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What Is a Self-Contained RV and Do You Need One?

The RV industry has experienced record-level sales in recent years. With so many new RVers experiencing newfound freedoms, they’re also discovering that some camping locations require RVs to be self-contained. Today, we want to share what a self-contained RV is and why we think they’re fantastic. Let’s get started!

What Is a Self-Contained RV? 

Being self-contained indicates that the RV can be entirely reliant on itself and won’t require outside amenities. They have their own power, which is often through battery power or a generator. These RVs must also have a fresh water tank, enabling them to use their sinks, showers, and toilets. Additionally, these units require a waste water tank as well, which you can dump at an appropriate sanitary location.

Self-contained RVs enable the user to be fully reliant on themselves without leaving their RV. This means cooking, showering, and using the restroom. Travel trailers, fifth wheels, and motorhomes are often self-contained, but not all. Let’s look at which common RVs are not self-contained.

Are All RVs Self-Contained?

The majority of RVs you’d purchase from dealers are self-contained. However, non-self-contained RVs, including primitive truck campers, conversion vans, and teardrop-style trailers, do exist. 

These camper types often lack plumbing or an indoor kitchen and could face restrictions from RV parks or membership programs like Harvest Hosts.

Components of a Self-Contained RV

There are a few things that are required for an RV to be considered self-contained. Let’s take a look at what you’ll want to make sure your RV has to qualify.

Sink, Shower, Toilet

Self-contained RVs must have a sink, shower, and toilet. Many RV parks and membership programs won’t offer sinks, showers, or toilets, so you must provide your own resources to stay at their facilities.

Self-Contained RV | What Does That Mean???

Fresh Water Storage

Being able to store fresh water is a fundamental component of a self-contained RV. You’ll need a water supply for washing dishes, showering, and using your toilets. Your tank’s size will depend on your RV’s size and its components that require water. 

Check with your campground or the location you plan to camp, as you may be required to bring water with you. Some campgrounds and camping locations will have a water connection, but not always. Not having access to fresh water can be extremely dangerous, especially in the summer, so always be prepared.

Waste Water Storage

Having a tank to store your waste water is essential in a self-contained RV. Most often, you’ll have two tanks: a gray tank for sink and shower water and a black tank for toilet water and sewage. Although, in some RVs, there will be one tank that holds both.

These storage tanks will hold the waste water until you can dump it safely. You’ll find RV dump stations at many truck stops, campgrounds, and even some interstate rest stops.

Power Source

The final characteristic of a self-contained RV is an internal power source. Many RVers are upgrading their units with massive battery banks that provide a private power source. 

Otherwise, you might use a generator to power your RV when you’re not hooked up to shore power, or you could try solar panels. Many RVers are including both ground-mounted and roof-mounted solar panels for greater sustainability. 

When Do You Need a Self-Contained RV? 

Let’s look at a few instances where having a self-contained RV could be useful, if not required.


A popular camping style is boondocking. You can do this in a driveway, parking lot, or even in the middle of nowhere on public lands. The main distinction for boondocking is that it usually occurs outside of a developed campground. 

Boondocking requires you to bring power, water, and facilities. Being in secluded areas often means being miles from the nearest bathroom or restaurant. Having amenities in your RV means enjoying adventures more and traveling back to civilization less.

Camping at Primitive Campsites

Some established campgrounds are primitive. This often means no access to electricity, running water, or even first aid supplies. A campground may be described as primitive or even “backcountry camping” and fit into this category. 

If you’re planning to camp in these locations, prepare to fend for yourself. You may be miles from the nearest water source and restroom, along with medical services.

Dry Camping

Another popular term for camping without electric or water hookups is dry camping. This can be in a remote section of a desert, a business parking lot, or a developed campground without connections. You must supply all camping needs, especially water and electricity. 

Benefits of a Self-Contained RV

Owning an RV is freeing but having everything you need inside the RV – well, that’s a whole other level of freedom! Let’s look at some benefits of owning a self-contained RV.

You Can Go Anywhere, Anytime

When you carry everything, you might need while on a trip, you can go anywhere at any time. You can travel to remarkable places during less crowded times and camp away from the masses. A self-contained RV lets you live as secluded as you’d like.


What do you do when the park’s power goes out, and that’s your only power source? You wait for them to fix it. It only takes one power outage to realize your lack of control.

Being self-reliant while RVing gives you more control of your situation. Whether you rely on a personal battery bank or a generator for power, you’ll be prepared to handle a power outage in a campground better than if you weren’t self-reliant.


Self-contained RVs make traveling exponentially more convenient. You have the necessities for survival at your disposal: goodbye gas station bathrooms, fast food stops, and public showers. You can likely imagine many scenarios in RVing where having your own bathroom, shower, or kitchen is incredibly convenient. 

Are Self-Contained RVs Worth It?

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that being self-contained is priceless. Due to the uncertainty of recent times, we know things can drastically change incredibly fast. 

When public restrooms or restaurants close or just aren’t available, you can adapt if you’re in a self-contained rig. Being reliant on other people or other resources outside of your control is a challenging way to live when it can affect your ability to be happy and free.

We think self-contained RVs are the best way to go. It gives you the most freedom to enjoy your adventures while being as comfortable as possible.

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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Friday 21st of January 2022

Hello ... My 17' travel trailer has no holding tanks, no toilet facilities. I only have sink water. I use a compost toilet, and don't need a shower unit to wash up. If I use the park's septic hole for my grey water only, would you think that I am self-contained enough for such a location? Thanks!

Mortons on the Move

Thursday 27th of January 2022

As long as you capture the grey with a bucket or something yes you should be fine. We usually dont mention that we use a composting toilet (dont have a black tank either) because the one time we did the campground freaked out (they just didn't understand)