What Are Self-Contained RVs (And Do You Need One?)

RVs are becoming more popular every year and are slowly becoming one of the more popular ways to go camping. However, when looking around for a suitable campground, you might have noticed that some campgrounds require RVs to be self-contained. This might make you wonder if your RV is self-contained, or you might even ask yourself, what is a self-contained RV?

A self-contained RV is an RV that can rely on itself for power and plumbing. Self-contained RVs will have dedicated batteries to power their lights and appliances while also having water storage tanks to hold fresh, gray, and black water. An RV being self-contained means that it does not need external connections to generators, power outlets, or sewer connections to function.

As you continue to read this article, we will provide a more detailed explanation of self-contained RVs. We will also give you a few examples of how you can use them. Finally, we will list some of the important benefits of choosing one.

What are Self-Contained RVs?

An RV being self-contained means that the RV can rely on itself for all of its amenities to function. Self-contained RVs have their power sources like RV batteries or generators, which supply the electricity needed for lights, appliances, and amenities. They also come equipped with water storage tanks that supply fresh and clean water for sinks, toilets, and showers. Furthermore, you have a gray tank, which stores dirty water from sinks and showers, and black water storage tanks, which store wastewater.

Self-contained RVs allow the owner to rely on their RV without needing to leave. As long as the RV is stocked with food and the freshwater tank is full, the owner can cook, clean, take showers, and use the restroom without relying on external sources.

While self-contained RVs can rely on themselves, they will usually still have the option to connect to a campground’s power and sewer system. With this option, the owner can choose to have a more automated system that allows for wastewater to flow into the sewer from the storage tanks and save the energy in their batteries.

Which RVs are Self-Contained?

Some RVs are not self-contained, and these RVs are usually very small. Thankfully, nearly all modern RVs are self-contained.

For example, teardrop trailers are super small travel trailers that are fantastic for people who want to travel around and only want a place to sleep for the night. They are small enough to be pulled by an SUV or even a car but lack the size to have functioning bathrooms. In addition, teardrop trailers rarely have water storage tanks and rely on external sources for fresh water and sewage.

Teardrop Trailers
Pop Up Campers
Pop-Top Truck Camper

Furthermore, most pop-up campers and some truck campers are too small to have functioning bathrooms. While they may have power sources and propane for cooking, these owners still need to rely on external water sources and bathrooms.

What Components Do Self-Contained RVs Have?

When you are looking to purchase a self-contained RV, there are a few things you need to look for. Dealerships will often not mention if an RV is self-contained because self-contained RVs are so common now. However, if you want to make sure an RV you are interested in is self-contained, we have a small checklist for you.

Toilets, Showers, and Sinks

In order for an RV to be considered self-contained, it must have a shower, a sink, and a toilet. Unfortunately, most RV parks and membership programs will not offer these amenities for people to use. So if you plan on using these sites for camping trips, you need to make sure your RV comes equipped with these amenities.

Freshwater Storage Tank

Freshwater tanks are a primary component of self-contained RVs. You will need fresh water to take a shower, wash dishes, cook, and use the toilet. Usually, the fresh water tank is the largest storage tank on an RV, but the size can vary depending on the model. Freshwater tanks can hold anywhere from 20 to 100 gallons of freshwater.

© RVing Know How

It would be best if you always had a full freshwater tank when you start your trip. You can sometimes find freshwater connections at campgrounds and RV parks which can be helpful to refill your freshwater. However, not all campgrounds and RV parks have a freshwater connection, so it is wise to check ahead. Not having access to fresh water can be extremely dangerous and inconvenient, especially during summer, so always plan and be prepared.

Wastewater Storage Tanks

© Tote-N-Stor

While having access to fresh water is extremely important, having somewhere to store your dirty and waste water is nearly as important. Self-contained RVs will come equipped with storage tanks for your wastewater, and most RVs will have two wastewater storage tanks.

  1. Gray water storage – where your dirty shower and sink water is stored after use.
  2. Blackwater storage – where your toilet water and other sewage water are stored.

While most RVs will have two wastewater storage tanks, some RVs are built with only one wastewater tank, where all used water is stored.

The wastewater storage tanks on your self-contained RV will need to be emptied from time to time. You can find RV dump stations at truck stops, campgrounds, and interstate rest stops. RV dump stations are where you can safely empty your wastewater storage tanks.

Power Source

The final component of a self-contained RV is the power source where all of the electricity is stored. RVs have a few options when it comes to their internal power source.

RV Batteries
Solar Panels

Some self-contained RVs will have generators that use fuel to provide power to the RV. These generators can connect to RV batteries to charge them while providing power to the RV. Other self-contained RVs will have huge internal batteries which are charged by the motorhome or tow vehicle’s alternator when driving. Finally, some RVs come with solar panels that are attached to the RV roof, or they can be set up on the ground outside. These solar panels act like generators, but they allow the RV to charge its internal batteries and use its appliances in a more eco-friendly manner.

What Can You Use a Self-Contained RV for?

You can use self-contained RVs in any way you can think of. However, self-contained RVs have the potential to be used to camp in specific ways more effectively than a non-self-contained RV. Let’s look at some instances where a self-contained RV can be more valuable than a non-self-contained RV.

Boondocking and Dry Camping

Boondocking, or dry camping, is a popular camping style where you set up camp anywhere beside a developed campground or RV park. You can boondock in your driveway or even in the middle of nowhere. Boondocking allows campers to experience the wonders of the outdoors and visit certain areas with beautiful landscapes.

But it requires you to bring your own water and power facilities, which self-contained RVs have. Boondocking often refers to camping in secluded areas which are far from civilization, allowing you to experience the wilderness by yourself or with your family and friends. Having a self-contained RV lets you retreat inside to sleep, bathe, cook, and use the restroom without having to travel back to a town or city.

Camping at Undeveloped Campsites

Some campgrounds are undeveloped, meaning these campgrounds do not have access to running water, electricity, or even first aid supplies. These campgrounds are often referred to as “backcountry camping.” It is similar to boondocking because you will not have access to electricity or running water, except you can often find a few other RV campers at these campsites.

If you plan on doing some backcountry camping, you need to be prepared to fend for yourself. Furthermore, like boondocking, camping at undeveloped campsites will have you camping miles from the nearest town or city.

Benefits of Owning a Self-Contained RV

Owning an RV allows you to have a home away from home, making you feel free. Furthermore, owning a self-contained RV can make you feel even more at home when on the road. Let’s look at some of the benefits you can experience with a self-contained RV.

You Can Camp Anywhere You Want

With a self-contained RV, you can camp just about anywhere you want, other than privately owned land, of course. You can travel to remote places with stunning views and beautiful landscapes without having to worry about water or electricity. While you can experience the same kind of adventure with a non-self-contained RV, you will have to constantly keep up on water supplies and worry about where you will dump your waste safely without harming the environment. With a self-contained RV, you realistically have a wider range of camping options to choose from, just make sure your batteries and water supply are topped off before you start your adventure.


If you are at a campsite with a non-self-contained RV, you are reliant on the external power and water source provided by the campground. If the power goes out at the campground, you are stuck in the dark, and the only thing you can do is wait for them to fix it. However, with a self-contained RV, you are self-sustaining and can rely on your generator or RV batteries to provide power to your RV.

If you are connected to the campground’s power system, you can easily disconnect your self-contained RV from the campground’s power and continue camping as usual.


Traveling in a self-contained RV makes camping exponentially more convenient. Self-contained RVs have all of the required amenities, which allow you to camp wherever you want while still have the option to take a nice hot shower. In addition, with a self-contained RV, you can say goodbye to fast food stops and public bathrooms. Returning to your RV and having everything you need to stay comfortable is a luxury that not all campers can experience.

Are there Any Downsides to Self-Contained RVs?

While the advantages of a self-contained RV might be appealing, you need to know about a couple of downsides. The biggest downside is that self-contained RVs are a lot more expensive. In cases where a self-contained RV is too expensive, campers will turn to much smaller RV alternatives. Unfortunately, this can lead to a lot of negligent campers who only want to experience the outdoors and don’t care where they dump their waste.

Furthermore, self-contained RVs are larger because they need space for bathrooms and kitchens, limiting the number of campgrounds you can use. However, in most cases, only the largest class C and Class A motorhomes need to worry about being too large to fit into a campground.

Are Self-Contained RVs Worth It?

When you are looking for an RV to go camping in, we advise choosing a self-contained RV. While they are more expensive, the advantages you gain far outweigh costs. Being able to store enough water for you and your family to live comfortably on your trip is crucial to staying comfortable. The freshwater allows you to live in your RV like you would at home. Using the toilet, taking showers, and using freshwater for cooking are all fantastic perks that you get with a self-contained RV.

Being able to sit outside at a remote campsite by yourself or your significant other and watch the sunset on a beautiful landscape while having the option to run inside and use a working toilet with running water is a benefit that should not go unnoticed.

Moreover, unless you have the largest class A or class C motorhome, you have more options for campgrounds. Some campgrounds can only host self-contained RVs. Having one allows you to handpick the campground you want to use, including undeveloped campgrounds. Not only that, but self-contained RVs make boondocking and dry camping much more accessible and vastly more comfortable than a non-self-contained RV.

Final Thoughts

A self-contained RV boasts a few extra features like fresh running water and power storage, but game-changing features nonetheless. Owning a self-contained RV allows you to use more campgrounds than non-self-contained RVs. Also, boondocking and using undeveloped campsites are almost effortless due to its self-relying features. As this article ends, we hope that the information we provided has told you everything you need to know about self-contained RVs.

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