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Once upon a time, I made a video about What To Keep In Your RV Toolkit. And when I looked back at it recently, I realized… that was NINE YEARS AGO!!!
I’m wondering if I can trust YouTube, because it certainly doesn’t feel like I’ve been blogging about RVs for nine years. But things have changed since I made that video. We’ve changed RVs… twice. We’ve changed classes of RVs from a B to a C. Heck, I’ve even changed shops and houses since then! So with all that change, I figured it was time to do another deep dive into my toolkit and make sure I was still carrying the most appropriate tools and supplies for the way we RV today. This video is the result:
The good news is that most of the tools I brought nine years ago are still relevant. There were a few that hadn’t seen any use over the years (a hammer and crowbar, for example), that I had already removed since that first video, and I found a few more to clear out in this video. I also decided to add a couple things. Now, I feel like I’ve got a good mix of tools and supplies for the way we RV.
By the way, I should mention that “the way we RV” is this: We’re not full timers. We enjoy having a
workshop house to come home to. We also have a small class C RV. Keep those things in mind as you work up your own RV toolkit. If you’re full-timing in a large Class A, you’ve probably got the need and the space for more tools than what I’m bringing. If you’re a tailgater with a Class B, you may need less.
What follows below is a listing of the tools you see in the video, and some other products that I recommend. I can’t give exact links for all of my tools, because I’ve had some of them for literally decades. But if you’ve got no tools at all, this list should get you up and running. (Links that follow may be affiliate links.)
THE RV TOOLS LIST:
(Click the titles for the the link to the tools.)
I mentioned this before I even got the tools out of the compartment. We carry this VIAIR compressor now instead of relying solely on a bicycle pump to inflate tires. (We still do carry a bicycle pump, so I guess that’s my backup.) The super-long chuck lets us air up dually tires easily. This one is a bit expensive, but I’ve not regretted buying it.
OK. I admit it. I have a bit of a Festool problem. Festool are a line of very well designed tools from Germany, and these mini tool boxes were just the ticket to fit in my short storage compartment. Fair warning though: Once you start down the Festool path; it’s a long dark tunnel, and you’ll leave a trail of money on your way down.
The specific Bosch hand saw that you see in the video apparently isn’t made anymore, which is a real pity, because I love it. The one I linked in the title is a reasonable approximation from another maker. It takes Sawzall blades instead of jigsaw blades, but the concept is the same.
The origins of the pliers in my current toolkit are shrouded in mystery… I really can’t remember where they came from or even what brand they are. All I remember is that they’re from the ’80s. But the linesman pliers I’ve linked will get the job done. I’ve collected a fair number of Craftsman tools over the years. (Although these days, the Crafstman name is mostly about nostalgia.)
You know, compiling this list is actually making me want to buy newer and better pliers for my toolkit. Now I have plier-envy. I may just go buy these and the linesman’s anyway…
You’ll want both standard and metric sizes, as I mention in the video, and the set I linked has both for a reasonable price. I actually prefer these linked wrenches to the ones currently in my toolkit. Those sets that have several sizes on a single tool seem like a good idea, but they tend to be pretty bulky, and are difficult to rotate properly in a confined space. These “free” wrenches give you two options for positioning. You can also apply a LOT more torque to these than those all-in-one hex key tools. OK. That does it. I’m getting these for myself now…
I think I must have about 20 tape measures that I’ve accumulated over the years. The one you see in the video is just one that I happened to have laying around when I made up my original RV toolkit years ago. But if I were picking out a tape measure specifically for the RV, I’d get the one I linked… if it’s available. Here’s why it’s my ideal tape measure: It’s marked in both standard and metric (and I know our RV was designed metric). The auto-lock feature is life-changing when you start using it while you’re standing on a ladder with a drill in your other hand. And finally, it’s compact, and not some ginormous inch-and-a-half wide 25 foot long monstrosity. I know I’m supposed to think a 5 pound tape measure with lots of grippy rubber accents on it is manly or something, but I just think they’re the wrong tool literally 95% of the time. If you’re building a deck, sure, go for the “Fat Bastard” tape measure or whatever. But if you’re trying to measure the distance between the centers of the holes to mount your cabinet hardware, and your tape measure is so freaking big you can’t even see what you need to measure… it’s the wrong tool! And I can’t believe I just wrote that much about tape measures… with exclamation points even! Anyway, keeping the tape measure in the glove box instead of stored away in the toolkit is also a capital idea, because several times a day I find myself wondering “How much space do I have to mount X”.
I have a love-but-mostly-hate relationship with Vise Grips. I think it has to do with some of their marketing slogans. Like, “Because sometimes, you’re just too damn lazy to go get the appropriate wrench.” Or, “When you’ve got a bolt that needs destroying, reach for Vise Grips.” “Giving you blood blisters when you release them for over 50 years!” You catch my drift. Why on earth then do I even have these? I use them only in situations where nothing else works and I don’t care if I completely destroy the workpiece – basically for demolition and removal tasks – because Vise Grips damage everything they come in contact with. But, you know, sometimes you need that. And that’s why they’re in the toolkit.
Well, I never said I wasn’t occasionally too lazy to go get the right tool myself. And that’s why I carry an adjustable wrench in my “First Box”. The one that’s in there now is a stubby version, but I don’t really like it much, because the handle is a bit too fat, and too short, so I may replace it with something like this. I notice that the tool I linked is actually marked with standard and metric graduations on opposite sides. That seems cool, but really, who ever dials an adjustable wrench down to 9/16″ first, and uses it that way? More likely, I think I might use that to size up a nut or bolt head, and then go get the right size one on the first try. Which I’ve never been able to do.
I may have just called it a putty knife in the video, but I should have been more clear – specifically a plastic putty knife is what you want. Occasionally, you’ll need to remove goop/sap/sealant/silicone/command-tape from your RV somewhere. A putty knife is the right tool, but a plastic putty knife is less likely to damage your paint or gelcoat. A lot less. And here’s another tip: Before you put the putty knife in your toolkit, take a couple minutes with sandpaper and round over the sharp corners of the blade – that’ll make it much less likely that they will dig in and damage anything.
The set I linked isn’t the same actual one I have in my toolkit… it’s better. I’ll explain. Here’s the thing to look out for with screwdriver bit sets: I have one from Klein, for example that I like well enough. But it only takes its own weird-sized bits. So if you run across something that isn’t in its standard set, you’re screwed. Also, if you happen to lose a bit, you’re screwed. And the Klein doesn’t ratchet. The one I linked is less than $15, and resolves all those concerns. Plus, it has even more bits than the set I’m currently carrying. The only thing it doesn’t have is Robertson (square) screwdriver bits – but since it takes standard bits, that’s easy enough to remedy. It’s now in my cart, and I’ve just realized that this is going to be a pretty expensive post to write.
I keep this around for fixing sunglasses and such. But honestly, the set I linked above already has this bit (and more) making this kind of redundant. So I just linked the same set above.
I really shouldn’t have to link a nail. I mean, if you can’t find a nail, you probably shouldn’t be reading a five-thousand word post about tools. But I just know someone is going to ask about the nail. “I read through your post with great interest, but could not find a link for the nail. What size nail? And is it stainless? Or just carbon steel?” Either that, or someone will try to one-up me about the nail. “Why do you carry only one size nail? I carry nails from 4d to 16d, which lets me make different sized pokey holes. I was similarly surprised to see that you’ve given yourself only one option for poking holes. Have you tried other pokey items such as skewers or screws? I find that skewers – specifically round bamboo skewers – leave the cleanest edges when poking foil bottle seals.” Ugh. So, for what it’s worth, it’s a plain finish nail. Moving on.
This is another tool that I can’t remember where it came from. The one I linked seems pretty good, and it’s less than $7, so even if it’s not good you can’t complain about it too much. Just be careful about where you use the razor blade scraper though. Like, don’t use it on your exterior paint unless you’re into scratches.
Teflon tape is cool stuff, it’s great for sealing up leaks, and I keep it in my toolkit. But just as important as having the tape is knowing when to use it and when not to… and knowing which tape to use for water, or gas, or whatever. Here’s the skinny on when I use Teflon tape: I only use it when the threads are responsible for sealing the connection. I don’t use it when the seal is provided by something like a brass flare fitting, or when there are captured rubber gaskets that are responsible for making the seal – it just gets in the way then. Also – the white Teflon tape I carry is for water. The yellow stuff is for gas/propane. I could maybe carry some of the yellow tape, just in case. But if I have to make a repair to a propane fitting… that’s not something I really want to hack on the spot and try to get by with some tape. I’d rather make the repair properly.
I keep this stuff around “just in case”. I’ve never had to use it on the road, and I hope I never do. I certainly wouldn’t count on it to hold any pressure for a long time or anything, but if I had a badly leaking fresh water hose, and I really needed to get some water right now… I might try it.
This one I’m linking is not the one you see in my toolkit, which is like, 20 years old. I have a “real” multimeter in the shop, but even that one came from Radio Shack(!). (Seriously… Radio Shack.) It won’t die, and I’m not getting another one until it does. But I don’t really need that big one when we’re out in the RV. This one is just to get by if something goes wonky when we’re on the road. If you don’t have a multimeter in your tool kit, get one. You’ll wonder how you got by without one.
I only carry the black electrical tape in my RV toolkit, but I have all kinds of colors at home. Maybe it’s an OCD thing, but it bugs me if I’m using red and black wires, and I have to put black electrical tape around them. Does the black tape negate the red wire color? Did I mean something by putting the black tape on there? Was I trying to indicate that the red wire is now a ground? All of these dilemmas can be avoided if you just use the right color electrical tape! That doesn’t mean that I carry all these colors on the road though. Black is good enough, and I’ll fix it when I get home. Oh… and there’s good electrical tape, and crappy electrical tape. The crappy stuff gets hard, likes to come apart, and leaves a slimy-sticky goo on everything. (You know you’ve gotten this on your hands before.)
As I mentioned in the video, these aren’t my go-to for connecting wires these days. But sometimes, you’ve just got to use them. The heat-shrink waterproofing is the main driver here. If you’re working on something that will be outside your RV, there really is no other sane choice for connecting wires. As for a heat source… I’d just burn up Stef’s worlds-smallest hair dryer if I had to in order to get these things sealed.
I’ve also heard these called “lever nuts”. These things are the absolute bomb when it comes to making electrical connections with few tools. I’ve never had one fail on me – and I have had a couple butt-splice failures. Now, they’re not waterproof (for that, use the heat shrink connectors above). But unlike the butt-splice connectors, it’s really easy to connect dis-similar sized wires with the Wago connectors. You simply strip and insert the wire, and close the lever. That’s it! Unfortunately, they don’t come in little travel-sized packs, so you’d need to buy some and just take a few. But trust me, once you’ve used them, you’re going to want the big hundred pack, so don’t worry about that. I carry a few of the 2 port connectors, and a few of the 3 port connectors, but they come in other sizes as well. These things ROCK!
I honestly have no idea where I got the “Smart Electrician” wiring multi-tool that I’m carrying now, so I can’t link that one. Plus, I don’t like the pressure that name puts on me… like I have to be either smart or an electrician to use it or something. (Some days, I feel like both. Some days, neither.) The one I’ve linked is likely a better tool from Klein. Don’t go cheap with this tool. Get yourself a good one.
Here’s the deal with wire. Just get copper wire – end of story. Aluminum wire might be cheaper to buy, but I wouldn’t sleep well if I had wired my 20,000 watt-hour battery bank with aluminum wire. Just get the good stuff, which the wire I linked is. This is tinned marine grade wire, so it looks silver in color instead of copper, but that’s just because the copper strands have been coated in tin to help keep them corrosion free. Corrosion is obviously a big deal in boats, but never hurts to have that kind of protection in your RV as well. As far as the gauge, I’d go with 14 gauge for your RV emergency tool kit – it will safely handle 15 amps, which is likely the majority of your RV’s circuits. Besides, it’s not like “wire” is a hard thing to find when you’re on the road.
Always good to have on hand for random cleaning or clearing of corrosion. Not good for teeth and gums.
These get heavy pretty quickly, so it makes sense not to take every size under the sun. The set you see in my toolkit is pretty old, and I was shocked at how much they’ve gone up since I bought those. The ones I’ve linked here will be enough for most anything that you’ll want to tackle while you’re on the road. They’re certainly not every size under the sun though. I’m trying to think up something else witty to say about wrenches, but I’m coming up dry. They’re just wrenches, and sometimes you need them.
Sometimes, you need a flat wrench, and sometimes you need a socket wrench. These are for the latter. Remember, these aren’t my main go-to tools at the shop, just something I take on the road in case. So the inexpensive multi-sets make sense here. This makes me wonder though. If we call these “socket wrenches”, does that mean they call them “socket spanners” on the other side of the Atlantic? UK readers, please let me know what you call these!
I was on the fence about even taking my little drill/driver. But when I went to find a link for it, I realized they don’t make them anymore, and that makes me want to keep it! It’s easy to buy a drill/driver. But most of those you can get today are pretty large, or have massive 18 volt batteries, and that’s not what you want for your RV toolkit. You want small. The one I have does *not* have a removable battery, and that makes it smaller than those that do. It’s really tough to find one today that doesn’t have a removable battery, but I found this one, and it seems like it might be OK, even though it’s an off-brand. If you really want something that’s name brand, I’ve standardized on the Milwaukee M12 tools for my home shop. They’re small, in spite of having removable batteries, and they pack a punch. I have about 15 M12 tools now, so I’ve got quite a few of the batteries. If I didn’t have the little Ryobi drill driver, and I had to buy new, I would either get that Performance tool I linked, or go for the Milwaukee.
Finally, I was able to find a link for the exact thing I showed in the video! This is just a few drill bits, and might be enough to get me the right size hole in a pinch. Not surprisingly, at home I have spade, Forstner, brad point, and other kinds of bits, but on the road, the twist bits are a good compromise. They should be able to drill through just about anything I would need. I’m not going to link a bunch of screwdriver bits, because if you got a screwdriver that takes standard bits, you can just use those – or at the very least all you would need is an adapter to fit the driver.
I only bring a few hose clamps. I linked this set, so you’d get the idea, but honestly bringing 30 hose clamps would be way overkill! Hose clamps are easy to find out on the road, so as long as you have one or two in some sizes that are close, it should be enough to get you limping into town to get the right parts. Not much to say about hose clamps. They work.
Random Hardware Parts
I do carry an assortment of sheet metal screws, wood screws, washers, nuts, bolts, machine screws, lock washers, and various and sundry other little hardware bits. I wish I could say there was a rhyme or reason to what I selected, but there isn’t. I just stared at my large stockpile of hardware parts and grabbed some of this, and a little of that, until it felt like I had a good assortment. It was weird – kind of like going on a shopping trip in my own house. If you do something similar, be sure you bring some pan head, oval head, washer head, etc. etc. etc. You just never know.
These “standard” kind of fuses are used in both the chassis of the motorhome, and in the house as well. If you’re wondering which fuse acronym you should be looking for: it’s ATO, which as near as I can tell isn’t actually an acronym for anything. There are various theories online about what the letters mean, but this is my favorite, “According to Littlefuse, the inventor of the ATO fuse, the idea that ATO means OPEN and ATC means CLOSED is a myth. When Littlefuse applied for patent rights for the fuse name, they could not patent AUTO, which they wanted to do since the fuse is intended for vehicle use. So they patented the name ATO for Auto.”
You won’t need these unless you have a similar electrical setup to what I have, but I think they’re cool, so I’m linking one anyway. The fuse I linked is the fuse that sits between my second alternator and my bus bar system. One thing I learned over the summer while doing the 20k project is that, when you get to massive amperage fuses like these, the brand of the fuse does matter. I had some no-name mega fuses more or less fall apart on me. Since then, I have replaced all those and now use Littlefuse exclusively for these Mega fuses. Haven’t had a bad encounter with the Littlefuses yet.
If you don’t have them, it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll run into a situation where you wish you had them. I wish I could say the opposite was true, and that by bringing gloves, you were guaranteed never to need them. But sadly that’s not the case. The price you pay for ignoring the “bring gloves” advice is bloody knuckles and cut up hands. These linked gloves are just a sample. Whatever you do, just get something.
In the video, I just show some of those red rags you see in garages and whatnot. But let’s be honest – those red rags don’t absorb anything! It’s weird. Like – have you ever been to a restaurant with cloth napkins? Except the cloth wasn’t a natural fiber, but was polyester or something, and the napkins wouldn’t actually absorb anything? So instead of actually cleaning the goop off your face, you just kind of smeared it around until it was thin enough that nobody could see it? Or so you hoped. And really that goop smeared all over your face bothered you all the way through dinner until you could excuse yourself to go to the restroom and wash your face because you could swear that smeared on goop was itchy. But then when you finished washing your face, there were no paper towels in the restroom – only one of those stupid warm air hand dryers. And so you tried squatting down to get your face under the warm air, but you couldn’t get close enough to the wall it and it kept shutting off. So you had to go back to the table with your face still kind of wet. And the only thing you had there to dry it with is the weird liquid repellent napkin that started the whole incident?
Maybe that was just me.
Anyway, instead of the non-absorbent rags, I think I’m going to start packing some microfiber towels instead. They’re cheap, and you can wash windows and countertops with them and they don’t leave streaks. Yeah. Microfiber towels. And just forget that bit about the restaurant napkin.
A lot of people flip out when I tell them we don’t travel with a spare tire. Our newest RV came with a full-size spare, but I took it out for the weight savings, and to make room for air suspension parts. (I still have the tire in the garage.) We do travel with roadside assistance (and I recommend you do as well). Instead of a spare tire, I travel with a tire repair kit, like the one I linked. It weighs about one eighty-eth what a spare tire on a rim does, and you wind up with the same result in the end. I guess except for sidewall damage, which I’ve managed to go all my life without ever experiencing. I’m not saying it never happens, just that it’s rare. Now, if I were heading off to Patagonia or something, I might load up a spare tire, but for most of where we go, the tire repair kit gets the job done in theory.
…or, as I’ve linked here, Gorilla Tape. I’m not a big duct tape guy, but I have used it in a pinch to keep parts from rattling off as we drove down the road. When I do use the stuff, it’s always just for a temporary repair until I can get home to do the job right. And the quicker you get this stuff off, the better! If you can get it off reasonably quickly, there’s less of a mess to deal with. But if you let it sit in the sun or a week… good luck!
I mentioned in the video that it would be better if I could carry all the appropriate sealants for the roof, walls, bathroom, storage bays, etc. But they only come in large tubes, and I don’t have the room for all that plus a caulking gun. So I carry a “just in case” tube of clear silicone that I can use to seal something up until I can get the right sealant to do the job for real. And I’ve never met a silicone seal I couldn’t accidentally remove by picking at it absent-mindedly, so I’m not too worried about getting the silicone off if I need to make a more permanent repair.
Here’s how particular I can be with my tools: I have a pair of pliers in my shop that is used for literally nothing EXCEPT cutting cable ties. They’re a really cool pair of pliers. They cut completely flush. But they’re not super durable, and if I were to start cutting wires with them, they might get damaged. But they’re a $17 pair of pliers, and I don’t really want to buy a second pair, so my cable-tie-cutting-pliers don’t make it into my RV toolkit. But I still need cable ties, and I still want to cut the extra hairy bits off of them. That’s where these particular cable ties come in. They have a bit of metal in the handle that will remove the cable tie “hair” with just a twist. They’re a bit more expensive than regular ones, so I don’t use them for everything. But using them on the road makes sense. And if you’re only going to travel with one size of zip-tie, get some really big ones. These are 14 inches.
The official Velcro name for this stuff is ONE-WRAP, and that’s what I’ve linked. You don’t have to get this exact Velcro, but you should get something, because I can just about guarantee that there will come a time when you’ll wish you had a piece of Velcro. The double-sided stuff binds best to itself, and there’s no sticky back to it. If you need to really apply some leverage to the Velcro, you might want something with a buckle on it, like these Velcro Awning Straps. You don’t have to use these on an awning… but you’ll appreciate really being able to crank down and secure whatever it is you’re trying to tidy up.
The bungee cords I linked aren’t the exact ones I carry, because I just grabbed an assortment of cords from the ones I already had. But if you don’t have any, that set I linked will get you going. And you probably don’t need to bring all of them, but just a couple of various sizes, and maybe some of those ball-end cords. Lately, I’ve been eyeing these Flat Bungee Cords. Not because they’re flat, but because they have carabiners on the ends that secure them. That takes away the biggest fear I have about stretching a bungee cord: that the end will break free and whip around and smack me in the face. That only has to happen to you once and then you become very very concerned about it for life…
You never know when you’ll need a shovel. Maybe you’ll use it for throwing dirt on a campfire. Or digging a cat-hole. Or digging out a rock that’s exactly where you don’t want it in the middle of your camp site. Whatever the reason – camping just seems to need a shovel sometimes. The actual one in my toolkit is this one. But I’ll be honest… it’s a bit small. I got it when we were traveling in a Class B van, mostly to save some space. But there are (most) times when I want something a little bigger. I don’t want to bring a snow shovel, or a big ol’ shovel for extricating our RV from a swamp, but I would like something with a bit more leverage. That’s why I’m considering this one, which is also the one I linked in the heading.
That’s the official Eternabond tape in that first link, but this stuff from Dicor is basically the same thing at a better price. These tapes are awesome, and they come in other colors if white doesn’t work for your RV. I’ve used this tape to repair and seal all sorts of things on my roof. I’ve even used it underneath the RV to seal up penetrations where wires pass through. It sticks to anything, and I’ve been using it for years and I’ve never seen it degrade. Fair warning though – this stuff is INCREDIBLY STICKY. Really be careful when you apply it and make sure it only touches surfaces that you want to leave it on forever. For example: it’s much much stronger than the hairs on your forearm. (Don’t ask me how I know this.) I think I was able to remove some once with lacquer thinner, but you can’t get proper lacquer thinner in a lot of states anymore, and you really need to be careful with that stuff anyway. It’s easier to just not stick it anywhere inappropriate.
That’s a lot of links. I really think I got everything, but if I didn’t, then leave me a note in the comments and I’ll update the post with more or corrected links.
How do my tool choices stack up against yours? I’m sure there’s someone’s favorite something that I’ve left out. Let’s hear about it below.