Find practical ideas and whimsical inspiration in The Outdoor Shower (Storey Publishing, 2006). Author and designer/builder Ethan Fierro offers plans and step-by-step instructions on outdoor showers for a wide range of uses. Learn how to build a camp shower in this excerpt taken from chapter four, “Temporary Showers.”
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Here is a horse of a different color. With the ability to drive in all the supplies you need comes greater flexibility in creating your outdoor shower. Material weight is no longer of consequence, so the type of temporary shower you build is dictated only by your needs and the degree of imagination you want to bring to the design.
The required components for this shower are a structural framework that provides support for the plumbing and any enclosure you might want, a system for heating the water, a pump (either electric or manual) that delivers the water to the showerhead, a platform for the bather to stand on, a showerhead and temperature-control handles, and a graywater drainage system.
Camp showers usually employ a relatively solid structure for an ongoing period of time. Typically they’re used for a week or two, though an extended camping sojourn could easily keep them in operation for months at a time. The use of a semipermanent plumbing material such as CPVC tubing guarantees that smooth operation will continue indefinitely as long as you have taken care to assemble all the joints and fixtures securely.
The physical framework of the camp shower can be assembled with a variety of materials that easily affix to one another and just as easily disassemble — 2x4 wood framing stock or plywood secured with screws or carriage bolts, tree saplings bound together with rope, metal conduit with angle brackets, and inevitably a host of other materials.
Presize the materials at home to make sure that everything fits together well and is ready for efficient on-site assembly. You can label all the parts so that you can set up the shower without a hitch when you reach your destination. The initial investment you make in designing and prefabricating your shower will make the reassembly easy to perform with a few hand tools, such as a hammer, cordless screw gun, and pliers.
Where your water comes from will depend, in some part, on how far away from civilization you’re constructing your shower. You might need to pump or haul water from a nearby pond, lake, or stream. In areas that receive rain reliably, you might consider setting up a rain catchment. Purchasing water from a local tanker truck is sometimes a possibility. If you’re near enough a water spigot, you might just hook up your shower to it with a garden hose.
Heating the Water
The temporary shower, like any other shower, works by drawing heated water overhead and controlling the volume as it descends over the bather’s body. If you want to take advantage of mechanizing your camp shower, you can use a propane burner to flash-heat your water in a metal container. Manually mix in cold water to balance it, and use a small electric motor to siphon this “shower-ready” mix to the showerhead with the flick of a switch.
If you don’t want the responsibility of electric motors, you can use a standard marine foot pump to transfer the water from the mixing container up to a hanging reservoir above the bather. Once the water is in place, opening a release valve will allow it to exit the container via an attached showerhead.
Dealing with Graywater
You can construct a simple platform by attaching a series of boards side by side to two crosspieces beneath them. The boards on top of the platform should have spaces between them to allow water to drain through. The platform gets the bather off the ground, provides a stable surface to stand on, and allows the graywater to drain from the bathing platform. If the soil beneath the platform has a sufficient percolation rate, you can allow the graywater to simply fall to the ground and be absorbed into the earth. Otherwise, install a watertight pan under the platform to collect the graywater, and pipe it to a better spot (downhill) for absorption into the earth.
Digging a dry well and filling it with gravel is most likely unrealistic for the conditions under which this style of shower is implemented. I recommend taking the time to figure out how to dispose of the graywater responsibly, though, because a concentration of soaps, shampoos, and other complex chemical compounds can have a damaging effect on the environment if they drain directly into open bodies of water or are allowed to become concentrated in one spot.
How to Build a Camp Shower
This design is easy to assemble and requires only minimal materials. The flow of water is controlled by the bather as required.
• A source for heating the water, such as propane burner and tank
• A 5-gallon (19 liter) metal pot for heating and mixing water
• A foot-operated nautical bilge pump
• A tripod made out of three 8-foot (2.4 m) lengths of 2-inch (5 cm) schedule 40 PVC or 2-inch (5 cm) aluminum pipe joined at the top by carriage bolts
• 16 feet (4.9 m) of 1-inch (19 mm) heat-resistant, flexible, nautical-grade hose
• A 3-foot by 3-foot (91 cm by 91 cm) wooden grillwork platform, such as a pallet
• A showerhead
Begin by erecting the tripod; the bases of the legs should be 4 to 5 feet from each other. Place the wooden platform on the ground below the apex of the tripod. For privacy, wrap a tarp around the outside of the tripod, covering the first 6 vertical feet or so (remember to leave an entry/exit flap).
Attach the showerhead with wire to the apex of the tripod and run the feed tube down one of the legs, winding it around the leg several times to keep it out of the bathing space. Insert the end of the feed tube into the foot-operated pump, and set the pump on the platform.
Place the propane tank and burner near the platform, within reach of the pump. Open the valve on the propane tank and light the burner. Fill the metal pot with 3 gallons of water and set it on the burner to heat. When the water is fully heated, mix in enough cold water to reach a suitable temperature for showering.
Run a length of hose from the intake of the foot-operated pump to the pot on top of the burner, and insert the end of the hose into the heated water (you may need to tie or clamp it to the edge of the pot so that it won’t fall out). Step onto the platform, and start pumping. The water will be siphoned into the hose and up to the showerhead. Five gallons of water, if used judiciously, will provide a very adequate shower.
The Outdoor Shower © Ethan Fierro, Illustration © Robert LaPointe used with permission from Storey Publishing. Buy this book from our store: The Outdoor Shower