Best Van Life Shower Setups – Camping Shower Heater Options

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In this guide we review six camping shower heater options that work well for van lifers.

A shower option in your van gives you the freedom to boondock out on public land and have the comfort of feeling clean while out in deep nature. Some van lifers want to rinse off after surfing or climbing. If you’re traveling with a dog you’ll need to find a way to give them a shower.

I traveled in my van for nearly a year and went very few days without showering.

Many van lifers are fine with showering at gyms or campgrounds. But if you’re looking for a permanently installed on-demand hot water shower in your van or a portable solar shower bag as a backup, this guide will help.

The Nemo Helio is the best solar bag shower reviewed and is a great portable shower option. If you’re looking for a fixed on-demand shower in your van then be sure to check out the Camplux Pro propane unit.

Every van lifer’s showering needs are different so we provide a list of “best of” recommendations below.

Let’s get started.

Nothing like ending a day with a hot shower

Our Best Van Life Showers

Van Life Shower Reviews

Here are our top six van life shower reviews.

Nemo Helio Portable – Best Solar Bag Shower

  • Type: Solar bag
  • Water Flow Type: Foot pump
  • Heating Method: Solar or manual
  • Capacity: 2.9 or 5.8 gallons

The Nemo Helio portable is our top choice for best solar bag shower. When empty it compacts down to a small size of 13.03 x 11.06 x 6.5 inches for the 5.8-gallon version. Meaning that you can fit it into a small space in your van when not using it.

This shower has two major advantages over other solar bag showers. First off it provides much better water pressure through the use of a foot pump instead of just gravity. And second, it doesn’t need to hang from a tree, meaning you can use it on the ground anywhere, such as to shower after surfing at the beach.

It has a seven-foot hose which is long enough for most showering needs. You’ll get a 5-7 or 7-10 minute shower from the 2.9 or 5.8-gallon versions respectively.

Some people report that it’s not easy to thoroughly dry this shower out after use. So consider this if you’re planning to break it down and store it away quickly. Another drawback is that you need to hold the “on” button to create water flow, so one hand is always in use while operating.

That said this is a great portable shower that can go with you away from your van and is durably built. This is a strong consideration for van lifers who want a backup, infrequent shower for when they’re boondocking. Or want a shower to take with them on backpacking or surfing trips.


Advanced Elements Summer Shower – Best Budget Solar Bag Shower

  • Type: Solar bag
  • Water Flow Type: Gravity
  • Heating Method: Solar or manual
  • Capacity: 2.5, 3, 5, or 10 gallons

This is our top choice for the best budget solar bag shower. There are a ton of these basic gravity-flow solar showers on the market but out of the available options, this is the best.

This solar bag shower has a temperature gauge on the side to see when the water is hot enough to use comfortably. It breaks down to a small enough size that it can fit into a backpack for portability and comes in a variety of capacities from 2.5-10 gallons.

The shower head has an on/off switch so you can conserve the water capacity instead of needing to rush through the shower before you run out of water.

It won’t have the same level of water pressure as the Nemo Helio as this one uses gravity alone for water flow. It will take three hours in direct sunlight to heat up and you’ll need to hang it higher than whatever you’re washing. The bag can get quite heavy when full of water so consider this when choosing the size.

Consider the Advanced Elements if you’re on a budget but want a backup, infrequent shower. Or a shower to use in special circumstances such as while out boondocking.


Camplux Pro – Best Propane Shower

  • Type: Propane
  • Water Flow Type: Source pressure / Electric pump
  • Heating Method: Propane
  • Capacity: Custom

The Camplux Pro is our top choice for best propane shower. This shower is a favorite for van lifers who want an in-van convenient heated shower setup.

Installing this shower is a bit of work but Camplux has excellent customer service to assist you if you run into any difficulties. Once it’s set up in your van, you simply turn it on and wait five minutes to have a shower with adjustable temperature and water pressure.

This shower can provide hot water for as much water as you have in the source that it’s connected to. If you plan to do a lot of winter camping, you’ll need to drain the unit after each use as you’ll damage it if it freezes with water still in it.

With any propane shower, you’ll need to be sure to follow all the safety protocols when installing it and provide proper ventilation. This unit is intended for outdoor use but can be used internally with the proper use of a flue pipe or duct.

Once up and running, the Camplux Pro will provide a steady 1.58 GPM (gallons per minute) of water flow.

One thing to note is that this unit does not have a water pump built into it. This means that the source of water will need to be pressurized (i.e. connected to a water spigot at a campground or RV park). Or you’ll need to use a water pump separately.

If you want to get back from a day of adventuring and have a hot shower waiting for you in your van, this is a strong consideration.


Gasland Tankless Water Heater – Best Flow Rate Shower

  • Type: Propane
  • Water Flow Type: Source pressure / Electric pump
  • Heating Method: Propane
  • Capacity: Custom

This could also be rated as our top luxury choice shower as it’s the older brother of the Camplux Pro, providing 3.18 GPM of water pressure.

Like the Camplux Pro this will need to connect to a pressurized water source such as a hose or a van water tank with a separate water pump. You’ll need to follow the setup instructions and adhere to all safety precautions.

This shower will fire up the heating element when it notices a pressurized water source flowing into it and will turn off when the source stops.

If you’re looking for a high-pressure, on-demand hot water shower in your rig, consider the Gasland Tankless.


YAKIMA Roadshower – Best Roof Rack Shower

  • Type: Roof Rack
  • Water Flow Type: Pressurized water source, external air pump, or manual pump
  • Heating Method: Solar
  • Capacity: 4, 7, or 10 gallons

The YAKIMA Roadshower is our best roof rack shower. It comes with instructions to install to most roof racks and will heat the 4, 7, or 10 gallons of water capacity via sunlight beating down on the powder-coated aluminum.

Compared to other roof rack showers such as the Waterport Weekender, the installation for this shower is a breeze.

The tank is pressurized through the use of a manual pump, external air pump, or a pressurized water source such as a garden hose. Beware that manually pumping it will take a bit of time and effort.

Once it’s pressurized you’ll have quality water pressure through an adjustable nozzle for a shower-like broad spray or a focused spray for cleaning off gear such as dirty mountain bikes. As the tank empties the water pressure will drop and you’ll need to re-pressurize or accept the lower pressure.

Roof rack showers are easy to spot on the top of a van so consider that you’ll be giving away some of your ability to stealth park. This unit is entirely externally mounted so it saves a lot of precious space inside your van, but is also designed for primarily outdoor use.

Depending on your window arrangement I can imagine snaking the coil hose through a window if you really want to shower inside your van.

This is a great shower if you’ll be doing a lot of public land camping away from civilization and don’t mind showering outside. Or if you have a lot of gear or pets that you want to hose down.


Ivation Portable – Best Bonus Shower

  • Type: Portable Electric Unit
  • Water Flow Type: Batteries
  • Heating Method: None
  • Capacity: Custom

This is such a neat gadget that we needed to include it as the best bonus shower. Once you charge this device you simply drop one end of the six-foot cord into a water source (a bucket, water tank, lake, river, etc) and then turn it on for water pressure.

It’s a simple device but can be coiled up and stored in a small space for an on-demand shower anytime. There’s no heating element so you’ll get water flow at whatever temperature your water source is, but manually heating water is always an option.

I doubt any van lifer would use this as their primary shower option but it’s a great backup to have for special circumstances.


Buying Guide

As per many van life decisions you’ll make, your perfect shower setup will depend on your priorities and budget. Spend some time considering which of these features and benefits are most important to you.

Shower Type

There are three main types of showers primarily used by van lifers:

  • Solar Bags – These are self-contained units that when filled up and placed in the sun will heat up. One of these is a good choice if you’re going to be in places with a lot of sunlight, you don’t mind waiting for the water to heat up, and/or you want a portable shower to take with you away from the van such as when hiking.
  • Propane – These units will usually be semi-permanently mounted in your van somewhere and will heat with propane. They will generally tie into your larger van water system. This is what you’ll want to look at if frequent hot showers in your van are a high priority for you.
  • Roof Rack – These units will be permanently fixed to the roof rack of your van and are generally heated by the sun. These are great for rinsing off yourself, gear, and/or pets outside the van and if stealth camping isn’t a high priority for you.

Water Flow Type

There are a variety of ways that water will flow from the shower unit:

  • Gravity – Commonly seen in solar bags, these units will hang above where the person is showering and the water will flow simply through gravity. This doesn’t provide much water pressure.
  • Manual pump – Some showers will use a hand or foot pump to pressurize the unit, generally providing better flow pressure than gravity alone.
  • Source-pressurized – Most of the propane units create water flow that is pressurized from the water source, such as a water spigot. The YAKIMA roof rack can also be pressurized in this way. To make a propane unit fully independent you can also install an electric pump to create this water pressure.
Manually heating up water is always an option

Heating Method

There are four main ways to heat the water that you’ll be using for showering:

  • Solar – Solar bags can be set out in the sun and roof rack showers are permanently exposed to sunlight so that they heat up.
  • Propane – The semi-fixed propane showers will integrate into your propane system to heat up water.
  • Electric – You can find self-contained shower units that heat up through the use of electricity, but I haven’t included any in this roundup because they’re not popular with van lifers for a variety of reasons. They’re usually expensive, large, and anything electric that heats up typically demands a lot of power draw on your electrical system. This can be problematic unless you’re plugged into shore power.
  • Manual – If there isn’t enough sunlight and/or you don’t have the patience to wait a few hours for hot water, there’s always the option to manually heat some up. You can do this on your stove and mix it with cooler water to a desired temperature before adding it to a solar bag or to use with the Ivation portable shower.

Capacity

Water is a limited resource for van lifers and each shower has its capacity limitations. If you plan to only use a propane shower while at campgrounds or RV parks (which often have their own showers) then this won’t be an issue, otherwise you’ll likely have some capacity restraints.

It will be helpful to determine your expectations for shower length to align with the shower that’s best for you. If you’re okay taking “military showers” where you cut off the water flow while you’re applying soap then a lower capacity might be fine.

If you want to take long hot showers then consider a shower unit with a larger or custom water capacity.

Functionality

Are you okay with filling a solar bag, finding a place in the sun for it to heat up, and then hanging it from a tree to shower outdoors? Or would you rather be able to come in from hiking or climbing and shower immediately in the comfort of your van with a propane system?

Are you okay showering standing next to your van or snaking the head through a window with a roof rack shower unit? Or manually prepare your own hot water for use with the Ivation portable shower?

Understanding the situations in which you’ll want to use your shower unit will help to determine which one is best for you.

Where to find a shower out here?

Setup Difficulty

The last consideration is how easy it is to set up your shower, both initially and for ongoing use. Roof racks and propane showers have an in-depth initial setup but are easy to use once installed.

Solar shower bags need some advanced planning and some work when using (either finding a suitable place to hang or manually pumping).

Our Verdict

That should get you on your way to determining a van life shower setup that works for you, your needs, and your budget. Spend some time figuring out in what situations you’ll want to use your van shower and this will help to determine which unit is best for you.

The Nemo Helio is a great portable shower option and the Camplux Pro will feel the closest to what you’re used to using living in a house or apartment.

Photo of author

AUTHOR

Robert Johnson is the founder of Van Simply. He spent eight months traveling full time in his converted camper van and takes frequent shorter trips to explore the world. He enjoys taking his van on surf trips, visiting national parks, and meeting up with the wonderful people he has met on his travels.

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