Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Showering in Primitive Conditions

When most people think of showering in conditions where normal
"on-grid" facilities are unavailable, only a couple of possibilities
come to mind. One is the common solar-heated shower bag, available at
Wal-Mart among other places. The other is the ubiquitous bucket,
hanging from a rope. Or, perhaps a few people will think of a remote
camp with a permanent outdoor shower structure, complete with shower
heads fed by one or more 55-gallon drums, painted black for solar

All of these options are gravity-fed, and all are portable, except for
the third option. But what if we would like some actual water
pressure? And what if we want more flexibility in use, like not having
to find a convenient place to hang it, higher than our heads? There are now on the market, several shower kits that include hose, shower head, a battery-powered pump (water pressure!) and, in the more deluxe versions, a propane-powered water heater. The first one I ever
saw was a Coleman, and it was set up as a working display. Boy, was I
impressed! The best of this type that I am aware of is the Zodi. They
offer several different versions, including an outfitter-grade unit using a deep-cycle battery and a 20 lb propane tank, that rivals on-grid showers. They're pricey, but worth it for a long-term base camp or an offgrid home without standard indoor plumbing.

There is a cheaper alternative though, and one that still offers pressurized water. It is the common pump-up sprayer. The best ones are stainless steel, because they can be filled with water and then heated (with the pumping assembly removed) on a gas or camp stove, or in the
winter, the woodstove. Paint it with black spray paint, and you can set it in the sun to warm, in warm weather. Once the water is hot, replace the pump assembly, pump it up, and shower away!
One modification you will probably want to consider is lengthening the hose. You can use it as-is, bringing it into whatever you use as a shower enclosure (if any), setting it on the floor or hanging it at a convenient height; but having a 10-12 foot (3-4 meter) hose makes things so much better. While you are at it, replace the nozzle with a better sprayer handle, such as the type used in kitchen sinks. If you are using it in a permanent or semi-permanent installation, you can
even use a real shower head with a pull-chain. One thing you don't want to do, however, is use a shower head that runs continuously while you stand under it; otherwise you will run out of water.

All this is not mere theory, because I used this idea full-time for a couple of years, while living offgrid in an old house-trailer for which I paid $50! My shower was a 1.5 gallon (6 liter) plastic
sprayer, which I used in the standard bathtub with shower curtain.
Because it was plastic, I couldn't heat the sprayer directly, so I heated my water in a stock pot on the stove, before pouring it into the sprayer. That plastic sprayer was able to withstand higher water temperatures than I could! A gallon and a half was plenty for a long, luxurious (as Navy showers go) shower, and if pressed I could easily get by on less than a gallon... Take note, desert dwellers!
By the way, in case you are wondering: no, I didn't have running water in that trailer. I did have a plumbed greywater line from the tub, and a standard toilet and septic tank, which I flushed with water from a bucket... But that's for another article.

Note: If you try this, use a new sprayer; not one which has had chemicals in it.


Anonymous said...

I have taken a full shower with a 3 liter big zip platypus with hose and it worked great. The bite valve when squeezed gave just enough pressure and it cut off as soon as you let it go so it conserved water very well. It is gravity fed though, but worked great for several weeks while my shower was not working.

Tracy said...

The bite valve is a good idea; I hadn't thought of that.