Build a Homemade Camping Toilet

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Photo courtesy Voyageur Press
Camping trips are a bit more comfortable when you bring a composting toilet.

Five-gallon buckets are ubiquitous and cheap. But did you know they can also be hacked, hod-rodded, reengineered, and upcycled to create dozens of useful DIY project for homeowners, gardeners, small-scale farmers and preppers? The 5-Gallon Bucket Book (Voyageur Press, 2015) contains over 60 ideas that help keep these buckets from ending up in landfills. With simple step-by-step instructions as well as parts lists and images of the completed projects, this book makes certain that you’ll have fun and love the results.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Five-Gallon Bucket Book.

Camping and Composting Toilet

Camping can be incredibly fun, but the least fun part of any outdoor adventure is going to the bathroom. That’s because there isn’t any bathroom. Unless you happen to be car camping in a campground equipped with facilities, or driving your own well-appointed RV, the bathroom is going to be wherever you can find a private place. But let’s face it: squatting behind a tree, even for the experienced outdoorsman, is anything but pleasant. What you need is a toilet you can bring with you. Ideally, that fixture should be comfortable, convenient, and have no impact on the environment, and it must not add unpleasant smells to the campsite. That’s an awfully tall order to fill.

The answer, of course, lies inside a five-gallon bucket.

The toilet described in the steps that follow is light and portable, simple to construct or break down, comfortable and easy to use — for children as well as adults — and is environmentally friendly to boot. Because you can’t flush it, the secret lies in the absorbing power of recyclable elements. A container of sawdust takes care of most of the smells and ensures the toilet doesn’t draw insects or create an unpleasant odor. If you don’t happen to have access to sawdust, you can just as easily use a large amount of used coffee grounds.

In any case, by using a biodegradable, compostable trash bag to line the toilet, you ensure that the bucket is kept clean and that the waste can be placed in a hole and covered. It’s the guilt-free water closet because the waste, including the bag, will naturally break down over time.

Always check local regulations about disposal of waste — many organized campsites don’t allow it. If you dispose of the waste in a hole on your property, make sure it’s not near where you grow any edibles, including fruit trees. The compostable bag — known in the roughing-it community as night fertilizer—is just as good as animal manure for enriching the soil of ornamental plantings.

What You’ll Need


• Utility knife
• Heavy-duty wire cutters
• Clamp


• 1/2” polyethylene pipe wrap insulation
• Large compostable garbage bags (10 gal. or larger)
• Sawdust (enough to fill an empty plastic 2-lb. coffee container)
• 5-gal. bucket with lid
• Roll of toilet paper

How You Make It

1. Use the utility knife to cut the pipe wrap insulation to a length roughly equal to the circumference of the bucket’s rim. Fit the insulation over the rim and adjust the length as necessary.

2. Slide the plastic handle to one side and cut the wire as close to the center as possible.

3. To set up the toilet, pull the cut part of the handle apart, slide the toilet paper down onto the handle’s plastic tube, and slide the tube over the cut. Line the toilet with a compostable garbage bag. When using the toilet, clamp the pipe-wrap ”seat” onto the rim, which will hold the bag in place. After use, sprinkle a generous amount of sawdust (or even dirt from the campsite) into the toilet, remove the pipe wrap insulation, and secure the lid on the bucket. When full, remove the bag and bury or dispose of it according to local regulations.

Project Options

Sitting on pipe wrap insulation is a whole lot more comfortable than sitting on the bare rim of a five-gallon bucket, but it is admittedly not as comfortable as sitting on a standard toilet seat. If your campout gang is more into comfort, you can adapt a standard ”round” toilet seat for use on this camping toilet. Attach two three-inch sections of the pipe insulation to opposite sides of the bucket rim. Center the toilet seat over the rim and note where it contacts the pipe insulation. Coat the top of the pipe insulation pieces and the contact areas on the bottom of the toilet seat with adhesive meant specifically for plastics — such as J-B Weld’s PlasticWeld. Let the seat sit on top of the insulation until the adhesive dries. Now you have a comfortable seat that can simply be attached and detached when using the toilet.

For more projects from The 5-Gallon Bucket Book, try:

Build a Bucket Sawhorse
Build a Homemade Camping Toilet
DIY Pig Trough 

Reprinted with permission from The 5-Gallon Bucket Book by Chris Peterson and published by Voyageur Press, 2015. Buy this book from our store: The Five-Gallon Bucket Book.