I have nothing against established campsites. Running water, an outhouse, and premade fire rings are all good things. I do, however, hate crowded campsites. Privacy and peace are much harder to come by anywhere with a camp host.
That’s why I tend to push out a little father these days, often venturing onto Bureau of Land Management land, where I have to dig my own poop hole, make my own fire ring, and bring my own water. Those first two tasks are easy, but the water part can be tricky: How much water do you bring? How do you carry it? How do you prevent the containers from leaking? Fortunately, I discovered the $18 Reliance Aqua-Tainer years ago and have never had off-grid water problems since.
With seven gallons of storage, the Aqua-Tainer has enough capacity to provide drinking, cooking, and cleaning water for two people over a long weekend. It’s about the size of a small cooler (11.5x12x16 inches), but thanks to the square shape, it’s easy to pack and fits in the trunk of most cars. Made from rigid polyethylene, it can bounce around the back of your Tacoma on a washboard road and won’t let any water out. Its Achilles’ heel is its spigot: Store that part inside the container during transport, then turn it right side out once you’re at camp.
After years of use, the Aqua-Tainer has saved me a lot of money on those disposable gallon water jugs I used to buy at gas stations. It has also eliminated all that waste. I estimate that I’ve used my Aqua-Tainer to carry about 500 gallons of water, filled with free tap water.
And speaking of free tap water, I like that I can fill my Aqua-Tainer almost anywhere. While traveling through rural parts of the American West, finding gallon jugs of water can be hard, but if you have a little chutzpah, you can always knock on someone’s door and ask to fill your Aqua-Tainer from their garden hose.
Even if you’re not camping in no-man’s land, the jug can still be useful. My buddy Gareth Tate once filled his up before we climbed Mount Shasta, which I thought was excessive. After going up and coming down in a day, it was an absolute pleasure to drink as much water as I wanted without having to drive back into town. If you’re out rock climbing with buddies for the day, slap the Aqua-Tainer in the shade and let people refill throughout the day or use it to wash their hands.
My only word of caution: Make sure to dry the container thoroughly after every use to avoid mold. Empty the body and let it drip upside down. Also, make sure the spigot is totally free of water. Also, remember that since the container is made from plastic, your water will take on a plasticky taste after about three days. That’s fine in a pinch, but I suggest refilling the container as often as you can on extended trips.