Creating DIY camp showers is certainly nothing new. In Dear Enemy by Jean Webster, published in 1915, bathing facilities for a group of boys were described as follows:
“Each camp has a bath-master who stands on a stool and sprinkles each little shiverer (from a garden watering can) as he trots under.”
Another reference for more or less DIY showering is in Young Bleys, by Gordon Dickson, published 1991, which describes a solar-heated shower (and the disadvantages of such) in the early part of the book.
The Ancient Greeks, then the Romans were the first to have water piped into showers, an innovation made possible by their aqueduct and sewer systems. By these signs, we can be pretty sure that using a shower bath to get clean is certainly not rocket science.
DIY Camp Showers
The very simplest sort of DIY shower would be to shower with a friend, each of you using a container to pour water over the other. But if you would like a little more privacy, plus greater control over the water flow, Gordon Dickson’s method is a good one.
Place a metal barrel on a stand in a location where it can get some sun. Paint the barrel black, for good heat absorption. Install an ordinary faucet (it is handy to know a little welding since you must drill a hole into the barrel) in the bottom of one side of the barrel. Add a faucet, and attach a flexible shower hose to it. Or any hose, really.
Fill the barrel with water. Depending on your location, after three or four hours in the sun, the water will be nicely warmed and ready for showering.
A variation on this is to use two barrels. The bottom one is your burner, the top one is the water heater. You can use wood or even trash to burn in the bottom part, thus heating the water.
A word of warning: Always install a safety valve or vent in the water container so that steam can escape. No need to re-create Tom Edison’s experiment with his mother’s tea kettle. He stopped up the spout, then brought the kettle to a boil, with explosive results.
How to Make a Portable Camp Shower
You can make a simple, hand-held camp shower with a sturdy plastic juice bottle.
Hold a nail over a heat source, using a pair of pliers to grip the nail. Use the hot nail to poke holes in the plastic lid of the juice bottle.
In a tea kettle or other sort of pot, heat water over your campfire.
Pour warm (not hot) water into the bottle. Screw on the lid.
You can then either stand behind a screen of bushes or use blankets to create a privacy screen. If you plan to shower inside your tent, a child’s inflatable swimming pool can be used as a bathtub. It is light and easy to deflate and add carry in your backpack.
Use a little of the water to get wet. Lather up with your favorite soap, and rinse off with warm water. Incidentally, this is very much a low-water-use showering method.
Super Summer Tailgate Camp Shower
If you are using your reliable pickup truck as part of your camp gear, nothing is easier than to load your black-painted barrel on the back end of your truck.
Since it might be a little low for a gravity feed shower, purchase a DC electric motorized water pump from your local hardware store.
Fill the barrel with water, and park your truck so that the barrel will be in full sun while you go about setting up camp, barbequing, or swimming. By the end of the day, your barrel should be full of toasty warm water, perfect for showering.
You might want to add a holder for a showerhead.
Using the manufacturer’s directions, hook up the pump motor to a power source. Attach the output hose, hopefully with a shower head attached, to the pump, and drop the intake into the barrel. Use a clamp or even a bit of nylon rope to attach the showerhead to a stand or to a pole attached to the truck’s sideboards.
Erect a small screen or curtain array for privacy, and you are ready to wash off the residue of your day’s activities.
Quick Clean Back Packing Shower
If you love backpacking but hate the idea of going for days without getting cleaned up, this is a quick and, er, clean method of showering. You will need a collapsible pail, a small DC water pump, and a small inflatable swimming pool.
Use the following steps to increase your social quotient before heading over to the group campfire or barbeque:
1. Using a pail or a collapsible water carrier, haul at least twenty gallons of potable water to your camp, or reasonably clean water that you can filter and boil. Sound crazy? Washing in dirty water, especially around any orifice, is a way to introduce bacteria or germs to your system.
2. Filter water, if necessary. Heat it to 212 degrees F. to kill germs or bacteria. If it is fresh, potable water, you can simply heat it to bathwater temperature. If heating to kill bacteria and pathogens, keep it at a boil for at least three minutes. It will be too hot for bathing, so allow it to cool off before using.
3. While you are waiting on the water, clear an area of ground, making sure it is free of sticks or rocks. Inflate your wading pool, and place it on the cleared ground. Erect a screen around the wading pool.
4. Place the collapsible pail beside the wading pool, and fill it with water that is at your preferred temperature.
5. Place the intake for the pump into the pail. Hook up the power according to the manufacturer’s directions. (Solar generators are great for this.)
6. Stand in the wading pool. Get wet using a small portion of your water. Stop the pump.
7. Lather up with your preferred soap and/or shampoo. One of those all-purpose body bars or liquid soaps is great for this – only one item to carry. Scrub all over with a terry face cloth.
8. Still standing in the wading pool, use the major part of your water (perhaps 2/3) to rinse away the soap. People with long hair will need more water for rinsing than will people who have short hair or a buzz cut.
9. A note on hot water and cleanliness: Water hot enough to kill pathogens is too hot for bathing or washing hands. The importance of boiling the water is to make sure that you are not starting your cleaning process with water that contains bacteria. Most people find it more pleasant to bathe in warm water as opposed to cold water, but any temperature water with soap will wash away grime and germs. It will not, however, kill the germs, merely get them off of you.
It should be noted here that while a shower is pleasant unless you are washing long hair, it is possible to get clean using a basin of water, soap, and a facecloth. If water conservation is a concern, this is something to keep in mind.