top of page

The Stinky Truth About Campground Bathrooms

Camping is one of those things which can be subject to a lot of interpretation based on how basic or how luxurious you choose to make it. There are campgrounds out there for pretty much every level of comfort and with that a lot of options to choose from for getting out in nature and stretching your legs a little.

Two of the more popular styles of camping is semi-improved or dry camping. In these areas you will find limited amenities which often include vault style toilets and lack running water. These same styles of restrooms are often found on trailheads and offer basic usage facilities without all the fuss.

These styles of restrooms are the more modernized version of an old fashioned outhouse. While they are a much more upscale version of the wooden structures which provided a location to take care of business, the concept is the same. However, unlike the original models of these we commonly reference as toilets of the olden days, vault style toilets have taken a few measures to ensure better safety and usage while also working to reduce waste stench.

To understand how this happens you must first understand the basics of how these vault toilets are designed.

The building itself is typically a concrete structure with a holding tank below. This tank has the ability to facilitate over 10,000 uses typically before needing to be emptied. In most areas these are serviced well before this limit has been reached.

On each building you will find a stack emerging from the rooftop, this allows the restroom to vent and keeps it from having an off putting smell even on a hot day. The theory behind the construction of this stack is that when the toilet is not in use the lid is down and this traps any odors which might be dwelling in the tank. The stack then allows these odors to rise out of the restroom and dissipate as opposed to being trapped in the small room and this keeps the room smelling pleasant even on a sunny hot day.


Many users are unaware of how this works and instead decide to do things like they would at home and leave the seat up! This traps the scent into the room and does not allow the vault to work correctly. Because of this, many campgrounds, trailheads and parks have started including signs to remember to close the seat when not in use. This is not a suggestion… it is a must if you want to keep things nice for usage for yourself and others.

Now I know at home there is someone saying, “I don’t want to touch that.”

And I completely understand, however this is the reason many of these toilets have hand sanitizer in the restroom with you not only for after using the toilet but also for after closing the toilet. Additionally, I always carry my own just in case.

On the same note, keeping the door of the restroom closed is another step in keeping the restroom working correctly in way of ventilation. Yes It might seem a good response if you walk in and someone has not closed the lid and there is a little smell to keep the door open to vent it, however this will not work. Instead it forms a vacuum which pushes the smell around the room and out of the tank even more so.

Ideally you will never encounter this, however if you are ever camping and have a vault style toilet I do hope you remember this and do your part. These vault style toilets are amazing when used correctly and provide a much needed service which can help us all!


bottom of page