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RV toilets: 5 alternatives to a full bathroom in your camper

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Space-saving ideas for toilets and showers

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This sleek camper van from Colorado-based Tourig foregoes a full bathroom for an inconspicuous portable toilet.
All photos courtesy of Tourig

Last week, I wrote an opinion piece inspired by one question I get more than any other: Where’s the bathroom? It doesn’t matter whether it’s a no-frills teardrop trailer or a fancy Class B adventure van, there is a large contingent of camper enthusiasts who want nothing to do with a rig unless it has a full wet bath and toilet. Love campers and trailers? Come join our community group.

As I detailed in my article, I think that’s a shame. I don’t have a full bathroom in my custom camper van, and I don’t want one. But the rigorous discussion inspired by my article—especially on Facebook—clarified a few things.

First, the pro-bathroom camp will fight to the death for their potties. Many commenters pointed out that as people age they often have physical needs that make a toilet essential. It’s also worth noting that many older people don’t mind giving up some space for a bathroom because they aren’t bringing mountain bikes, climbing gear, or skis for a family of four. How we use our campers directly corresponds to both our age and passions.

Second, a lot of commenters supported my opinion. I received countless emails from people who have a bathroom in their camper and never use it, or from other adrenaline-fueled, gear-junkie van lifers who do just fine without one.

But perhaps the most important thing to come out of the lively discussion my story initiated was this: It’s not necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition. Many of you don’t want a full indoor shower and toilet in your rig, and you’re in luck—there are other options.

Last week I gave you my opinion, but this week I offer practical, serviceable solutions. Here are the five best toilet and shower alternatives to a full bathroom in your camper van or RV.

A black van with a ladder leading to the roof. There are mountains in the background.
A bathroom-free custom Sprinter van converted by Sportsmobile. See more, this way.
Photo by Lucy Beaugard

Cassette Toilet

Pros: Most similar to a regular toilet

Cons: Fixed in place, chemicals, not portable, have to insert an access panel to outside of the camper, not pleasant to dump the tank

Buy it: Thetford Cassette Toilet ($545.65)

In traditional RV toilets, a gravity flush toilet is positioned over a large waste holding tank and you use a sewer hose to empty the tanks at a dump station. With a cassette toilet, a toilet is installed over a small, removable waste tank. When the waste tank is full, you take it out through an exterior service door and empty it into a standard toilet. Once that is finished, you put the small waste tank back into your van. The cassette toilet is most similar to other RV toilets because it requires a permanent black-water tank in your van.

A portable toilet inconspicuously slides out from a lower storage area in this van by Colorado-based Tourig.
Photo courtesy of Tourig

Portable Toilet

Pros: Feels like a regular toilet, can be used multiple times, sealed, affordable

Cons: Requires chemicals and fresh water, could freeze in winter, more parts

Buy it: Porta Potti Curve ($160.63)

The portable toilet is similar to a cassette toilet, but doesn’t require a permanent install over a tank. Instead, a small, detachable chemical waste tank sits directly underneath the plastic toilet bowl. A freshwater holding tank and hand pump helps flush out the waste, and whenever the tank is full you empty it into a standard toilet bowl or RV dump station.

In this DIY van built for $18,000, a Nature’s Head composting toilet sits under a cover in the van’s central area.
Courtesy of Far Out Ride

Composting Toilet

Pros: No chemicals, environmentally friendly, easy disposal, minimal odor, no black tank

Cons: More expensive, has to be built into van, installed with a small ventilation fan so it needs electricity, have to dump urine frequently

Buy it: Nature’s Head Composting Toilet ($940.43)

A composting toilet uses no water and works by separating liquids from solids into two different tanks. This separation helps keep odor to a minimum, especially because the solids tank uses peat moss or coconut COIR to help break it down. When the tanks are full, the solid tank can go into a composting bin or trash bin because it doesn’t have any chemicals, and the liquids can be diluted and poured down a sewer.

Bucket or Bag Toilet

Pros: Inexpensive, you can make one yourself, portable, no chemicals

Cons: Must dump after every use to avoid smells, can’t be closed, it’s a bucket

Buy it: Luggable Loo ($32.29) or the Cleanwaste Portable Toilet ($64.99)

For all the minimalists out there, a bucket toilet is an option. Some DIY van lifers use a 2.5- or 5-gallon bucket and line it with kitty litter or peat moss and a plastic poop bag. This can be done cheaply, but the simplicity of bucket toilets also means that they can smell and you have to dispose of your waste each time. Other people opt for a portable toilet with folding legs and a bag waste kit that you attach each use.

An innovative “rain closet” system lets you wash off inside in this van by Nomad Vanz.
Photography by Reuben Wurtz

Shower options

If you don’t want a wet bath in your van—trust us, we get it—check out the Road Shower 4L ($499). It mounts on your roof rack, holds 10 gallons of sun-heated water, and comes with a showerhead.

Is the Road Shower too expensive? Don’t dismay. Try the Rinsekit portable outdoor shower ($99.95) for pressurized water for up to three minutes. While it won’t let you luxuriate under hot water like a normal shower, it does do a great job of rinsing you off after a surf or mountain-bike session. If you’re setting up camp for a few days, a solar shower bag would also work, like this affordable 5-gallon bag from Advanced Elements ($29.99).

Also, don’t miss out on new indoor shower designs from custom van conversion companies for ideas. This rig from RB Components boasts a rear shower area that does double duty for storing gear, and we love how Nomad Vanz designed its stowaway shower system that makes winter showers a real possibility.