A shower in the morning can kick start your day, whilst 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 camp shower setup.
Just as there is more than one way to cook an egg, there is also more than one way to have a bush shower.
From a quick and simple wash to maintain hygiene, to an invigorating outdoor shower… warm water against your skin counteracting the cool crisp air all whilst standing under the listening to noises of wildlife… you don’t get that at home!
So how do you set up a portable camping shower, and what do you need? To get you on the right track, we’ve come up with three different set-up categories to meet everyone’s requirements… feel free to jump ahead to your preferred set-up:
- 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!
From basic to luxury, you have a few showering options when off the grid. Image: Sea to Summit
Keeping clean at the minimum of weight
For hiking and trekking adventures, the weight of your gear is important, but so is hygiene. Try these wash options if every gram counts on your next adventure.
1. The waterless wash
This is as simple as it gets and is 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 making sure you get all the stinky bits, and the hand sanitiser on your, well… hands.
It’s a good idea to use wipes that are biodegradable, like these ones from Sea to Summit.
Wilderness wipes are the simplest way to shower outdoors. Image: Sea to Summit
2. Shower in a cup
Something an old friend of mine learnt 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 and grab a lightweight towel and some biodegradable soap, then 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 isn’t glamorous, but 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 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 that is 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 the water up beforehand.
This method is best at remote campsites where no-one else is going to catch a glimpse of you au-naturel. For more on lightweight hygiene, head here.
On longer hikes, a dry bag can be used as a basin.
Affordable camping shower setups
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 the water up first, and 12V power may be required.
You’ll also need to get creative for the set-up of the shower if you don’t want to do it all handheld, 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 the water up first and don’t forget a length of rope to suspend your shower.
Solar showers are great as it’s simple, but the water will be warm for extra comfort. Image: Aaron Schubert
2. Solar showers
Another simple shower set-up. 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 3 hours (the bonnet of your can 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 give 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, or it can be used handheld.
You will still need to warm the water up 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 showers are lightweight and affordable.
Just give me the full outback spa and bush shower package
If a steaming hot shower is something you can’t (or won’t) do without at the end of the day, then I’d recommend one of these 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, you can 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, but 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 –
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. These are great for base camp style set-ups i.e. you’re staying somewhere for a while. They are simple to use and easy to set up, especially with the optional quick connect fittings, the Smarttek Black Smart Hot Water System is 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 and is capable of flow rates up to 6 litres per minute and can draw water from 10+ metres away from the unit depending on your setup. There is a host of optional accessories available to make your camp shower a truly relaxing experience, 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, then the Smarttek Black Smart Hot Water Shower is probably going to make them a convert.
When you’re staying somewhere a while, a smart hot water system is ideal. Image: Smarttek
These have been around for a while now and there have been a few iterations over the years. The Aquacube also provides water up to around 50 degrees Celsius only at a lower flow rate than the Smarttek. The pump is much simpler on these and you’ll need the water supply to be nearby to your shower.
The Aquacube is compatible with portable propane cylinders as well as refillable LPG bottles making it a very portable unit. You will also need 12V power unless you get the lithium version with a built-in battery and the portability makes it ideal if you need to move your hot water supply around the campsite.
Enjoy more privacy with a shower tent. Image: Zempire
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, then you’ll need a shower tent. The pop up versions of these are easy to set up and provide privacy for your shower and portable toilet, but they aren’t sturdy enough to suspend a shower rose to.
For the complete shower setup consider a shower tent with a rigid frame and guy ropes so you’ve got a reliable place to mount the shower rose. Most of these will also have a waterproof place to hang your clothes and towel and often have pockets for your toiletries. There are even two room versions so you can create a complete campsite ensuite.
What about a camping 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 whilst allowing the water to run away.
There are fancy 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.
Biodegradable soaps and washes help you leave 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 your shower up 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.
What’s your favourite method for staying clean on an outdoor adventure?
About the writer...
Trekker, surfer, climber, mountain biker, runner, camper. Participator in most things… master of none.