What goes in, must come out. This simple fact of life presents some tough choices when you leave the civilized world of porcelain toilets and indoor plumbing. So where to poop when overlanding? In lieu (or should we say “loo”?) of restroom facilities, a portable camping toilet provides a substantial upgrade in comfort and convenience for your backcountry adventures.
Types of Camping Toilets
Here we’ll provide an overview of the various types of camping toilets for use in car camping, overlanding, and off-roading, as well as our picks for the best camping toilets currently available. As with all things involving self-supported adventure, the solution that works for you will depend on many parameters.
When it comes to choosing a camping toilet, these include where you’re traveling, how long you’ll be away from bathroom facilities, your access to water, and whether you’ll be camping in a tent or a camper of some sort.
If you are camping in a ground tent or rooftop tent, or sleeping in a smaller vehicle, you’ll want to look into a bucket/tripod camping toilet or a portable toilets. If you have a larger, dedicated adventure rig – a truck camper, trailer, RV, converted van, etc – you could also consider the toilets that require a fixed installation, the cassette and composing toilets.
Bucket and Tripod Camping Toilets
You could also call this class the “bag-it-out” camp toilets. Some are basically just buckets or boxes with a seat on them and a bag to catch the waste. When you use a bag, it’s a good idea to use kitty litter, gerbil bedding, gelatin powder, or some other kind of material to absorb/solidify liquid waste and masks unpleasant odors.
The tripod-style toilets have legs that fold out to support the seat, and are typically more compact than a bucket toilet. They are versatile as they can be fitted with a waste disposal bag, like the bucket camping toilets, or used over a cathole or latrine you’ve dug.
This is the simplest style of camping toilet (a step above digging a hole and squatting) and not particularly glamorous. Odors can be an issue if you are using one in an enclosed space, such as a camper/RV. That said, they are fairly foolproof, flexible, low maintenance, and get the job done.
- No water required
- Use anywhere
- Tripod seats are versatile and compact
- Less cleanup at end of trip than a portable toilet
- Pooping in a bag (classy!)
- Requires substance to mask odors and absorb liquid
- Must store and carry used bags
- Chemically treated waste bags can get expensive
- More odor than a portable toilet (see below)
Reliance Luggable Loo
The Reliance Luggable Loo is one of the more popular bucket camp toilets. It’s essentially a 5-gallon bucket with a toilet seat and lid that snap on the top. The seat/lid combo will fit on most 5-gallon buckets, so the bucket can be replaced easily. It’s inexpensive, sturdy and nearly foolproof.
GO Anywhere Portable Toilet
The Cleanwaste GO Anywhere Portable Toilet is a sturdy and compact tripod-style camping toilet. The toilet weighs just 7 pounds and folds up to the size of a briefcase. It can support up to 500 pounds. Cleanwaste sells toilet kits that fit into the toilets mesh bag and include a waste bag, gelling/deodorizing agent and a secure puncture-resistant zip-close disposal bag. But the Reliance Double Duty Bags discussed below also work and are a bit easier to deal with. You can just throw the used waste bags in the trash. The net can be removed so you can use the toilet as a latrine seat.
Reliance Double Doodie Waste Bags with Bio-Gel
Reliance Double Doodie Waste Bags can be used with a bucket or tripod toilet to make waste disposal easier and more pleasant. The black inner bag captures waste and once filled is sealed in the leak-proof and puncture-resistant outer bag. This kit comes with a bio-gel in the bags to mask and solidify liquid waste. A single bag should last a family of four about one day.
Portable Camping Toilets
If you are looking for something more refined than a bucket or tripod camp toilet, a portable camping toilet might be the way to go. These toilets typically offer a flush mechanism and waste tank (the cassette) separated by a valve from the toilet bowl and seat. So more like an actual flushing toilet. These work pretty similarly to the cassette toilets we’ll cover below, the difference being that cassette toilets are permanently fixed in an RV or camper while portable toilets can be easily moved to different locations.
While someone still has to dump the blackwater tank, which isn’t much fun, it’s still nicer to use these toilets than a bucket toilet. They can be a good option if one person is willing to do the dirty work of dumping the waste tank so that others on the trip can be more comfortable. Other than the need to dump and clean the tank, the main downsides of these toilets are that they require water to flush and can be bulky. Also, you run the risk of a sewage leak with a cheaper model or one that is damaged. While they tend to be pricer than bucket toilets, they won’t break the bank. You’ll want to add treatment solutions to reduce the smell in the tank.
- Waste is enclosed, so less smell
- Requires less regular dumping than bucket/tripod toilets
- Nice to use and more like a normal toilet
- Price is reasonable
- Dumping and cleaning blackwater tank is gross (who’s gonna take one for the team?)
- Bulky and heavier than bucket/tripod toilets
- Uses water
- Can’t be used as a latrine seat
- Requires tank treatment chemicals
Thetford Porta Potti 365
Thetford makes some of the best flushing portable camping toilets on the market. The Porta Potti 365 is one of the most popular camping toilets for overlanders, truck campers and van lifers. It holds 4 gallons of fresh water for flushing and up to 5.5 gallons of waste, which adds up to about 56 flushes before needing to be dumped. On nice touch is a rotating pour-out spout that allows you to keep your hands and face away from the waste when dumping. Thetford sells a mounting bracket, in case you want to mount it in your camper. Thetford sells model with a smaller holding tank, if size is a concern.
Thetford AquaBio Holding Tank Treatment
Thetford makes several types of treatment solutions for holding tanks that help control odors and break down waste and toilet paper. Their AquaBio line has the advantage of being more environmentally friendly and compliant with California regulations, in case you’re traveling there. These toss-in packages are easy to use and store, and this size will get you through 16 tank treatments. They smell like citrus and do a decent job of masking odors.
Cassette toilets are very similar in concept to the portable toilets mentioned above, featuring a “cassette” waste tank that is removed for dumping and cleaning. The distinction is that a true cassette toilet is installed in a fixed location, often with the cassette being remove via a hatch on the outside of the camper. The tanks are often larger than those on a portable toilet, allowing you to go for longer before needing to empty the tank. The cassettes typically have wheels on them to make it easier to transport while dumping. These are typically used by people with truck campers, trailer campers, RVs, or van conversions. These aren’t as expensive as composting toilets, but they aren’t cheap either. The reason people go for a cassette toilet over a typical RV toilet tends to be the flexibility to dump the waste tank in places other than established RV dump stations (in regular campground bathrooms, for instance).
- Less smell, as waste tank is enclosed
- Nice to use
- Larger tank allows for greater range before dumping
- Cassette removed from outside vehicle, so less chance of spills
- Requires installation
- Higher cost for purchase and installation
- Less versatile
- Require substrate
- Larger cassettes can be heavy to carry and dump
Thetford C220 Cassette Toilet
Thetford makes several models of permanently installed cassette toilets, all of which are good choices. The C220 is the narrowest of their models, and fits and can fit in many campers. One really cool feature is the rotating seat, which saves space and provides some flexibility in configuration. The waste tank holds 4.75 gallons. The C220 can either uses the camper’s main freshwater tank for flushing and be wired into the camper for an electric flush. Or you can get a model with a manual flush and its own fresh water tank.
Composting toilets, also called “dry toilets” are popular among people with RVs, truck campers, and adventure van enthusiasts. They are typically installed in a fixed spot in a camper, as they require electricity and some type of venting. Composting toilets work by separating liquid and solid waste and treating the solid waste by pumping oxygen into the waste container, which encourages aerobic bacteria to break down the waste. A substrate such as peat moss or coconut husk fibers is added to the waste container to speed the process.
These camping toilets aren’t as versatile as bucket or portable toilets, but people swear by them because the dried waste is less smelly and gross to dispose of and composting toilets use no water (a big benefit when you are in the backcountry for long periods of time). To dispose of the waste while traveling, you simply dump it into a garbage back and throw it away. The biggest downside is the cost: the better models can cost around $1000…gulp. These are an investment for people who plan to spend a significant amount of time traveling in their campers.
- Require no water
- Dried waste is less gross and smelly
- No chemicals used, so more environmentally friendly
- Very expensive
- Require installation
- Need electricity and venting
- Less versatile
- Require substrate
Reliance Luggable Loo
People who own them rave about the Nature’s Head composting toilets. They come with a vent hose and a computer-type fan for installation. The “dry” waste goes into the main tank, where you’ve added a substrate to help with composing. Urine goes into a smaller tank at the front of the unit. The urine gets dumped regularly, while the dry waste composts until it’s time to dump it. The unit comes with a mounting bracket to fix it to your camper.