Going to the toilet when camping is a normal part of life. For many, its no big deal, but it can be concerning for those who’ve just started out, or for those who aren’t sure what type of toilet setup to get.
In this post, we cover everything from where to go to the toilet, what toilets you can use, chemical options, where you can dispose of the waste and how to do it in the best possible way. Whether you are in a motorhome, tent, swag, caravan, hybrid camper or something else; there’s a toilet option for everyone.
Toileting without a toilet
If you are travelling without a toilet, you can pull in and use the public toilets where possible. Where its not possible, you can go to the toilet in the bush correctly, by following the below tips.
Pick your spot; prevent any water contamination
You should not be doing number 2’s within 100 metres of any water source. This includes rivers, creeks, dams and this is super important if its used for drinking. The reasons are obvious.
Leave no trace
The next important thing about going to the toilet when camping is to leave no trace. That means that you need to dig a hole, do your business in it and then cover it over. Holes should be at least 300mm deep, and covered properly so the next person has no idea you’ve even been there. Nothing is worse than any evidence of people having been to the toilet in the bush, regardless of where you are.
Use biodegradable products
Baby wipes are amazing products, when used correctly. They are not suitable for going to the toilet in the bush with, if you are going to bury them. They don’t break down, and will eventually surface and cause issues. The only thing that should be buried is your waste, and toilet paper. Baby wipes, sanitary products and anything else non biodegradable need to be taken out with you, in a sealed bag. It’s pretty easy to do.
How do you go to the toilet in the bush?
For males, peeing in the bush should come pretty naturally. Face away from the wind, find a private spot where people don’t often go, and do your thing.
For females, there’s a few techniques. Some just spread their legs and pee. Others try to squat, and some will bend over forwards and pee facing backwards. The alternative, which has become quite popular is a shewee. Essentially this is a silicon mould that directs the flow in a similar way to a male is able to.
For doing number 2’s, the most common method is to squat over a hole, wipe and put the toilet paper inside the hole before covering it. Having a shovel to lean on can be quite handy too.
I don’t think I need to go into any further detail here.
Camping toilet types
If you want to move away from essentially going to the toilet with no equipment, there are lots of options on the market:
The camping toilet seat
A couple of places sell toilet chairs that are essentially a camping chair with the middle cut out. You can do your business through the chair, with it positioned over the top of a hole. These work OK, but you do tend to get a bit of splashing!
Flushing chemical toilets
The most common camping toilet is a flushing, chemical one. These can be free standing and portable (which many campers have) or they can be permanent units mounted inside an RV, caravan or camper trailer. The later will have a cassette that you remove and empty, and they are usually plumbed up with the water in the van/RV. Permanent flushing toilets normally have an electric flush option, with the portable camping toilets being a manual flush.
You simply lift a handle, and push it down again to pump water through.
Both systems normally use chemicals in the waste cassette, to help it break down and to reduce the smell.
If you want to get away from chemicals all together, you can install a SOG system to any permanently mounted toilet. These use a small fan to make the waste compartment a vacuum, and the smell is exhausted outside. This means that even with the hatches open, the toilet smell only goes outside the van, and not inside.
There are hundreds of positive reviews on these, and they are a very clever option.
Bag collection toilets
There are some portable toilets on the market that use bags to collect the waste. Some are even biodegradable, and designed so you can dig a hole and bury the entire bag before moving, and it will break down quickly. Obviously don’t bury bags that are not biodegradable!
Another hugely popular option for Caravans and RV’s is a composting toilet, which separates the pee and poop, and allows you to stay off grid for significantly longer than you might otherwise be able to. The pee is tipped out regularly, and the poop gets dumped much less often than you have to do a traditional toilet.
Why get a portable toilet?
Portable toilets are very practical, for a number of reasons:
When you head off on a camping trip, you don’t want to be tied to locations that have toilets. Why would you want to use someone’s stinky drop toilet if you can have your own with you, at all times?
A toilet is one of the last things you’d need to be completely self sufficient.
Is it a requirement?
A lot of places in Australia will not let you in unless you have a portable toilet. This mainly applies to private properties, but it is becoming more and more common. If you can’t prove that you are taking your waste out with you, then you aren’t allowed to stay there.
Grey water is a different kettle of fish, but your toilet waste is far more important.
You know those drop toilets that make you want to puke the moment you open the door? They aren’t very clean! Wouldn’t it be nice to have your own toilet that is clean, smells nice and is only used by you, your immediate family and your friends?
Go to the toilet anywhere, anytime
I’ve stayed at busy camp sites, where the toilets are almost in constant use. When you need to go to the toilet, you’ve gotta go; a queue makes life unpleasant, especially when you know what you are lining up for! Having your own toilet allows you to go to the toilet in peace, at any time you need to!
Don’t portable toilets stink?
The only reason your portable toilet should smell is if you aren’t treating it correctly. Providing you use the correct chemicals, correct dose and look after it, the toilet shouldn’t stink. They might not smell like roses, but they are much, much better than any drop toilet!
Camping toilet size
You can buy a number of different sized toilets. This refers to the amount of water that they hold, to flush. Sizes range from about 5 litres to 20. Get something that suits your requirements; if you have a big family then a little toilet isn’t going to cut it!
The other thing worth considering is the flush tank size, vs the waste tank size. For permanently plumbed toilets you’ll just use the main water tanks, but for portable toilets you have a choice in the tank sizes.
Some toilets have larger flush tanks than their waste tank, which is pretty daft as you’ll be emptying the waste tank far more often. We have gone with a Thetford toilet (the 365 version), which has a 21L holding tank (for the waste) and a 15L flush tank, with a manual pump.
Choose the right chemicals
You can buy a heap of different chemicals for your toilet. They are supposed to break the waste down, and keep the smell under control. I’ll tell you right now, not all chemicals are equal. Some will aid the break down process, but will allow the waste to stink. You want the right chemicals; don’t be stingy on it.
You can get a toilet tent
Not too many people would be happy sitting on their portable toilet in the open, and I don’t blame them! You can buy tents these days for under $100 that fold up nicely, and give you all the privacy you need. Most people double them up as shower tents. They are easy to set up, and make going to the toilet a much more pleasant experience!
Dump points and emptying your toilets
If you have a toilet with a cassette, you’ll need to get familiar with dump points, and how to empty your toilet. This can be an experience you chuckle about, but in general its not the most enjoyable part of camping. It is just a part of travelling life though!
National parks and shires all across Australia have set up dump points, which have blue lids and usually some form of water to clean up. You simply tip your waste down the dump point hole, rinse your cassette out and any mess up in the dump point before moving on.
These can smell for obvious reasons, and you want to be careful tipping the waste in so it doesn’t splash everywhere and run where it shouldn’t. If you use the right chemicals the smell is absolutely tolerable, and you soon get used to doing it.
Leave the dump points clean and tidy for the next person, and be respectful with them. Don’t use the water for anything else other than cleaning your toilet cassette out, and cleaning the dump point down.
Getting rid of the waste without a dump point
A lot of places these days have designated dump points, where you can tip the waste out from your caravans, camper trailers, portable toilets and RV’s. If these aren’t available, you can bury the waste as you would normally if you were going to the toilet.
As a last resort, you can dig a hole at least 30 cm deep, and pour it in there. Make sure that you are at least 100 metres away from any water source (further is better, and do it well away from everyone, and everything), and fill the hole in properly with soil, making sure it can’t be easily found!
This should only be done if your chemicals are environmentally friendly.
Septic safe chemicals
If you really want to upset someone, tip your portable toilet waste into a septic system. A lot of caravan parks and stations have their own, independent sewage system, and if you tip waste down that has chemicals in it that are not septic safe, you can cause thousands of dollars of damage by upsetting the microorganisms that already exist in that system.
A lot of people don’t want to pay for off the shelf chemicals, and decide to make their own DIY toilet chemicals. This can include anything from Napisan through to eucalyptus oil. You need to be careful that you aren’t using chemicals that are unsuitable for dumping, and that you don’t damage your toilet in the process.
Portable toilets all have a number of plastic components, and rubber seals that need to be kept lubricated and happy. If you use chemicals that damage anything you can easily have poo water leaking where you don’t want it to be. Not fun. For the cost of the chemicals off the shelf we’ve never gone down this path, but lots of people do.
The best hand wash option
By far and away the best option for camping that we’ve found is the alcohol hand rub. You just use one pump, rub your hands properly and its dry a few seconds later. No water, no touching anything with dirty hands and its fast and easy.
Camping toilets are worth it
Going to the toilet when you are camping can be uncomfortable, difficult and annoying, or it can be easy, clean, comfortable and simple. Getting a Camping Toilet is hugely worth while for many people, and we don’t regret getting one at all.
Ours is portable as the hybrid is too small to have it inside, and we can get about 4 – 5 days out of a 20L waste tank before needing to empty it. We may get a second toilet cassette, as a spare for longer term travel.
Do you have a camping toilet? Are you happy with it?