Choosing a campervan toilet can be an overwhelming decision. Let us take the guesswork out as we share the best campervan toilet options for all budgets — from nearly free to pretty dang fancy — we’ll walk you through pros and cons of each toilet as well as all the other considerations you should make.
Ahh, the great campervan bathroom debate… To have a toilet, or to pee outside? That is the question.
In all seriousness, one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make about your van layout is choosing the best campervan toilet for your needs. And that might mean you don’t have a toilet at all… (more on that later!).
We’re going walk you through all the different campervan toilet options as well as the pros and cons of each.
Hint: There is one toilet type on this list that we do not recommend for vanlife.
Why trust us? Well, we’ve had three very different toilet situations in campervans:
No toilet: In our first campervan build, we had no toilet at all.
Portable cassette toilet: We rented a campervan in New Zealand for one month that had a cassette toilet.
Composting toilet: In our second van build, we installed a fancy-schmancy composting toilet.
We really have had all ends of the spectrum, and we’re sharing our (honest!) personal experiences. Hopefully this will help you determine which campervan toilet is best for you.
Alright, let’s dig in, shall we?!
Campervan Toilet Options
These are your options when it comes to choosing a toilet for your van. They are ordered from cheapest (free!) to most expensive.
Click on the sections below to see the pros and cons of each:
Click to jump down for more toilet talk:
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Price: $0 – $20
Just what it sounds like! You’ll rely on public bathrooms and campgrounds. This is a good option if you have very limited space (and a small budget) and are okay going in the wild when needed (while remembering to follow the Leave No Trace principles).
Gut Check: If you’re reading this thinking we’re crazy for even suggesting going without a toilet, then you have your answer. You should definitely make a toilet a priority in your van. However, if you’re thinking, “Hmmm, I could see myself being alright without a toilet,” you may just have your answer as well.
Rules of “going in the wild”
If you’re camping in the wilderness, it’s possible to do your business outside, as long as you follow some simple guidelines:
Always dispose of toilet paper in the trash (aka do NOT leave it on the ground)
If you need to go #2, dig a hole that’s at least 200 feet from any water source and is 6-8 inches deep. This is sometimes referred to as a “cat hole”, and should also be located far enough from any trails or campsites that people won’t accidentally stumble upon your hole. Cover it up with dirt when you’re finished.
If you think you’ll be going in nature, be sure you have a poo shovel in your van. This can be any small shovel you already have, like a garden spade. If you don’t already have a shovel, here are a few we’d recommend:
Rugged shovel that’s big enough to help dig your van’s tires out of sand or mud in an emergency.
Ultra lightweight shovel that’s perfect if you plan to do a lot of backcountry camping trips.
We found our foldable shovel in the camping section at Walmart for around $5.
Pros & Cons of having No Toilet
doesn’t cost a thing! (unless you don’t already have a shovel)
you won’t need to go through the work of installing a toilet
saves space in a very small van, since you don’t need to dedicate room for a toilet
makes urban camping difficult
you will need to locate a toilet any time you need to go
Our opinion on having no toilet: We lived in a campervan for 3 months without a toilet, and we survived. That said, as soon as we started brainstorming our second campervan build, we knew that a toilet was a must this time around. Which brings us to the next options…
Psst! If your putting together your campervan, you’ll want to check out our article on campervan beds to find out exactly which kind of bed is best for you and how to make it work in your van.
Price: $0 – $20
If you’re mostly okay with the whole no toilet thing, but want a solution for those nights when you’re urban camping, there are a few emergency solutions.
The Bottle Trick
Some vanlifers use a Gatorade (or similar) bottle to, well, do just what you think… (Ladies will likely need a funnel to aid in this process.) This way you have a place to do your business when you can’t go outside. Cap it, and empty it in the morning. Not ideal and definitely not an option for #2, but hey, you can’t beat the price!
DIY Bucket Toilet
While we’ve personally never tried this, in the deep rabbit holes of online van forums, some people swear by putting kitty litter inside a liner bag that sits in a larger container (like a coffee container or a bulk peanut container). This supposedly keeps it from smelling, and is easy(ish) to dump.
What NOT to do…
We received this message, and while we generally don’t share emails, we think this is important to bring up…
Designing a “toilet system” that leaves a mess for someone else to clean up (or to just sit there) is NOT OKAY.
It’s not only disrespectful, unsanitary and gross, but it makes things harder for all vanlifers. Many cities are cracking down on laws for people staying in vehicles due to reasons like this. Don’t be that person.
I know I wouldn’t want someone leaving a poo in my neighborhood. And I imagine you wouldn’t appreciate that either.
If you feel the need to create an “emergency toilet” set-up, we’ve got a few options above that are essentially free. You also may be interested in the bucket toilet described below.
Pros & Cons of “Emergency Toilets”
Takes up little space
Needs to be emptied after each use
Can get smelly
Not a great idea for #2
Price: about $40
Disclaimer: We’ll cut to the chase and say we personally would not recommend this toilet option for vanlife. More on why below.
This is essentially a step up from the “emergency toilet” options listed above, but it’s not a heck of a lot fancier.
While you can make your own bucket toilet, the most popular one on the market, Luggable Loo, is very affordable and ready to go. Essentially, this is a 5-gallon bucket with a seat attachment. You can line it with a bag (see below), and dispose of your “business” when you’re done.
While this is much cheaper than some of the other toilet options, it is less convenient. You’ll likely want to empty it after each use because it will start to smell. Plus, there’s not a good way of closing it up, so be sure you have a plan for keeping it in place while you drive around looking for a spot to dump.
Biodegradable liner bags: just like the name says, these liners are biodegradable and compostable, making them more eco-friendly than your normal trash bag.
Double Doodie waste bags: made by the same makers of the Luggable Loo, these liner bags zip up for easy clean up, plus, they have a bio-gel that supposedly masks the smell. That said, at more than $2 per bag, they are pretty expensive.
Pros & Cons of Bucket Toilets
Good for emergencies. You can go to sleep at night knowing if you wake up and have to pee, you have somewhere to go.
You’ll likely want to dump it after each use, as it can get very smelly.
There’s not a way to really close it up, so you’ll have to be careful in order to prevent spills. Yikes!
It’s not very nice to look at…
It is somewhat bulky, so you’ll need to have a place to store it securely.
Our honest opinion on Bucket Toilets
Personally, we don’t think this is a great option for vanlife. If you have a limited budget, I think the “emergency toilets” listed above would be a better option, as they are smaller, cheaper, and can close (to prevent spills).
I thought long and hard about getting one of these for our first van build, but couldn’t honestly picture myself using it. I had a feeling it would just sit in our van, taking up space. And if we did use it, I just imagined the contents sloshing around as we drove. Now, I may be getting a little dramatic here, but it just wasn’t for me.
I feel like it would be better suited for people who were planning to camp in one place for a while. Paired with a toilet tent (aka set up outside your van), maybe it wouldn’t be so bad…
Portable Cassette Toilet
If the idea of going in a Gatorade bottle or bucket makes you want to gag (can’t blame ya!), a cassette toilet might be an appealing choice. Plus, this will give you a place to go #2.
These are relatively affordable and don’t take up much space. That said, they require harsh chemicals and must be emptied frequently. Even if you do have a cassette toilet in your van, chances are you will mostly want to use it in case of emergency for #2. Everything that goes in will need to come out (which requires a bit of work on your end).
Not all portable toilets are created equal. There are a few versions that consistently get great reviews, and others that, well, stink (literally and figuratively).
After researching this type of toilet for a while, we were convinced that the Thetford Porta Potti is perhaps the best on the market.
It has a 4 gallon fresh water tank with a battery-powered electric flush. The waste water tank is 5.5-gallons which they say on average allow 56 flushes.
Pros & Cons of Cassette Toilets
Pretty affordable option
No installation required
Can be easily mounted to your van for secure travel
It is portable and can be easily moved from vehicle to vehicle
Not the best option for #2
This video review of the Thetford Porta Potti is pretty helpful at explaining all features of the toilet.
However (and this is important to know!!!), if you watch the entire video, you’ll hear them explain that they do not use this toilet for #2. This is quite common for many portable cassette toilet users, since it can get smelly and requires more frequent emptying.
This is the main reason we chose not to go with a portable cassette toilet. We wanted something that could handle pee or poo without smelling or needing to be emptied frequently. We also didn’t like the idea of having to use chemicals in our campervan toilet.
*Insider Tip: According to video review linked above, if you do not plan to use this toilet for solid waste, you may be able to get by with just using white vinegar instead of chemicals. This is likely what we would choose to do, since we don’t like the idea of having a bucket full of chemicals in our van (nor do we like that smell!).
Price: about $960
This is the Rolls Royce of campervan toilet options, if you will. Very nice, and also very expensive.
Composting toilets separate your business into liquids and solids.
The liquid container needs to be emptied every few days (depending on how many people are using it and how frequently).
The solids container, on the other hand, can go 60-80 uses before needing to be emptied. Yes, seriously. And no, it doesn’t smell! This is because you’ll add peat moss or coconut coir to the solids container, which essentially turns it into dirt.
I’m gonna be honest, I was incredibly hesitant about this purchase, but we are absolutely obsessed with our composting toilet. We’ve created an entire article that goes over everything you need to know about the Nature’s Head composting toilet (including how much it costs) so you can decide if it’s right for your build.
Pros & Cons of Composting Toilets
The only option on this list that is really a good option for going #2
Solids container can go 60-80 uses without being emptied
No chemicals necessary, eco-friendly
Feels like an actual toilet
No smells (except for when you empty the liquids container)
Take a bit of time to install this toilet, and the process requires that you drill a hole through your van for ventilation (but it’s not as scary as you’d think!)
Not portable, so you can’t easily move it from one vehicle to another
Takes up more space than any other toilet on this list
Campervan Toilet Layouts
Once you’ve decided which type of toilet you prefer, you’ll also need to consider how you will fit it into your campervan layout.
Will you only be comfortable with a separate room for your toilet? If so, it may make sense to combine this with a shower to make the most of the space.
This layout is really only going to be an option for those with larger high roof vehicles, like cargo vans.
Psst! Learn how to design the perfect campervan layout for your dream van build, and find out where you have room for a toilet in your van.
Box or Drawer
If you don’t have the space (or desire) for a separate room, a dedicated drawer or box works very well in most cases. Just know that you won’t have much (or really any!) privacy, so you’ll need to be very comfortable with your van companion (if you have one), or set some ground rules, like, “You need to go outside when I need to go #2.” or “Time to put on your headphones.”
If you plan to have a cassette toilet or an “emergency loo”, perhaps you’ll just be able to store it beneath your bed and take it out when needed. Just be sure to have a plan for securing it when it’s full, so you don’t have to deal with spills.
(Note: This is not an option if you plan to install a composting toilet, since you have to drill a hole through the bottom of your van.)
Insider Tip: Be sure to get the exact dimensions of the toilet so you can figure out what will work best. We’ve got the Nature’s Head Composting Toilet dimensions here!
Things to consider when choosing your campervan toilet
Ask yourself the following questions to figure out which type of toilet is going to be best for you:
What is your budget going to buy you?
If you have a very limited budget, you’re likely going to have a lower-end toilet that requires chemicals or frequent emptying.
Ask yourself this: How often will you really use this type of toilet? In our personal experience, we rented a campervan in New Zealand and had a decent cassette toilet that came with it. But we never once used it during our month-long trip because the chemicals and hassle of emptying it was more work than it was worth.
We always made it a point to find a restroom when needed. And while it was nice to know we had a “back-up”, it took up a ton of unnecessary space.
Will it be worth the space?
If you have a larger vehicle, the space a toilet takes up may not make much of a difference (whether you use it frequently or not). However, if you have very limited space, it would only make sense to add a toilet if it’s one you plan on using daily.
Will you be doing more camping in wild or urban settings?
Popping a squat in the wilderness (and following Leave No Trace guidelines!) isn’t too big of a deal. But if you’re parked for the night in a city or town, you won’t have that freedom. Think about the types of places you plan on camping most of the time. If you’re going to stick exclusively to campgrounds, it may be overkill to install an expensive composting loo.
Psst! Check out this guide to free camping!
Are you planning to travel in colder months?
If so, just imagine what a midnight pee is going to be like… Now think about an early morning poo. Just sayin’, that would be enough to convince me to install a toilet.
Choosing the best toilet for you
No toilet is for you if…
…you plan to mostly camp in the wild or at designated campgrounds
…you have a very limited budget
…you have very limited space to work with
…the idea of going without a toilet sounds doable
Cassette toilet is for you if…
…you will camp in a mix of wild and urban settings
…you don’t have a large enough budget for a composting toilet
…you have somewhat limited space
…you like the idea of having a place to go in emergencies
…you are okay with needing to clean and empty your toilet frequently
Composting toilet is for you if…
…you have a large enough budget to justify the higher price tag
…you plan to live or travel in your van long term
…you plan to do a good amount of urban camping
…you don’t like the idea of harsh chemicals in your toilet
…you don’t want to deal with the smell or frequent emptying that a cassette toilet requires
…you have enough space in your van to dedicate to a permanent toilet
Our campervan toilet experiences
Are you still confused about which campervan toilet option is best for you?
We know this can be a tricky decision to make (especially if you’re brand new to #vanlife).
We’ve been there and have had all different types of toilets in our vans. I know it can be helpful hearing honest advice from someone who has been there, so we’re about to get real honest so we can hopefully help you make this very important decision!
I remember when we were building our first conversion, I was utterly convinced that we absolutely needed a toilet. But then I saw how little space we actually had to work with.
The clincher was when I realized the only “toilet” we could afford with our teeny tiny budget was actually a 5-gallon bucket with a makeshift “seat” attachment (aka the Luggable Loo, which we described in one of the sections above).
I remember standing in the aisle at Home Depot looking at this $30 toilet and imagined it full of well, what toilets get full of… and I imagined it sloshing around as we went around turns in the road.
I immediately put it back on the shelf and marched out of Home Depot and told Ben, “I’ll make due without a toilet.”
And truthfully, it wasn’t too big of an issue. I mean, when you’re on a road trip in your car, you stop along the way at gas stations and rest stops for bathroom breaks. Same thing is true with a campervan.
During the day, you can find toilets in many different places: trailheads, coffee shops, grocery stores, restaurants, parks, gyms, campgrounds…
At night, you’ll be parked near public restrooms or in campgrounds or BLM land with pit toilets. And if you’re in the wilderness on land with no toilet at all, it’s possible to go in the wild. Just remember to follow Leave No Trace guidelines and dig a hole for #2, and dispose of all TP properly.
We had a few less than ideal situations, but we dealt with it for 3 months (and could have gone longer!).
Portable Cassette Toilet (in a campervan rental)
We rented a campervan in New Zealand and traveled around the country for one month (best experience ever, by the way!).
The van we rented was very budget-friendly and came with a cassette toilet, but there was hardly any space for it inside the already very small van. We would have had to step over it in order to get to the bed, so we decided to keep it in our roof rack where we had some extra space.
As you can imagine, getting it out of the roof rack when we needed to pee or poo just wasn’t very practical. And on top of that, the process for cleaning it out sounded like a lot of work. Gross work.
It was nice knowing we’d be able to camp in places where there were no toilet facilities. But as it turned out, we were traveling with a friend whose van was not self-contained (aka did not have a toilet or grey water tank), so we couldn’t camp in those spots anyway. Instead, we always found toilets when we needed them and made a point of camping near facilities.
So essentially, we drove around the country for 5 weeks carrying a toilet that we never used…
While we totally made due without a toilet in our first van build, one of my top “requirements” for our second campervan was having one. So take that information as you will.
To be totally honest, we weren’t planning on doing a composting toilet because of the hefty price tag. But the more and more we thought about it, we just felt like we wouldn’t use a cassette toilet very often and it would just take up unnecessary space.
So kind of on a whim, I convinced Ben that we should get the Nature’s Head, and ya know what? Ever since the first use, we haven’t regretted our decision one bit. It’s just as good as all the reviews say.
I said it once and I’ll say it again, it DOES NOT smell. Well, I should clarify… the “liquids” container does smell when you’re emptying it. (Like pee, duh.)
But the solids container is surprisingly un-smelly. If anything, it kind of smells like dirt.
In short: If you have the budget and are planning to spend a lot of time in your van, we think a composting toilet is a great investment.
Psst! If you’re considering installing a composting toilet in your campervan, you’ll definitely want to check out our Nature’s Head review and tips.
Final thoughts about campervan toilets
If you have a tiny budget and very minimal space, you’ll be able to make no toilet work. But if you have the space and budget, adding some sort of toilet into your layout is well worthwhile (in our opinions!).
We want to help you make this decision the best we can. Choosing a campervan toilet is a big deal, we understand. Comment below and we’ll try our best to get back to you.
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