Whether you’re camping out for extended periods, living off-grid or find yourself in a survival situation, it’s important to have a suitable latrine to ensure proper hygiene, prevent sickness and maintain order.
Doing all this is easier when there’s an established facility like a port-a-potty or outhouse with some form of plumbing. If such facilities aren’t available, you’ll have to dig out your own latrine in the wild. A proper latrine is an absolute necessity, as it reduces the possibility of spreading any illnesses.
In this article, we teach you how to answer nature’s call in a safe, hygienic and nature-friendly way.
The ideal layout for any camp is one where the areas for different activities are adequately spaced from one another. Places for cooking, sleeping, eating, and of course waste disposal should always be separate and spaced apart enough to avoid interfering with one another.
If you made camp near a river or stream, assign specific areas to each activity and don’t switch them up at any time. Waste disposal and latrines must be set up away from the camp to reduce fly infestations and minimize the risk of contaminating your water supply, causing a long list of illnesses.
Where to dig latrines
Important things to remember about digging a latrine are:
- Dig them well away from camp and your water supply (at least 100 feet) to prevent seepage from getting to and polluting either
- Situate them downwind from camp and downstream from your water source.
- Be sure to dig your latrine at most 200 feet away from camp, to provide some privacy but not be too far away to be inconvenient. If the latrine is too far, some campers/preppers may be tempted to “go” at spots closer to camp.
Digging the latrine
Now that you’re a good distance away from camp and your water source, find a spot with soft topsoil. Using a hand trowel, entrenching tool or shovel, dig a hole at least 6 inches wide, and 6-8 inches deep. Save the chunk of soil you dug up for the hole, as you’ll use this to cover up your leavings after you’ve done your business.
Once you’re done and cleaned up, dump some of the soil on the hole and stir it with a stick to begin decomposition. The bacteria in the topsoil will break down the waste, and will make it less attractive to flies and wild animals.
Add a bit of water to speed up the decomposition. Never use any disinfectant on your latrine, thinking that this will eliminate any odor. Using these will only kill the bacteria in the soil that’s supposed to break down the waste, causing it to stink and defeat the purpose of the disinfectant.
A note on urine
Solid human waste or feces are a little more complicated to deal with than urine. When it comes to urine, you can pretty much “go” anywhere, as long as it’s at a spot that’s at least 200 feet away from a water source, and well away from where you or your companions sleep, prep food, cook or eat.
Pee on a spot made of mineral soil or rock, to avoid damaging any plants. The salt in urine may attract animals that will worsen the damage to the plants, as they try to get to the salt.
If you can spare the time and materials, you can construct a “toilet” to place over the hole instead of squatting on it. All you’ll need is a sharp knife, a permanent marker, duct tape, cord or glue, a sturdy plastic or wood milk bottle crate, an actual toilet seat, 4 old chair legs of equal length and a plastic bucket.
To make them into toilet, follow these steps:
Step 1. Cut out the dividers, if any, on the inside of the crate.
Step 2. Turn over the crate.
Step 3. Trace a hole on the outside of the bottom of the crate with the marker, using the toilet seat’s hole as your “template”.
Step 4. Cut out the hole with a sharp knife.
Step 5. Fit the toilet seat over the hole; widen the hole as necessary with the knife.
Step 6. To each inside corner of the overturned crate, place and tape, tie or glue an old chair leg.
Step 7. Cut out the bottom of the plastic bucket, and glue it flush to the hole on the crate.
As an option, you can cover the walls of the crate with strips of canvas or tarp.
Cleaning yourself up
Ideally you should have a roll of toilet paper with you, but in cases where it’s unavailable you can improvise. Natural, easily foraged items such as leaves, smooth sticks, clean stones, corn cobs (if you have them) or even snow can make good substitutes for toilet paper. The advantage of these substitutes for wiping is that you can simply bury them in the latrine as well.
Leaving the latrine
Apart from covering up waste every time the latrine is used, remember to completely cover up the hole itself, especially when you and your party have decided to leave the area, or if the hole has filled up and another latrine must be made. The entire latrine must be covered with soil and leaves to keep away insects and animals, and let the bacteria in the soil do the work of decomposing the waste. Don’t add anything else like disinfectant, and never pour gasoline and light it up.
Digging and using a latrine, and disposing of your waste properly is not only an environmental or hygienic concern, it’s also about your safety. Carelessly discarded waste increases the risk of spreading water-borne illnesses, and flies could spread disease-causing bacteria from your waste onto your food.
Bears are likewise a concern when waste is carelessly tossed about or not buried, as they are somewhat attracted and curious about the smell of human urine and feces. You should “go” a safe distance away from camp, and bury your waste to avoid attracting any bears or other wildlife. Remember to bury any biodegradable waste, and “spread” your own human scent by walking around the camp’s perimeter to deter any curious wildlife.
Besides burying your waste, pack out anything that isn’t biodegradable. That especially includes “disposable” baby diapers. As for non-biodegradable toilet paper, pack that out too; NEVER burn that or any other waste.