4WD water tanks; the ultimate guide for taking water with you

Being able to carry sufficient water when you are travelling in a 4WD is imperative. As you’ll soon realise, water is not only used for drinking, but also for washing, cooking and in the engines cooling system if you have a problem.

It’s always better to have more water on board than not enough!

You can do without food, fuel and even shelter for some time, but water isn’t something you want to mess around with.

There’s a lot of options for carrying water in your 4WD, so have a squiz and pick the best choice for your situation.

50L water tank under the Dmax
A 50L water tank installed underneath and at the front of our canopy

What can you carry water in?

Jerry Cans

A lot of people opt to use several Jerry cans, or portable water storage containers. These are great because they can be moved around, packed in various places and they ensure that your water is not in one tank. However, they have a number of disadvantages:

They have to be secured every time you travel, which is time consuming and can be difficult

You are limited in where you can store them; you can’t just sit them under the vehicle and leave!

Camper Trailer water storage
Storing water in Jerry Cans can be useful at times

Getting water out of the jerry cans requires moving them into a position where they are accessible, and then either installing a tap or pouring them (which is difficult given their weight).

I have seen Jerry Cans bolted inside a vehicle and plumbed together, with a pump that goes to the back of the vehicle. They are great if you have a permanent set up, but to me having to move them around all the time is just too much of a pain.

When we had our 80 Series Land Cruiser, we just used a few Jerry cans, and would pour them into a 5L one as it ran empty to make life easier. 

Carrying water for camping
Our water jerry cans with the Oztent RV5

PVC pipe water storage

No doubt you would have seen lengths of PVC running on one side of 4WD roof racks (or perhaps several sides?).

Making your own PVC water tank is extremely simple, and costs very little. The main concern with this though is the quality of drinking water.

There is a lot of controversy over whether it is safe enough to drink. My advice is to use it for washing and showers, and save other water in proper storage containers for drinking.

It pays to consider the extra weight up high as well. If you have 30kg of water on top of your vehicle that will make a big difference to the angles you can drive on, and the likelihood of your vehicle tipping over. I have seen a number of these PVC pipes mounted under the vehicle, in almost any place that you can fit them.

This is perfect as it is cheap, low to the ground and allows you to spread the locations of your water storage. They are great under Ute Trays, as long as you don’t plan to drink from them.

PVC Water tank on roof racks
A simple PVC Water Tank on roof racks

Water Bladders

A 4WD water bladder is a popular option because they are cheap to purchase and will mould into any left over space you have.

A lot of people install these inside the rear quarter panels, or even leave them on the floor. A good quality water bladder is very puncture resistant and enables you to carry a substantial amount of water with ease.

Lots of people have a big one that they use purely for taking into town, filling up and then pumping into their caravan or camper trailer.

Water bladder for a 4WD
A water bladder in the rear footwell of a Pajero to top the caravan up

Permanent 4WD Water Tanks

Nothing beats having a permanent 4WD water tank setup. These days, there are hundreds of different shapes and sizes to suit your vehicle.

If you are looking to fit a 4×4 water tank (or several), have a look at the different poly and stainless steel options. 

Polyethylene is much cheaper and will do the job well, with very limited risk of cracking or punctures due to extremely thick and durable plastic materials.

In my mind, a 4WD water tank setup should be easy to use, and once installed, a permanent solution guarantees this.

Permanently mounted water tanks
Where can you keep a permanent water tank?

If you are looking for Ute water tank ideas, you may have seen the toolboxes that you can purchase that sit under the tray, but either side of rear wheels (where the mud guards bolt onto).

You can get water tanks that will sit in the same place, and they are extremely easy to fit. This is part of what you should be thinking about when designing a 4WD Ute Canopy.

The poly tanks range from cubes through to cylinders, rectangles and slim line tanks (that are approximately 5cm x 100cm x 80cm).

Water tank under a camper
There’s lots of places you can mount water tanks under your 4WD or camper trailer

You can even get tanks that sit on the floor well behind the driver and passenger seat, or behind your rear seats. The DIY Ute water tank project is generally quite easy, and safe.

On our Isuzu Dmax, we have a 50L water tank under the canopy, and then 135L on the soft floor camper trailer.

EDIT: Our new Lifestyle Reconn R2 has 270L of water, so in total we usually have around 320L of water on board!

4WD water tank
50L of water from a tank to a tap under our Dmax tray

Where you put these tanks is entirely up to your imagination. Again, keeping them low is extremely important, but there are a number of places that these can be fitted. Some of the more common places include:

Under the vehicle (in almost any place you can fit it so long as it doesn’t get knocked or rubbed)

Inside the rear quarter panels

In front of the rear drawers

Under the flooring

Inside the rear bumper

In between a ute tray and the chassis

In between the canopy of a ute and the body

Behind the rear seats

On the floor of the second row of seats (you can get shaped poly tanks which make the floor flat)

In between the bull bar and radiator (but down low so it doesn’t block air flow)

Have a think about

What size holes are the inlet/outlet and what fittings do you require?

How are you going to fill the water tanks up?

How can you get water out of the tank?

How do you tell how much water you’ve used, and have left?

Is there an adequate breather setup, so as you fill the water, the same volume of air can escape? If   not, you won’t be filling up easily!

How to easily fill your water tanks

If you are having issues filling your water tanks, there’s a simple solution, which we’ve written about here; How to easily fill your water tanks.

12V pumps vs hand pumps

If you do end up with a permanent water storage system, it’s important that you have a way of getting the water out. A lot of people just purchase hand pumps, as they are simple and as it requires effort to get the water out your water will go further!

However, the luxury of having a little switch that you flick to get water out is unbeatable, and these can be purchased online for under $150. You can get a variety of flow rates, but something around the 4 litres a minute is generally adequate.

Running water in our Dmax
The 12V water pump on our Dmax, which can also be gravity fed as required

Making maximum use of available space

You only have a certain amount of space available inside your 4WD, so it is important to pack carefully, and get good at the game of Tetris!

Water can be stored safely outside of the vehicle, and this leaves room for gear that needs to stay dry and easily quickly accessible.

How much water do you need to carry?

The general recommendation is that you carry at least 5 litres of water per person per day, plus what is required for cooking. On top of this, you should have an emergency supply.

Of course, where you are going and what you are doing primarily determines the amount of water you need; use common sense and take more than less!

The cooler the weather, the less remote you are going and options for water (like a creek or stream) will make a big difference. If you can get water for washing, cleaning and showers then your required amount is dramatically reduced.

Showering in the bush
If you are going to be having showers, you’ll need more water. We often use creek or river water

What is the reason for having multiple water tanks?

They say that you should never put all of your eggs in one basket, and this is extremely relevant when it comes to water storage.

If you do get a hole in your only water tank, what are you going to do? If you lose the water, there is a good chance that your life could be at risk.

As a result, it is recommended that you have several locations for water storage. That way, if one does fail you still have a backup! This isn’t to say that you can’t have one main tank, and a smaller reserve tank, or at least several bottles of water stowed away.

Keeping your water clean and safe to drink

The most important part of water storage is making sure that it is clean and safe to drink. If you let mould grow in your water tank you can have a hard time getting it out. Keeping the water tanks full is the best way of avoiding this.

You can buy products specifically designed for cleaning your water tanks, and it is a good idea to do this every so often. Don’t risk drinking bad water; it could ruin your trip.

When you fill the water tanks up, make sure you use food grade hose (usually clear) as this keeps your water tasteless. If you use normal garden hose expect it to have a plastic taste to it!

Having water that is easy to access is vital
Water that is hard to get to is frustrating
Water on tap
Not all water is potable!

4WD Water storage ideas

If you jump on Google, have a look around at the different water storage ideas for the model vehicle that you own.

If you can’t find anything, look for a different model. You can always use the ideas by modifying them a little. It is incredible to look at some of the ideas people have had in regards to water storage.

Take the time to come up with a way of storing water that is safe, easily accessible and durable and you will be glad for many years to come! If you have any recommendations, leave a comment below.

Reconn R2 hypercamper
Our new camper trailer, with three 90L water tanks on board!

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  1. Vlam van Rooyen says:

    Hi – thx for a very informative article

  2. Hi William,

    There’s lots of ways to mount one near the headboard. By behind, do you mean inside the canopy or tray, or in between the tray and vehicle? Generally they are just bolted or strapped in place; but it will depend on the individual tank.

    All the best

  3. Hi i have a 79 series and how do i mount a watertank behind the headboard?

  4. Hi Jacob,

    You are much better off with a permanent mounted tank. Having a water bladder in the drawers will eventually result in it getting damaged, and it can move around, and will make getting water in and out harder.

    I’d mount a tank as far forward as possible, under the tray and run a shorter drawer if you want one

    All the best

  5. I am purchasing a single cab Toyota Hilux and I optioned it to come with a 2100 millimetre under tray drawers I and planning to use half the drawer for tools and the other half for
    A water bladder is this a good idea?

  6. Hey Ross,

    I haven’t seen a round one, but I’m sure there are companies that could make them. Also, it wouldn’t have to be exactly the right shape; it would probably mould quite well.

    The alternative (which I’d probably prefer) would be to find a rotamoulded plastic tank. I’d be surprised if you couldn’t find something suitable and install it in that location

    All the best

  7. Ross Mckay says:

    Hi Aaron,
    great article. I dont suppose you’ve come across a circular or donut shaped tank or bladder that fits into a spare tyre well by any chance? I’m setting up a Subaru outback and putting drawers in. Which requires a hitch mount tyre storage and leaves a ~650dia x 250 void where the tyre used to be.
    I was going to use a footwell tank with pump and inlet/outlet out the back but this makes so much sense.
    I intend to line the well with carpet and only put in a TPU heavy duty bladder but can’t find one that’s box shape and either square or circular.
    Any tips gratefully received

  8. Hey John,

    Under tray is the best option, as long as you support them well and put the weight forward as far as possible. We are really happy with our 50L under tray water tank on the Dmax.

    Nice work with the trailer; I haven’t seen too many of them around in Perth.

    All the best!

  9. Nice post by the way, I got a 2018 toyota hilux and I am thinking of installing under tray water tanks. Do you think this is a good idea

    By the way, today I saw a trailer just like yours with the jerry cans in willetton.

  10. Hey Alexis,

    Ours had an 85 or 90L tank right behind the axle, and a 45 – 50L sitting on top of the drawbar, just behind the front tool box.

    You can absolutely swap them around, but its critical they are well mounted as they (and the supports) work hard off road. Also, be careful of how you affect the balancing of the trailer; you want some tow ball weight, but not too much.

    If you look up Rota moulding, or 4WD water tanks, you might be surprised at the number of different sizes and shapes you can get – you may even be able to mount something over the axle (as long as there’s enough clearance!)

    All the best

  11. Alexis Anderson says:

    Hi Aaron, do you know how possible it is to swap out water tanks on a camper trailer? We have an Outback camper with an 80L tank, but wondering if it would be possible to increase it to an 80L + 55L. I’m guessing that is similar to what you had on your set up? Our 80L tank is in front of the axel, but there doesn’t seem to be a logical place to site another tank behind the axel. Maybe your trailer had a longer wheelbase…? 80L plus jerry cans would normally be sufficient, but if we want to use the jerry cans for diesel then we lose that option. Cheers, Alexis

  12. Hi Daniel,

    You want something rated for the weight of the tank, plus the extra force applied when you bounce it up and down. If its a 50kg tank, I’d be wanting at least 200kg of strength. Preferably bolts with washers to spread the load, or tek screws that are rated and that go into something substantial.

    All the best

  13. Hi mate what screws would you use when securing a poly tank under my tray with metal straps . Thanks

  14. Hi Janice,

    Usually they are just attached via metal straps, but it will depend on whether you can fit one in there, whether you can get one that is a suitable size and how you are going to fill and empty it. A lot of people just mount one behind the headboard, or even make the headboard into a tank itself.

    Alternatively, put one under the tray.

    All the best


    how do you install a vertical water tank between the cab and tray headboard’
    on a Nissan Navara?

  16. Hey Glen,

    We don’t sell any products here mate. Your best bet is eBay, or a reputable 4WD/agricultural shop


  17. Glen Weinert says:

    I am investigating a water bladder that I can lie flat on the floor in the middle of my 100 series landcruiser.
    Do you have such a thing, how much can it hold and what is the price please.