How to Set Up the Perfect Outdoor Camp Shower

A shower in the morning can kick start your day, while a wash in the evening can help you to relax into the night. Whenever your preference, there is nothing like a nice, hot shower – and if you’re camping, this means having some sort of outdoor shower setup.

Just as there is more than one way to cook an egg, there is more than one way to have a bush shower. From a quick and simple rinse for the sake of maintaining hygiene, to an invigorating wash – warm water against your skin counteracting the cool, crisp air while listening to sounds of wildlife surrounding your campsite is an experience you just don’t get at home!

So – how do you set up a portable camping shower, and what do you need to do so? To start you off on the right track, we’ve established three different setup categories to meet everyone’s requirements.

Feel free to jump ahead to your preferred setup:

  • The Basic: ‘Weight is important, and I just need to maintain hygiene.’
  • The Affordable: ‘As long as I can have a warm shower, I’m happy.’
  • The Luxurious: ‘I don’t care what it costs, I will not go without a steaming hot shower!’

Wilderness Wash resting in rock

From basic to luxury, there are a few showering options when off the grid. Image: Sea to Summit

The Basic

Keeping Clean at the Minimum Weight

For hiking and trekking adventures, the weight of your gear is important – but so is hygiene. If every gram counts on your next adventure, try the below wash options.

1. The Waterless Wash

This is as simple as it gets, and also a good option for chilly nights when you don’t want to get cold and wet. All you need is some baby wipes and sanitising gel. Use the baby wipes to clean your body, ensuring you reach all the stinky parts, and the hand sanitiser on your… well, hands.

It’s a good idea to use wipes that are biodegradable, like those from Sea to Summit.

Wilderness wipes packed in a bag with other cleaning gear

Wilderness Wipes are the simplest way to shower outdoors. Image: Sea to Summit

2. Shower in a Cup

This is something an old friend of mine learned from his Army Reserve days, used when water was is in short supply on long treks. The idea is that you can ration your shower to one cup of water, or about 250mL.

Fill your cup, then grab a lightweight towel and some biodegradable soap. Scrub away until your water ration runs out.

It goes without saying that this is by no means a luxurious shower.

Showering in a cup is a great way when water supply is low

Showering in a cup isn’t glamorous, but it works when water supplies are low. Image: Sea to Summit

3. Improvised Wash Basin

This is my preferred washing method on long hikes, or camping trips where there are no showers but ready access to water. It’s a little like the cup method described above, only you can use enough water to fill a dry bag rolled down to create a basin. This way you have enough water to wash your body, hair, and even some clothes. You can even heat up the water beforehand.

Note that this method is best at remote campsites where no-one else is around to catch a glimpse of you au-naturel. For more on lightweight hygiene, head here.

Improvising a camp shower by washing hair in a lightweight bag

On longer hikes, a dry bag can be used as a basin. 

The Affordable

These camping showers don’t do everything for you, but still provide a good shower with some improvisation. If you want a warm shower, you’ll need to be able to heat up the water first and 12V power may be required.

If you don’t want to do it all handheld, you’ll also need to get creative for the setup of the shower – but with a little effort, you can set up a portable camping shower anywhere at a reasonable price!

1. Canvas Bucket Shower

This is the classic outback shower: a canvas bucket with a shower rose at the bottom, filled with hot water and hoisted into a tree. Low technology, so little to go wrong – but these units are too heavy for use inside a shower tent, so you’ll need to be comfortable showering in the open. Or, improvise some sort of screen.

You will need a way of heating up the water first – and don’t forget a length of rope to suspend your shower.

Woman using a solar shower connected to a vehicle to shower

Solar showers are great – simple, but the water is warm for extra comfort. Image: Aaron Schubert

2. Solar Showers

Another simple shower setup. These are black or dark-coloured bags with a small shower rose and hose attached. The dark colour absorbs the heat and, once filled with water and left in the full sun for around three hours (the bonnet of your car is a good spot), you’ll have a bag full of warm water to shower with. Then, you can hoist these into a tree just as you would the canvas bucket – and your shower is ready to go!

Solar showers are also too heavy for shower tents to support, so you’ll need to suspend it somewhere and improvise a screen if required. The other drawback is that the nozzle usually needs to be handheld (they don’t always hang at the best angle).

3. 12V Electric Shower

12V showers are generally cheap, light, and easy to use with flexible hoses and a 12V pump that you stick in a bucket of warm (or cold) water. They even provide good pressure if the bucket height is close to that of the shower head. The shower rose is light enough to suspend in a shower tent or on any structure, such as a roof rack or pole. It can also be used handheld.

You will still need to warm up the water first, and they can require a little more maintenance to ensure a long life. Giving the pump a spray with CRC or WD40 is an easy way to help with this.

12V shower hanging from branch spraying water out of the shower rose

12V showers are lightweight and affordable. Image: Companion

The Luxurious

Just the full outback spa and bush shower package, please!

If a steaming hot shower is something you can’t (or won’t) do without at the end of the day, I’d recommend an all-in-one portable hot water and shower systems for your camping adventures. With these units, you can set temperature and flow rate – and with the addition of a few accessories, create your own spa in the serenity of your campsite.

You will need both gas to heat the water and 12V power for the pump, as well as a few batteries for the internal electrics. That said, the time spent packing extra gear will be long forgotten once you’re standing under a piping hot stream of water in your campsite.

There are a few different units to choose from; let’s start from the top shelf:

Smarttek Hot Water System setup outdoors

If you want luxury, look no further than a hot water system. Image: Smarttek

1. Smarttek Black Smart Hot Water System

This is the ‘ducks nuts’ of portable hot water systems.

The Smarttek Black Smart Hot Water System is great for basecamp-style setups (i.e. you’re staying in the same location for a while). They are simple to use and easy to set up, especially with the optional quick connect fittings; the best outdoor shower for those not willing to skimp on comfort when camping!

This portable hot water unit will heat to over 50 degrees, capable of flow rates up to 6 litres per minute and can draw water from 10+ metres away, depending on your setup. To create a truly relaxing experience, there is a host of optional accessories available – including a fully equipped ensuite shower tent.

If the availability of a hot shower is the only thing stopping a non-camper from going bush, the Smarttek Black Smart Hot Water Shower will more than likely convert them!

Smarttek Lite Hot Water Shower setup next to Smarttek tent

When you’re staying somewhere a while, a smart hot water system is ideal. Image: Smarttek

2. Companion AquaHeat Lithium Gas Shower

Companion have brought the best of new-age technology to their products with their Lithium gas shower.

With an integrated and rechargeable Lithium battery, you can get between 60-120 minutes of run time off a full charge. Its 2L per minute flow rate and the built-in gas regulator with BOM connection provides the ability to use either a propane cartridge or a ULPG cylinder (with a separately available hose), while quick-connect fittings make for a hassle-free attachment of the 1.5m pump hose and 2.5m shower hose! The AquaHeat also allows you to recharge while showering by operating directly from the included 2V DC lead and connector, or a separately available AC adaptor.

Enjoy hot water in seconds – anywhere, anytime!

A Darche shower tent attached to a 4WD.

Enjoy more privacy with a shower tent. Image: Darche

3. Shower Tent

It can be quite enlivening to shower butt-naked in a remote campsite with only your loved ones in sight, but to do so in an area that is also occupied by other campers is generally considered inappropriate.

If the latter is what you are likely to encounter, you’ll need a shower tent. The pop-up versions of these are easy to set up and provide privacy for both your shower and portable toilet, but aren’t sturdy enough to suspend a shower rose from.

For the complete shower setup, consider a shower tent with a rigid frame and guy ropes for a reliable place to mount the shower rose. Most of these will also have a waterproof area to hang your clothes and towel, and often include pockets for your toiletries. There are even two-room versions, so you can create a complete campsite ensuite.

What About a Camp Shower Base?

Most good shower tents will come with some sort of floor, usually of tarp or mesh, which work just fine. As an upgrade, we recommend using foam matting as your camp shower base. This is nicer to stand on and creates a barrier between you and the soggy ground, meanwhile allowing the water to run off and away.

There are some more luxe portable shower trays available that catch the water and channel it away via a waste hose, but we don’t carry these at Snowys. They tend to get a little bulky and difficult to transport for camping.

Wilderness Wash helps follow the 7 leave-no-trace principles

Biodegradable soaps and washes aid in leaving no trace. Image: Sea to Summit

Don’t Forget to Leave No Trace

Aim to leave nothing but footprints when you leave your campsite. Carry out your rubbish and have some consideration around the items you need to leave at the campsite, such as wastewater. It is important that we use biodegradable soaps and washes when we are showering in the bush, as this minimises our impact on the environment.

We also need to consider where the runoff from our camp shower ends up. Always set up your shower at least 100m from both wet and dry river and creek beds – the same rule applies to camp toilets.

Check out our range of environmentally friendly washing and cleaning solutions here.

Ben and Lauren also discuss camping and outdoor shower options on the Snowys Camping Show:

What’s your favourite method for staying clean on an outdoor adventure?