For years I have relied on a simple, old-school solar shower for my warm or hot water needs. They work fine as long as you have sun and it is warm and calm enough outside to heat the bag’s contents. Those variable conditions mean you might end up, at best, with barely warm water even after many hours of the bag sitting out absorbing photons and IR. Other times the water gets so hot it can physically harm you unless you wait for it to cool down or mix colder water with it. The bags too are typically flimsy and don’t last more than a couple of years and you can easily puncture them laying them on the ground atop a pointy rock or thorns or against a tree with rough bark or a sharp broken branch. When that happens I try to fix it and extend its life by mending the holes in the vinyl bag with Marine Adhesive Sealant, AquaSeal UV or something along those lines. Eventually though they rupture or are damaged beyond repair and then I had to buy another.
This past March (2023) I spent time at 5700′ in the Mojave National Preserve. During one of those “Atmospheric Rivers” that came through many parts of California I was subjected to below freezing temperatures, snow, hail, sleet and rain and my old solar shower just was not up to the task and frankly useless. Washing dishes was a miserable experience and showering was out of the question. When I got back into civilization I decided to find a more robust and consistent system. By happenstance I saw a Reddit post and someone mentioned their Joolca System. I had no idea what that was and looked it up. Imagine my surprise to find it is just the kind of system I would have soon started looking for myself.
They offer three packaged options. The cheapest option requires a pressurized water source like a hose at home. We don’t have that in the Tacoma. The next step up adds a 12V pump, a water filter and longer hoses to grab water from lakes, rivers or a water tank or jerry can. The most expensive option has all of that but then adds a bigger, heavier stand and a big, fold out plastic kitchen sink box kit which is just huge and we don’t need that. I opted to chose the middle option, the Outing Kit and the optional padded zippered case to hold and protect it all when stored in the Tacoma.
Essentially this is a small, instant-on tankless water heater that you might find in a newer home set up as a relatively small, portable system ideal for overlanding. When I was first trying this system out at Horse Linto Creek I found that on the highest water flow setting, I had a really plush, hot, shower but it emptied a 20 liter/5 gallon Scepter MWC before I finished the final rinse. Thankfully no one was around to see or hear me, covered in soap and shampoo, muttering and swearing to myself while stumbling around naked, half blind from soap, stepping on sharp rocks and other assorted items in my bare feet all the while moving the entire setup over to the Tacoma so I could put the water inlet into my main 22 gallon water tank. PITA let me tell you.
After a bit of experimentation I have found different settings with the water flow and flame intensity so that I can still have a nice, hot shower (or wash dishes) with just a little less water flow so I won’t go through a whole MWC of water.
I can plug the pump’s 12V lighter attachment into three different spots; an outlet in the Tacoma’s cab which runs off the main battery, outlets in the shell that run off my secondary battery system or even the outlet on my little Jackery 240 portable power station. The electrical draw is small. After using the system for about 10 minutes the Jackery showed a 5% drop in voltage.
When everything is first connected and the pump is switch is flicked to “on” it immediately starts and primes the system until it reaches whatever pressure it is supposed to and then shuts off. Thereafter it turns on as needed when the pressure drops a.k.a. when you use the shower head. When you flick the switch on the shower head the water for a brief moment comes out at a lesser pressure. Then when the pump realizes the pressure has dropped it automatically turns on and the pressure immediately flows at the rate you set on the main blue dial on the front of the heater itself. It does take a few seconds for the heater to then spark itself to life and a couple more until actual hot water starts coming out of the shower head, at most 8 or 10 seconds.
I like that the filter at the end of the supply hose has a guard to protect it when you toss it into a rocky stream or lakeside but that can be taken off and the filter itself then easily fits into my water can or my main water tank.
As usual I did not read all the paperwork that came with the system because it is so easy and intuitive to set up. It makes no difference to the system but it is easy to visualize that the blue hoses are for the cold water supply side and the red are for the hot water output side. I now actually mix and match the colors for whatever situation I find myself using the system in. This is especially true since the longest hose in the kit (the 16′ shower hose) happens to be red and sometimes that length has been what I needed to bring water into the system from a remote source and not have to set up the system closely to the edge of a lake or stream. Joolca sells a 32’+ hose, in blue, that they call the Reach Extension Hose but I expect you could also use any 1/2″ hose with standard quick-connect fittings as well.
My habit of not reading manuals actually did cause a bit of an issue when using the system for the first time. I was testing the water flow and seeing how long things took to heat up and what the flow was like but I didn’t want to waste the water I had brought with us to Horse Linto and so I made it a closed loop by putting both the intake and the shower head into the same water can. When my testing was finished I unwittingly used that same water can to fill up the Brita filter we use. The next morning I used the water from the Brita to make my coffee and it tasted HORRIBLE. Nasty, chemical, rubber taste and smell. Being pre-coffee time my normal mental sharpness was instead dull and I poured all the water in the Brita tank back through its filter system thinking that might make a difference. Without testing that hypothesis I made a second cup of coffee with it and, while the taste and smell was a bit improved it was still nasty and unpalatable. It finally dawned on me that maybe all the new rubber hoses had leeched some chemicals into the water and maybe I had been supposed to rinse the system out before first use…but, of course, I had not actually read the manual so I had no idea. So I took the whole system down right to the edge of the creek and ran it for several minutes on the highest water flow and lowest temperature settings to flush any of those aromatic and unflavorful chemical nasties from the system. I stopped when the water out of the shower head smelled like plain old water. I ended up dumping the full 5 gallons from the water container out into the bushes, rinsing it well and refilling it with fresh water from my main water tank. Then, finally, after that extra hour of putzing about I was able to make a normal, satisfying cup of coffee. Only then, with my brain firing on all cylinders did I think to read the paperwork that came with the system. After looking through the 3 quick start guides and the main user manual that came with the kit I found a single sentence, way in the back in the “Safety warnings” that mentioned “Caution! This appliance is not intended for the supply of drinking water.” So…now I know.
Now, after using this Joolca System several times over a month I have some opinions based on actual use.
1) I like it in general. I expect I will use it less in hot summer months and more when it is cold out or when I am with a group where several people will want a daily hot shower, cooler rinse off or to wash dishes with pressurized hot water.
2) The main shortcoming for me so far is that the little switch on the shower wand is stubby and hard to flick on and off with slippery, soapy hands.
Really, that is it so far. It comes with a two year warranty and I will update this post with how that process works if or when I ever need to use it. For now though I am happy with this purchase and expect it to bring me much joy, comfort and cleanliness during our travels.