My list of terms to know for those new to or
curious about the RV lifestyle

RV glossary | Full hook ups definition

If you’d told me six years ago — before I met my husband — that I’d at some point in time that I’d own a camper, let alone three at varying points in time, I’d laugh at you. Heartily. So would everyone that I know or who had ever heard stories about me. I was not, nor am I now, someone who is very outdoorsy.

But I love my husband and he loves camping, and eventually wore me down and talked me into buying a camper.

RVing was a completely new life to me and adjusting to it was a huge learning curve. My husband was throwing out terms that I’d never heard before and if you don’t speak the language, it can be confusing and sometimes frustrating. We are also weekend and vacation campers, as opposed to full-timers, so our needs and concerns are sometimes different than many experts that you find online. I decided to put together a list of terms that I use in order to make things easier for my friends and family who read this blog and may have no idea what I’m talking about and for those of you who are new to RVing and might need a simple guide to help you.

Please note: I am not an expert at RVing and do not claim to be. There are many blogs out there filled with useful information, especially and including Gone with the Wynns, and I highly recommend that you research options specific to your rig and your needs instead of taking me at my word.

Black tank

A black tank is where toilet waste is stored while on the road. It must be disposed sanitarily at a dump station or campsite sewage hookup using hoses and water to flush it out. It is always a good idea to use specialty RV or marine toilet paper to prevent a clog and to add a treatment to help things break down and keep the tanks clean. I have never actually flushed the tanks myself, so here is a more detailed understanding of how it works. Black tank sizes vary and depending on use, may need to be emptied every few days to weeks. We chose to remove our motorhome’s toilet and replace it with a composting one (see definition below) to allow my husband to spend less time dealing with yucky stuff and allow us to extend the life of our gray tank through a combination valve.


Also known as dispersed or dry camping. This essentially means that you are camping outside of an improved campground without connection to services such as water, sewer, or electricity. When I refer to dry camping, I typically mean that we are camping in a national forest or BLM land, although we will occasionally stay a night in a parking lot (with permission, of course) as we are driving from place A to B. The Campendium app and website are both great resources for finding dry camping and other camping resources. Here is a list of our boondocking trips.

Composting toilet

To put it simply, a composting toilet separates the wet and dryer waste which prevents sewage from forming. I did not know this until recently, but the mixture of the two is what makes things so icky and dangerous. You can skip the rest of this explanation if you are easily icked out and/or never plan on using one. For those who are interested, my husband is thrilled so far with our composting toilet (he’s in charge of doody duty) and said it was very easy to install.

Our composting toilet has two holding tanks, one for number one and one for number two. The urine tank needs to be emptied and rinsed out fairly frequently (every two days or less depending on use). There is a separate tank for other business that is filled with either moistened organic sphagnum peat moss (what we use) or coconut coir (which we might switch to eventually). The peat moss and other stuff mixture is stirred after each use, and the combined heat, bacteria, and evaporation eventually creates compost which, if given the proper amount of time, can be used or disposed of safely. If used properly, there is no smell. We have only taken a few trips since making the switch, but I’d say this is the best way to go (see what I did there?) if you have the money to invest in a new toilet. We plan to dispose of our toilet waste, but I’m sure others use theirs in their flower beds.

Motorhome essentials

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Full hook ups

No, this is not something new that your single friends are doing. At least not in the RV world. Full hooks mean that a campground offers electricity (30 and/or 50 amps), fresh water, and sewage hookups at your camping spot. Some campgrounds may also include cable television, but most will not. Full hook up camping spots are great options all of the time, but especially if you plan on staying stationary for a while and don’t want to have to move every few days to dump your tanks or at the tail end of a boondocking trip when you may need to empty your tanks. This would also be a necessary option if you have a washer in your camper and plan on doing laundry. Full hook up campsites are typically more expensive than electric and water only spots, typically running from $25-40 or more per night.

Gray tank

A gray tank is the holding tank for sink and shower water waste. It should be disposed of sanitarily at a dump station or campsite sewage hookup using hoses, although depending on the state and location it may be able to be dumped into a kitchen waste disposal hole at some state parks. Dumping gray water is a legal gray area (forgive the pun), and it’s not worth the potential fines and harm to wildlife — so don’t do it! Not to mention: it’s stinky! Gray water, similarly to black, needs to have an added treatment to help things break down and prevent your tanks from getting icky. We like this one, although there are many others.

A few ways to extend the life our your gray tank and prevent needing to dump it all the time are: install a composting toilet, sanitize or replace the black tank and use for gray water; take a navy shower; purchase an external holding tank; and use paper plates to lower sink water usage.

Navy shower

Most RV showers have a button that you can push that will keep water from flowing out of the head, but keep the water moving so that it stays warm until you push the button again. I will usually get my hair and body wet then push the button and shampoo my hair and condition the ends, wash my body and face, and then turn the water back on to rinse out my hair and body. Navy showers help cut back significantly on water usage and will help extend the life of your camping trip by not filling up your gray tank too quickly.


A rig is just another name for a motorhome, RV, camper, trailer, camper van, Class C, Class B, etc.

Shore power

Shore power is the hookup to an electricity.

Self contained

A self contained camper is one that has indoor bathroom and kitchen facilities, i.e. everything that you need for daily life is inside. Most private and nicer campgrounds and boondocking spots will specify that rigs must be self contained.


A slide or slide out is a motorized space that moves out to open up the camper and offer more floor space. These are in the dining and living room areas and bedrooms. A camper may have no slides at all or multiple ones.

Read about our adventures in Fleetwood Mac