Portable water heaters are a great addition to any camping trip. And since they run off propane, they’re even an excellent choice for off-grid cabins that don’t have access to electricity. A portable hot water heater is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to bring the comfort and convenience of warm water where ever you go.
Whether you want to bathe a pet, take an outdoor shower, or warm up after a cold river swim, a portable water heater can make it happen. This article will give you the information you need to know to make an informed buying decision, and we’ll even give you 3 of our favorite picks to help you start your shopping.
What is a Portable Water Heater?
As you might expect, a portable water heater is portable. It can be taken from one location to another and requires little effort to set up and use.
You’ll simply need to attach the water heater to a fuel and water source and turn it on. The internal burner will ignite and warm the water as it passes through the unit. In most cases, a sensor detects when the water stops flowing and shuts down the burner. Although, this is a nice safety measure, it’s still a best practice to manually turn off the portable heater.
Although, most are powered by propane, some even have multiple power supplies. The BOSS XW18 is a battery powered portable shower that can be charged by your vehicle, an electrical outlet, or even run off a propane tank.
Some portable tankless water heaters use a hose to supply an endless supply of hot water; others have a tank or use a pump that is placed within a bucket. There are multiple configurations to add plenty of versatility to help meet your individual off-grid hot water needs.
As a general rule, you can expect a portable water heater to heat cold water to 100°F in a matter of seconds.
Pros and Cons of Owning a Portable Water Heater
Whether you love the outdoors and enjoy taking remote adventures or simply need hot water at an inconvenient location, buying an outdoor portable water heater is an excellent way to make your time a little more comfortable.
Having hot water available is essential to cleaning and showering.
Let’s take a look at a few of the advantages and disadvantages of owning a portable hot water heater:
- Easy Set-up: Since portable water heaters are designed to be portable, they are extremely easy to set-up. Simply hook them to a propane tank (or electricity) and connect a water source. You’ll have hot water in a few seconds!
- Inexpensive: In most cases you can pick up a portable water heater for under two hundred dollars. Of course, the more bells-and-whistles you add, the higher the price. But they are a worthwhile investment, especially if you do a lot of remote travel.
- Compact Size: Built to be portable, their small and compact size makes them easy to store and set-up. Hang them on a secure tree branch or from your RV, they won’t take much space.
- Plenty of Hot Water: Go ahead, take a long shower! Portable tankless water heaters can deliver an endless stream of hot water.
- Use Caution During Set-up: Set-up is easy, but you’ll need to be careful not to over tighten the connections. It’s also important to use teflon tape on the gas connections to help prevent gas leaks.
- Temperature Readings: Not all, but some manufacturers such as Gasland, use Celsius temperature settings instead of Fahrenheit. Although, this isn’t really a big deal, you’ll want to be aware, especially if you’re not familiar with Celsius.
- Limited Flow Rate: There’s no way around it, a small portable tankless water heater is going to have a low flow rate. It should be able to handle a shower or other needs, but it won’t be as powerful as your home shower.
Portable Water Heater Buyers Guide
It goes without saying that you’ll want your outdoor portable water heater to be reliable and efficient, but there are a few other questions you should ask yourself before breaking out the wallet.
- Consider the type of water heater you prefer. Do you want a portable tankless water heater? or would you prefer a tank? Maybe a battery powered would best fit your needs.
- What type of energy will you use to fuel your water heater? Most water heaters use propane or electricity.
- What’s your budget? How much are you willing to spend?
- How will you use your portable water heater? Will you be using it to wash your car, bathe a pet, wash dishes, or take a shower? Maybe you enjoy tailgating or other activities. All of these options will require accessories. Many units come with the necessary accessories and other have add-ons that you can purchase.
Most portable water heaters use either electricity or propane to heat the water. If you plan on using your new heater at home or another location that has access to an electrical outlet, then a portable electric water heater may be your better choice.
There are also battery operated portable water heaters. They do not require a power source provided the battery is charged, but most can also run off of propane as well.
Portable propane water heater tend to be the more popular choice since they are not tethered to an electrical outlet and can be operated anywhere provided you have liquid propane on hand. As a general rule of thumb, you can expect to get about 18 hours of showers from a 20-pound tank of liquid propane.
Tank or Tankless
The most popular portable water heaters are tankless since they can provide an endless stream of hot water. However, you can purchase a storage tank heater too.
If you choose to purchase a tank-style portable heater, then you’ll want to pay attention to the capacity size of the tank. A 1 or 2-gallon tank should be sufficient if you’re only going to use the water heater for light cleaning and dishes.
But if you want it for showering, then you should consider purchasing a larger tank, such as 8 to 10-gallons.
A portable tankless water heater is of course made to be portable. But their weight and size do vary, especially when you purchase larger or battery-powered units.
Consider who will be doing the set-up and how frequently it’ll be used. In most cases, it’s a good idea to purchase a unit that weighs under 20-pounds.
If you’re purchasing a portable propane water heater, then you’ll want to take a look at the BTU rating. BTU stands for British Thermal Unit. Without getting into the weeds, it’s simply a way to measure how quickly and efficiently hot water is heated.
The higher the BTU rating the more powerful the portable water heater. In most cases, it’s best to buy the heater with the higher rating.
As a general rule, portable propane water heaters with higher BTU ratings have a higher flow rate. Since the water heater will have more power, it’ll be able to heat the water more efficiently.
Flow rate is the number of gallons of hot water a tankless water heater can deliver every minute (gallons per minute or GPM).
If you’re looking to purchase your water heater for a portable camping shower, then it’s typically best to buy the unit with the highest BTU in your price range since it’ll be able to deliver the best flow rate.
If you’ll use your water heater to shower in the outdoors, a hose and shower head would be a necessary accessory. Additional important accessories to consider include an installation kit and an additional hose for cleaning, washing, or bathing.
Batteries, propane tanks, charging mechanisms, and storage containers are also important accessories to consider. Some manufacturers include these accessories, others do not.
If you plan on doing a lot of camping or have a cabin in the mountains, you’ll want to pay attention to the portable water heater’s elevation rating. Some are not designed to operate above 2000 ft above sea level.
Best Portable Water Heaters: Our Top Picks
Here are our 3 top picks for outdoor, portable water heaters.
EccoTemp L5 Portable Outdoor Tankless Water Heater
The EccoTemp Portable Outdoor Tankless Water Heater is an affordable choice and is perfect for campsites and cabins. Its lightweight and compact design makes it easy to carry and setup and it can heat water up to 140°F.
The electronic ignition is powered by 2 “D” cell batteries, and the L5 runs on a standard 20-pound liquid propane tank. It can even be paired with the EccoFlo 12-volt water pump.
The L5 is the smallest of EccoTemp’s portable outdoor water heater line-up. It delivers a flow rate of 1.5 gpm and includes all the supplies you’ll need for a shower. Simply connect it to your propane tank and you’re set to go.
It weighs just 10.8-pounds and has a peak BTU rating of 37500.
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If you need a slightly higher flow rate, you might want to check out the EccoTemp L7 which delivers 1.7 gpm with a BTU rating of 41000. It’s EccoTemp’s newest portable tankless water heater and sports a new look and design.
The EccoTemp L10 has a BTU rating of 75000 and can deliver up to 2.6 GPM of hot water, making it an excellent choice for off-grid cabins.
EccoTemp L5 Portable Tankless Water Heater
The EccoTemp L5 Portable Outdoor Tankless Water Heater is an excellent, budget-friendly choice.
Camplux 10L Portable Propane Water Heater
The Camplux 10L Portable Propane Water Heater is excellent for camping, off-grid cabins, or other tasks such as washing pets or cars around your house.
It ignites the burner with the help of 2 “D” cell batteries, which are not included. However, all the other necessary fittings and connections, including the gas regulator are in the box.
The Camplux 10L weighs only 19-pounds and delivers up to 2.64 gallons of hot water per minute (gpm), with a BTU rating of 68000.
Camplux included a flame failure device, as well as overheating and freeze protection to protect the water heater from unexpected issues. It also has a gas supply safety switch which will shut down the gas if the water temperature exceeds 167°F.
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The 10L is one of several models in the Camplux portable tankless water heater line-up, which range between 1.32 to 4.22 gpm. If you’re looking for something smaller, you may want to consider the Camplux 6L model. It can deliver 1.58 gpm and only weighs 14-pounds.
The Camplux 16L is the largest of the series and it’s a great fit for off-the-grid cabins since it can deliver up to 4.22 gpm.
Camplux 10L Portable Tankless Water Heater
The Camplux 10L is a great choice for campers and others who need a portable outdoor water heater. It delivers a high flow rate for its size.
Mr Heater BOSS-XW18 Battery Operated Shower System
The BOSS-XW18 Battery Operated Shower System is manufactured by Mr. Heater. It’s a unique system that allows for lot’s of versatility, since the unit can run off the charged internal battery, plugged into an electrical outlet or powered off a small propane tank.
In addition, the shower hose connects to a sink-like faucet which makes it easy to grab hot water for doing dishes or other tasks.
With a BTU rating of 17000, and a high temperature of 125°F this is an outstanding fit for off-the-grid activities such as camping, fishing, or even tail-gating. The BOSS-XW18 BaseCamp has a sealed internal battery which can provide up to 40-minutes of hot water on a full charge. The AC adapter is included and the BOSS-XW18 BaseCamp can be charged from a standard wall outlet or with your vehicle.
But what really makes this unit special is the ability to operate it using propane. It can run off of a 5 to 20 lb tank, and is easy to set-up and use. Insert the generator pump in a bucket of water. Select your temperature setting, and press the electronic pulse ignition button. Within a matter of seconds, you’ll have hot water!
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Mr Heater offers three different sizes of their BOSS Basecamp Battery Operated Shower System. The BOSS-XW18 is the mid-range unit and it provides plenty of power at an affordable price-point.
If you’re looking for a smaller unit, you might consider the BOSS-XB13. It uses “D” cell batteries and only weighs 7-pounds, which is considerably less than the 15-lb BOSS-XW18.
The BOSS-XCW20 Basecamp is the largest of the trio and has an entirely different look.
BOSS-XW18 Battery Operated Shower System
The BOSS-XW18 Battery Operated Shower System is an extremely versatile hot water system. It’s a great choice for those who want the convenience of a shower, but the ability to have hot water from a faucet.