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In this article, we break down the pros and cons of camping showers including solar camping shower bags and portable propane showers.
It’s been reported that the number one thing that people crave most after living for an extended amount of time without modern amenities is a nice, hot shower.
I’d say most backpackers can agree with that statement.
Is there anything better than stepping into a long, hot shower after a long day of getting dirty in the backcountry?
But if you’re out in the wild for more than a day you may not have this luxury.
Unless of course, the camping grounds you’re at provides showers.
This is why we recommend backpackers step up their outdoor hygiene game by bringing some kind of portable shower on the trail with them.
Why You Need to Bathe on the Trail
When planning a camping trip the last thing most campers plan is how they’re going to stay clean.
Even while you’re already outdoors, hygiene may be the last thing on your mind.
Especially considering all the other things you have to worry about including not getting catastrophically lost or eaten by a bear.
Staying clean on the trail can be something that’s easily forgotten.
But good hygiene is something that can make camping a much more enjoyable experience.
As you travel day after day you’re going to accumulate dirt, bacteria, and sweat and all of this gunk will start to accumulate on your body.
Not to mention your clothes, and your gear.
Aside from the foul odors, you’ll start to emit, bad hygiene can be linked to viral and bacterial infections like staph infections, foodborne illnesses, the flu, and skin irritation.
Backpacking can be hard enough, why make it harder by carrying these extra pathogens and getting sick?
How Do You Bathe While Camping
Over the years backpackers have come up with a number of different methods.
Some people will bring a sponge with them and grab some water from a nearby water source for a sponge bath.
Some people will jump into a lake to get clean.
If you do this be sure to keep any kind of soaps and detergents out of the equation so as to abide by the Center For Outdoor Ethics’ “Leave No Trace 7 Principals”.
Nowadays some people just bring a bottle of hand sanitizer and wipe this antibacterial gel all over their hands and bodies.
I for one would highly recommend against doing this.
As much as we’ve emphasized the importance of bathing to wipe away dirt and germs, you actually have good bacteria that also resides on your body.
Using antibacterial gels and soaps can tamper with the delicate bacterial balance of your body and result in reduced immunity, autoimmunity, and a whole host of medical problems.
The most effective way to bathe on the trail is by remembering to pack some sort of portable shower along with some biodegradable soap.
Nowadays there are a number of great hot portable camping shower options on the market.
Two of the most popular are portable propane water heating showers, or solar heating shower bags.
Don’t Forget About Dishes and Clothes
No matter how much you plan and pack what you think are the most essential items for a killer backpacking trip, there’s always something that comes up where you say, “how did I not think of that?”.
The ability to clean dishes and clothes is one of those.
There are a number of solutions, but a portable camping shower will do the best job of acting like a second kitchen faucet.
Having this luxury will help keep your dishes clean for repeated use.
It will also provide proper maintenance of your gear and help to keep your clothes clean in case any accidents happen.
Which they undoubtedly will.
Portable Propane Water Heating Showers
A good portable propane shower is an absolute luxury in the outdoors.
These showers are built to give you a hotel quality shower while being easy to setup and use.
All you have to do is connect a few different hoses to a few different places.
One hose for the propane tank and one hose for the water source.
Some of these machines will include a tank to hold the water.
For the showers without the tank then a large bucket of water works just fine.
These units should also include a shower head which will deliver a reliable steady stream of water on demand.
Some portable showers will use a smaller camping stove as a heating element which works just as well.
Even better, you can use that stove for cooking.
The quality of these showers differs from unit to unit.
But most of these showers include temperature control and water flow rate.
This will give you hot water in less than a minute.
Also be on the lookout for a handle attachment at the top of the water heater for the ability to hang the unit on any vertical structure like a fence or even a strong enough tree.
This is actually an underrated feature because
If you can’t hang the heater than the only other option is to leave it on the ground.
This unfortunate scenario can lead to you ducking and bending over for full showering benefits.
Propane Camping Showers Aren’t Great For Backpackers
The biggest downside to a portable water heater shower is the weight.
You won’t find many lightweight backpackers carrying around these units as they can weigh anywhere between 10 and 25 pounds.
Unless you’re absolutely dedicated to the perfect outdoor shower, I doubt you’ll be making room in your pack for one of these units.
Otherwise, if you’re car or RV camping, or even parking and hiking a short distance lugging one of these units won’t be a huge nuisance.
Solar Camping Shower Bag
A solar camping shower bag is perfect for the lightweight backpacker who wants to stay clean on the trail.
These bags are awesome.
Although you may not give up your home shower to use these camping shower bags full time, they will deliver you a decent enough wash on the trail.
The solar shower bags are a simple concept.
Fill up the bag with water, most hold around 5 gallons, and leave it under the sun to heat up.
Some people will use heating hacks like leaving it in a hot car or in your tent on the sunny side for more warmth.
The valves on these units are also pretty dummy proof.
When switched on they’ll deliver a steady stream of solar powered warm water straight to your body.
Just hang the shower from a tree or some other vertical post and let ‘er rip!
Most of these shower bags weigh less than a pound when empty and shrink down to fit seamlessly in your pack for easy transportability.
The biggest downside to these portable camping shower bags is their durability.
Some units on the market are made of cheap plastics and PVC materials.
It’s not unheard of to pop a hole or tear the fabric of the bladder.
The shower head hoses can also be problematic if the unit isn’t secured high enough for the water to seamlessly flow out of.
Also ,be prepared for the bag to get quite heavy once 5 gallons of water are inside.
The weight can climb to over 20 pounds once the shower bag is filled.
Good Hygiene = Good Camping
As a 21st century camper ,you owe it to yourself to have as great of an experience outdoors as possible.
Cleanliness on the trail will keep you healthy, keep your spirits up, help preserve your gear and make people just want to be around you.
If you’ve taken the time to find the right pack, and tent, sleeping bag and shoes, then take the next step and treat your body to good hygiene practices.
With such a variety of portable camping showers available you’d be hard-pressed to find one that doesn’t work for your adventure.
If you’re looking for a reliable portable solar camping shower to take on your next trips we’d recommend the following units: