One of the most common questions I get about living in my Sprinter Van is where I go to the bathroom. In my first Sprinter Van, I had a campervan toilet, specifically a cassette porta-potty toilet, which I’ll talk about in more detail in this blog post.
In my second Sprinter Van, which was converted by Outside Van, I chose not to have any kind of campervan toilet in the van, but after 2 years in that van, we started carrying a foldable toilet for #2 (also discussed below).
I’m now in the middle of my third Sprinter build by Outside Van, and guess what? We’re planning to include a toilet. After living in my van part-time for more than 6 years and testing numerous bathroom options, I feel prepared to share the pros and cons of having a campervan toilet, as well as tips for living without a toilet in your van. I’ll also share a list of the best campervan toilets for those of you who know you absolutely can’t live without one.
Learn about the best campervan toilet options in this blog post plus tips for going to the bathroom on the road.
Pros & Cons of Campervan Toilets
Campervan Toilet Pros
- Convenience – Having a toilet means you’ll never have to search for a bathroom, dig a hole (where this is allowed), or go outside in the middle of the night
- Comfort – Sitting on a toilet in your van is more comfortable than popping a squat
- Privacy – If you’re camping with a group, having a toilet allows you to do your business without anyone else knowing what you’re up to
- Cleanliness – There are some nasty public bathrooms out there
Campervan Toilet Cons
- Emptying the campervan toilet – No matter what kind of toilet you have, at some point you’ll have to dump it. This process is not only NOT fun, but when your toilet is full, emptying it becomes your top priority over any adventure you might have planned for that day. Then what happens if there isn’t a dump nearby? You’ll be driving your van around with a week’s worth of pee and poo sloshing around in your toilet or tank, worrying that it might overflow.
- Smell – When cared for properly, your campervan toilet technically shouldn’t smell, but this isn’t always the case. You’ll also get the occasional whiff, even if it’s its only deodorizer, in your very small space.
- The space it consumes – Camper van toilets aren’t that big, but they still take up quite a bit of precious space when you are living in less than 100 square feet. You also need to plan your conversion and floorplan around the toilet, otherwise, you might not have anywhere good to store it once your van is built. Dedicating a compartment to a toilet means you have to leave something else behind.
Best Campervan Toilet Options for Van Life
Choosing whether or not to include a campervan toilet is a big decision – and it’s a very personal one. There are some people who can’t live without a toilet, and I get it. What works best for one person isn’t going to work for another. If you need a toilet, you need a toilet. Below I’ve outlined the top campervan toilet options from least expensive to most expensive and the best brands out there for each van toilet option so you can easily decide what best fits your needs.
Option #1: No Toilet
Who it’s good for: people who don’t want the hassle of dealing with waste, people who want to maximize their van living space
- doesn’t cost anything
- don’t have to deal with your own waste
- saves space in your van for other items
- requires you to rely on using the bathroom outdoors or public restrooms
- there are certain areas (ex. Moab and other sensitive desert environments) where you cannot legally dig a hole to poop
Like I mentioned earlier, I chose not to include a toilet in my second Sprinter van. The number one reason I didn’t put a camper van toilet in is that I just really hated dealing with dumping it. It’s gross and there isn’t always somewhere to dump it. Also, while having a toilet was nice in my first van, I realized over time that it wasn’t totally necessary. Instead, it was a luxury, of sorts, that I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the space for. Outside Van was building me the ultimate adventure mobile, and a bathroom meant less space for bikes, paddleboards, camera equipment, and everything else that ranked higher on the priority list…for ME.
Whether you are inconvenienced when you go to the bathroom or inconvenienced later when you dump your campervan toilet, at some point, you are inconvenienced. I chose to be inconvenienced on the front end and avoid the chores, all while saving space in my van.
One really important thing to keep in mind if you choose to go the no toilet route is that you need to be very well-versed with Leave No Trace guidelines and how to properly poop outdoors. Free dispersed camping areas are being closed due to campers not following Leave No Trace principles (ie taking surface dumps and not packing out their toilet paper). It’s really gross, and as van lifers who often live and recreate on public land, we have a responsibility to do better. As a result of this, we started traveling with the Go Anywhere Toilet that I talk more about below, but I understand why someone chooses not to carry a toilet.
Option #2: Emergency Toilet
Who it’s good for: people who don’t care about regular access to a toilet but want something for #2 emergencies and extended off-grid stays
- takes up the least amount of space
- most affordable campervan toilet option (not including wag bags)
- requires no/minimal cleaning or upkeep
- easy to set up
- can only be used for #2
- wag bags are expensive & the least environmentally friendly option
- must be able to dump bags frequently
- doesn’t feel like a “real toilet”
After traveling in my second Sprinter van for 2 years, we decided to add an “emergency toilet” to our gear list. With COVID, it was harder to find public restrooms and we also wanted to limit our in-person interactions, so we settled on a folding portable toilet. Plus, some dispersed camping areas have been shut down due to too many people pooping outside without following Leave No Trace (i.e not burying their waste 6+ inches deep or not packing out their toilet paper) and we didn’t want to contribute to the problem.
Emergency toilets are the most budget-friendly toilet options, but only if you truly utilize them occasionally vs. everyday use. You can also only use these van toilets for #2, so you still need a solution for liquid waste. To use emergency toilets, you need special bags like Wag Bags or Double Doodie Bags. Both have a pre-loaded waste treatment gel that solidifies your waste and is approved for disposal in regular trash. They are double-lined to prevent leaks and when you are done, you seal it up and you simply throw it in the trash.
This isn’t a good everyday solution since these bags are expensive and not very eco-friendly, but they are nice to have on hand for an emergency, and I’m glad we started using an emergency toilet in our second van.
Cleanwaste Foldable Go Anywhere Portable Toilet
- Weight: 7 lbs
- Dimensions: 19 x 15 x 4 in
This is the toilet we used in our second Sprinter van for times when there are no public restrooms, we didn’t want to go inside a building, or going outside wasn’t an option due to location or environmental regulations.
The Cleanwaste Foldable Go-Anywhere Toilet is what a lot of white water rafting guiding companies use. The toilet unfolds and sets up giving you a place to sit. You then attach a wag bag (thick light blue plastic bag) to the bottom of the toilet and you poop into that – the same kind of wag bag you would take with you if you were hiking up Mt. Whitney or in Southern Utah’s Coyote Gulch.
- Weight: 3 lbs 1 oz
- Dimensions: 15.6 x 14 x 13 in
The Reliance Products Luggable Loo is a very simple 5-gallon bucket with a snap-on lid. You could go #1 straight into the bucket and dump and rinse in the morning, but that could get messy quickly if you can’t clean it regularly. For #2, you can line the bucket with their compatible Double Doodie Bag which contains an absorption powder to neutralize odors. When you are done, you simply seal up the bag and throw it in the trash.
This option takes up more space than the Go Anywhere foldable toilet, but it’s much cheaper and if you only use it for #2 (with lined bags), you can use it for storage when not in use.
Option #3: Portable Cassette Toilet
Who it’s good for: people who want access to a normal toilet in their van but don’t want to have to deal with installing anything permanent, people who want a toilet that feels the most similar to home
- smaller and more compact than composting toilets
- doesn’t require venting or installation
- easy to move around
- way more affordable than a composting toilet
- requires frequent dumping
- everything goes into 1 container, so most people only use it for #1 OR #2 (otherwise you will deal with nasty smells and even more frequent dumping)
- uses heavy chemicals to deodorize
Portable cassette toilets function most like a regular toilet in that you sit on the seat, and everything goes into a toilet, or “cassette” bowl. Then you flush it, and it rinses everything down into the holding tank. You have to use a healthy amount of scented deodorizer, which breaks down the #2 into a liquid and prevents it from smelling. Then once you reach the max fill line, you have to find an RV dump.
I used a cassette toilet in my first Sprinter van, and I really hated dumping it. To dump it, you take the entire toilet out of your van, as there is no permanent plumbing. Then you separate the holding tank from the bowl, unscrew the hose, and pour it down the dump drain. Then rinse and repeat. As you can imagine, it’s not the most pleasant of activities, but it’s not that horrible either. I’d just recommend wearing gloves and closed-toed shoes. This type of portable campervan toilet is also very affordable relative to the composting toilet.
I know plenty of van lifers who have cassette toilets that are perfectly happy with them, so it really just comes down to personal preference and budget. Here are a few top choices for cassette toilets:
Thetford Porta Potti Curve Portable Toilet
- Weight: 10 lbs
- Dimensions: 18 x 18 x 16 in
- Total capacity: 5.5 gallons
The Porta Potti Curve Portable Toilet by Thetford is the one I had in my first Sprinter Van. It’s comfortable and has a 4-gallon fresh water tank with a battery-powered electric flush. The waste water tank is 5.5-gallons and the bottom section can easily be removed for dumping. There are plenty of options from Thetford for portable van toilets depending on your space and needs.
Dometic Portable Toilet
- Weight: 14 lbs
- Dimensions: 13.5 x 15.5 x 16.5 in
- Total capacity: 2.6 or 5 gallons
The Dometic Portable Toilet is a smaller cassette toilet option that is popular among van lifers. It comes in two sizes – 2.6 gallons and 5 gallons, depending on your needs. The Dometic toilet uses a touch-button flush so no pumping or batteries are required. Using the 5-gallon toilet, you will need to find a dump station every 4-5 days with everyday use.
Option #4: Composting Toilet
Who it’s good for: people who want to use their van toilet for both #1 and #2, people who go off-grid frequently
- has separate compartments for liquid and solid waste
- most environmentally-friendly option
- easiest to dump & requires the least frequent dumping (every 60-80 uses)
- most expensive van toilet option
- Must be bolted down and requires outside venting*
- some require 12V power
*the Cuddy composting toilet we mention below does not require bolts or outside venting
Composting toilets are quickly becoming one of the more popular campervan toilets due to some advantages over the cassette toilet described above. For most composting toilets, you fix it to the floor using a pair of brackets, hook it up to a 12-volt power source, and then run the ventilation hose to the outside of your van. It has a separate liquids and solids tank which means you can use the toilet for both #1 and #2.
On the poop side, you use composting fibers (coconut and peat moss are popular materials) and instead of flushing away your waste at dump stations, it’s converted to nutrient-rich soil that can be thrown away. Check out this blog post about how to responsibly dispose of solid waste from a composting toilet. Here are some popular composting van toilet options:
Nature’s Head Composting Toilet
- Weight: 28 lbs
- Dimensions: 21.5 x 19 in
- Liquid capacity: 2.2 gallons
- Solid capacity: N/A
The Nature’s-Head Composting Toilet is a self-contained composting toilet that tackles odors by separating the pee and the poop. When the pee side is full, you can dump it anywhere – in an outhouse, in a pit toilet, or in the forest (make sure to be respectful to other campers and to follow local regulations and Leave No Trace principles by emptying it more than 200 feet from any water sources). According to reviews, the 2.2-gallon urine container needs to be emptied every 1-2 days if used regularly by 2 people.
There are two versions of the Nature’s Head but the only difference is the handle. The spider handle adds 2″ to the width of the toilet, while the crank adds 5″. Reviewers note the crank is easier to use, but it’s personal preference as far as space saving goes.
Air Head Composting Toilet
- Weight: 29 lbs
- Dimensions: 22 × 19 × 16 in
- Liquid capacity: 1 or 2 gallons
- Solid capacity: ~5 gallons
The Air Head Composting Toilet is the oldest composting toilet on the market and is super popular on boats. This toilet works in the same way as the Nature’s Head, and it’s gaining popularity in the van community because it’s slightly smaller than the Nature’s Head (but still larger overall than other toilet options). The Air Head does have a longer lead time (currently 12 weeks), but if you are able to buy in advance, the space savings might be worth it.
You can also customize the Air Head’s liquid tank size (1 or 2 gallons), tank shape, and what side of the toilet you want the crank and plumbing on. The Air Head is also the only composting van toilet that allows you to dump your liquids tank without opening the solids tank. Its liquid tank is opaque (vs. Nature’s Head) which makes dumping your pee a little more inconspicuous.
Compo Closet Cuddy Composting Toilet
- Weight: 29 lbs
- Dimensions: 16.3 x 15.1 x 16.8 in
- Liquid capacity: 1.8 gallons
- Solid capacity: 3.9 gallons
Originally funded by an Indiegogo campaign, the Compo Closet Cuddy is the newest composting toilet on the market (in fact, so new that it’s still in production – shipping for original backers begins at the end of June 2022 and the current lead time is 17 weeks). I’ve been testing a Cuddy prototype, and the toilet seems really promising for van life.
The Cuddy is about the same size as a cassette toilet, making it significantly smaller than other composting toilets, and it doesn’t require permanent installation or venting to the outside, making it the most portable option. The Cuddy has a carbon filter to reduce odors (why it doesn’t require venting) and it can be hardwired into your battery or plugged into an AC outlet.
Once I got the ratio of water-to-compost material right, the toilet did not stink, and I love how compact and streamlined the design is. Due to its small size, it does have a smaller capacity than the Nature’s Head and Air Head, and therefore needs to be emptied more frequently. The pee bottle is opaque, which means you can’t easily see when it needs to be emptied. Compo Closet is still working out a few kinks before it comes to market, and we will update this post once the design is finalized and we’ve had a chance to test it more.
Where To Find Bathrooms On The Road & Off Grid
After months of living in my first Sprinter Van without a campervan toilet, I’ve come to realize that there are a ton of options for going to the bathroom. There are public toilets literally everywhere…. campgrounds, gas stations, grocery stores, rest areas, trailheads, McDonald’s, and the list goes on. Some of them are cleaner than others, but if you’re really in a bind, chances are you’ll be able to find one. But what about in the middle of the night or when we are camping off the grid?
There is nothing worse than waking up in the middle of the night in your van, putting shoes on, and going outside in the dark to pop a squat. I’ve gotten around this by peeing into a large, empty plastic wide-mouthed jar, while standing up (sorry for the visual). It’s just like peeing in a cup at the doctor’s but a lot easier due to the large size of the opening and the jar itself. When I’m done, I just screw the lid on, put it in a cabinet, and then I dump it in the morning, either outside away from any campsites, or in a campground toilet. After dumping it, I rinse it out, sometimes with a drop of eco-friendly soap or hand sanitizer, and then it’s good as new.
Now, I’ll admit, I don’t feel that ladylike when I’m doing this, and I can literally see some of your squealing faces as you read this… but ladies…realizing that you don’t need a bathroom to go pee is one of the most liberating feelings. If the trailhead toilet is gross, I just go in my jar. If we are driving down the highway, and I can’t hold it until we find a restroom, I go in my jar. No big deal. And dealing with the aftermath isn’t a big deal either.
If you are worried about people seeing your pee in a jar, then I’d recommend putting duct tape around the outside so no one can see what’s in it. You can also use a dark-colored Nalgene water bottle with stickers on it. Stickers are a good reminder that it’s not your water bottle.
If you’re traveling with a significant other and you are worried about what they might think, then you might want to rethink who you are choosing to do van life with. It’s close quarters, and to cohabitate in a van, you have to be very comfortable with one another.
What about those pee funnels? Some people swear by pee funnels and others (including myself) think they don’t work. With a wide-mouthed plastic jar, you won’t need a pee funnel. One of our team members uses the P Style, but it really comes down to the individual and what works for your body.
Again, there are toilets everywhere, and it’s usually pretty easy to find a bathroom in town after a night of dispersed camping. We don’t typically set up camp and stay somewhere for several days without moving. We are always en route to do something fun in the mornings, and generally, we pass a toilet along the way.
I’ve only had a dig a hole a handful of times this summer, but in most cases on public land, that is usually an option. If you don’t know best practices when it comes to going #2 outside, be sure to check out this blog post where we talk about things like how deep the hole should be and why it’s so important to pack out your toilet paper so future campers don’t come across it.
*Important Update: Free dispersed camping areas are being closed due to campers not following Leave No Trace principles (ie taking surface dumps and not packing out their toilet paper). It’s really gross, and as van lifers who often live and recreate on public land, we have a responsibility to do better. As a result of this, we’ve started traveling with the Go Anywhere Toilet that I talked about above.
Have you tried any of these campervan toilet options? Do you plan to have a toilet in your van? Share your tips, questions, and experiences in the comments below.