Taking care of nature’s call while on a camping trip can be a nerve-wracking task if you’re accustomed to a life of indoor plumbing and running water. But even for folks who are comfortable with the idea of digging a cathole to properly dispose of their human waste while camping, the process of going to the bathroom in the great outdoors can be a bit of a hassle.
As a result, many avid campers and hikers look for ways to make their outdoor bathroom experience more enjoyable by investing in camping toilets.
But are camping toilets worth it?
The short answer:
Yes, there are many advantages to camping toilets, especially where convenience is concerned. Keep in mind – camping toilets tend to be both heavy and bulky, so they are primarily feasible only while camping near your vehicle. If you need a self-contained toilet system for a roadside outing, a camping toilet can be a nice option.
Deciding whether or not to invest in a camping toilet is a big decision as it can greatly affect your comfort level during your adventures. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of an outdoor toilet system so you can determine if using one is right for your needs.
Types of Camping Toilets
As is the case with most things outdoor gear-related, there’s no simple answer to whether or not a camping toilet is worth it. Ultimately, the usefulness of a camping toilet will depend primarily on your personal adventure style and where you like to camp.
Before we get into the pros and cons of camping toilets, we should first point out that there are a few different kinds of toilets on the market. These include:
Flushable Camp Toilets
Some camp toilets, like the Dometic 972 Portable Toilet are effectively mini versions of porta-potties. They come with a toilet seat and two chambers, one of which holds clean water and the other of which is used for waste storage. With these toilets, you can flush the bowl out with water after you do your business, which helps eliminate any not-so-nice smells.
You then need to dump out the waste at a sewage collection point (normally found in RV campgrounds) on a regular basis. These toilets are ideal from a comfort perspective but they’re heavy, bulky, and expensive.
Wag Bag-Style Camp Toilets
The other type of camp toilet is much simpler than a flushable model. With wag bag-style camp toilets, like the Cleanwaste GO Anywhere Portable Toilet Seat, you basically get some sort of toilet seat that can hold biodegradable waste bags (known in the outdoor industry as “wag bags”).
To use these toilets, you simply need to attach a bag for your waste, sit down on the seat, do your business, and then seal up the wag bag for proper disposal at a later time. If you’re going backpacking in an area that requires you to pack out your waste, you can also bring only the wag bag, but this isn’t as comfortable as having an entire camping toilet set up.
Pros and Cons to keep In Mind
The key advantage to both kinds of camping toilets is that they provide you with an additional layer of comfort while you go to the bathroom.
For people with mobility limitations, camp toilets can also be super useful as they eliminate the need to squat to go to the bathroom.
Camp toilets are also arguably the best way to minimize your impact on the environment as you’re not leaving human waste in the backcountry when you use them like you would do if you disposed of your waste in a cathole.
But using one of these toilets means investing in yet another piece of gear. It also means that you need to be willing to carry, set up, empty out, and clean your toilet on a fairly regular basis. This may not be ideal or even possible in some situations, so be sure to consider where you like to camp before you invest in one of these toilets.
Do Camping Toilets Stink?
When used correctly, camping toilets should not stink. But the likelihood of having a smelly bathroom all depends on whether or not you properly care for and clean your toilet.
Most flushable camp toilets come with a chemical treatment system that you can use to neutralize any odors from human waste. Of course, if you don’t clean your toilet regularly or dump out your waste frequently, your toilet set-up could start to smell. But when used properly, a flushable toilet shouldn’t have a bad odor.
The same can be said for wag bag-style toilets. With these toilets, you’ll seal up any waste that you produce into the wag bag itself, which should stop most smells. However, in very hot environments, the smell of human waste can make it through even the heartiest of wag bags.
To combat this issue, consider investing in something like CleanWaste’s Poo Powder Waste Treatment. This powder contains environmentally-friendly enzymes that break down smells in solid waste, which highly reduces the chances of foul odors from your camp toilet.
Are Bears Attracted to Portable Toilets?
Yes, bears can be attracted to portable toilets.
Bears, like many wild mammals, have a very good sense of smell. Even though human waste smells different from human food, bears are curious by nature and they often try to investigate the source of any new odor that wafts their way. According to the US Forest Service, bears are attracted to a wide range of things, including both urine and human feces.
As a result, if you’re camping in bear country with a flushable camp toilet, consider leaving it in a secure place (such as your car or a bear locker) overnight. Alternatively, if you’re camping with a wag bag-style toilet, be sure to dispose of any used bags in a bear-proof trash bin.
If you have any questions about proper toilet storage in bear country, contact a land manager or ranger in your camping location.
Is a Camping Toilet a Good Idea?
Camping toilets can be great pieces of gear to add to your packing list for outdoor adventures. They make going to the bathroom much more comfortable for a lot of people and they can help to reduce your impact on the environment when used properly.
However, getting a camp toilet is a financial investment and it does mean some extra work on your part to keep your toilet clean throughout your travels. In some situations, particularly in backcountry settings, a camp toilet may also be too big and bulky for you to carry on your camping trips.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to determine whether a camping toilet makes sense for your unique adventure style. We hope this article helped you learn more about the pros and cons of getting an outdoor toilet system so you can get a bathroom solution that works for your needs. Happy trails!
Up Next In Camping:
David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.