Just writing the title of this post made me chuckle. And cringe. It’s gross, but we get a lot of questions from people wondering: “How do you use the bathroom in a van?” Some of the bolder answer seekers even ask, “How do you poop in a van?” So, after several years of putting off this question, we’re getting down and dirty. We’re going to not only tell you about how to make a DIY Camper Van Toilet so that you can poop in a van but we’ll also give you some of our top tips and recommendations for making the whole thing a lot easier.
For starters, we have a smaller Ram Promaster City camper van with a Wayfarer Conversion Kit in it. It’s a small van. You can’t stand up in it, therefore, by default, going to the bathroom, especially if you’re a guy, is going to be a little more difficult. Why? You’ve got to do everything hunched over. We’re 5’4 and 5’6 and on the fairly short side and even for us, it can be a bit awkward to maneuver around inside the van. But back to the bathroom issue: how to poop in a van.
Before We Had a Camper Van Toilet
A little backstory is necessary, now. We’ve owned our small camper van since January 2018. The Wayfarer Conversion Kit does not include a bathroom. We traveled to 48 states in our van (all but Alaska and Hawaii) and even all the way across Canada. But during that entire time we never once had the ability to go to the bathroom in our van. The peeing part of van life travel was fairly simple (see below). The pooping part of van life…not so easy. Not having a bathroom in our van really impacted where and when we could travel.
For example, we often chose campsites with access to toilets which meant we had to spend money to camp. Sometimes we’d stay at Wal-Mart parking lots but if they weren’t 24 hour Wal-Marts we’d have to wait until they’d open to get in to use the bathroom. The rest of the time we parked in stealth camp spots and when we woke up we’d have to scramble to find a public restroom. I had a stomach bug for a while in Canada and trying to find a bathroom in an emergency was pure agony. This was one of the main reasons we ended up speeding up our trip and heading for home. Since then, we’ve done a good bit of research and have a new camper van bathroom solution. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Keep reading to see how to pee in a van and then how to poop in a van.
How to Pee in a Camper Van
So what do we do when we have to pee? Well, when we can’t pee outside, we pee in a cup. If you’re going to try this method we recommend getting a cup with a wide mouth. It’s easier to aim and there’s less chance of spilling. We then store it in a bottle until we can flush it down a toilet. A wide-mouth Nalgene bottle works great for this. Just don’t use it to drink out of! Label it and keep it separate from your drinking containers! We got fairly skilled at aiming but for those who might want a little assistance in this department, consider a couple of these tools:
The Pibella female urination device will take some people a little bit of practice. Don’t make the first time you use it when you’re in the van. Try it in the shower until you get the hang of it. Some people swear by these two tools. Other people, not so much. It seems like the ability to ‘rough it’ and learn to pee and poop in a van are two of the things that will determine how far you can go off the grid and how long you can camp in your van. If these two things are a barrier, you might be more of a weekend camper van traveler than a full-time camper van traveler.
How to Poop in a Van
Haha, you’re committed to van life if you’re still here reading how to use a toilet in a van. I’ll admit, it’s a little tough to write about, but everyone poops. So, let’s just get down to it. We’re going to teach you how to make a simple DIY camper van toilet.
Steps to Making A Simple DIY Camper Van Toilet
Step 1: Get a 5-gallon bucket. Preferably one with a lid.
Step 3: Secure the Wag Bag in place with a pool noodle or pipe insulation. If you have a pool noodle on hand, use that. If not, consider getting some 3/4 inch pipe insulation. In addition to keeping your poop bag in place, it also makes for a more comfortable seat. You will want to cut your noodle or insulation in pieces. This allows it to bend with the curve of the bucket a little easier. And with this final step, you have made your own DIY Camper Van Toilet.
Note: The pipe insulation we recommend comes in a 3 foot piece so you’ll have plenty to share with a friend if you know someone who is also making a DIY Camper Van Toilet.
How to Use a DIY Camper Van Toilet
Step 1: Assuming you’ve already outfitted your bucket with a bag and your pipe insulation, simply sit down and, well, use it! After you’ve finished using the bathroom, add the environmentally friendly Poo Powder. It comes with the Wag Bag. This will help your waste firm up and reduce the door.
Step 5: If you are reusing the poop bag, lightly knot it, put it in the second bag that comes with it and put the lid of the bucket on. (The second bag is the one with the ziploc closure. It’s smaller and slightly more puncture-resistant. You’re done.) If you’re not reusing the Wag Bag, simply find a trashcan to throw it away or store it in the bucket until you do.
This is the DIY Camper Van toilet that we use and so far, we’ve been really happy with it. It’s a bit more basic than some other setups. But, it works for us. If we had a stand-up van we’d probably look into other options but for now it’s a big upgrade from a van without a camper van toilet.
Pros of the DIY Camper Van Toilet
The pros for this van life bathroom is it’s cost (it’s cheap) and it’s ease of making. Once you have the materials, it’ll only take a few minutes to assemble. It’s also super durable and easy to clean. Having a camper van toilet in your rig will make life on the road so much easier. No more booking campgrounds because you need a toilet. This one DIY hack may actually help you save money in campground fees. No more overnight parking at Wal-Mart! Cause let’s be honest, that’s not camping! It’s not bad in a pinch but it’s not all that fun. For these reasons we think this is the best portable toilet for a van. Other’s may say it’s not quite enough for them. If so, skip to the section below that has other portable camper van toilet options.
Cons of the DIY Camper Van Toilet
Well, your DIY Camper Van Toilet will take a good amount of space. You have to figure out where in your van you’ll store a 5 gallon bucket. You can’t collapse it and so it’s going to take away precious space. Still, we’ve found that since making it we aren’t willing to go without it. So, we sacrifice the loss of room. We find that it gets moved about the van a good bit but once we make it to camp we set it outside and leave it be. Also, if you can’t find a place to throw away the Wag Bag, it can create a bit of an odor. Get that lid on as soon as you can! Lastly, depending on your tolerance for ick, this setup might just be a little too basic for some people who are used to flushing their waste and walking away.
What are Wag Bags?
Alright, so you’re considering using the Wag Bag method in your DIY Camper Van Toilet but still on the fence? Let’s back up a minute. Here’s a little more info that might help ease your mind: The Wag Bag actually comes with two bags. The larger one you poop into. The other, smaller ziplock style bag is there as a second line of defense to punctures and odor. You put the bag you pooped in into this bag. In the van though, we only do this once we’re ready to toss it out. Otherwise, it stays in the bottom of the bucket. It’s just easier to open the bag again, put it on the bucket and use it without an additional step. If we were camping and backpacking however, we would double bag it every time.
Wag Bags are permitted by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and in Wilderness Areas. They are also recommended by the Leave No Trace Program in conjunction with the National Forest Service. They are biodegradable but should not be buried. You can throw them away in any trashcan. They’re more expensive than plain old garbage bags so you may want to use them several times before disposing of them. If so, make sure to tie a knot into the first bag, the one you’re pooping into, and sealing the other one! Safety first!
Top Tips for Pooping and Peeing in a Van
- Have your toilet paper on hand. There’s nothing worse than going to the bathroom only to realize that your toilet paper is far from where you are. We make a place to put ours behind the desk so it’s literally an arms length from us when we need it. We tried stringing it on a small rope and hanging it from the ceiling of the van. It looked cool and it was easy to access but we ended up knocking into it at night when we were in bed so we took it down.
- Try not to pee in the Wag Bag. Doing so will allow you to get more into the bag. It will also significantly cut down on the unpleasant odor.
- Practice using your DIY Camper Van Toilet before your first big trip! No one wants to have an accident in the van when you’re on the road. It’s messy and inconvenient. Work out the problems in your system and your practice before you embark on your first adventure.
- Use the lid, use the lid, use the lid. This will cut down on odor.
- When you have the ability (privacy) to use your DIY Camper Van Toilet outside, do so! It’ll keep the odors in the van from building up and you might just have a nice view.
- Keep all of the DIY Camper Van Toilet supplies like Wag Bags, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer in a consistent place so you can find them easily.
- Consider using a bungee cord to secure the bucket to the side of your van so that it doesn’t slide around while in motion. Though your poop is in a bag, you really do not want your bucket to tip over and make a mess, do you?
- Keep hand sanitizer close at hand so that you can freshen up when you’re done.
Other Van Life Toilet Options
If you’re not interested in our DIY 5-gallon bucket toilet hack, you do have some other options. Some cost more than others. Each have their positives and negatives. Keep reading to see if one of these van life toilet options will suit you better than the DIY Camper Van Toilet we’re using with Wag Bags.
DIY Composting Toilet
My first experience with a DIY composting toilet was about 15 years ago. A friend allowed me to stay in her backyard tiny house and she had a composting toilet. It was a fairly simple setup: a 5-gallon bucket and some fresh sawdust. She also had a composting bin outside of the tiny cabin where she would dump the bucket after it got full. Having a composting bin is really important. It’s what makes the poop, well, compost. Without this step it’s basically just still poop. I’m oversimplifying here but if you want to learn more, I highly recommend the book Humanure.
Though we know some van life travelers have DIY composting toilets and they’re able to find places to dispose of their compost, we recommend only doing this if you are going away for a weekend and can bring the compost back to your own composting bin. We’ve seen some videos on YouTube suggesting that you can ‘dump your compost at the base of a tree’ and this is FALSE. Do not do this. It is not sanitary and it is not composting.
There are some alternatives to the DIY Composting toilet. The thing is, most of them need extra space and extra money. If you want to know more, check out Nature’s Head composting toilets.
The Stansport Portable Outdoor Toilet takes our DIY Camper Van Toilet and kicks it up a notch. It’s essentially a 5 gallon bucket with a handle and a lid and a toilet sea. Drop a Wag Bag into it, lid/seat on it and you’re ready to go. It brings you a little closer to what you’re already familiar with at home. We think this is one of the best van life toilet options on the market. It’s simple and fairly inexpensive.
The Cleanwaste Portable Toilet is another camper van solution. Unlike the 5-gallon bucket options above, this one actually folds down and helps you save space. It’s a little less steady than a five-gallon bucket because it has three legs. That said, if you’re not worried about balancing while on the toilet, this might be a viable option for you.
The Thetford Porta Potti 135 is a chemical toilet. It’s basically a self-contained toilet that allows you to add water with the little hand pump and then “flush” your poop into a waste chamber where it mixes with a chemical to keep the odor down. The waste water compartment is 2.6 gallons, so most people can use it a few times before having to dump it. Many campsites have a place where you can do this but it can get quite heavy and it can be a bit gross. There’s a rotating, pour-out spout to help you keep your waste from touching you. Though this is a nice solution to pooping and peeing in a van, it’s more money than we want to spend.
Pooping and Peeing in a Van Recap
Did you know there were so many potential solutions to peeing and pooping in a van? We didn’t. We wish that we’d known this information a long time ago! This is definitely one of our less glamorous posts. But, knowledge is power and in this case, knowing how to make and use a DIY camper van toilet will allow you to poop anywhere, anytime. We hope our alternatives to the DIY camper van toilet are helpful and that you’ll be able to find a solution to using the bathroom on the road. (This has been especially helpful so far in our travels amid the coronavirus pandemic.) We no longer have to worry about waiting for a public bathroom to open and we don’t have to pay for a campground with a toilet. We can literally just pull over, hop in the back, and do what we have to do.
Do you have any other DIY Camper Van Toilet ideas? If so, we’d love to hear them? Same for other camper van bathroom ideas.
Erin McGrady and Caroline Whatley are travel writers, photographers, and the authors of Authentic Asheville.