Which Kind of Portable Camp Shower Is Best?

What is the best shower option for SUV RVers and car campers? A video viewer asked me that question in an email a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve turned my reply into this blog post.

It’s something I don’t have a very good answer for, and that’s for a few reasons. First, I haven’t tried every camp shower out there, so I can’t really give a definitive answer in that regard. And second, the best one for you really depends on what you value most in your shower. And third, I myself haven’t made up my mind as to which I prefer. That said, here are some brief thoughts on different kinds of camp showers.

Do you want simplicity? Then a spray bottle and bag of wet wipes is a great solution. This is what I used on most of my early trips. It won’t get you as clean as a traditional shower, but it’s more compact and less of a hassle, in my opinion, than the other options below. It doesn’t get much simpler than this.

Do you want more of a traditional shower experience but don’t want it to take up too much space when it’s not being used? A solar camp shower (the kind that is essentially a bag that you fill with water and then leave out in the sun; this is the one I have) may be right for you. I used one of these showers on a couple of my early trips but never really liked it for two reasons:

1. I was never at a campsite long enough or during the hotter/sunnier parts of the day, so the water was never as hot as I would like.

2. I often camp in the desert or some other area that doesn’t have trees nearby. With no trees to hang the shower from, I had to resort to plopping the shower down on the roof of my car, but my car isn’t very tall. This meant that I’d have to hunch over to get the water flowing. Not ideal.

I’m currently giving the solar camp shower a second chance. I’ve gone a long way toward solving the first problem by doing this. And I’ve also solved the second problem, which will be covered in a video in the next week or two. The downside of this kind of shower is that, depending on environmental circumstances (cloud cover, temperature, elevation, etc.), the water still may not be as hot as you’d like.

My DIY sprayer shower
My DIY sprayer shower

A sprayer-style shower (like this) is great if you have a bit more room and don’t want to have to mess with finding a place to hang up the camping-style shower. I made a shower similar to the one in that video and liked it whenever I was using it, but found that it took up more space than I wanted when I wasn’t using it. Because my SUV (a RAV4) is so small and space is at a premium, I gave it up in favor of the more compact solar camp shower.

If you want ultimate comfort (i.e., a pressurized, heated shower) and are willing to give up some space for it, the Zodi heated camp showers are supposed to be great. Ted from this article has the Extreme SC and speaks highly of it.

(Note: This article contains Amazon affiliate links.)

Stunning Mountain Camping in Idaho!

In this video I head into southeastern Idaho for a quick overnight camping trip and see a handful of interesting sights along the way. (Click here if you can’t see the video below.)

And here’s a map of the trip that includes everything I saw and did in the video:

These are the places I go to in the video as shown on the map above. Links to relevant information elsewhere online are included where appropriate.

  1. Bear River Massacre Site (Lower) – Learn more about the Bear River Massacre on its Wikipedia page.
  2. Bear River Massacre Site (Upper)
  3. Pretty campsite I didn’t use
  4. My campsite in Caribou National Forest
  5. Standing Rock in Weston Canyon – More info here.
  6. Weston Reservoir
  7. Oldest Department Store in Idaho – More info here.
  8. Samaria Cemetery – Home of the “One Man, Two Headstones,” which you can find more info about here.
  9. Davis-Jenkins Cabin – More info here.
  10. Washakie “Ghost Town” – More info here.

Other places

There were also several things I saw and did on this trip that did not make it into the video. This is for two reasons: 1) The video would have been about 45 minutes long, but more importantly, 2) I felt that the video footage I had of these places wasn’t very interesting. But for reference, here they are:

  1. Casper’s Ice Cream Factory Store (Richmond, UT) – This company makes the supposedly famous “FatBoy” ice cream sandwiches, and the store has factory seconds and other cheap ice cream. I got an ice cream sandwich for $0.84, including tax. More info about the company on its Wikipedia page.
  2. Franklin, ID Historic District (Franklin, ID) – Franklin is the oldest town in Idaho and has a nice little historic district.
  3. Oneida Stake Academy (Preston, ID) – A neat old Romanesque building that used to be a Mormon school. Get an overview of it here on Wikipedia. If you want even more info, here’s a website dedicated to it.
  4. Napoleon Dynamite House (Preston, ID) – Napoleon Dynamite (Amazon affiliate link) is a weird cult classic comedy movie. Much of it was filmed in and around Preston, so I drove out to where Napoleon’s house is.

Hammock Roof Stands, Budget Cargo Carriers, a Deluxe Awning, and More!

This is a collection of SUV camping- and vandwelling-related gear and articles that I’ve come across recently that I wanted to share.

Hammock Hanging Options

I’ve really gotten into hammocking lately. If you’ve never taken a hammock on an SUV RVing adventure, get one! (Here’s one on Amazon that’s inexpensive, gets good reviews, and comes with the tree straps.) It’s a cheap and oh-so-relaxing camp activity. While exploring deeper into the world of hammocking, I’ve come across a couple of items that are of specific interest to SUV campers:

The TrailNest Roof-Top Hammock Stand ($349) – You’ve seen roof-top tents, right? Well how would you like to have a roof-top hammock? That’s what the TrailNest stand allows.

The RoofNest roof top hammock stand. Photo by RoofNest.
Above: The RoofNest roof-top hammock stand. Photo by RoofNest.

I know it’s a bit silly, but I really, really want this thing. As shown in the image above, you can hammock even when there are no trees or other objects to attach your hammock to. You can sleep in the hammock overnight (thus freeing up the inside of your vehicle for storage) or just whip it out whenever you’re feeling like you’ve earned a bit of a rest.

The Hitchhiker hitch-mounted hammock stand ($290) – Perhaps slightly more practical than the roof-top hammock stand is this hitch-mounted hammock stand from Blue Ridge Overland Gear.

Above: The Hitchhiker hitch-mounted hammock stand
Above: The Hitchhiker hitch-mounted hammock stand. Photo by Blue Ridge Overland Gear.

It’s made out of lightweight aluminum, attaches to a vehicle’s hitch receiver, and folds down to a relatively compact bundle when not being used. The only issue I have with this is that the setup angles down slightly. This is done so that the hammock stand arms extend out and away from the vehicle. But it’s not uncommon for me to bump the hitch receiver on my RAV4 when I go into and out of dips, dry washes, or even steep driveways—I just don’t have enough clearance back there. I’d have to strap the hammock stand to the top of my car when not using it and then move it down to the hitch when I get to camp. That’s not terrible, but it’s not quite as convenient as the roof-top hammock stand. On the other hand, you also don’t need to (get to?) climb up on top of your vehicle to access this hitch-mounted hammock stand.

2-in-1 Hitch Rack and Roof-Top Cargo Carrier

Speaking of hitch receivers and strapping things to the top of my SUV, I saw this bad boy at Walmart the other day:

Above: The CargoLoc 2-in-1 Cargo Carrier
Above: The CargoLoc 2-in-1 Cargo Carrier

It’s a hitch-mounted cargo rack/basket that also doubles as a roof-mounted cargo rack/basket. Neat, huh? While it retails for $69.88 at Walmart, I found it for on sale for $45 on the Pep Boys website. (And in case you were wondering, it’s on Amazon for nearly $100.) The thing I like about it as a roof basket is that it’s narrow; it doesn’t take up the full width of the top of the vehicle. That means that you could also mount a bike, kayak, or skinny cargo box up there. I’ve been eyeing roof baskets lately because it would be a great way to store firewood, among other things, and this particular rack is currently at the top of my list. There aren’t a ton of reviews of it out there, however, so who knows if it generates wind noise, if it will rust with exposure to the elements, or if it will last.

The Best SUV Video Ever?

A guy wants to sell his 1996 Suzuki Vitara. He made a video of it, and it’s awesome. (Click here if you can’t see the video below.)

The Ultimate Awning… Thing

Check out the sheltaPod ($345 or £265). It bills itself as “The coolest, most versatile campervan awning EVER!” I don’t think I can argue with that.

The sheltaPod awning/tent.
The sheltaPod awning/tent.

Pretty neat, huh? You can read a lot more about it on the sheltaPod’s website and see about a trillion videos and images of it on the IndieGoGo page.

Everything Else

Here are a few more items of interest:

  • Deadman: the world’s most versatile off-road recovery anchor – This is currently on Kickstarter. The idea is that if your vehicle gets stuck while you’re out in the middle of nowhere, you dig a hole, bury the Deadman, and use that as an anchor to help you winch (or strap) your way out of trouble. I’m familiar with using a deadman as an anchor when mountaineering, but this is the first time I’ve seen one used for getting a vehicle unstuck.
  • Want to try out a roof-top tent but don’t want to buy one? Consider renting one. I know that for me here in northern Utah, the closest rental options are from Off the Grid Rentals in St. George (southern Utah) or Teton Backcountry Rentals in Jackson, Wyoming. Maybe there’s a rental place near you?
  • While we’re on the subject of roof-top tents, here’s a review from Expedition Portal about the iKamper, which was a mega-popular Kickstarter campaign.
  • We’ve already mentioned here hitch-mounted hammock stands and cargo baskets, but what about a hitch-mounted table? Could be useful for camping, right?

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Do any of these things appeal to you? Got something SUV-related that you want to share? Leave a comment or shoot me an email. Thanks for reading!

Note: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Adding “Drawers” to the Back of My SUV

I decided I wanted to make better use of the shelf space in the back of my Toyota RAV4. I was originally going to build slide-out drawers to put on top of the shelf, but I instead ended up simplifying the concept by just attaching bins to the top of the shelf to create “drawers.” (Click here if you can’t see the video below.)

Ode to an Ancient Jeep: Sleeping and Camping in a 1995 Jeep Cherokee

[Tristan’s Note: I had the pleasure of meeting up with SUV RVing reader and viewer Robert DeNike when I was in California in January. We had a great time chatting about adventures past and future, and we’ve kept in touch since then. He recently sent me a ton of fantastic photos and info about his sleeping/camping setup in his 1995 Jeep Cherokee Country. All of the photos and words below are his, but I will occasionally add my own thoughts, which will be in brackets. Thanks for sharing your adventure rig, Robert!]

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It came off the assembly line in 1995, before some of you were born. But 22 years later it still runs like a Swiss watch, taking me over rutted, boulder-strewn roads far from the maddening crowd.

I’m a backpacker, so the Jeep’s purpose in life is to get me to trailheads at the edges of North America’s great wilderness areas. After 10 days out there, I am thinking fondly of the Jeep and the little luxuries within. It’s always with great joy and relief that I catch sight of it as I emerge from the wilds, waiting there patiently like a loyal dog.

One-Man Show

The first modification I made was to remove the rear seat bench. Permanently. The seat back now folds down flat, creating a sizable cargo space. This left the seat belts hanging uselessly in the way, so I unscrewed and cut out all except mine. Finally, I detached the front passenger seat back so I can stretch out fully when lying down, which also opened up the cargo area even more.

The Jeep now accommodates exactly one rider: me. So if your wife or kids want to go camping with you, or even just shopping at the local Costco, forget it. But my wife would rather go to the dentist than go camping. That’s OK; I love her anyway. The point being: these modifications are for the committed solo SUVer only.

Photo Tour

Base layer: I start with a ThermaRest Z-Lite as padding for the mattress.
Base layer: I start with a Thermarest Z-Lite as padding for the mattress.
Plenty of leg-room on this flight: removing the front passenger seat allows me to stretch out with impunity.
Plenty of leg-room on this flight: removing the front passenger seat allows me to stretch out with impunity. The Thermarest LuxuryMap Mattress goes on top of the foam pad.
Bridging the gap: the space between the front and rear seats is covered with a simple plank and strip of carpet (a scavenged scrap from a local flooring outlet).
Bridging the gap: the space between the front and rear seats is covered with a simple plank and strip of carpet (a scavenged scrap from a local flooring outlet).

Continue reading “Ode to an Ancient Jeep: Sleeping and Camping in a 1995 Jeep Cherokee”

How to Hang a Hammock from Your Car, SUV, Van, or Truck

Warmer weather equals hammock weather! In this video I go over several ways to hang a hammock from your SUV, van, truck, or other vehicle. One side has to be attached to a stationary object (a tree, pole, another vehicle, etc.), and the other side attaches to your car. (Click here if you can’t see the video below.)

DIY PVC Rooftop Solar Shower for a Car, Van, SUV, or Truck

A month or so ago I went to the Utah Toyota Off-Road Expo. It was much smaller than the Salt Lake Off-Road Expo that I went to a week later (and both pale in comparison to Overland Expo West, which is going on right now). Still, there were some great rigs there, mostly 4Runners and Tacomas (no RAV4s, sadly). I noticed on one of the rigs (a Toyota Tacoma with camper shell, roof top tent, bike rack, and more) what looked like a DIY version of the Road Shower, so I went up to talk to the rig’s owner and ask about how he made the shower. Here are some pictures and info:

A look at the whole setup. Not an SUV, but undoubtedly a great rig.
A look at the whole setup. Not an SUV, but undoubtedly a great adventure rig.
The homemade PVC roof top shower. It's made out of 4-inch PVC that's been painted black. If I recall correctly, it holds 4 or 5 gallons of water.
The homemade PVC roof rack shower. It’s made out of 4-inch PVC that’s been painted black.  If I recall correctly, it holds 4 or 5 gallons of water. It’s pressurized by an air compressor (you can see the compressor’s yellow coil hose on the left side of the photo).
A garden hose is attached to a water faucet spigot thing that has been inserted into the PVC end cap.
A garden hose is attached to a water faucet spigot thing that has been inserted into the PVC end cap. You can also see the red air compressor here.
The yellow thing with the wingnut is the fill valve. A stack of a few rubber washers is between the yellow plastic part and the top of the PVC pipe. The rubber washers create an airtight seal.
The yellow thing with the wingnut is the fill valve (i.e., where you put the water in). A stack of a few rubber washers is between the yellow plastic part and the top of the PVC pipe. The rubber washers create an airtight seal. When I was there, the guy had the shower pressurized to only about 20 PSI, and he was able to spray water about 10–15 feet. A metal tire valve (similar to this and visible coming out of the white PVC end cap) is used in conjunction with the air compressor to pressurize the shower. The end of the hose connects with a quick-connect adapter to the brass hose valve also coming out of the end cap.
Another look
Another look at the setup. You can’t really see it, but a spray nozzle (something like this) is at the business end of the hose. The shower was simply lashed to the roof rack crossbar with paracord. I was a bit doubtful of how secure this was, but the guy assured me that it was rock solid. It is definitely not an attachment system that will stand up well to prolonged exposure to the elements.
The back end of the Tacoma camping setup.
The back end of the Tacoma camping setup. The owner travels and camps with his wife and 14-year-old son. The guy and his wife sleep in the roof top tent, and the son sleeps diagonally in the bed of the truck.
A closer look at the back of the Tacoma camping setup.
A closer look at the back of the Tacoma camping setup.

My Thoughts

Let’s face it, these DIY PVC showers are all kind of ugly. Definitely not as sleek as the Road Shower. But this setup only cost about $50 or $60 versus the Road Shower’s $300. There are lots of videos and other information out there about how to make a PVC shower like this (here are the results for “PVC car shower” on YouTube, and this is probably the best build video I’ve seen), but there are a few things I like about this particular shower. I like that the water fill valve is low-profile and not too much of an eyesore. I’m intrigued by—if still a bit skeptical of—the simple lashing attachment system. And I like the super long hose, though if I were to make a shower like this, it wouldn’t be quite this long.

What are your thoughts?

I don’t know if I’ll ever actually make something like this, but I was excited to see it and figure out the details of how it was made. It works great for him, and I wanted to share some details of the build with you guys.

Note: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Sleeping and Camping in a 2015 Ford Escape

SUV RVing reader/watcher Ted was kind of enough to send me pictures of his camping setup in a 2015 Ford Escape and give me permission to post them here. Thanks Ted!

In the captions of the images below, you’ll see some of Ted’s comments in quotes and my (Tristan’s) comments not in quotes.

Here’s a rough overhead view of his layout:

A rough overview of Ted's layout in his 2015 Ford Escape.
A rough overview of Ted’s layout in his 2015 Ford Escape. He’s also made use of the floor space in front of the front passenger seat and in front of the rear seats.

Continue reading “Sleeping and Camping in a 2015 Ford Escape”