So I finally got to take a nice hot shower in my outdoor setup. It has been a couple trips in the making. While this is a post is all about the Camp Chef water heater it’s not meant to be a product review. More of a tutorial and some tips and things to watch out for. I know there are a lot of complaints about portable propane water heaters and it’s really a matter of perspective. The perspective of course being how much you want take a shower campng with a camper that does not have a bathroom. Your expectations need to be realistic.
I am using the Campchef heater for my outdoor shower I have created for my NuCamp T@G teardrop camper. Although it was one of the first things bought for my camper, it took almost 4 months before I finally got a hot shower with it. There were some issues along the way to getting it to work but for me it is still worth the money. There are just some things you need to be prepared for issues you are going to have to deal with. Hopefully I can help someone else from my mistakes.
To understand the quirks of the heater you need to understand how it works. I did not fully understand and it contibuted to me not being to get it to work for a while. Allow me to get some use out of my engineering degree. The heater works by using a propone powered heating element and is self ignitng when the water is turned on. In order for this to happen there is a pressure sensor in the water inlet. When you turn on the water outlet, water flows over the sensor and sends a signal to the igniter to light. When you turn the water off, it sends the signal to turn the pilot light off. This is why there is a minimum water pressure to operate it.
While they tell you about the water presure in the manual, what they do not mention that the heater must be perfectly level to opeate. There are 2 reasons for this. The first being that it will not stay lit if it is it tilted too far. It’s the same principle as when you try turn a candle sideways or upside down while lit. It will eventually put itself out. The other reason is that they are bult that way for safety. It has a level sensor and if it is not level, even if the water pressure is enough, it will not light. This is a safety feature so that if it gets knocked over onto a flamable surface the inginter does set something on fire. I cannot take credit for this knowledge, I got it from a fellow camper, but after I got it to work I tested this therory and sure enough, the igniter never makes a clickng sound to engage if it is laying down.
I did not know any of this to begin with and had issues. The first one being the “stand” it comes with, if you can call two pieces of wire clothes hanger a stand. I never even got to test the heater to see if it worked my first time out with it because I set it up the night I got there and when it rained over night it knocked it over and took it rolling down the campsite, destroying that sorry excuse for a stand. From there I had to figure out a way to mount it. In the absence of time I tried hanging it from a caribeaner from the front handle, which led to the leveling information when a fellow camper asked if I got it to work.
After my second trip I searched for a way to mount it & I finally figured out I could use a screw already on the camper to hang it from. This finally allowed me to get a hot shower. It was a hallelujuh moment when I turned on the water and I heard the click of the ignitor and then the “whoosh” of the heating element coming on.
There are plusses and minuses for my current set up though that if you do it, you have to be aware of. The fact ths works and is easy set up is definetly a plus. On the minus side it does get very hot and where I have it hanging is over a hard plastc element, so I have to be very careful. The first time it lit I had it on the highest heat setting and the flame came through the top and left a little singed spot on the plastic. As long as I have it on lower settings it seems to be ok. Beware of the highest setting, because it is scalding hot. Unless you are steralizing medical equipment, you won’t need it.
The other annoying part is since it’s mounted on only one screw it rocks and if you pull on the shower hose too much and tip it too far the pilot light will go out. Also, as with everything that runs on gas, there is a big gust of wind, the pilot light will go out. Just like it supplies instant hot water, when it goes out, it’s instant cold water as well. In this trip I endured a major cold front coming through the second night and had to abandon using it because the wind was so strong the pilot light would not stay long enough to even get the water hot.
I have talked to a lot of campers and read a lot reviews on this type of water heater and people see to love or hate it. For the ones that hate them I do truly believe it’s a matter of perspective. If you ae judging it against a traditional water heater in your house then, no you won’t be happy with it. If you judge for what it is, which is a way to provide a hot shower in places and circumstances you may otherwise not get one, and compare it to your other options like hangin water in a tree and hoping the sun warms it up, it’s a pretty geat product.