Is building a shower in a camper van worth it? We initially thought so and built a simple outdoor shower system connected to a 12V pump and water heater. Once van life started, we thought we’d use and enjoy our shower system daily.
But in reality, we only used our shower THREE times during our first seven months on the road. And it wasn’t due to any shower malfunction. We just never really needed it. After those seven months, we removed our shower system to free up more storage space and, four years later, haven’t regretted the decision.
In this post, we give five reasons why building a shower in a van conversion isn’t worth it and share several better alternatives.
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 the van’s available space.
This means the shower stall must compete with the kitchen, work area, and storage space for the space that remains after the bed is installed.
2. Must Install Large Water Tanks
Showers require significant amounts of water. So, if you opt to install a shower in your van, you must upgrade to larger water tanks. At the very minimum, you will likely need a 20-gallon freshwater tank to feed the shower. This 20-gallon tank from Class A Customs will demand 5,500 sq. inches of space to store.
We also use a water tank from Class A Customs and love the strong, rigid plastic build. We recommend getting a 'spouted' water tank, which simplifies the water inlet installation process.
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 greywater 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 inability to use your tanks when traveling in sub-zero climates.
3. Increased Chance Of Leaks
Water leaks are among the WORST things to happen in a van. Water leaks from the water tanks and pipes and soaks into the wood and floorboards, 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, and wearing down joints. In our opinion, water leaks are 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 heaters, pipes, and fittings you’ll have to carry.
4. Increased Van Conversion Cost
Building a shower stall in a van isn’t cheap. Though costs vary depending on build quality, expect to pay at least $500 to install a shower. This includes:
- Water tanks
- Pipes & fittings
- Shower pan & drain accessories
- Wood, tile, grout, sealant, & other materials
5. Plentiful Shower Opportunities
One of the biggest reasons 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. It’s not a free service, but it’s convenient when needed.
- Coin-Operated Showers – Some campsites in National & State parks offer cheap coin-operated showers.
- Gyms – Places like 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. It’s not a fabulous shower experience, and it’s cold water, but it does the job.
- Solar Showers – 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.
Forget the plumbing, this solar shower bag is the perfect solution for minimalist van life. Fill the bag with water, lay it out in the sun, and several hours later you have hot water. No sun? Boil some water and mix it with half a bag of cold water.
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. Depending on the sun’s location, we place the solar shower on the van’s roof, the dashboard, or 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 already half filled with cold water. A mixture of 50% cold and 50% boiling water gets us a decent shower.
2. Easy To Fill
The problem with traditional water tanks is that you need a specific place to fill the tank. You can’t fill your tank if you can’t find a water-fill station. 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.
- Rivers & lakes
- Public spigots
- Public restrooms
- Potable water refill stations
There’s always a place you can refill your bag. And that makes the solar shower bag incredibly convenient and helpful.
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 quickly 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 isn’t worth it.
There are so many other options to help you get a quick rinse, and we think 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.
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