How To Shower While Camping: Car Camping, Backpacking & More

by Julie | Last Updated:   May 4th, 2022
How To Shower While Camping: Car Camping, Backpacking & More
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Here we are to tackle the question that plagues all those new to camping and backpacking: how to shower while camping? Perhaps, this is something that not everyone has even thought of, but it’s a necessary part of camping. You have to maintain your personal hygiene and cleanliness while in the great outdoors.

This all takes place in your planning and preparing phase, when you begin packing and checking things off your camping checklist, you need to make sure you have a way to bathe. This includes packing enough soap (biodegradable soap at that!), water or ensuring you will be near a usable water source, and what exactly can you shower with.

For those campground campers, always call the campground or check their website to glean whether or not they have shower facilities open for you to use.

Showering while camping is never the most pleasant of experiences. You can’t rely on having hot water when you’re out there! But as long as you have a way to stay clean while camping, then that’s all that matters.

Let’s dive right in!

Why Showering While Camping Is Important

Showering, in general, is important to maintain your hygiene, but when you’re camping it is especially so. It may not be the most convenient, but it is the safest and best thing for you to do. You’ll be outdoors and exposed to so many different elements, bacteria, dirt, and grime, that keeping yourself clean is essential to prevent illness and infection.

Not only do you avoid subjecting others to your body odor, but you also keep your food, shelter, gear, cooking utensils, and clothes clean. It can be detrimental to your health otherwise. Your safety is also a concern because bears are attracted to a variety of scents including deodorant, some soaps, and toothpaste.

So staying clean and doing so away from your campsite and keeping your shampoo bottles, deodorant, toothpaste, and food all stored away on a bear hang or bear canister is a good idea.

Fortunately, there are so many different ways and options out there so that you can take a shower in the middle of the woods. It may not be your traditional shower and might be resorting to a sponge bath, but it will still work! And it will make sure that you can enjoy your camping trip for as long as planned.

Following Leave-No-Trace Procedures

You may wonder where personal hygiene falls in the principals of leaving no trace since there isn’t one dedicated to washing or showering. However, it falls under the third principle: dispose of waste properly. This is because you have to be mindful of your use of soap, where you take your camp shower, and how you dispose of any used and dirty water afterward.

When you take your camp shower you want to be 200 feet from any water source. This is so you don’t contaminate any drinking sources nearby or let any of the chemicals, grease, grime, or whatever runoff into what may be clean and pure water sources. This is also why you shouldn’t bathe or shower in lakes or ponds. You want to reduce wear on shorelines and prevent things like soaps from polluting the water.

Using small amounts of biodegradable soap, like Doctor Bronner’s Soap, is best. It will be less harmful to the environment, and you can use it for washing hair, washing hands, and washing your body. It’s a versatile soap that you can use for cleaning and hygiene.

Depending on what portable camp shower you use, if you have dirty water leftover after then be sure to scatter it. Again do so 200 feet from a water source and away from your campsite.

Best Places To Shower While Camping

It goes without saying that if you have an RV camper, then utilizing your camper shower is ideal. However, not everyone has that luxury. So, what else should you look for? There are plenty of campgrounds that have shower facilities, but you’ll want to make sure. Always call ahead or check on their website (if they have one) to make sure that where you’ll be pitching your tent will indeed have a shower area. Or if there is one close by that you can even drive to.

Those that are on the road, the car campers, may come across towns or areas that do have public showers. You could even utilize the shower facilities at a Planet Fitness gym.

These options are great because they’re the closest to a real shower you can get with running water and hot water and everything. Those pitching tents deeper in the wilderness, and those backpacking don’t have such conveniences, so they need different ways of staying clean while camping.

Types Of Camp Shower Systems

Fortunately, there are several different options when it comes to camp showers, so depending on the kind of camping you’re doing, you’ll be able to take your pick of which shower system will work the best for you. They range from portable showers, shower bags, and solar showers to DIY camp showers or sponge bathing.

Now, let’s dive a little more in-depth into these different shower options.

Solar Showers

Solar showers are a great and convenient option to use, and one of the few that can actually heat water so you can take a warm shower. They’re surprisingly cheap, and they come in a variety of sizes from 10L to 40L. A solar shower is like an upgraded bag shower because of the solar panel on it that allows you to heat the water inside, and some even have a built-in temperature gauge to tell you how warm the water is.

It won’t be a hot shower, but it’ll be warm at least which is better than the alternative of freezing cold water!

You’ll want to set up your solar shower as soon as you get up in the morning and ensure that it is in direct sunlight so it’ll warm up. Most have a shower head on the end of a removable hose that you can turn on and off.

There isn’t any privacy tent or feature with a solar shower, so it’s a good option for backpacking where you can go off in the woods and away from any trails and your campsite to find privacy.

Shower Bags

These are essentially the same as the solar showers mention above. Just without the solar capability of heating the water. Shower bags are convenient and portable as backpacking showers because you can carry them empty where they’ll fold flat and have little weight to them. You can fill them once at your campsite if there is a water source nearby.

Needless to say, that means you’ll be taking a cold shower with this one, but you do what you have to do to stay healthy and clean while camping. Again there is no privacy feature with this shower option, so you’ll have to find a secluded spot where you can clean up without interruption.

Portable Camping Showers

A portable shower is a great option for car camping or staying at a campground, or one campsite for an extended time. They are a bit bulkier and bigger because they are essentially small tents with a built-in shower. Not all have a built-in shower head but should offer a place where you would hang your shower bag or other showering option.

This is a more expensive option, but you do have privacy with this option. You can close yourself inside to take your shower instead of having to find a secluded spot in the woods. It can also function as a changing room for you as well. It is easy to set up and takedown, staying true to its title as a portable shower that you can pack with you for your next trip.

Battery Powered Pump Showers

You can also find battery-powered showers that use a portable pump. This will be your best option of having running water while out in the woods. Most of these pumps are rechargeable as well which is much more convenient than having to bring a bunch of batteries.

In order to have this option work, you’ll be needing a bucket filled with water so the pump can pull the water through to the showerhead. Then you can wash yourself off and be able to remove the excess dirt with relative ease. The downside is that it doesn’t come with a shower curtain or any privacy accessories.

You’ll either have to fashion your own or find a secluded spot in the woods to take your shower.

DIY Showers

The cheapest camping shower options are always the ones that you can make yourself! So, let’s talk about how you can make a camping shower yourself.

The easiest and most common way is by using a one-gallon pump spray bottle, fixing it with a hose or rubber tube, and a showerhead on the end of it, or even a hose head will work too. These are all items you may find already around the house or in your shed.

You can even fashion your own private camping shower by using a tarp, reflective blanket, or assortment of old shower curtains or towels, to hang on the trees right beside your shower spot. You can use poles or branches as well to help hang them and create a more enclosed space for you to shower privately.

Check out this video to see how to make your own shower for your next camping trip:

Sponge Baths

The final option that you can always do no matter what is to take a sponge bath. It’s a far cry from a hot shower, but it’s easy and convenient. If you want to stay warm and use warm water, you can always quickly heat some up on your camping stove to prep for your sponge bath. Then some biodegradable soap and a microfiber towel will do the job to get you clean.

However, if you really need to conserve water, then you can always use wet wipes and baby wipes to bathe yourself. It’s not the most comfortable option, but it is a convenient one. Keeping up on your hygiene is not only important for your health, but for your safety as well.

Shower Accessories For A Pleasant Shower

There are ways for you to make your camping shower more pleasant, easier to use, and conserve water. It all depends on what you have or what you’re looking for. You can get one that is solar heated so you can take a warm shower, you make one that is powered by a hand pump or foot pump, and there are battery-powered shower pumps too. Or you can purchase a portable shower that has a built-in hose that will function more like your shower at home.

The biggest way you can accessorize your shower is by changing the showerhead. There is a wide variety for you to choose from, some that you can turn on and off, others that are more like a hose head that you have to spray yourself, ones that are more of a single stream, or folding nozzle on a shower bag.

Depending on the showerhead, you may even be able to adjust the water pressure and amount which will make it a lot easier to conserve precious water.

Best Ways To Find Showers While Camping

When you’re planning your camping trip and looking online to book your campsite, you’ll be able to determine whether or not the campground you’re staying at will provide showering facilities. This is always the most convenient option; if you can go somewhere that provides you with a place where you can shower properly, and even have hot water.

You’ll have to do your research on your specific campsite to see if it offers a campground shower. Some National Parks provide showers, but not all, and many state parks often have them available.

You can always check the area around where you’ll be staying to see if there are places you can go to for a shower. When you’re car camping, you’ll likely come across a gas station at certain points that also provide showers.

You can’t forget there are truck drivers that are on the road constantly and need places like that themselves to stop and clean up, so they are usable for anyone on the road or in the need of a shower. Some you may have to pay to use, but they are usually incredibly cheap and they provide towels for you. The only thing you’ll likely need to bring is your shampoo bottles.

Consider Your Water Usage While Maintaining Good Camping Hygiene

Water is a vital component of any and every camping trip. So, you need to be conscientious as to how you use it and keep track of how much water you have available. If you will be close to water sources throughout your stay, then that will make things a bit easier if you need drinking water, cooking, cleaning, or shower water too.

It’ll save you weight so you don’t have to pack a bunch out with you. Which can be pretty big for those that do a lot of backpacking trips. If you want a hot shower or warm water to use to bathe, then you can always utilize your camp stove to heat some water from a nearby water source for you to use.

Whenever you take a camp shower you should try to conserve water. You really don’t need a whole lot to scrub yourself down. Depending on where you are and how long you’re staying, you could have a limited supply of fresh water. If so, you’ll have to pack accordingly to ensure you pack enough drinking water per person, and enough to take care of your personal hygiene needs.

To give you an idea, most outdoor portable showers can hold around 20 liters (5 gallons) of water. Which really isn’t a whole lot, and your showerhead can determine how quickly all that water is dispensed. You want to be conservative if you have multiple people that need to shower, and if you run out, you’ll need a way to refill it or have a contingency plan if you need to do so.

It’s the same even when RV camping, even though they can hold a lot more water, they dispense it much more quickly. You can go through 100 to 150 liters of water a day to meet the needs of a 3 person family. So, taking long hot showers like you’re used to at home isn’t possible or practical when you’re camping.

For more information on staying clean while camping and considering your water usage, you can check out this video here:

Final Thoughts And Helpful Tips

No matter if you’re car camping, RV camping, or tent camping, the fact remains that you still need to maintain your personal hygiene. It is not only for your health but your safety as well. The fact is: you can get quite dirty when you’re exploring nature.

You don’t want that grime, bacteria, or other microscopic things you don’t even think about, getting into your food, drinking water, or in your eyes, and cuts or scrapes. Being dirty can get you sick and could cause infection even in a small scratch. That’s not something you want when you’re supposed to be on vacation.

Fortunately, there are almost infinite ways for you to stay clean when camping. There are so many different shower options out there to fit anyone’s needs. Whether you have campground showers available to use, or you bring your own solar shower, portable shower, shower bag, or even make your own. There is no excuse to go dirty while camping!

Worst case scenario you take a sponge bath or have to use wet wipes or baby wipes to clean yourself up. No matter what you can stay on top of your personal hygiene and keep yourself clean. You can bring a microfiber towel, or let yourself air dry when you’re done.

If you don’t have a privacy tent and are showering just out in the woods, you can wear flip-flops so you don’t wind up with dirt and leaves attached to your feet. Always remember to be 200 feet away from any water source, and dispose of any leftover water by scattering it. Use biodegradable soap because it will be less harmful to the environment.

Hopefully, all this info will ensure you are better prepared for your next shower while camping!

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I was fishing before I could walk and it's been a family tradition for centuries. Fishing is my life, or at least as long as I can remember. In the Lake Champlain International Fathers Day Fishing Derby, not only have I won first place twice but also third place! Also, in addition to majoring in Wilderness Recreation Leadership, I also happen to be a licensed camping, hiking, and hunting guide for NY.