OUTDOORS

Camping Bathroom: Answering Nature’s Call, While Out In Nature

portable toilet unit homa made
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

Walks, hikes, climbs, exploration, sports, adventuring, these are only a few of the things that we do in the great outdoors and we look forward to them for quite some time. More often that not these are the only things that we can think of and we end up planning and trying to micromanage every single aspect in advance.

No matter how small, no matter how unimportant it might seem, if there is even the smallest chance of ruining your fun then it needs to be addressed, including going to the camping bathroom.

There is one thing that is always overlooked, something that we don’t think about until we are faced with it directly because although we stop working and start enjoying ourselves, our bodies don’t. No matter how carried away we get, how much fun we might be having, when nature calls we have to answer.

Don’t kick yourself for it though, it’s not you but the way in which you were brought up, keeping it more or less a taboo or associating it with disgust and not talking about it. So it comes naturally that going to the camping bathroom is not exactly in the top 5 things that you think about before heading out into the great outdoors.

However it is still a thing and you do have to prepare for it, otherwise, you will end up in an awkwardly precarious situation, looking at the leaves in your immediate vicinity and trying to guess which one is the safest to use.

Don’t worry too much though because there are solutions to this problem. Some are more rustic, some are low-tech, some are more modern and some are a bit weird, however, they are all proven to work and they might come in handy next time you venture out in nature.

Things you should always keep in mind

Our body position is very important in a lot of its processes and defecation is one of them. While we are used to sitting on our toilets and often times find it to be extremely comfortable, it is actually the wrong position.

Squatting is actually the correct one because it causes the colon to relax and empty its contents without any actual effort on your side.

One of the body’s immediate responses to this position is to slightly lean the torso forward in order to maintain balance. This can cause some discomfort and pain later on, particularly in your lower back so make sure that you don’t spread your knees outwards too much and that you lean your knees forward for balance instead of your torso.

A small tip here is to take your pants and underwear off completely and put them over your shoulder, making sure that you don’t hit them by accident and that they stay clean because you did not put them on the ground.

If you plan on going camping you should know that every single natural area in the world has some form of wildlife living in it. From the smallest to the biggest, from insects to mammals, they are there and they are often times attracted to the scent of human waste.

This is because animals use their waste in order to mark their territory and keep other animals away. That being said, a new scent which is not all that familiar to them will cause them to start investigating the area.

wolf marking territory

Not to mention that there are insects like flies, beetles and so on, that are attracted to bodily waste and can sense it from great distances. So make sure that, for the good of the campsite, you do your business as far away from the campsite as possible.

Another thing that you should know is that, for a multitude of reasons, you should bury your waste in a small hole. It’s not really that big of a fuss, just dig a small hole with your hands, 1 inch maybe 2 inches deep and then push the dirt back in when you are done.

This is for a multitude of reasons, first of all it is more or less courtesy towards other campers, hikers and adventurers that might wander in that area later and second it mitigates most of the scent as well as hiding it from plain sight.

Make sure to make it look like a small mound though, this will help people see it and avoid stepping on it by accident. It is advisable to have a small tool on hand to make digging the hole simpler and faster.

small mound

Some of the biggest problems arise when you are done and then have to wipe. It should go without saying that you should sneak some toilet paper with you and then bury it in the small hole once you are done, however that is not always a possibility.

Every now and again you will have to use the resources that mother nature gives you in order to complete this task. Don’t worry though because not all leaves are dangerous, just a few which are easily identified.

As long as it has no jagged teeth-like edges, no small hairs and no thorns on the branches you are good to go. A small warning though, don’t ruffle them in your hands because their sap can cause the area to chafe.

One last thing that you should remember is that relieving yourself in nature and the real estate market have 1 thing in common, location is everything. Make sure it is in a more secluded area, far away from any hiking trail and easily accessible pathway.

 secluded area

This is to minimize the risk of other people stumbling upon your waste by accident. Also, make sure that you are downwind from your campsite. The locations where you should never relieve yourself are:

  • Sources of water, like rivers and streams. It is actually considered a form of pollution and you should make an effort to keep these water sources clean.
  • Hiking trails and pathways. It’s more out of courtesy and respect for other outdoor enthusiasts.
  • Clearings and meadows. First of all, animals tend to hang out and rest around these clearings and other hikers and campers tend to stop in them for a drink, a picnic or some rest.

Ways you can go about doing your business

Even though this is not something that is frequently discussed, it does not mean that it should take you by surprise. A little preparation can go a long way and when it comes to getting your business done in nature there are options at your disposal.

The rustic way

There is nothing complicated or glamorous about it. All you need is a small shovel, or a stick in order to dig a small hole in which you will then do your business and bury it after you are done.

small hole

While many people consider this way to be a more backwater / uncivilized one it still gets the job done with minimal effort or resources on your part.

When it comes to comfort, though, you will not have much at your disposal. Yes, you will fell a draft or 2, you will have to stand crouched and keep your balance which is never a comfortable position to be in.

All in all you feel exposed, vulnerable and slow to react if something was to jump out of the bush next to you.

outdoor bathroom

Although it does have its pitfalls and weaknesses it is still the fundamental one, many survivalists, outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers often preparing for it.

PROS:

  • You don’t have to carry anything other than toilet paper and maybe a small shovel in order to facilitate it
  • No mess or smells to deal with afterward
  • It is regarded as being the natural way in which to eliminate waste

CONS:

  • It’s drafty
  • You are in a crouching positions which makes it hard to react if you are jumped by a woodland creature or another person
  • You have to actively balance yourself out and find a comfortable position for your back

Carry-ons

These are small potty-like containers that you use in order to do your business, however they are designed to accommodate the specifications and needs of adults rather than children.

There are several models and designs on the market, each with its own selling points and features, however it all boils down to pretty much the same thing.

Carry-ons toilet

When you feel that nature is calling you, simply excuse yourself and go into the woods where you put down the “bathroom” and answer the call. Once you are done, simply dig a small hole and bury your waste or put it in a small bag which you will dump at the nearest trash can or waste disposal basket, depending on the location that you are in.

Sounds simple so far, but things tend to not stay this way.

The units themselves are supposed to support the weight of an average adult, meaning that they are rather solid and can add a bit of weight to your gear because you will be carrying it around with you. Sadly though, you cannot really use it for anything else, no matter how tempted you are to use it as a small chair around  the campfire.

Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that, depending on the model that you choose, you will have to do one of two things later on.

toilet

The cheapest and simplest models don’t come with anything else to help make things easier for you. That being said, you will have to empty the potty into a hole and go wash the inside of it, preferably with some soap or detergent.

The more advanced ones often come with small plastic bags on the inside in which you actually dump your waste. All you need to do afterward is take the bag out, tie its end and bury it or take it to the nearest trash can. This is a more elegant and comfortable solution, mainly because you don’t have to come into contact and deal with the aftermath.

All in all, the carry-on potty is a much more desirable and comfortable solution that the rustic way. Because of their overall size and weight these potties can be tied to a backpacked and carried around while on a long hike or up a mountain.

carry-on potty

That being said, it comes as no surprise that this is the preferred solution of hikers and mountain climbers.

PROS:

  • A lot more comfortable than squatting over a hole
  • Portable
  • You can support your weight on it and no longer have to balance yourself constantly

CONS:

  • Depending on the model that you buy, you might end up having to wash it up afterward
  • Another thing to carry around

Modified chairs

There is simply no better way of putting it because that is what they are and if it sounds like a last minute solution don’t worry, it is. Or at least it started out like one.

These modified chairs came into existence as a result of getting too used to the comfort of the toilet at home and the position in which they sat to settle for anything less. But what do these modifications consist of?

carry-on potty

Well at the very basis of it all is the fact that the chair in question does not have a seat on which to sit but rather just the frame with a large opening in the middle.

That was just the baseline though when it comes to modified chairs and believe it or not, there is an entire market segment focused on them.

While the simplest and at the same time cheapest are basically a chair frame with a hole in the seat, there are some that have plastic bags underneath, small reservoirs, a toilet seat, even going as far as to add insulating materials in order to retain body heat.

The reason behind their popularity and the innovation that went into these chairs is simple, it’s more or less the closest and most affordable solution to a toilet that we have for our trips in the wilderness. Not to mention the fact that they are quite easy to modify and improve.

Outdoor toilet chair

By far the most popular configuration out there is a simple steel foldable frame with a nylon sitting skirt and a big hole in the middle, a plastic bag underneath and a little toilet paper roll on the side. The reason behind its popularity being the fact that it is highly portable and easy to maintain.

Depending on what kind of chair you opt to go for you might end up having to deal with some inconvenience however it is rarely related to the actual waste, most of the problems being about the portability of the unit and its versatility.

That being said, these chairs are not for every environment and climate out there. By far the worst time to use such a chair is during the cold seasons when temperatures drop below freezing.

The effects, again, largely depend on the type of chair and the materials that it is made out of, however most of them tend to lose a lot of tensile strength due to the cold, becoming very uncomfortable and stiff in the process.

PROS:

  • Nice seating position
  • Comfortable and relaxing
  • Portable

CONS:

  • Not great in all environments and situations
  • Can feel a bit light and flimsy at times

Portable toilet unit

This is by far one of the more civilized and sanitary solutions out there for campers. This is, believe it or not, a proper toilet in which you can do your business while at the same time keeping every aspect of it nice and clean. Of course, the flushing is out of the question however it is still far better than anything else out there.

What we have here is something that is more or less a small toilet bowl sitting on top of a tank which contains a mixture of chemicals which act as a neutralizing agent against the bacteria and chemicals in the actual waste. Thus it is rendered odorless.

Portable toilet unit

Although it might sound good at first glance, there are a couple of drawbacks that we need to take into account. First of all, this is one whole unit which has quite a bit of weight to it, meaning that actual portability, like tying it to your backpack and going off on the trail, is out of the question.

Not to mention the fact that the tank in which the toilet sits on is half full, meaning that even if you would strap it to your back, the liquid sloshing around would throw your balance off.

So this solution is for a more sedentary campsite, like when spending a few days in the woods with your family, or going to an actual camping ground, not for venturing out with.

When it comes to handling the waste that has been accumulated, things take a turn for the better. Because of the solution in which it is collected, the waste does not smell, or at least not as bad. Plus the tank is detachable so you can pop the toilet right off the tank, go empty it, give it a nice rinse with a hose, refill it with the chemical mixture and pop the toilet back on.

Portable toilet unit

It is strictly prohibited for the tank to be emptied in the wilderness though because of the contents of the tank itself, the chemicals being considered a form of pollution. Make sure that the area you are camping in is within decent proximity to a waste and sewage collection tank in order to empty out the toilet.

It more or less goes without saying that campers and caravan enthusiasts are the circles in which this unit is more popular, due to the more sedentary and comfortable experience that they are after.

PROS:

  • Comfortable
  • Proper waste management
  • Easy to empty and clean

CONS:

  • They can only be emptied in special locations which narrows your campsite possibilities
  • They are cumbersome and heavy
  • Very low portability

The bathroom campers

Don’t panic, this does not involve you setting up your tent in a public bathroom, but rather bringing your own bathroom on wheels.

caravan bathroom

That’s right, there are small camper caravans that are designed with only one purpose in mind, to serve as a bathroom. These are a lot more spacious and a lot more comfortable than the small bathroom in an RV or a camper caravan because, they have their own septic tank, water tank, boiler and in some cases even things like an air drier and power outlets to boot.

While these bathroom campers are some very recent appearances on the market, they are starting to gain some traction amongst campers. This is because they are normally very small to begin with, meaning that they can be hooked up to a caravan or even an RV and driven on a public road without requiring the drive to have a special license.

Not to mention the fact that this is a great way of having the comfort and privacy of an actual bathroom without having to make any compromises or use the public bathrooms on the camping lots.

The drawbacks here are a bit more significant, though. Overall it adds more weight to the car or RV, so there will be slightly more fuel burnt in order to get to the camping ground.

trailer bathroom

Another problem you might run into is that some lots count it as being a second trailer or caravan, so you might end up having to pay a slightly bigger fee in order to camp there.

One last thing that should be mentioned here is the fact that the bathroom camper will require quite a bit of cleaning after coming home from the campsite. You will have to empty all the tanks, clean up the inside of the shower, sink, and toilet, as well as any residue or moisture that is left over from the trip.

Not to mention the fact that the boiler will need regular checking.

The bathroom campers

All in all the drawbacks are insignificant when comparing them to having a proper private bathroom while you are out camping.

PROS:

  • Your own private bathroom
  • A lot more comfortable than any other alternative
  • It gives you access to a shower, sink and other such facilities

CONS:

  • It requires a lot of cleaning and maintenance after the trip
  • It’s an extra trailer that you are adding to your car or RV

Honorable mention: Public facilities

Let’s face it, public bathrooms are not exactly on our list of things to look forward to, in fact, most people actually dread having to go to them and it is easy to understand why.

The upkeep is not the best, maintenance is lacking, and the simple fact that it is public means we will find various degrees of vandalism, trash, dirt, as well as the specific public bathroom smell that makes you think plumbing might be an issue.

public bathroom

Public showers are just as bad if not worse because of the increased chances catching something from them, like a fungus or a minor infection. While there are a lot of bad things that we can say about the public facilities, as well as a lot of ways in which we can mock them, the truth is that they are a solid alternative in case everything goes wrong.

While they are more frequently found in camping sites, there are a few rare instances where you might find some out in the middle of more popular hiking trails. Although we must keep in mind that they are not frequently encountered in the wild.

A good tip for using a public bathroom is to cover the seat with toilet paper before you sit on it. Don’t climb on it and squat because you run the risk of breaking the toilet, it has happened before.

paper over toilet seat

Another good tip, but this time for the public showers is to always wear flip-flops in order to keep your feet protected as well as having some grip, usually the public shower floor is quite slippery.

In conclusion

If properly prepared, we can overcome anything in the wild, even when it comes down to answering nature’s call. While the solutions that we have on hand are not some of the most glamorous ones, they get the job done and allow us to go back to enjoying our time without having to stress about them.

Seeing as we have a lot of choices available to us, it might be worth taking a few minutes and considering which we will use the next time we venture out as well as which one is the right one for us. So when the time comes and you have to deal with your bodily functions, you can do so in a more comfortable and relaxed way.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dennis Owens
Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.

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