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How To Choose A Camping Toilet In 2023

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Taking a toilet to the wilderness, can be a hot topic of conversation among campers. However, choosing the right portable toilet for your needs depends on several factors, including your personal preferences, the style of your camping setup, and the type of camper you are. While campgrounds with proper facilities may not require a portable toilet, those who are camping off the grid will need to carefully consider their options. After all, everyone needs a bathroom, even while camping!

Bucket Toilets

There’s the option to skip using a frame and go straight for a bucket. Some opt for a multiple-bucket system and once full, they secure a lid over the top so they can be safely transported to a suitable dump point. Others choose to line the bucket and fit a toilet seat over the top for comfort. Or we’ve even heard of people custom fitting a foam pool noodle over the bucket rim. The idea here is to slit the noodle length-wise through to the hollow core and then fit the cut around the lip of the bucket. The ready-to-go Thunder Down Under Toilet bucket is designed to be used with a bio-degradable liner but is the same concept as the bucket idea above. The main consideration here is the responsible disposal of your waste, and also whether or not you have the packing space to accommodate the bucket inside your vehicle. Bear in mind that on your return trip, this bucket will likely have its contents inside unless you dig a nice deep hole. One that is deeper than a basic dig and squat hole as you need to cater for more than the one toilet trip.

Frame Toilets

For a simple yet effective portable toilet option, consider a folding frame or box design. These portable toilets consist of a compact, foldable frame with a toilet seat attached or a foldable box with a toilet seat top and lid. They can be placed over a deep hole and used in a similar way to the "dig and squat" method, or a plastic bag can be used for catchment.

Some box designs even have space for a bucket to be used in addition to or instead of a plastic bag. These options are ideal for remote camping locations and can provide a fresh-smelling bathroom experience if used responsibly.

Portable Chemical Toilets

Portable chemical toilets offer additional features and may require more consideration when choosing the right option for your needs. While cheaper brands may be tempting, it's important to invest in a high-quality unit from a reputable brand such as Thetford or Dometic to avoid leaks and ensure that spare parts are available if needed. Consider the dimensions of your designated storage or transportation space, and think about the height of the toilet if you are tall, have difficulty squatting, or have physical limitations.

The Thetford and Dometic ranges offer toilets with heights ranging from just over 30 cm to 40 cm, with two deluxe options that are slightly taller at 44 cm.

What’s at the front of chemical toilets?

There are a few features to consider on the front of portable chemical toilets:

  • Waste indicator: Some models have a waste indicator on the front of the unit, which can be useful for gauging the fullness of the holding tank without opening it. The indicator may vary in style between brands, but generally uses a float mechanism to change from green to red when the tank is full.

  • Lever: All of these units have a lever at the front that controls the valve inside the toilet. When pulled out, the lever opens the valve and allows waste to be deposited in the holding tank.

  • Carry handle: The Dometic models feature a carrying handle on the front of the unit, while Thetford's handle is located on the rear.

  • Flush button: The Dometic models also have a button that is part of the flushing action, which will be discussed in more detail when talking about pumps.

What’s on the top of chemical toilets?

Lid: The Dometic models feature a basic user's guide printed underneath the lid, while both brands use a moulded groove for the lid to click into and stay securely shut when closed or during transportation.

  • Seat: Thetford has a more rounded seat, but otherwise they all flip up and are similar in design.

  • Bowl and valve: There is not much difference in these parts, except for the coloring of the valve, which will be covered in more detail below.

  • Flush discharge nozzle: These are moulded into the inner sides of the bowl beneath the rim. When the toilet is flushed, chemically-treated flush water is discharged from the nozzles and swirls around the bowl to clean and aid waste through the open valve. The design may differ slightly between brands, but the operation is the same.

  • Fill port: This is the capped opening at the right rear of each toilet. This is where you fill the flush water tank (the upper chamber) and add a rinsing chemical/water mix. All the Dometic and Thetford portable toilets have this feature in the same design and position, except for the Thetford 565 models.

  • Flush water tank: Beneath the surface is the flush water tank, which has varying capacities across different brands and models.

Holding Tanks - What You Need To Know

The waste holding tank on portable chemical toilets is similar across both Thetford and Dometic, with size variants ranging from 12 to 21 liters. However, there are a few differences to note:

  • Rear lever: All the toilets have a horizontally-acting lever on the back that releases the locking mechanism and allows you to unclip the top chamber from the bottom chamber.

  • Valve: The Thetford valve is black, while the Dometic valve is white. This valve is controlled by the lever on the front of the unit and creates an airtight hermetic seal on the bottom chamber.

  • Breather port: This pipe has a removable threaded cap and a firm swivel action for secure stowing when not in use. It is used for the disposal of waste and is the same on both brands.

  • Air vent: The main difference between Thetford and Dometic is the air vent, which must be open when disposing of sewage (indicated by G and H in the image above). Thetford uses a button that must be pressed down while tipping the waste out of the breather port, while Dometic uses a dial that is moved from "close" to "open" before waste is disposed of, and remains in that position without being held.

Carrying and getting rid of waste

When transporting a full portable chemical toilet, it's important to consider the weight and volume of the waste holding tank. As a rough guide, 1 liter of water is equivalent to 1 kilogram of weight. However, it's important to add a little extra weight to account for the sullage.

For example, a 21-liter waste holding tank can weigh at least 21 kilograms when full. If you are camping remotely and cannot empty the toilet as frequently, it may be worth considering a smaller unit or planning your itinerary accordingly.

High-quality units have more airtight seals, which allow you to confidently carry the tank on its side by the handle once the valve is closed over the waste-holding tank. When disposing of the waste, the breather port, and air button/dial work together to allow air to enter and prevent splatter while enabling an even flow of sullage out of the port.

Laveo Dry Flush Toilets

The Laveo is a portable toilet system that provides a hygienic and convenient solution for people who are on the go. It can be easily installed in any type of recreational vehicle, such as a caravan or RV, without the need for plumbing or external power. It can also be used a free standing toilet in absolutely any location such as a beach, river or wherever you can get some privacy! The Laveo Dry Flush toilet was created by Rodney Livingston, a skilled engineer and inventor, and veteran of the U.S. Army National Guard. After a trip to India where he witnessed the poverty and lack of access to modern bathroom facilities, Rodney returned to the United States with the idea to invent a portable toilet that could provide a solution to this problem. The Laveo Dry Flush toilet is the result of his efforts to bring improved sanitation to people in need. One of its key features is its special cartridge system, which captures waste and eliminates odors, eliminating the need for chemicals. The toilet has a simple push-button flush system and can be easily emptied and maintained by replacing the cartridge. This toilet is a reliable and convenient option for people who want a chemical-free and hygienic toilet solution for camping or recreational vehicles. It also recently won the best new technology in all of the Australian camping industry, as awarded by Caravan Camping Sales.

Portable toilet accessories

If you don't go for a frame, bag or Laveo toilet, you will need to know about chemicals and many people are unsure about what chemicals are needed to maintain a portable camp toilet, possibly due to the wide range of options available. Here are some key points to remember. There are two main types of chemicals used in portable camp toilets: one for the flush-water tank and one for the waste-holding tank. The flush-water tank chemical helps to clean the bowl, deodorize, and lubricate the seals on the bottom of the unit. The waste holding tank chemical helps to break down waste, toilet paper, and urine for easier disposal, and reduces the build-up of gas within the tank to minimize odors.

It is not necessary to use the same brand of chemical as your toilet, and it is a good idea to pre-mix the measured dose with water before adding it to the tank. Chemicals are available in liquid or tablet form, with all-in-one tablet options also available. There are also eco-friendly options available for those looking for a more environmentally-conscious choice.

What about toilet paper?

When using a system that manages its own waste, such as a bucket or portable chemical toilet, it's best to choose toilet paper that will readily break down and is made without synthetic dyes and fragrances. Thetford's Aqua Soft Toilet Paper is specifically designed for use in chemical toilets and prevents clogging and dissolves quickly.

OZtrail's Biodegradable Toilet Tissue is another option that is made for chemical systems and comes with a handy stay-dry dispenser.

Who Gives a Crap is a brand that makes toilet paper without dyes and fragrances, which is suitable for use in camp toilets.

Sea to Summit's Ultra-Sil Outhouse is a waterproof toilet paper holder that keeps your toilet paper dry and dirt-free. We hope this helps you to better understand what you need to know when searching for the perfect camping toilet for your needs!

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