Before living van life full time, I had no idea what a conversation piece “Where do you go to the bathroom?” would be. Between this and questions about showering, it’s the top question we “vanlifers” get when we meet new people.
When I started researching campervans, I knew I wanted some sort of toilet in my campervan, but to be honest, the thought of a composting toilet in my campervan grossed me out. The reality was that I was just uneducated about all of the options out there.
I started out with a small portable chemical toilet and used that for over two years (I still can’t believe I didn’t switch sooner!). After a year of using a composting toilet, I’ve learned it’s the best option for my van life. Wondering if it’s the right choice for your van adventures?
Let’s dive into the research I did to determine what the best composting toilet for van life is–maybe you’ll make the switch quicker than I did!
Table of Contents
Van Life Composting Toilet Options
It’s important to understand what the composting toilet options are on the market today, their pros and cons, and what your specific needs are.
My needs were pretty specific. I needed a composting toilet that:
- Was comfortable for the female body
- Small – preferably a size and shape that I wouldn’t have to modify my current campervan layout to install
- Would last at least ten days before needing to empty solids
- Easy to clean
Amazingly, I was able to find one that met all of my needs! Let’s go over the options:
Nature’s Head seems to be the most popular stationary composting toilet for van life. The majority of folks I meet on the road with more modern campervan builds have opted for a Nature’s Head.
It’s comfortable and works well for all body types. A few friends have shared that it’s more difficult to clean than other toilets and that it’s somewhat cumbersome to remove and empty the urine container.
It has an odorless design with a self-contained ventilation system that makes it easy to use anywhere. This device also comes with a 5-year warranty and the parts to install it in your van build.
These composting toilets for a campervan use stainless steel hardware that can withstand the jostling and vibration of life on the road. They’re also small enough to fit in the tiniest space.
They’re self-contained and have separate containers for pee and poop. Plus, there’s a trap door design that opens when you sit on the toilet, which eliminates the need to buy separate liners for the bowl. However, if you prefer, you can buy paper liners to make cleanup easier.
There are two types of Nature’s Head Composting Toilets. The real difference between the two is the type of handle used for stirring the compost. One has a space-saving spider handle that’s preferred for van life, and one has a standard crank handle.
The spider handle adds 2″ to the width of the toilet, while the crank adds 5″. The crank is easier to use, though, so you’ll have to pick which design is right for your van’s space.
Keep in mind you’ll need to purchase the exterior vent separately. Nature’s Head sells mushroom vents, shell vents, and a PVC vent assembly kit.
Here’s what you get when you order a Nature’s Head toilet:
- Liquids bottle with cap
- Inside vent flange
- Spider Agitator handle
- Allen wrench to install spider handle
- 2 mounting brackets with knobs and screws
- 18″ single pin cable for 12-volt fan hookup (fan is mounted onto toilet at time of assembly)
- Fuse and fuse holder for the 12-volt application
- 5 feet of 1 ½” hose
- Spray Bottle
- Installation and User Guide
- Warranty Card
Nature’s Head Pros:
- Cheaper than AirHead
- Hardy design and stainless steel parts
- Connects to a 12-volt system for mobile use
- Quick and easy installation
- Good customer service
- 5-year warranty
Nature’s Head Cons:
- Some reviewers say the urine tank doesn’t work well
- The spider handle can be hard to crank if the solids bin is too full
- There are complaints that the fan isn’t quite strong enough
- You have to open the main tank to empty the urine container
- The urine container is not opaque, which can make it awkward to carry to a public restroom to empty
I had never heard of the Air Head composting toilet until a friend of mine told me she has one in her self-converted Sprinter van. She loves her Air Head but did share that the urine diverter wasn’t great for women, and she had to be rather careful with #1.
Little did I know, Air Head composting toilets are the oldest portable composting toilets on the market. They were developed back in 2001 by sailor Geoff Trott, who wanted a robust, odorless toilet without the need for a holding tank.
The AirHead composting toilet quickly became popular amongst ocean-goers and it’s now a top choice for van lifers and RVers.
What makes AirHead stand out is its design. This best composting toilet for a campervan or RV features a rounded frame perfect for small spaces. Built with rugged stainless steel parts for tough, salty seas, this toilet holds up just as well on bumpy dirt roads.
These composting toilets are easy to use as they mimic a toilet you’d find in a house. You’ll enjoy the real toilet seat, flush lever location, and toilet size. AirHead’s main competitor, Nature’s Head, uses a molded seat.
AirHead has a top-notch ventilation system that helps accelerate composting and also features a crank handle. If you’re squeezing your composting toilet into a really tight spot in your van, you can use an optional socket/wrench adaptor to stir your solid waste.
The wrench adaptor saves width space. The unit would normally need about 19″ of width space. With the socket wrench, it only needs 16.5″.
With an AirHead composting toilet, you have the option of using paper liners in the bowl for when you go #2. That helps keep the bowl clean. Or you can forfeit the paper and just open the trap door when it’s time to go. Either way works well–it’s just a personal preference.
AirHead also offers a smooth, round solids tank that is easier to empty and clean than competitor tanks. Another huge plus is that there’s a lid for the solids tank, so you don’t have to remove the entire toilet from the vent line when it’s time to empty or store the tank.
The AirHead Composting Toilet comes with everything you need, including the vent hose, power adapter, 12V inverter cable, 12V outlet adapter, toilet seat, and a spider-style stirring handle.
Here’s what you get when you order an AirHead Composting toilet for your campervan:
- Solids tank lid
- Fan housing
- Detachable crank handle
- Floor mounting brackets
- Mounting hardware
- Hose 5′ length
- Hose connectors
- Liquid bottle cap
- Bowl liners (50)
- Peat brick (USA only)
- Enzyme (USA only)
- Smaller than competitor Nature’s Head
- Hardy design and robust stainless steel parts
- Quick & easy installation
- Can be connected to a 12-volt system for mobile/off-grid use or with an additional 110-volt transformer for household current
- You don’t have to open the solids tank to remove the urine container for dumping
- Urine container is opaque, making for easier transport
- Viewing window allows you to see when the urine container is full
- Looks and feels the most like a regular toilet; easier for guests to use
- Has a socket wrench adaptor handle for really tight space to stir the compost
- Excellent ventilation system
- 5-year warranty
- Pricier than Nature’s Head
- Long lead time
- Urine diverter might not work well for your body type
- 21 pounds
- 16.3 x 15.1 x 16.8in
- 4.8-gallon solids tank capacity
- 1.8-gallon urine container
CompoCloset’s Cuddy and Cuddy Lite composting toilets are the newest on the market. I personally think that they are the best option on the market for my vanlife needs. I’ve been using mine for a year now and love it.
What makes the Cuddy different is that it’s designed to be portable, but it includes an agitator to mix solids. This helps your solids start breaking down quicker. It also means longer times between emptying your solids bin, as opposed to portable composting toilets without an agitator.
The Cuddy composting toilet is specifically made for campervans and features a much smaller design than AirHead and Nature’s Head without losing too much capacity in the solids container (4.8 gallons compared to 6.5 and 5).
Cuddy is truly portable, meaning you can move it around in your campervan or even put it outside! With the addition of a simple privacy tent, you can have an outdoor composting toilet anywhere you are.
Cuddy is also different from the other two manufacturers listed above in that it does NOT have to be vented outside. Cuddy comes with an odor-reducing carbon filter and an internal fan. However, if you still want to vent Cuddy outside, you can. A standard diameter fitting is available if you choose external venting.
Another main difference is that Cuddy’s design allows it to be mounted flush against a wall. All you have to do is secure Cuddy’s base to your campervan’s floor and never move it again if you choose not to.
Cuddy is the first portable composting toilet with a telescoping handle on the front, making it even easier to stir your poo!
The Cuddy Composting Toilet is also the most affordable of the three. It includes a liquid bottle for #1’s and a solids tank for… solids.
On top of all that, it’s designed to be easy to use for those who don’t have much experience with composting toilets.
Richard Peter, who’s developing Cuddy, used it for 28 days off-grid without needing to empty the solids bin once.
“Cuddy was awesome,” Richard wrote us in an email. “In comparison to my previous composting toilet (one of the market leaders), it’s a much more comfortable height, and let’s say not having to aim thanks to the large ‘drop zone’ is a huge… er… relief.
“A key element of the testing was the carbon filter. Being in a confined space with a smelly toilet wouldn’t be fun, so needless to say, I’m grateful to say the testing was a success!”
- Compact design is perfect for tight spaces like a campervan or van life
- Low price
- No external venting required
- Truly portable
- Comes with an indicator for when the urine compartment is full
- Can mount flush against a wall
- Fewer customer reviews than Nature’s Head or AirHead Composting Toilet
- Still relatively new on the market
- If it’s not vented, you may have some trial and error with moisture control
- Square solids bin sometimes builds up in the corners where the agitator can’t reach
For me, Cuddy is perfect. I needed something that would fit in the space where my old portable chemical was. I didn’t want to have to wire it in due to how my electrical system was set up, and I needed something that would last 10+ days since I like to boondock for as long as possible.
My only challenge was that I struggled with moisture buildup off and on, depending on the weather. It turned out I just needed to empty it more often when temps are warmer (every three weeks instead of every four). I also ended up wiring in the internal fan, which was super simple to do and takes virtually no power. This helps circulate the air inside the Cuddy, even though I still don’t have it vented outside. There’s never any smell, it’s easy to clean, and I love that the urine container is black, so it’s not so obvious what I’m doing when I’m emptying it.
Trelino Composting Toilet – Most Compact
The Trelino came into the market with a bang, offering van lifers and other travelers a great option for a portable toilet that’s easy to clean, portable, compact, and aesthetically pleasing.
The most popular sized Trelino measures in at:
- Weight 8.6 lbs
- Width 13.0 in x 15.5 in x 11.7 in
- 1.2-gallon urine canister
- 1.6-gallon solids container
Unlike the previous three composting toilet options, the Trelino does not have an agitator for the solids bin. This makes it super easy to clean out since you can pre-line the solids bin with a bag. You simply add some organic matter like wood shavings, do your business, and add more organic matter on top of your “doo.” When the bucket gets close to full, pull the bag out and dispose of it in a proper waste receptacle.
Trelino has five different styles with various capacities. I’ve met quite a few full-time van lifers who opted for the Trelino because of its convenience. For someone who has access to waste receptacles at least once a week, the Trelino is a great option.
Friends have told me it doesn’t smell (any composting toilet shouldn’t smell if you’re adding organic material to it), it’s compact enough to fit in their vans easily without accommodation, and it’s super easy to empty the liquids bottle, and keep the solids bin clean (bags = no mess!).
If you boondock a lot, you can easily put your Trelino outside in one of those cool privacy tents and voila! You have a dedicated bathroom!
Here’s what comes with your Tralino composting toilet:
- Exterior body with a comfy seat
- Urine separator
- Soft-close lid
- Urine canister
- Solids container
- Lid with membrane closure
- Spare lid
- Liner bags made of recycled materials
Pros of Trelino composting toilet:
- Small – fits almost anywhere
- Easy to clean
- Doesn’t look like a toilet
Cons of Trelino composting toilet
- No agitator
- Needs to be emptied more often
The reason the Trelino wasn’t the best composting toilet for me was because you have to empty the solids bin more often. I’m usually boondocking for 10-14 days or more at a time without access to waste receptacles.
You might wonder, “Why not just dig a cathole and use Mother Nature?” There are many reasons for not doing that–the most important one being that many places don’t allow using the bathroom outside in order to protect the environment. Some counties in Utah and some high alpine forests in Washington State prohibit people from using the outdoors as their bathroom. A composting toilet allows long-term stays without harming the environment or having to bag each individual poo manually with WAG bags.
The Throne Urine Diverter with Instructions for a DIY Composting Toilet
If you’re handy with building things, the Throne Urine Diverter could be a great solution for you. It’s cost-effective since you’re only purchasing the urine diverter itself, but it comes with complete instructions on how to build your own composting toilet!
This handy accessory takes care of the smelly part of DIY composting toilets by diverting liquids into a separate container. The kit instructions utilize a 5-gallon bucket and other supplies you can get at any hardware store.
They also have a full kit you can purchase to make the building part easier.
I considered making my own composting toilet with this kit, but it would have taken up too much space in my campervan. Plus, I really wanted something with an agitator to allow me to boondock for longer periods of time.
AirHead vs Nature’s Head Composting Toilets
AirHead and Nature’s Head are the two main contenders on the block for the best stationary, vented composting toilet.
Here are the differences when looking at Airhead vs Nature’s Head:
- Airhead is smaller and easier to fit
- AirHead comes with an easy-to-remove urine bottle for dumping without opening the solids container.
- You can choose from a 1-gallon or 2-gallon pee bottle for AirHead, whereas Nature’s Head comes with one size, 2.2 gallons
- Airhead is more expensive than Nature’s Head; however, it includes more parts
- Airhead is a bit more customizable; you can choose the size for both the seat and the tanks, which side the crank handle is on, as well as whether you want a right angle or straight fan housing
- The Nature’s Head spider handle takes up a little less space than AirHead’s handle, but Air Head offers a wrench adapter for tinier spaces
- The Airhead toilet has a similar look and feel to a household toilet, whereas Nature’s Head feels more like a marine application
- Airhead has a paper liner for the toilet bowl, making the entire contraption easier to clean, but it’s optional and can be used in a Nature’s Head, too. These are normal commercial coffee filters.
- The smooth, round solids container on the Airhead is easier to dump and clean
- The urine compartment in AirHead is opaque with a sight glass, making it a little less awkward to carry around than the Nature’s Head, which has a clear urine compartment
- AirHead is easier to install against a wall as you don’t have to open up the top part of the toilet to access the urine compartment
- Nature’s Head has a bigger solids container at 6.5 gallons rather than 5 gallons. However, the emptying rate is the same as the Air Head and has a more efficient venting design than Nature’s Head.
- It seems easier to get a Nature’s Head toilet than an AirHead. If they’re in stock on Amazon, sometimes you get them within a few days. Airhead is not available on Amazon
- The toilet seat on the Nature’s Head is molded into the unit, rather than a normal separate toilet seat like AirHead
What is the Best Composting Toilet for you?
Composting toilets are a great way to have some conveniences of home while living full time in your campervan.
They are environmentally friendly since they don’t use harsh chemicals or excess water. You’ll just have to get used to the slightly different process of using and emptying these toilets.
“We like how convenient it has made living in a van. Yes, public restrooms exist, but especially during a pandemic, nothing beats having your own private toilet. It is easy to clean and maintain with full-time usage for the last 9 months, and we really, truly haven’t noticed any smells (apart from when you are emptying everything). The only downside is the price tag,” said @travelswithkevan.
Let us know if you have any questions and which composting toilet you chose.
- Related: The 7 Best Cassette Toilets for Camping
- Related: The best portable toilet options for a camper van
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