Showering in the woods can be done many ways, but in my experience there are a few things that will make the experience better, both for you and nature.
#1 A lesson in Leave No Trace (LNT) ethics
Found a gorgeous waterfall? Awesome. The perfect place for your wilderness shower? Well, maybe... as long as you're not using soap.
Just like you wouldn’t want to find someone’s macaroni floating around the lake the day after they left camp (ew), no one wants to stumble across (or drink) your leftover bathwater. Maybe one shower won't make too big a difference, but with billions of visits to our national parks and public lands annually, little bits of impact can and will add up to harm the native plant and animal life.
Fortunately, if you want a squeaky clean with soap and all, the solution is simple: just carry some water with you a short distance into the woods. LNT guidelines recommend 200 feet. It sounds like a hike, but but really, it isn’t that bad. In the next section, we'll explore how easy it is.
#2 The tools
Whatever you do, keep it simple. Less is better. Here's all you need:
- Biodegradable suds. Dr. Bronner's is a classic, Wilderness Wash works too, but if you're looking to elevate your experience without a single-use plastic bottle or the potential for liquid soap all over your pack, a shampoo/shower bar like Redbudsuds is a great natural option. Unlike other multi-purpose biodegradable camp soaps, Redbudsuds 4-in-1 suds are designed for your hair so they won’t leave it feeling gummy and gross. They'll even clean your clothes too, in a pinch.
- Something with which to carry water. (See LNT Ethics below.) On backpacking and canoeing trips, I’ve successfully used cook-pots, water bottles, a jug, and Camelback/Platypus bladders. Bladders are nice because you can fill them and let them sit in the sun for a few hours to help warm the water (but let's be honest, it's always a little thrillingly chilly). As always when camping, creativity is key. Use what you have. You can get fancier stuff later if you find you really need it.
#3 Pro-tips and accessories
Find level(ish) ground. Sounds obvious, but I’ve spent too many showers balancing on mountainsides. If the spot is flat, your shower is so much more relaxing. Really worth it.
Shoofah. When washing up with a bar, this little mesh bag is a game changer! It keeps dirt and hair from sticking to your soap. It's got a wrist strap so you never drop it. (Don't drop the soap!) You can hang it up anywhere to dry. And because Shoofahs are made from non-absorbent and recyclable material, they dry super fast.
Ziplock or reusable bag for storage. The best lightweight way to protect your suds from other stuff in your pack.
Bandana. As mentioned above, wrapping your shoofah/shower bar in a small bandana can keep things tidy if the bar isn’t totally dry when it’s time to pack up. You can also use the bandana as a washcloth for your next shower and not worry about wasting any suds. Not to mention, one can never have too many bandanas on a camping trip, ever.
- Level up on the shower bag. Of course, there are tools made especially for showering in the woods. In my opinion, they’re not a necessity but if you’re planning on taking a lot of wilderness showers and have extra room, they’re definitely worth it. Sea to Summit’s Pocket Shower seems to be the best in all the things: lightweight, packable, easily fillable, multifunctional and affordable. I have one and I love it. Easy to use, easy to fill, easy to clean. I'd also recommend that Simple Shower for small jobs. You can find reviews of additional shower bags here. I’ve used the Advanced Elements Summer Shower and found it to be clumsy to pack and hard to turn off/on with wet, soapy hands.
Isn't it cold?!?
It can be! Granted, it is possible to have a warm shower in the woods (see shower bag above), but you know what? Cold showers leave you feeling absolutely amazing. My advice: embrace it. You'll feel so good at the end. Plus, cold showers require zero planning ahead (always a win in my book). Just breathe through it and tell yourself “It’s so good." I promise, afterwards, you'll believe it, too.
As glorious as the dirtbag life is, I’ve come to realize that there’s nothing like going to bed clean to make a day in the woods even more spectacular.
I hope you find these tips helpful as you plan your next wilderness shower.
Feel free to add your comments and suggestions below.
May all your adventures, both in the backcountry and front-country wilderness, be thoughtfully clean.