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When You Gotta Go...
© 2006

Outdoor living requires special attention to sanitation details. Nothing spoils a camping trip worse than a raging case of diarrhea or worse. Sanitation includes a number of items I'll cover here, but the big one is disposal of human waste. Major diseases such as e-coli poisoning can occur if done incorrectly or not done at all.

Most women I know have a special aversion to "dropping trou" and doing their business in the weeds. "There are snakes out there," according to Mrs. Turtle... and she's right, there are snakes out there. Alligators, bears, and thousands of insects are also there to entertain you while you take care of business.

Camping out of a travel trailer or pop-up trailer is not a problem since they usually have a bathroom built in. It's the tent campers who face the great outdoors "face to face" with no privacy other than that provided by Mother Nature.

The "Luggable Loo" is one example of an inexpensive yet practical solution to part of this problem.

Selling for only $16.99 on the internet, it includes enzymes that break down the waste for easy and safe disposal.

The limitations on this system are obvious... if you tip it over you have a real mess on your hands (and feet... and the tent).

However, the ease of setting up and using this product may compensate for its shortcomings. You can line it with plastic bags for easier waste removal.

This item is simply a plastic toilet seat that fits over the top of most of the 5-gallon plastic buckets used by contractors and painters everywhere. You can buy the buckets (new) in stores like Lowe's and Home Depot, or you can salvage one from a dumpster and clean it out for your own use. Sold by the same site above, it sells for only $10.95. This is the one that RT has picked for his own family's use. Light weight and easy to use, the plastic buckets can either be cleaned for re-use, lined with plastic bags, or destroyed (safely) after the camping trip is over. (RT prefers destroying the bucket by placing a small amount of charcoal lighter inside the bucket and setting it on fire. The bad bugs are killed by the heat and the bucket melts away into just a small puddle of plastic.

Either of these two outdoor toilets shown above may be used with or without enzymes. Another choice to kill the smell is to simply add a splash of Recreational Vehicle Holding Tank Cleaner (the blue stuff) in either dissolvable packets or one gallon jugs. The smell is cut down and it appears to deter bugs if the solution is strong enough. Porta-potties use the same stuff.

Available at Lowes Building Supplies, the Encore 5 Gallon Bucket, item # 43770, Model 6002034, sells for only $5.22. Store prices may vary slightly but the cost will be in this general area.

Look around your neighborhood. You will always find one of these being thrown out somewhere. Having a lid is a plus when it comes time to dump the mess inside.


Getting rid of human waste safely is not difficult but you must take care not to create more problems for the environment.


1. Don't pour human waste onto the ground. Someone will walk through it and track it into your camp making life miserable for everyone. It will smell and attract insects and predatory animals.

2. Don't pour it down storm drains. Storm drains lead directly to rivers or streams, and eventually into some other large body of water. Storm water is not purified by filtration systems, it is just a drain to carry water away from streets and homes and transport it to another location. If that location is your local water pond, you will be introducing e-coli bacteria into your drinking water.

3. Don't just abandon the bucket in the woods. Plastic buckets will eventually break down and the human waste will leak out onto the ground, contaminating it for future campers.

4. Don't try to burn it. Unless you have a large metal container that can raise the temperature of the entire mix to the boiling point (where bacteria are killed), you won't be able to burn off all the bacteria. Wet paper doesn't burn and the liquids will put out the fire if poured directly on the fire. Seems obvious doesn't it? But, I have seen campers try it in the woods.


1. Bury it. This is the easiest method in the woods, but it takes a little judgement. By burying the waste you are using the ground as a filtration and bio-degrading system to make the waste harmless. However, if the soil is very sandy - or full of clay, it can cause problems.

Sandy soil will allow the liquids to flow long distances and eventually seep into ground water, streams or rivers, or (like in Florida) into underground aquifers. This is not a good thing. Make sure your burial site is at least 250 feet from any water source (well, stream, etc.), burying it deep enough so passing animals won't be able to smell it or dig it up. I recommend that the top level of the waste be at least 18 inches below ground level.

Clay soil will hold the waste in one place and drastically slow down infiltration into the soil. Find an area with better soil to bury your waste.

2. Pour it into a working toilet or RV dumping station. Most RV campgrounds have dumping stations for the holding tanks on the campers using the parks. Most charge a dumping fee but it usually isn't very much money. Carefully pour the bucket's contents into the hole and clean up any spills that happen as you pour. The use of the RV cleaners and sanitizers will help break down solids and paper, making it easier to pour. If you use a toilet, don't fill it up with the entire mess at one time. Pour in several smaller loads, flushing as you go.

3. Take it home with you to dump into your own toilet. A sealable lid is almost mandatory for this to prevent it spilling while driving home. You don't want your vehicle or trailer to smell like an outhouse when you get home. You for sure don't want to smell it for the entire drive home.

4. Wrap the entire bucket with Christmas wrapping paper and put a sign on it "Don't Steal This Present." Leave in outside and it will be gone overnight. (Just kidding.)

Leave the camp site BETTER than when you found it.


Most people don't enjoy going to the bathroom in public. In many areas of the country there just aren't enough trees to provide a private place to set up the potty. So, you may have to bring some sort of shelter with you, or improvise using whatever is at hand.

Since "when you gotta' go, you gotta' go," speed in setting the privacy area is a factor to consider. There are several commercial privacy tents available, and I'll only show you one model for reference, not necessarily recommendation:

From the Tent Store, this simple yet functional tent is 3' x 3' x 72" high and is made of rip-stop waterproof polyethylene. It has a full-length nylon zipper entrance and clear PVC roof. It comes complete with stakes and guy ropes. It is a reasonable $25.58 (plus shipping).

There are a LOT of other models available, some costing more than $150.00. This one works. Only the squirrels will know what happens inside this privacy shelter. It can double as a shower area also.

I always include a cheap $10.00 polyethylene tarp in my car bug out kit. Tied to trees or tall poles, it can be set up as a privacy shelter very quickly. Overlapping the sides takes the place of a zippered door. If you want, you can purchase PVC plumbing pipes and make your own privacy framework that can be taken apart and put together quickly. However, it can be like putting together a jigsaw puzzle in the dark. It doesn't have to be big, just private.


You CANNOT have too much toilet paper. Wherever you have an extra inch, fill it with another roll of toilet paper. Keep a package of zip-lock bags handy. When you take a roll out for use, put it inside a zip-lock bag. This will keep it dry when it rains - or if you use it inside the same shelter area where you shower. There is nothing quite so useless as a wet roll of toilet paper. Kids must be taught to return the rolls into the bag when they are through using the paper.


1. In public campgrounds, many inconsiderate campers let their pets (notably dogs) roam freely. These dogs can be annoying and will seek out new and unusual odors. Your potty area qualifies for dog purposes. To keep these free-roaming dogs (and any other predatory animal that hunts by smell) away from your potty area, sprinkle full-strength Ammonia around the outside perimeter of the area. One whiff of this stuff and they will leave it alone. Black pepper also works, as does pepper spray (used for self defense). You may have to re-apply it from time to time.

2. In "white-out" snow conditions, or during dark nights, run a rope from the tent to the potty. People can follow the rope to and from the tent without getting lost. In the arctic, several tragic deaths have occurred by people freezing to death within yards of a shelter. In both dark conditions and "white-out" conditions, people walk in circles and never reach their destination. Kids in these conditions should be accompanied by an adult.

3. Tie up your own dogs so the rope (or chain in my case) cannot get entangled in any of the support structures for either your tent or privacy shelter. A "friendly" dog's chain can knock over guy lines and small tents if you're not careful. It's bad enough when somebody else's dog knocks over the potty - it's really bad when it's your own dog.

4. Potty areas are not Aroma Therapy. Set up your potty area so the prevalent wind will blow the odors AWAY from your tent. It will not be an enjoyable night's sleep if you don't do this.