How to Shower When Living the Van Life

By: Scott Adamson
/ June 21, 2020
The answer to a Frequently Asked Vanlife Question (FAVQ): How do you shower when living in a van?

“How will you shower?” is one of the first questions your friends will ask when they learn about your plans for Vanlife. If you’re an aspiring Vanlifer, you may be asking yourself this very same thing…

One of the most interesting parts about packing up for a long (or fulltime) adventure in your converted camper van is forcing yourself to make a list of what is truly essential for your new living space. For many Van Lifers, the ability to shower is at the top of their list.

Thankfully, there’s an abundance of clever shower options on the market, whether you’re installing a plumbing system in your van or not.

Whatever you choose, this is a decision best made early on in the van design phase. Incorporating a shower may greatly impact your layout and water storage needs.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Shower

The first thing that needs to be decided is whether to install a fixed shower area inside your van or if you’d prefer to shower outside.

Fixed Indoor Shower

The beauty of installing a shower inside your van is being able to wash up in the comfort and privacy of your own home. This is a must for many Vanlifers, myself included.

An indoor shower allows you to clean yourself up whenever you want, in any weather condition, at any time of the day.

The reason some Van Lifers choose not to install an indoor shower is usually due to the space it will take up inside the van. As we all know, space is limited in any tiny home, especially one on wheels.

Two of the best bathroom options to accommodate an indoor shower are:

  1. The Hidden Shower, and
  2. The Wet Bath

The Hidden Shower

Personally, I chose to install a hidden shower in my van. My shower is stored behind a cabinet door and pops up over my toilet, making it a dual-purpose space. It takes up very little real-estate and you’d have no idea it even exists when tucked away.

Is it small? Yes.

Does it do the trick? Absolutely.

Does it get water all over my van? No!

Pro Tip: Install the shower plumbing in the rear of the van so it can also be used outside. One of the things I love most about my shower is the long hose I installed for a good rinse-down after the beach. 

 

 

The Wet Bath

Another option for an indoor shower is the wet bath. A wet bath is a private bathroom that is finished so that all surfaces can be wet or damp. This shower setup provides much more privacy and feels a little bit more like a traditional bathroom.

If you’re traveling with multiple people and would prefer more than a shower curtain separating you from the crowd, this may be a better option for you.

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Van Life | 40 Hours of Freedom (@saraandalexjames) on

(Instagram post by @saraandalexjames)

If you’re familiar with Alex and Sara James, this is a staple in almost all of the vans they build, and they are absolutely beautiful!

The biggest issue with the wet bath is the sheer amount of space it takes up in your tiny home. Also, depending on the materials used, this shower can add a substantial amount of weight to your van.

Outdoor Showers

Many Vanlifers choose to shower outside of their van. As mentioned, this decision usually comes down to space limitations.

The benefit of showering outside is that you don’t need to build a dedicated wet area in your small living space.

The issues with outdoor showering are:

  • Lack of privacy
  • Only really suitable for warm climates
  • Often dependent on weather conditions
  • Sometimes against the law, depending on where you’re parked

While I completely understand that installing a shower inside your van isn’t always at the top of your must-have list, I have to admit that showering outside isn’t as easy as it sounds. You need to be mindful of privacy. and are usually at the mercy of the sun, if you’re wanting hot water. 

Shower Options for Van Life

Choosing your shower system really depends on 1 thing: How do you want to heat your water?

This can be done using a hot water tank powered by electrical/solar, a tankless propane heater, or even a solar shower bag.

1) Hot Water Tank

Many people, myself included, choose to install an electric hot water tank to store and heat water for showers and cleaning dishes.

I have a relatively large solar system installed and I wanted to take full advantage of all the power being made during the day, so I went with a 12 Gallon 110v Hot Water Tank.

My system is designed in such a way that while the van is driving and the house batteries are fully charged, it will dump excess power into creating hot water. With the amount of driving I do, I typically always have hot or at least very warm water.

Tip: Buy a Low-Flow Showerhead

Conserving water is one of your top priorities when traveling in your van for extended periods of time. So for that reason, I recommend installing a low-flow showerhead.

I recommend the High Sierra Low Flow Shower Head, which has a 1.5 GPM (Gallons Per Minute).

After using many low-flow showerheads in the past, this is by far the best one I’ve used because it feels like a regular shower.

 

2) Tankless Water Heaters

Tankless water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank. When you turn your shower on, cold water travels to the unit and either a gas burner or an electric element will heat the water. As a result, tankless water heaters are designed to deliver a constant supply of hot water.

Many of the tankless options will require you to store propane in your van. This may be a good option for those that are already using propane for things like cooking. Personally, I prefer not to store an additional fuel source in my van.

Here are some of the more popular tankless water heaters:

Camplux Propane Tankless Water Heater

Camplux Tankless Water Heater
  • Compact and lightweight.
  • Can easily mount to almost any surface.
  • Automatically activates on water pressure between 3.0-110PSI.
  • Rated for 2.11 GPM of hot water output.
  • Achievable temperature range of 50-140°F
  • No electrical connection required
  • Buy now

Eccotemp L5 Portable Outdoor Tankless Water Heater

Eccotemp L5 Water Heater
  • Easy to use temperature controls.
  • Lightweight, easy to carry, and compact.
  • Features a safety shut-off that is activated when the unit runs longer than 20 minutes or is tilted more than 45 degrees in either direction.
  • Low pressure activation of 20 PSI and is easy to connect to any standard garden hose.
  • Rated at 1.5 Gallons per minute (GPM) of hot water output with an achievable temperature range of 50 – 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Buy now

3) Portable Solar Heated Showers

Another option for showering would be to hang or mount a water storage solution that is heated by the sun. This method is at the mercy of a sunny day and requires some upfront planning and patience if you’re looking to shower on any given day.

The RoadShower

The Road Shower
  • Available in 4, 7 & 10-gallon sizes.
  • Large top-cap allows for easy filling.
  • Pressurize with hand or electric pump – Built-in pressure relief valve safely and automatically tops out at 65 psi (max).
  • Includes a stick-on thermometer strip for the outside of the tank.
  • Integrated lock loops allow you to lock RoadShower to your roof rack.
  • Buy now

Coleman Camp Shower

Coleman Camp Shower Bag
  • Uses Solar Energy
  • Handy on/off valve connected to showerhead
  • Sufficient volume for multiple showers
  • Buy now

Advanced Elements Summer Shower

Advanced Summer Shower Bag
  • Large capacity reservoir
  • Rugged rip stop fabric, with soap pockets
  • Large fill port
  • Easy to use nozzle, push on and off
  • Buy now

Privacy

If an outdoor shower is your preferred option, then privacy will be your next consideration. Here are a couple of options:

Rear Door Shower Curtain

Grab pre-made curtains and clips from places like RB Components, or try the DIY approach and make your own.

Pop-Up Privacy Tent

Alternatively, you could pack a pop-up shower tent!

 

No Shower

And finally, there is always the option to leave a shower solution out of your van altogether. When you really need to shower, there are a few public facilities that you can take advantage, mostly at a cost:

  • Campgrounds
  • Gyms
  • Public Beaches
  • Public Pools

Still not sure if you should install a shower in your van or not?

Like any other design decision in your van conversion, whether or not to incorporate a shower solution will come down to a few things:

1. Your lifestyle.

2. Your priorities.

3. And of course, your budget.

If you plan on traveling in your van for extended periods of time and want to get a true off-grid experience, then incorporate a shower solution in your van build. You will thank yourself later.

If you plan on spending time in colder climates and you want the ability to take a warm shower after a day in the snow, then install a shower inside your van.

But if you’re only using your van for shorter trips or you plan on sticking to campgrounds with bathroom facilities, then enjoy the extra space in your van by leaving the shower out.

Scott Adamson
Wanderful Idea Guy
Coffee drinker, adventure seeker, below average photographer.
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