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Showering while car camping is not as difficult as you might think.
Growing up, I did very little camping as I wasn’t convinced the no-shower thing was for me. However, as an adult, I’ve been much more adventurous and realized many campers shower on the regular. I started car camping more regularly after losing my job since car camping is a very inexpensive way to travel. My first cross-country road trip was a huge learning experience and much to my dismay, showers were few and far between. After my 5th cross-camping road trip, I now know how to shower as often as I’d like for as little money as possible.
Little can compete with a refreshing shower with good water pressure and warm water. While a road shower might not be that luxurious, there are plenty of ways to stay fresh while car camping, even when water is scarce.
In this post, I’m sharing everything you need to know to answer the question “How to shower while car camping,” no matter what car camping means to you. I’ve included tips for saving water saving money, the best products to use, and different options for portable shower systems to help even the most skeptical car campers stay camping longer.
Why showering while camping is important
Daily showers are not typical while camping, but showering enough to remove excess dirt and oils is ideal. Showers remove unhealthy bacteria from the skin, prevent acne, and eliminate odors while helping you feel fresh and get a better night’s sleep.
You might not need to shower daily, especially if you are not sweating or doing physical activity, but daily showers are generally considered a healthy habit.
At the minimum, you should rinse off in fresh water every few days to maintain proper hygiene. If freshwater is unavailable, you’ll need to use an alternate method (more on these methods later in this post) to shower and make your camping experience much more enjoyable.
The best ways to shower while car camping
Car camping has many definitions, but whether you are driving from place to place frequently or setting up camp for a week at a time, all of these tips will help you stay fresh while on the road. Many public shower options exist on the road; truck stops, recreation centers, and gyms like Planet Fitness are all great options for showering while car camping.
Truck Stops or Travel Centers
Pilot Flying J, Loves, and Travel Centers of America are the largest chains of truck stops and travel centers found along almost every major interstate in America.
These travel centers offer the best hot water shower options when driving along interstates.
Along with gas and food, they offer showers, laundry, overnight parking, and sometimes a Wi-fi lounge. They cater to truckers, but anyone can pay for a shower which includes a private shower room with a toilet, a sink, fresh towels, and amenities. Most travel centers charge $14-18 dollars per shower which can get expensive.
Community centers such as YMCAs also offer public showers for a fee. Some locations will charge you a day-use fee, while others will charge you a smaller fee if you just want a shower. I’ve paid $10-$25 to shower and use the facilities at YMCAs across America. But I have also seen many local community centers advertise $3-$6 showers.
Depending on your trip length and needs, it may be worth paying a monthly membership fee at a gym or rec center to take showers and use the facilities as you car camp rather than paying for showers as you go.
Gyms like Planet Fitness
After going way over my budget on truck stops and community center showers, I decided to join Planet Fitness so I could use the gym and shower as often as I wanted for $26 a month (plus $50 a year). Planet Fitness has over 2,000 gym locations in America (and some abroad), and with their small fee, a membership is a great way to save money on showering while car camping.
Their multi-location membership is $26.00 a month. You can downgrade anytime, so when I finished my car camping road trip, I dropped my multi-location membership (Black Card Membership) to a single location which is $10 a month. They do offer day passes, but the fee is $25 so it does not make since to pay a $ 25-day use fee when you can go for a month for the same price and no you do not have to use the gym to use the shower.
If showering at a gym or rec-center make sure to bring a lock with you to store personal items in a locker. The shower stalls often offer nowhere to store or keep items dry while showering.
Many developed campgrounds, national parks, and state parks have camp showers on site.
Even if you are not staying overnight, you may be able to use their facilities for a small fee. Most campsites charge a day-use fee or have pay showers. Usually, a 10 min shower costs a dollar, and the machines only accept quarters. The shower stalls are usually small and often not the cleanest but a warm shower is usually worth it- just remember your shower shoes!
Some campgrounds even have community pools, another excellent way to rinse off and refresh after a long day.
Natural Outdoor Shower
Finally, freshwater sources like a nearby lake or river are good for rinsing off in a bathing suit. Don’t use any soap (even biodegradable) when bathing in a natural water source.
If you must use soap, use a portable camp shower (more on those below) and shower at least 200 feet away from the natural water source using environmentally safe soap.
Some of my favorite natural soap brands are:
- Ethique– Known for solid bars to eliminate plastic waste
- Sea to Summit– Their wilderness wash is gentle on the skin but powerful enough for fabrics and dishes.
- Sea to Summit Pocket Hand Wash– so convenient when you do not want to carry a liquid but still want to be able to wash your hands anywhere there is water.
- Dr. Bronners Pure-Castile Liquid Soap– 18 in 1 uses and comes in a peppermint scent (my favorite).
- Camp Suds– Concentrated soap that works on anything washable
If your campsite does not offer shower facilities, and there is not a freshwater source nearby, you will have to look for potable water spigots to fill a water bottle or bags for DIY showers, use a Rinse Kit (my favorite), and may even want to invest in a private shower tent to set up at your campsite.
How to responsibly shower in nature
Many of us are used to running water until it warms up and slathering on fragrant soap and shampoo when showering. However, it is important to be environmentally conscious when taking a shower in nature so toxic chemicals and dirty runoff do not pollute water sources more than they already have.
Proper guidelines for camping showers include washing with biodegradable soap at least 200 feet away from a campsite and natural water sources.
If using a single-use body wipe or washcloth that is not biodegradable, store or trash it properly. Following the Leave No Trace Principles is essential to protecting nature and providing a healthy camping environment for all to enjoy.
Best ways to find showers while camping
When booking a campsite online, most websites offer a search filter, making it easy to know if your preferred campground has on-site or nearby shower facilities. There are many other camping websites and apps that can help find campsites with showers as well.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Freecampsites.net– Free camping areas only, including public BLM and state parkland
- Hipcamp.com (app)- many paid and free campsite options posted by hosts
- iOverlander (app)- geared toward boondocking, car, and RV travel
- PublicShower.directory– great for shower options across the US, organized by city and state.
Warmshowers.com and Couchsurfing.com are two other community/hospitality sites created to help host travelers but can be used to find free showers while car camping. Warmshowers.com is geared to bicyclists, while backpackers often use Couchsurfing.com. Both services cost a fee, but if you are car camping for long periods, it may be worth the cost to sleep and shower for free while meeting new friends along the way. I have not used either of these sites myself, so can’t personally vouch for them and have heard mixed opinions on them. So do your research and only meet up with a host if you feel 100% comfortable, and follow all standard safety precautions.
Types of portable shower systems
Your camping style will decide what showering system best suits you. Whether you want a quick rinse or a more luxurious experience, these portable shower systems are excellent options for long or short car camping trips.
Bag showers, also known as solar camping showers, use a material that absorbs the sun’s heat and usually includes a hose and nozzle for water flow. You must hang a bag shower from a tree branch or a hook high enough to let gravity force the water through the shower head. These showers may hold up to 5 gallons of water and are easily packable afterward.
These systems are more luxurious but are also the bulkiest and tedious to set up. Tent showers are ideal for a long camping trip. They usually have a bag or tank system fixed to the inside of the tent with some lightning, towel hooks and drainage floor pads.
Privacy tents are another excellent option for showering at campsites. They don’t come with a shower system but provide privacy while showering, changing or even going to the bathroom.
Most tank showers are portable, come with hoses or pumps for pressure, can be heated with batteries, and require very little to no setup. They require more storage room when not in use but are so easy to use and come in handy for many camping needs.
I prefer tank showers because of their convenience and ability to transform into more than just a shower. Whether I car camp or tent camp, I always bring a Rinse Kit. It makes life outside so much easier.
Rinse Kits are perfect for showers and washing hands, rinsing pets, cleaning gear, and doing dishes. It is easily refillable and comes with a built-in hose and multi-stream spray nozzle. I use the mist mode to conserve water when rinsing my face and brushing my teeth.
If you are at a campsite with potable water, a Rinse Kit will be your new best friend since you can refill it often and use it as often as needed. They have 2-gallon and 5-gallon options that make taking a shower while camping a breeze.
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Ways to conserve water while showering
Using as little water as possible when showering is always a great idea and especially necessary if you are using a portable camp shower so you don’t run out. You will want to conserve as much freshwater as possible, and you can do that in a few ways.
Take a sponge Bath
Sponge baths are popular while camping because they use the least water. Wet a sponge or washcloth with water and a touch of biodegradable soap to “wipe” off dirty skin. Then, rinse the cloth or sponge and repeat wiping and rinsing a few times over until you feel clean.
Avoid washing hair
Washing hair always uses a lot of water, so it’s best to avoid it. Using a dry shampoo can be a good alternative. However, if washing hair is a must, focus on washing the scalp first and let the biodegradable soapy water run down your body for “double duty.” If you can’t give up the conditioner, try using a leave-in conditioner to eliminate the need for a second rinse.
Rinse off method
The rinse-off method is excellent for campsites with water spigots as it uses the most water, and you may need to refill your shower device frequently. This method aims to spray your body with water, turn the water off, soap up then rinse.
A Rinse Kit is a great option when using the rinse-off method. It is easily portable and can be refilled easily.
Ways to stay fresh without water
There are few options for staying clean and fresh even if water is unavailable.
The most common method is using disposable body wipes. Many body wipes come in different sizes and thicknesses, with varying moisture levels. Some brands are all-natural, while others use alcohol and harsher ingredients to clean your skin.
It is essential to do your research and choose a wipe that is best suited for you. For example, if you use a wipe to clean your entire body, I would ensure it is big enough and thick enough. I’ve been using the Hustle Clean Body Wipes and love them. They are thick, have the perfect moisture level, and come individually wrapped, eliminating dried-out wipes.
The easiest way to feel refreshed without using much water is to focus on cleaning whatever area makes you feel refreshed the most. For me, it is brushing my teeth and washing my face. When I am car camping for months, I always brush my teeth and wash my face twice a day. I feel instantly refreshed even if a full shower is not available for days.
Camp in cooler weather
Camping in cool weather is a great way to avoid sweating, thus avoiding the icky dirty feeling. However, if it is hot and humid outside, little can compensate for the sweaty, grimy feeling you get from just walking around. Even a shower can’t compete with hot weather; although immediately refreshed, that clean feeling won’t last long in sweltering hot temperatures. So choose your timing wisely.
Popular camp shower accessories to consider
There are a few things that make showering while car camping even easier.
- Floor mat or tub– a standing mat is excellent when using bag showers, so you don’t create a mud pit under you with water runoff, and your feet stay clean.
- Privacy Tent– Best for when campsites are too close together. It can be used for changing or as a bathroom with a camp potty or “Go Anywhere Toilet Kits.”
- Shower Caddy– store all your toiletries in one place with a helpful hook for easy storage
- Shower Shoes– such as flip flops to help protect against germs and keep your feet clean when entering and exiting the shower area
- Microfiber Towels-They are not the coziest towels, but when camping, their fast dry time is very convenient.
- Simple Shower– An attachment for a water bottle that creates instant bottle showers to rinse anything.
Whether it is a Rinse Kit, baby wipes, or a full-on portable shower, I hope you will get out in nature knowing there are easy ways to shower and stay fresh while camping. It may take some getting used to, but the rewards of disconnecting and getting away from it all are well worth a few days of lite showering!
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