Outdoor vs indoor toilets and showers in a camper or caravan

In the past, buying a caravan without a toilet and shower on board was the norm, and people just used facilities where they camped, or brought their own, or had sponge baths and dug holes to do their business.

Today though, a huge number of caravans, and even hybrids come with indoor toilets and showers.

Some are combination, meaning the shower is over the top of the toilet, and others are completely separate units. The latter takes  up more room, but is generally preferred for a number of reasons. 

However, a lot of people are still using outdoor toilets and showers, and like everything in life, there’s a number of benefits and downsides to this.

In fact, a caravan outdoor shower is a common installation today, even if they have an indoor shower, as you can use it for rinsing off after being at the beach. 

In our Lifestyle Reconn R2, we have a portable toilet, and an outdoor shower. This is simply because its not large enough to have them indoors, and in many ways we prefer this. 

Much like you have to decide between an internal and external kitchen (or both), you’ve got choices to make for showering and toilets too!

Outdoor shower
Our outdoor shower setup on the Reconn R2

What’s the pro’s of an outdoor shower and toilet?

They take up no room inside

The idea of a light weight, and compact trailer is hugely appealing to a lot of people, so you can tow it where your 4WD will go.

Whilst a bigger van is amazing when you get to camp, its often so big that you have to pick and choose where you go in order not to damage the van or get stuck.

Outdoor toilets and showers use zero real estate inside your setup, and that enables them to be smaller, and often lighter too. You just need an external caravan shower tent (Ensuite tent).

Hybrid Camper bunks
We don’t have enough room inside for a toilet and shower!

They can’t smell your van out

We could keep our porta potti inside our Reconn R2, but the idea of doing a poo inside such a small van with 3 others does not appeal to me at all.

At least when your toilet is outside, your business can’t stink anything out!

Obviously, in a van with a door you can shut and a ventilation fan this is somewhat negated, but many more compact units don’t have this luxury.

Portable toilet
A toilet outside is far better in terms of smells

They won’t cause internal leaks

I’ve seen some pretty nasty internal leaks that have come from cracked shower bases, or water lines splitting inside the wall of a van.

If your plumbing is external, and you have no shower base, there’s less to go wrong, which is a good thing especially when you have timber involved!

You get to shower in the breeze, and under the stars

Sometimes, there’s nothing better than having a nice warm shower under the stars, or when there’s a pleasant breeze.

Outdoor showers are inherently colder though, and if the weather is bad, its not nearly as nice as an internal one.

Quickpitch Shower
Sarah having a shower in our Quickpitch Shower Tent

There’s much less cleaning

An outdoor toilet and shower arrangement generally has much less, if any cleaning at all. There’s no surfaces to wipe (except the toilet every now and again), and no floor to clean.

We use the jigsaw foam mats, which we just throw in the back of the camper in between stops. The ensuite tent is allowed to dry if we are packing it away for more than a day, but I’ve never washed it.

What’s the cons of an outdoor shower and toilet?

You have to go out outside to go to the toilet

Nothing beats being able to shower and go to the toilet inside your van in terms of convenience.

If you wake for a midnight pee, you can roll out of your bed, take a couple of steps and do your business without needing a torch, or shoes, or keys to unlock anything. It’s super simple, and this is something that parents with young kids will hugely appreciate.

It also means that if you want to have a shower 5 minutes before bed, its super easy and simple to do. If its outdoors, you tend to shower earlier in the day as its just easier to do (and warmer!).

You are at the mercy of the weather and bugs

I mentioned above that a shower outside can be nice. It can also be terrible. If its cold, or blowing a gale, or there are mosquitos and other bugs around, showering and going to the toilet outside is not much fun. 

I’ve literally been sitting on our toilet outside to feel a tickle on my toes, and to see a lovely big bull ant climbing up my feet. It’s certainly one way to make you finish up pretty quickly.

Windy camping
When its howling wind, or raining going outside isn’t much fun

There’s more setup and pack away involved

If you have an internal setup, there’s really nothing you need to do, except ensure its all secure for travelling.

An outdoor setup means you need to pack the toilet away (ours now goes in a canvas bag), unpeg the shower tent ifs its been windy, roll it up and pack it away.

The toilets can be super heavy too; ours is usually around 20 – 30kg, and you have to get this in and out each time you stop.

Toilet bag
We store our toilet in the R2, but its not light!

Its easier to get dirty on your way to bed

The one thing that I find annoying with our outdoor shower is that you get dirty so easily after a shower.

You can’t walk from the shower to bed without something on your feet, and if its sandy then they are going to get covered unless you put shoes on.

We often keep a bucket of water at the door of the camper and use that, but its just an extra inconvenience. There’s nothing like having a shower, and walking through a clean van to your bed!

You have to top the water up in the toilet

If you are using a porta potti, you’ll need to top the water up yourself in the tank for flushing. Permanently plumbed units are connected to the main tanks and need no such work.

For us, we just run a hose from our campers from tap  and fill it in a few minutes, but its still extra work that needs doing every week or so, and it does take away from kicking back and relaxing.

Does any of this matter?

If you are considering getting an outdoor toilet and shower, and not even looking at a van then a lot of this is irrelevant, as you were never comparing the two anyway.

I will say that if you have no outdoor toilet or shower and you are looking at getting one, its a game changer, and it will make your camping life so much more enjoyable, comfortable and relaxing.

A nice hot shower after a day in the bush is nothing short of amazing, and when you can stop digging holes you’ll be super pleased.

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