Few things in life feel better than a shower, especially if you haven’t had one in a few days. Whether you’re spending the weekend camping or full-time living off-grid, good hygiene is always a good idea! Fortunately, there are many ways to enjoy a good wash up without electricity. An off-grid shower is an excellent way to stay clean. Off grid showers can be as expensive and extravagant or as cheap and straightforward as you desire.
If you’re wondering how to build an off grid shower, know there are many options. From portable to permanent, requiring electricity, solar power, or propane, the sky’s the limit when it comes to showers off the beaten path.
- Portable Hot Water Shower
- Permanent Off-Grid Hot Water Shower
- Off Grid Shower Comfort and Privacy
- Off Grid Shower Conclusion
Portable Hot Water Shower
If you’re looking for a quality shower while participating in outdoor activities like backpacking or raft, car, mountain bike, or horseback camping, there are many excellent portable, lightweight options available. A solar or bucket shower, usually done behind a tree or in a pop-up shower tent, will suffice after a long day on the dusty road or trail!
The only heat source required for a solar shower is the sun. However, if that is a scarce commodity, there are still a few alternatives to making them work. These showers don’t require electricity and come in various styles with varying features.
Portable Pressure Camp Shower
The Nemo Helio Portable Pressure Camp Shower is hands down one of the best solar shower options. This shower is unique because it has a pressurized sprayer, meaning you don’t have to worry about hanging it in a tree as you do with gravity-fed showers. If you pressurize it adequately with the foot pump to begin, then do the occasional pump throughout, this unit can offer enough water and pressure for a thorough bath and hair-washing.
On day seven of a wilderness rafting trip, I tried this one out. Perhaps it was the fact it had been several days since I’d had one, but I found it to be heavenly compared to less expensive models that I have used in the past. I can attest this one is well worth the money. The quality is high, and Nemo products come with a lifetime warranty, making the extra cost worth it.
The only downside to this shower is it does need to be in the sun long enough when filled for the water to warm up. However, this is an issue you will run into with any solar shower.
Portable Solar Shower Bag
If you’re looking for a more wallet-friendly alternative, the VIGLT Portable Shower Bag will serve its purpose to help you clean up. At less than $10, you certainly can’t beat the price. Even if it only lasts a few uses, you’re not out much.
It is lightweight and can fold down to a small size to fit into a backpack, bike, or horseback saddle panniers. Immerse it in a creek or lake to fill. Then, leave it out in the sun for several hours to warm up. You’ll be clean in no time!
I’ve also heated or boiled a small pot of water over a campfire in a pinch. Mix it with the cooler water in the bag and end up with the perfect water temperature. Word of warning, though: make sure your water isn’t boiling or too hot as it may melt the bag. An alternative is to premix the boiling water with cold water. Then, pour it into the bag if you have a way of doing so.
Since it is gravity fed, hang the off grid solar shower in a tree, on a wall, or someplace that allows the water to flow downward. The pressure isn’t tremendous, but it is certainly enough for a rinse-off when you’re feeling grimy.
Overall, solar showers work well if you have enough sun and time to heat your water or you have a way to add some hot water. The range in price and features will definitely help you clean up.
A bucket shower is another convenient and portable shower system. It uses water from a bucket, barrel, or other container and pumps it through the showerhead with an electric pump. Many are battery-powered, making them an excellent option for car camping or even off-grid living if you have a method for heating the water.
Kedsum Portable Camping Shower
The KEDSUM Portable Camping Shower comes with a collapsible bucket, rechargeable battery, and pump system. The pressure is decent, and if you want a longer shower, you can upgrade to a bigger water container.
The showerhead can be hung from a tree, wall or used by hand. Heating the water can be done in a variety of ways. If you have a propane stove, water can be heated then mixed with cold water to get the perfect temperature. Alternatively, a fireproof vat can be fashioned over a wood fire for larger water quantities, but heating it can take some time.
Overall, this bucket shower system is excellent for camping, home use, or other activities where weight isn’t a factor.
The downside to this method is you’ll need a power source to keep the batteries charged. However, some come with a car adaptor. This mitigates the issue if you have a vehicle as your power source and nothing else. Overall, this is an excellent portable hot water shower option.
Permanent Off-Grid Hot Water Shower
Now that we’ve covered the portable systems, we can get into considerations for installing something more permanent. This may be for an off-grid cabin, house, or even a full-time parked RV. If you’re going to install a permanent off-grid shower, the most critical components to consider are where you will get your water, how it will be delivered to your system, and how you will heat it.
According to Josh Davidson at tinylivinglife.com, there are four sources for getting water:
- Well water
- Natural rivers, streams, and ponds
While wells must be drilled and are expensive to install, they require relatively little maintenance once in and will last a long time.
Springs are natures well, and depending on the size, can provide more than enough water to meet your needs. However, many properties don’t have springs or are more expensive if they do. This may not even be an option for you. You also have to worry about flow on a hot, dry year as they could dry up.
Rainwater is another good option depending on where you live. In areas with adequate rainfall, you may very well have enough water to meet your needs. This may not be your best option if you live in a desert.
While you may have a river, stream, or pond on your property, and it may seem like an excellent water source, it is highly likely the laws in your state do not give you the actual water rights to it. Check with your state natural resources agency or local government. Determine what your water rights actually are before tapping into this source.
Once you’ve determined a water source, you’ll need to figure out how to deliver it to where you need it to go.
Off Grid Shower Water Delivery
A pump will be beneficial to extract water with a well or a spring. This can be either a manual hand pump or a solar electric pump.
If you want to go truly off-grid, not worry about a power source, and don’t mind a little, ahem, “manual” labor, a manual hand pump is a way to go! The Simmons 1160/PM500 No.2 Pitcher Pump is quite cost-effective at around $70 and a draw depth of 25′. Use it to pump from a shallow well or other above-ground water sources such as a pond or even a cistern. It is made of cast iron, which means it is designed to withstand the elements and last a long time.
Solar-Powered Electric Pump
The other option is a solar-powered electric pump. The power requirements are minimal and can provide enough water for a gravity-fed cistern or work with a traditional pressure tank system. You will need to determine how much power your pump will need. If you already have a solar system set up, it shouldn’t be too difficult to add more capacity to meet the increased need.
Finally, gravity-fed water systems are another option that have been in use for millennia. If you are using rainwater, you can build a platform for your cistern to facilitate this. As long as your water tank is higher than where the water needs to go, it will flow down through your pipes or hoses. The same concept can also work if your well is at a higher elevation than where your shower will be and can run “downhill.”
It should be noted a catchment system can also be put in place to capture rainwater. Rainwater runoff from a building roof will provide more water than just a cistern sitting in the forest. The same gravity principles apply.
Outdoor Shower Heater
Unless you are prepared (or, heaven forbid, want!) to take cold showers, a way to heat your shower water is the next logical consideration. Whether you are looking at a portable hot water heater or a tankless water heater, both can be viable options depending on your needs. These will require either electricity from your solar setup or propane.
A tankless water heater is an excellent option for living somewhere with cold winters. This way, you won’t have to drain your tank and pipes between uses to prevent them from freezing. There are many sizes and varieties with varying costs. You will need to do some research to ensure the one you choose works with your flow rate and pressure. However, there is certainly something to be said for on-demand hot water. These heaters usually run on propane. Electric versions generally use far too much power to be feasible for an off-grid system.
Because you’re likely trying to save resources living off-grid, a regular tank water heater is not the best option. You can certainly use one, but you’ll be using resources to keep water hot when it is just sitting there. And as stated before, you’ll want to drain the tank and pipes between uses when temperatures are below freezing.
Off Grid Shower Comfort and Privacy
The last thing to consider for your DIY off grid shower is how you will get your privacy and comfort when showering. This can be as simple or complex as you want to make it, and much depends on where you live. Are there a lot of neighbors nearby? Do you find yourself near a busy road? If so, some privacy considerations may be necessary. If you’re far from people and live in a warm climate, a simple pallet in the woods may be all you need to keep you out of the mud.
Consider the size of your shower room and if you want enough space to get dressed afterward. Do you want to run back to your tent, cabin, or RV in a towel? Would it be better to get dressed first? This may determine whether you add extra space to your structure.
Permanent Off Grid Shower Structure
Building a shower structure around where your water system will go can be as straightforward or as complicated as you want to make it, and there are all sorts of materials that can be used.
If you’re looking for something cheap or less expensive and are not too worried about how long it will last, it is easy to cover a pallet with plywood or other flooring. Add shower walls using 2×4’s and galvanized tin or some other type of siding. However, with some ingenuity and a bit more money, you could make a simple yet long-lasting outbuilding out of better, more rot-resistant materials.
Add a drain in the floor, a battery-powered light, a few hooks, and a shelf, and you’ve got the perfect place to clean up at the end of the day.
This is the better option for cold weather as even plywood will have a higher R-value than a tent. However, a tent shower is also a great option if that is not a concern!
Off Grid Shower Pop Up Shower Tent
If you’re looking for a quick and simple privacy option, there are plenty of pop-up shower tents on the market. If you want a shower tent with a floor or a shower tent with a drain, you can use the same general idea as above and plop a tent on it rather than a permanent structure. You can even pour a concrete slab with a drain and place your tent on top!
Not too expensive, the WolfWise Pop-up Shower Tent is a popular option for your tent shower. The pop up shower tent features adequate room and several well-thought-out features. It has a hole near the top of one side that allows you to poke a showerhead through, whether it be from a solar shower or something more permanent. It’s made of heavy polyester that keeps it from easily tearing on tree branches. It easily folds up and is light enough to move. Use it as a privacy shelter for an off-grid toilet or changing station.
Off Grid Shower Conclusion
As you can see, there are many options and considerations for an off grid shower. You’ll need to decide if you only need something temporary or if a more permanent structure and setup will serve you better. Water supply, delivery, heating options, privacy, and comfort will need to be determined and planned for. The nice thing is that there are many different options and resources to help you in your shower building journey.
From solar and bucket showers to outdoor shower heater options. The sky’s the limit in what you can do to create a DIY off grid shower system. Being creative and coming up with solutions can be fun, challenging, and ultimately very satisfying.
Whether you need to wash up after a long, hot, dusty day on the trail, or you need a rinse off after laboring away on your off-grid dwelling, a hot shower is quite achievable and enjoyable.
Let us know what other methods you’ve used or want to try. What has worked for you, and what would you do differently next time?