After you read this article go recycle that one-gallon plastic jug you’ve been using to dump water over your head. Its sub-par work for you is done.
It’s no secret that vandwellers often sacrifice cleanliness for adventure. We are all too familiar with the challenges of changing on a roadside, overnighting in our vans, and going on extended trips where every square inch must be used efficiently. Probably the biggest problem I’ve experienced is not being able to rinse my wetsuit after a surf. This not only makes wetsuits stink but also breaks down the neoprene and ensures that the next time I put my suit on I’m in for a sandy, damp experience.
In preparing for my transition to full-time vanlife, I knew I would need to find a practical way to keep myself, my wetsuits, my cook gear, etc. clean on the road. I dug and dug through the depths of the Internet for weeks. Nestled in amongst the cheap, gravity dependent bladder-bags and the small, awkward “pressure systems” (which require endless pumping just to get them to spray), I found the most elegant, obvious answer: Big Kahuna Portable Showers.
So why haven’t you heard about these? Well, marketing. They haven’t entered the wonderful world of Instagram yet (though you can find them on Facebook) and they aren’t really well known, at least in our little vanlife circles.
These portable shower units come in 4.7, 8, and even 13-gallon sizes. I decided to go with the 4.7-gallon size because it is quite compact (12” wide x 12” long by 9” high) and I don't really have a need to lug around more than 4.7 gallons of water anyway. If you are mostly off-grid you may want to consider a larger model.
Big Kahuna Showers run on 12-volt power (aka the plug in your van). Overall, the Big Kahuna system doesn’t require too much thought. You just need to plug it in to your vehicle or external 12-volt power system, squeeze the handle, and let the pump do the work for you. Voila, efficient water under pressure. You could use this in a full-time kitchen sink set-up or keep it stored elsewhere for occasional usage. They are completely watertight, so you don’t need to worry about water sloshing out while you drive either. ***UPDATE: I've noticed that mine leaks a tiny bit from the power cord hole when I drive with it extremely full. I'm contacting Big Kahuna about this to see if it is a common problem or a slight defect in my unit.***
I was quite impressed with the power behind this shower as well. I was able to spray water about 12-15 feet when fully squeezing the nozzle. It won’t blast you, but it definitely provides enough pressure to rinse the sand out of your hair or get the crumbs off your dishes. These showers only burn through about a gallon a minute at maximum strength; it took me just over 5 minutes of continuous spraying to empty the tank in my test. So far, I've used it twice to thoroughly rinse myself and my gear after surfing. I've only gone through about a 1/8 of a tank without trying to conserve water at all. I do wish it had a method to hold the on-off switch in place so I could attach it to my door to shower with both hands free. I came up with a super easy solution to this though: I just looped a hair tie over the switch for continuous spray.
One of my early concerns was that my shower might be too heavy since it can hold so much water. When full, the 4.7-gallon unit weighs about 40 pounds. I was able to carry this without too much of a problem, albeit a slight struggle. But who plans on walking around with 4.7 gallons of water anyway? In reality, I’ll end up filling it with a hose and keeping it in the same spot most of the time.
I’m lucky because I have an additional 12V outlet in the back of my van right above where I am storing the Big Kahuna Shower. If you don’t have a secondary outlet, not to fear: the power cord is quite long. Both the hose and the power cord have clips to hold them to the container, so you can tuck everything away nice and neatly when not in use. The coiled hose extends up to 8 feet so, you can practically rinse your whole van off without moving the container if you wanted to.
What about heat? The tank itself is UV absorbent; leave it in line with a window while you’re out surfing, or in the sun while you’re changing to allow the water to warm up. Also, keep your eyes peeled; I’ve heard rumors that they will be releasing a compatible water heater in about a month!
I’m so excited to continue using this on the road! It’s time to break the “dirty hippie” vanlife stereotype! Big Kahuna Portable Showers offer the most practical solution to the vandweller’s hygiene plight!