Van Life Toilet Options – How to Go to the Bathroom in a Camper Van

“But where do you go to the bathroom?” This is one of the most common questions I get about living full time in my van (even more common than where I shower). Luckily, it’s not as hard as it may seem! There are a few different van life toilet options, as well as some options for going to the bathroom when you don’t have a toilet in your rig – and in this guide, I’ll go over all of them.

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Do You Need a Toilet in Your Van?

Before you start building your van, you’ll need to decide if you want a toilet – since of course, you’ll need to have room for it if you do! Some people see a toilet as a must have, others don’t have one at all.

I don’t have a toilet in my van, have never had one, and don’t think I’ll ever want one – but this definitely depends on each individual and your lifestyle.

I spend very little time in cities – I’m basically only there if I have to be. So, because I’m in nature most of the time, it’s super easy for me to go to the bathroom outside. When I do find myself in a city or somewhere I can’t just go outside, I usually just find a public bathroom or try to park close to a beach or park that has one if I’m going to be there all day.

I also have a wide-mouth Nalgene water bottle for emergencies, but I almost never have to use it. Side note about peeing in bottles – I’ve tried using a SheWee to pee in smaller bottles, but it has never worked for me. I know some people swear by it, so it might be worth trying, but I just ended up with pee all over my hand – so the big Nalgene reserved for this purpose only is the best option for me.

But, everyone van-lifes differently! So, for someone who does spend a lot of time in cities and isn’t able to go to the bathroom outside, having a toilet in your van makes a lot of sense. For me, it’s not worth the space it would take up, and I don’t want to have to clean a toilet.

If you don’t have a toilet, there are a few things that will make going to the bathroom outside much easier (and more environmentally friendly). First, if you’re someone who squats to pee, a pee cloth is absolutely essential – it might sound scary, but once you go pee cloth you never go back. A Kula Cloth is an antimicrobial, reusable pee cloth that you can use to wipe! I always use it instead of toilet paper (only for peeing, though), and it reduces waste and is much easier to use. It doesn’t get smelly or gross as long as you wash it pretty regularly, and it’s also amazing for hiking or backpacking. I hand wash mine in the sink with a little bit of detergent – every day would be ideal, but I’ll be honest and tell you that I usually do it every 3-4 days.

One van life toilet option is to not have a toilet at all - I go outside and use the Kula Cloth and trowel in this photo!
Two of the most important things for your van life bathroom: a Kula Cloth and a Cathole Trowel

Peeing outdoors is pretty easy, but poop is a little harder. If you don’t have a toilet in your van, you can poop outside! Just make sure that you’re following Leave No Trace guidelines when you do.

That means walking at least 200 feet away from water, and digging a hole that’s at least six inches deep and four inches wide, and packing out your toilet paper. So, you’ll also need a trowel in your van – I have this trowel from GSI Outdoors, which has inch markers on it and is big enough that it’s easy to use on a daily basis. I also have an ultralight trowel that I use for backpacking, which I love for when I’m on the trail, but is a little harder to use for day to day.

One really important thing to know if you decide not to have a toilet in your van, is that there are places where burying your poop isn’t allowed, or isn’t good for the environment, at all. You shouldn’t bury your poop in deserts, beaches, and basically anywhere that doesn’t have soil. Soil is necessary for biodegradation, so in areas without soil you’ll need to be prepared with some bags to squat over, or come up with another solution!

When you do bury your poop, you need to pack out your toilet paper – but another option is this portable bidet. It’s really small (great for backpacking too!) and reduces how much toilet paper you need to use.

And of course, be respectful about where and how you bury your poop – don’t pop a squat near heavily trafficked areas, walk away from campsites, and make sure to dig deep enough.

Where to Put a Toilet in Your Van Build

When you’re deciding where to put the toilet in your van, there are a few ways to make it fit.

  • In the shower – if you’re building a shower in your van, you can have the toilet in there too. People usually have their toilet under the shower head, with some room to stand in front of it.
  • In a bench seat – another convenient place to put a toilet is in a bench seat. You can have it slide out, or have the top of the bench open.
  • Have your toilet slide out – you can also have your toilet slide out like a drawer. This way, it can be under your counter, under the bed, or wherever is convenient! You’ll just need some really strong drawer slides that can hold the weight of the toilet, and the weight of you when you’re sitting on it.

Van Life Toilet Options – the Best Toilet for Van Life

If you decide to include a bathroom in your van build, you have a few different van life toilet options.

Composting Toilets for Van Life

A composting toilet is typically the most popular van life toilet option. Instead of flushing away waste, a composting toilet allows it to decompose and turn into, well, compost! These toilets typically need some kind of ventilation to prevent smells.

One of the best composting toilets for van life is the Nature’s Head composting toilet. It has a separate jug for pee, which will need to be emptied often, and a compost compartment that you fill with sawdust (or moss or leaves) and only needs to be emptied every four to six weeks.

While a composting toilet is a great option, they can get really pricey! If you’re balling on a budget, or you live in your van only part time, you can get a simple Luggable Loo Portable Toilet. It’s basically a bucket with a toilet seat on top, and you add sawdust to make it a composting toilet!

Flushable Toilets for Van Life

A flushable toilet is usually what you would usually find in an RV, and it’s the most similar to the toilet you’d have in a house. But, instead of the waste magically disappearing into a sewer like it does in a house, these toilets are attached to a black water tank, where all of it is stored. The big downside to these toilets is that they have to be emptied – so you would need to find dump stations along the way.

Dometic makes great toilets for life on the road! The Dometic 300 RV is a flushable toilet that has a foot pedal. Another, more budget friendly option is the Thetford Aqua Magic toilet.

Cassette Toilets for Van Life

A cassette toilet is similar to a flushable toilet, but instead of having to mount a black water tank under your van, the tank is attached to the toilet and can be removed and moved. It’s a little bit more convenient for people who don’t spend a lot of time in RV parks, because instead of looking for a dump station, you can just detach the black water tank and walk it to a public toilet to dump your waste. The downside is that these tanks are much smaller, so you will need to dump it more often. Cassette toilets are permanently fixed in your built, but the tank can be moved – but, some companies also make toilets that are portable, and have the same cassette-style black water tank.

The Thetford 32812 Cassette Toilet is a bench-style toilet, and the removable tank has wheels and a retractable handle to make it easy to move. Thetford also has a Porta Potti toilet that’s portable, and has the same removable cassette tank!

Which Van Life Toilet Option is Right for You?

There are so many ways to handle going to the bathroom in a van – I choose not to have a toilet at all, while for other people, having one is a necessity.

Some things to consider can include:

  • Are you living in a van full time, or just taking short trips?
  • Budget
  • Lifestyle – do you plan to be in the city a lot, or spend more time in nature?
  • Comfort – are you okay with the idea of showering outside, or do you need more privacy?

If you found this post helpful, or you have your own van life toilet ideas to add, let me know in a comment below!

For more van life tips, check out these posts:

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A Pinterest graphic that says "van life toilet options - how to go to the bathroom in a camper van."
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