One of the best things about camping has always been washing off the dirt and sweat AFTER your trip. Now, thanks to modern portable camp showers you don’t have to wallow in your grime during a camping or overlanding trip.
Camping showers range from simple gravity-powered plastic bags with hoses attached to electricity and air-powered units, some of which can provide you with a warm shower – a real “glamping” luxury.
Some of them serve as water storage tanks as well as showers, which can come in handy. Others are designed to be filled right before or during use from a water container or spigot. Combining a camping shower with a shower tent and possibly a portable camping toilet will bring a level of comfort, hygiene, and privacy to your campsite that makes a real difference when you are exploring the backcountry.
How to Choose a Camping Shower
Choosing a camping shower that works for your purposes will boil down to a few parameters beyond your budget, including how and where you’ll use the shower.
If you’ll be mostly using your shower near your vehicle, on overlanding and car camping trips, portability isn’t as much of a concern. Some camp shower systems actually mount to your vehicle and aren’t designed for carrying around. On the other hand, if you hope to carry your camping shower in a backpack or even to a campsite a distance from your care, you’ll want something that’s more compact and lightweight. Even overlanding, where you have a vehicle to carry your equipment, requires keeping an eye on cargo weight and bulk, so getting the smallest and lightest system is always a good rule of thumb.
Access to water
When decided what camping shower to get, it’s worth thinking about what type of camping you’ll be doing mostly and what access you’ll have to water. If you will be off-the-grid for a long period of time with limited opportunity to resupply, a low-flow system will help you conserve water. On the other hand, if you will have access to a water source, weather at a campground or ample mid-trip opportunities to resupply, you can choose from a wider range of camp shower models.
Access to electricity
A number of modern camp showers are electrically powered, which means you’ll need some kind of power source. Unless you’ll be staying in RV campsites with shore power, you’ll need some way to charge the showers battery or provid some kind of other power source, such as your vehicles electrical system, a gas generator, or a portable power station that can be powered by solar panels or your vehicle.
Will you bring propane?
Some portable camp showers are powered by burning propane gas. This can be attractive if you have other camping equipment that’s gas-powered, such as stoves, heaters, or lights, and will be carrying gas canisters with you anyway. You may need to consider bringing a larger propane tank if you plan to use multiple gas-powered pieces of gear to make sure you get through your trip.
How big is your party?
How many people will use the shower is a really important factor in choosing one. If you’ll have a lot of people using the shower, it should be up to the task. For instance, having to change the water between each shower can get time-consuming. And after the first batch of water warmed in a small solar shower is gone, subsequent bathers will be left to take a cold shower — and give you cold looks.
Our Picks for the Best Portable Camping Showers
Portable camping showers come in a wide range of sizes, prices and levels of complexity. Unlike other camping and overlanding products where many of the options only differ slightly, with a camping shower can go really basic or really high-tech. Below, we offer solid examples of different style showers that we consider good bets for each price point.
BEST ON A BUDGET (And portable)
Advanced Elements 5-Gallon Solar Shower
The Advanced Elements 5-Gallon Solar Shower is great for people who want a portable camping shower that’s just that – very portable. This is a gravity-fed shower warmed by the sun. You’ll need somewhat to get it above you for showering, like hanging it on a tree. Because it’s solar heated, it will require direct sunlight to warm the water, which can be a challenge in cold and/or clouding areas. The shower bag is made of PVC and will run for around 7 minutes per fill. The showerhead produces a good spray for cleaning people and gear. It packs down very compactly, which is great if you need to carry it in a backpack or distant campsite.
- Weight: 1 lb 4 oz
- Water capacity: 5 gallons
- Construction: 4 ply PVC
BEST PRESSURE SHOWER
Nemo Helio Portable Pressure Camp Shower
The big advantage of the Nemo Helio Portable Pressure Camp Shower over a gravity fed shower is that you don’t need to lift it or hang it somewhere high. A foot pump pressurizes the 5.8-gallon tank, providing you with 5-7 minutes of water flow. The shower comes with a 7-foot hose, making it long enough for tall people to shower. The black reservoir, made of durable polyurethane-coated polyester, warms the water when placed in the sun. When you are done with it, the tank collapses down and fits snuggly in a carrying case which is included. Helio also comes in a smaller, 2.9-gallon version, but we’d recommending getting the larger one for more versatility – for instances if you want to use it for a larger group of people or for cleaning gear as well as showering.
- Weight: 1 lb 5 oz
- Water capacity: 5.8 gallons
- Construction: Polyurethane-coated polyester
Here’s NEMO’s promo video on the Helio LX:
BEST HEATED SHOWER
The Mr. Heater Basecamp BOSS Shower Systems are a serious step up in capability for camp showers, allowing you to have hot water in camp. The systems use propane, from an external tank to heat the water, typically 1-pound propane tanks you can find at many stores. The water pump is driven by electricity from batteries, and includes a hose so it can be dropped into your water source. There is no integrated water tank. The system comes in three models, with the biggest distinction being how the volume of hot water they can produce in a given amount of time. The are more versatile than shower, and can also provide hot water for cooking and cleaning. These are instant water heaters, meaning the quickly, in 15 seconds or so.
BaseCamp BOSS XCW20
The BaseCamp BOSS XCW20 camping shower is the largest of the three units, an 18,000 BTU system capable of producing 1.18 gallons of heated water per minute. The system can operate using propane or an integrated rechargeable lead-acid battery. You can choose your water temperature using a dial on the unit. The design allows you to use it as either a shower or a faucet.
- Max flow: 1.18 gallons/min
- Weight: 22 pounds
- BTUs/hour: 18,000
- Power: Rechargeable lead acid battery
The BaseCamp B.O.S.S XW18 camping shower is the middle capacity unit made by Mr. Heater, an 17,000 BTU system capable of producing .8 gallons of heated water per minute. Similar to the larger unit, this system uses propane or an integrated rechargeable lead acid battery. You can choose your water temperature using a dial on the unit. The design allows you to us it as either a shower or a faucet.
- Max flow: .8 gallons/min
- Weight: 15 pounds
- BTUs/hour: 18,000
- Power: Rechargeable lead acid battery
BaseCamp BOSS-XB13 Battery Operated Shower System
The BaseCamp BOSS-XB13 camping shower is the smallest capacity unit made by Mr. Heater, a 12,000 BTU system capable of producing .6 gallons of heated water per minute. Unlike the other units, this one uses D-Cell batteries to power the water pump. Like the others, it uses propane to heat the water. You can choose your water temperature using a dial on the unit. The shower screws directly into the unit, and there is no faucet like the larger models.
- Max flow: .6 gallons/min
- Weight: 14 pounds
- BTUs/hour: 12,000
- Power: D-Cell Batteries