Living in a camper van or an RV means you’ll have to consider this: What to do about a toilet? Many people dread the idea of living without a loo, or walking across a dark campground for a midnight bathroom break. The solution? A portable toilet.
There are many different types of portable toilets perfect for camping, campervans and RVing. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so you can choose the right one for your rig.
From a simple bucket with a seat on top, to a permanent cassette toilet, to a composting toilet, the options run the gamut.
In this post, we’ll walk you through the top portable camping toilets on the market so you can keep van life and camping comfortable.
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What is a portable toilet?
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A portable toilet differs from other RVing toilets in that it doesn’t require an RV black water tank. Black water tanks need to be pumped out at RV dumping stations, which isn’t very convenient if you’re camping off-the-grid.
Portable chemical toilets, on the other hand, can be emptied into any traditional flush toilet. That means you can empty your sewage in an outhouse, a rest stop, a porta-potty or at a truck stop. You can empty your waste anywhere there’s a toilet with plumbing. Or, you have the option of emptying your toilet in an RV dumping station if it’s convenient.
Don’t want to deal with any type of waste tank? Then you can choose a portable toilet with a bio bag. With these toilets, you put a scoop of powder in the bio bag which breaks down your waste and turns liquids into solids. These bags can be thrown away in any trash can.
If you want something more permanent in your rig, you can also consider a composting toilet. Composting toilets are environmentally friendly and easy to maintain. Plus, you don’t have to deal with dumping.
Portable toilets are small and easy to carry and set up. They’re perfect for camping, boondocking, picnicking, and tailgating. You can even purchase a privacy tent to do your business in peace.
We’ll go into the various types of portable toilets later in the article.
Questions to ask before purchasing a portable toilet
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There are a few things to think about before choosing a portable toilet for camping, van life or RVing.
How much space do you have? Look around your campervan or RV and figure out where your portable toilet will go. Take measurements and figure out just how much space you can dedicate to a toilet.
Do you want a permanent toilet or one you can carry around? One type of portable toilet, called a cassette toilet, is meant to be permanently mounted inside your van or RV. This toilet is connected to your vehicle’s water system for flushing, and features a small outer door where you can access the tank, or cassette. Then, the tank can be carried or wheeled to a restroom or a dumping station.
Do you want to deal with a waste tank you’ll need to empty? Think about whether you want to deal with a toilet with a waste tank you need to empty and clean, or if you prefer dealing with a bio bag or composting toilet instead.
Do you want to go both #1 and #2 in the toilet? Some people choose to only do #1 in their portable chemical toilet. That means you don’t need to add any chemicals, and can simply clean the toilet with water and maybe a little vinegar or bleach.
Do you want to put toilet paper in the portable toilet? Another question to ask yourself is whether you want to put toilet paper right in the toilet. This can cause the tank or bag to fill up even faster. Some RVers and van lifers choose to stick their paper into a trash can with a lid, then empty the can frequently.
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The various types of portable toilets:
1) The cassette toilet
Pros: It looks and feels like a toilet you’d find in your home, small and compact, swivels so you can get comfortable, can be dumped in any toilet or dumping station
Cons: It’s permanently fixed in your campervan or RV, the waste tank can get heavy, dumping is a yucky chore, you have to deal with chemicals, and it’s the most expensive option
A cassette toilet is permanently mounted over a portable waste tank in your campervan or RV. Some of them attach directly to your rig’s water system to assist in flushing and rinsing the bowl. Another model has its own fresh water tank for flushing.
When you’re ready to dump your waste, you go outside your rig to open a side door, where you’ll be able to disconnect the waste tank. That tank is either carried or wheeled to the nearest bathroom or dump station.
This portable toilet comes with a waste tank indicator so you know when to dump.
The portable chemical toilet
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Pros: Small and compact, easy to move around, feels like a normal toilet, easy to set up, affordable
Cons: Have to deal with dumping, liquids can freeze in winter and damage the toilet, have to deal with chemicals
A portable chemical toilet is a bit like the cassette toilet, although you can easily move it around. This means when you’re not using it in your campervan or RV, you could set it up outside.
A portable chemical toilet comes with a small waste tank and a freshwater tank for flushing.
Some come with a hold down kit, so you can secure your portable toilet while driving around.
Portable toilets can get about 50 flushes per tank – not bad!
Here are the most popular portable toilet models:
- Porta Potty Curve Portable Toilet
- Camco Portable Travel Toilet
- Serene Life Outdoor Portable Toilet
- Thetford Portable Camping Toilet
Bag or Bucket Portable Toilets
Pros: Affordable, easy to set up, no chemicals required, can throw the bag away into a regular garbage bin, smallest portable toilet you can get, environmentally friendly
Cons: Bag must be thrown out frequently
Bag or bucket toilets are the most affordable on the market, and can even be homemade. Some van lifers will fill the bag with some cat litter or peat and use that to soak up the waste. Otherwise, you can sprinkle something called poo powder into the bag, which works to solidify liquids and break down solids. You can legally throw the bags away in any garbage dump.
These portable toilets are small and easy to store. The Cleanwaste Portable Toilet even folds up into the size of a briefcase.
Here are the most popular bag or bucket toilets:
A composting toilet for an RV or campervan
Pros: Environmentally-friendly, low odor, can go a long time before being emptied, good quality
Cons: Most expensive option, requires more maintenance, requires a power source, isn’t portable
Composting toilets are becoming a popular option among van lifers and RVers. They’re environmentally-friendly and have a low odor of properly maintained. You can go a long time without emptying the toilet as well. These toilets do require more maintenance and setup than other toilets. They also need a power source to run properly, with outside venting.
Here are the most popular composting toilets:
Accessories to go with a portable toilet
One thing we truly love using while camping in our campervan is a portable bidet. A portable bidet means you’ll use far less toilet paper. You can even fill the bidet with warm water to make the washing experience more enjoyable. I kid you not – we have TWO of these. One lives in our campervan and one in our sailboat. We even take it backpacking so we don’t have to carry toilet paper around.
Another thing you’ll want to consider is toilet paper that easily disintegrates. Scott’s Rapidly Dissolving Toilet Paper for RVs and Boats is a great choice. This means if you do want to put toilet paper into your portable toilet, it will dissolve very quickly and won’t take up as much space in your tank.
A privacy tent for your portable toilet might be something to consider if you’re going to be camping in a public place. This is great for campgrounds when you don’t want your toilet inside your vehicle.
Before buying a portable toilet, spend some time thinking about whether you really need one in your campervan or RV. There are opinions for and against. Here’s a really interesting article on Curbed about why one 4×4 Sprinter van owner chose not to have a toilet in her van.
Also, check out The Bearfoot Theory’s blog post about Pros and Cons of a Sprinter van bathroom.
Ultimately, you’ll have to decide whether or not you absolutely need a portable toilet for a campervan or an RV.
Or, you can do what some people do, and only use a toilet for #1. There are plenty of other toilets out there for #2, including truck stops, rest stops, gyms, coffee shops, campground bathrooms, you name it.
A portable toilet does add another level of convenience when you’re living full-time on the road. It’s especially a good idea for someone who has to go to the bathroom frequently throughout the night. If there’s a toilet right in your van or RV you won’t have to stop as often for bathroom breaks.
Luckily, there are so many options out there that you’ll be able to pick the portable toilet perfect for your unique situation.
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