How To Build A Camp Shower
Our favorite campsite has a water spigot for potable water, but no shower facilities or water to swim/bathe in.
Hey, we like to rough it to from time to time too, but the kids need to be rinsed off after playing in the dirt all day and it isn't too bad not stinking up the place all week either.
For those reasons I came up with a way to take hot/cold showers whenever we wanted to so we can stay sparkly clean for fireside date nights after the kids fall asleep!
There's a couple of ways to do this, and we've tried them all, so pick one that works for you.
Hide Your Hiney
Step one: Unless you are camping somewhere deep where you won't have other folks sharing the campgrounds with ya, you'll probably want some way to maintain your modesty whilst hosing down.
Well, we do anyway...so for that reason I picked up one of these pop-up shower tents.
They are fairly spacious, easy to setup and not to bad to pack back up, once you figure out the trick to it (it takes a couple of twists to get it back to its packed circular shape - they pack flat into a circle about 2.5' around.)
You gotta stake these down at the corners, the wind loves to abuse these things - they hardly weight anything and will blow halfway across the universe on a light breeze.
That's OK tho really because these are designed to be folded over, so the wind doesn't break it. Now if you wanted to be inside while the wind is blowing, well, that's another story.
I think if you used some clips along the edges and some guylines you could probably keep this from happening.
Born to bend!
If you are looking to avoid this problem, or for a more permanent solution you can pick up a poled tent changing room for about $140 on Amazon, but that's 3.5x the price of the one we got.
We also use these as backup toilets, if the kid needs to go or someone is already in the one provided by the campground, we can run in there with our Luggable Loo and do the business.
(We also have little ones that need to go at a moments notice, and can't wait more than 0.2 seconds between letting us know and letting it flow, those of you with kids will know exactly what we're talking about.)
Typical Price: $40
WolfWise shower tent offers a private, intimate, clean and accessible space for changing clothes and or being used as a restroom – any time, any place. Now even families with young children can go on camping trips or hikes to the beach, forest or desert.
It is ideal for use by groups in large, collective sleep areas, for actors/actresses and models changing clothes between clips and photo sessions, and as a dressing room at apparel trade shows and clothes vending stands.
Portable Shower Options
We've tried a handful of options over the last few years, and present them all here for you to decide which works best for your budget and circumstance.
Inexpensive Shower Option
Our first camp shower was a Coghlans solar water bag.
They work and they are cheap - but there's a couple of problems with them that made us look for another solution after our 3rd attempt with them:
- You gotta hang it from something, and that something might not be where you want the shower to be.
- There really is no hanging hook, just a handle reinforced with PVC. It works, kinda.
- You've got to get them up as high as your arms can reach. When they are full of water this presented issues for the ladies in the group since the bag weighs 40 lbs.
- It holds five gallons but you are still filling it all the time, which means you have to take it down and put it back up again - usually multiple times a day. The fill port is so small it's not really possible to fill while its hanging.
- The pinch off valve never worked that great, so water would leak out of the spray head, unless we hung it upwards - I had to rig a loop in some paracord to accomplish this and train everyone in our camp to use it...and inevitably someone wouldn't, leading to more bag fills.
- You have to run the spray hose thru the little window in the shower tent, which is tricky, and the kids can't handle this, it's too high up.
- All the water comes downwards, making cleaning some of your lower bits a little difficult.
- The water never really heats up that much, so this is 98% of the time a cold shower.
The upsides: these are cheap, and the pack up pretty small. We still bring ours along as a backup should our newer fancier shower systems fail.
Typical Price: $11
Lightweight, non-toxic PVC Camp Shower. Stores enough water for three to four showers.
Compact and easy to use. Not to be used as a container for drinking water. Holds 5 gallons (18.9L)
Pressurized Warm Water Shower
I started poking around tha interwebz trying to come up with ideas for a camp shower that would handle some of the issues presented by the bag showers: mainly hot water, ease of use, and ease of filling.
There were some commercial options out there, but they all seemed a little too fragile for me for what they were going to cost, so I decided to roll my own.
What I came up with seems to work pretty well! We've used this setup for the past year, and over the course of 20 days with 10+ people using it including kids and adults, and so far the response has been all positive.
- Warm water capable!
- Easy to use by the kids!
- Easy to refill!
- A little pricey.
- You gotta boil some water if your water is cold (ours is.)
- Some assembly required.
- Some quirks with the pump system you'll need to learn.
So here's the setup. I got myself a Chapin 4163 Industrial 3.5-Gallon Tri-Poxy Water Supply Tank Sprayer.
It can be pressurized (more in a bit on that) and holds 3.5 gallons close to the ground so it's easy for the little ones to fill and operate.
It's also made of steel, so it can handle warm water without a problem.
Notice I didn't say HOT water.
I wouldn't go and put straight up nothing but boiling water in here, as the gaskets in the pump mechanism are made from a rubber material - so I feel there is potential that they could be deformed from excessive heat thereby rendering the pump useless.
What we do is fill it 2/3 with cold water from the spigot, then boiled a pot of water and filled the tank the rest of the way.
This gave us warm to lukewarm water, which was good enough to keep the wives and kids from yelping about being cold.
You'll need an adapter to do that, since the end of the hose supply end is 3/8" and the male end on the tank is 1/4". I got an Everbuilt Hex Bushing 3/8 in MIP x 1/4 in FIP from Home Depot and that worked fine.
The Chapin sprayer comes with a 1/4" to 1/2" garden hose Bushing that you can take off.
Thread the Bushing onto the tank (I used some plumbers sealant tape on the threads) good and tight with a wrench.
Then attach the hose to the Bushing, making sure that you include the rubber washer that comes with the hose (or get another one) so that water doesn't leak out of the connection.
(I forgot to do that the first time I set this up, and water was spraying out of the hose connector when the tank was pressurized.)
All onboard for the cleanliness train!
Pump the handle a couple of times and you get a nice pressurized spray of water for several seconds - about 10-15 depending on how much you pump/water is in the tank.
The shower head has 2 modes, pull down to squirt, pull up to leave it full open.
Now, there is a little bit of a trick to operating the Chapin TriLock pump on the tank that can confuse the uninitiated.
Here's a video which explains how it works which should help.
The trick is making sure that the TriLock nut doesn't get tightened so that the lock wont fit under the locking ledges of the can. You can see this in the video around the 0:53 mark.
I find that whenever I open the tank up, the lock rides up the nut a little bit, so I have to spin it back down before putting the pump back into the tanks in order to get it to lock in.
It's not tricky at all once you do it a couple of times. You just spin the trilock down.
What to Get
Typical Price: $90
The Chapin Industrial Water Supply Tank Sprayer has a 3.5-gallon tri-poxy lined steel tank that provides triple protection against rust, corrosion and damage from denting. Featuring a large 4-inch mouth opening for easy filling and cleaning, the tank comes with a brass hose adapter and ergonomic comfort handle.
Typical Price: $20
Shower sprayer, like the kind you would find on a boat or RV.
Typical Price: $23
White 6' sprayer hose for Scandvik Straight Push Button, Standard and Euro sprayer handles. 1/2" handle end connection and 3/8" supply end connection. Fits Scandvik Recessed Showers and counter top/prep station pull out sprayers.
Typical Price: $4
This Brass Pipe Hex Bushing is designed to connect two pipes of different Diameters together. Each bushing is made from corrosion- resistant brass material that is extremely durable for a long-lasting use.
There are 2 systems we've seen fellow campers use that you might like - however we haven't chosen either of these options because I think the one I've built is better and will last long term.
I have doubts about the durability of these two options, but they are less expensive if that's more of your concern.
Typical Price: $30
Pressurized portable shower featuring a continuous spray with trigger action shower head. Equipped with a 6' (1.8m) kink resistant hose and pressure release valve. Includes a washable neoprene sleeve with mesh pouch for storage.
Hold ups to 8L/2 gallons of water.
Typical Price: $40
This easy handheld device draws water from a bucket, sink or similar receptacle, converting it into a gentle, steady, shower-like stream that’s perfect for everything from personal bathing to watering flowers.
Charges via an included USB cable. Plugs easily into a laptop or 12-volt car adapter and provides up to 60 minutes of use on a single 2- to 5-hour charge.
Typical Price: $160
The 1.58 GPM Camplux portable tankless water heater is perfect for campsites, cabins, or simply around the house. It only takes you a few minutes to get 1.58 gallons per minute of instant hot water.
The ignition is with 2 D cell batteries so it makes it great for off grid or other areas where electricity is not readily available. The ideal operating range for the 1.58 GPM Camplux portable tankless water heater is 3.0～110.0 PSI.
Compact, Lightweight Portable Design: 11.61 (L)*4.33(W)*17.32(H) inch ,Weight-16 lb.
Our take: this system probably isn't super kid friendly, since it operates with propane and has flames, but is a great way to have backup hot water. You would need to have a mounting/hanging solution as well - a tree should work as long as it is in the right spot - but you might need to build or procure some kind of stand that is at least 4 - 6' tall.
Also the incoming water needs to be under pressure - so you would have to use a pump or hang your water supply above this unit.
From another companies instruction manual: If using the appliance with a pump a minimum 2.5 GPM on demand diaghram pump is recommended. Any typical on demand RV pump should work. Most bilge pumps will not pump the necessary flow at the required pressure for the appliance to function properly. A minimum sustained pressure of 25 psi is required.
One other thing we didn't touch on, but that is worth considering - there is also an emergency preparedness element to having a system like this.
If you have an electrically powered water heater and live in an area prone to hurricanes or winter storms with long-term power outages, then having a backup system to heat up your water isn't a terrible idea.