Camping is a dirty business. Even the more luxurious styles come with grime, thanks to sunscreen and bug spray acting like grit magnets. Yes, we are all aware of thru-hikers whose only nod to hygiene was a toothbrush sans toothpaste. But that kind of hard-core commitment to filth isn’t for everyone. Thankfully, there are showering and bathing options while enjoying the great outdoors.
If you’re wondering how to shower while camping, here’s how:
The best ways to shower while camping is using a site with facilities, portable showers, bucket baths, wet wipes and dry shampoo, and taking soap-free dips in lakes and rivers. You must always use unscented, biodegradable soaps at least 200 feet from natural water sources, such as streams.
The easiest way to shower while camping is to stay at campgrounds with bathing facilities or use a fully kitted-out RV. Sure, you might need to wear some flip-flops, bring a roll of quarters, and be willing to make friends with a spider or few. But otherwise, it’s like staying in a neglected budget hotel with better scenery. But everyone else must make a plan that fits their budget and packing space.
How To Shower Or Bathe While Camping?
Options for showering or bathing in the outdoors without campsite or RV facilities include:
- Powered portable showering system
- Gravity fed bucket or bag
- Bucket bath
- Wet wipes and dry shampoo
- No-soap swim and rinse
What is not an option is bathing with soap or bio-alternative in a natural waterway, including:
It doesn’t matter if the product says “biodegradable” or is coconut oil; you cannot put it in natural waterways. It mucks up the water, reduces oxygen levels, and harms the plants and animal life that rely on it. Biodegradable products require soil to break down; the process typically takes six weeks.
Powered Portable Showering System For Camping
Powered portable showering systems don’t solely rely on gravity to work. Some are solar-powered, others have batteries, and some must be hooked to an electrical source, like a car battery. In addition, they tend to all come with an extended, nozzle-like showerhead that can be hung or held by hand.
The advantage of these simple systems are the following:
- Pack relatively small
The disadvantages are the following:
- Take ages to warm up
- Usually, only hold enough water for 1 person to take a quick spray off
- Low power
- Almost always need hanging
A second option is using a tank showering system. These can almost always be used by hand rather than having to be hung (although hanging is nice). They also have more power. Options range from small and basic to fancy, like this propane water heater and shower system.
The advantage of tank systems are the following:
- Have better water pressure
- It can be used without a place to hang it
- Easier to heat up
- Hold more water
- Longer shower
The disadvantages are the following:
- Big and heavy
- Require a major power or fuel source
- More expensive
Lastly, some pumps can take water from a natural waterway and spray you at a distance. They sound like a good idea, but they have significant drawbacks:
- Usually have to be closer than 200 ft, making them problematic/illegal
- Can’t fill up from a communal faucet but need a steady water source, like a pond
- Need a lot of power
Hanging A Bucket Or Sack For Showering While Camping
Some people just hang a modified bucket or dry sack and shower under its low-pressure dribbles. The slightly fancier version is having a second person stand above you and decant water from an ordinary bucket into your hole-pricked modified shower pail.
Slightly fancier versions of this do exist, and they’re reasonably priced. For example, check out Wild Republic’s Canvas Camping Shower, which can provide around six minutes of a shower-like experience.
Having A Bucket Bath While Camping
A little bowl or bucket and a washcloth can go a long way into cleaning what needs attention. It can also be carefully done in a tent, using water heated on a stove for a luxurious touch.
- Dip a cloth into the water
- Dampen yourself down
- Apply your cleaning product of choice
- Rinse as best you can with a splash or few
- Remember to clean your face first and smelly and more hygienically problematic areas last.
Camping Bath With Wet Wipes Or No-Rinse Soap Or Shampoo
A long-time camp favorite is using wet wipes or no-rinse soaps and dry shampoo. These can be used exclusively or in between other showering options. In addition, they are lightweight, making them perfect for when space is limited.
Wet wipes are incredibly versatile, helping out with spills and other incidents. However, if there are no garbage services, you’ll have to pack out the used ones.
Wet wipe bathing isn’t just for backpackers. For example, there are camping locations that don’t provide water. Thus, you must haul it in, and water takes up a lot of packing space.
Many smaller vehicles won’t have that much room to spare. Plenty of places are water-sensitive areas, and using nature’s elixir for anything other than absolute essentials is disrespectful, even if you hauled it.
No-Soap Swim And Rinse While Camping
If you are near a natural waterway that allows swimming, you can take a dip to rinse off. You can also use a clean cloth or your hands to add some friction to scrub off dirt. It is refreshing and will remove some grit, oil, and odor.
However, be aware that products on your skin, including sunscreen, will get into the water. So, it is best to scrub that off first, even with a dry towel, before jumping in.
What Do I Need For Showering While Camping?
What you need to shower while camping is relative to your camping style, comfort zone, local regulations, and budget. However, there are some general guidelines to consider.
How Much Privacy Do You Want While Showering Outdoors?
How much privacy you require while camping depends on where you camp and your comfort zone. Any communal campsite, even those that only offer pit toilets, frowns on public displays of birthday suits. And it is probably illegal.
Thus, the best budget options for privacy are:
- Hiding in your tent (potentially damp, messy, and awkward)
- Strategically using bushes and towels to create a cubicle (pack clothes’ pins and string)
- Hanging a shower curtain from branches, wire, or a suspended hula-hoop
- Bathing in public in your gender-appropriate swimsuit (back to those nudity laws)
However, there are shower tents if you’ve got the money and packing space. How much they cost varies considerably. Also, their features range from being a glorified, cramped changing room to coming equipped with a shower, cup holders, drains, mildew-resistant flooring, and a separate changing room with storage.
Something To Hang Your Camp Shower
Not all campsites come with a coinvent branch to hang a camp shower. Your other options include the following:
- Shower tents
- Creative use of a hammock stand
- Clever use of tent poles
- Clipping into a suction cup anchor attached to a car
- Hanging it from a roll bar or roof rack
Will You Use Biodegradable Soap, Wet Wipes, No-Rinse, Or Friction?
Using your regular hygiene product for camping is often a bad idea. For starters, they’re probably scented. If you are in bear country, the reason to avoid smelling like candy is obvious. But other critters find them enticing, too (raccoons and tents are not a good combination).
Most scented soaps, shampoo, etc., attract bugs like wasps and mosquitos. The only exception is insect-repelling scents.
Regular hygiene products are also a no-go if you are camping in an area that isn’t hooked up to a sewage system or septic tank. Instead, your options are:
- Biodegradable soap and shampoo
- Wet wipes (must pack out if there isn’t garbage facilities)
- No-rinse soap and dry shampoo
- No soap friction (rinsing with water and giving yourself a good rub with a cloth)
Again, you can’t use these products in a natural waterway. It is against most park policies, including the Forest Service and National Park Service, to bathe or camp within 200 ft of natural waterways. They must be rinsed off onto dirt.
Some camping-friendly hygiene products to consider using at least 200 feet away from natural waterways are:
- Act + Acre Plant-Based Dry Shampoo (Unscented)
- Bathing Culture’s Mind and Body Wash
- Medline Remedy Phytoplex Hydrating No-Rinse Cleansing Foam
- SallyeAnder No Bite Me! Cream & Soap Set
- Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes
- Stream2Sea Conditioning Shampoo and Bodywash
- Venture Body Wipes
How Will You Dry Off After Your Camp Shower?
Towels are an essential camping item. Resist the temptation to air dry. That can go wrong and lead to high-risk situations. But those camping without a car don’t have much extra space for nice fluffy beach towels. Rather choose a nice micro towel instead, such as:
How Will You Protect Your Feet While Camp Showering?
Almost all types of camp showering require you to protect your feet. Barefoot in public facilities is a bad idea, as is tromping around in nature, picking up thorns and ticks between your toes. Flip-flops or recovery slides are a popular go-to. But you can also use quick-dry hiking sandals.
Showering while camping can be as luxurious or basic as you make it. But regardless of your outdoor bathing style, you’ll never regret packing some camping wet wipes.