Keeping Clean on the Trail: How to Shower While Camping

Written by: Karyn James

Showering while camping can be tricky, but there are plenty of ways to shower without water, create simple DIY alternatives, or find a hot shower while camping. No matter your situation, you can shower while camping.

Figuring out how to shower while camping is crucial to keeping dirt, ticks, and potentially harmful bacteria from ruining your outdoor adventure. Plus, after a long day’s hike, no one wants to hit the sleeping bag smelling like cheese that’s been left in the sun… 

This guide will explore several showering options available to those of you who love camping to ensure you’re able to keep clean.

I know only too well how challenging it can be to wash up while exploring the wild outdoors. That’s why I’ve also included helpful tips to help you master the art of showering while camping. After all, just because you’re out enjoying nature doesn’t mean you can’t have a refreshing shower!


How to Shower While Camping – Brief Tutorial Overview

There are several types of camping, and each experience requires unique gear and supplies, including showering solutions and accessories.

For example, if you’re staying at a campground, you’ll likely be able to soap up and rinse down at one of the public campground showers. However, if you’re camping at a primitive site that’s far off the trail, you’ll likely need a portable or DIY showering solution.

This guide will discuss all options available at your disposal, helping you prepare for your upcoming camping trip.


Best Places To Shower While Camping

Luckily, you have a few go-to options for showering while camping. For example, regardless of location, you can choose to shower with:

  • Public campground showers
  • Portable camping showers
  • Freshwater lakes and streams

The best option depends on the type of camping you’re doing as well as your personal preferences. 

Tent Camping

When camping in a tent, our favorite thing to do is bring a solar shower. we fill up the bag from the campground facilities (or, if we’re out in the true wild, we use water that we’ve boiled from the stream or the river), let the sun heat it up, and enjoy a hot shower, wherever we are!

Otherwise, we’ll pay for shower usage at the campgrounds. Having a clean place to get some hot water is worth a small fee to us. I know I don’t like smelling like a wild animal, and the whole family agrees.

RV/Travel Trailers

When out in the RV, if you don’t have a water connection, you can try a local campground, a YMCA, or even community rec centers or swimming pools. Some campgrounds will have outdoor shower stations as well, so keep an eye out for those!

Of course, you can always use your freshwater reserve, just be cautious. You don’t want to run out of water because you spent thirty minutes daydreaming and singing at the top of your lungs as the water cascades around you.

Car Camping

This is a bit like tent camping, but with more freedom. You can find different places to shower, pay for the facilities at a campground (or even a YMCA!). Yes, you’ll probably have to pay a fee, but it’s usually reasonable.


Places to shower while camping

How to Find Shower Facilities While Camping

If you’re camping somewhere new, you might be unfamiliar with the campground or trails. This unfamiliarity can make it challenging to find places to shower. 

Fortunately, there are several ways to find places to shower while camping, including:

  • Referring to the campground map
  • Using a navigation map
  • Inquiring at the ranger’s station
  • Asking other campers

Campground Map

Many campgrounds feature helpful campground maps plaques throughout the grounds, making it easy to locate public restrooms and showering areas.

However, if you didn’t receive a paper map or can’t find the nearest map plaque, you might want to check your smartphone. Unless you’re in a remote area, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to receive a cellphone signal and access navigation maps.

Using a Navigation App

If you’re able to receive a cell phone signal, you may be able to use a navigation app to locate a nearby public shower. For example, apps like GoogleMaps can help you find nearby showers in a flash. There are also camping apps that include options to search for showers, like AllStays or iOverlander

To use GoogleMaps to locate public showers in your area, open the app, type “public shower” into the input field, and then touch the magnifying glass to search. From there, you can find public showers at your current campground, nearby campgrounds, and truck stops in your area.

If you know you’ll have no internet available, download the area on Google maps before you head out. This way, you’ll be able to at least navigate back to the entrance of the campground, where there will be signs to direct you!


Tips for Showering at a Campground

Are you planning on camping at a campground with public showers? If so, you can pack a little lighter, as you likely won’t need to bring a portable shower along for the ride. 

That said, you still want to be prepared and have everything you need! So, let’s explore a few helpful tips for showering at a campground.

Wear Flip-Flops

Let’s face it: you never know who has been standing where in public showers. Even though campgrounds usually do a good job of staying on top of cleanliness, it doesn’t hurt to have a little extra protection.

Check the Stalls

What’s worse than getting under a shower, expecting a strong rush of water to just rinse away the day’s dirt, only to be met with a pitiful dribble of water? Well, getting into a shower and getting a burst of cold water, for starters.

Before you commit to a stall and undress, test the shower first to make sure you’ve got good pressure and lovely hot water.

Bring a Shower Caddie

A waterproof shower caddie keeps your soaps and shampoos contained and in easy reach. Those showers can be tight fits, so having to bend over and constantly reach around for soap, shampoo, and your shower poof can be a (literal) pain.

Avoid Busy Times

You’ll see people often frequent public showers during the morning and especially in the before dinner when camping. Yes, this is extra annoying because some of us like to start our days with a shower or unwind in the evening with some hot water. However, showering in the afternoon or just before bed might be the best way to avoid busy times.


propane camping shower
We love our propane water heater for showering and doing dishes

Types of Portable Showers

Those hoping to enjoy some primitive camping (camping at a site without water access) likely won’t have access to public showers. Fortunately, a portable shower can keep you clean and refreshed while you’re out in the wild. They’re one of our favorite ways to stay clean while out on the trail, specifically solar showers.

There are several types of portable showers, including:

  • Solar showers
  • Electric camping showers
  • Propane camping showers
  • Pressurized camping showers

Some are ideal for car camping and make an excellent private alternative to public campground showers. Others are well-suited to primitive camping far along wild trails and pathways.

Let’s explore each type to discover which might work best for your next camping trip.

Solar Showers

A solar shower is essentially a bag full of water that uses gravity to generate pressure. These bags collect solar energy and heat, allowing you to shower in lukewarm or warm water. 

Start by filling the bag with sterilized water. This can be from a faucet at the campgrounds, or water you sterilized from a stream (always use running water, not stagnant water). Then, place the clear side of the bag into the sunlight and let it warm up naturally!

Recommended
Advanced Elements Solar Shower
  • Comes with a pocket for soap and shampoo.
  • Temperature gauge and shower head included.
  • Three sizes available; 2.5, 3, or 5 gallons.


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Electric Camping Showers

Those staying at campgrounds with electric hookups (or those camping in a car) may want to use an electric camping shower. These utilize rechargeable batteries or 12V connections to pull water through a pump and push it out of a hose. 

Still, you’ll need a water source (like a bucket of water) to use one of these portable showers. But, of course, if you’re camping at a site with electric hookups, there’s a good chance your campsite also has running water. 

Propane Camping Showers

Propane camping showers use propane gas to quickly heat up water. These propane gas heaters are an excellent choice for those camping in cold areas or during the winter season. After a long hike through the snow, there’s nothing quite like the steam from a shower to make you feel alive!

Most are compatible with lightweight 1lb propane bottles, so they might also be a practical choice for backpackers.

Recommended
GASLAND Outdoors Outdoor Portable Gas Water Heater, Propane Camping Shower
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Comes with a nice shower head and a 5 ft shower hose.
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Pressurized Camping Showers

Often the most straightforward hygiene solutions, pressurized camping showers may come in the form of a roof rack mount. They use manually generated pressure (via either a foot or hand pump) to push water from a tank and through a hose, allowing you to wash off dirt and bugs, or whatever else you brought back with you. 


Camping Accessories

If you’re planning on showering with a private portable camping shower, you will want to add a few practical accessories to your bathing setup. Shower tents, floor mats, and shower caddies are must-have additions to any portable shower rig.

After all, rinsing down with a portable shower isn’t as effective if you’re standing on bare earth (dirt plus water equals mud), and enjoying a little privacy can keep you from feeling embarrassed while on the trail.

Shower tent

Shower Tent

Shower tents are lightweight accessories that are easy to take along and allow you to take a private shower, even when in public areas. There are single shower tents and also double tents which are pretty handy. You can use the double tent for showering on one side while keeping the other side dry for getting dressed afterward. These are also good for keeping your camping toilet separate from the shower area.

Recommended
KingCamp Shower Tent Oversize Space
  • Inside mesh pockets for soap and shampoo
  • Inside and outside pockets for towels and clothes
  • Double hooks for shower bag and showerhead
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Floor Mat

A lightweight waterproof floor mat can keep your feet off the dirt, ensuring that you don’t need to finish your shower by washing away mud from your ankles and toes. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having fun and stomping through the mud, but it does defeat the point of the shower.

Shower Caddie

A shower caddie is a must if you’re planning on showering at a public campground shower or using a portable camping shower. After all, having all your soaps and shampoos in one container makes it easy to wash up quickly.


Eco-Friendly Showering

Minimizing your water usage and avoiding caustic soaps isn’t only vital to at-home showering. When you’re washing up in the wild, eco-friendly showering practices are essential to keeping natural spaces pollution-free and reducing your impact on wildlife.

As such, you should do your best to conserve water and use eco-friendly soaps when showering outdoors. Castille soaps are some of the least harmful liquid soaps, and they often feature essential oils to keep you smelling great, which keeps your mister or missus happy.

Additionally, investing in shower alternatives can help you reduce water consumption.


Shower Alternatives to Help You Stay Clean While Camping

Public campground showers can be busy, and toting around a portable shower might not be possible for hikers backpacking to remote campsites. Fortunately, quite a few shower alternatives can help you stay clean and comfortable while camping. Let’s start with my favorite!

Go for a Dip

If you’re camping near freshwater, lakes, and streams can wash away dirt by going for a quick dip! Still, if you choose this option, you’ll want to avoid using any soap and shampoos. I usually bring a comb with me as I swim, which helps get rid of a little extra gunk from my hair.

You’ll also want to double-check that your chosen freshwater source is free of contaminants and harmful bacteria. Unfortunately, the best way to do this is to research freshwater sources near your camping site before heading out into the woods. 

Naturally, you can also bring a portable water filter with you to make the most of local water freshwater sources.

Sponge Clean

Depending on the duration of your trip, it can be challenging to tote along with big quantities of water. In turn, this fact can make it tricky to maintain your hygiene while camping.

However, you can wash up efficiently by applying a small amount of water to a sponge and giving yourself a sponge bath! 

Use Dry Shampoo

If your water sources are limited, you can use a dry shampoo to keep your hair clean and insect-free. Dry shampoos typically come in pressurized canisters that make it easy to spray the product throughout your hair. 

Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions when using dry shampoo, as applying too much can harm your hair and the environment.

Bring Wet Wipes

Biodegradable wet wipes are an excellent way to keep clean while hiking and camping. They’re lightweight, easy to use, and won’t pollute natural spaces. That said, it’s best to bring along a small plastic baggie (like a sandwich bag) to store your used wet wipes.


DIY Camping Shower: Step-by-Step

You don’t necessarily need to purchase a portable shower to keep clean while camping. If you’d like to save a little money and practice your DIY skills, you can create a portable camping shower!

Let’s explore the steps in detail to ensure your DIY project goes smoothly. Of course, you can also choose to check out this visual guide from the Hackables channel: 

1. Gather Necessary Tools and Supplies

Before you can build a DIY portable camping shower, you’ll need to gather the necessary tools and supplies. For example, you’ll need:

  • An unused pump-action fertilizer sprayer (available at local garden nursery or home improvement store)
  • A flathead screwdriver
  • A pipe clamp piece
  • A garden hose nozzle
  • A barbed adapter piece that fits the nozzle

2. Attach the Adapter to the Nozzle

When you’ve collected your tools and supplies, attach the adapter to the nozzle. Be sure that it’s securely screwed onto the spray nozzle before moving on to the next step.

3. Remove the Sprayer Wand From the Sprayer Tank Hose

You’ll now need to remove the sprayer wand from the tank hose. Typically, this is as simple as unscrewing the base of the wand from the hose.

4. Slide a Pipe Clamp Onto the Tank Hose

Slide the metal pipe clamp piece onto the freed end of the tank hose. However, don’t tighten it yet!

5. Fit Loose Adapter End Into the Tank Hose

Fit the slimmer, free portion of the nozzle adapter into the tank hose (the part once attached to the wand). The fit might be tight, and you might need to use a little elbow grease to ensure it’s firmly attached.

6. Tighten the Pipe Clamp Over the Hose and Adapter

Push the pipe clamp piece up to the end of the hose, where it meets the adapter. Then use your flathead screwdriver to tighten the clamp over the hose and adapter, preventing water from leaking during use.

7. Add Water to the Sprayer Tank

After ensuring that the tank hose and nozzle are securely attached, you’re ready to add water to the sprayer tank. Naturally, you’ll likely want to wait until arriving at your campsite before filling the tank, as a full sprayer can be hefty to carry around while hiking. 

We once made the mistake of trying to bring a full tank with us, and let me just tell you: we ended up dumping it before we were even at the halfway point.

8. Lift and Push the Tank Pump to Pressurize the Water Inside

The last step is using the hand pump to pressurize the water inside the tank. Generally, you’ll want to lift and push the pump handle until the handle is challenging to move. At this point, you can press the trigger of your hose nozzle and take a shower!


Frequently Asked Questions

Below you will find some of the most frequently asked questions regarding showering while camping. I’ve got the answers to keep you squeaky clean!

How Do You Wash Your Hair While Camping?

There are a few ways to wash your hair while camping. For example, you can use a non-toxic, eco-friendly shampoo while washing your hair at a public shower stall or with a portable camping shower.

However, you can also apply dry shampoo to your hair. This type of shampoo doesn’t require any water, making it an excellent option for those camping in primitive areas that aren’t near any freshwater sources. As my hair is on the finer side, I try to limit how often I use dry shampoo (as you can really still see the oil in my hair).

How Do You Take a Hot Shower While Camping?

The best way to enjoy a hot shower while camping is to bring a propane-powered portable shower. However, you can also boil freshwater from local sources (lakes, streams), wait for it to reach a comfortable temperature (between 80℉ to 180℉), then fill your portable shower tank.

Be sure that you’re not using water over 200ºF, as most common plastics melt at this temperature. Yikes!


solar shower when camping

Final Thoughts

There are quite a few ways to shower while camping. Of course, the right option for you depends on the type of camping experience you’re planning: primitive camping, car camping, or setting up a tent at a public campground. 

Keeping your body clean while camping is an excellent way to keep insects (including wood ticks) away, feel refreshed while hiking, and avoid bringing dirt home with you. Plus, you won’t scare away anyone you meet with your smell! No matter your chosen camping style, there’s a hygiene solution that’s ideal for you.

Did you enjoy this guide? If so, be sure to leave a comment and share this article!

Photo of author

Karyn James

Karyn often went camping and boating as a child with her family where she has learned a lot about wildlife and the environment. Now that she has two very active little kids, she knows that planning is key to a fun and stress-free journey. You can find out more about Karyn here.

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