How to use your Airstream without any hook-ups (aka Dry-Camping)
What does it mean to dry-camp?
For those who really want to use their rented Airstream to it’s fullest potential and for those with a love of camping out in private, less-populated areas then dry-camping is for you. Dry-camping is when you park your Airstream in a place with no hook-ups (but usually a designated campsite). Thus, unlike at a posh RV park, you don’t have electricity, water, or sewer connections available onsite. And what that means for you is that you will have to monitor both your electricity and water consumption, and forgo hours of TV watching and long hot showers (just take short hot showers). But in exchange for those sacrifices, you’re rewarded with a usually quiet and isolated spot and nature right at your Airstream door-step.
Also another term related to dry-camping is dispersed camping, but dispersed camping pertains to parking in sites that are not designated campsites and can only be done on public land that allows for it (like BLM land). The term boondocking can pertain to both dry-camping (at a designated campsite) and dispersed camping (not designated campsites).
Dry Camping Tips
Dry-camping challenges can be categorized by the different resources that have to be managed during your trip: power, water, and tank space.
When you’re not connected to 120V shore power at an RV park or campground with hook-ups, power is being provided by the two 12V house batteries onboard the Airstream. These batteries will charge up during the day by the solar panels on the roof if the Airstream is parked in a sunny area (this applies to all of our Airstreams except for the 23′ Flying Cloud). The solar panels on the 20’ models are smaller and will take 2 full days of solar charging to get back to a full charge while the larger Airstreams take a day. The 20′ Flying Cloud (but not 20B) and the 23′ International have higher-capacity batteries that can power your Airstream for longer. We’re currently working on upgrading the batteries on the 25′ Flying Cloud. The upgraded batteries are especially useful during the colder months of dry-camping, when you want to be able to run your furnace day and night.
And that’s because the biggest user of power in the trailer is the furnace. Even though the heat is created by burning propane, the furnace needs battery power to run the blower that spreads the warm air. The other items that use power when dry camping are the lights, the water pump, the flat panels, DVD player, refrigerator, fans, and running the inverter.
The trailer has an inverter that converts the battery 12V power to 120V power that allows you to run any electrical item up to 1,000 Watts. Unfortunately, this leaves the coffee maker, hair dryer and air conditioner off limits when dry camping unless you have rented our optional generators.
But even if the onboard batteries have completely drained, you can always connect the 7-way plug from the trailer to the 7-way connector on your tow vehicle (as you would do when hitching up your Airstream) and run the car for a few minutes to provide enough juice from the vehicle’s 12v battery to kickstart the solar panel charging.
However, if you plan to dry-camp for multiple days (and especially don’t know if you will be having sunny weather), we recommend renting one of our gasoline-powered Honda Generators. The primary uses for the generator are recharging batteries and running high wattage appliances. Running the generator for few hours during the day will bring the batteries back to a reasonable charge and allow you to have an enjoyable evening with heat, refrigeration and lights. Also the only way you can enjoy air conditioning while dry-camping is with a generator. Our 3000W generator will allow you to run the A/C while providing power to few devices.
The trailers have two 30nlb. tanks that are good for many weeks of camping. We make sure each trailer leaves our facility with full tanks and the propane is included in the rental price. The water heater, refrigerator, stove and oven all work off of propane.
This resource may be the most challenging one to stretch over multiple days. Our 28’ International and both our 25′ International and 25′ Flying Cloud have 39 gallons of fresh water storage and the 20’ models have 23 gallons.
We have 6-gallon water jugs available which can provide water to refill the tank and provide that extra shower or extra day of camping. Some campgrounds have water available on the premises but not at each campsite, so the jugs can be handy to shuttle water from the water spigot to refill the water tank. For campgrounds with no water you can bring water with you or take the jug and fill up in town when you are visiting the local sites.
Typically, the gray water tank (water from shower and faucets) will fill up first. Take short showers, and use the start/stop switch on the shower head to shower efficiently. Although it’s not as nice as a long hot shower when you are at a park with hookups, it will keep you fresh and uses only about 4 gallons of water per shower. The outdoor shower head is another alternative for quick rinses. Cleaning dishes can also use up the gray holding tank so using paper plates and cups can help save water.
|Airstream Model||Fresh Tank (gal)||Gray Tanks (gal)||Black Tank (gal)|
gray+black combo= 29
|20′ Flying Cloud||23||21||18|
|23′ Flying Cloud||39||21||18|
|25′ Flying Cloud||39||37||39|
Holding Tank Space
The black water tank (sewage) is good for several days up to a week depending on the size of your Airstream. Each flush equals about a ½ gallon so you can estimate accordingly. As with water, many dry camping sites may not have a sewer connection at the site but provide a dump station where you can dump on your way out (this is recommended only for those who are going on multi-day dry-camping trips, otherwise we flush and sanitize all tanks when they come back as part of our service).
How to make the most of your Airstream road trip
For us personally, we love both dry-camping at State Parks and other campsites as well being hooked-up at well-maintained RV Parks. Both types of RV stays have their rewards, and we have found that if we are on longer road trips of a week or more that doing both dry-camping and full hook-ups are the way to go. Usually we will do a 3-day stint dry-camping at a campsite followed by another couple days at an RV park with hook-ups. That way you get both the private camping experience and then you can refill, dump, and refresh at an RV park. Plus we have found that this is the best way to satisfy Brian (who rather rough it in the woods) and myself (a certified city girl).