Staying clean while camping is tricky.
If you’re not staying at a campground with showers, and don’t have an RV with a built-in shower, you might think there’s no easy solution to getting clean.
Sure, this might not be a huge deal on a weekend camping trip…
But on a weeklong camping trip, backpacking trip, or any other extended stay outdoors, you’ll want to keep clean (for everyone’s sake).
One option is to invest in a portable camping shower. But there are a lot of alternatives for backpackers and others that prefer to travel light.
I’m here to give you the low-down on camping showers, including solar showers, as well as the other best ways to get clean while camping.
Get ready to learn how to maintain your personal hygiene in the backcountry.
- Buyer’s Guide
- Best Camping Showers
- How to Use
- Useful Accessories
- DIY Camp Shower
- Alternative Methods
- Showers on the Road
Why Do You Need a Camping Shower?
The benefits of a camping shower are pretty obvious.
It helps you stay clean. A portable camping shower makes it far easier to scrub off the dirt and grime than other outdoor bathing alternatives.
Many portable camp showers are more than just a holding tank and a nozzle. They often include some sort of heating method, usually either a solar shower or a portable water heater. Some even come with a privacy shelter.
This makes camping showers much more comfortable than other outdoor showering methods. Who doesn’t like a hot shower in the morning or after a long hike?
A camp shower also makes the rest of your camping experience cleaner. You don’t have to worry as much about dirtying your clothing or your sleeping bag.
Camping Shower Buyer’s Guide
Google “camping shower” or “camp shower” and you’ll be surprised at the number of results…
There are literally dozens of options out there. Some are naturally much better than others. And there are definitely more than a few models you’ll want to avoid.
So how do you sort out the winners from the losers? Our camp shower buying guide will point you in the right direction.
These are the most important factors to look for in a portable shower.
You can choose from multiple different types of camping showers.
These include solar showers, portable showers, gravity showers, and even portable hot water heater showers. The type you choose largely dictates the rest of the shower’s features.
Though each type has its own pros and cons, the majority of campers go with a portable solar shower, especially those that are tent camping or backpacking.
2. Size, Weight, & Capacity
The size and weight of your camping shower dictate its portability and versatility.
Naturally, a small, lightweight camp shower is most portable. However, smaller showers typically have a smaller capacity.
For more car and RV campers, capacity is more important than size/weight. Opt for a model with a higher capacity so you can take longer showers.
However, more capacity isn’t always better. More water equals more weight (a gallon of water weighs 8 pounds), so it’s important to find a solid middle ground.
Of course, you can always opt for a high-capacity camping shower and then only fill it part way up when needed.
Like all camping gear and equipment, your camping shower must be able to stand up to a lot of abuse.
The construction and materials of the shower largely influence how well the device will stand up to the wear and tear of family camping.
Your two main options when it comes to materials are plastic and fabric.
Plastic camping showers tend to be slightly less durable than fabric. My favorite thing about them is that they are typically transparent so you can see how much water you have left.
Fabric camping showers are more durable yet are opaquer. They’re typically constructed with nylon coated in silicone to prevent leaks.
The most important fixture to pay attention to on a camping shower is the shower head.
The shower head dictates the flow rate of your shower. In other words, it controls how long your shower will last.
Some camping showers even come with an adjustable shower head so you can adjust the flow rate to your personal preferences.
Another fixture to consider is the heat source.
Some special camping shower models now come with a portable hot water heater, usually heated by a propane tank.
Solar showers are built to heat up the water with the heat of the sun. Most have some form of insulation to help maintain this heat for at least an hour or so.
5. Brand Reputation
In my opinion, it’s almost always best to go with a brand name with a strong reputation among past customers, rather than a new brand with few reviews.
This is true for all camping equipment, including camping showers.
Buy a camping shower from a reputable brand and you can rest assured that it will work flawlessly for years with minimal damage.
The best outdoor brands also tend to have excellent return policies, warranties on much of their gear, and professional customer service.
Of course, many new brands do sell top-quality equipment, but you’re always in for a gamble when you buy from a lesser-known manufacturer.
Best Camping Showers
Now that you know exactly what to look for when buying a camping shower, here are the top 7 best camping showers available.
We tested and reviewed a selection of camp showers, from the simple to the complex, so there’s a little something for everyone to choose from here.
1. Ivation Portable Camping Shower
The Ivation Portable Camping Shower is lightweight and extremely portable.
The outdoor shower system includes a 10-liter tank which provides roughly a 4-minute shower. Or, you can use your own water receptacle, such as a bucket, to take an even longer camp shower.
This device actually contains a battery-powered pump for a stronger flow. This means you don’t have to hang the device from a tree like most portable showers.
The batteries are completely rechargeable. Just plug the device into a USB port and you’ll get roughly 45 minutes of use from about 3 or 4 hours of charging.
Another notable feature is the long hose and convenient shower head. The 6-foot hose makes it easy to completely wash off with the water tank sitting on the ground.
What We Like:
- Portable (built-in carry handle)
- Collapsible water reservoir
- Battery-powered shower head
- 6-foot long hose
What We Don’t Like:
- Doesn’t heat the water
- The pump doesn’t create much water pressure
[amazon box=”B077ZDPMT2″ Title=”Ivation Portable Outdoor Shower System w/Handheld Showerhead” tracking_id=”btt18-20″]
- PORTABLE OUTDOOR SHOWER SYSTEM
- STEADY FLOW FOR 4 MINUTES
- COLLAPSIBLE 10 LITER WATER RESERVOIR
2. Advanced Elements Summer Shower
Another one of the best camping showers, the Advanced Elements Summer Shower combines solar heating with a 5-gallon capacity.
The water storage bag is built with a 4-ply construction with a reflector panel to more quickly heat the water up. The bag is also insulated to keep the water warm for longer.
5 gallons certainly isn’t the largest capacity we’ve seen, but it’s more than enough for one person to shower with on a camping trip.
A built-in temperature gauge lets you know when the water is ready. A handy side pocket and Velcro straps give you a place to store your camp soap/shampoo and washcloth.
Unfortunately, the built-in hose is pretty short. It gets the job done, but at around 15 inches it doesn’t provide much versatility.
What We Like:
- Durable construction
- Heats water up quickly
- Built-in temperature gauge
- Side pocket and Velcro straps
- Extremely lightweight
What We Don’t Like:
- Short hose
[amazon box=”B000J2Q0T4″ tracking_id=”btt18-20″ /]
3. Rinse Kit Pressurized Portable Shower
The Rinse Kit Pressurized Portable Shower is more expensive than most of its competitors – but you certainly get what you pay for.
It features a hard-sided water container, a 6-foot hose, and a pressurized nozzle that generates a surprising amount of water pressure.
The camp shower is very easy to use. It’s also extremely portable thanks to its built-in handle and hard-sided design.
Unfortunately, the camp shower only has a 2-gallon capacity. There’s also no way to heat your water up with the device.
Despite these shortcomings, this is still one of the portable outdoor showers with the best overall water pressure and flow rate.
What We Like:
- Hard-sided design
- 6-foot hose
- Strong water pressure
- Built-in carry handle
- Strong shower head/nozzle
What We Don’t Like:
- Only 2-gallon capacity
- No way to heat water
[amazon box=”B00UGA4DRA” tracking_id=”btt18-20″ /]
4. Nemo Equipment Helio Pressure Shower
The Nemo Equipment Helio Pressure Shower is a lightweight, portable, and versatile outdoor shower that’s perfect for camping.
It boasts an 11-liter water tank and solar heating technology. Because of the fantastic insulation, your hot water will stay warm for hours.
Perhaps the most unique feature of this camp shower is the foot pump. Step on the pump to control the flow rate and water pressure. It also makes conserving water easy.
Best of all is the 7-foot hose. In my opinion, the longer the hose on a portable shower, the easier it is to shower with as well as to clean other things like dishes, pets, etc.
This device is designed from the ground up with a focus as a backpacking shower. It packs down to less than 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches for the ultimate in portability.
What We Like:
- Strong, durable construction
- Lightweight and compact
- Large 11-liter tank
- Pressurized with foot pump
- Long 7-foot hose
What We Don’t Like:
- Carry strap not designed to hold with full tank of water
- Expensive for what you get
[amazon box=”B075Y2XCRN” tracking_id=”btt18-20″ /]
5. Camplux Outdoor Portable Propane Water Heater
Those that prefer something a little more luxurious should check out the Camplux Outdoor Portable Shower.
It comes with a built-in tankless hot water heater that utilizes propane power. Just hook it up to a propane tank and you’ll get water up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
Unfortunately, this device doesn’t include a built-in water tank. You must hook it up to a water source that has at least 2.5 psi of pressure.
This means that the water source must be a faucet of some sort. The camping shower won’t work with just a tank of water.
Despite these shortcomings, this propane tank outdoor shower is one of the best ways to heat water and provide high water pressure while camping. It’s also very effective if you plan to build an outdoor shower at home.
What We Like:
- Heats quickly
- Maximum water temperature of 115 degrees Fahrenheit
- Compact folding design
- Built-in safety features
- Energy saving technology
What We Don’t Like:
- Requires a water source with at least 2.5 psi pressure
[amazon box=”B01CJPU6JI” tracking_id=”btt18-20″ /]
6. Simple Shower Portable Camping Shower
Fans of minimalism will love the Simple Shower Portable Camping Shower.
It’s high among the most best camping showers for portability that I’ve come across. The simple design not only ensures that it’s easy to use but also increases its portability and versatility, especially as a backpacking shower.
You simply attach the end of the device to a 1-liter or 2-liter water bottle and turn it upside down for a smooth and refreshing stream of water.
Because it’s so basic, it doesn’t feature an option for heating the water. You’ll have to take a cold shower or heat the water separately yourself.
For just over $20, it’s a barebones option that all campers and backpackers should look into.
What We Like:
- Simple design
- Works with most water bottles
- Constructed from recycled materials
- Steady flow rate
What We Don’t Like:
- No way to heat water
- No built-in water tank
[amazon box=”B00DVXXIQQ” tracking_id=”btt18-20″ /]
7. Sea to Summit Pocket Shower
The Sea to Summit Pocket Shower might not look like much, especially compared to the other best camping showers on this list, but its small package packs a big punch.
Boasting an extremely compact and lightweight design, this pocket shower is perfect for backpacking trips and other camping outings where space is at a premium.
Despite its small size, the shower provides up to 8 minutes of showering with the device fully opened up.
A twist mechanism makes it simple to open and close the water valve as well as to adjust the flow rate and water pressure during your shower.
Though it’s not technically a solar shower, this model does include a black water storage bag that will heat up and get warm if left in the sun.
What We Like:
- Compact design
- Doubles as a storage sack
- Adjustable water valve
- Doubles to do camp laundry
What We Don’t Like:
- No heating method
[amazon box=”B001PR06WO” tracking_id=”btt18-20″ /]
How to Use a Camping Shower
Most camping showers are straightforward and easy to use.
You simply fill the shower bag up with water and then hang it from a tree branch, your car door, or another elevated area.
Then you open up the nozzle, adjust to your preferred flow rate, and stand underneath the shower stream.
But I thought we’d break down the steps in a little more detail, just to ensure you know what you’re doing.
Here’s exactly how to use a solar shower:
1. Fill with Water
Fill the nylon or plastic water bag up with water. You don’t have to fill the bag all the way up if you have a limited amount of water on hand.
2. Place in the Sunlight
Place the solar shower in the sunlight. Make sure that the clear side is facing up to more quickly absorb the heat. Many of the best solar camping showers have a built-in thermometer so you know when the water is warm enough to use.
3. Hang from a Tree Branch
Most solar camping showers are gravity-fed. This means you must hang the device from a tree branch or similar object. Position the hose then open up the nozzle to shower off.
4. Rinse, Lather Up, Rinse
Most solar showers have a water capacity of roughly 5 gallons. To conserve water and take a longer shower, I typically rinse myself off, turn off the water, soap and shampoo my body, turn the water back on, and then rinse off. There’s no need to be wasteful by lathering up with the water running.
5. What About a Non-Solar Shower?
Some camp showers are not solar showers. These require you to heat up the water yourself (or take a cold shower). Heat up water for these camping showers on a camp stove or campfire – just make sure it doesn’t get too hot!
Useful Camping Shower Accessories
Whether you opt for a portable camp shower or decide to just clean off in a lake or with a water bottle, there are several camping shower accessories that will help improve the outdoor shower experience.
1. Camping Shower Tent
Privacy is more than appreciated when you’re showering at a camping area.
Instead of wearing swim trunks or hiking far into the forest, invest in a camping shower tent to provide all the privacy you need to clean off.
The Faswin Portable Outdoor Privacy Shelter works well as both a camping shower tent and a camping toilet tent.
2. Biodegradable Shampoo
Eco-friendly camp soaps and shampoos make staying clean while camping that much easier.
You’ll want to look for a brand that doesn’t use any phosphate, surfactants, triclosan, or anti-bacterial ingredients. All of these ingredients are potentially harmful to nature, especially when used in lakes and streams.
3. Microfiber Towel
A microfiber towel is perfect for quickly drying yourself off while camping.
The best microfiber towels are also lightweight and dry off very quickly themselves.
I like the Wise Owl Outfitters Microfiber Camping Towel.
How to Make a DIY Camping Shower
There are dozens upon dozens of different ways to make your own DIY camping shower.
These range from the incredibly cheap and simple to the expensive and elaborate.
For example, REI’s car-top DIY camp shower is among the more elaborate DIY outdoor showers that I’ve come across.
It utilizes a length of ABS pipe and a hose with a spigot. It actually sits on top of your vehicle’s roof racks for easy showering.
Countryside Daily, on the other hand, describes a budget DIY solar shower. All that it really takes is a 5-gallon bucket, although the author goes on to build a wooden stand so that it’s a permanent DIY camp shower.
Alternative Ways to Stay Clean While Camping
There’s little denying that there is no easier way to stay clean while camping than with an actual camping shower.
But not everyone wants to invest in one of these devices, or build their own DIY version.
Other campers, especially backpackers, prefer to travel light and just can’t justify packing a camping shower along for the trip.
Luckily, there are a number of other ways to stay clean while camping and backpacking that don’t require a designated camping shower.
Here are the top ways to maintain your personal hygiene while camping:
1. Bathe in Nature
Take a bath in nature by jumping into a lake or a stream.
I try to rinse off in fresh water whenever I can on the trail. Just a quick dip itself washes on most of the dirt, grime, and excess oil.
Though a lot of people feel comfortable using biodegradable camp soap and shampoo in a lake or stream, I personally stay away from it.
Not only does it make the body of water seem like a bathtub to other campers and hikers, but there’s still controversy on whether or not biodegradable soap is harmful when bathing in a natural water source.
If you do want to add biodegradable soap to your routine, I recommend Dr. Bronner’s because it has so many uses (shampoo, body wash, dish soap – even toothpaste).
2. Water Bottle Shower
Whenever I’m camping near a refillable water source, I almost always make time to take a quick water bottle shower each night.
Similar to a sponge bath, a water bottle camping shower simply consists of pouring a small amount of water over your head and body with a water bottle.
I can get away with using a minimal amount of water if I just want to rinse off my face and hands. Slightly more is required if I shampoo my hair.
Though I rarely wash my entire body with this camp shower method, it is possible. And it requires much less water than you might think. In fact, part of the fun is trying to use the least amount of water possible while still getting clean.
Once again, Dr. Bronner’s is hard to beat if you want biodegradable soap for camping.
3. Baby Wipes
Sometimes all you need for personal hygiene while camping is to simply wipe off with baby wipes.
A baby wipe or two is the perfect way to clean your face and hands before retiring for the night after a day in the wilderness.
Coleman even makes special Coleman Biowipes, a biodegradable baby wipe specifically designed for campers, hikers, and backpackers.
4. Gas Station Shower
Similar to the water bottle method or a sponge bath, the “gas station shower” is my go-to method to stay clean on a camping road trip.
I simply find a gas station, rest area, or another public space with a single-occupant bathroom with a locking door.
Then I wash off my face, upper body, and hair in the sink. It’s a quick and easy way to rinse a little of the filth of camping away for free.
5. Dry Shampoo
Greasy hair bums a lot of people out. And, boy, can your hair get greasy after a few days sweating in the woods!
Dry shampoo is a good option for those that want to minimize this greasy feeling. Here’s how to use dry shampoo to cut through the grease.
Not Your Mother’s Dry Shampoo is a good option. Opt for an unscented version so you don’t attract mosquitos and other bugs.
How to Find Showers on the Road
Nearly every summer, I combine my love for camping with my passion for road trips.
A family camping road trip is one of the best ways to see the country. You experience it up close and personal like it was meant to be experienced.
Though some travelers prefer to take care of their personal hygiene with regular motel visits on a road trip, I’ve found that it’s just as easy to stay clean while tent camping for an entire trip.
Here are some of the best places to find free (or cheap) showers on the road:
1. Swimming Pools & Rec Centers
My favorite place to take a cheap shower on the road is the public swimming pool.
Both indoor and outdoor swimming pools typically maintain changing rooms and shower facilities.
Pay a few bucks for “open swim” to access these facilities. I usually just shower and head out, forgoing any swimming.
Recreation centers and gyms have similar deals, although they’re often a little more expensive.
Pay $5 to $10 for a day pass and you’ll have access to the rest of the gym/rec center in addition to the shower facilities.
You then have access to any of their locations around the country, at any hour of the night or day. And, hey, you can squeeze in a quick workout before you shower off if you want.
Check to make sure the gym you choose has locations where you plan to travel before pulling the trigger.
2. Campgrounds with Showers
Most free, inexpensive, and primitive campgrounds don’t have shower facilities.
Some campgrounds offer coin-operated showers that don’t require you to pay for a night of camping.
Simply use the day-use area to clean off before heading for cheaper accommodations.
3. City Parks
Though this method of how to find a shower while camping is hit or miss, it’s one I’ve used successfully many times in the past.
Some city parks, most often those found in small towns off of the interstate (and, in my experience, mostly in the Midwest), maintain shower facilities.
These are usually either free or coin-operated. They’re normally part of the rest of the bathroom facilities and are fairly rustic. Some of the same city parks that offer free shower/bathroom facilities also offer free (or cheap) camping.
4. Public Beaches
I keep my eyes out for public beaches and other outdoor swimming areas when I’m on a camping road trip.
Partially, because I love to swim. And, partially, because these often have free outdoor showers so that you can shower off after you’re done swimming.
Though public showers at outdoor swimming areas are typically right out in the open and use cold water only, they’re still a worthwhile option when you’re in a pinch.
5. Truck Stops
My least favorite way to find showers on a road trip is by showering at a truck stop.
Most truck stops offer paid showers for truckers staying the night. The majority will also allow other travelers to use these.
Keep in mind that truck stop showers are usually very busy and you might have to wait in line. Some only let “civilians” use these facilities during slow times.
Your best bet is probably Pilot Flying J – these nation-wide truck stops have started to rebrand themselves as family travel plazas in more ways than one.
Stay clean while outdoors or on the road with a camping shower, dip in a stream or lake, baby wipe bath, or “gas station shower.”
My personal favorite portable camping shower is the lightweight Nemo Helio Portable Shower because of its versatile design, superior water pressure, 11-liter tank, 7-foot hose, and long-lasting solar heat source.
Whatever method you choose, you’ll appreciate feeling clean and everyone around you will appreciate your personal hygiene maintenance.
How do you stay clean while camping? What is your favorite camping shower? Do you have any additional tips on how to stay clean while camping?