenience you might want to use logs or poles to make a seat over the trench or modify a camp chair. Leave a shovel at the latrine so each user can shovel some dirt over their "deposits". Then at the end of your outing, be sure to cover the trench completely. For short term needs, dig a small hole for individual uses and cover it over immediately when you are done. Never dig a latrine near any well, lake, spring, or stream. Squatting over a hole is not comfortable for most people, but it is actually a fairly natural position for complete evacuation. It just takes some getting used to for most modern humans who are accustomed to sitting on the "throne".

Boondocking in an RV requires conservation of resources if you want to retain the benefits of your RV. The three major concerns are battery power, water, and holding tanks. If you use water and partially fill your holding tanks on the way to your primitive site, stop and dump your tanks and refill your fresh water as close to your site as possible before you arrive. Also make sure your batteries area fully charged either by using a battery charger before you leave home or by them charging while you're driving.

If you run your batteries down you won't have light and, if your furnace has a fan, you won't have any heat so you need to maintain your batteries. Many modern propane appliances have a circuit board that also requires 12-volt power for the appliance to operate. Start off your trip with your batteries fully charged. Then run the vehicle engine or the on board generator to charge the batteries each day. The vehicle alternator is usually the best option for charging your batteries. The vehicle alternator is higher amperage and has regulated voltage whereas the battery chargers in most converters and in many automotive battery charges are lower amperage and unregulated. Unregulated chargers can fry your batteries. Usually running your vehicle for about an hour will bring your batteries back up to full charge. Running the vehicle engine at idle will probably use about the same amount of gas as running the generator to charge your batteries.  I have an automatic battery charger set up so whenever I have 120 volt power it charges my batteries.  That way, when I run the generator for any reason (power A/C, run microwave, operate entertainment systems) the batteries are chargin.  Conserve battery power by limiting the use of 12 volt lighting and appliances. LED lights use a whole lot less power than standard incandescent bulbs, but today they are still a little pricey in the first place. Use your gas lanterns or battery powered lanterns and flashlights whenever you can. Schedule your activities to take advantage of daylight hours. Solar panels are sometimes a good way to maintain your batteries but you'll need some large panels, not just the little 4"x8" panels that plug into your cigarette lighter.

Your next most important resource is water. You have a limited supply of water in your fresh water tank. You can supplement that by bringing jugs, jerry cans, drums, or collapsible bladders of additional water and adding them to your tank as needed. If you RV doesn't have a gravity fill port, you may need to rig a portable pump to transfer water from you backup supply to your tank. If you have a ladder to get on the roof of your RV you might be able to carry your spare water up there and let gravity fill your fresh water tank.  Conserve water as much as possible. Save the water from the shower in jugs or a dishpan when it is running to warm up and use that for other routine tasks. Wipe off dishes with a paper towel or crumpled newspaper instead of rinsing them. When washing or showering, only run the water as needed to wet your hands, face, or body or to rinse off the soap. Turn the water off while you're lathering and scrubbing. You might even try developing good water conservation habits at home. It is just a waste of water to let the faucet run while you're brushing your teeth. You probably won't see a noticeable difference in your water bill, but creating a habit of conservation will be helpful when you go camping where it definitely will make a difference.

Limiting water usage will also help with the third concern: filling holding tanks. By limiting water usage you will automatically reduce filling of your holding tanks. You may be able to get rid of some of the water from your gray water tank by using it to put out your campfire each evening. DO NOT use sewage from the black water tank! Its is unsanitary as well as very unpleasant and in most places is illegal. Avoid using the toilet in your RV when you can. IF there are pit toilets nearby, take advantage of them. Sometimes they smell really bad, but better to endure a few minutes in a bad smelling toilet than to have your black water tank back up and make your whole RV smell really bad for a really long time -- have your tanks fill up and not be able to use the toilet at all! Using an outside latrine, just like tent campers, is an option and one you may be reduced to if you fill your holding tanks. There is some debate over whether it is better to send the guys out in remote locations to "water a dry bush" and conserve holding tank space or allow the liquid to help break down solid wastes. I usually vote for conserving the space when boondocking. The ladies in your group will appreciate your not filling the holding tanks too quickly! For best results, try to monitor the liquid level in your black water tank. If solids are piling up on the bottom of the thank, you'll need more liquid to maintain normal septic tank functions to break down waste and control odor as well as to facilitate dumping. How do you monitor liquid in the black water tank? About the only way is to open the toilet valve and look inside. Yccch! Not a pleasant task, but better than suffering the consequences of over filling or too much waste build up.  Or just eyeball it each time you flush the toilet so you know how its doing throughout your trip.  If you begin to see solid wastes piling up, drain a bucket or two of water off your gray water tank and dump it down the toilet.

Fuel is another resource you need to keep an eye on. If your on board generator uses the same fuel as the vehicle engine, the tap for the generator fuel line is usually situated higher in the tank than the motor fuel line so you don't run yourself completely out of fuel using the generator. Bring along extra fuel if you have any doubts about how long your fuel will last. Propane for you stove, furnace, refrigerator, and hot water heater is another limited resource. Use all appliances as sparingly as possible. Shut off the hot water heater when hot water is not needed for a while (like over night). There is some difference of opinion about shutting off the hot water heater. Some folks believe it will take less fuel to maintain it over night instead of re-heating it every morning. Personally, I like having hot water available all the time and not having to remember to turn it back on and then wait for it to heat to shower or shave in the morning. If you're particularly concerned about the subject, perform your own experiments and see what works best for you. Make sure your RV is well insulated and not drafty and windows and doors are closed on cool nights so your furnace doesn't run unnecessarily; limit opening the fridge. Only light the stove burners as you need them and turn them off as soon as you're done. If your stove has pilot lights, turn off the pilots when you're not using the stove. Speaking of fuel, make sure you have enough fuel to make the round trip to your remote destination. If there is any question of running out of fuel, top off your fuel tanks as close to your destination as you can get and carry extra fuel.

Energy conservation is a usually a primary concern for both RVers and tent campers. You can minimize use of lantern fuel and battery power for lighting by matching your schedule to daylight and making use of natural light as much as possible. Conserve cooking fuels by only using stoves when actively cooking. If your RV range has pilot lights, turn them off between uses. If you choose to stay up after dark, focus on light-free activities like star-gazing or work by the light of your campfire. Of course you may need to ration your firewood too, since there are few places remaining where it is legal to gather firewood and where it is, it will probably be pretty well cleared out.

You will need to plan your provisions to make it through your entire outing without having to go to the store. Plan all your meals in advance and be frugal in your use of basic ingredients so they'll last the whole trip. Prepare foods only as you need them to avoid waste. You can save chili and stew and re-heat it for a second meal, but making too many pancakes or scrambled eggs would probably be a waste.

You may have cell phone access in some remote areas, but don't count on it. Sometimes you can increase your range by using an external antenna instead of just the tiny little one on the phone. An antenna mounted on the roof of your RV just might be enough higher and more powerful to work when standing on the ground doesn't. Of course you can try standing on the roof of your RV for emergency communications. There are also booster systems you can buy but they are pretty expensive. Many of the more recent cell phones lack an external antenna connection so check whether yours does or not before putting out money for an external antenna.  Booster systems are often wireless so it doesn't matter whether your phone has an external anetanna port.

Local TV channels are available in some areas, but given that boondocking usually implies going out to some remote location, reception may be very limited. Local channels are usually picked up using a 'bat wing' antenna installed on the roof and operated via inside controls that crank it up and rotate it to obtain the best signal. Most include a signal booster to give you better range.

Satellite TV channels can be accessed using a dish on or beside your RV anytime you have a clear view of the southern sky. This usually isn't a problem when camping in the desert or on the beach, but could be in the forest or mountains.  Some high end models have automatic tracking devices but you will need to manually align most satellite dishes so you need a little booklet to tell you about where to initially aim your dish.  There are fairly inexpensive aiming devices that make it a lot easier to align your satellite dish. Bring along your favorite tapes or DVDs just in case. High-end satellite systems can even be used on the road, but, of course, the extra tracking and aiming components make them a lot more expensive than manual systems.


Camping off the grid is fun!


Using Campground Hookups

Campground hookups are primarily of concern to RVers but tent campers can sometimes benefit from water and electricity. Tent campers usually make do with shared restrooms and shared water faucets but having  your own water and power right at your site can be useful.  Campgrounds with full hookups give you maximum flexibility in using your RV systems. Full hookups usually means water, electricity, and sewer connections at each site. Phone, cable TV, and Internet may be optional. Many campgrounds offer free WiFi Internet service if you have a wireless adapter on your computer. Water and sewer connections are part of the full hook-up price you pay at the campground. Electricity is usually included, but sometimes there may be an extra surcharge if you have electric heat or use your air conditioner during the summer. In rare cases, there may be a meter on each site so you pay for the power you use. With power, water, sewer, and WiFi, you pretty much have all the conveniences of home. Phone and cable TV are not always available and are usually extra cost services if they are.   The proliferation of cell phones has pretty much eliminated land line phone service in campgrounds.  Tent campers may find it convenient to have water and electricity at their site. Having your own water faucet is handy and saves packing water from a central community faucet. If you have a portable hot water heater you may be able to connect it if you have your own faucet at your site. Access to electricity gives you power for entertainment systems, lighting, and cooking options you might not otherwise have. Tent campers will usually have little or no use for sewer connections. If you use a porta-potti, you should take it to the dump station to empty it, not attempt to dump it into the sewer port in your site. The dump station includes a basin around the sewer to contain any spills so they can be safely washed down. The sewer connections in each site do not include a basin so any spills contaminate the ground around the sewer pipe, leaving an unpleasant and unsanitary condition. As you would expect, RV sites with hookups will cost more than primitive sites, but the extra cost is usually well worth it if you can take advantage of the services offered.  Full hookups would be of little use to someone with a truck camper with an ice box., no A/C, and no on board sanitation facilities.

City water connections on most RVs consist of a recessed female hose connection on the side of the vehicle. You simply connect a drinking water rated hose between that connection and the faucet at your campsite. The use of a pressure regulator between your hose and the faucet is highly recommended. Variations in city water pressure have been know to overpower and damage plumbing inside RVs.  On hot. sunny days, high pressure may rupture the hose.  Installing the regulator at the faucet ensures you don't have high pressure in your hose or your RV plumbing. Always use a special fresh/potable/drinking water rated hose for connecting city water and for filling your fresh water tank. Avoid using an ordinary garden hose for your connection, or to fill your fresh water tank. They can add the smell and taste of the plastic of the hose to your water, especially when the water sits in the hose in the sun for a while like it does when connected to the RV water system. Drinking water hoses are made of special materials that don't leave odors or taste in the water. Some are treated with anti-microbial compounds that inhibit mold and mildew that sometimes grows when the hose is in storage. Drinking water hoses are usually white or light blue so you can distinguish them from ordinary garden hoses. Because some city water supplies are not particularly good tasting, you might want to add a filter. It could be a portable, in-line filter, available at RV stores, attached to your hose for your city water connection or when filling your fresh water tank. For more convenience, you might add a residential style filter inside your RV. The replacement filters are said to be less expensive than RV in-line filters, last longer, and except for changing the filter occasionally, they don't require any effort. Whenever you are connected to city water, make sure your hose doesn't pose a trip hazard. If it isn't long enough to lie flat, add another section of hose. Hoses usually come in 5, 10, 25 and 50 foot lengths. If your faucet is close to your city water inlet, a 5' hose may be sufficient. I have only encountered that once or twice in thirty some odd years of RVing but I still carry a short hose in case I get a chance to use it. I also carry a 50' hose, just in case the faucet is way at the end of my site. Just make sure you roll and store any excess under your RV so it doesn't become a trip hazard. I once met a guy with a 40' trailer that had the water connection way at the front. The faucet in the campground was at the rear of the site. He only carried a 25' hose, so he was out of luck with the faucet more than 40' away. Better to have more than you need than less. You can always roll up and store the excess under your RV.  You might want to coil the hose in an insulated bag to reduce pre-heating of the water supply.  Luke warm drinking water isn't very palatable although it IS said to be healthy.  A handy gadget you will want to use is an elbow that screws into the connection on your RV so the hose hangs straight down instead of  sticking straight out. Without the elbow, your hose will have a tendency to kink right at the connection to the RV.  The city water inlet contains a back flow valve that prevents water from spewing out the city water port when you use your on board pump.  I once saw an RV where the owner had removed the back flow device.  Apparently he never did any boondocking and wanted higher water flow when connected to city water.   If you have any problems with the inlet they are pretty easy to replace. For a temporary fix for a missing or leaking back flow valve you can screw a plug into the hose connection to prevent water from flowing out when using the on board pump.  If you're tent camping, having water at your site eliminates the task of carrying water from a central faucet for your needs. You might even hook up a portable sink via a hose. Just make sure you have an appropriate way to get rid of the waste water.

Electrical connections are usually pretty simple. Most RVs have a 30-amp shore power cord. The plug is a 3-prong plug and looks a lot like the one on an electric dryer. Simply plug it into the matching receptacle on the power post at your site. Large RVs and many newer units may have 50-amp shore power cords. The plugs on these have 4 prongs. If the campground has 50-amp service, simply plug your shore power cord into the matching receptacle. It is a good idea to verify proper wiring of the 50 amp receptacle to ensure yo get proper power and don't damage your electrical system.  A simple voltmeter can be used to verify the receptacle is wired correctly.  You need a voltmeter that will handle at least 300 volts.  Insert the leads from the voltmeter into the two flat, vertical slots of the receptacle.  It should register about 240 volts.  If it registers 0 volts, the receptacle is wired wrong.  A properly wired 50 amp receptacle will have 0 volts on the Neutral line.  One that is mis-wired may connect both hot lines to the Neutral creating 100 amps on the Neutral line and exceeding its capacity and creating a fire danger.  If you have a camper or an older trailer with an ordinary 15-amp power cord, you will either have a recessed male receptacle (called a motor base)  on the side of your vehicle to plug a heavy duty extension cord into or a shore power cord with an ordinary 15 amp grounded 3-prong plug on it. Again, simply plug it into the matching receptacle on the power post. Most campground power posts have 15-amp outlets as well as 30 or 50 amp receptacles. There are adapters available so you can still hook up your 50-amp power cord even if the campground only supplies 30 amp service. However, you will only have 30 amps of power available. There are even adapters to connect to ordinary 15-amp household outlets. Again, using a 15 amp adapter only gives you 15 amps of power. There are special "Y" adapters that plug into both a 15-amp outlet and 30-amp outlet to attempt to approximate 50-amp service. The additive function of this adapter is only effective it the campground pedestal is wired so that the 15 and 30 amp receptacles are each on their own circuits, so they may or may not add capacity. Some pedestals have 15 amp outlets on the same circuit as the 30 amp outlet just for convenience.  To get 240 volts there must be two separate 120 volt circuits that are 180° out of phase.  If the two circuits are the same phase, you will only get 120 volts and testing between the two hot leads (two flat slots in the receptacle) will yield 0 volts.   If the pedestal is wired so both outlets are on the same circuit, you still only get 30-amps. 30 amps is usually enough for most RV applications, but not enough to run 2 roof air conditioners at the same time. RVs wired for 50-amps can usually run both ACs at once, IF you are connected to 50 amp service. If you have to step down to 30 amp service because that's all the campground has, you should only run one AC at a time. Just a reminder that some campgrounds may charge extra for electrical service if you have and use a roof air conditioner. Tent campers might take advantage of a site with hookups to run TVs or other entertainment equipment. You might use electric lights instead of lanterns and you might even find the use of microwave ovens and electric fry pans an added convenience. I've even heard of people using electric blankets in their tents, but the I don't find that idea very practical. I would rather bring along an adequate sleep system that can be used without power. It is safer and more reliable and you won't wake up cold if the power goes out in the middle of the night or someone trips over your power cord and disconnects it.

Sewer connections are often misunderstood and feared by new RVers. Making the connection is really pretty simple. You connect the twist lock connector on the sewer hose to the dump valve on your RV and put the other end into the sewer pipe at your site. There are a variety of adapters to ensure a good fit with the sewer pipe. It is usually a good idea to put a rock or other heavy object on the sewer hose to make sure it doesn't come out of the ground if the hose adapter doesn't screw into the pipe or fit tightly. Always wear disposable rubber gloves when handling your sewer hose. The biggest confusion comes in using the sewer facilities while camped. Many people think they can hook up the hose and then just use the facilities inside just like they would at home. That might mostly work OK for gray water from sinks and showers, but is a problem for the black water waste from the toilet. The problem is that solid wastes will pile up in the holding tank instead of being flushed down into the sewers. RV toilets don't use 3-5 gallons of water per flush like home toilets do. You must leave the valve for the black water tank closed. Actually it is best to leave both valves closed until the tanks reach at least 1/2 to 3/4 full. Many experts say to wait until the tank is nearly full. Then dump and flush the tanks like you would at a dump station. dumping the black water first, then the gray water. Letting the tanks drain directly allows solids to build up in the tanks. Letting the tanks fill before opening valves ensures there is sufficient liquid in the tanks to create a flow adequate to flush out solids and particulate matter. Letting the tanks fill also gives the chemicals time to break down solid wastes for better flushing and reduced odors. Sometimes leaving the gray water valve open will allow food particles and other contaminates to settle out and accumulate in the tank and cause unpleasant odors.  Having plenty of soapy water from showers and washing dishes helps clean the dump hose after dumping the black water tank.

Phone, TV, and Internet connections are available in some campgrounds. Most campgrounds that provide Internet service these days do so via WiFi so all you need is a wireless adapter on your computer and the password for the router. Few RVs have phone connections for land lines and few campgrounds offer phone lines, but in case your RV and the campground you're staying in does support landlines, you'll need a cable to run from a phone jack on your RV to one on the camp site pedestal. The connectors are usually standard phone jacks. For cable TV you'll need a coax cable. This screws onto a connection on your RV and to a matching connector on the pedestal. If your RV doesn't have phone or cable connections, they can usually be added fairly easily. You will want to install an appropriate water-resistant connection on the outside wall and run wiring inside to the location where you want to plug in your phone or TV. Any hardwired Internet service would use either a coax or CAT-5 cable and you'll need matching connections on your RV. Most campgrounds that offer Internet do it via a wireless router or WiFi so you don't even need a cable -- just get the name and password for the router from the office. Some facilities might have satellite TV channels available via a hard-wired connection. If your RV is equipped with an external cable connector, it would be a good idea to carry a coax cable with you so you can take advantage of cable and/or satellite TV if it is available.

Other usual campground facilities usually include picnic tables and fire pits for your use. Sometimes the picnic tables are under some kind of structure that provides shade or rain protection but mostly they are in the open. RVers are expected to take advantage of fire pits in their campsites but you should always be considerate of other campers. Avoid burning trash that would emit foul odors or excessive smoke or would foul the fire pit. Restrict your fire to designated fire pits and don't overload the fire ring with fuel. Avoid using gasoline or other flammable liquids to start your fire. They give off dangerous and offensive fumes and the use in a confined area is extremely dangerous. Picnic tables are designed for eating. They should not be used for climbing toys by children and be sure to take care when using a camp stove or portable BBQ on picnic tables. Plastic tables will melt and be severely damaged if not protected with fire pans and wood tables can char or even catch on fire! Some sites have standing charcoal grills and putting your stove or BBQ on them would be much safer.

Hook it up!