Saturday, September 26, 2020

A portable toilet is the best hack for a pandemic camping trip

Earlier this summer, Brenna and I loaded up our station wagon and headed west to Nelson Dewey State Park.

It was our first time really venturing far outside of the Milwaukee area since this pandemic began back in March. We both had been craving an escape into nature and a chance to unplug for a few days. Located on the western edge of Wisconsin and overlooking the Mississippi River into Iowa, Nelson Dewey State Park is one of our favorite go-to state parks. Vibrant prairies sprawl across tall rocky bluffs, explosive sunsets that transition into a starry sky, and a quiet campground we feel at home in.

For months we've gladly been washing our hands constantly, wearing masks, keeping a physical distance from people, and avoiding crowds- all of the recommended guidelines from leading healthcare professionals around the world. The challenge that presented itself was how we could continue practicing these precautions while camping. Some adaptations were easy to am like avoiding crowded state parks and packing face masks to don when passing a hiker on a trail.

But what about the bathroom situation? The last place you want to be during this COVID-19 outbreak is in an enclosed place with other people. Period. Beyond common sense, there's more than enough evidence published now that suggests that's the main way this virus spreads. Stepping foot inside a campground bathroom closely shared by other people we don't know? Nope. The solution? We bought a portable toilet. I never would have guessed I'd spend hours online researching portable toilets but that's 2020 for you. We decided to forego the common, rather basic setup that essentially clips a toilet seat lid onto an open 5-gallon bucket for you to then shit into a disposable bag. Instead, I chatted with one of my best friends with a boat who suggested a springing for a portable flush toilet. They're a bit bulkier, heavier, require more maintenance, and noticeably more expensive, but seemed to be the best bet for us with all the on-the-road camping and traveling we try to do each year.

But like almost every piece of outdoor recreation equipment in-demand right now during the pandemic (kayaks, bicycles, etc), the portable flush toilet was literally impossible to find on the shelves and online. Good luck. Prior to our departure, I found myself desperately checking every few days to see if any of the big-box camping gear or RV stores got one in as a shipment. 72 hours before we hit the road, a Fleet Farm an hour north had one from Coleman in stock, so I quickly grabbed the keys to a new Toyota Supra I was testing for work that week and dashed to claim it.

I'll admit I was probably overly excited about buying a portable toilet. I'll also admit I'm hilariously enjoying writing a full post on my blog about it.

Anywho, we had our setup now complete: A portable flush toilet and a privacy shelter. The toilet was Reliance's Flush-N-Go 1020T, acquired for about $80 and its accompanying shelter was made by Stansport we bought for about $50 at Camping World. When we arrived at Nelson Dewey State Park, I detached its 2.5-gallon freshwater tank from the portable toilet and filled it up. While the privacy shelter was a bit cumbersome to pitch, we essentially assembled it like a small tent with a set of poles that clipped to its rigid outer shell. Stakes kept it planted in the ground. I then clipped the freshwater tank to the 5-gallon wastewater holding tank and placed the whole unit inside the shelter, where there was no shortage of knee and standing room, even for me at 6'2" tall. There was plenty of shielding from the elements, ventilation, daylight, and even storage areas on the shelter walls for toilet paper, towels, or flashlights. You could probably use this shelter for outdoor showering too.

Actually using the Flush-N-Go 1020T was easy. After doing your business, shut the lid, press the pump a few times to fill the top toilet bowl with fresh water, reach down to pull out a sliding "door" that drops the waste into the holding tank below, give the freshwater pump a few more squeezes, then shut the sliding "door." Done. With 2.5-gallons in the top freshwater tank at the start of our trip and a 5-gallon wastewater holding tank below, that was more than enough to accommodate two people for a three-day camping weekend. At the end of our weekend, we just detached the lower wastewater holding tank, walked over to the campground's dump station, and emptied it. This is by far the most disgusting part but in my opinion worth not having to bump into people inside a crowded campground bathroom in the middle of a pandemic. If needed, you can actually empty the wastewater holding tank in a pit toilet or at-home flush toilet too.

Like any piece of camping gear, the portable toilet needs to be cleaned thoroughly inside and out with plenty of sanitization. I'd recommend a strong toilet bowl cleaner and hot water.

For a little over $100, we had gathered what we needed for a reliable, comfortable, and private portable bathroom setup that could be put together right at our campsite or when we're on the road. 

Cheers,
Robby