How do I go to the bathroom while camping?
This is one of the most common camping related questions I hear.
Of course, staying at a campground with pit toilets or flush toilets makes it easy. As does camping in an RV or pop up camper.
But what about primitive camping at a camp area without a toilet? Where do you go when you’re backpacking? How about while you’re on a hike?
These are all valid questions, but there’s no need to worry. Both pooping and peeing while camping is a lot easier than it might sound.
You have a number of options, ranging from buying a portable camping toilet to building a DIY camp toilet to simply digging a hole or packing your waste out.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to go to the bathroom in the woods.
Outdoor Bathroom Etiquette
There’s a specific set of etiquette you must follow when you go to the bathroom in the woods.
These same rules apply to both peeing and pooping, whether you’re in a primitive campground, on a hike, or in the remote backcountry.
First and foremost are following the leave no trace principles. These seven principles outline how to behave in the outdoors to minimize your human impact on the environment.
As they relate to peeing and pooping in the woods, the leave no trace principles urge you to:
- Deposit solid human waste in holes at least 6 inches deep.
- Dig these holes at least 200 feet from water, campgrounds, and trails.
- Pack out toilet paper (as well as feminine hygiene products).
The folks behind Leave No Trace state that improper disposal of human waste in the wilderness is one of the most common problems park rangers and land managers face.
Even experienced hikers, backpackers, and outdoors people all too often fail to properly dispose of their human waste in the woods.
In reality, it’s all too easy to leave a pile of waste in the wilderness rather than to take the extra effort to bury your poop. And a lot of people don’t even know that it’s proper etiquette to bury or pack out their waste.
So, keep these leave no trace outdoor bathroom etiquette rules in mind while I show you the best way how to pee and poop in the woods.
Follow All Local Regulations
In addition to following the leave no trace principles, it’s equally important to follow all local backcountry regulations.
Whether you’re hiking, backpacking, or camping, make sure to look up these local regulations as they relate to going to the bathroom in the woods.
These rules are generally easy to find by visiting the website of the organization that runs the hiking trail or camping area you’re headed to, such as a state park or national park website.
Typically, most local areas allow you to bury your solid waste while camping, backpacking, and hiking. However, some highly-sensitive areas have more specific rules.
For example, a lot of high-elevation areas, as well as those with extremely sensitive plant or animal life, require you to pack out all waste. The same is true in some areas that get a very high amount of human traffic.
I discuss both methods (digging a hole and packing it out) of pooping in the woods below.
How to Pee in the Backcountry
Peeing in the woods is typically much easier than pooping in woods.
At its most basic, it doesn’t require camping toilets. Both men and women can simply pee wherever they want with few repercussions.
Of course, you should always make sure that you’re peeing somewhere private, especially if you’re in an established campground or on a busy hiking trail.
The specific spot where you pee outdoors normally doesn’t matter very much. However, you should avoid peeing directly on plant and especially animal life when at all possible.
You should also avoid peeing in or near small bodies of water. It’s recommended (and enforced by some local organizations) that you pee at least 200 feet from any water source.
The exception is when it comes to a large body of water, like a very large lake or a very large river.
If boating or rafting on a very large water source is part of your camping plan, and there’s no easy way to get to land, it’s actually best to pee directly into the water.
Finally, you must always be careful about where you pee while camping or hiking in high elevation areas that are home to mountain goats. These potentially dangerous animals are often salt deficient and are attracted to the salt in human urine.
Because of the sensitive vegetation, it’s important to pee onto a solid rock if possible. This isn’t because your pee damages the plant life, instead, it’s because the mountain goats will dig up the vegetation to get to your urine.
If you don’t want to just pee in the backcountry, another option is to use camping toilets, or even to pee into a bottle or similar container.
The bottle trick (easier for men, but possible for women too) is another convenient way to go to the bathroom without leaving your tent at night.
How to Poop in the Backcountry
Most people naturally feel perfectly comfortable peeing in the woods.
The problem is when it comes to pooping outdoors. Many people have no idea how to go poop in the woods, or at least how to do so comfortably.
Fortunately, there are several different methods you can use, depending on where you’re camping and what you’re most comfortable with.
Here are the top three ways how to poop while camping.
1. Dig a Hole
The number one way to poop outdoors while camping is to dig a hole and then bury the waste.
Loose, loamy soil not only makes it easier to dig a hole, but this soil is generally rich in nutrients to help your waste decompose more quickly.
In addition to loose, loamy, rich soil, you should dig your poop hole in the sun if possible to further quicken the natural process of decomposition.
All you have to do to poop in a hole outdoors is to dig a hole that’s at least six inches deep and four inches wide and then cover it when you’re finished. A small shovel or trowel makes the job easier, but it can also be done with the heel of your boot or even a stick.
If the ground where you’re at is too rocky to dig a hole, your second best bet is to move a rock, do your business there, and then replace the rock.
Like always, make sure that your outdoor bathroom site is at least 200 feet away from any trails and campsites as well as nearby water sources.
And make sure to watch out for poison ivy if you decide to do your business in the underbrush for privacy (especially if you use leaves to wipe)!
2. Pack It Out
Most campers will do just fine with the Ã¢â‚¬Å“dig a holeÃ¢â‚¬ method of how to poop in the woods.
Those that are hiking or backpacking in either high-use, highly-sensitive, or high-elevation areas (such as many national parks) might be required to pack out their waste.
As its name implies, the “pack it out” method simply consists of packing out all solid human waste, typically with a wag bag.
Short for “Waste Alleviation and Gelling,” these bags are like doggy poop bags – but on steroids!
Not only is the bag itself biodegradable, but each bag contains a powder that helps gel waste and kickstart the decomposition process as well as control the odor.
Each wag bag also comes with a second puncture-resistant bag to store the first in to prevent spills and leakage as well as a small amount of toilet paper and a hand-sanitizing moist towelette for the ultimate in camp hygiene.
When you’re back from your camping or backpacking trip, you can safely and legally throw the bag away into any garbage can.
Another “pack it out” option is to build your own DIY wag bags. This is the cheaper, although slightly less efficient, method.
My DIY wag bags consist of wide-mouthed dog bags filled with a little cat litter (to neutralize the odor) and heavy-duty freezer-weight Ziploc bags to put these into.
The actual way how to go poop in the woods with this method is to do your business directly onto the ground, grab the waste with the first bag, flip the bag so the waste is enclosed, and then toss the first bag into the second high-strength bag.
Make sure that your toilet paper and sanitizing towelette also go into the second bag along with the first bag and your waste.
Though this camping toilet method certainly isn’t difficult, it does take a little practice before it becomes second nature.
3. Use a Camping Toilet
Perhaps the most luxurious way to go to the bathroom outdoors is with a portable camping toilet.
These are commonplace for many van campers and RV campers without onboard toilets, but they can also be used while tent camping.
Though some people do use a portable hiking toilet, these devices are most commonly used when you’ll be camping in just one place that doesn’t have its own facilities.
The best camping toilets are not only comfortable and easy to use, but they are also durable, clean, and easy to maintain. Of course, they also neutralize and trap all odors.
Jump down to my reviews of the best portable camping toilets below.
Outdoor Bathroom Tips for Women
It’s a little bit more difficult for women to go pee outdoors than it is for men.
That said, there are a number of techniques you can use to make it much easier (and prevent splashing).
Perhaps the most common method how to pee while camping as a women is to squat. The technique can be mastered to minimize splashing.
REI suggests taking a wide squatting stance while simultaneously ensuring that your pants and boot laces are well out of the way.
They go on to suggest that you find an area with soft dirt or pine needles to help absorb the urine to further prevent splashes. You should pee on a downwards slope so that any potential stream runs away from you.
According to Trailspace, you can kick this technique up a notch by finding a log or rock to sit on while you pee. Or, better yet, two rocks or logs in close proximity so that you can sit on one and rest your legs up on the other.
Kathleen Meyer, the author of How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art, states that some outdoor-savvy ladies have mastered a standing-up peeing technique where you pull the crotch of a pair of loose-fitting shorts to the side and let fly.
A women’ pee funnel, also known as a Female Urination Device (FUD), makes peeing outdoors while camping even easier.
Even if you don’t use it every time you need to pee when camping or hiking, a FUD makes taking care of business much easier if you’re in a somewhat crowded area. You can even use it to pee into a bottle at night if you don’t want to get out of your tent!
Using a FUD does take a little practice, however, so it’s smart to practice using yours at home (try it out in the shower!) before you hit the trail.
Finally, many women like to take a bandana along with them to use as a “pee rag.” They typically tie it to the outside of their backpack to dry off after giving it a rinse with a little water.
For information on camping on your period, check out our complete guide to camping hygiene.
Outdoor Bathroom Tips for Children
It doesn’t get much better than family camping with your kids.
Yet things get difficult when there’s no bathroom or toilet facilities involved. You just can’t count on younger children to properly use the dig-a-hole or pack-out method by themselves.
Of course, camping toilets are an easy solution. Even a DIY bucket toilet is a good solution. However, there are still options for those that don’t plan to haul around a camping toilet with them.
Your best bet is to build a sort of ditch latrine system. Dig a shallow ditch that’s about 6 inches deep by 6 inches wide by 6 feet long.
This shallow ditch will serve as your outdoor bathroom for the entire trip.
Your children can do their business starting at one end. Once they’re done, throw a few scoops of dirt to completely cover that spot.
The next time they need to go they’ll simply go right next to the covered spot. They can continue doing this down the rest of the ditch for the duration of your family camping trip.
This method of pooping in the woods is also an effective option for large groups of friends camping together who don’t want to dig separate holes each time nature calls.
What to Do in Extreme Weather Conditions
Extreme weather conditions make going to the bathroom outdoors more difficult.
If you don’t have a portable camping toilet, then it’s even more important that you’re equipped with the know-how to go to the bathroom safely and efficiently.
Here are the best tips for peeing and pooping outdoors in the rain, snow, and intense sun.
If you’re in for a lot of rain during your camping trip, I recommend setting up a separate bathroom area with its own shelter.
Hang a separate tarp to create a rain shelter the appropriate distance from your camp. This can then be your go-to place to go to the bathroom in the woods.
There’s nothing like being shielded from the rain when nature calls!
Another smart time to hang a bathroom shelter is when you’re camping in the snow.
Your best bet is to use a camp toilet or a wag bag. Another option, in extreme circumstances, is to dig a snow cat hole and then bury your waste.
Going pee or poop outdoors in cold weather is no fun but sometimes it has to be done!
3. Intense Sun
If you choose to bury your waste while camping or hiking in the desert, or another area with intense heat, the rules are a little different.
According to Leave No Trace, it’s actually better to dig a shallower hole in this type of environment. Say, three inches or so.
The higher that your waste is in the soil, the easier and more quickly it will decompose.
Best Portable Toilets for Camping
There’s no denying that the most comfortable way how to go to the bathroom outdoors is with a portable camping toilet.
Not only are the best portable toilets for camping comfortable, but they’re easy to use, easy to maintain, and easy to transport. They also neutralize odor to prevent things from getting stinky.
Of course, a portable toilet isn’t right for all camping situations. It’s nearly impossible to bring one along while backpacking or at certain remote camping sites.
In fact, the best use of a portable toilet is for car camping. Bring yours along when you’re driving right into the campsite.
Portable camping toilets are also great for van, pop up, trailer, RV camping. If your camper vehicle doesn’t have a built-in bathroom, then a portable toilet is a great option for you.
The goal for most folks interested in a portable toilet for camping is to buy a device that as closely resembles the real thing as possible.
I’ve done most of the legwork for you by testing the top portable camping toilets to narrow down the options to the best of the very best.
Here are our choices for the top 5 portable camping toilets.
1. Camco 41541 Portable Travel Toilet
A budget-friendly option from a reputable brand, the Camco 41541 features a 5.3-gallon holding tank and a 2.5-gallon flush tank.
A sliding valve seals the tank after you’re done with your business to prevent leakage and seal in odors. Latches firmly secure the tank to the toilet seat.
This portable toilet is undoubtedly one of the best camping toilets thanks to its lightweight design, comfortable 13-inch toilet seat, and overall durability.
What We Like:
- Minimal flush required
- Absolutely no odor
- Large holding tank
- Built-in handles for portability
- Comfortable seat
What We Don’t Like:
- Can “burp,” or release gas buildup, when flushed
- Too small for larger adults
2. Cleanwaste Go Anywhere Portable Toilet
From the folks that brought you the original wag bags, comes with Go Anywhere Portable Toilet.
Cleanwaste is notable for their top-quality “leave no trace” outdoor bathroom products, and this portable toilet for camping is no exception.
It’s extremely lightweight and folds down for easy transportation. Unlike other camp toilets on this list, it still utilizes a bag system rather than a holding tank.
What We Like:
- Extremely lightweight
- Folds down to briefcase size for transportation
- Legs boost you up off the ground (so you don’t have to squat)
- Comfortable toilet seat
- Comes with easy-to-use Cleanwaste bag kit
What We Don’t Like:
- Not as comfortable as other models
- Cleanwaste bags get expensive (use your own)
3. Camco 41545 Travel Toilet
Another top-notch camping toilet from this top brand, the Camco 41545 model is notable for its 5.3-gallon holding tank and 3.75-gallon flush tank.
It boasts sealing valves to lock in odors and prevent leakage as well as a pump-action flush to better clean the bowl. The bowl is coated with a slick material to help remove all materials with each flush.
This portable camping toilet features extremely well-made craftsmanship. It’s durable to stand up to all the bumps and bruises of your next family camping trip.
What We Like:
- Large holding tank
- Sealing valves to block odor
- Leakage protection measures
- Slick coating in bowl to improve cleanliness
- Comfortable seat and elevated design
What We Don’t Like:
- Emptying can be difficult
- Too small for larger adults
4. Palm Springs Outdoor Toilet
Those looking for one of the best camping toilets for tents, RVs, and boats should strongly consider the Palm Springs Outdoor Toilet.
A completely self-contained portable toilet, it features a full-size lid and elevated design for the utmost in comfort.
This model also features a flush similar to that of a residential toilet thanks to a 3-gallon flush tank and a 5-gallon holding tank. The entire toilet is molded from one solid piece to prevent leakage.
What We Like:
- One-piece construction
- Made of high-density polyethylene
- Large holding tank
- Flushes like a residential toilet
- Comfortable, full-size seat
What We Don’t Like:
- Rinses poorly (requires a lot of water to flush)
- Pump takes considerable downward force
5. Stansport Portable Camp Toilet
For those looking for a simple, straightforward camping toilet from one of the top names in outdoor recreation, there’s the Stansport Portable Camp Toilet.
It features a full-size seat, a comfortable elevated design, a thick construction for durability, and built-in handles for easy portability.
The toilet utilizes a replaceable bag-system rather than a flush-system for a simpler approach, although this can lead to minor odor issues.
What We Like:
- Full-size seat
- Supports up to 350 pounds
- Built-in carry handles
- Almost the same height as a residential toilet
- Extremely durable
What We Don’t Like:
- Small waste tank
- Requires a waste bag system (no holding tank)
Build Your Own DIY Bucket Toilet for Camping
Maybe you don’t want to dish out all that money for a portable camping toilet, but you still don’t want to pop a squat in the woods.
Then how about making a DIY bucket toilet?
Here’s my favorite do-it-yourself method to make a portable camping toilet out of (two) 5-gallon buckets.
1. You Need Two Buckets
Never make just one bucket toilet, unless it’s truly just for emergencies.
Peeing and pooping in the same bucket toilet creates a mess. The two mix together to form an extremely gross slurry that’s prone to splatter and splash around.
Designating one bucket toilet for pee and one for poop is not only cleaner, but it also makes your human waste disposal much easier.
2. Making Your Bucket Toilet
Here’s all that you need to do to make a DIY bucket toilet:
Get two 5-gallon buckets
Line each bucket with a sturdy plastic bag
Place a bucket toilet seat on top of each
Keep a little kitty litter nearby
3. Using Your Toilet
Select the right toilet and do your business.
If you’re peeing, all you have to do after you’re done is close the lid to that bucket toilet.
Pooping, on the other hand, requires you to sprinkle a half scoop or so of kitty litter on top of the waste to neutralize the odor. Place any toilet paper into this bucket. Close the lid.
Useful Camping Toilet Accessories
Whether you opt for a portable camping toilet or decide just to do your business outdoors, there are several camping toilet accessories that will improve the outdoor bathroom experience.
1. Female Urination Device
These so-called “pee funnels” allow women to pee while standing up. Not only do they make it easier, but they give you the option to go on busy trails with less than the desired amount of privacy.
Backpacker has an excellent guide on how to use a female urination device.
Though there are a lot of great reusable options, the Outdoor Life Adventures FUD is difficult to one-up.
2. Biodegradable Toilet Paper
Normal toilet paper will eventually break down, but biodegradable toilet paper is designed to do so much more efficiently.
If you plan to use a camp toilet or the dig-a-hole method, it’s a good idea to invest in biodegradable toilet paper for camping. It’s just as comfortable and is environmentally friendly to boot.
You’ll be hard-pressed to beat Coleman Biodegradable Camp Toilet Paper.
3. Hand Sanitizer
Chances are you won’t have access to a bathroom sink when using a camp toilet or going to the bathroom outdoors.
That’s why hand sanitizer is a staple on my family camping checklist. Not only is it very easy to use, but it also has excellent germ-killing properties.
The Purell Hand Sanitizer Travel Size is a lightweight and portable option for camping.
4. Shovel or Trowel
Those planning to use the dig-a-hole outdoor bathroom method should bring a shovel or trowel.
Sure, you can dig your cat hole with a stick or your boot heel, but it’s much easier with an actual digging device.
The Tentlab The Deuce of Spades Backcountry Potty Trowel is a crazy lightweight and durable option.
5. Solid Waste Bags (Wag Bags)
Solid waste bags are a camp toilet must-have for those with the intention of using the pack-out method.
Wag bags, in particular, are puncture-resistant and odor-neutralizing. The two-bag system prevents any accidents from happening.
Why not go with the original with Cleanwaste Wag Bags Toilet Kit? In addition to the solid waste bags for camping, you also get a small amount of biodegradable toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
6. Privacy Shelter
Set up a designated camp toilet for a multiple-day trip with a privacy shelter.
Similar in design to a taller-than-normal tent, these shelters pop up to provide privacy and protection from the elements. They are large enough to house most camp toilets and can double as a shelter for taking camp showers.
The Green Elephant Utilitent is a versatile, durable, and spacious choice.
What About Pet Waste?
You’d never leave your dog’s poop on the side of the sidewalk or the middle of the street.
So why would you leave it on the side of the trail or in the campground?
If you’re camping or backpacking with your dog, it’s extremely important to follow trail etiquette for dogs.
Not only should you follow all local regulations (including selecting a dog-friendly hiking trail and abiding by leash laws), but you must also pick up and pack out all pet waste.
This is a scenario I still see all too often:
A well-meaning dog owner picks up their pet’s poop in a doggy bag. The catch is they don’t want to carry the dog bag for the rest of their hike. So, they leave it by the trail intending to pick it back up on their way out.
Chances are high that the dog owner will forget where they placed the bag or forget about it all together on their way out.
If you’re hiking with your dog, you not only have to pick up their waste, but you need to pack it out just as you would your own waste.
I do this with a similar system as my human pack-out method. I pick the dog poop up with a normal doggy bag and then stick it inside a heavy-duty Ziploc freezer bag to minimize any odor and prevent spills.
Another option is to bury your dog’s poop. Do this the same way you bury your own waste by burying it in a hole that’s at least 6 inches deep and at least 200 feet away from any trails or water sources.
What’s your go-to option for pooping and peeing in the woods when you’re at a bathroom without a designated toilet?
Do you keep things classy with a portable camping toilet? Do you have an RV or camper with a built-in bathroom? Or do you do it the old-school way with the pack-out or dig-a-hole method?
Like always, please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions you might have about portable camping toilets or going to the bathroom while camping!
Saturday 20th of July 2019
Hi Jake, I’m going to be tent camping in August in national parks with small children. I’m thinking of purchasing a portable toilet for use in the tent. Is this safe in parks like yellowstone with established bear populations? We are staying in established camp grounds, nothing backwoods. If so is there a toilet or style you recommend to keep smells at a minimum? Thanks!
Monday 19th of August 2019
You can't keep the portable toilet in your tent in Yellowstone (or anywhere in bear country). Luckily, all the campgrounds in Yellowstone will have toilets (pit toilets at primitive sites and flush toilets are established sites). Sorry about the late response - let us know how the trip goes!
Friday 4th of January 2019
This is a very informative guide to pooping when outdoors. I just can't believe how the innovations these past years regarding portable comfort room has become too portable, they're insanely small.
Well, as a long time camper, I have mastered the traditional shovel and dig-up method. I always find doing my thing in the open sky luxurious. But for my beginner friends, they must know this if they want nature calls to be pleasant as it should be. Can't wait to share it. Thanks
Friday 8th of February 2019
Thanks Nigel! I agree that the old shovel and dig-up method is most efficient - but it can be intimidating to beginners for sure!