I’ll admit it, my family loves a good camp shower, especially after a long day in the wild.
But staying fresh and clean on the road is nerve-wracking, especially if there’re no hotels or camping showers around.
While I understand getting dirty and smell is part of it, some clean freaks like me can’t let a day go without taking an outdoor shower.
The good news is you don’t always have to deal with scaly rashes from too much use of baby wipes or smell like a skunk.
Based on my extensive outdoor experience, I’ll share some handy tips to stay clean and fresh, even when there’re no creeks, rivers, or ponds nearby.
In the guide below, I’ll show you a step-by-step guide on making a portable shower. It’s an ultimate convenience when you’re out in the wild.
Of course, building your own shower from scratch might be a bit challenging, but with the right tools and material, you’ll be amazed at how the DIY project will make your life in the wild more pleasant.
Personally, my DIY camp shower does more than just treat me to a warm shower; but also keeps my hands from freezing when doing the general cleaning tasks such as doing dishes.
But first, let’s look at some of the reasons why you need a portable shower.
Importance of a Camping Shower
DIY camping showers are necessary for keeping me clean while camping.
I prefer it over other outdoor cleaning methods such as baby wipes because it’s much more efficient and reliable at removing the stuck-on dirt and grime.
The best part is that some of the camping showers allow a heating method, such as solar heating and propane tanks. So, I’m assured of a hot shower even when the temperatures dip.
Plus, the DIY camping showers can even be paired with a privacy tent shelter for the ultimate convenience.
Building a Privacy Enclosure
Unless you come with a portable tent, you’ll need to construct an enclosure for privacy.
The good news is making a DIY camp shower enclosure isn’t a challenging task.
Here’s some of the equipment you’ll need for the task:
- Strong/ thick wire
- Duct tape
Steps of Making a Camping Enclosure
Find an elevated position or roof rack to hang your enclosure and portable shower.
I would suggest a low-hanging branch of a tree. The branch should be at a higher vantage point, but not so much that t’s impossible to reach.
In addition, the branch should be sturdy should comfortably support the weight of the outdoor shower and that of your enclosure.
Roll the wire into a strong circular frame, and allow the two ends of the wire to overlap. If the wire isn’t sturdy enough, you can double or triple roll the number of times it circles.
Use duct tape to wrap around the circular frame to maintain shape, and add more strength.
Take your tarp, and use a string or wire to attach it to the circular frame. A good thing with most tarps in the market is that they come with holes, so attaching them to the frame is easy.
If you don’t have access to a tarp, you can use any other fabric and fashion it around the circular frame.
Ensure the fabric will provide a sufficient shield from the prying eyes.
However, you’ll also need to punch out some holes in the alternative fabrics because they don’t come with holes as the tarps do.
I’d suggest you measure and space the holes at least a length of 4 inches apart and ensure they’re on the same side.
You now simply need to hang/attach the enclosure and enjoy your private shower sessions.
Of course, you also need a clean surface to stand on, and if you forget your flip-flops, a tarp can be a great alternative.
Building a Camping Shower: The Different Designs
Now to the meat and potatoes of camping; if you would rather DIY your shower than buy one, I’ll share the different ways to do it.
I’ll walk you through step-by-step the different DIY camping shower designs.
1) Making a Portable Garden Hose Camping Shower
There’re several ways to make a portable shower, but the easiest and most convenient way to MacGyver the camp shower is through a garden hose sprayer.
I’m a big fan of this great design for three main reasons.
One, it’s a portable camp shower solution, so I can always bring it with me wherever my adventures take me. The only bulky component is probably the garden tank, and even then, it’s not much of a concern, especially when I’ve my RV.
The second benefit, which sets this portable shower from the regular shower, is it doesn’t require gravity for pressurization. It saves me from finding trees or elevated locations to place the shower.
The final reason I would recommend this portable shower solution is perhaps the versatility.
It’s one of the multi-functional camping showers I’ve come across. I love that I can use the hose to water my plants, clean my furry friends, clean the dishes, and do so much more when I’m not showering.
With that out of the way, let’s look at how to build a portable camp shower.
For this project, you’ll need several tools and equipment.
The good news is most of these tools are readily available in your local hardware store or big box store.
- Garden sprayer/Deck sprayer/Pump sprayer. The size of the garden sprayer will depend on your water needs, but generally, the bigger, the better.
I would recommend a 2-gallon deck sprayer. It can support a decent volume of water, which is enough to give me enough time for cleaning.
Also, I would highly recommend you get a new hose and avoid used garden sprayer, especially those previously used to hold the harmful pesticides.
- Garden hose nozzle
- Hose clamp- keeps water tight
- Garden adapter
With tools ready, the next step is setting up for shower assembly.
The first step is removing the spraying wand from the deck sprayer.
Depending on the setup, you might require a knife to cut the hose. But most sprayers have the hose fixed to the sprayer, so it’s a matter of pulling it.
Either way, this is a critical step because the sprayer nozzle delivers a fine mist, which might be hard to clean thoroughly.
Don’t throw the spraying wand because you might require it for other tasks.
The next crucial step is fitting the barbed adapter to the garden hose.
It’s a necessary fitting for universal adaptability.
There’re chances the hose might be a bit too small for the garden adapter, so you can use it to widen it with needle-nose-pliers. Pull and push the pliers to expand the hose.
Alternatively, I suggest you use a hairdryer or lightly pass a flame of fire/heat over the house. It’ll soften and expand the hose for better fitting.
I also found that greasing the adapter with dish rinse soap will also allow it to slide effortlessly and go as deep into the sprayer hose.
But whatever you do, ensure the fitting is snug so, and there’s no escape of air. Failure to do that, it’ll negate the whole idea of pressurization.
Attach the nozzle to the hose.
It should be as simple as it gets, just as you do on a regular garden hose.
Use the hose clamp to tighten the grip between the hose and the nozzle for a secure fit.
The hose clamp needs to wrap itself tightly around the joint of the hose and the adapter.
I suggest using a screwdriver.
For this step, focus on the other end of the hose by connecting it to the tank.
Ensure the straw end of the hose snugly fits the reservoir.
The final step is filling the tank for use.
You can choose to fill it with a garden hose, under a sink, or even submerge it in open water.
I prefer filling it with a bowl of warm water.
From there, use a hand pump with a Schrader valve/Valve stem to pressurize the water and enjoy the cold water/warm shower.
2) Propane-Powered Camping Showers
If you feel the garden hose camper is a bit rough and ready for your needs, you can choose the propane-powered option.
The propane-powered camping showers run off a propane canister as their name suggests.
It makes for a great idea for serious enthusiasts, but I wouldn’t recommend them for hiking because they’re a bit bulky.
Now, before I proceed to share how to make a propane camp shower, there’re some critical elements you need to know about this portable design.
1) Proper ventilation is critical. Remember burning propane/fire requires air, so I’d recommend setting up your propane tank in an open-air space. Avoid enclosed locations.
2) Storage is important. When you’re not using your propane tank, be sure to store it away from elements for safety.
3) The Source of water is key. A water heater isn’t designed to use stream, creek water, or salt water. Instead, they need a clean water source that won’t clog the filter with debris.
4) Consider the water flow rate (gallons per minute). I recommend selecting a water heater with a high flow rate for better water pressure. It delivers a sufficiently pressured stream of water for a thorough clean.
5) Also, consider the BTU (British Thermal Unit). BTU determines the heat rating of a heater. A water heater with a high BTU delivers hot water.
With that out of the way, let’s look at how to make a propane camping shower.
Here’s the list of items you’ll require for this little project;
1) Freshwater tank
2) Propane canister
3) Portable water heater
4) Plug attachment
Connect the fresh water tank to the water heater.
Connect the water heater to the propane canister.
The canister provides the energy to heat the water. The more you turn it on, the hotter your shower water gets.
Plug the heater into a reliable power source—either a set of batteries or a 12V power plug.
The power plug should provide reliable ignition power to run the water heater.
Plug your shower head.
Next, switch on the heater, turn on the propane canister, and enjoy your shower.
3) Water Bag Showers
The water shower bag is as simple as camping showers can get.
It’s a great camp shower solution, especially if you love the DIY approach of the garden hose shower design and the warm water of the propane canister design.
The only essential you need for this setup is a solar shower bag.
Solar shower bag is just a plastic shower, but with a heat-absorbing design on one side. Mostly, the heat-absorbing design is coated black to absorb more heat for the sun.
You simply need to fill the tear-resistant plastic shower with water and lay it in an open space, with the black side facing the sun.
The bag will absorb the sun’s energy, and in a couple of hours, you should have the warm water ready.
I prefer to lay my shower bag early in the morning when leaving for the woods, so the water is already warm by the time I’m back.
Next, lift the whole thing to an elevated position. No Schrader valve hand pump or anything is required, but it relies exclusively on gravity. The hands-free operation is amazing.
I’m a big fan of the shower bag design because of its minimalism. It doesn’t require a lot of setups, tools, or anything.
Secondly, it’s highly portable and light weight. After I’m done with the bag, I simply fold it and tuck it in my RV.
The only markdown with this design relies on solar, so when the weather is a bit cloudy, it may not work effectively.
4) Gallon shower
The bucket shower is as rudimentary as portable shower designs are concerned.
It’s, in my opinion, the easiest camp shower to make and perfect when you’re camping under a budget and have no tools.
Here’s a breakdown of the tools you need and how to make a bucket shower.
- Gallon bucket
- Drill (hammer & nail)
Turn your gallon bucket upside down.
Use a drill to puncture holes on the base of the bucket.
You can also use a nail and hammer combo, but ensure you don’t use too much force to avoid breaking the bucket plastic.
More importantly, keep the holes as small as possible to allow them to imitate a shower setup. Small holes should also allow water to drain gradually and give you sufficient time to clean.
Flip the bucket over and then uses a thick rope to hang it on a strong tree branch.
The height should be high enough for you to fit under, but not so much to cause trouble when setting it up.
The final step should be filling it with water, warm or cold, whatever you like. I’d suggest filling half with warm water and the other with cold water.
If the punctured holes were small enough, the slow stream should give you sufficient time to enjoy a nice bath.
Another version of the gallon shower is the use of a plastic bag.
Get a plastic bag, and fill it with water. Hang it on an elevated position, and pull down one end.
Next, poke some little holes on the corner to allow water to stream.
Have a rubber band close by to stop the flow of water when you’re done.
Alternatives of Camping Shower
While a portable shower is definitely one of the reliable ways of staying sparkling clean on the road, there’re other ways to do it.
Sometimes, I prefer the alternative showering methods, especially when I want to travel light or on a budget and don’t want to invest in portable shower essentials.
Here are the alternatives of staying clean when camping:
You can’t get more traditional than this.
A quick dip in the freshwater stream is enough to eliminate all the grime, dirt, and sweat from the oil.
However, I would strongly suggest that you avoid using rinse soap or other detergents on the water to avoid contamination.
Personally, I don’t even use biodegradable soap.
Water in a bottle offers a simple and easy way to get rid of body dirt, especially sweat.
Pour a little water on a sponge or a bathing cloth, and simply wipe off your body. I like to pay attention to the sweaty areas, such as my armpits.
Baby wipes are my go-to cleaning solution when backpacking or hiking.
The wipes are a handy option for wiping and cleaning my face and hands at night when rinsing with water doesn’t make sense.
Dry shampoo is a nice cleaning product for my hair.
It works by soaking the excess oil, dirt, and grease in my hair for a cleaner, fresher appearance. I’m a big fan of this method because it extends the life of a blowout.
Where to Find a Shower
The truth is even the best DIY camping shower solution can’t beat the convenience and reliability of hot water/running water.
The good news is you don’t have to worry much about it. If you’re planning to extend your camping, it’s easy to find places where you can get an occasional hot shower with the least effort.
Here’re some of the places:
Public Swimming pools
Pools are required to have a changing facility, and so, by spending a few bucks on the road, you can have access to a full bath and shower.
As with swimming pools, most gyms also have a changing room.
So, RVer, and full-time campers can subscribe to a gym membership and enjoy the privileges of a clean shower.
I’d recommend registering to gyms with a national-wide presence to give you access to their services across the country.
Some reputable national-wide chains include Planet Fitness, Anytime Fitness, and 24-Hour fitness.
Camp Site with Showers
I prefer free camping, but it doesn’t hurt to occasionally spend a few bucks on a campground with showers.
Using this method to access a shower is usually a hit or miss, especially if you don’t know where to look for the washrooms.
But it doesn’t hurt to ask around.
Finding a public washroom takes a similar approach to finding a public beach washroom or tap.
Keep in mind most of these public options use cold showers.
There you have it; you shouldn’t have a reason not to stay clean in your next camping adventure.
I’ve shared some of my favorite DIY hacks I use to make my portable shower solutions.
Pick one you feel you’re most comfortable with and enjoy the outdoors.