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First off, let me say that there are tons of options for overland vehicle water storage and I’m not going to review all of them here. How you end up storing your water depends on a few different factors including; vehicle weight restrictions, storage capabilities either inside or outside your rig, and the cost of storage systems. Access to clean drinking water is probably THE most crucial survival item you’ll take with you into (or find in) the backcountry. You’ve probably heard this before, but you can live for weeks, up to months without food, but two to three days without water can kill you. Worrying about water isn’t being an alarmist, it just underscores the simple fact that water storage is too important to overlook.

Overland Vehicle Water Storage

How Much Water Do You Need?

The rule of thumb is that an adult needs at least one gallon (64 oz.) of water per person per day, however your needs may vary depending on your age, your physical condition, how active you are, your diet and the climate. If you are in a hot climate or exercising, your fluid needs increase significantly. In these situations, it would be good to add at least 8 – 16 oz. more water per day.

Not all of your fluid intake needs to be from water. Other sources of hydration include herbal teas, sports drinks, fruit and vegetable juice, and even milk. Remember that both caffeine and alcohol are diruetics which means they contribute to dehydration, so unfortunately beer and coffee cannot (no matter how much you want them to) be considered thirst quenchers.

Guidelines for Water Storage:

There are a few things you need to know about water storage:

  1. Store your drinking water in tightly covered, carefully cleaned and non-corrosive containers.
  2. Water containers must be stored in a cool dark place. It is recommended that you avoid storing your water in direct sunlight as that can encourage the growth of molds and bacteria.
  3. Any stored water should be rotated every 6 months.

Water Storage Systems:

There are a large variety of tanks specifically designed for water storage in overland vehicles that run the gamut from inexpensive to breaking the bank. These systems can include ABS water tanks installed in the rear cargo area, “over the wheel well” tanks, water tanks that fit into the spare tire well underneath your vehicle, or jerry can type water containers that you can store outside your vehicle on your bumper system or roof rack.

My Water Storage System:

Scepter Milspec Water Cans

Personally, I’ve tried many jerry can type water containers, but none of them were able to withstand the jostling, shaking and relative abuse that occurs while driving offroad. The cheaper varieties of these containers, made by Reliance, spring friction leaks through the thin plastic or the seals aren’t designed for rugged off-road use. I bought and returned a few of these types of cans until I finally settled on the Scepter line of milspec water cans, the same water cans used by NATO all over the world. These cans are extremely durable, low maintenance, and lightweight. They hold 5 gallons (20 liters) of water and measure H 18.8″ x L 13.7″ x W 6.8″. Each can has an integrated single handle as well as a large access filler cap and a small breather valve to aid with pouring.

I store two of these Scepter water containers on my Slee Jerry Can Basket along with an extra five gallons of fuel. To secure the cans, I use a 2″ ratchet strap as well as locking them to the ladder system to deter theft.  But with all of these attachment devices, I also ran into a problem. To pick up and pour from these canisters, I had to unlock the lock and then disengage the ratchet strap to release them. When pouring from these heavy containers, I often sloshed water out of the large cap while filling bottles and bladders, wasting a few cups at a time. To get my daily hydration on the road, it was both annoying and wasteful to use these canisters.

Super Siphon with 6′ Siphon Hose

While searching for a way to transfer fuel out of my fuel jerry can into the gas tank, I happened on the Super Siphon, an ingenious siphoning tube made up of a brass valve housing at the end of six feet of food grade plastic tubing that allows you to transfer any liquid from a storage tank into another container by simply tapping the brass housing on the bottom of the container- allowing the siphon to fill with enough liquid to permit gravity to pull out the rest. The brass valve contains a glass ball that gets displaced when in liquid allowing the siphon to fill. When the siphon is pulled, the glass ball fits tightly against the mouth of the brass housing and prevents the captured liquid from pouring out of the input end. Siphoning continues as long as there is liquid to be siphoned and the input end of the siphon remains submerged in the liquid. To stop siphoning, simply pull the brass end of the siphon from the liquid. The best part of all? The food grade tubing fits perfectly in the small opening of the cap to the jerry can!

Now I can leave my jerry cans attached to my bumper and avoid having to lift a full water can to fill my containers! Water weighs 8.3 lbs. per gallon, so a full container weighs up to 35 pounds. I get to save my back and save water too!

Cleaning Your Water Containers:

Finally, it is important to keep your water containers free from mold, mildew and bacteria. A full canister of water should be kept out of direct sunlight if possible. When water is stored properly, the shelf life should be indefinite. Although it’s a good idea to use and/or replace your water every 6 – 12 months to prevent bacteria or fungus growing in containers which may not have been thoroughly or properly cleaned and sanitized. If you keep your canisters empty between trips, they need to remain clean and dry as not to encourage the growth of these nasties. Here’s a good sanitization method:

  • A few drops of dishwashing liquid and 1/4 -1/2 teaspoon of bleach.
  • Fill the tank and let sit for a couple of hours.
  • Dump the bleach/ soap water and rinse until the bleach smell goes away
  • Dry canister completely and store with the cap off.

In a future post, I’ll talk more about water treatment options. Until then, do you have any great ideas for overland vehicle water storage? Share them in the comments below!