RV Portable Waste Tank

by frugalrvers

Portable waste tanks can be a lifesaver for rvers. We will review the two most popular brands, Thetford SmartTote And Barker Tote Along, and help you decide if you need one, too!

If you are about to buy an RV Portable Waste Tank, you probably have noticed two names that seem to dominate the market: Thetford SmartTote and Barker Tote-Along. While there are other brands available, Thetford and Barker get high ratings for quality and features on portable holding tank reviews. They are rugged, durable and offer a variety of sizes and models to choose from. Under the right circumstances, such as boondocking, they are true lifesavers...but do you need one?

When WE Could Have Used A Portable RV Holding Tank

When we decided to leap into frugal rv life, living full time on the road (yes, we got rid of everything but the pets!), we were not quite as fully prepared as we should have been, or thought we were. Fearful of using the bathroom in our 30' travel trailer for the first time, we started getting panicky about getting rid of our waste. To further complicate our humorous life, we passed over the security of an RV park and jumped straight into our own interpretation of boondocking. Our version involved staying on a friend's rural piece of wooded land, with barely enough power or water pressure to sustain life. We continued to look at our sparkling clean bathroom with fear - thinking what a nice plant holder the RV toilet would make.

It was around that time that we first heard about portable waste tanks for RV's. The property we were on did have a septic system...way over there. But we set up camp way over here...so how would the two come together in toilet harmony? You may laugh but we bet you are asking the same question, especially if you are desperately reading this article! These true lifesavers you will see below can help you make the connection and create that harmony...

Under the right conditions, when circumstances require them, portable waste tanks are RV accessories you cannot do without. The purpose of this article is:

  • To help you make sure they are the right choice for you

  • To illustrate for you the different models and sizes of the Thetford SmartTote 2

  • To illustrate for you the different models and sizes of the Barker Tote-Along

  • To make your purchase of one of these holding tanks a quick and easy process

  • To be sure you find the right size, model and features for your unique needs

Mr. Ed and Wilbur - Our Current Rigs
Mr. Ed and Wilbur - Our Current Rigs

Read Thetford SmartTote And Barker Tote Along Reviews - Then Decide Which One To Buy!

Thetford and Barker 4 Wheel Models Below
Barker 25895 4-Wheeler Tote Tank - 25 Gallon Capacity
SmartTote 2 40519 Smart Portable Waste Tote Tank with 4 Wheels - 35...

Why Would I Need Portable RV Holding Tanks? Should I Buy One?

A portable RV waste tank helps get your black water (toilet waste) or gray water (all other used water) from "here" to "there"...a necessity in RV life if you aren't in a campground that has sewer hookups on your campsite. Sounds simple enough...yes...but...

In the right environment and conditions, they are absolutely essential for RVers. However, there are considerations you need to keep in mind prior to your purchasing a portable septic solution. You want to be certain it is the right investment and that you are buying the right model to suit your specific needs.

So take a few moments to think about the following things before making a decision:


Now don't answer too quickly! If you are new to rving, you might say with certainty, "I will NEVER be boondocking and will ALWAYS camp in parks that are recreational vehicle friendly." Even if that is the case, you need to know that many beautiful sites, including state parks, often have a dump station at the entrance, but no septic in your campsite. There is a misconception that these tanks are only for those who go off the grid. That isn't true. They are also for folks who want to stay in campgrounds that don't have an individual sewer hookup!


If you plan to use your portable waste tank for gray water, then the duration of your trip should not be a factor prior to your purchase. Most likely, you will be using it daily given that gray water adds up VERY quickly from showering and doing dishes, etc. For gray water you will need the waste tank so you can empty the contents frequently...even if just for a weekend getaway, unless you are going to a campground that has showers and a place to wash dishes.

If you intend to use your waste tank solely for black water, how long you will be staying in an environment should weigh heavily on your decision to purchase. Most waste holding tanks in an RV are adequate for a short trip, storing contents until you can head down to a dump station. If you plan to make only brief trips in your RV but still worry about reaching full holding capacity in your RV toilet, then perhaps a portable camping toilet is all you need on board for peace of mind.


These plastic, portable waste tanks look innocent and light - especially those with the pull handle. But make no mistake, when they are full, they are extremely heavy! If you need to pull your tote to the main entrance waste station, you will spare your back with a 4 wheel model. If you are boondocking keep in mind you will have to get this heavy tote somewhere. Will you have a trailer to roll it up on? They can be messy...do you want it in your vehicle? You might want to get a smaller model and make more trips, to handle the weight. If you have no means to dump these tanks, your only option may be to just drive your motorhome weekly to empty them, which can be a real pain (packing and unpacking decor in the camper). Another option is a portable camping toilet.


Some people like the peace of mind that comes from having one for emergencies. When you are on the road, you will see these portable septic tanks adhered to motor homes, even on rooftops. When empty, they are so easy to handle. Unless your camping and travels rarely change, it certainly cannot hurt to be prepared and have one on board for unseen future scenarios/emergencies. Sometimes the unexpected happens en route to a destination, when staying at unknown campgrounds along the way. A mechanical repair that leaves you stranded in an unexpected and unplanned location for more than a few days would greatly benefit from one of these tanks, for certain.

So let us move on down the road and begin reviewing the Barker Tote-Along and Thetford SmartTote 2.......

Our First RV, "Ward"
Our First RV, "Ward"
Our 2nd RV, "Joey"
Our 2nd RV, "Joey"

THETFORD SmartTote 2 Portable Waste Holding Tank Features

Thetford's Models: Standard and LX

Thetford makes two different models of holding tanks. One quick note, they upgraded and fine tuned their older Smart Tote and now only promote the SmartTote2 on their website, just in case they look different than a model you might have seen in the past.

The Standard Model has four different sizes to choose from (12, 18, 27 and 35 gallon). The LX Model has three sizes to choose from (18, 27 and 35 gallon) and extra, premium features.


Please note: the Standard model, 12 gallon size, does not have any of the features below. It is still portable, with 2 wheels.

  • Standard & LX Models: excellent venting which speeds tank emptying time

  • Standard & LX Models: rugged, rubber wheels

  • Standard & LX Models: auto-stop system (level/gauge valve) to prevent over-filling

  • Standard Models ONLY: 2 rear wheels, built in hand grip for transporting

  • Standard Models ONLY: retractable hose with cap, and retainer strap to hold hose
  • Standard Models ONLY: you can buy optional features such as a tow strap or 90 degree sewer elbow
  • LX Models ONLY: 4 wheels to maneuver easier

  • LX Models ONLY: tow handle will hook on trailer hitch for easy towing

  • LX Models ONLY: storage compartment protects pre-attached hose and stores sewer fittings
  • LX Models ONLY: large port opening for easy rinsing
  • LX Models ONLY: 90 degree elbow

If You Own A Portable Waste Tank, Which Brand Is It?

BARKER Tote-Along Portable Waste Holding Tank Features

Barker makes two different models of Tote-Along holding tanks. The Original 2 Wheel Model has four different sizes to choose from (10, 15, 22 and 30 gallon). The 4 Wheel Model has four sizes to choose from (16, 25, 32 and 42 gallon) and extra, premium features.

In addition, Barker makes two other portable waste tank items not shown here: a small 5 gallon tote (which does not come with features below) and a 15 gallon low clearance waste tank, suitable for tent campers of low trailers.


  • 2 WHEEL & 4 WHEEL MODELS: Blow-molded polyethylene construction and quality zinc plated steel brackets throughout

  • 2 WHEEL & 4 WHEEL MODELS: Extra large and/or heavy-duty wheels

  • 2 WHEEL & 4 WHEEL MODELS: Standard bayonet fittings included

  • 2 WHEEL & 4 WHEEL MODELS: Come completely assembled

  • 2 WHEEL MODEL ONLY: Tow bracket and 5' sewer hose included with 15, 22, and 30 gallon only, - not 5 or 10 gallon

  • 4 WHEEL MODEL ONLY: Tow handle attached instead of tow bracket

  • 4 WHEEL MODEL ONLY: Full Tank Indicator
  • 4 WHEEL MODEL ONLY: Equipped with 3" valve and 5' sewer hose so you needn't lift to dump contents

Barker Tote-Along 2 WHEEL MODELS In 10, 15, 22 and 30 Gallon Sizes

Barker 10893 Tote Tank - 10 Gallon Capacity

$84.65  $71.14
Barker 11747 Tote Tank - 15 Gallon Capacity

$136.00  $109.90
Barker (11104) Tote Tank - 22 Gallon Capacity

$163.65  $135.73
Barker (31342) Tote Tank - 30 Gallon Capacity

$210.25  $172.60

Final Tips on Buying A Portable Septic Tank For RVs

Thetford and Barker are both excellent brands of portable holding tanks. There are fans of both brands, for various reasons. Just keep in mind that, whichever make and model you choose, you are going to be dealing with a heavy item, full of waste. We were amazed at how heavy the 10 gallon, 2 wheel model could get...and it can be tricky to maneuver.

We recommend practicing with gray water first, to be safe and to avoid waste leakage. In addition, if you have concerns about over-filling, be sure to purchase a tank larger than your RV tank...then you will never have to worry! Finally, many campers are familiar with the full weight of a 5 gallon water tank (the hard sided, plastic water tanks with spouts). If there are two strong rvers, a smaller holding tank (10 gallon size) might be able to be lifted into a vehicle - which makes boondocking much more possible (though more frequent trips to a dump location). So once again, be sure to get the right size to fit your particular needs.

Happy Camping!

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Updated: 04/02/2016, frugalrvers
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