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How to Select the Right Camping Shower

Clean anything with your new camping shower!
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Thursday November 5, 2020
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Camping is great, and so are showers. We assume you feel the same since you're here on a website reading about camping showers! That said, while we love camping, we also appreciate a nice hot shower to clean all the grit off our skin and get the gunk out from under our fingernails. Maybe you've heard about or have even seen some of these "camping showers," and you're wondering what they're all about and if they're really worth it. Well, let's talk about it.

From cleaning yourself to cleaning your dishes, finding the right...
From cleaning yourself to cleaning your dishes, finding the right camping shower can change your whole camping experience.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Why Get a Camping Shower?


We've all felt it — the amount of exhilaration and relief you feel when you're completely clean after a long day of getting dirty. And let's face it — you're likely to get really dirty while camping, especially if it's for an extended period of time. Depending on where, when, and how you camp, you might get really really dirty! Before crawling into your sleeping bag with seven layers of dust on your feet or trying to eat a big messy sandwich with dirt in the creases of your hand, wouldn't it be nice to get truly clean? If this sounds even a little bit appealing (and we're betting it does), then you could benefit from a camp shower.

And a camping shower isn't just for you to clean yourself. Depending on the shower you decide to get, they can make your life easier in a whole lot of ways, from cleaning dishes to washing the dog after she rolls on a dead fish or horse poop (ours does both). You can use your camp shower to rinse your gear while you're out, which will not only keep your car cleaner but also extend the lifespan of your gear and make clean up back at home that much quicker and easier. With the simple addition of a camping shower, you can go from camping to glamping in a pinch.

Keep your gear and your car clean with the right camping shower.
Keep your gear and your car clean with the right camping shower.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

What Kind of Shower Suits You?


As you may have already discovered, there are a LOT of different types of camping showers out there. So how do you know which one will bring you the right combination of features for your particular camping style? How do you know which will justify having another piece of gear to lug around? Well, we think you should consider the following questions to help point you in the right direction.

Gravity showers tend to be light on the features but are a more...
Gravity showers tend to be light on the features but are a more portable option.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

What Do You Want to Clean?


Probably most of us are looking to keep ourselves clean after a long day out in the wilderness. While any type of shower will help you achieve this goal, wider showerheads make for a more comfortable bathing experience. Battery-powered models have some of the widest, most comfortable showerheads out there and will give you the closest feeling to your shower at home. If you need two hands to shower, consider models that have a way to hang the showerhead, freeing both hands for more efficient cleaning. Gravity-powered models are typically hung from trees or rocks and allow two-handed cleaning. Many battery-powered models come with hooks or suction cups to attach them overhead for a similar effect. A few others we tested sell stand hooks or specific attachments separately to facilitate hands-free usage.

Don't Forget the Right Soap

Don't just take the shampoo from your shower or the dish soap from your kitchen when you head out into the wild. These cleaning products need to be filtered out of water before that water is safe to enter the environment. If you dump suds from regular soaps onto the ground (let alone into streams or lakes), you're seriously harming the flora and fauna that live out there and make the outdoors a place you want to recreate in. Instead, pick up a bottle of biodegradable soap that's meant to break down into less harmful components.

Kind in mind, this still doesn't mean you should ever put even biodegradable soap into water sources, as it takes time to actually biodegrade. Instead, be sure to do your cleaning at least 200 feet from any water source, according to Leave No Trace principles.

If you need to wash some seriously grubby gear, dirty dogs, or thick hair, you'll want to pay attention to water pressure. Battery-powered models offer decent, consistent pressure. Some others can be pressurized by hand pump, foot pump, bike pump, or the hose you use to fill the tank. The least pressurized showers are the ones that rely solely on gravity to provide water flow.

If your list of cleaning needs includes making camp dishes less of a chore, some showers come with nozzles that look and act just like the one that's probably next to your kitchen sink. Of course, you'll either want a cleaning buddy to hold the nozzle or be really well-practiced at maneuvering dishes with one hand. You may also be interested in just being able to rinse off dusty feet or salty skin before climbing back into the car. In that case, there are very simple options that can be quickly screwed on top of a 2L bottle of water to provide a super quick, low-pressure rinse that might be just what you need.

Not just for bodies, the right camping shower can help you keep all...
Not just for bodies, the right camping shower can help you keep all kinds of things clean!
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Where Do You Want to Use It?


Are you hoping to take this shower with you on your next backpacking trip or as you hike the PCT? Then weight and packability are things you should consider. Some showers — particularly gravity showers — are impressively small and absurdly lightweight, practically begging to be stuffed into your backpack for your next adventure.

Travel farther with the versatile Nemo Helio.
Travel farther with the versatile Nemo Helio.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Alternatively, you might be hoping to use your shower just when car camping, so carrying it around matters less. Many options exist that have excellent pressure or even adjustable pressure so you can clean yourself and your gear precisely as you would at home with the hose. Look for models with pumps that allow you to add pressure to your water stream. Also consider how much water your shower can hold compared to its rate of flow, which puts a limit on how long you can use it before you have to refill. Some showers come in many sizes that let you select the right one, and most battery-powered models let you use a container of any size to hold water. If you prefer high-pressure water and need to clean a lot of stuff (or people/pets), look for a model with higher volume — otherwise, you'll find yourself refilling your shower constantly.

The RinseKit POD sure is handy to use, but its 1.75 gallon capacity...
The RinseKit POD sure is handy to use, but its 1.75 gallon capacity means frequent refills.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Perhaps you're looking instead for a shower that you can easily stick in the back of your car for cleaning gear, dogs, feet, and anything else that may be a bit grubby from an adventure. In this case, finding a happy medium between size and functionality across many uses is important, and numerous options exist. If you expect not to need much water or only to need it infrequently, a super simple, small unit that easily tucks away under a car seat will suffice. To avoid any setup and takedown while you're actually out and about, consider a model that's always ready to go like those with metal or hard plastic canisters to hold water. If you need to clean up gear constantly and really need to shave off time spent cleaning, there are even showers that mount right on your car's roof rack and only take a few seconds to unclip the hosehead from the side before it's ready for use.

Enjoy the exceptional cleaning power of the high-pressured Road...
Enjoy the exceptional cleaning power of the high-pressured Road Shower.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

How Hot Do You Want Your Water?


If you're taking a full-on shower, you'll probably want to heat your water. Even in a warm climate, taking a really cold shower has its pleasurable limits. Finding just the right temperature for your ideal shower can be a bit of a gamble with some models. However, some have temperature gauges on the side so you can see exactly how warm your shower water is. The Yakima Road Shower does just this, warming the water with solar energy while attached to the roof of your car. It actually manages to be so efficient at using the sun to heat the water that it can make it too hot for comfort, so be sure to check the temperature gauge on the side before using.

Another thing to consider with water temperature is the time it takes to get that water hot. Pay attention to how each unit heats its water. Many camping showers rely on the sun's heat to warm up, which can be incredibly variable depending on cloud cover and altitude. If you filled your shower from a cold mountain stream, many soft-sided and gravity-powered showers take six or more hours to warm up to a balmy 102 degrees — and if the weather isn't right, some may never reach that at all.

For cleaning gear (or humans, with the optional showerhead...
For cleaning gear (or humans, with the optional showerhead attachment) on the go, it's hard to beat the convenience of this roof rack mountable shower.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Some showers are made of sturdier materials that allow you to boil water and add that to the water container. This is certainly faster than waiting for the sun to do all the work but involves additional labor on your part to boil X number of pots of water and mix them with the right amount of cold water to get that perfect temperature.

How Much Are You Willing to Spend?


The value of any article of gear you purchase is always an important thing to consider. And when it comes to camping showers, there's a shockingly wide range of possible amounts you might pay for your new cleaning helper. While paying extra dollars doesn't necessarily guarantee you a higher quality product, we found that some of those higher-priced items have such added versatility and usefulness that it's impossible to ignore. But if you're not ready to spend a couple of hundred dollars on a camping shower, many other cheaper options can still get you cleaner than you were before — some for under $20! If you're looking for the best product and what you spend doesn't matter, then we've identified several promising options for you too. Take some time to peruse the camping showers we reviewed to see which has the right combination of features, performance, usability, and price to suit your needs.

One of the cheapest showers in this review, the Coghlan's, doesn't...
One of the cheapest showers in this review, the Coghlan's, doesn't wow us with performance, only its price.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Don't Forget the Extras!


Several camp showers require additional pieces to be able to use adequately, from 2-liter bottles to 5-gallon buckets, or dependence on electricity to charge them or a hose to fill them. And though some showers come with a privacy tent, most do not. So unless you plan to show everyone what exactly it is you're trying to clean or are bathing in your swimsuit, you'll want to snag one of those as well. If you want to add extra hot water to your shower, you'll also need a way to heat that up unless you're willing to rely solely on the power of the sun. And of course, don't forget the eco-friendly soap, a towel, and 100 big steps away from any water sources to begin your bathing experience.

The Simple Shower doesn't come with a bottle, but fortunately (or...
The Simple Shower doesn't come with a bottle, but fortunately (or unfortunately) those are easy to come by!
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Conclusion


Bringing along a camping shower just might be the piece you need to take your weekend of camping with the in-laws and kids from doable to enjoyable. The power to keep yourself and your surroundings clean is, for many, hard to overestimate. And if you're the one bringing the shower to the weekend, you'll likely be the hero of the trip AND get first dibs on hot water.

Keep anything clean on the go with your new camping shower.
Keep anything clean on the go with your new camping shower.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

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