Boondocking Basics

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How Long Will a Propane Tank Last While Boondocking?

How Long Will a Propane Tank Last While Boondocking?


Most RV boondockers will make a standard 20 pound (5 gallon) propane tank last for about one week, but it’s common for experienced boondockers to stretch one out for two weeks. How long your propane tanks lasts while boondocking is largely dependent on how much you use it for heating.

how long will a propane tank last while boondocking
20 pound propane tanks getting serviced while boondocking

How Long Will a Propane Tank Last While Boondocking?

A standard 20 pound propane tank (5 gallons, or 4.7 gallons actual) will last anywhere from three to seven days while boondocking in an RV. This is assuming you are using propane to run your furnace at night, power your refrigerator, keep your water heater running, and using your cook top.

If you plan to run your furnace every night, for about 8 hours at a time, and use propane for your other RV appliances, then expect that tank to last you the minimum three days.

It’s common for boondockers to keep a couple of spare tanks to help them extend their boondocking.

How to Make Your Propane Tanks Last Longer

Don’t the use the RV furnace, and don’t use the water heater.

  • If you don’t use your RV furnace, and leave your water heater off for much of the time, you can count on a 20 pound propane tank to last you 7-10 days. This is assuming you are still running your RV refrigerator on propane, and still cooking on your cook top.
  • But if you can also run your refrigerator purely on electricity, such as from generator power, or using a 12 volt refrigerator, you can make a 20 pound propane tank last for two-three months. Now you’re just limiting propane to cooking and occasional showering.

RV furnaces are propane hogs. Moreover, the furnace will deliver heat to your entire RV, when in fact you might only need it in your bedroom. This is why portable propane heaters are better… they burn propane more efficiently, and you can direct the heat where you need it.

The water heater is not so much a propane hog, but that hot water is rarely needed. It’s really only needed for showering, and most boondockers don’t shower everyday. In that case, leave the water heater off, and turn it on only when you need it.

Use the Sun for Taking Showers

Instead of using the water heater to take a shower, use the sun instead. Fill up three 1-gallon jugs of water and sit them outside under full sun for a few hours. You don’t need “hot” water for showering, you only need warm water.

When they’re ready, use only those jugs for showering. Don’t even turn on the faucets in your shower. This is a great way to limit water usage while boondocking.

Propane Tank Exchanges Cheat You Out of Propane

If you get your propane tanks from an exchange (the kind where you leave an empty tank and take a filled tank), then you’re not getting a full tank. These exchanges typically only put about 4.0 gallons into a tank, when in fact they can hold more. Most 20 pound tanks can hold 4.7 gallons of propane.

Moreover, propane exchanges cost you more. Exchanges always seem to charge you for 6.5 gallons, even though you’re only getting 4.0. Thus if the price of propane is $3.00 USD per gallon, they will charge you $19.50.

That’s why it’s better to get your propane tank refilled as opposed to using an exchange. You can get the full 4.7 gallons and pay exactly for what you’re getting.

Where to Get a Propane Tank Refilled

Most travel centers like Pilot, Flying J, Loves, offer propane tank refills. Most farm supply stores like Cal Ranch Stores, Big R Stores, and some Tractor Supply Stores, offer propane tank refills. Read our other article, “Where do I Refill a Propane Tank?

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