Portable Showers Are Actually Pretty Great

The Nemo Helio LX switched this tester from “hard pass” to “hard yes” when it comes to portable showering


Couple months back my wife and I drove from San Francisco to Bend, Oregon, on ten-day camp trip. We slept in the back of our truck when we didn’t feel like setting up a tent, camped alongside rivers, dusty two-tracks in the trees, and the Pacific Ocean. When we became gross we washed ourselves in freezing lakes or freezing streams. Fairly standard. When we became extra disgustingly gross, we checked into a hotel, pretty much just so that we could have a hot shower. Look, we’re dirtbags, but when a shower is an option, we’re gonna take that option every time. Which is why I wish we would have had the Nemo Helio LX camp shower with us though, no hotel needed.

I often see people using gravity shower-things while rinsing off whole surfing. Always, I think: Nah. A dented-up, two-year-old gallon water bottle warmed on the dashboard of my truck then dumped over my head is fine. But I’ve been testing Nemo’s Helio LX for the past month or so on lots of truck camping trips and I’m rethinking that approach.

The Helio LX holds a bit more than 5 gallons and when left in the sun warms up very well. In direct sunlight for a couple hours or so, the water in the shower can get hot enough to be tempted to temper it with cooler water. A seven-foot hose with the sort of pistol-like handle shoots out water in a nice, strong, wide pattern. It even attaches to the shower unit with a little hook thing to keep everything nice and neat. Best part: unlike gravity-powered showers, the Helio LX is pressurized with a foot pump. Place it on the ground, a picnic bench, hood of a car, whatever. Holds pressure and heat for plenty of time for two to have a nice, luxurious camp shower.

It fills up with a nice wide opening at the top—you just sort of dunk it in a river or lake and as long as you’ve got the upper body strength, heave it back out and screw down the lid. Carry straps are positioned along the shower’s cylindrical body to lug it around when heavy with water. When not in use, the shower folds down to a pie shape about six inches tall. Takes up almost no room.

My only gripe is that it doesn’t feel like it wants to stand up properly unless the ground below is perfectly level. This actually doesn’t matter all that much, as even on its side, the shower generates pressure. Now that I think about it, the foot pump too is a little too close to the shower body, and any time I set the unit down I ended up awkwardly having to kick the pump away. Small matter though. It’s a robust, tough unit—at least it feels that way after many weeks of regular use.

Yes, there are far, far less expensive options out there, like the Coleman solar shower, which I’ve used before and, well, it delivered a stream of warm water and everything, but only straight down, with little pressure, and only if you could hang it at the appropriate height. Too bothersome.

I would never have thought I’d care about having a portable shower, but coming back to camp after a long day of hiking, fishing, or surfing, (or climbing, rafting, mountain biking, uh, skipping, I don’t know what you’re into) it’s a genuine joy to see that black tube standing there, warmed by the sun, ready to give your dirt-and-sweat-caked body a nice luxurious rinse.

$130 • BUY

More cool car camping gizmos

The Biolite Kettle Pot ($50), when combined with the coffee press ($15), is an awesome camp coffeemaker if you’re using a two-burner camp stove, and you need to brew coffee for three or four people. It’s large enough to fit a bag of grounds and a couple mugs inside for storage, cleans easily, and makes a nice cup of french press.

The Luci MPowered 2.0 Inflatable Solar Light ($20) is so cool. Toss it up on your dashboard while driving, leave it at camp while you’re our exploring, or strap it to your backpack for the hike in—the little solar-powered light weighs only 4.4 ounces, collapses to next to nothing, and is totally waterproof. Purely awesome.

These little firestarter wedge-match thingies, the Uco Sweetfire Strikable Firestarters are awesome, easy to use, work great, and are made from sugarcane waste so their eco-friendly. They burn for seven minutes and will catch nigh anything aflame. $8

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