Do you need a toilet for van life? A major concern for people thinking about living or traveling in a vehicle is where and how they are going to go to the toilet.
To be able to travel and live sustainably whilst being nomadic you need to make sure you live a healthy life on the road, and toilet preparation plays a big part in that.
If you don’t want to rely on having to go out in nature, then you should have you own facilities in your vehicle. Smaller sized campers may have limitations as to what toilets they could have whereas RV’s for example have more options. Whilst Driving Around The World we’ve met many different types of people in all sorts of adventure vehicles with a variety of toilets. Here are the best options for van toilet systems that we’ve come across
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Urinating in a Vehicle!
Before we get into the what your options are for doing a number 2, understand this. Most vehicle dwellers use a separate pee bottle for urine and they tackle the messy business of “releasing a chocolate hostage” via one of the methods mentions below.
We prefer to not use disposable plastic bottles for this due to the environmental impact, so we use a wide mouthed water bottle and we have a black one so it is less obvious what we’re carrying to the toilet when it’s time to dispose.
It’s important to keep the bottle clean, as it will get rank quickly if you don’t, so we use an environmentally friendly spray cleaner after each use
There are of course dedicated urinal products for this purpose, if you want to be fancy!
This urinal product is female friendly, but you can always invest in a SHEWEE (think female-non-sexual-prosthetic-penis)
Pooping in a Vehicle
Composting Toilet: This seems like a great option if you don’t want to deal with black water and if you are environmentally conscience. For this reason it is extemely popular with most people building custom vans for nomadic Living.
Installing a composting toilet does require more work such as running a fan to exhaust air out of your vehicle and requires you to carry around some composting material. An upside though is that there is no smell and it doesn’t use any water, nice!
How is there no smell? Well firstly they separate the #1s from the #2s, then you use a composting material such as wood shaving (cedar is nice), peat moss, or Coco Fiber, they have a handle on the side which allows you to turn last night’s dinner into the composting material and the inbuilt fan provides negative pressure to stop the odors from escaping.
Coco fibers are extremely compact which is great for van life, they just need to be rrehydrated before use.
The downside of the composting toilet is that they do draw a little bit of 12v power for the fan (nothing to worry about) and they are expensive.
The brand that most people use is Natures Head – We haven’t met anyone who is disappointed with this composting toilet, mainly because it is built really well and works fantastically.
Check out the Nature’s Head reviews and current price on Amazon
Nature’s Head – It’s the king of Off Grid Toilets and it’s an investment.
Our advice is to suck it up and install one, then forget about the money you spent on it. If you are spending more a year or more traveling or living in a vehicle full time then you will be happy that you did.
The Cassette Toilet is one of the most used toilets in motorhomes. It has a removable storage that you can pull out the rear of the unit and dump it in a campground toilet. This type of toilet MUST be disposed of in a proper Black Water Disposal Facility due to the chemicals that are needed in the system – not the most fun activity.
Typical installations see these units mounted on an externally facing wall and an access hatch will need to be cut, if that is your plan. The more expensive models allow you to plumb-in a water supply from your main vehicle tank. Most people use chemicals which will reduce the smell but that can also become costly and isn’t great for the environment. If you go for one of these options, we recommend using a product like this for cleaning which is environmentally friendly
Limited Space Toilet
The Clean Waste Portable Toilet is an ideal solution for those of us who have limited space as it folds up into a very compact space. The downside is that it means using plastic bags each time you use the toilet.
You can purchase a pack of toilet bags to go with this product but if you are going down this road, we recommend using the Green Elephant Biodegradable Bags. The cost of a poop will add up quickly with this option.
Portaloo (Porta-Potti) :
If you want something that resembles a real loo then this is the closest you’re going to get. They look and flush like a toilet however you will need to dump them correctly (in a toilet or dump station) and clean them regularly. With this option you will need to use chemicals. They can be quite compact in design and you can even purchase single ‘out-house’ tents so that you can erect your own outdoor toilet at camp.
Van Life Bucket Toilet
The Lugabble Loo doesn’t sound like the most enjoyable way to go to the toilet but it’s one that many use because it’s cheap and easy. You can design a lid and seat to fit over any size bucket with a pool noodle (no seriously) and can use disposable toilet bags – don’t scrimp on quality with those bags. JUST DON’T!
Many van dwellers will use a bucket like this as the base for their toilet and they use composting material which keeps the smell down. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, or at least tried living without a toilet!
If you are going for the Bucket option strongly consider getting a Gamma Seal lid, which prevents any smells from escaping when it’s closed. The beauty of this solution is that it fits on any 5 gallon bucket that you will find in you nearest hardware store.
Do you need a toilet for Van Life?
Not having a toilet is an option for a significant amount of people, ourselves included. It can be quite tempting to think that you can take charge of your toilet habits and put them off until you pass a public toilet. If you will be traveling in a place with lots of free public toilets like North America, then this isn’t so bad, but please take it from us that not going to the toilet when you need to can affect your health and your mental well-being also. Don’t miss your pooportunity!
If you will be relying on public toilet facilities then consider downloading the Flush Toilet Finder App to help with the hunt.
If you are using public facilities and have limited access to a shower a very useful piece of kit is a travel bidet. Seriously, we wouldn’t do van life without one!
As we discussed in our article about Keeping Clean on the Road, if you don’t have a full bathroom in your rig then you will need to use baby wipe showers from time to time. “Wet Wipes” that are actually antibacterial are almost impossible to find off the shelf – so we recommend keeping these antibacterial wipes on hand
WILD POOPING: No, we’re not talking about the morning after a big night at the local curry house, we’re talking about nature pooping!
There are 2 ways to poop in nature, the right way and the wrong way!
As is evidence from the bushes on the side of most remote highway stops, people think it is acceptable to leave their poop and their toilet paper out in nature. THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE!
Please for the love of rusty Volkswagens, if you are choosing to adopt this lifestyle, then please adopt the leave no traces policy!
Pack out your loo paper, or use an environmentally friendly toilet paper that breaks down easily and bury it!
Pooping in nature is a totally acceptable way to go number #2 providing:
- You pack out or burry what you are leaving behind.
- What you burry can’t be discovered by another human or animal
- Nobody has to watch you go to the toilet
- You are not doing your business in an area frequently visited by others
If you are in a heavy traffic area, then you should always pack out your poop.
It’s worth keeping a couple of Biffy Bag hiking toilets for this and emergency situations
Which Toilet Should you Get?
If we were choosing for you, we’d say get the bucket and a bottle if your on a budget, or get the Natures’ Head if you can afford it and have the space.