If you’ve spent enough time living out of, or traveling in, a vehicle, eventually you’ll realize that having an on-board potty is handy. Especially if you like adventuring and camping way the hell off-pavement and exploring backroads miles between any place with a bathroom.
If tight on space and budget, or you don’t need a more permanent arrangement like a Nature’s Head–which is what I have and use when traveling these days–a simple composting toilet might fill the bill just right. As described below, a simple composting toilet uses the same composting materials in the same way as the Nature’s Head. It’s just not anywhere near as expensive or as complicated to set up, and is far more portable for backcountry camping.
Yeah, there are other types of commercial commodes and potties, though most need special, and often expensive bags with gels, or are limited in capacity, or are a bitch to empty because you have to find a dump station meant for RV waste.
Over decades of living in and using vehicles for long-distance travel, I’ve found that simpler is better when it comes to most things, and this is no exception. I don’t want something for which I have to keep buying liquid absorbing gels, eco-fresh packets, or special cassettes with bags, and I don’t want anything I have to carry full of sloshing waste to dump.
The easiest, simplest, most convenient and least expensive solution is to make a simple composting toilet that uses no chemicals, gels, or powders. Just household or compostable bags and peat moss or coco fiber. The key in making it convenient, odor-free, and a breeze to empty is keeping liquids and solids separate.
Here’s what you need to put together a simple composting toilet:
- 5 gal bucket – I suggest getting one from your local hardware or paint store.
- 5 gal bucket liner bags – any good strong bags will work. If you do this right, there is nothing to leak.
- Snap on seat with lid – works well and is comfortable, though is not an elongated seat. You can get a seat and bucket set, too.
- Peat Moss or Coco Fiber – Peat Moss is also easily found at garden centers and better hardware stores as well as big box home stores. Coco fiber is harder to find. It is usually purchased in small compressed bricks, then wet to expand and fluff. I prefer peat moss, myself, and keep a small bag around for adding to the bucket when needed.
- Zip Lock freezer bags – use for toilet paper if you don’t put toilet paper in with the solids. You can, though it won’t break down and compost as quickly as the solids and will remain visible longer.
- Marine, RV and Septic System toilet paper will break down quicker.
I like double lining the bucket. The outer bag seals between bucket and seat. The inner bag holds the peat moss and solids, makes it easier to jostle to ensure the solids are covered, and gets closed and twist-tied when done.
Pee before using the composting toilet. It’s not difficult and becomes an easy habit.
Start with a scoop or two of either peat moss or fluffed coco fiber–enough to cover the bottom about a finger deep–in a lined bucket. Add a little each time you use it; just enough to cover what you’ve left. Eventually you’ll get the hang of how much you need and after awhile you can jostle the inner bag to cover your last deposit with peat moss that’s in there already.
Just don’t pee into the bucket with the solids. If you need, use a liquid soap jug with the inner spout cut out for peeing into. Easier to use than a milk or spring water jug and the fact that it is not see-through makes it easier to take somewhere to empty. Using a soap jug is great for rooftop tents, too, so you’re not climbing down in the middle of the night.
If using your composting toilet outside and there are others around, there are simple pop-up privacy tents one can get. I have a two-room shower/potty/changing room tent, though rarely use it because I’m usually way backcountry with no one around.
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