How to Make a DIY Camping Shower
Our daily shower can wake us upright, make us energized, or relax us after a long day. In fact, a study made by the hotel chain Hilton showed that 3 out of 5 of their guests sing in the shower.
With showers being so enjoyable that many of us sing in them, why then do so many people sacrifice them when they go on a camping trip? Unless you’re going primitive camping or visiting a campsite with very few amenities, most campsites usually have a shower. But often they’re shared between a lot of people, can become dirty, or maybe have a long queue to use them. So if you quiver at the sight of a shared bathroom, or your camping adventures tend to be a bit more off-piste, a DIY camping shower might just be the right solution for you.
There are many options for camping showers on the market. For our top recommendations for the best camping showers on the market, check out our buying guide. Portable camping showers can revolutionize your camping experience. Instead of having to plan and book in advance, ensuring your campsites have the appropriate showering amenities, carrying a portable shower can elevate you to a totally spontaneous camper. With the shower in the boot of your car, you can set off without a care in the world, and set up camp wherever you like. Not to mention that showering alfresco can be a liberating and rejuvenating experience! It’s one of our favorite ways to connect with nature. Once you’ve showered outside, looking at the sky while you clean, we think you’ll find it quite hard to go back to the campground showers.
If you would rather make your own camping shower, than buying an alternative online or in a camping store, there are a couple of different ways to build one. We will walk you through our step by step guides for making 3 types of camping shower.
Garden hose camping shower
What’s great about this camping shower, and sets it out from many pre-made options online, is that it’s pressurized. This means that you don’t have to hang your gravity feed bag or container from a tree, or another high place, to let gravity do the work of creating the pressure. You just turn on the shower for instant pressure from the water pump. This makes this a great portable shower solution, both for getting you clean, and for washing off your kit after a long day hiking, or cleaning your board or beach necessities from the sand.
To make this camping shower, you’ll need a few parts, all of which can easily be purchased at most local hardware stores. Here’s what you will need:
- Garden hose barbed adaptor
- Garden hose nozzle (here’s where you can be a bit more selective with what you buy. Consider buying a nozzle with a large head, to have more water coverage while you clean. Don’t scrimp and save with this part, it’s what could make the difference between a refreshing, pressurized shower, and a disappointing drizzle)
- Garden sprayer or deck sprayer (this must be new or unused, so that it hasn’t been used to spray chemicals, for your safety).
- Small hose clamp
Once you’ve purchased these parts or reclaimed them from your garden shed, here is how you assemble your DIY camping shower:
- From the garden sprayer, remove the spraying wand or nozzle. You can always store this somewhere in your house, just in case you want to convert it back to be used as a garden sprayer
- Screw on the barbed garden hose adaptor onto the garden hose nozzle
- Put the hose clamp on the hose
- Into the hose, fit the barbed end of the garden hose adaptor
- Tighten the hose clamp as securely as possible, to avoid any leaking or weakening in the attachment
Now you’ve assembled all the parts of your basic DIY shower, you’re ready to go! All you need to do is pump up the garden sprayer, which pressures the system and shower away. As we’ve mentioned, this is a great option for an easy, portable DIY shower, as the pressured system means you can pump up and shower anywhere, with no need to use gravity to create the pressure. However, one drawback of this solution is that the water is cold. This could work perfectly, for example, if you’re going on a camping trip to the beach in the summer. It will refresh you daily and is also an easy way to clean off all your beach gear efficiently. However, we definitely wouldn’t recommend this for mountain or winter camping. Having a cold shower outside when it’s nippy could potentially be bad for your health, and definitely won’t be a pleasant experience.
Propane-powered camping showers
So, if our first solution is a little too rough and ready for you, let’s take a look at how you can make your own shower. And the secret missing ingredient for a DIY portable hot camping shower is: propane. Propane-powered camping showers have been on the market for some time, and are a simple, cheap alternative to a camping shower. They are also very light and portable. Portable water heaters are designed to run off a standard 1lb. propane canister.
Portable water heaters are a great option for serious camping enthusiasts to add to their camping gear. Seeing as they can be a bit bulky, you wouldn’t want to take them hiking, but they make an excellent luxury addition to your RV, camper van or car camping experience. One of the benefits of buying a water heater and setting it up as a shower, rather than just purchasing a ready-made portable camp shower, is that with a portable water heater you get a reliable source of hot water throughout your trip, not just for showering needs. You could also connect it to your sink, or use it to wash dirty dishes and kit, in a sanitary way.
Portable water heaters are fully mobile and powered off a standard 1lb propane canister. You plug in the canister yourself to power the water heater, so if you’re going off the grid for a long camping trip, you could take extra propane canisters, or use a larger one. One of the benefits of a portable camping heater is that it comes with its own pump, so you never need to worry about the pressure not being enough in your shower stream. Before we go more into how to set up your DIY camping shower with a portable water heater, here are some things you need to know about portable water heaters, and some of our recommendations for finding the right one for you:
- Because water heaters are using propane to power themselves, they need fresh oxygen to function properly and safely. Make sure the water heater has the proper ventilation around it, and never use a propane water heater unless you’re outside.
- When your water heater is idle, it shouldn’t be exposed to the elements. Make sure to leave it in the boot of your car, or stored somewhere in your RV, to keep it safe.
- Don’t use soap near a freshwater source! Soap can really damage water ecosystems, so make sure that if you lather up, you shower in a wood or forest, where it can be filtered through the soil. After all, you never want to harm the environment while you are immersing yourself in it.
- Water heaters are not designed to use stream or lake water – they need a clean water source. This is mainly because the pumps in water heaters only have a basic filter, so they’re not ready for the debris or particles found in freshwater sources. They also don’t heat the water enough to kill harmful bacteria you might find in freshwater from lakes or rivers. So to keep your water heater, and yourself, safe and clean, make sure you only use clean water. Keep backup supplies in the trunk of your car or your RV.
- Make sure the water heater you choose has a high flow rate, measured in GMP (Gallons Per Minute). If your water heater has a high flow rate then you’ll have a nicely pressured shower, rather than standing under a luke-warm drizzle. We’d recommend getting a pump with an adjustable flow rate. This is because if you use a lower flow rate, the water is hotter, and vice versa. So if you have an adjustable flow rate, you can decide based on the weather if you’d rather have a weaker, hotter shower, or a strong, cooler one.
- Choose a water heater with a high BTU (British Thermal Unit). This is a measure of how much heat is released over a certain period of time. Buying a water heater with a high BTU ensures you’ll have hot showers all through your trip.
- Think about where your power source will be coming from. If you’re car camping, you can plug some water heaters into the cigarette plug for a direct 12V source. Some other water heaters have an internal rechargeable battery, which might be the best option for the more eco-conscious among you. You can also get water heaters that are powered by D-Cell batteries: if you’re going for this option, make sure you have a couple of spares in your trunk. You should also consider the run time of the water heater you’re investing in. Go for a water heater with a long run time if you’re opting for a battery-powered unit, to make sure you’re not having to constantly change or recharge the batteries. This is especially important if you’re wanting to provide showers for the whole family or a larger group.
- You also need to consider the temperature rise in your water heater. This is the amount that the heater will increase the temperature of your water. We’d recommend getting a water heater with a high-temperature rise, to ensure all your showers are satisfactory. If you’re using particularly cold water, try heating up on your campfire, or putting it once through the water heater first, to ensure you get a nice warm shower.
- Make sure your water heater has the right max temperature so that it can’t burn you. We’d recommend 110 degrees at the most.
To make this hot camping shower, you’ll need a few parts, all of which can easily be purchased at most local hardware stores. Here’s what you will need:
- A fresh water tank (we’d recommend keeping a few extra in the trunk of your car as backup)
- A portable water heater
- A shower-head attachment (often this comes already attached to the portable water heater. If you’d like a slightly different model, they can easily be changed and reattached to most portable water heaters)
- A 12V plug attachment to use in the cigarette plug of your car (or, for other models of water heaters, fully charge the battery of the water heater or bring extra D-Cell batteries)
Once you’ve purchased these parts, here is how you assemble your hot water heater camping shower:
- Connect your freshwater tank to your portable water heater (click here to find out how to refill your fresh water tank while camping)
- Connect your portable water heater to your propane canister. When you’re preparing your shower, the more you turn on your propane canister, the hotter your shower will be. If you’re trying to preserve your propane, don’t turn it up too much, or take short showers.
- Plug your portable water heater into your power source. You can insert the battery, or charge your battery if you’re using a battery-powered water heater. However, if you’re car camping, we would recommend buying a water heater that has an attached 12V plug that you can put straight into your car’s cigarette plug.
- Attach your shower head attachment. Many portable water heaters come with their own, so you might be able to skip this step, or you can replace the showerhead with one which you prefer.
Once you’ve set up all the parts in this way, all you need to do is switch on your water heater, and turn on your propane. Pull the trigger on the shower head attachment, and enjoy your warm alfresco showering experience!
Water bag showers
If you like the DIY approach of the first camping shower, but want the warm shower provided by the second model, then we might just have the perfect solution for you. For a nice warm shower, that you can build entirely on your own, you can buy a solar shower bag. This is a black water bag, which absorbs the sun’s energy, and gives you a lovely warm shower through solar heating. All you need to do is fit the bag with a hose and nozzle, leave it in the sun to warm, put it up high and then shower away: letting gravity do all the hard work for you. This solution is handy: the bag can store away nice and easily, and is light, so this is a great option for you if you’re hiking a long distance before you set up camp or backpacking. However, it does have some drawbacks. This solution relies on the sun to provide you with warm water. This will not work effectively on cool days, or if there is a lot of cloud coverage. You also need to be in a wooded area or have a pole nearby, where you can hang the shower bag. Alternately you can hold the bag above your head while you shower, but that does get a little bit annoying.
One great solution is to repeat all the steps from a camp shower one. This doesn’t rely on the sun’s heat, and you don’t need to hang it from a height, the pressure pump will give you all the pressure you need for a strong shower. Then if you’re camping in cool weather, or winter or mountain camping, you can heat the water for your shower on your campfire before putting it in the garden sprayer. This is also a great option if you don’t want to carry around lots of extra clean water: you could opt for boiling water from a lake or river, to kill the bacteria, let it cool for a while and then put it in your garden sprayer. This will give you an easily replaceable water source, and you don’t have to use any energy from your car or batteries to power the shower. An easy, cheap, portable solution for a DIY camp shower!
There are a lot of options on the market for portable camping showers, some that include gadgets like a shower tent. However they can sometimes be expensive, often don’t heat up the water effectively, or don’t have a strong stream of water coming from the showerhead. Opting to make a DIY camping shower is a great solution. If you are camping with your car or going on a road trip, we would recommend going for the second DIY camping shower option, as then you can use the portable water heater for other purposes such as doing the washing up. Especially if you purchase a water heater that plugs into your car, you’re guaranteed to always get nice, hot water, and a steady stream. Think about bringing a tarp to stand on, so your feet don’t get muddy. With this option, you can have an almost luxury outdoor shower, that will make you want to sing just like your shower at home!