Friday, February 22, 2019

The Consistent and Loud Case Against Bathrooms in Tiny Campers

I find it ironic that after four months of blogging about the Green Goddess, the article that has been read the most is "Toilet or No Toilet for a Camper?", which has gained about twice as many hits as my highest read travel article, "A Camping Trip as Sweet as Honey." It appears that regarding the topic of biological functions, we tiny campers are always curious about variations on the "poo in the loo" theme.

Therefore, when an article gains my attention, I sometimes bookmark it for later study. After having set aside two articles on the topic of what "accomodation" to use when natures calls, it's time to report. One article is from a 28-year-old woman at Interstellar Orchard, who hit the road in 2012 at the age of twenty-eight and hasn't looked back. She writes the pragmatic article "Teardrop Trailer Bathroom and Kitchen Solutions." Another article was posted by a composite website called Curbed, entitled "RV toilets: Why I'll never have a bathroom in my camper." Curbed is a large site that states that its editorial purpose is "to advocate for the places where people live, by celebrating, chronicling, and explaining everything you need to know about homes, neighborhoods, and cities." The Interstellar Orchard writer, Becky Schade, traveled for years with her Casita trailer but in September of this year has picked up her new home, a 2018 Hiker Highway Deluxe, by Hiker Trailer. Curbed staff writer Megan Barber is based in Denver and camps with her family in an RV 4x4 Sportsmobile Sprinter.

As general background information, here in Iowa, the only place to camp is at designated campgrounds unless you own or know someone who owns private land. There are very few opportunities for boondocking because the land is either privately own or state owned and regulated. Therefore, camping includes access to a flush or pit toilet. Most issues for my wife and me center around middle-of-the-night excursions because of a full bladder. For nighttime urination, for me when alone I just use an empty juice or milk jug (one advantage of male plumbing). When camping with my wife, we use an outdoor utilitent and a portable toilet. During the day we use the campground's facilities. I have camped at sites with pit toilets, but my wife prefers a flush toilet (and so do I, actually). We both agree that cold weather has a positive effect on pit toilets by lessening smell and insects.

In both articles mentioned above, the authors say that they head out into the woods with a shovel to do their business. Becky Schade owns a Luggable Loo but hasn't used it yet. She boondocks and takes her foldable shovel out into the woods to take care of business. Becky does mention that there are federal and state guidelines for this practice, so I'll list her article again so that you can reference them (Bathroom Solutions). Megan Barber camps the American West with her family, and she also advocates the folding shovel approach, saying the following: "I think it’s a life skill to know how to pee and poop in the woods, and I’ve passed that down to my kids. When we’re in the backcountry, we grab a shovel and head to gorgeous vistas and serene forests." Barber mentions the "middle ground" of a portable toilet instead of the shovel or built-in toilet options. In my opinion, boondocking with miles of unpopulated space does open the possibility of grab-the-shovel option. However, with maintained campgrounds, campers need to use the facilities or bring their own portable solution, at the very least for solid wastes.

Portable toilets are discussed in my original article, "Toilet or No Toilet," and Becky Schade references the website Camp Addict, which reviews RV products, and to its toilet page. Megan Barber provides a couple of links, one which contains information and photos of a portable, compostable toilet for a van.

So what have I come up with that my wife and I are comfortable with? Two solutions or choices for portable toilets. Our first choice during the summer is a Camco 2.6 gallon portable flushing toilet. It is much like what is used at home, and we usually clean it at the campground dumping station. I do that job and bring some rubber gloves and a small bottle of general purpose disinfectant for the last rinse of the holding tank. We have yet to use the Camco for anything other than liquid waste.

This fall, though, we moved into weather that was freezing, so we felt that we needed another option besides a water-flushing portable toilet. After research, we decided that the Cleanwaste Go Anywhere portable toilet was best for us. The waste bag kits are a little pricey, but the system is easy to use (not as easy as the commode at home, but, hey). I am experimenting now with bio-compostable plastic bags and kitty litter/pet wood chips to find a cheaper nighttime pee solution. A solidifying/decaying enzyme catalyst is available to add in using your own bag system.

I have used the Cleanwaste toilet once this fall. It was a windy snowstorm outside, so rather than walking to the campground's chemical toilet, I set up the Cleanwaste in my tiny camper and used it. No problems, but I did notice the the enclosed air space in a tiny camper has its limitations for venting odors. As Megan Barber writes, "But a camper without black water won’t have as many opportunities to stink. And unlike your plumbing at home, you can’t just flush and forget." Becky Schade says, "As for the bucket, it lives in the back of Bertha [her pickup], which has an adequately tall topper to be able to sit on the thing inside. The back windows are tinted so people can’t see in, and this way I won’t get smells inside my living space."

Here are Megan Barber's positive points for not having a camper with a bathroom.
  • Save a lot of space to use for gear and living
  • Cut down on maintenance and hassle
  • Fewer opportunities for things to go wrong
  • A chance to explore
Personally, I think Barber's last point is a bit of a stretch. Although I enjoy exploring, I can find plenty of reasons for heading out into the great outdoors that don't include a shovel and a roll of toilet paper.

I think we must all find our personal level of comfort and ease regarding camping and our physical needs. It will differ from person to person because of life experience, personality, and how spry we are. Importantly, though, I also believe that camping takes us outside our habitual lifestyle. What is novel or even uncomfortable initially can become the "camping norm" after a few times out of the house and into the world of campgrounds and tiny campers. Whatever style of camping we choose and howsoever we arrive at meeting our comfort needs, there is a piece of equipment on the market to make the process easier, whether it be a shovel, a portable toilet, or a full-on bathroom in your camper.

From my research, I believe most tiny trailer campers are seeking that "middle ground" that avoids blackwater tanks and winterizing procedures yet is an accomodation more refined that a squat in the woods. That is the course my wife and I took just by asking ourselves what we needed and wanted. Portable toilets require a bit more initial set-up when camping, but the knowledge that no sewage is connected to the camper is a source of lasting satisfaction.

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  1. I do love the simplicity of maintaining our Rustic Trail Teardrop. We do the “middle ground” thing as well.

  2. I agree, Jim. I think the traditional teardrops in which the inside is almost completely bed limits mobility inside. The gain, of course, is low weight and low profile.

  3. Always find your articles informative and entertaining....which on subjects like this, can be a challenge for many. Yet, without the knowledge of how to deal with basic human biological needs, camping would never get past the backyard. As a former backpacker, yes the oranfe garden trowel method was the standard, but I recall burning our toilet paper. Is that still a common practice? or are folks packing out their tissue? Thanks again for sharing this most important subject.

  4. I haven't done much backpacking, although I would have liked to, so I'm not current on what are accepted practices. I fully support the leave no trace principles for our wilderness, though.

  5. I keep a chamber pot for overnight use...and store it out under trailer when done. It can then be disposed of in many ways...down a nearby toilet,if just #1 it can be diluted 10-1 with water and used as sterile fertilizer around trees, or you can doubleline the pot with biodegradable bags and add woodpellets or kitty litter and dispose of in trash.

  6. The old thunder pot never loses its utility, does it? That's really what the Luggable Loo and other products are. It sounds like with the biodegradable bags, you've combined old and new schools for a workable solution to personal toilet use in a tiny trailer. Thanks for sharing and reminding us that solutions don't have to be high tech.

  7. Great article, Tom. What we object to most is the amount of toilet paper left in the woods. We kayak-camp a lot, and the impact is awful. We learned a German solution many years ago: take a paper lunch bag and that darling shovel, dig a hole and do your business. Use all the TP you need. Then put some dry dirt in the bag, scoop your poo and paper right on top, add more dirt. Wala! Now you have a biodegradable bag that is safe for pit toilets, outhouses. We place these bags in a "double-ended" dry bag, and hang in a tree await from camp. Every other day, we paddle to the nearest outhouse and open the bottom of the bag. Very simple.

    1. This is a great solution! I hate finding others' TP etc in the woods, and I also personally dislike the idea of plastic bags and chemicals. So thanks! This will be my new disposal method.

  8. Thanks for explaining the process for dealing with the "doo." Popular camping areas, whether established or along a definable route such as a waterway, need conscientious attention to leaving no footprint (or anything else) behind. Sounds like your system works well.

  9. Enjoy your writing. For years we used a PaHa Que Tee Pee toilet and shower tent with our teardrop. After 15 yrs wife insisted on a small rv with wet bath. Still haave kept the teardrop and Paha Que. Use as my "bugout" camper.

  10. Many folks at this time are saying "Less is more." However, one day my wife is going to want something a bit bigger--and probably me, too! We saw a Rockwood Geo Pro 13-footer the other day that had it all and was pulled by a Jeep.

  11. I'm another less-is-more kind of person. I don't want to sleep with a toilet, and with my little teardrop, there is no room for a toilet anyway. I had a folding thing which was expensive. It was heavy and had no lid--I sold it. It had a cheap carry bag, and the zipper broke on its first use.

    I got a Luggable Loo. It's easy and convenient with double zip bags. But the lid falls against a person. It takes up more space than I like, but at least the supplies can be inside for travel. I've sent for the seat/lid for the Camco version and hope it will fit on my existing bucket. The lid will open up all the way and won't fall against a person. I'm not sure why these companies affix huge stickers to the bucket to advertise what they are. I hope to get the label off.

    I dislike the shower tents because they are obviously an outhouse, especially if the campground has showers. I rarely use the tent, but one time in winter, the restroom was closed for the loop I was in, so it was a long ways to another. I don't leave my dog for very long, so it can be useful. Usually, there are some bushes to hide the Loo in.

    I don't know if I'll ever get a bigger trailer, because it needs to go in the garage. I don't like the look of a three-legged type of toilet, so I'll stick with the Loo until something better comes along. Many of the toilets are so low to the ground, they seem to be made for children. Every now and then, I check to see if Amazon has something new.

    1. I think from your description that you've established a great system for yourself. Enjoy!