DIY hot water for camping or off grid using a fire

If the idea of hot water on demand without spending much at all floats your boat then in today’s post, we have a pretty nifty design that you can build at home with limited tools and parts.

Full credit goes to a mate of mine who’s been using this particular setup for a number of years, and always has hot water ready at the tap.

DIY hot water on demand
DIY Hot water on demand

This relies on a fire

Before I go any further, this setup relies on the use of a camp fire, and that means its only suitable when you are allowed to have a fire.

Of course, you could achieve the same thing with a gas burner, but then you are probably better off just sticking with a stainless steel bucket and warming the water up if its not fire season.

What do you need to make it?

To make this, all you need is a short length of copper pipe, a few metres of high temperature hose, a couple of hose clamps, a heavy duty plastic container with a tap on it, and the tank fittings.

Simply roll the copper hose into a small coil, attach the a length of hose onto each end of the coil with a hose clamp, and then attach it to the water container.

If you use the detachable fittings then you can easily separate the coil and hose from the water container for when you are moving.

You’ll also need something for the tank to sit on.

Hot water from the fire
Super easy to make and use

How does it work?

When you have a fire going, and your water container is ready to go (with plenty of water in it), simply drop the copper coil into the edge of the fire, and prop the line up with a block of wood that goes to the top of the tank. 

The water in the copper pipe gets hot, expands and pushes its way back into the top of the water tank. This in turn sucks colder water out of the bottom of the tank towards the copper pipe, where its warmed up and the process repeats.

Copper in the fire
Copper tubing in the fire

In due time, you’ll end up with a container full of warm to hot water, depending on how warm your fire is, and where you put it.

Prop the hose up
You need to ensure the hose is propped up

To adjust the water temperature, just move the coil closer or further away to the fire!

Is it potable?

Depending on the fittings that you use, and the material of the tank the water may or may not be potable, or drinkable. I would be happy using it for dishes using the usual rubber hose and plastic tank, but I probably wouldn’t drink it.

Of course, you could easily make it potable by using a stainless steel container, and if we build one I’d probably go down this path.

A couple of safety related items

Your tank needs to breath

Please make sure you leave the top cap of your tank loose, so it can breathe. You’ll hear the tank ‘burp’ regularly, and it needs air to do this.

If you don’t have it open and able to expand, you risk having the tank pressurize until something goes bang, and when its full of hot water that’s something you seriously want to avoid.

Watch the temperature and water level

Obviously the water can get too hot if you allow it to as well, and running the tank out of water with the coil still getting hot is not going to end well. Simply move the coil in and out of the fire to adjust the water temperature, and make sure you’ve always got plenty of water in the tank!

DIY hot water review

I’ve seen a number of these around the place over the years, and they work really well. Yes, you can go and buy a Joolca hot water system that just warms water up using an LPG bottle, but this is far cheaper, simpler and has worked for a number of people for some time.

In the past we’ve used a stainless steel bucket on a fire which works well, but it doesn’t maintain hot water for use at all times, and its a bit less convenient for pouring water out.

These days, we travel in our Reconn R2 which has an inbuilt Truma hot water system that does the trick.

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  1. Hey Dangelo,

    Yep, I don’t see why not. The wood just makes it easy to adjust if needed, but I guess copper would work the same

    All the best

  2. Nice setup, could you have an extra length of copper on one leg and bend it up so it hold the hose up instead of using a piece of wood?

  3. Hey Paul,

    It works really well, and I’m sure you’ll have fun with it

    Take care

  4. Awesome write-up, am looking for a simple system like this for camping, I like this model as I like to tinker , thanks for taking the time to put it out there.
    Paul ..from Canada