Outdoor Shower Options

Outdoor shower options are something many may not consider. Showering, for most of us, is a daily routine that is easy when you have access to running water at your disposal. It becomes a little more challenging when camping or backpacking.  While those in an RV or at an established campground may have access to a shower, many places do not provide that service.

When water is not available

For example, I recently went camping for the weekend in Great Basin National Park.  I stayed at the Wheeler Peak campground.  It was an established campground with improved facilities including a parking pad, picnic table and firepit.  There were vault toilets at various intervals throughout the campground.  There was, however, no running water, let alone an outdoor shower facility. The only water you have is what you bring with you.

While I was fully aware of and prepared for this situation, it got me thinking about the various methods available to have a shower when the facilities don’t exist. For me, being able to clean myself after exerting myself is important for staying healthy.   

Why outdoor shower options are important

Hygiene is important for a number of reasons.  Not just looking clean and smelling clean, but for keeping your skin healthy. As you go about your day your body sweats and secretes oils through your pores that dust and dirt cling to.  As sweat evaporates, the salt in your sweat combined with oils and dirt interact with the clothing you are wearing and can cause skin irritation in sensitive areas.  This is known as chaffing.

As an avid hiker, camper, backpacker and cyclist most of my life, I have had my fair share of chaffing incidents and like to avoid or minimize them as much as possible.

Summer Camp

Outdoor shower

I learned my first important lesson when I was 11 or 12 at Scout camp in Wisconsin.  This was a weeklong camp, staying in canvas tents with pallet style wooden floors. There were outdoor group showers like any locker room and being a pre-teen boy I was, to say the least, nervous about showering in front of others.

This was my second or third year attending camp and I didn’t see the problem with not showering.  I figured I could get through the whole week without one just like the previous summer.

Houston, we have a problem 

However, by the third day I was starting to get this rash on my inner thighs.  I had done a lot of running and walking around camp to get between various activities and programs.  It was hot and humid so naturally I was sweating and getting dirty being outside the entire time. 

As the third day progressed, I was starting to feel more and more pain where my thighs met my groin.  By the 4th day it was very painful to walk.  I finally couldn’t take it anymore and let my Scoutmaster know I was having some problems to see if he had anything in the first aid-kit to fix this painful condition.  One of the first things he asked me was if I had showered yet.  I told him no.  He said there was nothing in the first-aid kit to fix the problem and that I needed to go take a shower.

Reluctantly, I agreed to give it a try.  The showers were a fair distance from our campsite and I was dreading the walk there. Luckily there were no others there when I took my shower, but even if there had been, my fear of showering in front of others was overcome by the pain I was in.

Guess what? It worked!

To my surprise, the shower felt amazing.  Not only did I not stink anymore, almost immediately, I had some relief from the pain I experienced and the walk back to my tent was not as painful as the walk to the showers.  By the next morning it was like a miracle cure. I had almost completely healed. There was still some redness and tenderness, but I could walk normally without being in pain. I ended up taking a shower every day after that.

This experience, while painful, taught me a valuable lesson about hygiene and the importance of getting clean after exerting yourself.  I have experienced chaffing numerous times since, but always treat it as soon as possible when it starts so that it never gets as bad as it did that time at summer camp.

Outdoor Shower Options

There are various options available ‘off-grid’ so you can stay clean and healthy while playing outside.  A lot of it comes down to how much water you have or have access to.

Solar Bag shower

Outdoor shower

As you can see there are a variety of designs for this particular option. They all work on the premise of the sun heating up the water during the day.  Most range in size from 3-5 gallons and that is enough for 3-5 showers per fill-up. Just need to find a tree branch or pole to hang it from.

These are relatively inexpensive and compact, however, it may not last long.  5 gallons weighs almost 45 pounds. Depending on the quality of the materials and manufacturing the weight alone can tear the bag apart at the seams after only a few uses. Do your research before purchasing one.

Battery pump Shower w/ Bucket

Outdoor shower

These are the next best thing to a solar shower. They use a small battery operated pump to draw water from a bucket.  Some of the pumps use standard AA batteries and some have rechargeable batteries.

These are also relatively inexpensive and compact.  The upside is that you don’t need to wait for the sun to heat the water.  You could boil a small amount of water and pour it into your buck of cold water thereby providing a warm shower on demand at any time of day.

Road Shower

Outdoor shower

This is what I’m planning on getting on my next 4×4 vehicle.  It comes in 3 sizes:

  • Small – 4 gallons
  • Medium – 7 gallons
  • Large – 10 gallons 

Mounted to a roof rack on one side of your vehicle, it uses the sun to heat the water during the day just like the solar bag showers I discussed earlier.  It uses a standard bike pump to pressurize the tube so that you have water pressure from the nozzle.

You can get 2-5 showers out of this using only two gallons per shower, or double that using only 1 gallon per shower depending on which size you get.

Water Basin and cloth

The tried and true method for decades…fill a bucket or basin with water and get a cloth.

If you go this route, I would recommend getting separate basins for doing your dishes and washing up. 

I sure don’t want to be doing dishes in the basin that I just used to clean my pits and crotch. Just saying.

Dude Shower on-the-go wipes

Essentially these are really large wet wipes. I use these when backpacking and at dry camps like my trip to Great Basin.  While not as good as a real shower, it is better than nothing and is large and wet enough to hit all the critical areas.

Recommended order of use:

  1. Face, neck
  2. Chest, arms
  3. Legs
  4. Pits
  5. Crotch
  6. Feet
  7. Butt-crack
  8. Throw away

Outdoor Shower Accessories

Shower Tent

A must if you are concerned about privacy.  Whether in a campground surrounded by others or in the middle of nowhere boondocking, you and those you are with may not be comfortable showering or cleaning up in front of each other and these are lightweight and easy to setup.

Outdoor shower

Rope / Paracord

You can use paracord to setup a quick clothes line to dry your towel and washcloth alongside any wet or damp clothes you want to dry out.

Biodegradable soap

Using a biodegradable soap is a must to help protect the environment.

Campsuds is the most well known brand but there are others on the market as well. Find the one you like best.

Where to setup my outdoor shower

Picking the best spot is dependent not only on your solution but the lay of the land.  How much space do you have?  Is the terrain flat or sloping? 

You want to set it up a way from the main paths in and around your camp. The ground around the shower is going to get soggy and muddy.

Don’t setup near a water source like a stream, river, pond or lake.  You don’t want your soap or other contaminants flowing directly into the water source. Especially if you are using it to get your drinking and cooking water.

Wrap Up

Staying clean while outdoors is not only easy, but necessary to maintain a healthy body.  Pick the best option for your situation.

Last Updated on December 8, 2022

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *