A few weeks ago, my friend Alan and I climbed a roadside alpine route on Colorado’s Mount Evans. Halfway up the route, Alan started mentioning looking forward to his upcoming bowel movement when we finished the route. Two pitches later, followed by a traverse to the parking lot near Evans’ summit and a ride from a couple nice ladies, we were back at our car and Alan was briskly walking to the pit toilets at Summit Lake for his highly anticipated contribution.
When he met me back at the car, he announced that what had just transpired was fairly spectacular; in fact, it was quite possibly one of the largest he’d ever produced.
I replied, “You know not all of that stuff down in the pit toilet was yours, right?”
Pit toilets are great, if by “great” you mean, “way better than having to dig a hole to poop in.” They offer privacy, toilet paper, a place to sit while you do your business, and sometimes even a hand sanitizer dispenser next to the door, most often in places where building restrooms with running water would be ridiculous or impossible.
When you approach a pit toilet somewhere on public lands, it’s always a roll of the dice (I was going to say “crapshoot” but I thought that’d be too much): You could be entering the most pristine waterless public toilet of all time, and you could be entering the most neglected and abused hole in the ground you’ve ever seen. Either way, you’re probably not going to be stoked on it. Here are some tips to make your pit toilet experience as non-mentally-scarring as possible:
1. Look down.
When you walk into the pit toilet, take a quick glance down the hatch. Why? Because if it’s somehow filled with water from flooding or some other cause, it is possible to get splashed by a pit toilet, which is basically the worst possible result when using a pit toilet. Don’t ask. Just trust me.
2. Don’t stare.
You’re not going to see a pot of gold at the bottom of a pit toilet—or really, anything else of interest.
3. Make sure the door is locked.
Of course you’re like, “No shit, who doesn’t lock the door to a public bathroom?” I can name a few people. When you fail at this very simple task, you can ruin two people’s days.
4. Make sure there is some toilet paper.
If not, step back outside and make other arrangements. Sometimes pit toilets don’t get regular maintenance for a few weeks, and sometimes some meathead decides to steal all the toilet paper inside. So just eyeball the rolls next to the toilet and make a quick mental calculation to see if that’s enough for what you have planned.
5. Bring your own hand sanitizer.
It weighs about three ounces, and it will make you feel way better about eating your PB&J on the trail later if you can at least convince yourself that your hands and fingers are a little bit sanitized—because if you’re using a pit toilet at the beginning of your day, your chances of finding a sink with running water and hand soap later in the day are slim.
6. Consider bringing your own TP.
If you’re camping in a campground that has only pit toilets, and it’s a popular place, there’s always a chance it could run out of toilet paper. It’s not a bad idea to have a roll in your car, just in case.
7. Don’t hover.
Ladies, you may think this works out for you, but it never works out for the next person. In fact, if there’s a line outside when you enter a pit toilet and you do this, you might as well have just offered to pee directly on all the people in line behind you instead.
8. Put down the seat.
What, are you too busy to put the toilet seat down when you're finished? And by "busy," I mean "lazy." Be a considerate human being and put the seat down–including the lid, which will help keep the odor of dozens of gallons of human waste contained instead of wafting across the parking lot.
9. Secure all your belongings before sitting down.
Sunglasses, phone, camera, trail map, wallet—you do not want to lose control of anything of any importance to you inside a pit toilet. If you drop whatever it is or fumble around with it anywhere near the toilet and you bobble it and it bounces off the wall, that big hole with the toilet seat over it is essentially the worst place you could ever drop it. Unless you somehow happen to be Pit Toilet User #1 and by some miracle there is nothing in the bottom of the pit when you walk in, whatever you drop in there is GONE. Not to mention it will clog the solid waste removal equipment of whichever public land agency employee cleans the toilet.
10. Don’t throw trash into the pit toilet.
I can almost 100% guarantee there is a sign in or around the pit toilet that says exactly this. Don’t be a jerk.
11. Breathe through your mouth in shallow breaths.
Breathing through your nose inside a pit toilet is not going to make your day anything but worse. I mean, I don’t have to explain this, but you’re sitting on top of a pile of human feces and urine. It’s not going to smell like fresh-baked apple pie or lasagna.
12. Be efficient.
Why would you want to maximize your time in a pit toilet? See previous item.