Toilet Talk: Navigating Wilderness Sanitation with ConfidencePublished on 06/20/2023 · 7 min readCamping & Hiking expert Hannah K. overviews the options for going to the bathroom in the outdoors and the latest in toilet tech.
Photo by Amy Reed
Imagine this: you’re in a meadow in Switzerland with a beautiful mountain range in the back, a doggo running ahead, and an idyllic mountain town to enjoy. Or maybe you are camping in your favorite national park that is local to your state. Either way, you are hiking along a beautiful trail when suddenly nature calls and you feel the urgent need to go. Are you prepared for what is about to come, or will you be chaotically rushing about to deal with the imminent future?
Poo, poop, poopers, human waste, deposits, human excrement—whatever you call it, there is a proper way to deal with it and every wilderness area will have different regulations on what to do. Just like our garbage, we want to make sure we don’t leave any trace of us behind. Make sure to read up before you head out.
Waste management is a major question I get about camping and hiking—what to do when you have to go? There are a few different kinds of campsites you may stay at and a few different techniques you can use when nature calls. Removing waste from backcountry sites can take some resources and research to understand. So, sit on down and let’s learn about toilet tech together.
PSA: Note that human waste can be buried and decomposes safely into the ground in most regions. Dog waste, however, often has toxic chemicals that can harm the natural vegetation. Be sure to carry out all dog waste with you in your wag bags. A great tool I recently found is something called a Poop Tube—a small carrying device I clip to my pack that holds my dog’s waste and blocks any odor.
Always check local regulations in your area to learn more about waste management on trails.
Primitive campsites are what they sound like—no amenities. Some may have a fire pit or a table, but typically it’s an open space for you to enjoy. In these situations, there is a proper technique to use when going to the bathroom and removing human waste. First off, you want to make sure you are at least 200 feet from camp and the nearby water source—no need to negatively affect the water quality, the ecosystem, and the wildlife in the region. When you find your spot, use a trowel or a rock or stick to dig a hole six inches deep. Another fun term for this is a cat hole or sometimes pig hole. There is your primitive toilet!
Make sure to carry out your used toilet paper (leave no trace and pick up your garbage) after you go! A plastic bag is easy and lightweight to do this with. Some people prefer to cover the bag in black duct tape so no one can see the contents of the bag. It is great to keep reading up on the leave-no-trace ethics before you head out.
If you can, position yourself so you can hold onto a tree for stability. If you happen to find two next to each other, dig your six-inch hole underneath them and have a seat on your log toilet—it will seem very luxurious.
Note that in some places, likely in higher elevation, parks will require you to carry out human waste. Blue bags are a great and simple solution to this problem. Always double bag though—just in case.
For urine, you still want to stay 200 feet from camp and water sources. Digging a cat hole isn’t always necessary but is still a good idea.
Some campsites with minimal amenities may have pit toilets, also known as vault toilets—essentially, it’s the same idea as a port-a-potty. I prefer the six-inch-deep hole but if that doesn’t work for you, make sure you find a campground with a pit toilet. I suggest bringing your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer—often, these will run out or the pit toilet will not have any at all.
Some will be very well-maintained and others won’t be. For instance, I once walked into a pit toilet in Utah that had about two billion flies in it and instantly ran out. Another one I used had a sink, mirror, and soap!
Biodegradable soap is a fantastic product that’s great for washing your hands after you use the facility or for washing dishes!
Finally, the most luxurious option is flush toilets. Campgrounds with flush toilets will normally have running water, nicer bathroom facilities, and maybe even a shower stall or two. I stayed at a campground with a laundry site once! If you are planning on camping soon, figure out what will make you feel most comfortable and find a campground that will accommodate that.
Typically, primitive campgrounds will be a lot cheaper than other campgrounds or even free, whereas a campground with amenities will cost you a bit more. I highly recommend a wilder-poop and wilder-pee experience any chance you get—you may be surprised.
If you are planning on camping and want to bring your own wilderness toilet and bathroom products, here are some great options.
First off, if you are interested in making your own toilet, any bucket and bag will do the trick. Here are some options to purchase that have great technology and make “going” outside comfortable.
If you are looking for something light and cheap, then the Stansport Portable Toilet and the Stansport Toilet Bags are your best bet. It is a foldable and light “chair” with bags that are obviously not reusable. The bags come in a pack of 12. The chair sets up easily and is best used in partnership with a Stansport Privacy Shelter that pops up easily as well. An even cheaper option is the Stansport Tex Sport Toilet that will run you about fifteen dollars. Both are sturdy options and fold flat when not in use. These have plastic toilet seats, mimicking your inside toilet at home and making the experience more comfortable.
There are a few options if you want something a bit more luxurious. These options are best for camping, RVing, boating—but not backpacking! The Coleman Large Flush Toilet is a self-contained system with a 4.8-gallon freshwater tank for repeated flushing and a 5.3-gallon black water storage. It is ergonomically designed with comfort in mind and has a snap-down lid for easy and secure transporting. It comes with a storage compartment for cleaning and odor-management products. It will run you ninety-five dollars, but it’s well worth it if you are living out of an RV or van and want your own bathroom.
Another fancy option for RVing, camping, or van-lifers who want a comfortable and complete bathroom is the Reliance Portable Toilet 3320. It is space-efficient and has a standard height of 17 inches—dare I say it’s almost throne-like. No need to bend down too low here! It is designed to mimic an indoor toilet with flush-n-go technology and a t-slot flush nozzle to drain waste. A great added feature is the holding tank indicator, which will allow you to check the waste level so you know when you need to empty the tank.
The Camco 5.3-gallon Portable Toilet is another convenient option for when nature calls. Great for campers, boaters, RVers, and more, this $100 toilet will upgrade your “going” experience. It is designed with durable plastic to keep it lightweight for when you need to transport it. It comes with a slide valve to prevent leaks and help lock in odors. The detachable holding tank makes dumping easier and the side latch will secure the toilet when in use.
Some other things you should always bring to a campsite are: your own toilet paper, a trowel or shovel (or if you just want to use a rock to dig that’s also valid), some hand sanitizer, baby wipes, or biodegradable soap to clean up with.
Whether you are glamping, RVing, boating, camping, on the trail, or backpacking, these techniques and products may help you feel more comfortable on the go. Although I highly recommend a good wilder-poop at least once in your life, it isn’t for everyone. However, you may be surprised how empowering and peaceful going in the great outdoors can be—so, give it a go. Always double check to make sure you know if you can bury your solids or if you need to pack them out first.
Going in the great outdoors can be a very cathartic experience. Making it comfortable for you is important so you can best enjoy your time outside and ensure you tackle that terrain! Whether that be grabbing a trowel, a privacy pop-up tent, or a delux on-the-go toilet, there are options for everyone. Have any other poopers-related questions? Reach out to a Camping & Hiking expert here on Curated.