I peeled off my sweaty mountain biking shorts, grabbed a bottle of soap and a towel, and practically sprinted to the nearby recreation center, hoping against all odds they offered day passes to the facilities there. One look from the guy working the front desk and I realized 1) that I was out of luck, and 2) that it was suddenly painfully obvious I’d been living in my van for the last week.
Unless you’re lucky enough to travel in a fully equipped RV or can afford a hotel for every night of your trip, you may find yourself in a similar situation during one of your adventures. But where there’s a will to be clean, there's a way to shower.
First things first: While you could sneak into hotel pools or wash yourself in a restaurant sink, please don’t. Not only is that disrespectful, but it also leads to business owners cracking down on other campers and climbers. If you’re going to bum a shower, make sure you do it right, or plan your trips to be shorter so you can go home and shower. That, or invest in a whole lot of baby wipes.
Oh, and a big thank you to that recreation-center employee, who wound up letting me shower for free. Here’s wishing you some good camping karma.
Option 1: Stay at a campground with showers
While free or inexpensive primitive campgrounds won’t have running water or flush toilets, reserving a spot for a single night at a campground with showers can offer some relief during long trips.
Option 2: Pay for a truck-stop shower
In recent years, many truck stops have rebranded themselves as more family-friendly travel plazas, offering laundry rooms, showers and even churches. Grab your flip-flops (this is non-negotiable), pay for a shower and wait for the truck-stop attendant to call your name or number.
Option 3: Test out local health clubs and recreation centers
Most gyms, health clubs and recreation centers offer an inexpensive day pass to potential new members who want to check out the facilities. Some will even let you try the joint out for free if you give them your email address! Not only can you freshen up, but you’ll also be able to squeeze in a workout and maybe even a swim.
Option 4: Invest in a solar shower (or a big jug of water)Commonly called “pocket showers,” “sun showers,” or “bag showers,” solar showers are blissfully easy to use and not that expensive to buy.
Fill these waterproof bags up with water in the morning, place them in the sun during the heat of the day and treat yourself to a warm shower whenever you want. We like the NEMO Helio Pressure Shower, a freestanding shower that uses a foot pump to deliver the pressure you need to wash off. The cheaper option? Fill a plastic gallon-sized jug with water and follow the same concept.
Option 5: Find a mountain bike wash or public shower
Yes, some mountain biking parks and trail areas have “bike washes” where you can hoist your muddy bike up on a hook and give it a cleaning after a good ride. And where there’s water, there can be a shower—if you can handle the freezing-cold temps. (Just don’t hog the faucet if someone is in line with their bike.) Similarly, many public beaches offer free showers where you can rinse off after a surf.
Option 6: Find a quarter shower stand
Some savvy businessmen in popular outdoor recreation areas have set up buildings that host pay-by-minute quarter showers. Slip four quarters into the shower’s pay box and try to soap up and wash off in the allotted amount of time.
Option 7: Call up a friend — or make some new ones
If you have friends nearby, call them up and ask them if you can use their shower. Or get friendly with that couple driving the RV at your campground. Be quick, discreet and appreciative, and always return the favor to dirty friends who happen to pass by your house.
Option 8: Use environmentally safe soap with river water
If all else fails and you absolutely have to shower, don’t just grab for that bar of soap in your backpack and rinse off in the lake.
To protect wildlife and natural waterways, always make sure to use all-natural, biodegradable soap that’s specially formulated for camping. Try Trek & Travel Shampoo with Conditioner, or Juniper Ridge Trail Soap, and never bathe upstream from where people might be swimming or filtering water—instead, fill up a bucket with some river water and step away from the stream, always making sure to bury your suds in the dirt when you’re done.
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