Figuring out your vanlife bathroom situation is a vital part of a van conversion. So how do you know whether to choose a van toilet vs funnel?
One of the most common questions I receive when people find out that I live in a van is, “where do you go to the bathroom?” The answer to this question varies based on many things: what kind of vehicle you are traveling in, your gender, your bathroom habits (how frequently, pickiness, etc.), where you camp, how often you stealth, etc. Personally, I have lived with many of the options: a cassette van toilet vs funnel (or more specifically a GoGirl) vs no restroom. *The only option I don’t have much personal experience with at this point in time is a composting toilet.* There are pros and cons to each bathroom method, and like all things with vanlife, the “best” option comes down to personal preference and what is important to you.
One of the first things to consider when deciding between a van toilet vs funnel is how important comfort is to you.
If comfort is a high priority and “roughing it” doesn’t sound appealing, the GoGirl may not be for you. While I have no issue peeing in a GoGirl when necessary, one of the things that really makes my van feel like a home is the ability to go to the bathroom sitting down. Without a proper place to use the restroom, the van feels more like camping than an actual apartment on wheels. Even so, I have found myself in a situation where my toilet is full and I have nowhere to safely empty it, and I revert to the GoGirl for the night. Options never hurt.
Another thing to consider is space. Different toilet options take up massively different amounts of space.
A GoGirl takes up space about the size of your fist, while a cassette toilet is about 13.5” x 15”. Every square inch counts in a van and finding room for gear can be challenging. Luckily, I have a perfect 1.5-foot gap behind my driver’s seat, which is where my cassette toilet lives. The cassette toilet needs floor space and width to live, but don’t forget about the fact that you have to be able to open up the top and actually sit on it. For some people, this means pulling the toilet out for usage, while others will build boxes with lids around their toilet, or find a little area for their toilet (like behind a driver’s seat!)
So, how does a van toilet vs funnel compare as restroom options in a van?
A GoGirl is a female urination device that allows women to pee while standing or kneeling. It is fairly simply: you hold it up to yourself with the other end going into some sort of bottle/out a cracked door/out in the forest, you go to the bathroom, then you rinse it and put it away. Some are hard and made of plastic but the GoGirl specifically is silicone so it folds up for easy storage and requires minimal space.
I originally purchased my GoGirl as a hiking and backpacking accessory. However, during my first year of vanlife I slowly learned the ropes of everything. I wasn’t yet in a routine of regularly dumping my toilet, or even remembering to make that a weekly task. I often found myself parked for the night, unable to empty my toilet, and with a full bladder. In these moments I was grateful for the GoGirl. I’ll be honest that my first few times using this were more complicated than I would have liked. You have to get a feel for how to grip the thing, can’t squeeze too hard and have to learn to pace yourself when releasing. I cannot say how many girls I have swapped GoGirl learning stories with… the first few times may be rough but you’ll get the hang of it.
After using my GoGirl on and off for 3 years, I now have the technique down and can confidently urinate standing up (or kneeling) without worry.
This is definitely the less comfortable option but is a great alternative. When my partner and I stay in his van, this is my bathroom method (he lives in a low roof Econoline). Something I really don’t like is that these funnels are often used to pee into some sort of smaller bottle. It isn’t great to get in the habit of singular use plastics and larger bottles tend to hold smell pretty badly. It also looks kind of gross when you just have a jug of pee constantly being moved around in your van, especially during a van tour or surprise visit from somebody. Even so, this is a sufficient option if you have no other bathroom option.
- Takes up hardly any space
- No additional supplies needed (except bottle to go into)
- Can be easily moved around
- No additional water needed
- Easy to keep track of full-level
- Can’t sit down
- Bottles/compartments peeing into doesn’t confine smell (unless deodorizer is used)
- Requires more dumping
- More likely to spill
- Feels more like camping
- Squatting/outside can be more simple at time
- No option for number two
A cassette toilet is a portable, less expensive RV toilet that is separated into two compartments. The top compartment holds clean water for manual flushing purposes and the bottom compartment holds waste. There is a slider that opens to connect the two compartments when in use. These toilets require manual emptying/dumping and can be used for both #1 and #2. They require a pour-in deodorizer to help contain the smell and break down waste.
Using a cassette toilet requires lifting the lid, opening the separating compartment, sitting on the seat, going to the bathroom, and manually pumping/flushing 1-3 times then closing the separator and lid. To dump this device, you have to separate the two compartments, take the bottom compartment to an RV dump-friendly site, unscrew the lid of the pouring pipe, flip it over to empty it, (rinse as necessary), then screw the lid back on and put the toilet back together.
While cassette toilets aren’t the fanciest of them all, I’ve actually been pretty impressed with mine.
I’ve gotten to a point where I am comfortable enough using my cassette toilet that it almost just feels like a normal toilet (minus the flushing part). I know how different it sounds when I am using it based on its full level and know how to properly flush it to avoid build-up, smells, etc.
I have the smaller model and I will admit that I often wish I had the larger model, which provides twice the waste storage. On a good week, the toilet lasts me up to seven days, depending on if I am using it as a last resort or as my main toilet source. On a bad day, like while working a full day in my van in the city and solely using this toilet, my cassette will fill up in as little as two days. It is still more convenient than having to find a restroom every time you have to pee but does require dumping more than I’d like on these fuller days.
**The main reason I opted for a cassette toilet in my sprinter van is that I tend to pee 1-3 times per night. Getting up from bed in a dark van and trying to coordinate peeing into a funnel and a bottle is complicated. It can be stressful, induce spillage, and is far from convenient. I’m able to easily use my porta potti while still ‘“half-sleeping” the way I would on a normal toilet in a house.**
I’ll be honest in that I’ve been using my cassette toilet full-time for three years and I am probably due for a replacement. The seal for the top compartment that holds the clean flushing water isn’t as strong as it used to be and can slightly leak when driving down bumpy dirt roads. I’m also not convinced that you can keep the inside of a cassette toilet clean without being able to scrub it like a normal toilet, no matter how much bleach or deodorizer you rinse around in there.
- Can sit down
- Confines smell
- Requires less frequent dumping
- Less likely for spillage/accidents
- Replicates similar bathroom feeling as house-living
- Can be used or lined with bag for number two
- Takes up more space
- Additional supplies: biodegradable toilet paper, deodorizer
- Another place to think about filling with water (upper compartment)
- Harder to keep track of full-level, have to be intentional
Alternative option = no bathroom
A surprisingly common choice among vanlifers is to not have a bathroom at all. I would not recommend this if you are ever doing inner-city camping, staying in driveways, etc. This option is for the full-time campers. If you have the ability to go outside in the wilderness on a regular basis, then honestly, this is preferred. However, there are many times where I am unable to get outside of the van and use the restroom because I am not in solitude. Additionally, this can get tricky in various landscapes where bathroom burial isn’t permitted, such as burying poop in the desert.
Conclusion: It’s my opinion that the cassette toilet is the best middle-ground, reasonable option when deciding between a van toilet vs funnel.
It allows you to sit and relax during your business, go either #1 or #2, is easy to empty, portable and is very reasonably priced. It isn’t a porcelain toilet by any means, but it’s also not threatening to spill pee on your floor with a minor user error.
My best recommendation
Thetford Porta Potti 365. If you are going to make room for a cassette toilet, get the larger toilet. It is barely two inches larger on all sides but holds more than twice the amount of waste as the smaller version.