Bathroom on Wheels

February 1, 201510

Many people won’t go camping without a shower and toilet inside the camper. Here are the pros and cons of including a bathroom inside your popup camper.

My wife initially insisted on having both a toilet and shower inside our popup.  Happy wife, happy life – right? I honored her request, but it turns out, she was wrong, sort of 🙂


interior shower on Flagstaff 228 popup camper

As I predicted, we’ve never used the shower in the traditional sense. We camp exclusively in the backcountry with no hookups. Our popup has the largest freshwater tank capacity offered by the manufacturer at 20 gallons. Most people use about 25 gallons per shower. A compromise to this problem is the “navy shower,” which can use as little as 2 – 4 gallons of water for my wife’s showering needs. The shower and tub basin has also proven very useful for washing feet or other spot areas during longer trips.

If you camp in campgrounds with water – either full hookups or even a spigot you can use to refil the popup’s water tank…you should have no problem taking a “normal shower” – especially given the availability of hot water (see below).

Water Heater

interior view of water heater on a popup camper

Some popup campers come with a water heater also installed. For ours, it provides hot water to the sink faucet, inside shower, and outside shower. Here’s the inside view of the water heater, which is wrapped in Styrofoam for efficiency. I’ve got my bypass valves shut to disable the use of the water heater in the picture above, since it was taken after I winterized the camper. Ours has an electronic ignition system that automatically fires up the LP-powered flam when the water needs heated and then shuts it off when done. This is extremely convenient.

hot water heater in popup camper

And here’s the outside of the water heater for servicing and water draining (including for winterization).


interior toilet on popup camper

Our popup camper has a combination shower / toilet setup.

Thetford Cassette toilet removal

Cassette toilet means you empty the waste by removing a cassette from the exterior side of the camper, as shown above.

That said, we’ve never used the toilet either. The idea of sleeping that close to human waste hasn’t been attractive.

EDIT (and this is huge): I totally take back the paragraph above. One night a few years ago, someone (not me, but shall otherwise remain nameless) needed to use the bathroom in an emergency, and going outside wasn’t an option during a heavy rainstorm. So, we used the toilet for the first time and never looked back. Eating my words above, it has been simply wonderful. No stink if you properly use the chemicals and treat it with Thetford sealant about once or twice a year. Disposal is quite easy – simply wheeling it into a vault toilet or even your bathroom at home, extending the dump hose, and then pushing a button to release a vent valve and it all drains out. When done, I put a bit of clean water in, add another dose of chemicals, and install back in the camper. The use of a toilet has been especially beneficial after we moved to the American Southwest, where a lot of desert and shoreline camping along the Colorado River is done without a vault toilet or other bathroom option within a 30-minute drive.

Thetford Casesette Toilet - water filling pipe

The Thetford model is filled by swiveling out a pipe and pouring in the water which will be used during a flush.

Thetford Cassette toilet water drain

A small tube stands upright when in use and indicates when the water level is full. You pull this tube out to drain the water from the system (including for winterization).

The entire process is described in detail on Thetford’s website at 

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I've been camping regularly since I was a kid, from quick Cub/Boy Scout trips to week-long backpacking trips and everything else in-between. We got a popup camper when our kids were 1 and 3 years old to enjoy more time outdoors together alongside a few conveniences like heat and running water. Since then, we've spent over 75 nights together as a family in our popup camper. I've learned a lot about the intricacies of a popup tent camper during this time and love to share those lessons here for the benefit of others.


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