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Thinking of living the van life? Whether you choose to do it full-time or temporarily, this nomadic lifestyle is one of the best ways to travel and meet fellow adventurers while embracing simplicity and minimalism.
But simplicity doesn’t mean foregoing hygiene. Among the things you need to ponder on before living in a vehicle is how/where you’ll shower.
Lucky for you, I’ve rounded up several shower ideas for campervan and RV living. Whether you’re an aspiring van lifer or a seasoned RVer looking to make some changes in your setup, you have lots of options.
Types of showers for campervan and van life
When it comes to shower ideas for van life, there are two main types to consider: indoor showers and outdoor showers.
Having an indoor shower means fitting out your vehicle with a fixed shower area. This allows you to clean up yourself anywhere and anytime you want and have privacy while at it. While this offers convenience and comfort, you have to remember that a house on wheels has limitations.
If thinking of installing a shower cubicle inside your van, you have to consider the following:
- Floor space and height of the vehicle. Do you have enough space?
- Drainage. How will you drain water out of the shower?
- Waterproofing. You need to ensure there will be no leaks.
- Heating options. Will you go with an electric water heater or propane?
- Water tank system. Tank or tankless?
- Ventilation. You don’t want condensation ruining your tiny house.
Because of these factors, many van lifers prefer showering outside their vans. If you choose to have an outdoor shower, you will still need to think of the heating and tank system but it won’t eat up your already limited space.
Of course, there are downsides to an outdoor shower:
- Privacy. You can use a pop-up shower tent or a shower curtain but it won’t be as closed off as an indoor shower.
- It’s not as cold weather-friendly. Portable hot water showers are a great solution, but showering inside the van will still be more comfortable in chilly weather.
- Depending on where you’re parked, you might be violating the law by showering behind your van. You can’t just shower anytime and anywhere you prefer.
Many van lifers also rely on public showers, like the ones on rest stops, campsites, gyms, beaches, and state parks. If you’re on a short trip, or just don’t feel like setting up your outdoor shower system, public showers are a great alternative.
However, many of these are paid facilities so having a system of your own is still preferable.
Now that you have a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of indoor and outdoor showers, it’s time to look at your options for each.
Indoor shower ideas for campervan and RVs
1. Dry bath
This indoor shower is essentially like the ones we have at home (but a bit tighter), making it the most luxurious option for van life showers. There’s a shower, a toilet, and a sink in their designated areas.
While the sink and toilet bowl may be housed together, a dry bath features an enclosed shower. Some luxurious RVs even have a bathtub. Water is contained within the shower cubicle.
A dry bath is one of the best shower ideas for campervans and RVs but it demands more legroom and upkeep.
2. Wet bath
A wet bath is an enclosed, onboard shower that houses both the shower and the campervan or cassette toilet. In some cases, this can also include a small sink. It takes up precious space in your van but it’s more space-efficient compared to a dry bath.
A wet bath is designed so that all surfaces can be wet. The entire room has to be waterproof and outfitted with good drainage because the whole area will inevitably get wet.
Many RVs come with wet baths that allow for private albeit short showers. It’s also one of the best shower ideas for campervans, although this will require DIY-ing your way around waterproofing, drainage, plumbing, and more.
If choosing this type of indoor shower, be prepared to always keep certain bathroom items (e.g. towels, toilet paper, toiletries) protected so they don’t get wet. You also need to ensure that the area is dried after every use to avoid moisture buildup and mold or mildew growth.
3. Hidden shower
If you want an indoor shower but don’t want or can’t dedicate a space to a full campervan bathroom, a good compromise is a hidden shower. This retractable system can be easily set up when you need to shower and then stowed away when not in use.
The shower curtain keeps the water in and you can simply dry it out before putting it away. This indoor shower lets you do your business without taking up too much space.
4. Electric water heaters
Having an onboard shower is good but having hot water is even better. To make the most out of your indoor shower system, you can install an electric water heater that relies on 120-volt shore power (or 240 volts in rare cases) or a camping generator.
Many of these units, like the Bosch Tronic 3000 T 7GL Electric Mini-Tank Water Heater, come with mini tanks that don’t take a lot of space. There are also tankless models like the EcoSmart ECO 11 Electric Tankless Water Heater that provide on-demand hot water.
That said, electric water heaters consume a lot of power. Many campers still go for propane heaters as these are more economical.
Outdoor shower ideas for campervan and RVs
5. Propane water heaters
Propane water heaters are one of the most recommended shower ideas for campervan for a couple of reasons.
First, compared to electric water heaters, propane water heaters are more cost- and energy-efficient. Second, many propane-powered heaters are tankless. Given a campervan or RV’s limited space, tankless setups are more portable and easier to mount.
A tankless propane water heater only heats water as needed so it’s also water-efficient. A common setup includes the heater unit, propane tank, D cell batteries for ignition, a gas regulator, showerhead, and a water source. In many models, the burner automatically shuts down when the water stops flowing.
Some campers do hesitate to use this type of heater due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning or fire hazard. A valid concern, yes, but a lot of propane water heaters in the market come with safety features and as long as you exercise caution, you’ll be fine.
6. Gravity-fed portable solar shower bags
A solar shower bag is one of the best shower ideas for campervan and RVs if you’re looking for something fully portable and energy-efficient. It doesn’t rely on electricity or fuel – just the good ol’ sun and gravity.
A camping shower bag is essentially a pouch that you can fill with water and hang under direct sunlight, on the side of your van, on a tree, or anywhere above your head. This shower kit typically comes with a small showerhead and a switch or twist valve.
Solar shower bags are budget-friendly, lightweight, and pack away flat. The only downside is that you’re at the mercy of the weather and you do have to wait for quite some time for the water to heat up, even if the sun’s out.
7. Foot pump shower bags
Rather than gravity, a foot pump shower bag relies on pressure from your foot/leg to get water to come out. This means you don’t have to find poles or trees to hang it into since it can stay on the floor.
Foot pump shower bags like NEMO’s pressure shower can also be heated through solar power. Like gravity-fed solar showers, this one is collapsible and lightweight. Depending on the model, you do need to pump with your foot every five to ten minutes to maintain good water pressure.
8. Battery-powered submersible shower pump
If you’re looking for portable and possibly hands-free shower ideas for campervan, consider submersible shower pumps.
Battery-powered submersible shower pumps are rechargeable devices like the Ivation shower that you can place in a bucket. A full charge allows for one hour of continuous use.
With this type of outdoor shower, you don’t need to wait for the sun to heat the water. To be clear, battery-powered submersible pumps don’t heat water but you can quickly heat water in your kettle and just transfer it to a bucket.
Many models come with suction cups for hands-free use. No need for foot pumping either.
9. Electric-powered immersion heater
Portable shower ideas for campervan and RV may also include cabled options like an immersion heater. If you have access to a power outlet or a generator, this is a great choice.
In fact, if you have a battery-powered submersible shower pump and an immersion heater like GESAIL, you’re pretty much set for a comfy, warm shower. Simply immerse the stainless steel heater into a bucket of water along with the pump, and after a few minutes, you’ve got hot water in your showerhead.
Submerging an electrical device in water sounds risky but many immersion heaters are designed to automatically shut off once it reaches a certain temperature. This helps avoid the risk of overheating.
10. Road shower
Ideal for smaller vans, road showers are tubes mounted onto the car or van’s roof racks. It operates like a solar shower bag, except it’s fitted into your vehicle. It also comes with a hose and showerhead and you can let it sit under the sun to heat the water.
Most models like the Yakima Road Shower require applying pressure through a hand (e.g. bike pump) or electric pump. However, road showers are expensive.
Many campers recommend building a DIY version, which can be gravity-fed and pressurized at the same time. REI has a comprehensive tutorial on building a road shower here.
Whether you decide to purchase a unit or DIY one, practice caution. Make sure the unit is properly secured. You don’t want this pressurized tube to detach and explode when you hit the brakes.
Privacy for outdoor showers
You’re probably thinking, sure, these outdoor shower ideas for campervans and RVs are great and all. But what about privacy?
These two items will help solve this dilemma:
The simplest way to keep prying eyes away is to install shower curtains at the rear door of your van (if that’s where you’ll set up your shower unit) or on one side of your RV. This typically comes in fabric, but there are also plastic or canvas curtains.
Pop-up shower tents
This portable type of tent is designed to pop up or unfold in one piece without the need to assemble poles and cords. It stands upright and most products like Your Choice and GigaTent can accommodate even those on the taller side.
Some of these tents come with stakes while some have sand pockets as anchors. Other models also have UV protection so you’re protected from harmful UV rays. Pop-up shower tents are also fully enclosed so you can enjoy ultimate privacy.
How to choose the right campervan shower
These shower ideas for campervans probably gave you tons to think about. To help you further trim down your options, here are some factors you need to consider before choosing the type of shower you’ll go with:
The biggest consideration when picking a shower system for your van is space. How much real estate can you afford (or not afford) to dedicate to a bathroom? Answering this will immediately tell you whether you should go for an indoor or outdoor shower.
Unless you plan to do the van life only during warm months, you’ll need hot water. How you plan to heat your water will affect your use of space and fuel/electricity consumption.
If you choose to use an electric or propane water heater, remember to be careful in handling the heating elements. Check if all safety features are in place.
Water tank system
Modern van lifers prefer tankless water heaters because they’re more energy-efficient, saves space, and produce hot water by demand.
Conventional water heaters in RVs come with tanks that occupy precious room in your van. They also typically suffer from standby energy loss as they repeatedly heat and store water in the tank, waiting to be used.
That said, a tankless water heater demands high upfront costs. The unit itself is expensive. Factor in high installation costs and you’ve got one hefty price tag to deal with. But if you plan to use it for a long time, it’s worth the investment.
This is where onboard tank-style electric water heaters have a leg up. Since tanks store water, you can count on consistent water pressure and flow rates.
You also can’t expect high water pressure from portable showers, especially those that rely on gravity. In this case, pressurized or pump showers are the better option.
Finally, consider your camping style when choosing a shower for your van. How long do you plan to travel in your campervan or RV? If you’re doing this for an extended period, building an onboard shower will make sense.
If you also plan to create an off-grid experience, you’ll want an indoor shower. But if you’re traveling for only a short time, outdoor showers should be enough. If campsites are part of your itinerary, you can also use the bathroom facilities on-ground.
And there you have it – 10 different shower ideas for campervan and van life! There’s no reason for you to skip a shower, even in the wild. Whichever type of shower you choose, having one will make for an awesome van living experience.