Is building a shower in a camper van worth it? We thought so initially and built a simple outdoor shower system that connected to a 12V pump and water heater. Once van life started, we thought we using and enjoying out hot water shower system every day.
But in reality, during our first 7 months on the road, we only used our shower THREE times. And it wasn’t due to any shower malfunction. We just never really needed it. After those initial 7 months, we took out our shower system to free up more storage space and, 4 years later, haven’t regretted the decision.
In this post, we give 5 reasons why we think building a shower in a van conversion isn’t worth it and share several better alternatives.
So if you’re ready, let’s dive into it.
1. Showers Take Up Valuable Interior Space
Most camper van showers involve building a tiny stall, usually just behind the driver’s seat.
And while these stalls are promoted as compact and ‘space efficient’, they are anything but those things. We estimate that a shower stall uses about 10% of the total interior space of a camper van. And while 10% may not sound like much, remember that the bed will take up almost half of van’s available space.
This means the shower stall will need to compete with the kitchen, work area, and storage space for the space that remains after the bed is installed.
Download our Water System eBook (with diagrams) to visualize which wire sizes you need.
2. Must Install Large Water Tanks
Showers require significant amounts of water. So if you opt for installing a shower in your van, you will need to upgrade to larger water tanks. At the very minimum you will likely need a 20 gallon fresh water tank to feed the shower. This 20 gallon tank from Class A Customs will demand 5,500 sq. inches of space to store.
You will also need an equally large grey water tank to store the runoff from the shower. So if you have a 20 gallon freshwater tank, you will also need a 20 gallon grey water tank. That’s another 5,500 sq. inches of space lost.
While you could mount these water tanks under the chassis, you run into subsequent issues of increased installation complexity, reduced ground clearance, and being unable to use your tanks when traveling in sub-zero climates.
3. Increased Chance Of Leaks
Having water leaks is one of the WORST things to happen in a van. Water leaks out of the water tanks and pipes and soaks into the wood and floor boards leading to potential wood rot and mold growth.
It’s happened to us, under our sink, and has happened to several other van travelers we met.
The problem of leaks is two-fold. First, we aren’t professional plumbers. So the risk of having leaks is increased. Second, plumbing and driving don’t go together. Constant vibration has a way of loosening screws, splashing water, wearing down joints. In our opinion, water leaks is not a matter of if you’ll have them, it’s when they’ll happen.
And having a shower in your van increases the chance of water leaks because of all the additional water tanks, water heater, pipes, and fittings that you’ll have to carry.
Need plumbing guidance? Download our eBook for intuitive plumbing diagrams.
4. Increased Van Conversion Cost
Building a shower stall in a van isn’t cheap. Though costs can vary depending on build quality, expect to pay at least $500 to install a shower. This includes:
- Water tanks
- Pipes & fittings
- Shower head
- Shower pan & drain accessories
- Wood, tile, grout, sealant, & other materials
5. Plentiful Shower Opportunities
One of the biggest reasons why we practically never used our 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 Stops – 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.
- Gyms – Places like the Planet Fitness & Fitness 24 offer hot water showers to their members. Their many locations throughout the US & Canada make them a convenient shower option.
- Beach Showers – Many established beach locations will have an on-site shower for people to rinse off.
- Rivers & Lakes – You might not be able to use shampoo and soap, 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)
6. Solar Shower Bags
Our most common way to shower while traveling in our camper is to use a solar shower bag. And this is for three reasons.
- CONSTRUCTION - This solar shower boasts a durable, four-layer construction for optimal heat...
- CAPACITY - This summer shower has a large 3-gallon capacity and is designed to heat water fast in...
- TEMPERATURE GAUGE - Easy-to-read temperature gauge to know when your shower is warm. The shower can...
1. Hot water!
When the sun is shining strong, we lay our solar shower bag out in the sun. Four hours later, the water gets plenty hot. We depending on the location of the sun, we place the solar shower either on the van’s roof, on the dashboard, or on the floor in a sunny spot.
If there isn’t much sun that day, we’ll boil water on our stove and mix the hot water into the bag that is already half filled with cold water. 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.
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.