Winter camping may look fascinating in depictions and illustrations but in reality, it has hustles of its own. One of which is the need to wash and clean yourself despite the low temperatures.
Just after a few days of camping all you feel is the dirt & soil on your body. Finding small stems & leaves stuck in your hair, and the worse, smelling like smoke all night with muddy feet and greasy hands because you had to cook.
I’ve been there.
So, if you have the guts to make it without a shower, Kudos to you!
And, unless you have superpowers, you cannot shower with cold water when it’s freezing outside.
So, how to shower during winter camping? To shower during the winter, you need a way to heat the water and let it flow from atop. You can boil water on flame and take a gravity shower with any bottle or container. If it is sunny outside, you can use a solar camping shower. Propane tank showers are also popular among campers.
But that’s not it. Showering during cold that too outside can be tricky and dangerous at times. It can not only make you sick but can be lethal in extreme scenarios.
Let’s explore the best ways on getting a shower during winter camping.
Challenges of cold showing in the wild
Why is showing in the cold during camping so challenging? During the summers, you can dip inside any running stream and get yourself a nice and refreshing bath but during winter, that’s not an option for most.
Extreme cold & hypothermia: Hypothermia is a condition where the body temperature drops down to extreme levels to induce cardiac arrest and failure of respiratory organs. If you shower in the windy outside during cold camping that too with cold water, you run a risk of hypothermia.
No running water: Running water is abundant during warm summers but if you are camping in the north during winters, running water might be hard to find. Your next best option is to melt snow (if the area is not completely dry)
Lack of privacy: It is not advisable to shower in your clothes during the cold breezy winters in an open area. The wet cloths can retain water and induces extreme hypothermia by increasing heat loss from the body. Due to this, if you are going to shower, you have to do it completely naked which compromises privacy for sensitive people.
Heating cold water: It’s freezing cold outside and you can’t shower using stream water. You will have to first heat it to a normal or warm temperature. That requires some sort of heating arrangement.
Regaining body temperature after shower: Getting a shower in cold is half the challenge. The half part is recovering your body temperature unless you are planning on dying shivering.
Keeping these challenges in mind, let’s discuss ways on getting a shower during cold camping in winter.
#1 Get yourself a shower tent
First things first, shower tents!
These tents are quite non-obligatory in most cases. It depends on the type of shower you’re using, the amount of privacy you like, the number of people you’re camping with, and the camping location.
Most people don’t use shower tents because they think it adds weight and make them spend extra few bucks.
Why I would suggest a shower tent is because when you shower in the wilderness it tends to get really cold. At times the temperatures go below the comfortable range. and due to the low temperature, you are more prone to fever, flu, and sickness.
Shower tents not only provide privacy but also restrict airflow and because of insulation you feel less cold and it provides a more comfortable environment to bathe.
#2 Find a suitable spot to bathe
This is for the times when you don’t have a shower tent or you prefer not buying one and you choose to shower in the wilderness.
Again, Privacy is not the only reason you’d need a correct spot.
Let’s first talk about why you need one?
In winters, campers are often prone to conditions like hypothermia which can be more dangerous if you are on a solo camping trip.
As discussed above, hypothermia is a medical condition where your body temperature falls lower than the normal body temperature, which is 37 degrees Fahrenheit. This decreases your pulse rate and can cause symptoms like confusion and convulsions. If not immediately taken care of, it can also lead to death.
The correct spot to bathe is the one that provides you with a good amount of sunlight exposure or, at least some amount of heat and has a restricted flow of wind.
Sunlight keeps your body warm and helps you in drying up quickly while restricted airflow avoids excessive loss of body heat.
You can find such suitable bathing spots in between rocks or a small space well surrounded by tall trees.
#3 Find a shower that suits you best
Multiple showering systems have been invented and are being used worldwide for long camping trips.
You can find solar energy showers, gas & battery showers, and tanks. Some campers even opt for hand-made showers and sponge baths. It all depends on how you like it and what you find comfortable.
Here are a few popular options to choose from.
Propane Heated Shower
Propane heated showers are my personal favourite option and for that, I have multiple reasons.
This compact, portable and easy-to-use device can make you feel like you never left home. It basically uses propane gas to heat the stored water at a controlled temperature. Most campers carry propane during winter camping for cooking and heating purposes and it can also be used to power up these water heaters.
The heating temperature can go up to 114.8℉ or less, depending on your comfort. To use this, you will have to find a running water hose or you can use a suitable water pump powered through your car or RV.
There are two downsides to this option. 1- it adds additional weight to your backpack. 2- these heaters are not cheap. Check out this one from Camplex. It’s pretty affordable (compared to others) and does the job pretty well.
This option is ideal for people who don’t mind packing heavy or camping out of their car or RV. For light campers, we have to look for something a bit more traditional.
Solar Energy Showers
Solar energy showers are not as great but can work when you’re camping in a cold but sunny location.
Solar showers are much cheaper than electric or gas shower but they are highly dependent upon the amount of sunlight it gets.
It’s nothing fancy but a dark-coloured polybag that you can hang in sunlight for an hour or so and it heats up the water inside to bearable temperature.
The dark/ black bag absorbs heat to increase the temperature of stored water. All you need is to hang the device at a higher point or in a shower tent and have a warm bath.
Coleman’s Solar Showers are the most efficient solar showers that have a good storage capacity with an easy-to-use hose and showering system.
DIY Gravity Showers
Gravity showers are super easy and basic to make tough they require a few of your efforts.
All you need is a water container/bottle of the storage capacity you need for showering. Then you make a couple of tiny holes in the cap or at the bottom of the container with any needle or pointed thing. The place where you make the holes depends upon the way you will mount your container. Mount the bottle or container at a higher point and let the gravity handle the flow of water.
For hot showers, you first need to heat up the water in a pot or vessel over gas or wood flame and pour it into the container.
The downside to this is usually the restricted flow of water due to the uneven holes but it’s the best and the cheapest alternative to an expensive portable shower.
#4 Tips for effective showering in the cold
Save water: Unless you have a running stream of water (which is unlikely in the winter), water is your prized possession. Take care of every drop of it while showering. If you are using an overhead shower, you can turn it on only when needed to maximise water usage.
Use unscented national soap: When you are in nature, take care of it like it takes care of you. Make use of organic nonpolluting soap to avoid damage to the environment. Chemicals in normal soaps are often detrimental to plants and other lifeforms. Also, to avoid attracting bugs, use unscented soaps.
Keep dry clothes nearby: Immediately after showering, you will need a dry towel to remove water from your body and warm dry clothes to regain your body heat. That’s why, before going in for the shower, make sure your towel and dry clothes are at arm’s length.
Regain body heat: After you shower and put on dry clothes, get yourself under a warm blanket or space blanket to regain normal body temperature as soon as possible. You can also sit nearby a wood fire to heat yourself up. During winter camping make sure you insulate your tent to be comfortable inside after a cold shower. (Read our article about ways to insulate your tent for winter camping.)
What are some of the best alternatives for camp showering in cold weather?
This is indeed the most asked question about winter camping.
Campers usually avoid taking showers in the wild if the trip is short because not many campers have the courage to shower in such low temperatures nor do they have the proper equipment to warm up the water.
Here are some alternatives to avoid a shivering cold winter shower.
We all are familiar with sponge baths, but didn’t really think that it would work outside the hospitals, right? A sponge bath does not require you to go all-naked and can be a good option. It also makes you feel fresh and better.
All you need for that is a soft sponge and a pot of warm water to feel new again.
Wet wipes and dry shampoo
Wet wipe cleaning can provide a feeling of freshness.
If you can, Wash your hands and feet parts to clean dirt and use baby wipes to clean your body, and use dry shampoo for hair, and you are good to go.
This is not very suitable for winter camping but, in slight winters can be really refreshing and energizing.
Just make sure to dry yourself and put on warm clothes as soon as you get out of the lake to avoid hypothermia.
To go out camping when it’s literally freezing cold outside is indeed a brave thing to do. And the thought of showering can literally give chills to anyone
So, unless you know how to do it without getting your life in danger, it can be tricky.
The only tip is not to try to be brave and provide your body with the warmth it needs and shower only when necessary. Because no one wants to get sick miles away from home in the middle of nowhere.
Recommended Camping Gears: I have compiled a list of my favourite camping gear in one place. The selection is based on my own personal experience using them for many years camping as well as feedback from fellow campers. Check them out on my Recommended Camping Gears page