The term “portable shower” can mean different things to different people. The concept of a portable shower is, after all, mostly a novel one- and most people have never seen or even heard of them before. The reality is that, when you do your research, you’ll find that there are different types of portable showers that operate in different ways, and that there is no singular definition of a portable shower. In order to shed some light on what a portable shower actually is, in this article we are going to look at how different types of portable showers work - and explore how the differences in functionality make some portable showers better suited to certain situations and users, than others.
First, let’s try to define what a portable shower is. When you think of a shower, you think of your shower at home - a pressurized water system that has some kind of nozzle that you use for bathing. Now, even regular showers differ in how they function to some degree - different levels of pressure, different levels of heat, but essentially the function remains the same throughout all of them - that they are there to clean you off, via the usage of water + pressure + heat. We can all agree on these things, right?
Second, let’s define what “portable” means. When you think of the word “portable” you may think of a tote, or something that can be carried around, essentially something that is not stationary. A cooler is essentially a portable fridge in that way - it’s a moveable, smaller version of something that is typically larger and stationary. A “portable shower” then is just that - a shower that is smaller and is able to be moved around.
How do gravity-fed portable showers work?
Gravity-fed portable showers rely on gravity for water pressure. Essentially, the fact that they are above the user and that water falls from them onto the user is what makes them a shower. There is no actual pressure to speak of - it’s just water falling from some kind of tank or bag, and the fact that it is higher up is what makes it a shower.
Many of the lowest priced portable showers fall under this category. Sometimes called “solar showers” many of the portable showers you find on Amazon are essentially plastic bags with hose nozzles attached to them that you hang up. The gravity from the bag being hung is what creates the stream of water out of the hose. With these types of portable showers, the main source of heat is just leaving it out in the sun.
Another example of a gravity fed portable shower is the Yakima Road Shower. The Yakima Road shower sits on the roof racks of your vehicle, and is essentially a pipe that, when activated, dumps the water straight down. There is no pressurization, simply water falling from the pipe.
So, as you can see, gravity fed showers are relatively simple in their functionality - but can work for many people. Let’s look at the pros and cons of gravity fed showers.
- Typically inexpensive
- Easy to operate
- Can heat by being laid out in the Sun
- No pumping required
- Very low pressure
- Relies on Sun for heat
- Only functional for showering
- Must have something to hang it on
So if you’re a once-a-year camper that doesn’t want to spend on your portable shower - and you don’t care about pressure, a gravity-fed portable shower could be for you. However, if you’re using it frequently, or you’re going to use it for anything other than washing off your body, it probably won’t have the pressure necessary to knock any real grime or dirt off anything.
How do manual pump portable showers work?
Unlike gravity fed portable showers, manual pump portable showers work by either a manual foot or hand pump pressurizing the air inside some kind of water tank. After the air in the tank is compressed, when the hose nozzle is activated to spray water, the compressed air forces the water out, which creates the pressurization.
These types of portable showers are typically in the medium priced range. While they can achieve high pressure when the tank is freshly pumped, inevitably it becomes weaker as more water is used and the pressure in the tank decreases. The pressure is there, but the key word is that it is inconsistent. Some brands with pump portable showers have heating options, but many don’t.
Also, because there has to be room in the water tank for the compressed air, there is less room for water and therefore less capacity.
Two RinseKit models, the RinseKit Pod and RinseKit Plus, are essentially pump shower hybrids. The primary method for pressurizing them is by connecting them to your hose spigot at home, which, as the water is sent into the tank from the spigot, pressurizes the air in the tank.
For those that don’t have access to a hose or spigot, both the RinseKit Pod and Plus have hand pump pressurization options available.
So the PROs and CONs of pump pressurized portable showers is as follows:
- Some brands can achieve high pressure
- Heating options potentially available
- Do not have to be mounted or high off the ground to work
- Are versatile (work for activities besides showering)
- Medium price range
- Inconsistent pressure
- Have to be repressurized
- Smaller capacity as there has to be room for air compression
How do propane portable showers work?
Some “portable showers” are essentially just portable propane water heaters - and don’t actually have their own water source onboard. The way these work is that they require an external water source, either a bucket full of water, a river, a lake etc. They typically use an electric pump to pump water from a source like a bucket or a river, and then cycle the water through the heater powered by propane. The pressure from the pump at the source is what drives water both through the heater and the shower nozzle - so unless the pump is high pressure, the result is usually hot, but low pressure water coming out of the nozzle.
At RinseKit we do have our own portable propane water heater, the HyperHeater, but that is not what we consider a “portable shower”. In our book, a portable shower is fully self-contained, it’s not reliant on an external source. So we have our portable showers, and then, as a heating accessory we have our HyperHeater. The RinseKit, using its built-in electric pump, cycles water through the HyperHeater using the pressure from the electric pump. The HyperHeater heats it up using propane heated coils, then that same pressure pushes it through the external hose and through the showerhead.
So while propane portable showers are nice in the fact that they offer quick and powerful heat, the truth is that they aren’t really a portable shower by definition. Let’s look at the PROs and CONS of what we’ve discussed about propane portable showers:
- Quick and powerful heating
- Rely on external water source
- Typically low pressure
- Can be expensive
- Not truly “portable”
- Often complicated and difficult to use
- Require the purchase of propane
- Usually require set up and assembly
So while you may be tempted to purchase a propane portable shower for the heat factor - you really should do your research to know what you’re getting into. You could be stuck with just a heater and a low pressure water pump - leaving you to figure out how to carry your water along in a way that isn’t completely cumbersome.
Electric Portable Showers
Many people who know about portable showers know that manual pumping and gravity fed models simply don’t reach the levels of pressure they need. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’re going to have a strong hot shower, and then being utterly disappointed by the drip and drizzle of a gravity fed shower. That’s why many people who’ve had bad experiences with those types of portable showers look to electric portable showers - as electric pumps are known to have better pressure.
The thing is, there are actually two types of electric portable showers, and it’s based on the type of pump they use. They are a centrifugal pump and diaphragm pump.
Centrifugal Electric Water Pumps use a small fan-like device called an impeller to move water. When the impeller spins, the rotational energy pulls the water in through the center of the fan and then drives it out through the “fan blades”, what are really called vanes. This action by the impeller increases the water’s velocity and pushes it towards the opening, which creates pressure.
Diaphragm Electric Water Pumps work much like the diaphragm in your body. Two flexible diaphragms reciprocate back and forth which pull in and then push out water. The diaphragms work as a separation between the air and the liquid, and the movement of the water back and forth is what creates the pressure.
The RinseKit PRO Series, including the PRO and PRO PAK, utilize diaphragm electric water pumps, powered by 12-volt lead acid batteries. We made the choice to use diaphragm pumps because of their superior pressure, long life, and durability. This is part of what separates the PRO from all other electric portable showers - the diaphragm pump makes it much stronger, and last much longer than other electric pump portable showers.
The other great thing about electric portable showers is (typically) their ease of use. Since they use pumps to pressurize the water, using them is as easy as filling them up and then turning them on. You don’t have to pump them, you don’t have to mount them up high - the point is that the electric pump makes it so it sprays with strong and consistent pressure, down to the last drops of water.
Some electric portable showers have options for charging devices off of the battery that powers the shower. The RinseKit PRO for example, one of our electric portable showers, can power external devices via a 12-volt socket, so you can charge your phone, blow up an air mattress, etc. off your RinseKit.
Where there are differences in electric portable showers is that some rely on external water sources and some don’t. Some models out there are just a pump attached to a nozzle that you have to have an external water source to use, and others, like the RinseKit PRO, have their own water tank on board and are therefore fully self contained.
So let’s look at the pros and cons of electric portable showers.
- Strong, consistent pressure
- Easy to use
- No pumping
- Most are self contained.
- Typically more expensive
That said, while we started out as a company whose claim to fame was that we made portable showers that “required no batteries or pumps” - we are starting to get away from that idea. We have found over the years that the pressure systems we used in the original RinseKit and following models - all the way up to the RinseKit PRO, were not as user-friendly as we had formerly thought. Many of our customers were having issues with over-pressurizing, or issues with the tanks, so we decided that the battery pressurized models were the way to go with future models.
So the point of all this is that all portable showers are NOT created equal. The term “shower” is a subjective one of course, but to us, a “shower” is something that sprays water with sufficient pressure and has heating capabilities. If you want great pressure, heat, and ease-of-use, we firmly believe that the RinseKit PRO and PRO PAK, plus our future models coming out this year, are the best you can get.
Check out all of our models at https://rinsekit.com/pages/portable-shower-models