Camping away from organized sites has loads of advantages, but there are very few outhouses in the wilderness. Some areas (like Moab) don’t let you dig holes in the ground to poop in. You need some kind of container. It doesn’t have to be too smelly and gross though.
We didn’t build a toilet in to the van. We didn’t want to deal with black tanks (the lovely euphamism for “poop and pee containers that hang under your van and need regular emptying which is gross”). We didn’t want to give up the space inside the van for a cassette toilet or a composting toilet. We ended up with a poop bucket.
Yes, you can buy poop buckets
Any old bucket will do.We looked at using a 3 gallon bucket with a screw-on sealing Gamma Seal lid, but it wasn’t comfy to sit on the edge piece.
Instead we bought a 5 gallon bucket with a toilet style lid. This is a better height to sit on. It can either be used directly with a sanitizing liquid in the bottom like the porta-potty cabins you find at events, or you can use poop bags inside them.
The commercial poop bags are double-layer plastic bags. The internal bag is strong black plastic like a trash can bag. This lines the entire inside of the bucket and pulls over the rim before you put the lid on. When you’re done with the bag, you twist the top around and place it inside the bucket. Then, you can pull the outer bag up and around the inner bag. It seals with a strong double ziplock clasp.
There’s powder inside the inner bag that helps turn liquids into a gel, and (sort of) stops the smell. Still, we tend to put the bucket outside while we’re using it.
The bags are good for several days’ worth of poop. The whole setup lasts longer and smells less if you can avoid peeing in to it too much (pee elsewhere first). Lots of the smell of human waste comes from the pee interacting with the poop.
If you’re not going to pee in the bucket, where are you going to pee? Don’t do it too close to the van. Pee attracts flies. Also don’t pee within 100 feet of a water source.
If you don’t want to stagger out of the van to pee in the middle of the night, those old 64-ounce Nalgene bottles that you didn’t throw away even though they contain BPA are perfect for the task. They have wide enough necks for ladies to pee in to. They don’t look conspicuous when you carry them to rest area toilets to empty either, and they’re super-easy to rinse out.
See the Nalgene bottle in the storage organizer? That’s not for holding drinking water.
You can make your own poop bags if you prefer
If you don’t want to keep spending almost $3 per bag, you can make your own poop bags. This is also much more economical for single-use occasions. You’ll need a trash can bag. The thicker the plastic the better – trash compactor bags work really well. You’ll also need a strong one gallon ziplock bag (the freezer style ones tend to have stronger plastic and stronger locking). You can put some kitty litter in the inner bag to help stop things from sloshing around. Again, the trash bag goes inside the bucket and hooks over the top of the bucket under the seat/lid. Once you’re done, twist the top of the trash bag closed, then put the whole thing in the ziplock bag and seal it up. We found that Hefty brand zipper style bags seal better than Ziplock brand. This is one situation where you do NOT want a leak!
Disposing of “used” poop bags
You can dispose of the bags anywhere you’d put used baby diapers. Most jurisdictions allow dumping of human waste in regular trash. Be thoughtful though – don’t put a whole week’s worth of poop in a trailhead trash can that might not be emptied for a couple of weeks. Also, NEVER put these bags into pit toilets or for that matter any other other toilets. It might be poop inside, but it’s a plastic bag outside and that makes it impossible for the sewer system to deal with.
Other poop thoughts
While we’re on the subject, let’s keep going. Unscented baby wipes work really well for general cleaning duties while you’re camping, including a nice fresh butt feel. They are not suitable for flushing in regular toilets though, because they contain synthetic fibers that don’t break down in septic tanks or sewage treatment plants.
We bought a bucket organizer to sit inside the poop bucket when we’re not using it. Inside that, we store trash bags, ziplocks, kitty litter (in an old Nalgene bottle), baby wipes, and toilet paper. We also carry a couple of the commercial poop bags for when we know we’ll be camping in the same spot for a while.
Update: we bought a $40 toilet tent. Mostly we camp in places where there’s nobody else around, but sometimes we need a little more privacy. The tent is also great to show that our camp site is “reserved” even when we drive the van somewhere for a while.