I can hear it like it was yesterday! “Hey Dad, where are we going to go to the bathroom?”
If you’re like most parents with kids and you love camping, you know this is priority ONE! I’ve been camping with my family for more than 10 years (using portable toilets) and I’ll let you know the best ones I’ve found.
I’ll also let you know more about the process of dealing with waste, smell, and all that good stuff!
Table of Contents
Are Camping Toilets Worth It?
The hassles of not having a portable camp toilet are far greater than any inconvenience of bringing your own! Our family is very thankful for our discovery of portable toilets. Let me explain.
If you’ve ever experienced the subtle hassles (I mean you probably didn’t really think about it til it was too late) of trying to find the community bathrooms at the State park or campground, you’ll know that you probably have the farthest campsite from the community toilet.
That means when nature calls, you’d better get jogging (and hope you make it in time).
Then, once you do make it, you’ll be blown backward as you open the door to the stall. The smell will be so unbelievably offensive, that you’ll wonder how the already smelly result of poops can be magically magnified to the extent that it will repel even the most desperate camper!
As you hold your nose it disbelief, the thought of you inhaling whatever that is that’s making you unable to release your nostrils, makes you just as repulsed!
Just as you are resigning yourself to this temporary Hell on earth (trying to poop in a public camping area bathroom), you look down and see a smear of brown on the end of the seat and a little wet area near the front.
I’ll spare you the rest of my essay on why your own portable toilet is a must-have. I’m hoping you’re starting to get the picture.
Now would be a good time to look at some PROS and CONS I think!
- No need to walk long distances to public facilities at a campground.
- No need to camp at a park that even has a “facility” with a toilet.
- You can pull over on the side of the road if necessary to do your business instead of hoping and praying you’ll find a useable bathroom somewhere.
- You will have access to a toilet that is both private AND virtually odor-free,
- You will have the ultimate convenient outhouse right beside your tent or camper (and in some cases you can have it inside your camper if it’s big enough).
- It costs about $50 as opposed to “free” at a camping park that has an outhouse or “comfort station”.
- You’ll need to pick up another $25 – $50 in maintenance supplies and accessories.
- It does require a bit of care between uses.
- You’ll have to find an appropriate place to dispose of waste.
- The toilet seat is a bit smaller (and toilet itself a bit lower) than a standard toilet.
Can You Poop in a Portable Camping Toilet?
The ability to poop in a camping toilet is really the main reason we use our portable toilet. While it is not as comfortable as your home toilet, it’s 100% better than any other option we’ve found (including either hiking through the forest to poop against a secluded tree or trying to walk 600 yards to a smelly, unsanitary public outhouse).
We love the fact that ours doesn’t smell (our family has magic poop you see!) and it’s not that difficult to dispose of your dirty business once the time comes.
Just to be clear, camp toilets are meant for both number 1’s and number 2’s.
Do Camping Toilets Smell?
If you maintain it correctly (which is SUPER quick and easy), then, camp toilets don’t smell like anything offensive.
However, for full disclosure, I do have to tell you that my camp toilet DOES smell – like cologne! I’ll explain in the next section where I’ll explain step by step how it all works!
With a holding tank treatment such as this one, odors are virtually eliminated and waste breaks down more quickly.
How Do You Use a Portable Camping Toilet?
Well, I can’t actually show you the real steps (that would be censored!) but I can explain it step by step. I even made a video that will show you exactly what I do. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is!
STEP # 1
All your supplies should be stored inside of the toilet unit so it’s easy to start the process. The first thing you’ll do IF YOU’RE OUTDOORS is to set up your pop-up shelter. This is usually a one-time-per-trip process and it takes approximately 30 seconds from start to finish.
STEP # 2
Once the shelter is set up (it literally pops open by itself and then you shove 4 ground stakes – one in each corner) you’ll prepare the toilet. Install the Double Dooty bags (or a compostable kitchen garbage bag) in the toilet and wrap edges around the top (and curl down – just like installing a garbage bag in your garbage bin every week).
STEP # 3
Once the liner bag is installed, pour about 5 caps full of holding tank treatment solution into the toilet. If you’d like to use the “natural” option, you can pour loam or peat moss into the bag, but I’d still suggest a bit of holding tank treatment.
At this point, you can explore some other options like using kitty litter in the toilet bag to reduce the chance of leaks and smells.
STEP # 4
Place the toilet in your portable outhouse and use it as you would any toilet. Our family of 5 can use it for at least a full day of everyone doing all their number 1’s and number 2’s.
STEP # 5
When your bag is getting full-ish (you may have to experiment a time or two before you get good at volume estimation), seal the top and prepare it for disposal (see my video on how to do that).
The process of preparation for disposal is different for each type of setup. If it’s natural peat moss or soil, I would take a hike into the woods and bury the mess with my camp shovel.
However, I usually use the bag with holding tank treatment which is so much more convenient and quicker. Just seal the top and it’s ready to go into the plain, old garbage.
STEP # 6
You may have to drive to the public waste disposal station, but with the Double Dooty bags, there will never be any leaks or escaping odor. The bags are designed to be disposed of in the same way you dispose of any other garbage at your campsite.
STEP # 7
REPEAT the next day (now that I think of it, we can usually go close to 2 days before disposing).
What Happens to Poop in a Portable Camping Toilet?
We’ve mostly covered this question, but here’s a quick summary;
You’ll probably use one of two methods to dispose of your waste. Most likely you will seal it in a specially-made bag that is made for your portable toilet (recommended) and then throw the bag away in the regular garbage (it won’t leak or smell).
Most bags made for this purpose have a congealing powder inside that helps turn liquids into gels to minimize odors and leakage.
The other option is to use a natural base like dirt from a forest floor or peat moss, etc. in the toilet. Then, when you’re ready to dispose, seal the bag (you may want a compostable bag) and then bury it well in an area of the forest that won’t likely get visitors.
The second option is best if you’re camping away from a public camping park or campground.
NOTE: If you add dirt to your toilet, you will decrease the volume of poop and pee that you can add to the bag before disposal. That space inside the bag is precious so I don’t like to fill it with peat moss or dirt.
How Do I Choose a Camping Toilet?
It’s not difficult to choose a toilet since most of them are similar in what they offer and how they work. I would buy a system where the toilet itself is a multi-use pail.
We use our “pail-style” model pail just for the toilet, but because the offending matter (yup, I mean pee or poop) never actually touches the toilet anywhere directly, the pail is clean and can be used for anything else in the “off-season”.
Whatever model and brand you choose is largely a personal choice based on whatever factors are most important for you.
For our family, we like the model that can be carried with one hand (the pail style). Many other brands have handgrips on either side so you have no choice but to use 2 hands.
Some models are also shorter or lower than others and we like the tallest model we could find (which is still not as tall as your toilet at home). The Luggable Loo is the tallest system we have reviewed (hands-on actual review) so far.
Price may play a role in your choice though most are priced similarly.
What Supplies Will I Need?
There are some basic supplies you’ll need for any/every model or brand you choose. Here’s a basic list of what you will need for sure!
- A portable outhouse if you don’t have a camper/trailer with a private space.
- Holding Tank Treatment (gets rid of odors and helps the decomposition process.
- Toilet liner bags (you can use small garbage bags but I’d suggest the ones made just for this purpose. They’re double-lined and much tougher in their construction. They also come with congealing powder inside.
- Toilet paper and toilet paper holder (a specially-made container that protects your toilet paper from wetness, spills, dampness and air humidity, etc.)
The supplies outlined above are what I suggest (through years of experience) for the easiest and most convenient way of using the toilet.
If you choose to not use holding tank treatment for fear of adversely affecting the environment, then life becomes a bit more complicated since you’ll have to either bring or forage for something that can absorb both your waste and the associated odors.
Note on the Environment
Because I’m a lifelong outdoor guy, I take no pleasure in polluting God’s creation or watching others do the same. However, I’m also a practical camper with a measure of common sense.
That common sense tells me that a couple of small bags of pee are not going to destroy nature’s ability to easily assimilate both the waste AND the holding tank chemical without noticeable consequence.
The eco-friendliness factor of one of my full waste disposal bags is undoubtedly better than many other items of garbage that end up in a waste disposal bin at a campground (ie. iron or aluminum camp chair frames and polyester material, steel tent pegs, and broken plastic composite tent poles, insect repellent chemical in pressurized cans, propane canisters, etc.)
What is the Best Portable Toilet for Camping?
While there are many good portable toilet options available for purchase, I’ve had the privilege to test out a couple models recently, and of all the toilets I’ve ever used, I like these the best! It could be because of new seat designs and disposal bags!
THE RELIANCE LUGGABLE LOO
The Luggable Loo is one of the taller portable toilets on the market. It measures 15″ from ground to the top of the toilet seat.
The toilet seat measures 12.5″ wide x 13.5″ deep while the hole in the toilet seat measures 9.5″ x 8″. The pail iself is only 11.5″ in diameter.
Why I like it:
It’s the tallest toilet I’ve used so far, and the pail part is useful for any other purposes I might need throughout the year (including at the campsite if necessary). I can also carry it with one hand.
Most other brands do not use a standard pail as the main body. They are shorter and they cannot be carried with one hand.
I like the light weight of the Loo at just a smidgen over 3 lbs.
What Could be Improved:
It would be wonderful to have a slightly larger toilet seat, but then it wouldn’t easily fit on a pail. The only thing I can think of would be to make a proprietary-sized pail (aka. BIGGER, WIDER, TALLER) so that the larger seat could only fit on the “special” Luggable Loo pail.
Right now, this lid will fit on any 5-gallon standard bucket from a hardware store. In their zeal to be compatible with buckets, Reliance had to sacrifice the seat size.
THE RELIANCE HASSOCK
The Hassock is a bit shorter than the Luggable Loo measuring 14.7″ wide x 14.7″ deep x 14.0″ tall.
The seat itself is about the same size as the Luggable Loo, so even though the toilet itself is larger in diameter, the seat size/diameter was not increased from the Luggable Loo.
Why I like It:
The Hassock offers a toilet paper tray (though not totally necessary) which can keep the TP dry if you set it on the damp ground/grass.
Reliance includes an eco-fresh packet to help with odor. I also like the compact design and how it looks (and is) sturdy since it’s wider and shorter than a 5-gallon pail on which the Luggable Loo is based.
What Could be Improved:
The Hassock’s added width (compared to the Loo) offers a 3″ increase in overall diameter, which should allow for a larger and more comfortable/practical seat than it has. The current seat is the same size as the Luggable Loo’s.
It would also be good to have the ability to carry the Hassock with one hand since it’s only 5 lbs (only a bit heavier than the Luggable Loo).
Camping toilets are absolutely worth their price in most camping scenarios (other than portaging/canoeing/hiking trips).
Camp toilets are useable for anything you’d use a regular toilet, and they really don’t have to smell bad if you use holding tank treatment. AND, please note that holding tank treatment is to be used sparingly rather than filling the toilet like you might with water in your home toilet.
Remember that you’ll probably need a privacy tent and a few supplies which will cost you less than $75 while the toilet will cost about $35, so the whole deal will come in around $100 or so.
The “best” toilets are the ones that work and are comfortable as well as durable to last a lifetime. Our number 1 choice is the Luggable Loo because of it’s durability and versatility.
I hope this overview has helped you and I wish you my very best on your next camping trip as you perhaps no longer dread the process of figuring out how to comfortably conduct “business” while traveling. 🙂