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Camping showers and other essentials: how to stay clean while camping


September 21, 2022


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featured image - camping showers

Going camping can be daunting, and one of the common objections we often hear when it comes to leaving the comfort of home is the lack of a warm shower in the wild. But the truth is, there are many ways to stay clean while camping, even for those who are pitching their tent in the backcountry, away from any facilities. The specialists at SAIL have compiled a list of tips to help you stay clean, from bringing a portable camping shower to washing clothes in the wild.This way, you can enjoy your time away without having to scrub the dirt, sunscreen and bug spray off your clothes and skin when you get home!

In this article, you will learn:

  1. Top tips to stay clean while camping
  2. Using a camping shower
  3. Only use biodegradable soap
  4. Know how to go to the bathroom responsibly
  5. Wash your hands
  6. Bring the right clothes (and underwear) with you
  7. Dispose of trash responsibly
  8. A few pro tips

Top tips to stay clean while camping

Whether they are camping in the frontcountry (usually a campground accessible by car) or in the backcountry (camping in the wilderness), campers should always adhere to the Leave No Trace Principles. This can seem difficult to those who aren’t experienced campers, so here is a list of steps to achieve it.

Using a camping shower

If there are onsite facilities at your campground, this is an easy one. However, if that’s not an option or if you’d rather not use the facilities provided, here are some options to clean both your body and hair. The first one? Taking a camping shower with you. While there are several types of portable camping showers, most of them are made up of a bag that can be filled with water, a tube and a shower head. These types of showers use gravity to work, which means that they need to be hung up (usually from a tree), with the bag above the showerhead so water can flow down. However, some more complex models, such as those offered by brand Nemo, include a battery-operated pump for that extra water pressure. The shower bag can be filled in the morning and left in the sun to warm up, so your shower is nice and hot by the time you come back from the day’s hike. Campers looking for that little bit of extra luxury can opt for a shower fitted with a propane heater, although the environmental impact of fuel combustion should be considered.poket shampoo and conditioner


There are also some nifty extra features available when it comes to portable camping showers. These include insulated bags which keep the water warm for longer, thermometers to check the water temperature, or reflector panels to speed up the heating process.camping showers - hygiene products

If carrying a portable shower isn’t convenient, consider sponge baths. Use water to fill up a portable sink or tub (such as this one from Sea Summit) and bathe using biodegradable soap. Make sure you dispose of the used water at least 200 feet (70 adult paces) from your site or any water source, over dry ground. Use a quick-dry towel to avoid carrying a traditional, bulkier towel.

camping showers - portable sink

Only use biodegradable soap

soap campsuds

This rule applies for washing pretty much everything, from your face, body and hair to your clothes and dishes. There are multi-usage liquid soaps (brand Campsuds’s products are well-known) that can be used for pretty much all of the above. However, if you’re note interested in using the same soap for your hair as you do for your dishes, consider space-saving shampoo bottles or body wash sheets that will not add any weight to your backpack (read this article for more tips on how to save space in your pack). Remember to never lather up directly in a stream or lake, even with biodegradable soap, as this can disrupt the natural ecosystem.

Know how to go to the bathroom responsibly

Another common objection to going camping? The bathroom situation. Adhering to the following rules will ensure a great camping experience for everyone, while also protecting the local ecosystem.

To avoid contamination, you should make sure you pee at least 200 ft. (60,96 m) away from any water source, be it a lake or a stream. Use as little toilet paper as possible, and bring it back in a resealable plastic bag so you can empty it into the toilet once you get home. Some hardcore campers use a pee rag, or tree leaves (just watch out for poison ivy!). If you need to poop, dig a hole using a camp trowel. You should be a good distance away from your camp or any walking trail, and use the displaced soil to fill up the hole when you’re done.

Some campers bring camping toilets with them. These are usually used for frontcountry camping and should be emptied using the facilities provided onsite. Have a look at Reliance’s range of portable camping toilets.

Wash your hands

Always carry hand sanitizer with you and use it after going to the toilet and before eating. If camping in the wilderness, try to wash your hands thoroughly with biodegradable soap and water at least once a day, and use different rags for drying your hands and your dishes.

Bring the right clothes (and underwear) with you

While those camping near their car will have more room to bring extra clothes, thru-hikers may need to adopt a minimalist approach due to weight constraints. However, some items should be added to your camping gear list in order to keep clean. This includes a separate set of clothing for sleeping so you can remain warm and dry at night. You should also pack at least two day outfits so you can alternate. If needed, you could wash one and leave it to dry without having to spend your day in the buff!

Underwear is also a key part of any basic hygiene kit. Make sure you have enough to change often (at the very least every two days) and avoid cotton as it is very slow to dry. Use synthetic fabrics or natural fibres such as Merino wool.

Dispose of trash responsibly

trash bags

Always bring some trash bags with you while camping. You could use a pop-up camping trash can (see brand Coghlan for some options) to keep everything contained, although this isn’t an essential item. Always dispose of your trash in the containers provided at your campground or bring it back with you. If there are recycling facilities, sort and recycle your trash onsite, but otherwise use bags to bring it home and sort it there.

If you’d like more tips on eco-friendly camping, read the article here.

Top list of items to take with you to stay clean while camping

Portable shower
Portable sink or tub (for sponge baths)
Face cloths
Quick-dry towel
Biodegradable, unscented shampoo, bodywash, dish soap and laundry soap
Toothpaste, toothbrush and floss
Toilet paper
Resealable plastic bags
Camping trowel
Camping toilet (optional)
Hand sanitizer
Wipes (to use only on occasion; make sure you bring them back and never bury them)
2-3 pairs of underwear and socks (wool or synthetic)
2 day outfits
1 night outfit
Trash bags
Camping trash can

Have a look here for a full camping gear checklist, or to view our range of eco-friendly camping cleaning products.

A few pro tips

  • Avoid any scented toiletries, including shampoo, deodorant, perfume or hair products. These can damage the local ecosystem, as well as attract animals.
  • Before you jump into a lake or stream, try to rinse off any sunscreen.
  • Don’t forget your toothbrush, toothpaste and floss but remember to brush your teeth at least 200 feet away from your camping spot.


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