Complete DIY Camping Bathroom Setup

Alternative Title: Smells Like Family Spirit.

When we camped at Cades Cove in the Smokies last month, there were no showers. We knew this, and had budgeted $10/night for pay showers that were supposed to be available nearby, but the list that the rangers gave us of these alleged locations was completely outdated. It’s not their fault that businesses have changed their policy, but the fact remained that we couldn’t find a single place that actually offered showers!

This could have been a big problem.

We hiked, biked, and rode horses. We were staying for five nights. It was 80-some degrees and humid. All five of us slept in one tent one rainy night.

We have a teenage boy.

I’m not a hardcore type of camper; I like to wash the dirt, sweat, bugspray and sunscreen off before bed. We had sixteen nights booked at national park campgrounds coming up this summer, and I wasn’t taking any chances with basic hygiene!  I designed my own complete camp shower setup using components that fold flat when not in use!

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The components are a pop up privacy tent, a Nemo Helio Pressure Shower*, a silicone funnel, a pop-up gardening bin, and a bucket.

Here’s how the shower looks when set up:

The blue thing is just a nylon tarp we had that we stand on afterward.

When you pack up camp, everything except the Nemo Helio Pressure Shower fits into the bag that the privacy tent came in, making a disc two-feet in diameter and four inches thick.

And here’s the procedure for taking a hot shower:

1) Fill the Nemo Helio Pressure Shower tank two-thirds full with water from the spigot or dishwashing sink (not river water, unless you filter it, otherwise it may clog).  It’ll warm up to the ambient temperature if given time; if not, no problem, it’ll just require hotter water in the next step.

2) Next, heat a pot of water.  Our large cook pot has a 1 gallon capacity, and I don’t quite fill it. It doesn’t need to boil, but should be too hot to touch.

3) Carefully pour the hot water into the pressure shower using the silicone funnel. (We wear our BBQ gloves from our camp kitchen box to avoid splash burns!)

4) Pressurize the Nemo Helio Pressure Shower using the foot pump until you feel a firm resistance.

5) Make sure your privacy tent is staked down… you definitely don’t want it to blow away while you’re in there.  Ask me how I know!

Just kidding.

6) Pop open the gardening bin and put it in the privacy tent.  Stand in the gardening bin, hang on to the showerhead (which is like a kitchen sprayer) and wash away the camping grime!

Sounds like a lot of work, right? My husband thought so, too, but when we couldn’t find a place to take a regular shower, he was happy we had this setup.  I was pretty pleased with myself.

All five of us can take a military-style shower with one fill of the tank (not counting washing my long hair… I mostly skipped that).

Don’t forget to pack a towel – here’s how we label them.

Here’s an extra tip: if it’s dark out, don’t hang a light inside the privacy tent, because it will cast anatomically accurate shadows on the walls for your neighbors’ entertainment.  Instead, put two lights or citronella candles on the outside of the tent, on opposite sides, and enjoy the soft glow.

After each family member showers, we transfer the dirty water to the yellow bucket, and dump it according to the campground regulations (typically, there is a dishwashing sink or graywater pit) and Leave No Trace ethics.

Speaking of LNT…  Looking around the campground, I noticed that everyone had a good grasp on the basics.  Food was stored properly, sites were kept tidy.

The bathrooms, though?  (It’s not the campground managers’ fault; they clean them, but by the middle of the weekend, they’re usually a mess.) I’ll spare you the description and leave it at this: The idea of my kids dropping their pajama pants to the ground while using the bathroom and then sleeping in them gives me hives. I repeat, I’m not hardcore! I just wish campers would Leave No Trace in the bathrooms!

So, I made another purchase to add to our DIY Camp Bathroom: a potty.  I bought both the Turbo Toilet (the blue one in pictures below) and Reliance Hassock, compared the two, took a bunch of pictures, and returned one (unused!).

When not in use, the Turbo Toilet packs down very small, and the Reliance Hassock does not, but is sturdy enough be used as a seat.

When deployed, the Turbo Toilet is much shorter than the Reliance Hassock.  The Turbo Toilet is just under 10″ tall.

As you can see, the shape is a little different.

The Reliance Hassock has an insert that goes on over the seat and under the lid that stores a roll of toilet paper.  Also, see how the Reliance has a seat over the black plastic bag?  The Turbo Toilet does not.

Both potties are to be used with a Double Doodie Bag or equivalent, as shown in the two photos above.  These are double-layer bags with gel powder in them that solidifies up to two quarts of liquids and supposedly breaks down solid waste, with no smell or spillage.  You throw the bags into the trash. I’m not sure how environmentally friendly these bags are, but we will be using them only when the other options are unsanitary or nonexistent.

In terms of cost, at the time I purchased them, the Reliance Hassock was priced lower than the Turbo Toilet.  The actual cost of the potties alone is almost exactly equal, because the Turbo Toilet comes with 12 gel bags, which you would have to buy separately for the Reliance Hassock.

You just read over a thousand words on camping showers and toilets. High five! So, do you think you’ll give my shower setup a try, or do you have something better? Which camping potty do you think I chose? Which one would YOU choose?

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