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5 Reasons Why A Camper Van Shower Stall Is A Terrible Idea

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Hygiene and keeping clean is always one of the first concerns when we think about van life. We’ve read horror stories about van lifers who only shower once a week and we thought this couldn’t possibly be for us. We had to build a shower system in our camper van.

And we did!

We installed a simple outdoor shower system, complete with PEX piping, water heater, and large water tank. But after our first 7 months, we only used the shower THREE times.

Now, after 3 years on the road, we’re convinced that installing camper van shower system is a bad idea for most people.

In this post, we give 5 reasons why we think building a camper van shower stall isn’t worth it and share several better alternatives.

So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!

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    Not what you need? Check out our “Camper Van Plumbing” page for more similar content.

    Space Sacrifice

    Most camper van showers involve building a tiny stall, usually just behind the driver’s seat.

    And while these stalls are seen as small and ‘space efficient’, they are anything but those things. Since van interior space is already so limited, everything you install in a van will end up taking considerable real estate inside the camper.

    When planning our van build, we estimated that a shower stall would take up about 10% of the total interior space. If you’re thinking that 10% doesn’t sound like that much, just remember that your bed will take up almost half of your van’s free space and the space directly in front of the sliding door is largely unusable.

    So adding a shower stall will likely take up ~25-30% of the remaining ‘usable’ space.

    That’s less space for storage, for cooking, and hanging out.

    Download our Water System eBook (with diagrams) to visualize which wire sizes you need.

    Larger Water Tanks

    While we’re still talking about van interior space, installing a shower means you’ll likely need to carry larger water tanks with you.

    This includes both fresh and grey water tanks.

    And water tanks aren’t small. We carried a ‘cute’ 10-gallon tank for our camper shower and even then, we lamented the loss in total storage capacity.

    Additional Cost & Build Time

    Plumbing was by far the most frustrating part of our entire van build. And we only built a simple sink system.

    That’s why we offer a free plumbing guide eBook so that you don’t experience the same headaches as we did.

    But we can’t imagine the time it takes and the complexity to install a waterproof shower stall inside a camper van. If you have a plumbing background or have a plumbing friend, then perhaps this can save you time and angst. But for most of us, it’s quite a daunting task considering you may not even use the shower that often! (More on that below)

    Plentiful Shower Opportunities

    One of the biggest reasons why we practically never used our van shower was because there were plentiful shower opportunities everywhere we drove. Below is a list of the most common shower options for van life travelers.

    • Truck Stop Shower Stalls – Truck stop chains, like Flying J and Pilot, offer hot water showers to anyone, not just truck drivers. Not free, but convenient when needed.
    • Coin Operated Showers – Some campsites in National & State parks offer cheap coin-operated showers. These are usually just a few dollars per use.
    • Gyms – Places like the Planet Fitness & Fitness 24 offer hot water showers to their members. Their many locations throughout the US & Canada make them convenient a convenient shower option.
    • Beach Showers – Many established beach locations will have an on-site shower for people to rinse off. Very useful if you love spending time on the coast.
    • Rivers & Lakes – You might not be able to use cleaning products but taking a plunge in a nearby river or lake is an effective way to stay clean.
    • Spigot & Hose Showers – We carry a collapsible hose and sprayer to connect to a spigot whenever we see one. Not a fabulous shower experience and it’s cold water, but it gets the job done.
    • Solar Showers – Above all, we use our solar shower bag the most. We love it and believe all van life travelers should get one. (More on that below)

    Solar Shower Bags

    Solo Female Campervan - Solar Shower

    Our most common way to shower while traveling in our camper is to use a solar shower bag. And this is for two reasons.

    1. Hot water!

    When the sun is shining strong, we lay our solar shower bag, full of water, out in the sun. 4 hours later, the water gets plenty hot. We usually like to hoist our bag on our roof to get full sun exposure.

    If there isn’t much sun that day, we simply fill a couple kettles-worth of hot water, which we heat up on our stove, and fill the bag. A mixture of 50% cold water and 50% boiling water gets us a very decent shower.

    2. Easy To Fill

    The problem with traditional water tanks is that you need a specific place to fill the tank. If you can’t find a water-fill station, you can’t fill your tank. No water? No shower.

    But finding places to fill our solar shower bag is easy. Below is a list of places we’ve used to fill our solar shower.

    There’s always a place you can refill your bag. And that makes the solar shower bag incredibly convenient and useful.

    3. Packs Away When Not Needed

    One of the worst aspects of a fixed shower stall inside your camper is that even if you’re not using the shower, the stall is still there taking up valuable space.

    Not so with a solar shower bag. When you don’t need it, the solar shower folds up and packs away very easily and takes up virtually no space in our storage area.

    Enjoyed reading? Check out our Van Plumbing page for more similar content.

    Conclusion: Camper Van Shower Stalls Aren’t For Everyone

    We agree that installing a camper van shower stall might make sense for some people. But we think for most van life travelers, making room for an inside shower takes up valuable space, is costly to install, and overall, just isn’t worth it.

    There are so many other options out there to help you get a quick rinse and we think that all these alternatives provide a much more practical, long-term solution for van lifers.

    If you have any questions about the practicality of showers during van life, please let us know in the comments section below.

    Happy building!

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