Camp Showers — More Fun, Less Funk

By Alice Moon of Free Range Human

outdoor shower

OK, you can't carry the enclosure, the clean floor, or the municipal water supply, but you can still carry the essentials for an outdoor shower. Photo by Cam Promenur at; CC 2.0 license.

If you share a tent — especially one of those small, light models — and camp in the rain or in winter when you can become trapped inside for prolonged periods, a shower can become more than a courtesy, it may be all that keeps your tentmate from suffocating you in your sleep with your own stinking socks.

Some people on the trail prefer to “return to nature,” allowing their funk and their perception of it to even out over time. Others cannot stand going into their bag at night covered in a day’s worth of sweat. And even the best planned trip can go awry. You never know when you may have an incident crossing a stream, end up covered in mud–or worse…

To cover all of your bases–from comfort to social obligation–a portable camp shower is not a luxury. It is a necessity.

Many modern pump showers operate by pulling water from a reservoir, eliminating the need to lift a heavy water bag. This may seem like a great help, but actually it creates more problems than it solves.

Pump systems can be heavy, requiring numerous batteries, propane. They also don’t collapse to store as lightly and with as much flexibility as a simple bag shower. Plain solar shower bags are made to heat water, as well as to dispense it. Pump systems often pull the water but make no provision for heating it.

An even more pressing concern, neither pump nor hanging bag systems treat water. If you draw yours from a pond or stream, you are showering in water that could potentially harbor an infective agent. There is a debate in hiking circles about whether all backcountry water harbors nasty bugs like Giardia. And you never know who is upstream, who has been there before you, what may have washed into your water source.

Your best bet is to always treat or boil your shower water before use if the water will come into contact with your face. It is easy to overlook, but if you lick your lips, if the water splashes or runs into your mouth, you can swallow the same nasty bugs that make found water unpotable. If you prefer to avoid prepping a large volume of water, wash from the neck down with your shower and use treated water on a cloth to attend to your face or treat a batch for washing your hair.

The safest method for using a camp shower is to treat your shower water as if it is drinking water. Prep it before you use it. You can then drop the intake hose for your pump shower into the treated water reservoir or fill your bag from it. This keeps your entire system as free of contamination as possible.

If you do draw your water without treating it first, keep in mind that dropping your intake hose into a wilderness water source contaminates the hose. You can cross contaminate your other equipment or the clean portion of your shower gear without vigilance. Be careful when you wrap and store the unit to keep the treated and untreated items separate.

Depending on your style of hiking, different features will be more attractive:

The backpacker:

The Zodi Hot Showers & Water Heaters Extreme SC w/Stove Md: 8170 is made from stainless steel. The 10K BTU stove and shower combo takes 5 minutes to bring a cylinder of water to 100 degrees. The Zodi dispenses using a hand pump, includes a temperature indicator and a six foot hose with an on/off showerhead. While the set weighs in at a hefty ten pounds, the Zodi stove can replace your pack stove to save bulk.

The hedonist:

Let’s face it, some of us love a hot shower and the feel of clean skin as much as we love exploring a remote trail. The Zodi® Hot Tap Single Burner Travel Shower is a single burner shower that will heat enough water for a good long shower or two reasonable showers in one batch. The 4 d batteries and requisite propane give you a lot of water for the cost, but are heavy and better for car-camping trips or base camp gear.

Travel with friends and share the load, because anything more than a solar shower is heavy. The Pine Creek Outdoors (Portable Camp Power Shower) is a battery driven pump model which takes four heavy D batteries. The hose is a good seven feet in length, but the unit doesn’t heat or hold water, only pumps water to the shower head.

Whatever model you choose, a good motto to keep in mind:
If you wouldn’t take a big drink of it, don’t shower in it.

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