Pee jars are personal. They require a level of self awareness rarely called for by any other bathroom necessity.
Do you need a wide-mouthed jar, or will a narrow opening do? Will glass work for you, or are you a plastic person? Do you desire a screw top lid, or do you fear no God and live without one?
These are the questions vanlifers must come to terms with if they are to pee with confidence and comfort in their vans, and these answers are different for everbody.
For me personally, I started with a ‘pee bucket’ that emptied out after each use. But sometimes it’s inappropriate to dump pee out your van door – say, when you’re parked in your boyfriend’s parents driveway, or when you’re camping near a delicate ecosystem. Then I moved on to a glass jar, which was great! Except the metal lid began to rust after awhile (gross) and it accidentally rolled out of my van one day and cracked on the ground.
After experimenting with several challenging plastic options, I finally settled on (my) perfect pee jar: A plastic peanut butter pretzel jar. It has a wide mouth, a large square base, a screw top lid, it’s plastic, and also very easy to replace.
There are some things that work great as vanlife pee jars, and quite a few that just don’t. To help you find your own perfect pee jar, I’ve compiled a list of things to consider.
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Things to Consider When Choosing a Pee Container
When choosing your ideal pee receptacle, you need to make sure that it will accommodate your urinary needs. And that it won’t spill or otherwise get pee everywhere. Here are a few things to think about.
Anatomy has plenty of variance, but most of us are working with two options: Wide mouthed or narrow mouthed.
Narrow mouthed containers have the benefit of being less likely to spill or splash. But, they can be difficult to hit accurately without using something like a funnel.
Wide mouthed jars containers are easier to aim into, and they usually have a wider base so they’re less likely to fall over when the deed is done. But they can be more prone to splashing.
Which one is right for you? That all depends on your preferences. I, a vagina haver, find that wider is better when it comes to pee jars. However, I do know a person with a vagina who – allegedly – has peed successfully into a wine bottle. Not a drop was spilled. Allegedly.
The materials used in your pee jar are important to consider. Glass or plastic is what most people go with, but if you’re committed, metal could be an option as well. Plastic has the advantage of not being breakable, but there are some downsides as well.
I initially moved away from plastic because my pee jar kept getting blown out of my van on really windy days. Glass–a heavier material–worked for a while, but after my jar rolled out of my van and cracked on the ground, I had to clean up pee covered shards of glass. That was also not ideal. If you’re going to stick with glass, I would recommend finding some way to securely attach it to your van.
I have a friend who only pees in a glass mason jar with no lid. She just leaves it in her door well and that’s that. This is highly problematic for me, as glass is too cold, too likely to break, and harder to replace than plastic. But she likes it. It cleans well, it’s simple, and she doesn’t want to use plastic.
Too small and you’re playing a risky game. Too big and you have to lug around an upsetting amount of pee, which is just a ticking time bomb. It’s not if your pee jar will spill, it’s when.
32 ounces is the size of a normal Nalgene bottle, I think it’s unreasonable to go any smaller than this. This can really only hold about one or at most two pees for most people. I pee up to two or three times a night, which means I need to have something that can hold several bathroom breaks worth of pee.
But how much do you pee per bathroom break? I have a friend who – on one upsetting night after drinking – easily overflowed his 32-oz Nalgene and woke up to a soaking wet floor. The most useful piece of advice I can offer here: know thyself.
A cylinder or a rectangle? I’ve yet to see a triangular pee jar, but anything is possible. Cylinders are easier to hold and can be stored well. Rectangular jars have a more stable base and fit into the door wells better (in my opinion).
But there isn’t a binary of shapes you can use for pee jars. A milk jug might work for you because it comes with a handle, a tropicana OJ bottle has a unique shape, or a juice box might be your go to.
Several Things That Make Good Vanlife Pee Jars – (and a Few That Don’t)
Vanlifers are resourceful, and there’s a huge variety of things that have been used as pee bottles at some point.
If it can hold liquid, chances are someone has peed in it.
Below is a list of things you can pee in. Some work better than others, and some are not really recommended. But at the end of the day, the best pee jar is whatever you have near you when the time comes.
- Tropicana OJ bottle. A standard for many people. These have a screw top and plenty of volume, but may have too small of an opening for many.
- Peanut butter pretzel bites container. My favorite vanlife pee jar. Wide mouth, wide base, doesn’t roll, screw top lid, cheap to replace.
- Mason Jar. Ideal for those plastic free people. Comes in a variety of volumes. Watch out for rust and cracks.
- Plastic water bottle. It does in a pinch, but we shouldn’t buy plastic water bottles and it can be a bit small.
- Pickle Jar. Basically a large mason jar, but the lid isn’t as secure. Better volume in my opinion, but still watch out for cracks, rust, and the smell.
- Protein powder container. Available in different volumes, wide mouthed, and with a screw top.
- Laundry detergent container. Tons of volume, but narrow-mouthed.
- Nalgene. Watertight, strong, and you can clip it to things. But as an old alpinist once said, “You need to easily be able to tell the difference between your pee jar and your water bottle in the dark.” Consider yourself warned.
- Wine bottle. Allegedly possible. I have concerns about closing the bottle and reuse.
- Yogurt container. Another go-to. Wide mouth and it’s easy to aim into. Won’t work for storing your pee, so you’ll need to dump it before traveling.
- Home Depot bucket. Works in a camping setting, but takes up a lot of storage space. Also, no lid.
- Milk jug. Lots of volume, handle for storage, wide base for balance. The narrow mouth could be bypassed by the use of a funnel. Lid isn’t as secure
- Empty Clorox wipes bottle. Very resourceful. Be careful with the lid though, one tip and it’s all over.
- Folgers coffee canister. A good solution, but again be careful with the lid.
- Pringles can. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
To pee or not to pee?
Everyone’s pee jar journey looks different. I can’t walk your vanlife pee journey for you, as this is something every vanlifer must do on their own. If you do not, you risk desperate consequences.
My advice to you? Do not be afraid. There is a long line of vanlifers who have pee’d before you, and a long line of vanlifers who have yet to pee. You are at the center of this lineage, and the journey begins with you.