Does Tank Size Really Matter?

Deerlick Creek Corp of Engineers Campground is located outside of Tuscaloosa, AL.  They have water but no sewer hookups at the site.  
Campground amenities and hookups vary from one to the next.  If you camp solely at sites with full hookups, you may not think that tank size matters on your RV.  However, having the ability and capacity to camp at a variety of locations will open up the doors for many different experiences.  In the end, tank size does matter.  Even if you don't think it will now, you don't want to limit your camping abilities from the start.

Tank size is an RV feature that can be easily overlooked during the shopping process.  It's not a pretty feature that wows us with attractive trim or aesthetic charm.  Since the tanks are underneath the camper, they are often forgotten.  We all know that travel trailers have tanks, but many times we stop thinking about them right there.

Our family has enjoyed camping at private and resort-style campgrounds.  Many of the state parks where we camp offer full hookups.  And, we also visit Corp of Engineer campgrounds and state parks that have either just electric or just water and electric.  This is when your tanks really matter.  If you are thinking, "I'm never going to those campgrounds."  Think again.  Before long, you will either have friends that invite you to a beautiful location with limited or no hookups or you will want to broaden your horizons.  It happens.  Trust me.  No matter what you think now, it will.

Having larger tanks will allow you to camp in more places.  We love state parks, but they do not all have full hookups.

When you are RV shopping, those pretty features are nice.  But the functional capabilities of your set up will matter the most once you actually hit the road.  I like not being limited to one type of place or campground.  I feel like our RV offers enough tank capacity that we can pretty much camp wherever we would like.

Our Grand Design offers 37 gallons of black tank (sewer) storage, 43 gallons of freshwater capacity, and 82 gallons of grey water (sinks and shower) storage.  We recently camped at a Corp of Engineer Park with only water.  I knew that we would not exceed the sewer capacity on our tanks.  But, I was a little concerned about the greywater from our showers over a three-night stay.  We had not camped without full hookups in our new RV since moving from our pop up.  Before, we always used the facilities at the campground.

Our 23 foot RV has nice size tanks for such a small camper.  We feel like we could camp just about anywhere.

I made everyone conserve water with showers by taking what my dad called a "Navy Shower".  We would turn the shower on and wet our hair and body, turn it off, lather up and turn the water back on to rinse.  Sound terrible?  Not if you don't want to exceed your tanks!

In three nights, we only used 1/3 of our tank capacity for our grey water in each of the separate grey compartments!  I was amazed.  We only used 1/3 of our black tank storage.  Sure, we could have used a little more water, but I didn't want to have to drain our tanks midway through our trip.

I also conserved water while doing dishes by only making 1 sink of water per meal.  I didn't wash dishes as I cooked.  After each meal, I washed all of the dishes at once to save on water.  It was a small sacrifice to ensure we didn't go over those tank allotments.  This trip was a tank test for us to see how everything would work and how much water we would use.

Bigger RV's and motor homes, typically have larger tanks.  In turn, smaller RV's have small tanks to match.   What are the typical averages for tanks?

Fresh Water Storage Averages

  • Class A Motor Homes - around 75 gallons
  • Class C Motor Homes and larger RV's - 30 to 55 gallons
  • Class B Motor Homes and smaller RV's - 30 gallons

Grey Water Storage Averages

  • Class A Motor Homes - 65 to 85 gallons
  • Class C Motor Homes and Larger RV's - 28 to 40 gallons
  • Fifth Wheels - 55 - 85 gallons
  • Travel Trailer - 30 to 40 gallons

Black Tank Storage Averages

  • Class A Motor Homes - 35 to 55 gallons
  • Class C Motor Homes - 25 to 35 gallons
  • Fifth Wheel - 40 to 55 gallons
  • Travel Trailer - 35 gallons
A larger family will need larger tanks.  And a small family or couple could work with smaller tanks.  I feel like our small RV has excellent storage capacity for fresh, grey and black storage.  Our RV meets or exceeds the averages in each of these three categories.  For 23 feet, I'm actually really impressed.

Be mindful of RV storage averages and consider if those numbers will meet your actual needs.  Consider similar models with larger tanks if needed.  And if you are dead set on an RV with smaller tanks, there are still options to help you get the camper you want.

So, what if you run out of tank storage?  You can purchase a portable waste tank to take with you.  I would encourage you to do this if you are camping for more than 3 or 4 nights without full hookups regardless of tank size.  You can drain your tanks into these portable containers and tow them to the dump station as needed during a stay.

If you boondock (dry camp) or use a location without hook-ups, you can always pay to use dump stations at many gas stations around the country.

With our tank sizes, I feel certain that our family could camp for 2 or 3 nights without any hookups.  Anytime you are limited to your holding tanks, you do have to conserve water.  And the larger your group or family is will impact how much water and storage you will need.   But larger tanks will make a big impact on your ability to travel with more flexibility and freedom.  Isn't that what camping is all about?

If you are shopping for a new RV, ask questions about tank size.

  • Consider the size of your family or group.  
  • Think about how much water you would be able to use per day with the tank sizes on the RV you want to buy.  
  • Will this set up work for you?
  • Are you willing to use campground facilities in locations without full hookups?
This may force you to look at another model.  But, it is better to know this before you make a decision that you won't be able to live with over the long haul.  Making hasty decisions on RV purchases might mean that you will sell or trade your investment sooner than expected.  This can prove costly if you owe more than what your RV is worth.  That is why it is wise to really research and make a well-informed decision before you sign on the dotted line!

And what if you are sold on a model with smaller tanks?  Go into the purchase process knowing that you will need to plan your trips accordingly.  Select campgrounds and sites wisely based on your length of stay.  Purchase a portable dump tank to extend your trips and camping capabilities.  Planning is key to enjoying your journey.

Until next time...

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