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 porta-potti, which I’ll talk about in more detail in this blog post.
In my new Sprinter Van which was converted by Outside Van, I chose not to have any kind of campervan toilet in the van. In the comments on my YouTube tour, people can’t believe this decision. How could I give up one of life’s most important conveniences?
We’ve now been living full-time in my new Sprinter Van for six months, and I feel prepared to share about 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 with without one.
Learn about the best campervan toilet options in this blog post.
Pros of Having a Campervan Toilet in your Van
- Convenience – Having a toilet means you’ll never have to search for a bathroom, dig a hole, 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
Cons of Having a Campervan Toilet in your Van
- 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 it’s its only deoderizer, 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.
Here is the portable campervan toilet in my OLD Sprinter Van. I did a lot of things differently for my 2nd Sprinter Van build-out.
So what was the deciding factor for me not putting a campervan toilet in my new Sprinter Van?
I really just hated dealing with dumping it. It’s gross, there isn’t always somewhere to dump it, and while it 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 in my new Sprinter Van. Outside Van was building me the ultimate adventure mobile, and a bathroom meant less space for bikes, paddle boards, my camera equipment, and everything else that ranked higher on the priority list…for ME. Plus, after 22 days backpacking on the John Muir Trail in 2014, I got pretty comfortable going outside.
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. Now I’m not trying to convince you one way or the other. If you need a toilet, you need a toilet. End of discussion. You might not agree with me that bikes are more important than a toilet. It’s all in your priorities, and the point of this blog post is to lay out your campervan toilet options and talk about the pros and cons of each.
So where do I go to the bathroom?
After six months of living in my 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 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 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? In my experience, they don’t work, meaning they spill, and it’s just another thing to clean. Just get a wide-mouthed plastic jar, and you won’t need a pee funnel.
Again, there are toilets everywhere, and it’s very easy to find a bathroom 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 o public land, that is usually an option. If you don’t know best practices when it comes to going #2 outside, 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 live 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 talk more about below.
Learn how to poop in the woods
Best campervan toilet options for vanlife
If my methods don’t work for you, it’s completely understandable. So let’s talk about what your options are if you want to have a toilet in your van.
Cleanwaste Foldable Go Anywhere Toilet
Who it’s good for: The Cleanwaste Foldable Go-Anywhere Toilet is good for vanlifers who don’t care about regular access to a toilet but want something for #2 emergencies or extended off-the-grid stays.
This is the toilet we now have in our van for times when there are no public restrooms, we don’t want to go inside a building, and going outside isn’t an option due to location or regulations.
The 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. These wag bags 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 the wag bags are expensive and not very eco-friendly, but they are nice to have on hand for an emergency.
Nature’s Head Self Contained Composting Toilet
Who it’s good for: The Nature’s-Head Self Contained Composting Toilet is good for people who are building their vans out from an empty shell and want a permanent toilet.
The Natures Head Composting Toilet is quickly becoming one of the more popular campervan toilets due to some advantages over the porta-potty described above. You fix it to the floor using a pair of brackets, hook up the toilet’s van to a 12 volt power source and then run the ventilation hose to the outside of your van.
Nature’s Head self-contained composting toilet 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 urine container needs to be emptied every 1-2 days if used regularly by 2 people.
On the poop side, you use composting fibers (coconut is a popular material) to break down the waste. Then every 3 weeks (give or take), you have to dump the contents into a bag and then you can dump it into a garbage can. Don’t believe me? Check out this blog post about how to responsibly dispose of solid waste from a composting toilet.
The downsides of the Nature’s Head Composting toilet for campervans is it is very expensive, and you still have to deal with dumping it.
Read more about fellow vanlifers, Our Home on Wheels, and their conversion which includes a composting toilet that can easily be stowed away.
Porta Potti Curve Portable Toilet
Who it’s good for: People who want access to a normal toilet in their van and don’t want to have to deal with installing anything permanent.
This Porta Potti Curve Portable Toilet by Thetford is the one I had in my first Sprinter Van. This portable toilet functions most like a regular toilet in that you sit on the seat, and everything goes into a toilet 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.
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. There are plenty of options from Thetford for portable van toilets depending on your space and needs. This type of portable campervan toilet is also very affordable relative to the composting toilet.
Who it’s good for: Vanlifers on a budget who want an inexpensive, low maintenance toilet.
The Reliance Products Luggable Loo is a very simple 5 gallon bucket with a snap-on lid. You can go #1 straight into the bucket and dump and rinse in the morning. Or 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.