Is A Camper Van Self Contained? Why It Matters

View of a camper van with a mountain view

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If you have looked at various types of RVs, you have probably heard the term self-contained. Some types of RVs are and some types aren’t. Besides the convenience factor, having an RV like this can be especially useful in some scenarios depending on the type of camping you want to do. Some RV parks and other places such as Harvest Hosts locations may require that you have a self-contained RV.

Most large motorhomes and trailers contain everything that you could ever need inside them. What about camper vans though? Since they are much smaller than a Class A motorhome or even a Class C, one would think that a camper van might not meet this description.

A camper van is usually self-contained as long as it has freshwater holding tanks as well as gray and black water holding tanks. If you can run water, take showers, cook, and use the toilet without leaving your van, it is considered self-contained. Only the smallest and most primitive of van setups do not contain all of these amenities.

If you have to step outside your van to use a hanging shower or your water drains directly onto the ground, it would not be considered self-contained.

Having a self-contained camper van is a good idea if you intend to stay in locations that require it.

Self-Contained RV vs Non-Self-Contained

Let’s look at the difference between these two types of RVs. In a self-contained unit, all of the facilities that you need to use will be located within the unit. There will be no need to go outside of the unit to do any of your usual tasks such as using the toilet, cooking, taking a shower, lounging, and sleeping.

All of the amenities are contained within the RV so that nothing has to be done outside of the RV. This makes you completely self-sufficient and able to do all of the things that you need to do without ever leaving the confinement of your RV.

When you think of an RV like this, you may think of a large motorhome such as a Class A. You may also think of a large travel trailer such as a fifth wheel. These types of RVs are large enough to contain all of the items that you need inside without ever needing to leave.

It’s similar to a home in which you can do all of the tasks that you need to do without having to go outside. Everything is contained within the house just as it is with these RVs.

However, it doesn’t have to be a large RV like this to be self-contained. There are many small RVs there are also self-contained. Camper vans often have everything that is needed for living inside of the RV. In a manufactured Class B motorhome, these amenities are often standard and included with even the lower-cost models.

Most of them have some type of toilet or at least the option available. The toilet may be a wet bath which also includes a shower. A kitchen with a sink is also standard and all of these source their fresh water from a water tank or multiple water tanks and then dump the gray and black water into a waste tank mounted underneath the RV. The only difference being that the holding tanks are generally much smaller than they are with the larger RVs mentioned above.

Now let’s look at some RVs that are not self-contained.

These types of RVs are generally more primitive and offer a camping experience without including the luxuries found in self-contained units. These might include camper vans that are set up with a very minimalistic layout or these could be pop-up campers or small teardrop trailers where items are located outside of the vehicle. In a typical teardrop trailer set up, the kitchen is located outside so one has to venture outside of the living area in order to cook meals.

A small teardrop trailer also does not have a shower inside and often does not include a toilet unless it is a portable cassette toilet or another type. With this type of RV, you may be required to use an outdoor shower if you want to wash off. Some of these trailers provide a built-in outdoor shower that can be used or you may choose to use a hanging portable shower.

An RV that is not self-contained is often seen in a more primitive location such as a campground or off the grid in a location that has no hookups. Someone camping in this type of an RV we will probably enjoy venturing outside of the structure rather than doing it all within. To use the bathroom, one may venture off into the woods with a shovel and some toilet paper. This is more true to wild camping than that of a luxurious, self-contained RV.

Why A Self-Contained RV Matters

Having a self-contained RV allows you to stay in locations where you might not be able to stay otherwise. Many higher-end RV parks require that your RV be self-contained and have everything inside that you need. If you use the popular Harvest Hosts when you travel, these locations require that you have everything within your RV. This means that you shouldn’t be going outside to use the bathroom or you shouldn’t be outside cooking, showering, etc.

When you have to do these things outside your RV, you are drawing more attention and creating an eyesore for others that may be around. In the example of Harvest Hosts, you are staying on the property of someone’s business. You don’t want to cause an eyesore and have a negative impact on their business.

This is also the case when you use other services such as Boondockers Welcome. When using this type of service, you are staying on other people’s property so you want to be considerate. Having everything that you need contained within your van is an easy way to make sure that you will be welcomed in most places.

It’s also important to understand that if you do not intend to take a shower while you are in a location then a shower need not be in your van to be self-contained. It’s only the amenities that you will be using that should be within your van.

Converting A Van To Be Self-Contained

If you are converting a van and want to make sure that everything is self-contained, there are a few things to consider including in your van layout.

  • Toilet. This could be a simple cassette toilet, composting toilet, or an installed toilet that has a black water tank installed beneath the van. It doesn’t matter the type as long as you can use it without leaving the van.
  • Shower. If you want to take showers, you will need one installed so that you can do it inside the van. This could be a full-featured shower or a simple solution that allows you to spray off or wash from a bucket. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy as long as you can do it without going outside and as long as the wastewater is contained rather than flowing freely out of the van.
  • Kitchen. Most van conversions include a Kitchen and it’s important to have in a self-contained setup. You will want to build this so that you can prepare food, cook food, and wash dishes without leaving the confines of the van. This can easily be accomplished with a basic kitchen setup with counter space and a camp stove along with a sink and faucet that utilizes a simple water system.

These three areas are the biggest concern since all other activities are easy to manage within the van. These necessities are great to have built-in so that you never even have to leave your living space.

Bottom Line

Most camper vans are self-contained or at least have enough amenities to be able to live in comfort without leaving the van. There are many on the market that are decked out with features and are as luxurious as some of the larger motorhomes although much smaller.

If you are on the market for a manufactured Class B motorhome, you’ll have no problem finding one that is self-contained. Most of these have different options so you can choose exactly what you want inside your van and the layout that you like. If you are converting a van, it’s easy enough to build everything inside that you need.

Having a self-contained camper van is great especially when you can pull into a place and never even get out of the van. This isn’t often the case but it’s great to be able to have this option when you park somewhere where you don’t care to venture outside.

Dan Collins

I consider myself an outdoor enthusiast. I love to travel and go to places that most people don't get a chance to go. I want to see it all and live life to the fullest while I'm alive. My camper van is helping me to do just that. I write about my experiences to help inspire others to do the same.

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