We’ve tried a number of setups for showering outdoors, having lived in an off-grid yurt without running water since 2016. The hardest part of showering outside, I would argue, is the winter, when there’s snow on the ground and it’s flipping freezing out there. It’s quite an experience feeling your freshly washed hair freeze solid before you can get back indoors. So this post is to share our current off-grid outdoor shower setup without running water, how we shower outdoors in all seasons (yes, even in the depths of winter), and the other methods we tried before settling on the current setup.
TL;DR We built an outdoor shower stall and currently use a solar shower bag, which is usable in the summer by laying the shower bag in the sun, and in the winter we heat water on the stove and then fill the shower bag with the hot water and shower outside. We use the Advanced Elements Summer Shower 2.5 gallon bag.
Off Grid Sponge Baths
For the first couple of years showering off-grid, we went the bucket and sponge bath approach, heating up water in a big pot on the stove, then standing outside with said bucket of hot water and a wash cloth. To be perfectly honest, this worked fine enough, so far as rustic off grid showers go.
But the downsides were several: in the winter we would be standing barefoot (and naked) on the cold snow, so our feet would get cold and showers had to be just a few minutes; and while we could pour water from the pot over our head to rinse soap and shampoo off of ourselves, it lacked the directed water pressure that might help with the nether regions. It was no bidet, let’s say.
Propane Water Heater Shower
We got big dreams. We ran a black poly hose from the spring house 700 feet away and it was just enough water pressure to power the Camplux on-demand propane water heater. This is a great shower solution for summer, and if you have running water (or at least can create pressurized water with an elevated tank or reservoir).
But this won’t work if you’re trying to shower outside in winter, because you risk frozen and burst pipes inside the water heater. So we searched for another shower solution. And we were given extra motivation when the spring lost its willpower and we no longer had enough pressure to run the water the whole 700 feet.
We wrote about our experience using the Camplux in a different post, with an included video walk-through. Read it here.
Current Setup: Solar Camping Shower Bag
Following the big dreams and the glory of propane heated water, we were forced down to earth when lost our running water. Here’s the dish: the ultimate solution to showering off-grid and outdoors is arguably the easiest solution. It’s also one of the cheaper solutions, if you don’t plan on building a shower stall (though we do recommend having at least an elevated pad to stand on).
Camping showers are also called solar showers and are designed for camping (duh). But they also work great for showering off-grid more generally. In the summer, if you’re of a patient disposition, you can lay the solar bag in the sun for some hours and then hang it for a hot shower. In the winter, you can just heat the water yourself, indoors, then fill the camping shower with the hot water.
We use a big 3-gallon pot and heat the water either on our woodstove or on our propane rangetop. Once the water is hot enough, we use a scoop to pour the hot water into a funnel through the shower bag cap. Then we carry the bag outside to the shower stall, hang it, strip down, and take a quick shower. It has been an amazing simple shower solution and we’re very happy with it, as it avoids the necessity for running water and enables us to shower outside year-round. Give it a try!
Notes and Considerations Based on Our Experiences
We use the 2.5 gallon bag from Advanced Elements. This has proven to be plenty of water to shower sufficiently (obviously turning off the nozzle when lathering). It might be tempting to get the 5 gallon, but keep in mind that a gallon of water weighs 8 pounds. Of course, you don’t have to fill it up all the way, so you could get the 5 gallon bag if you want to shower with, say, 3 gallons of water.
Optimum temperature range for showering is around 110 Fahrenheit. We typically fill it a few degrees hotter, as it will start to cool down when you take it outside.
Filling the shower bag with one person had a slight learning curve, but the right funnel makes it possible, so that you don’t have to try to hold that AND the bag while pouring water with a ladling device. What we use is an automotive funnel since it has a long neck (the black one in this set) and a liquid measuring cup to scoop water from the pot into the funnel.
Let us know if you have any questions! thatyurt at gmail dot com