There’s no getting away from it… we all need to ‘go’. So it’s worth having a system in place so you can relax, knowing that all toilet breaks (by day, by night, in an emergency) are covered.
In the middle of the night, the walk of shame to the chilly campsite wash block armed with your torch and a loo roll is not a pleasurable experience. And when touring in a camper van or a car with your tent, you’ll inevitably find yourself in a day-time situation far from a campsite or convenient services. There’s no getting away from it, when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go.
So think about the best options for you: how many people are in the party, what kind of distances do you plan to travel, and what is the nature of your outfit. If camping in a tent, you’ll have very different criteria to someone in a touring caravan. And if it is a tent, how big is it?
We’ve given some thought to camping toilets (the fun never stops here at Alan Rogers Towers!), and come up with basic advice and pointers. You may need to add some kit to your camping equipment but you will be able to sleep well, in the knowledge that the night time inconvenient trip to the conveniences is a thing of the past.
What kind of chemical toilets are there?
The basic camping toilet
There’s no pretending this invention is especially clever or sophisticated. There’s no feat of engineering behind it. It’s a bucket with a snap-on seat, a lid and a carry handle. No wonder these contraptions are known as a ’bucket and chuck it’.
For best results use toilet chemicals and/or toilet bags that will make things easier after the performance is over. Some people are known to add cat litter too for the same reasons.
These camping toilets are simple but they can be very effective and cost-efficient, especially with young families. These essential point though is they must be scrupulously maintained – you don’t want a smelly old bucket contraption knocking about at the back of the campervan.
Basic camping toilet - 20L Big Loo by Outdoor Revolution
The portable camping toilets
These hold the waste in a secure holding tank which is easily separated from the upper part so disposal is straightforward. The upper section is the seat and lid, along with a flushing water tank and the bowl itself.
Often generically referred to as a ’porta potti’, this is a simple device with manual bellows or piston-type flush system. Typically they might have a waste capacity of 20 litres or so, which should be ample for a couple or small family with moderate use.
Portable Camping Toilet - Thetford Porta Porti Qube 145
The built-in caravan toilet
Of course, most touring caravans and motorhomes are equipped with built-in toilets. There is usually a waste cassette which can be easily uncoupled and wheeled away for emptying at a disposal point. This cassette is usually accessed from the outside, where it’s housed behind a lockable panel.
The built-in toilet itself might have a swivel feature, to allow more room when space is at a premium. And the flush can be powered electrically by the leisure battery or the campsite’s power supply (if hooked up).
Built-in toilet. Image credit: Hobby Caravan
What toilet chemicals do I need when camping?
Using a camping toilet is one thing, but keeping it hygienic and easily maintained is important. Be clear with which chemicals you choose and why you’re using them – they each have their own function.
The blue toilet fluid is added to the waste tank and dissolves the waste, killing bacteria and neutralising odours. You can also buy this in dry tablet form, or in mini pouches as often used for dishwashers, but these are usually more expensive.
The other main chemical is often traditionally known as ‘pink’ fluid and is added to the water of a chemical flushing toilet to keep the bowl area clean and germ-free. For the avoidance of doubt, go along to your local caravan dealer or motorhome dealer for advice, or pay a visit to a camping accessories retailer.
Blue toilet fluid - Elsan 4L bottle
How do I empty my camping toilet?
Find your nearest designated chemical disposal point (CDP), sometimes called ‘black water’ disposal. The campsite will have one (well away from sources of freshwater). Be sure not to use the general wastewater (or greywater) disposal point: chemicals cannot be introduced to the sewer system.
Trundle your waste tank, or toilet cassette, to the disposal area (rubber gloves might be an idea), empty it and rinse out (there’s usually a short length of hose provided). The tank will have a nozzle or spout, and possibly an air valve to reduce chances of splashing. For obvious reasons, it’s best to empty the tank on a daily basis (if it’s being used) and keep it topped up with toilet fluid.
Chemical disposal point at a Caravan and Motorhome Club site.
Tips and pointers
Campsites are increasingly beginning to only permit environmentally-friendly toilet waste chemicals. Check yours is biodegradable and formaldehyde-free.
Toilet tent – a portable toilet tent is popular with some, being easily erected and set slightly away from the tent, or indeed caravan. With the camping toilet set up inside, it provides a little more privacy of course but also moves the camping toilet away from the main living unit.
Quick dissolve toilet tissue – this can help by not clogging up, as padded or quilted types can often do, especially with heavy use (perhaps by a large family). Regular domestic toilet paper is not, in itself, a problem with careful use.
Toilet tent - WolfWise Shower / Toilet Tent
Never put nappies and other sanitary products in your chemical toilet.
Some campsites on the continent offer deluxe pitches with a small private cabin containing sink and toilet, all plumbed in. Whether you’re camping in a tent or have a large motorhome, this is a handy way to enjoy extra convenience and privacy.
The ‘bog in a bag’ is an option for some, being disposable and lightweight and taking up far less room than a camping toilet with all its associated chemicals.
Of course, many people rarely use their own toilet, preferring the convenience of a campsite’s facilities or elsewhere.