Portable Camping Toilets

It’s an unpleasant subject and rarely discussed but we are frequently asked about public ablutions in Australia and the pros and cons of portable toilets.

Growing up as kids in rural Australia we understood that an empty parked car by the side of the road with doors left open was not stolen or abandoned - but most likely the result of a nature call. Like all country kids we travelled lots of kilometres in cars without air conditioners on hot vinyl seats and if anyone in the car needed to ‘go’ - then a hasty retreat to the back of the biggest eucalypt was the order of the day.

Roadside Ablutions

Not much has changed except that nowadays many regions are peppered with roadside toilets for the use of the wandering tourist. These toilets are mostly chemical or biological in nature and the idea of squatting under one of these tin roofed contraptions on a hot summer’s day is pretty undesirable. We still choose the wide open space, the gentle breeze and a big old eucalypt.

For some foreign visitors the prospect of ‘doing your business’ by the side of the road is unthinkable. The concept of towns and toilets 400km apart and greater is inconceivable.

Camping presents much the same issues. There are a plethora of public camping sites around this country where the council or the Department of Conservation and Environment has provided solar showers, long drop toilets, shade shelters, bins and an assortment of amenities so convenient that a camping trip begins to look like any Saturday afternoon barbeque in a suburban back yard.

However for those who venture into quieter and more secluded places, where it’s possible no one has ever set up camp before (unlikely) - lavatory science reverts to our natural and Pre-Neolithic origins, ie: you have to dig a hole or you have to cart a portable toilet around.

So what sort of hole and what sort of portable toilet?

The Art of Digging a Hole

The following words may seem ridiculous and if you were born into a practical family, in a country of long roads and wide open spaces, then please feel free to move on to the next section.

A small garden spade is your best friend in the bush. Don’t scrimp and buy the cheapest you can find. Buy one with a sturdy handle with a thick heavy metal blade. Wrap it in a plastic bag and keep it at the back of your 4WD or whatever. If the handle can pass through the centre of a standard toilet roll then you have an instant bush toilet roll holder

Anything you are likely to leave behind in the bush is good wholesome soil nutrient – toilet paper included. Don’t feel bad or non-green or environmentally unfriendly. Sanitary products and nappies are a different story and should find their way to the next bin.

Dig a decent hole and cover it up properly. Dingoes and other native animals will scratch away at a shallow attempt. There is nothing worse than seeing a metre long ‘streamer’ of toilet paper swept up on the wind only to catch and lodge in the next spiky bush.

We have a geologists hammer for rocky ground but in areas of solid granite where it is impossible to make a scar in the ground - a polite stone monument will suffice.

The Art of Digging a Long Drop Hole

With time a long drop toilet becomes more unpleasant than the roadside chemical jobs, but in regions where you plan to have an extended stay they become a necessity.

10 people living for a week on a remote beach make a mountain of waste and dealing with it in some other way than hiding behind a tree is called for - out of pure decency and hygiene.

Long drops are essentially just that - a narrow pit with a seat or other means to prevent the worshipper from falling in. On departure the hole is filled and nature takes its invariable course underground. Post hole diggers with extendable handles are ideal for this sort of temporary convenience.

portable camp toilets
Porta Potties

Let us begin this section by saying – of all the means of lavation - we find porta potties, temporary travelling toilets and chemical depositories absolutely disgusting devices and we will choose a big tree over one of these any day.

However, we have on occasion had to purchase just such a device on entering certain National Parks or Private Property and have had to visually prove its existence to a diligent ranger.

But for those who absolutely have to have one of these or find themselves in a position of no choice - here is a rundown on what’s commonly available.

The Basic Taxi

When it comes to camping toilets there are no magic solutions and nothing that resembles the sort of push button convenience you get at home. With all portable latrines there comes a time when the contents have to be dealt with.

In their most basic form, portable toilets are a simple stand with some form of seating arrangement and a plastic bag that acts as a receptacle to catch waste.The contents of the bag are then disposed of in what ever time honoured manner is deemed acceptable to the user.

Plastic Bag kits have become quite sophisticated (for plastic bags) and may include the liner or bag that attaches to the unit, a secondary bag for more secure sealing when it’s time to remover the liner, and a pair of sanitised rubber gloves. Nice, hey?

The stand/seat arrangement may be a simple folding chair, an elaborate knock-down contraption or just a plain old bucket.

The theory for all remains the same – you ‘do it’ in a bag and then you deal with the bag.

The advantage with this type of toilet is the ability of some models to pack away into a compact size for storage. The other thing these bag holder toilets have on their side is cost and it’s unlikely to break your heart if you decide to leave your latest camping purchase deposited in the next roadside bin.

portable camp toilet
The Luxury Limousine

This is the one everyone dreams about. Made of shiny white plastic with a proper fold down seat and all the nasties are hidden from view.

Various companies (some are big household names) manufacture this type of camping toilet. They are essentially a regular bowl style receptacle mounted to a second container below. The design allows for the top seating section (the bowl) to seal against the bottom collection pot and minimize odour leakage. It also means that while you are driving along with contents sloshing around in the boot of your Mercedes R-Class SUV Tourer – there shouldn’t be any leakage.

Combine one of these with a pop-up privacy tent and this is about as close as it gets to regular domestic ablutions.

Except that you still have deal with what is in the bottom pot. However the upside is that modern science has provided chemicals and sanitisers to breakdown the contents, leaving the toilet attendant (you) with a nicer concoction to empty. Common practise is to empty the contents down your own toilet once you have returned home. Many councils and caravan parks also offer free waste disposal points for chemical and portable toilets.

To Finish

Going to the latrine is a private event and for people accustomed to the convenience of having an ablution block on every corner the mysterious ritual of ‘going in the bush’ is a bit of daunting.

If you are going to tour this vast country and travel the back roads and byways then you are going to encounter a lack of public facilities (a blessing in our opinion). We suggest you carry a portable toilet only if you absolutely have to.

Teach your kids early on how to ‘go’ in the bush. It makes for much more relaxed and natural adults.

Get back to nature, get the breeze on your bum and smile at the wonderful landscape before you - your personal lavatory of the moment.

Oh, and avoid the ants nests.

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