Washing Up: Road Shower 2 Review
Comfortably exploring the backcountry. That’s the goal of every off-roader I know. The better the backcountry and the better the comfort, the better the experience.
Most off-road products are about vehicle driving performance, but many are about user comfort, especially for weekend warriors and overland travelers (e.g., 12v fridges, awnings, rooftop tents). The list goes on and on, but there’s one basic comfort need that has seen a string of failures: cleaning. In other words we mean washing up, whether it’s for people or their gear.
There are actually plenty of products you can buy to shower on the trail. You probably have seen the options. The solar shower bag is the ubiquitous, affordable route. It’s cheap, compact, and fairly foolproof… when the forecast will heat water. Then there are the heated, pressurized options. They’re a lot more diverse, and range from complex under-the-hood, permanently plumbed systems to hand-operated pressurized stovetop cylinders to powered pump systems with adjustable heat settings.
Unfortunately, many such systems have gone overboard on complexity (or have not gone far enough to produce a foolproof set up). That’s the way a lot of invention works; simple, elegant ideas with a few flaws are picked up by a marketplace of “improvers.” Before you know it, that simple idea has morphed into complex niche-oriented derivations. That’s the product failure that Joel Cotton tackled when he created the Road Shower. Cotton is a Coloradan who, in 2007, began translating his frustrations and ideas into a series of ABS prototypes that bridged the gap when it came to heating wash water on the trail.
The Kickstarter-funded Road Shower retains the simple, sun-heated concept of a shower bag but adds the durability, increased capacity and fixed convenience of a rack-mounted, 5-gallon capacity aluminum cylinder as its container. The second key difference is the unit’s approach to flow, a novel pressurizing system already elevated by its mounting. Cotton, an avid cyclist, realized that simple bike pumps could quickly add the psi that other systems lacked (or weakly tried to add through hand pump systems; e.g., Zodi systems). And that’s just one area of core simplicity that the Road Shower attempts to harness.
The other—the beauty and power of a solar-powered system—means it’s most ready to use when you’re most ready for it, meaning the sun has done its job on the water, and it’s done it on you. When the sun is relatively abundant and air temp is reasonable, that all works out perfectly, since your workout or drive is done about the time the water is also done (heating, that is). As you rack your mountain bike or finish setting up camp the Road Shower is ready to provide the clean up.
We began testing the original Road Shower soon after its release in 2014, which ultimately sold out. We’ve subsequently used it for trips from rafting to overlanding, and across a spectrum of temperatures throughout the West. First mounted on our Land Cruiser, it has since found a permanent place on our Dinoot trailer.
In our experience, the perfect shower temp is around 105 degrees Fahrenheit. That assumes cool air temperatures and or a breeze. Generally speaking, 90F and above is pleasant. When parked on a sunny day, the Road Shower can warm a full tank of water by 10 degrees per hour in optimal conditions. The more full the tank and the cooler the water to start with the slower the heating. Water from an underground water source (i.e., most hoses) is fairly cool, and can emerge at 55F or less. In testing, a tankful of such water rose to 72F in about 90 minutes, when parked at midday on a 97F day.
On days when access to sun hasn’t adequately heated the water, you can bump the water’s temperature. Water boils at 212F and it’s not hard to bump 75 degree water to the 90+ degrees for comfortable showers. While adding a pan of boiling water into a traditional plastic solar shower isn’t going to end well, the Road Shower’s metal construction lets you easily add heated water to increase the temperature of the tank’s contents. You simply drain off enough excess from a full tank to handle the heated water. The rising tank temperatures also cause expansion, resulting in at least a bit of positive psi.
Pressure in the original Road Shower topped out at 15 psi, as that was the system’s safety rating. A welded-in fitting and radiator cap offered this pre-set pressure relief if too much oomph is used when pumping, or when temperatures elevate the pressure inside. When fully pressurized, the Shower allowed us to shoot water a full 15 feet. That pressure is also enough to help clean gear as well. In the recently updated Road Shower 2, the max pressure is increased to 22 psi, which results in more than doubling the spray distance. The included 5-foot hose will reach to nearby equipment or kitchenware where it does a respectable job of blasting fresh food grunge off of plates and bowls when pressure is at max. Got gunk on your mountain bike drivetrain? The Road Shower is a good means to remove mud if still wet, or dust and dried mud that isn’t very thick.
Because the tank uses a welded-in Schrader valve, pressure can be added via a variety of sources, including bike pumps, a Power Tank, battery-powered inflators (e.g., Campbell Hausfeld CC2300), or a simple C02 cartridge inflater. The latter is fast and readies the system almost instantly for reuse. If mounted on a roof rack, even if all air pressure has been lost, gravity alone is still viable if one squats down to finish rinsing off. In a year of trips with the Road Shower, our family found that once pressurized the system offered one person a full shower before needing to be re-pressurized. The hose was just right for reaching into a small shower enclosure if pitched right next to the tank.
For refilling the tank, we carry a segment of garden hose for use at RV stops or gas stations. If no such hookup is available, filling from a jug works, too. While a small funnel improved pouring when refilling this way, it can still be a tiring and awkward process that’s apt to leave you wet. We found it was best to start with a full Road Shower while still at home, which also meant heating to ambient air temperature or better was achieved en route. [Note: due to cooling from airflow over the tank, stationary heating is much greater than when driving. Future designs would benefit from a clear plastic enclosure to achieve a ‘greenhouse effect’.]
Fortunately, a comfortable shower with the unit only consumes 1/3 of the tank. Hence, three or more showers can be had from it. That’s not bad. The nozzle handle of the shower shuts off when you release it, thus conserving water. The Road Shower 2 adds an additional shut-off valve where the hose connects to the tank (see http://roadshower.com/roadshower2.html). This enables hose removal and adds an added safety against water loss.
The fittings for the Road Shower are robust and durable. In fact, the least durable component on ours was the easily replaced nozzle. Its fine, plastic threads were damaged after the nozzle was impacted on several occasions. The Road Shower 2 has resolved this weakness, adding a nozzle built around brass internals. The revised version still secures the Sun-braid hose to the tank via replaceable Velcro and aluminum hose clips (which alone would probably be enough). Wear of the hose due to our home state of Utah’s intense UV rays hasn’t been noticeable, though slight discoloration was seen. However, for maximum longevity it makes sense to store the unit indoors, or to remove the hose at the shut-off valve.
For 2016 the Road Shower 2 adds other improvements as well. First, a convenient LCD thermometer is affixed to the outside. How well it wears (e.g., adhesion) has yet to be tested, as we only recently switched to the new model. Another upgrade is the more robust mounting hardware for securing the tank to a rack or cross bars. A set of welded aluminum security tabs were also added to the tank, which allows a cable lock to be used. The hose is now outfitted with standard American GHT (Garden Hose Thread) fittings, and the Schrader valve is reportedly more beefy. Finally, the overall weight was reduced, shaving off 1.5 pounds, to make the empty Road Shower 2 an easily lifted 16 pounds.
The ease and simplicity of the Road Shower has been a welcome addition to our rig. Its fixed mounting means water is always on hand and ready for a rinse. A quick addition of air pressure gives a strong flow from the adjustable nozzle. With moderate air temperatures and minimal cloud cover, you have the convenience of a way to clean youself, kids or gear. When full, the 65 pounds the Road Shower adds to a vehicle’s roof rack isn’t excessive, particularly considering the welcome benefits it provides. At $300 the Road Shower 2 is a well-engineered, there-when-you-need-it hot water system that takes advantage of nature’s most abundant heat source, offers 5 gallons of extra water supply, and whose limitations are easily addressed with a bit of planning.