The 3 Best Ways to Shower While Camping!
Have you ever yearned for a hot shower while camping or backpacking? We have! Maintaining personal hygiene while camping is important for both cleanliness and personal comfort. But, depending on where you are, taking a shower can seem like a major challenge. Backpackers, travelers, and survivalists all understand how difficult it can be to stay clean and fresh while out and about with minimal resources. Luckily, they’ve developed a number of great techniques that you can use to stay clean in any situation.
Showering while camping can seem intimidating or impractical without the right know-how, so we’re here to introduce a number of options that best meet your needs. We’ll discuss three fantastic methods of staying squeaky clean in the backcountry so you can be prepared for your next trip!
But First... Leave No Trace and Backcountry Showers
Before we get started, let’s talk a bit about best leave no trace (LNT) practices. When we’re out in the backcountry, we go to great lengths to minimize our impact on wild places. It’s easy to forget that using soap to stay clean can have a negative impact on nearby waterways and wildlife. Therefore, here are two things to keep in mind:
- Be sure to use biodegradable soap. Non-biodegradable soap poses a health hazard to fish and other wildlife in the area when it ends up in nearby waterways. Dr. Bronner’s and Sea to Summit make great biodegradable soap options in conveniently small backpacking sized containers, so you can bathe without worry.
- When using soap, bathe at least 200 feet from water sources to reduce soapy runoff into nearby rivers. This is so the soap can first travel through the soil and start degrading before it hits the river or lake. The further away you can be from water, the better, but you can think of 200 feet, or about 70 adult-sized paces, as an absolute minimum. The fish will thank you for your efforts.
Now that you’re ready to clean yourself without unintentionally negatively impacting our beautiful wild places, let’s get right into the different methods while camping.
Method 1: The river bath
A tried and true method, the river bath is as simple as can be. Strip down into your birthday suit, or keep a pair of shorts and maybe a t-shirt on for modesty, and jump into the beautiful blue lake you’ve been eyeing all day.
On hot and sunny days, this is a great and refreshing option for maintaining your personal hygiene while camping. It requires no special equipment and is a fun, productive way to enjoy a sunny afternoon.
It’ important to note that with the river bath, you can’t use soap as it’ll end up right in the waterway. If you do want to use soap, you’ll want to try either the sponge bath or the backcountry shower.
Regardless, the river bath can make you feel instantly refreshed and can wipe away any dirt and grime that you’ve accumulated while hiking. Just try to bathe downstream from wherever you and your camping group is collecting water - you can probably imagine why.
Method 2: The sponge bath
If you’re enticed by the simplicity of the river bath but really want the extra squeaky-clean feeling of washing up with soap and warm water, then the sponge bath method might be your new best friend.
First things first, you’ll need a pot filled with water, a stove, a towel or sponge, and some biodegradable soap. Get yourself to a nice, scenic location that’s 200 feet or more away from water and heat up your water on your stove.
Once it’s at a nice warm, but not too hot, temperature, you can shut the stove off, and use the water, soap, and towel to lather up.
You can use this method to take a full body sponge bath or you can just target problem spots, like under your arms, groin, and back of the knees.
You’ll want to be mindful of how much water you use to lather up, as you’ll need some to rinse off with (remember, don’t go jump in the lake when you’re covered in soap!).
If you want to simplify things even more, you can do this with cold water, which saves both fuel and time. When you’re done, be sure to dispose of any leftover soapy wash water away from lakes and streams.
This is a great and simple method that can be a nice follow-up to the river bath if you’re looking to get extra clean.
Method 3: The backpacking shower
The best way to shower while camping, is also the most gear-intensive option of them all but will make you feel like you’re taking a real shower. Unfortunately, when we’re backpacking, we can’t bring our entire home shower with us (it just won’t fit in that 75L pack!), but luckily, there are a number of companies that make backpacking shower devices.
These are essentially large bags that can fill up with water (check out here), hang from a tree or tall object, and use gravity to create the water pressure you need to feel like you’re showering. It’s important to keep in mind that these are really ‘hygiene’ devices, not a glorious hour-long hot shower as even a 10L shower bag will only last about 7 minutes until it runs out of water.
But, if you’re wondering how to take a hot shower while camping, this is the method for you.
If you’re happy with a cold shower, this method is pretty quick and simple. Fill the bag up with water, get yourself to a nice location 200 feet from water, and hang the bag on a sturdy tree branch above your head.
We recommend being conservative with water here and taking the shower in three stages: First, get your body wet, then turn the water flow off. Next, use your biodegradable soap to lather up while the water is off. When you’re sufficiently sudsy, turn the water back on for a final rinse. This will ensure you don’t use any more water than necessary, which is critical in dry environments.
Hot showers take a bit more foresight but are easy enough to accomplish without too much extra effort. You’ll want to start early in the day to take advantage of the sun’s heat.
Fill up the bag with water and place it directly in the sun (on top of a darkly-colored surface is best). If you do this in the morning, on a warm day, it should be warm and ready to go by midday.
But, be sure to check the water temperature with your hand before you start the shower - if the bag has been left out for too long, the water can get hot, so you could actually burn yourself!
Follow the same procedures as the cold shower method, and voila! A hot shower in the backcountry. Just be sure never to try and speed up this method by filling the bag with boiling water as this can cause damage to the shower itself.
If you decide to buy a backpacking shower, you’ll have some decisions to make. There are many options available and many come in black, which tends to retain heat for longer than a lightly colored shower bag would.
There are some great choices available from Nemo (check out here) and Sea to Summit (check out here), and some even come with foot-pump pressuring devices so you can get the perfect water pressure in your backcountry shower.
Now that you know what to do...
At this point, you probably have a clear idea of what your options are for staying clean in the backcountry. Whether you choose the river bath, sponge bath, or backpacking shower, you can go forth on your next camping trip confident that you have the skills to stay fresh and hygienic without too much fuss.
If you decide to take sponge baths or backpacking showers, be sure to invest in some biodegradable soap (check out here) - it’s good for you, and the environment! Users of any of these methods will also benefit from a handy camping towel, which can be great for drying off, especially on colder days when air-drying isn’t terribly appealing (check out here).
To avoid the hassle of lugging around a full sized bath towel, you can use a small camping towel, which is designed to soak up lots of water and dry quickly. Perfect for showering or drying off dishes, they’re available in a variety of sizes from a number of great companies, like WildHorn or Youphoria. If you get two towels, you can use one for lathering up and the other for drying.
So, now you’re ready. Choose a method and try it out on your next camping trip. You might find that you prefer the simplicity of the river bath or that you ache for the joys of a warm backpacking shower.
Mix and match techniques until you find the one that’s right for your needs. Now you can go forth into the world with the knowledge and confidence to keep yourself clean wherever life might take you!