Portable Propane Outdoor Camping Water Heater by BougeRV

BougeRV’s Portable Propane Outdoor Camping Water Heater: An Honest Review

Written by: Niki Thorne
Photos by: Dan Kellar

Note: This item was sent for complimentary by BougeRV for honest review.
If you’d like to visit BougeRV’s online shop, please consider using Unsustainale Magazine’s affiliate link.
A small percentage of any purchase will go to support this publication.

The BougeRV Portable Propane Outdoor Water Heater can be found here.
Use the discount code “AFF18” to get 18% off site wide!

Brief Description & Technical Specs

Imagine glorious hot water on demand under endless blue sky. Hot showers surrounded by trees, the ambient sounds of birds and cicadas all around, a gentle breeze rustling the leaves. This is the kind of luxurious glamping experience that BougeRV promises to deliver with their new portable propane hot water heater. Hot water for washing anything, anywhere.

Portable Propane Outdoor Camping Water Heater by BougeRV

Assembly and use are intuitive and straightforward. Safety features include overheating, flow and tilt protection – all of which we tested.

Water heats within seconds. It can raise the temperature 45 degrees Fahrenheit/ 25 degrees Celsius within minutes, and will automatically shut off before the temperature becomes dangerous or the unit overheats. Heating is on demand – the propane only ignites when in use.

Since it’s propane powered, this portable little camping water heater and shower duo is not recommended for enclosed spaces – a plethora of cautions in the included manual warns of the explosive properties of propane gas. It is only meant for outdoor use– showers, dishes, dogwashing – any outdoor occasion that could be improved with hot water on demand.

In terms of technical specs, the water heater has maximum thermal efficiency of 20,500 BTUs, gas consumption is 20Mj/h and the water flow is 2.2-3L/min. It measures 15.75 x 6.7 x 14.57 inches and weighs 21.6 pounds. It comes with a 2500mAh built in rechargeable battery (1860 Li-ion) capable of powering the water heater’s display and pump for over an hour.

This luxurious and useful little purveyor of sensory bliss does not come cheaply, retailing at $359.99 USD / $549.99 CAD. It includes a four year warranty when purchased directly from BougeRV. Four years or more of outdoor hot water may well be worth it if you’re in a secure financial position and ready to splurge.

What's in the box?

Unboxing & Set Up

The first thing I noticed when lifting the water heater from the box is that the main unit feels very solidly built. It’s shiny black and grey, with an LED display and temperature dial. There are two metal handles on top for lifting and carrying, and mounting the shower head. There are two colour coded attachments for the hoses and two ports for power – one to charge the whole device and one for the pump.

The box includes everything one needs for hot washing off grid, with the exception of water. In a small box within the larger box we found a shower head and bracket, a pump, two hoses with quick connectors, a propane regulator, and AC and DC chargers for the built in lithium ion battery. The showerhead is plastic. It has three settings and a quick stop/start button.

The enclosed manual advised us to fully charge the water heater before using it, so that was our first step.

ready to test

The BougeRV Portable Propane Outdoor Water Heater can be found here.
Use the discount code “AFF18” to get 18% off site wide!

Testing the Water Heater

First we set up to do dishes, and then we moved on to glamping style shower.

It was easy to assemble the various parts. There are two quick connects for the hoses and both are colour coded for ease of use – the blue one is for the pump (water coming in) and red for the shower hose (water going out). The quick connects are straightforward. Just push the hoses on until there is a distinct click.

A metal regulator screws into the back of the water heater, and a small propane tank attaches to that. The water heater uses small 1 pound camping propane tanks. Conveniently we already had two of these on hand.

After screwing the mini propane tank into place, I rubbed soap to check for leaks. We quick connected the various hoses and plugged the pump into the unit.

I filled a large plastic bin with water and Dan (photo taker, partner, builder and co-conspirator) lugged it out to the yard. The pump sank gracefully to the bottom of the bucket. Do note – the pump should not be submerged directly in a lake or pond, and the unit is not meant to be used with salt water.

attaching the propane

First, make sure there is enough space for heat to vent from the sides and top of the water heater.

To start the water heater: Ensure the switch on the bottom is in the on position and all the attachments are securely connected. Push the power button on the front display. Make sure the pump is immersed in water and push the pump button.

Two lights will blink when the unit is in standby, and remain solid when in use – a flame icon, and a shower icon. The lights will not become solid until you actively start using the water.

You will see two temperature displays – one on the left referring to the water coming in through the pump, and one on the right referring to the water coming out of the shower head. These temperatures will be the same until you start actively using the unit – then the right hand number will quickly rise.

The temperature dial controls the size of the flame. You’ll have to adjust to find the perfect temperature.

Washing Dishes with the Portable Propane Outdoor Camping Water Heater by BougeRV

At first we were confused about why the flame icon was flashing and not igniting. We eventually realized that’s because the propane doesn’t ignite until the water is flowing. If the water is on standby, so is the propane ignition. As soon as the water starts running, the propane ignites and the water quickly heats up. It doesn’t preheat because preheating is not necessary – the water heats pretty much instantaneously.

The outdoor shower is the test I had been most looking forward to.

Creating a place to shower was the most labour intensive part of set up for us, but well worth the effort.

First we built an old hexagonal greenhouse frame into a shower structure. It was none too sturdy, so we secured with rope and zip ties.

building the structure

We framed out the bottom with old four by fours and leveled off with some extra bags of gravel we had laying around. The gravel also helps with drainage.

We finished off the base with scrap concrete slabs, smaller pea gravel, and pink and green colourful stones my partner had collected. All our building materials were things we already had on hand.

We used old curtains and sheets for privacy, since our yard backs on to a public trail. Clothespins secured our sheets and curtains from flapping in the wind.

Although the shower head attaches to the handle of the water heater, we were worried about getting it wet. We weren’t sure if splashes would be an issue. We installed an extra plastic barrier between the greenhouse and the water heater to avoid getting it wet.

Finding an appropriate place to mount the shower head was a bit trickier. The included bracket was too small to fit on the poles of our greenhouse structure. We devised a suitable solution by mounting a hanging plant holder to one of the roof poles using zip ties, and attaching our shower bracket to that.

how we mounted the shower head
the finished structure

We set the water heater on a chair just outside the structure to avoid splashing. It worked great, however upon reflection the I suspect plastic chairs are not the best choice for holding the water heater while in use. It vents lots of heat, and it’s probably not ideal to set it on top of something meltable. Happily our chair did not melt.

It was a little chilly and windy outside to be wet and naked (around 15 degrees C), but as soon as the hot water started up I felt comfy and blissful. It was glorious. Leaves rustling, birdsong and open sky above. I enjoyed accidentally brushing across an errant branch while reaching for the shampoo.

washing hair

With the dial turned all the way up, the water heater reached maximum temperature within minutes.

I like my showers hot. Unfortunately the overheating sensor trips at 122 degrees Fahrenheit, so the unit shut off and I had to restart twice. I will need to find the right flame size using the dial to keep a consistent temperature without overheating.

Water pressure was decent, and adjustable. The quick start/stop button on the showerhead doubles as a pressure dial.

We brought out about 15 litres of water and I used most of it, indulging in a long hot shower.

I started out conservatively, pushing the quick stop to save water in between washing and rinsing. When I realized there was plenty of water to spare, I deciding to also shave my legs and spent some time simply luxuriating under the hot water.

shaving legs

Final Thoughts

We loved the entire concept. Overall, it delivers what it promises. It was amazing to take a hot shower outdoors, and easy to use. I liked seeing the exact temperature. The display is bright and clear. The safety features worked fine.

In terms of suggestions for improvement, it would be nice if the company upgraded the showerhead and bracket to something more durable, such as using metal instead of plastic. It would also be nice if the showerhead bracket had more adjustability for mounting places besides the water heater handle. I’d also like to be able to switch the temperature display to Celsius if it’s possible, but I haven’t yet figured out a way to do so.

display in use

Who is this item for?

This item is for:

  • people who love camping and would love it even more with hot showers and instantly hot dish water.
  • people who want to use their rain barrels at home to shower outside under the sky and trees
  • people who want to wash their doggos outside with warm water and a showerhead instead of a chilly hose

However… if there was a way to make it more affordable without compromising the quality, that would also be amazing… In all likelihood I would not been able to afford this water heater if it had not been sent to me complimentary for review. It is rather a luxury item in terms of my disabled and unemployed person budget. But if you’re in a stable financial position to treat yourself to off grid hot water on demand I suspect you would enjoy BougeRV’s portable hot water heater.

behold the glorious ambience

Will we keep using it? Our Future Plans

I enjoy the outdoor shower so much more than my partner’s tiny cramped windowless basement apartment shower. I will absolutely continue enjoying this hot water heater for dishes and showering, as well as to wash my dog and maybe even wash the bus as we gear up to finish painting the skoolie.

Our future plans are to add plants all around the greenhouse shower, filling the shelves with overflowing leaves and flowers and vines.

We also plan to clean out the rain barrels we already have scattered around the yard, and to collect clean filtered rain water as a sustainable reservoir for our outdoor shower.

The BougeRV Portable Propane Outdoor Water Heater can be found here.
Use the discount code “AFF18” to get 18% off site wide!

About the author

Niki Thorne (she/her) is an autistic chronically ill writer and PhD dropout who dreams of becoming an animal behaviourist. Primarily of settler descent, Niki was born in Newfoundland and grew up in Sipekne’katik, Nova Scotia before moving to the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe and Neutral peoples.

She always loved the school buses parked next door when she was a kid, and she is converting her very own skoolie so that she can spend more time with loved ones scattered across Turtle Island. She can frequently be found with her sweet doggo, her partner (this review’s photographer) and his kids.

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