Spend enough time knocking around the boondocks and you will eventually need a shower. If you don’t think you need a shower, just ask your travel companions. They’re the people hanging their heads out the truck windows. A shower when needed is an uplifting event that can turn the proverbial frown upside down and make your friends friendly once again. By shower I mean a proper application of forced warm water, not a spritz of cold drizzle, or a sponge bath out of a bucket. For our continuing Head to Head series we look at two very different systems offering the same rejuvenating experience.
Nemo Equipment Helio Pressure Shower
The Helio is, for lack of a better description, the world’s best solar shower. Solar showers have been around for decades and use water, sunlight and gravity, three of the most powerful forces in the universe, to offer an underwhelming and labor intensive shower. Gravity is great, but solar showers produce little more than a dribble in terms of water pressure and people in the backcountry get dirty enough to warrant far more than that. The Helio overcomes the pressure problem with compressed air. To achieve proper pressure, the Helio is filled with water and placed in the sun to warm. Heat achieved, the Helio is then pressurized with an simple welded nylon foot pump. A generously long hose and lever actuated shower head deliver the warmed water with enough force to wash away road grime, rinse shampoo, and restore a dingy traveler to squeaky cleanliness. The Helio can maintain a steady stream of water for 5-7 minutes. There is one more less obvious improvement over the standard solar shower. Have you ever tried hanging a 15 pound bag of water 6-8 feet off the ground? With the Helio, such challenges are unnecessary as the Helio works from ground level.
In the field, the Helio has been a flawless performer. It’s easy to fill, warms quickly in mid to late day sun, pressurizes with just a few pumps and delivers water with surprising force. The shower head is easy to operate and ensures you won’t waste your precious supply of warm water with the easy to actuate control lever. Shower completed and happy face returned, the whole thing packs away in a small welded nylon case taking up less space than small cooking pot. If I were to find any nit-picks, it might be with the closure system on the bag itself. You have to do it just right to make sure it seals properly, but that’s a petty gripe at best.
- Extremely simple and compact
- Free heat requires no fuel
- Surprisingly strong flow of water
- Nemo quality ensures years of faithful service
- Very few parts to fail
- Heating water with the sun is slow work
- Morning showers will require the water to be heated by other means
Zodi Hot Tap Shower #6185
With a propane fueled burner and a battery powered pump, the Zodi Hot Tap shower has very little in common with the Helio. The Hot Tap employes several complex components working in unison to provide instant hot water and adequate pressure with the flip of a switch. In transit, the Hot Top is encased in a sturdy plastic case that doubles as the water reservoir holding four gallons of water, or a ten minute supply. With the case lid removed, the Hot Tap can be fully assembled. The disposable propane canister is threaded to the water heater and the two hose systems are positioned to feed water from the reservoir to the burner, from the burner to the showeree. The battery powered pump uses four D batteries to move water through the heating element and is actuated with a simple on/off switch. The water temperature can be adjusted up to 100 degrees, which is an impressive feat. Once the burner is lit and the pump switched on, it takes only a few seconds for the warm water to pass through the shower head. The pressure is not great, but there’s no disputing the water temperature. If you require warm water for your shower, the Hot Tap will not disappoint.
In the field, the Hot Tap works as advertised. Speaking of advertising, the Zodi website lists the hideous stickers on the case as a, “Stunning full cover label.” They also claim one propane canister and one set of batteries will produce up to 60 gallons of warm water, but we found that to be a bit lofty. At any rate, it is quite fuel efficient and our propane canister supplied us with at least 30-40 gallons of water. The water was always extremely warm, and it never failed to light or pump. It takes a little time to get set up, but once in action it does make for a nice shower. There are a lot of complex components that could fail, but we’ve not suffered any issues so far. It’s well made, but due to the materials used I wouldn’t say it’s robust and will require a little TLC to keep it in good nick. I do wish the shower head had a control lever to make the flow more of an on-demand affair.
- The water is definitely hot as the name implies
- Morning showers are not a problem
- Great for groups as it provides nearly endless hot water
- Requires a non-refillable propane tank that usually ends up as dumpster food
- Complicated set up
- Lots of plastic in the construction
- The on/off switch is too remote
- Pressure is adequate, but just barely
Both of these units will de-funk even the grungiest traveler, and each have features that may appeal to some travelers more than others. The Helio will always make the equipment cut and find its way into my vehicle, or even motorcycle pannier. The Zodi is a nice shower and due to it’s complexity and fuel requirements may not join every outing.
We don’t always declare a winner in these Head to Head features, but for this one––Nemo Equipment Helio Pressure Shower.