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Picking the Best River Toilet – RiverBent

by Assessor
Picking the Best River Toilet - RiverBent

This post was updated on April 5, 2022, to include groover setup tips and updated product and pricing information.

If you’re just getting in to organizing overnight river trips, you’re likely wondering which river toilet (groover) is best. The answer will depend on how much you’re likely to use it, how many people you need to support, and your budget. We have experience with several of the most commonly used types of groovers, from the humble ammo can groover setup to deluxe editions costing several C-notes, which I’ll review below (some of these are affiliate links). And check out our guidelines for setting up the groover.

Let’s discuss the pros and cons of the most popular and time-tested river toilet systems, plus a couple of additional solutions for specific situations:

  1. Eco-Safe Toilet System
  2. Coyote Toilet
  3. River Bank Toilet by Selway Fabrication
  4. Jon-ny Partner by Partner Steel
  5. Cleanwaste GO Anywhere Toilet Kit Waste Bags
  6. Freshette Pee Funnel
sit on top kayakhe toilet 1
A nice view from the groover spot on Dominguez-Escalante Canyon.

All the groovers reviewed here meet BLM, NPS, and USFS requirements for a washable, reusable toilet system—except for the Cleanwaste GO Anywhere kits and Freshette, which are meant for specific situations but not as the main toilet system for a multi-day river trip. All can be cleaned in a SCAT machine, or at an RV dump.

Eco-Safe Toilet

The Eco-Safe toilet is one of the most commonly encountered river toilets. A lot of people like it because it fits into a pair of rocket boxes, making it easy to pack into your raft, and because it comes with a comfortable seat. It is also fairly inexpensive. It is easy to expand capacity by buying additional tanks, and you only need one seat setup.

However, there are a few drawbacks. The seat must be stored separately from the tank while it is disassembled, and the design of the seat piece includes a flat surface under the seat, which is difficult to clean when disassembling the toilet each morning. The many corners also make it difficult to get completely clean when emptying at an RV dump. This is the only toilet I’ve ever seen fall over—the base is fairly narrow because it fits in a rocket box.

sit on top kayakhe toilet 2
Vintage evidence of displeasure with the Eco-Safe and its hard-to-clean corners, somewhere in Desolation Canyon in about 2009. Despite a few drawbacks, this is a classic, and fairly inexpensive, solution

Finally, the RV dump accordion hose attaches to the tank for cleanout using a hose clamp. The only groover cleanout disaster I’ve ever personally witnessed involved a clog in the RV dump hose causing the hose clamp to pull off the cleanout valve, dumping the contents of the tank. For that reason, I prefer a more secure connection between the cleanout valve and the dump hose.

  • Eco-Safe Toilet System by Pacific River Supply
  • Capacity: 50 uses
  • Price (at time of publishing): $197, before buying the ammo cans (rocket boxes)
  • Pros: Inexpensive, easy packing, can expand capacity by buying extra tanks
  • Cons: Difficult to clean, narrow base of support

Coyote Toilet

The Coyote toilet is a pared-down, single-wall design that takes up less space than other toilets reviewed here. This was my original river toilet, but I never loved figuring out how to rig the separate seat piece. It now comes with a special strap for keeping the seat and the tank together. I also felt that it was difficult to get a stink-proof seal on the top lid and hose fitting. When rowing with the groover in the gear boat, I could often smell it. I see that the new version has a redesigned gasket that might solve the stink problem.

sit on top kayakhe toilet 3
Coyote toilet set up, with the seat on top and the lid off to the side. The opening at the front is the cleanout.
  • Coyote Portable Camp Toilet System by Coyote River Gear
  • Capacity: 60 uses
  • Price (at time of publishing): $219.95
  • Pros: Inexpensive, compact
  • Cons: Separate seat piece, many corners to scrub out

River Bank Toilet by Selway Fabrication

The Selway River Bank toilet is my current river toilet. It is a double-wall design, with an inner tank that sits in an outer box with a lid and seat assembly. It is appealing because it packs into a single, easy-to-rig package, covered with a toilet seat lid. I also appreciate the secure hook and bar locking system that attaches the cleanout hose to the tank. If extra capacity is needed, it’s possible to buy additional tanks—you only need one outer box and lid/seat assembly.

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While I really like this toilet, it does have drawbacks: the tank has corners that require scrubbing, and it can be difficult to turn the washers used to secure the top lid.

RiverBank toilet systems by
River Bank toilet system, set up for use with a prime view
  • River Bank II Full Toilet System by Selway Fabrication
  • Capacity: 60 uses
  • Price (at time of publishing): $484.95
  • Pros: Double-wall design, secure cleanout hose, no extra parts to clean and rig
  • Cons: Top lid difficult to get sealed, corners to scrub

Jon-ny Partner

The Jon-ny Partner is the Cadillac of river toilets, but the price is steep. The all-aluminum construction means it doesn’t pick up stink over time, unlike the plastic tanks. The top lid seals using a collar clamp that feels very secure. It comes with a special attachment for cleaning, which means that while you’re on the river there is only one seal to worry about, rather than several. The unique shape of the cleaning attachments directs high-pressure water from the hose into every corner, making cleaning it out a nearly scrub-free experience. The only drawback is the separate seat piece, which must be cleaned and secured in your load each morning.

  • Jon-ny Partner Toilet System by Partner Steel Co.
  • Capacity: 50 – 60 uses
  • Price (at time of publishing): $1,049.95 (note: check with Down River Equipment in Denver for current pricing and availability)
  • Pros: Stink-free metal tank, innovative design, easy to clean
  • Cons: Separate seat piece, expensive, bulky, and heavy (definitely not an option for a minimalist trip in kayaks and canoes)
sit on top kayakhe toilet 5
Jon-ny Partner by Partner Steel is bomb-proof because of the materials and construction, but also the most expensive option; this one was on display at Down River Equipment in Denver—check with them for pricing and availability

Cleanwaste GO Anywhere Toilet Kit Waste Bags

Daytime emergencies happen on river trips, and if nature calls when you’re not in camp, you need a disposable waste bag. Cleanwaste GO Anywhere Toilet Kit Waste Bags are designed for use with the Cleanwaste Portable Toilet System (which isn’t suitable as a main river groover but is used for boating and camping). These waste bags are especially useful for river trips with small children. Using a disposable waste bag is an excellent alternative when digging a cat hole is hard or impossible. The bag contains a powder that turns waste into gel and removes odors. The double-bag construction is puncture-resistant, and you can toss used bags into the trash. Consider tucking a few of these into your dry box or in dry bags on the kayaks.

  • Cleanwaste GO Anywhere Toilet Kit Waste Bags
  • Capacity: For use on river trips when you’re not in camp, consider each bag as a single-use solution
  • Price: $2.95 for single bag
  • Pros: No setup needed, great for emergencies when you’re not in camp
  • Cons: Small capacity, only suitable for occasional use on a multi-day river trip

Freshette Pee Funnel

Women who have always wanted to be able to pee off the boat have it made with the Freshette Pee Funnel, a device that allows them to pee without dropping their pants. It’s also useful for river trips when you need to pee below the high-water line to avoid ecological damage, but the camp beach is completely exposed and you want to maintain some decorum. The Freshette Pee Funnel makes peeing at the bank much more discreet—and safer than squatting at night in the dark. Also great for use when you’re bundled up in a dry suit.

  • Freshette Pee Funnel
  • Capacity: Unlimited
  • Price: $22.95
  • Pros: Extension tube allows pee to be easily directed
  • Cons: Another piece of gear to manage

River toilets for every situation

No matter which river groover you choose, make sure to get familiar with how it works and how to clean it before taking it on your first trip. Most issues can be prevented by using the right products and taking a few minutes before packing up each morning to ensure your groover doesn’t let you down.

Next, let’s talk about how to set up and use your chosen groover.

Setting up your groover (essential tips for river toilet management)

If there’s one topic that generates an outsized amount of discussion and opinions among multi-day river trippers, it’s how to set up and manage your river groover. After many years of overnight trips, we have come up with a system that makes the groover as pleasant as possible. (Check out our multi-day river planning guide here.)

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For many permitted rivers, the groover is required in order to minimize impacts on heavily used campsites. Even for non-permitted rivers, if possible, you should plan to bring a groover rather than burying waste: there are simply too many people in our river corridors to make burying waste a reasonable option.

River groover gear list

The most important thing you can do to set yourself up for success is to have the right gear so you aren’t trying to cobble together solutions on the river. Here’s the list of essential river toilet gear:

  • River toilet (groover)
  • Waste breakdown enzymes, which come in powder or liquid form (you can find these at river outfitter stores or at any RV supply store)
  • Deodorizer to spray or place in the groover tank
  • Solar lights (string lights like these work great) to mark the path to the groover for nighttime visitors
  • RV toilet paper: do NOT use regular TP in the groover as it doesn’t break down easily
  • Handwashing system (this one from Down River Equipment is a classic)
  • Disinfectant wipes (look for ones that are skin-friendly like these Sea to Summit wipes)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Shelter for privacy, either some sort of beach cabana that you already have on hand or a purpose-built privacy shelter
  • Trash bags
  • Single-use waste bags (for day use and emergencies)
River toilet seat on ammo box
The simplest river groover: a toilet seat on an ammo box

Choose your groover site

Choosing a spot for the groover is one of the first things we do when pulling into camp. Making sure the groover spot is staked out early is important for people choosing tent sites. In addition, we like to get it set up quickly to help folks who might be waiting for it. The best groover spot is a quick walk away from camp, sheltered from camp by vegetation, with an excellent view.

Set up a shelter for your groover

Bring a shelter for the groover in case you end up in a camp where there’s no place to put it that’s out of sight of the camp. A pop-up sun shelter like one you’d use on a beach works well. If you want to go top-end, you can get a shelter that is specifically made for sheltering your groover, such as this Kelty Blockhouse Privacy Shelter.

Set up the groover

Here are the basic steps for setting up your river groover. Bring a friend for this task, as you’ll need help carrying all the gear, and it makes the time pass more quickly.

  1. Put on disposable gloves. You’ll go through many of these during a weeklong river trip, so bring a box of 50 or so vinyl or latex household gloves (available at most grocery stores, drugstores, and big-box stores).
  2. Set up the handwashing system. Although we’ve seen many ingenious homemade setups, sometimes it’s easier just to buy a system that’s specifically made by river people for river people, like this setup from Down River Equipment.
  3. Place the groover in the shelter.
  4. Remove the tank lid, wipe off the inside of the lid with a disinfecting wipe, and set the lid someplace inconspicuous.
  5. Place the toilet seat on the groover. (Check to make sure the toilet seat was cleaned by the previous take-down crew.)
  6. Add some enzymes and deodorizer to the tank.
  7. Close the toilet lid.
  8. Set the essential gear within arm’s reach of the groover: toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, and small trash bag.
  9. Throw disposable bags in the trash bags.
  10. Wash your hands.

Lighting the path to the groover

Remember that sometimes you’ll need to navigate the trail in the dark, so make sure the trail is easy to see. I like to light it up with a few spare solar lights (like these Goal Zero Crush Light Lanterns, which pack down compactly) or string lights. Stumbling down a long trail in the dark is a good way to get injured, so err on the side of putting the groover slightly too close to camp rather than too far away.

Shelter for river toilet groover
A sun shelter (like a beach cabana) comes in handy for creating privacy for the groover on wide-open beaches

Deliver the river groover orientation talk

We generally do a groover talk the first night of camp, especially if we are taking people who are new to rafting. I do a handwashing discussion and demo, so people know how to avoid sickness—you really do not want norovirus spreading in camp. I also show everyone how the “occupied” signal works—I usually use a paddle placed over the path, although other groups I’ve boated with keep the bag of TP in camp and use the presence or absence of the bag as the signal. I also remind people not to pee in the groover and to keep the lid closed. Peeing in the groover is not a disaster, but on most large Western rivers people should pee in the river to save space in the groover.

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Bring single-use waste bags

In addition to the groover that you set up in camp, each raft should have single-use waste kits stowed in the dry box or captain’s bag for emergencies. Especially if you have kids on the trip, these kits can avert discomfort or disaster when you’re still miles away from camp and nature calls. The Cleanwaste GO Anywhere Toilet Kit includes an agent that gels and deodorizes the waste, a puncture-resistant storage bag, toilet paper, and a hand-sanitizing wipe in one neat package.

Taking down the river groover

When it’s time to break camp in the morning, you might as well resign yourself to being the last boat to get rigged if you are carrying the groover. Make sure everyone has a chance to use it—we do last calls in camp and down by the boats. Then, grab a friend to help you carry it. You will want to have familiarized yourself with how the specific system works, so you can break it down quickly.

Here are the basic steps for taking down the groover system:

  1. Put on disposable gloves.
  2. Remove the toilet seat and set it aside.
  3. Add liquid or powered enzymes for breaking down the waste to the groover tank.
  4. Using disinfecting wipes, remove any waste matter that’s spilled on the outside of the groover, then seal the lid of the groover.
  5. Wipe the toilet lid thoroughly with disinfecting wipes.
  6. Set the groover and seat outside the shelter.
  7. Thrown your disinfecting wipes in the trash bag.
  8. Wash your hands in the handwashing system and disassemble it.
  9. Disassemble the shelter.
  10. Divvy up the gear between you and your groover friend and haul the gear down to the boat.

I usually try to put the groover at the bottom of the load, to keep it cool and minimize odors. Sometimes, though, the only place it can ride is right on top.

River Bank outdoor toilet on the Middle Fork of the Salmon

Cleaning out the groover

By far the worst part of the groover job is the cleanout at the end of the river trip. The only groover-related disasters I’ve had happened during cleanout.

There are two choices for groover cleanout. The first, and much preferable choice if it is available, is to use a SCAT machine. These machines are located at the takeouts of some popular multi-day trips, mostly in Idaho and Montana. You strap your groover and its pieces in, pay a few bucks, and the machine cleans the groover. If you’re going on a trip that has a SCAT machine, make sure your model of toilet is compatible with the machine and that you have a good supply of quarters or dollar bills. You will probably have to run it a couple of times to get all the way clean. As with any groover-related task, don your disposable gloves before starting the process.

If your trip doesn’t have a SCAT machine, you will have to dump your groover at an RV dump. Your system should have come with attachments for a regular garden hose and an RV dump hose. Make sure you understand how to attach them before you go on your trip, so you’re not trying to figure it out at the RV dump. Then attach the dump hose, snake the hose into the drain, dump everything out (have one person hold the dump hose into the cleanout, and another person hold the groover up and at an angle to take advantage of gravity). Use the garden hose to make sure everything is rinsed. In my Selway Fabrications groover, I use a last rinse of bleach to make sure everything is sanitized, but beware that if you have an aluminum groover (like the Jon-ny Partner), bleach will discolor the finish.

While being the designated groover person guarantees you’ll be the last person out of camp, and ensures a gross chore at the end, it also means you’ll get invited on a lot of trips.

Read more about river trip gear

  • Best Coffee Presses for River Camping
  • 17 Essential Personal Hygiene Tips for River Camping
  • What to Wear Kayaking: Guide to All-Season River Paddling
  • Best River Maps, Guidebooks, and Apps for Rafters and Paddlers
  • Essential River Camp Cooking Gear

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