The Sheer Joy of Outdoor Showers

Written by Andrew Morrison

man using outdoor showerThis week we reached a monumental step at our 5 acre homestead…we set up our bathroom suite. Being that we are living out of our pop up tent trailer and a 114sqft tiny cabin, we were in sore need of a bathroom. We decided on an EccoTemp propane instant hot water heater. It works perfectly and all four of us have fallen in love with the joy of showering outdoors. Truly there is nothing like it.

Last night I had my first hot water shower under a star filled sky. We had just finished mixing the last bag of concrete by the light of a headlamp at 10:30pm for our daughter’s tiny cabin we are building for her. I was covered in dust, dirt, and sweat. Taking a shower in the warm summer night was a treat I will not soon forget.

For the toilet, we went with a Sunmar. We were drawn to it because in theory it composts waste within its drum.  The model we purchased does not require any electricity. It is way too early to make a determination on whether it works or not. We have heard from a few Sunmar owners that the system requires strict adherence to a fairly elaborate list of to-dos. But we are committed to making it work and to give the compost in the drum what it needs.

If you have any experience with outdoor showers or toilets, favorite outdoor showering experiences, we’d love to hear your stories!

Want to learn more about straw bale houses and how to build one? Want to do so for FREE? Sign up for our totally free 16 Day Straw Bale eCourse! Find out more HERE.

19 Responses

  1. We live in country South Australia and have been showering outside for the last six or so years and generally love it. It does get hard when the temperature gets down to freezing in winter, but instant on demand gas (propane for you US types) is so efficient and we use gravity fed water.

    As for toilets – we have love our composter. It is an Australian brand “Nature Loo” which is essentially a tub with a false floor that allows the liquids to drain and doesn’t require any water as it doesn’t need to flush.

    We’re slowly building our straw bale house on site, but I will still enjoy walking over the hill to our composting toilet each morning when it is finished.

    Great to see your progress Andrew.

  2. Andrew,
    check out the Humanure book for phenomonal information regarding composting toilets. Let’s just say… the guy knows his shit. Here’s the link:
    We stumbled upon a strawbale house in the Shawnee National Forest in Illinois with 3 huge bathrooms, but we’re still going to build an outdoor composting toilet, just because it’s the right thing to do. … and thanks for the outdoor shower information. We’re building a natural swimming pool and love the idea of putting a shower “in” the outdoors. Take care Andrew,
    Jon Womack

  3. When I purchased a little one room school (circa 1870) house years ago, the previous owner excitedly showed me the outdoor shower and the five cedar “shower curtains in the distance.
    I thought she was off her rockers at the time, but have since grown to love it. Showering outdoors may seem unnatural to many folks, but it’s really one of the most natural and nurturing gifts you can give yourself 🙂

  4. My friends have the sunmar toliet system, my 8 year old once turned it (curious cheeky boy that he is), and I realized where the faint, but pervasive aroma of their house came from. We’ve been using the bucket method for years, it doesn’t stink, and the compost is really amazing. I purchased the humanure handbook this winter(should have gotten it to begin with), and now my compost pile is hot. Also the bucket method is cheap, easy, and clean smelling. It’s easy to add a unit just about anywhere for less than $20. What I really want to know is how you plumbed your hot water for your shower(do you have pressurized water/cystern/water pump) and could I do this on a cystern/ 55 gallon water barrel system? Thanks! And let the kids/adults know don’t turn the toliet after they use it 😉

  5. We use a gravity fed system from a natural spring. If you have the ability to get your shower below your water source that is a great way to go. If not, a small solar pump can work well too.

    We have the Humanure Handbook and have read it. We actually started with a bucket system on our land when we moved here but “upgraded” last week. The Sunmar certainly smells more than the bucket did so far. We will see…

  6. I and my neighbor have been using the ‘bucket system’ (as outlined in the humanure handbook) for 8 years now… a little less convenient in the heart of winter, but otherwise love it-it works.

  7. Another comment about Sunmar – we had one for about 8 years. My wife liked being able to go in the house, while I still preferred the outhouse. It seemed to me like a lot of work – we used all the compost enzymes and all the recommended procedures. No matter what we did, we always ended up with tiny flies in our bathroom after 6 weeks. (BTW, we had the”NE” with the muffin fan in the exhaust)We ended up giving it away when we bought a Separett – urine diverting toilet. I adapted the Sunmar vent and fan for the smaller vent pipe. I love it! A simple covered bucket with a compostable plastic bag goes out to the compost pile – Outside! If we have “townies” coming out for a visit, we have a bucket of wood shavings to “cover things up” – bad enough the townie might see their own shit – but someone else’s? Check it out -Google “urine diverting toilets” available as a complete unit or you can get a “kit” and build your own.

  8. WOW! These are some dedicated people: writing about Humanure and outdoor showers at 1:30 & 5:30 a.m.! My kinda people.
    You are absolutely right about the joys of showering outdoors. My daughter lives in the Redwood hills of Humboldt County. They have an instant propane heated shower situated on the edge of a canyon overlooking hundreds of acres of Redwoods. When I visit them, I walk right past the private bathroom/shower in my bedroom to the outside shower. It is a mediation that not only cleanses the body, but also the soul and spirit. I have plans to build one at my place overlooking the water on the south Or. coast. Now that I have retired from building contracting, I finally have the time, and it is near the top of my list of things to do.
    Humanure: I first read this book years ago, then built an outdoor composter (entirely from salvage) that still works fine to this day. I also have a Biolet in my house, but am planning to remove it and build an underfloor unit so I don’t have to clean the small, 5 gallon storage compartment so often. I have also had some problems with the little nats when I wait too long to empty the chamber. Composter can/do work, but they require attention and understanding of the process.

  9. We had a sunmar and an outhouse at our off-grid property. First we tried using the toilet, but the urine was definitely too much for it. We tried just peeing outside, but it still wouldn’t compost fast enough even with only 2 of us. The outhouse was way nicer and less smelly. Our friends had similar experiences with the composting toilets. The only ones I have heard positive feedback on are the ones with a large chamber under the floor. I do know a single man who wasn’t home much who had success with his sunmar…

  10. Hi guys! Many years ago when I was first married, my wife and I lived in a quaintly-furnished 1939 Flxible bus. Although we had a functional indoor shower, we enjoyed our outdoor shower much more! We had an aluminum tank on the roof of the bus for hot water, but more often than not I took cold showers during the day- because we lived in Phoenix, AZ, and it was HOT!!! We had a pool shower ring with two curtains on it, a little redwood bench to sit on, and a pallet to stand on. And in Phoenix, you don’t need towels- just sit on the bench for two minutes, and you’re dry!

  11. Thanks for sharing your experience with showering outdoors. My daughter and I have been considering using the outdoor shower on our trailer once we’re onsite, but weren’t entirely sure about it.

  12. Outdoor showers are a must. We use instant propane from ez tankless and have no issues. Star light, sunrise, sunset, mid-day; it’s always refreshing. I have 4 title boys that never complain about cleaning up and use it for play and an instant hot tub with some galvanized tubs. We use a “port-o-loo” style made from poplar pallets and use saw dust from the lumber we’re milling for our post and beam straw bale cabin. We’re framing the roof this week and hope for arrival of bales by the end of the month.

  13. In Sweden they separate (separett) their waste, in rural areas they usually have an outhouse with a bathroom, a toilet and a sauna combined. In Hungary sometimes they combine the summerkitchen with the bathing facilities, the bath is made from zinc and the oven is made from clay.
    The water, 2 or 3 buckets, is heated in a metal tank in the clay body, for washing or laundry, in winter it get’s very cosy in there. But in the future I will go for Patrick’s suggestion.
    We like to separate the urine from the feacal, so we got the separett privy 500, from (German site). Bucket, plastic bag, (like Charlie said) urine container.
    It’s cheap, and the seat doesn’t freeze to your butt in winter. You can use a 1:8 to 1:10 urine solution for improving your woodland fields, providing you do not use any medication! at these prices you can have a toilet at every little cabin you build!
    I have a friend who built an enamelled bath into the side of a hill, fire draws uphill, little chimney, two little support walls 65 cms apart, and the bath across it, head and toe ends packed in with dirt, fire underneath in the middle, well sanded wood with small gaps on the bottom of the tub. Water warm enough? dowse the fire and have wonderful views whilst soaking in lavendertea (to ward of the mozzies).

  14. Used a camping sunshower bag at the edge of the woods of land I once owned.There was long fine lush grass for our feet,the best shag carpet ever I thought. The water got real hot after the bag lay in the sun a few hours, and the fresh air breezes on your body were the best. Sadly I never found a partner to help with my idea of living off the land. Andrew you are doing what we all should have started 40 years ago, then we would not be in the mess we are in now. So happy to read of all the people still beliving the dream. Small is better.

  15. Have taken showers outdoors while living in a variety of circumstance. Lived in a open air house on S coast of Mexico with only the bathroom and bedroomenclosed. Although the bathroom had an indoor shower, I generally used an outdoor shower that connected to the bathroom via a door, was situated on an elevated concrete pad and was sheltered by trees/bushes.

    Spent a fair amount of time living out of a 1/2 ton pickup truck that allowed me to live in many remote areas where I might not see anyone for a day or two. I carpeted the tailgate and took bucket showers.

    I am currently renovating a towable houseboat and am living in a boatyard. Because I cannot empty the holding tank, my showers are again of the bucket variety, generally after all people have left for the day or wearing baggy shorts if folks are around.

    In all 3 scenarios, I normally heat a large saucepan of water and add it to the bucket. Shower is “Navy Style”… wet down, soap, rinse with majority of water. Although I’ll be floating again in about a week, suspect I’ll be using a back deck, lake water, soap and rinse shower followed by a brief,fresh water rinse. I love being outdoors and showering is part of that wonderful experience.

  16. I use an old cast iron bathtub with a fire underneath when I need a hot or warm bath, and no heat in the summer when a cool bath helps me cool off. For a toilet, I saved money and bought an Incinolet (out of Dallas). Mine is electric, but they have propane also. It instantly burns everything!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.