What Is a Vault Toilet? – Survival Tips and Alternatives

When you are out in the park or camping, you are more than likely to run into a vault toilet. So, what is a vault toilet? Such toilets don’t use water, so they are most often built on hiking trails and various camping sites where it will be impossible to install water pipes.

How does a vault toilet work?
A vault toilet does not have any plumbing or water supply like a typical toilet. It is a non-flush toilet that goes to a holding vault that fills with waste. This container can store over 10,000 gallons of waste. A vault toilet is basically the same as a port-a-john.

Using a toilet of this kind is not rocket science, but there are some things that you should keep in mind. Here is some information on a vault restroom and what the alternatives are.

Vault Toilet Guide

To use a vault toilet without any issues while camping or enjoying nature, you should remember:

  • Take toilet paper and sanitizer with you using it.
  • Make sure you find a place for your things before going there.
  • Avoid throwing any trash into the toilet.

What exactly is a vault toilet?

Another term you can often hear in reference to vault toilets is ‘pit toilets,’ which reflects the concept quite well. The main characteristic of a vaulted toilet is that it is not connected to canalization, which means that it doesn’t use any water, and you cannot flush it. In a vault toilet, there is a special tank located underground for collecting waste until the moment it is picked up by the sewage cleaning machine.

two wooden vault toilets

Depending on where a toilet is located and how much it is used, the tank can be different in size. Large parks and popular camping locations may install toilets with tanks that are up to 14,000 gallons in size. In some cases, there is no need for such large tanks, so there is an opportunity to choose one that is about 700-900 gallons in size.

Maintenance and cleaning of pit vault toilets is the job of employees working for parks and camping locations. If you plan to camp in a certain area, it is a good idea to find out how well toilets are maintained because this factor can affect your entire experience.

Where are vault toilets used?

Accessible vault toilets are most often used on trails, camping locations, and also in parks. They are often designed in a natural style so that they don’t stand out from the surroundings and ruin the scenery.

white toilet vault in the mountains

The number one reason for the use of vault toilets is that it’s not easy to get water to them without disrupting the natural environment. It would be highly destructive and sometimes completely impossible to install water pipes in such locations.

Vault toilets can be built anywhere and the only significant requirement for building a vault-type toilet in nature is that a waste management vehicle should be able to get to it. The most common locations for such toilets are campgrounds, parks, nature reserves, and such.

Tips for surviving a vault toilet experience

Using a vault toilet requires a bit of preparation compared to the standard in-house one. Here are some main recommendations that will help you survive this experience:

Make sure you always have toilet paper with you

Getting to the toilet and finding out that there is no toilet paper left is the worst experience. Public vault toilets always run out of toilet paper because a lot of people use them. The number one recommendation for going to vault toilets is to bring your toilet paper with you.

Have antibacterial wipes or a sanitizer on hand

There are plenty of great vault toilet camping options out there with a sanitizer available, but this is definitely not guaranteed. As you won’t be able to wash your hands, it is a good idea to take a sanitizer or antibacterial wipes with you. With the number of people using public toilets, proper hygiene should be your priority.

Beware of any insects

Being located in nature, there can be insects in the toilet, such as flies, spiders, and bees. For this reason, you should be careful when using a toilet so that you don’t accidentally get bitten by some insects living there.

concrete public toilet

Avoid throwing any trash into the toilet

It is highly important that you use a vault toilet correctly. The number one requirement is that you don’t throw any trash into the toilet, as it is intended only for toilet paper and waste. This also applies to any female hygiene products, such as tampons and wet wipes. If there is no trash bin near the toilet, you should take any trash back with you.

Leave your things outside the toilet

It is a good idea to take care of any bags or other items you may have with you before you go to the toilet. The majority of standard vaults won’t have space where you can place your backpack or other belongings. Also, it’s unlikely that there will even be a hook on the wall, so this is something to keep in mind.

Vault Toilet Design

The outside design of a vault toilet can differ significantly depending on the preferences of the camping site or another location. They can be made of concrete, wood, and plastic. The concrete ones are the most reliable solutions and are perfect for withstanding severe weather conditions.

toilet storage in the form of a house

As for the construction itself, a toilet can feature a single or a double vault. Depending on how many people are likely to use a toilet and how often the vaults can be emptied, camping ground or another site can choose whether they need one or two vaults. The same can be said about the actual size of a vault.

Alternatives to Using a Vault Toilet

Vault toilets are not the only option when it comes to camping. There are some alternatives that you can consider if you don’t want to use one:

Going into the woods

The most obvious alternative to a vault toilet when you are out in nature is just simply going into the woods. At the same time, there are some rules that you should be familiar with. You should only do this in areas where it is allowed, and you should avoid disposing of waste in any water bodies, rivers, or ponds. It is also important that you don’t throw out toilet paper and bring it back with you.

Composting toilets

Another option that you may consider for your camping trip is a composting toilet. They are quite popular among campers who don’t want to use public vault toilets. The toilet is quite easy to set up and all you really need is a bucket and sawdust. The latter is used instead of flushing after using a toilet and ensures that the toilet doesn’t begin to smell.

The only thing that may not be too convenient for people is that you have to regularly empty a composting toilet and clean it to prevent any odor and keep it hygienic. The waste from composting toilets can be used in flower beds, which is where it gets its name.

Portable toilet

Another option that is similar to a composting toilet is a portable one. They come in different sizes and designs, so you can easily find one that will be suitable for your needs. As opposed to composting toilets, portable ones should be cleaned after each use.

The benefit of this type of toilet is that it can be set up anywhere, and some options are quite lightweight. Also, the fact that this toilet will be used only by you or your family makes it a great option for those who don’t want to use public toilets.


Choosing a proper camping toilet is not as easy as it looks. Here are some common questions people ask concerning vault toilets.

What is a vault toilet camping?

A vault toilet is one that doesn’t use water but rather uses underground tanks that are cleaned once they fill up with waste. They are widely built on camping grounds and in parks.

What is a vault restroom?

Vault toilets are nothing more than waterless toilets that can be built anywhere. Such toilets are built in public spaces, so people have an opportunity to use a toilet even if it’s impossible to ensure proper plumbing in the area.

How does a pit toilet work?

Toilets work by collecting waste in tanks so that it can be taken away by a sewage cleaning machine at established timeframes. The requirement for building a toilet of this kind is that a cleaning machine should be able to get to it.

Choose the Most Appropriate Camping Toilet for You

Vault toilets are sufficiently sanitary when regularly cleaned and also quite convenient. Regular people don’t need to worry about their maintenance, as it is performed by the park or camping ground employees.

At the same time, there are alternatives, such as composting and portable toilets, that may work better for some people. A portable toilet requires you to clean it after each use, but you or your family will be the only ones using it, which is surely an advantage.

What do you think is the best toilet option for camping? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Gerald Carpenter

My name is Gerald Carpenter and I am a professional plumber in the third generation. My father was a plumber, my grandfather was a plumber. I wish I had records on my other ancestors.

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