Updated: Apr 13
The humble toilet is perhaps the most underappreciated of all of humanity’s inventions. The one in your home is actually quite the technological feat: fresh mains water is pumped into the cistern, and waste is taken directly from your bathroom to
a water treatment facility, all at the press of a simple button.
Van lifers are generally more aware of the elegance of home toilet design than the rest of the population, as the portable version brings it into sharp focus. There is simply more to think about when a toilet isn’t connected to mains water or sewer lines.
A campervan toilet is a fantastic luxury to have however, particularly for dedicated boondockers, so the thought and effort of selecting and installing the right one is more than worth it.
Let’s take a look at the options and see which might be best for you.
Portable toilet (porta potty)
The cheapest and most widely used option, portable toilets (otherwise known as porta-potties) are self-contained units that can be moved around at will. They are generally made up of two parts: the seat and flush tank on top, and the waste tank below, which can be disconnected for easy waste disposal.
On the plus side, the portability means that you can take the toilet out whenever you don’t need it – say for a day trip or weekend at a campground – freeing up campervan space for other uses. The cost is another big drawcard.
But there are downsides. The portability means that these units can tend to move around while you drive. More maintenance is required – the flush tank needs to be manually refilled and the waste tank needs to be emptied. Porta-potties also tend to have low seats, making them awkward for taller campers.
Cassette toilets are the campervan equivalent of your home toilet. These are larger units than the porta-potties, generally being a similar height to a standard toilet. A permanent installation, the flushing tank can be designed to automatically refill, and waste is sent to your van’s black tank, making emptying both easier and less frequent.
There are drawbacks here too. Cassette toilets are far more expensive and take up more space than porta-potties. Their installation is also dependent on your van having certain features and an appropriate floor plan, so retrofitting such a unit to a van can be challenging.
The last (but by no means least) option is the composting toilet. An ever more popular choice amongst the van life community, this design turns your waste into fertilizer, all while minimizing water use and requiring minimal plumbing. Composting toilets aren’t just for the environmentally conscious camper – they’re proving popular across the board.
Waste is stored in solid and odorless form, making this a lightweight option that also eliminates your dependence on plumbing and waste disposal facilities. While once again not as cheap as a porta-potty, the benefits are such that we at Drifter install Nature’s Head composting toilets in our campervans.
While not the most glamorous part of campervan ownership (although a lick of gold paint and a few diamantés could change that), your toilet can prove to be a significant factor in the enjoyment of the experience.
So, while you’re sitting on your throne at home, take the time to consider which option will suit you best.