Revealing everything – a cheeky look at outdoor bathing

Whether vanlifing, overlanding or backpacking, bathing outdoors is necessary at times. But you can get clean with a good chance of not getting caught!
christina by a stream in new hampshire

Being outside naked is so freeing. It also allows you to clean yourself. Whether vanlifing, overlanding or backpacking, bathing outdoors is sometimes necessary. Additionally, there are ways to limit your exposure to unwanted eyes. Above all, you want to minimize your environmental impact when bathing outdoors. 

The necessity of outdoor bathing

While thru hiking I spent 8-10 hours a day walking with a 30-pound backpack. Regardless of the temperature, I sweated. A lot. Consequently, by the end of the day my sticky sweat made me too uncomfortable to relax. Camping near water proved useful not only for cooking, but for bathing as well. So, I disrobed, wetted my bandana, and sponge bathed before slipping into my camp clothes. The brisk water washed away the hard hiking of the day, leaving me refreshed.

Sleeping in my car on road trips saved me money, but with no hotel for the night, no shower either. Most of my trips took me to the mountains or other remote hiking locations. As a result, I’d often end up near a body of water perfect for bathing. But, outdoor opportunities didn’t always present themselves. Then I settled for rest area sink water and less thorough cleaning. I’m not animal, I would never completely strip down in a public place!

christina by a stream in new hampshire
Breaking the rules and lounging in the sun after bathing. To be fair, the location was quite remote.

Exposing oneself

The idea of stripping down to your birthday suit while outdoors sounds too brazen for some. What if somebody sees me?! Every time I undress for an outdoor bath or shower, I, too, wonder the same thing. However, my husband and I have a theory. Our parts are nothing special. There’s a good chance most folks who might stumble upon us have seen a similar set of goods before. And if they haven’t, well, we’re proud to be their first! May our naked bodies forever burn their memories!

On a more serious note, Jeremy and I try to be as careful and considerate as possible when bathing outdoors. For example, we find a spot far away from where we parked, looking for a place with signs of minimal human activity. Timing is prudent as well. For instance, most visitors leave around dinnertime. Thus, bathing in the evening makes it less likely for someone to stumble upon our nakedness.

Bathing outdoors with a friend/partner/spouse also helps. Jeremy and I bathe one at a time unless we are sure nobody will come around, which is rarely the case. Most of the time, one of us bathes while the other stands lookout. It’s hard to focus on cleaning your body while listening for approaching footsteps. Should a stray soul come wandering towards us, the spotter signals. This gives the person bathing time to grab a towel and wrap up.

The most important “rule” to prevent exposure is bathing as fast as possible. Don’t putz around and enjoy the sunshine on your bare skin. I know it feels amazing, but the longer you are nude, the more likely it is for someone to come across you. As soon as you finish, put your clothes back on!

jeremy and christina by the lake after bathing outdoors
Brisk bathing at a lake in Wyoming, again, breaking the most important rule. Can you tell that we don’t care much about getting caught?

Getting caught

Even though we are careful, sometimes we get caught in the buff. For example, on a backpacking trip Jeremy and I bathed at a waterfall about an hour before sunset. Afterwards, not wanting to give up the free feeling of outdoor nakedness, I left my top off while we ate dinner. Then I hear teenagers coming down the trail. With my tank top out of reach, I crouched down and pressed my boobs into my thighs. Meanwhile, a wide-eyed boy gaped at me as he struggled to cross the stream without falling. Oops!

This is why you much be careful with outdoor bathing! We bathed at a popular spot, and I didn’t put my clothes back on right away. However, other than a bit of embarrassment, more so the teenager than me, my foolishness didn’t cause any trouble.

waterfall in shenandoah national park virginia, a place i do not recommend outdoor bathing
The fateful waterfall where that teenage boy got an eyeful.

Outdoor bathing while moochdocking

My husband and I are currently moochdocking in my sister’s driveway because of COVID-19. Two weeks ago, he flew back after taking care of my dad in California. Consequently, he spent those two weeks in quarantine, living in my sister’s Airstream. So, no indoor showering for him! Instead, he threw on his swim trunks. He grabbed his soap, and I grabbed the hose. I turned into a human showerhead, spraying him with water when commanded. One of the neighbors spied our setup and hurried back in the house! Neither of us batted an eyelash.

My moochdocking showering habits are a bit more risqué. Although I have unlimited access to indoor showers, I prefer to shower outside. On hot days I fill my black water bladder and leave it in the sun on the dock. By the end of the day the water is hot, and the air is cooler. I hang up my tie-dye tapestry for privacy, scan the docks for signs of life, strip naked and shower. My mother thinks I’m insane, but I love my outdoor showers.

outdoor shower area at christina's sister's house
My not-so-fancy outdoor shower setup at my sister’s. I’ve since improved it to offer more privacy.

Environmentally responsible outdoor bathing

Getting clean and not getting caught is all fine and dandy, but not at the expense of the environment. First and foremost, only get in the water if you are dirty, and by dirty, I mean covered with dirt. Only dirt! For instance, if covered in nasties like sweat, bug spray or sunscreen – do not get in the water! Excess salt and chemicals can contaminate smaller water sources. Yet, even if you’re at a huge lake, try to refrain from getting in the water when covered in nasties.

Some soaps contain phosphates, which promote algae growth. As a result, rapid algae growth causes algae blooms that use up large amounts of oxygen in the water. This leaves little to no oxygen for other plants or even fish. Algae blooms can “kill” a body of water. In short, your soap could kill the pond you plan to bathe in. Biodegradable soaps are more favorable because they don’t contain phosphates. But you still should never use them in the water.

Best practice is to gather water and move 200 feet away from the water source before bathing. The ground is a natural filter. Therefore, it filters your biodegradable soap and nasties before the water returns to the source. Also, make sure you find a sturdy spot that won’t turn into a mud pit while you bathe. Nobody cares about you standing in mud while trying to get clean. The goal is to minimize your impact on that area. After you finish bathing and are soap free, go ahead and jump in that water!

To learn more, check out, Princeton University Outdoor Action’s article on personal hygiene.

dr bronners liquid castile soap
Dr. Bronner’s is my favorite biodegradable soap. Remember, even though it’s biodegradable that doesn’t mean it can go in the water!

Take off all your clothes and bathe outside!

Outdoor bathing isn’t only for exhibitionists. Sometimes it’s a practical solution when you don’t have access to a real shower. A clean body can make your outdoor experience more comfortable.  So, try to overcome your reservations about getting naked outside and get clean.  But remember, bathing outdoors should not be at the expense of the environment.

What are your thoughts on bathing outdoors? Are you comfortable stripping down outside to clean up? Do you have an outdoor shower on your rig? Leave a comment below!

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Christina

Christina

I served 11 years in the Navy, and in 2014 I thru hiked the Appalachian Trail. These experiences helped prepare me for vanlife. My husband and I now live in our self-converted van, Mark.

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About Us

We left “normal” life behind and now live in our self-converted van, Mark. Our time in the military and backpacking adventures made vanlife an easy choice. The leap into vanlife and a self-conversion can be exciting yet daunting. We want to share our experiences and provide resources to give you vanlife your way, and the highway.

jeremy and christina at sunset

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