What do I need for my new RV?

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"How much did you guys spend on setting up your RV?" The question came from a good friend who had just bought their first RV. "Do you mean, how much did we spend on dishes and stuff?" I replied. "Yeah, well that and all the extra equipment you have to buy." I had no idea. 

When Jim and I were waiting for our RV to be delivered we poured over websites and blogs about RV life. Almost every one had a long list of products we "had to buy" for our new RV. We did begin working through some of those shopping lists only to find that when our RV was delivered, many of those items were included by the manufacturer or the dealer. 

Inside the RV, we had to set up housekeeping so, we thought that meant buying "RV specific" stuff. Over the course of three years, there's no telling how much we've spent and how much was actually needed. Which brings me to the question of, how much do you need to buy for your new RV? Probably not as much as you might think.

The RV itself is pretty self-contained but there are attachments and products you'll need in order to use all of the self-contained systems. For instance, to dump the holding tanks you'll need a dump hose. Most manufacturers include that with the unit, but that item shows up on a lot of those lists. You'll also need a fresh water hose. That too is often included by the manufacturer or the dealer. So our first piece of advice is to check with the manufacturer for what is included at delivery. Then have a chat with your dealer to see what they provide that is included in the price of the RV. 

Knowing what equipment you really need to purchase depends on what the manufacturer and dealer provide. But let's start with an overview of getting your RV "set-up" and, in the process, we'll make a list of items in a few basics categories. 


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Travel Safe

First is travel safety. The RV usually comes equipped with a fire extinguisher, carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, and an LP detector. These are non-negotiable items. Odorless, carbon monoxide can emanate from the engine or the generator and is particularly dangerous. The smoke detector is more obvious, but considering you are in a tiny space, advance warning is critical to getting out of the unit in case of fire. And though you may be able to smell the "rotten egg" odor of LP, it too is a hazard and you want as much advance warning as possible. Make sure all are functional when you take delivery of your RV. If for some reason your RV does not come equipped with these important items, you really do need to get them. 

Must have equipment for travel safety: fire extinguisher, carbon monoxide, smoke, and LP detectors.

Getting Level and Shore Services

Second, let's look at setting up the RV for camping using "shore services" (that's water and electricity at the campground). The three main elements to set up are leveling the RV, connecting the water, and connecting the electricity. 

  • Leveling the RV is important to the flow of the LP to the refrigerator, cook top, and water heater. Leveling is also important if you have a slide room. The RV has be be level so the mechanism in the slide works properly.

  • Connecting to campground water and electricity allows you to use the all the appliances and equipment installed and all the electronic goodies you packed for the trip.

Let's Level

If you have a built-in leveling system, there is not much to do other than put down some jack pads and let the leveling system do the rest. So really, jack pads are all you need. These hard rubber pads keep the "feet" of the levelers from sinking into the ground or asphalt. You place them on the ground where the levelers will land once the levelers are activated. A nice "extra" would be an extension pole with a hook on the end to move the jack pads into place and retrieve them when breaking down camp (jack pads typically have some sort of rope handle to move them around).

Must have equipment for Automatic Leveling: jack pads and maybe an extension pole with a hook to retrieve them from under the RV.

Manual leveling is not difficult but can be frustrating until you get the hang of it. First you need to determine what part of the RV is too low. You can gauge the level of the RV with a simple carpenter's level or use a phone app for this purpose. Then you will add leveling bricks (they look like big Lego bricks) in front of the tires on the side and/or end of the RV that is sitting too low. Roll up onto the bricks and recheck for level. You may need a few tries before you get it "just right" but you will get better at this with experience.

Must have equipment for Manual Leveling: leveling bricks and a carpenter's level or a phone app designed for leveling RVs. 

Get Wired

Once you get the RV leveled, it's time to hook up to the campground shore services. Make sure the electrical box is turned off and choose the outlet that matches the amperage of your unit. There are often two: one for 30 amp service and one for 50 amp service. Most small-RVs are 30 amp but check your own documentation to be sure. If you plan on camping across country, it's probably a good idea to invest in an outlet adapter. These allow a 30 amp RV to plug into a 50 amp circuit. They fit between the outlet and the surge protector.

Time to see if the electrical box is safe and you can do this with a surge protector. Plug it into the campground electrical outlet, turn on the outlet switch, and check the lights on the surge protector. They should all be "green" indicating there are no issues. Turn off the power at the outlet switch, plug in your power cord to the surge protector and then connect the other end to your RV. Now, turn on the power switch at the outlet. The last is the RV power cord itself. Usually this is supplied by the manufacturer. If not, you will have to get one.  

Must have equipment for electrical hook-up: outlet adapter, surge protector, RV electrical cord (if not supplied by manufacturer)

Turn on the Flow

We leave connecting the water until last so that you are not standing in a puddle working with electricity! Turn on the campground water and let it run for a few seconds, then turn it off. Connect a pressure regulator to the faucet and then your fresh water supply hose. Connect the hose to the city water outlet on your RV (sometimes in the service bay, sometimes on the side of the RV.), and turn on the campground water. Check for leaks at the faucet and at the RV connection end. The water supply hose should be of good quality (you're drinking this water!) and some manufacturers or dealers will provide it for new RVs. A nice extra is an in-line water filter. Even if your RV has a water filter a second filter at the campground outlet will get a lot of the nasties out of your water supply. 

Must have equipment for water hook-up: water pressure regulator and a fresh water supply hose. A nice extra is an in-line water filter.

Dumping the Tanks

When the gray and black tanks are full, it't time to visit the dump station or, in some parks, use the campsite sewer connection. For either one there are just a few pieces of equipment to worry about. The first is a dump hose. Most RVs come with a dump hose and if your unit has a macerator and hose at the service bay, you may not need any other hose. The only other equipment you will is need latex gloves, hand sanitizer and paper towels.

Must have equipment for dumping the tanks: dump hose (if not included), latex gloves, hand sanitizer, and paper towels.

Now we turn our attention to the interior of the RV. This is where you can go crazy or just use what you have. There is very little that needs to be RV specific. 


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The RV Bathroom

One specialty item is toilet paper. In order to keep your plumbing system in good condition you will need to use dissolving toilet paper specifically made for boats, RVs, and campers. You will also need to buy holding tank deodorizer to put in the toilet and down the shower drain. Otherwise the bathroom needs regular stuff like towels, toiletries, and cleaner for the fixtures. 

Must haves for the RV bathroom: dissolving toilet paper, holding tank deodorizing tablets

The RV Kitchen

Equipment for the kitchen is pretty much what you would use at home - just not so much of it! Appliances in smaller sizes may or may not be necessary depending on how you plan to cook. Remember you don't have the fridge space, counter space or storage space you do at home so keep your RV kitchen simple. Make sure you have pots and pans that will work well with the stove top in the RV. I suggest getting a cooler to help with cold storage. Put drinks in the cooler so you won't open the fridge so often. It can double as an ottoman or a coffee table. 

Must haves for the RV kitchen: pots and pans compatible with your cook top. A cooler to help with cold drinks is a nice extra.

The RV Bedroom

Tucking in for the night in the RV is always cozy. You don't really need any special linens - though there are quite a few on the market, nor do you need any special pillows. I would suggest that you invest in some "space saving" vacuum bags to store extra linens, pillows, and blankets that you might want to take along. These squeeze out the air in the fabrics and allow compression of the item so that it stores flatter. It also works well for sweaters and coats - especially good if you are traveling through multiple climate zones. 

Must haves for the RV bedroom: nothing special here but nice extras are the fitted RV sheet/comforter combinations and space saving vacuum bags if you're taking along extra linens or clothing.  

Outside the RV

Well, now we get to the camping part of RVing. You can bring along whatever you enjoy but we suggest at least a couple of camp chairs and perhaps a folding side table. Pop-up screen rooms, outdoor carpets and/or door mats, and grills are optional. If you do bring a grill, make sure you also bring along what you need to clean it and a plastic seal-able bag for storage to keep critters from enjoying the leftovers!

Must haves for RV camping: a couple of camp chairs and a small folding end table; nice extras are a door mat, and maybe a screen room if you are camping in "buggy" zones. (this is an essential for us since we often camp in the southeast!)

The RV Engine and Chassis

You might not think about the engine and chassis when you think about buying stuff for the RV but you actually do need a few things on hand as soon as you own an RV. For one, you need a tire pressure gauge. This is essential because your tires are holding all that weight! Keep the tires properly inflated and check them before and during your trips. If you have hubcaps you might also want to invest in a tool to removethe hubcaps. On our unit we have to remove the hubcap to take the tire pressure so this makes it a lot easier.

Engine fluids like windshield washer fluid, engine coolant, and motor oil are items you might want to keep in the garage and, if you have a newer diesel, you’ll want to keep a bottle of Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) on hand. This reduces the emmissions from your diesel engine and if you run out, you’ll have a limited number of “starts” before the engine will not start!

With options like a slide room, automatic step, and awning you will need to have lubricants to keep these working properly. Follow the recommendations in your RV documentation on frequency and which lubricants to buy,

Must have for your RV engine and chassis: tire pressue gauge, engine fluids (oil, coolant, windshied washer fluid), lubricants for your automated outdoor options

That's about it. Those are the "must have" items for a basic set up. Now, having said that, there are a few items that will make your RV travel more enjoyable but you can add those as you go along. 

If you are serious about getting started on supplies for your RV, we have a packing list that can jump-start your quest. We take a lot of "glamping" gear along, but we make sure everything we take has a storage spot. No tripping over stuff on the floor!  You can GET THAT PACKING LIST HERE.


Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all you need to know about your RV? We can help you become a “Small-RV Ninja”! LEARN MORE