Bathroom Problems While Walking

No Bathroom, No Problem

Portable toilet on the edge of forest

Getty Images / Dan Brownsword

You're away from home and have to use the bathroom but there isn't a toilet handy. What can you do? This is a common problem for people who walk for fitness, potentially limiting where and how far they decide to go.

You may also have to suddenly use the restroom when you are on a walking tour or when you walk as a means of transportation. Knowing where you might find a toilet, or your other options when one isn't available, is a matter of necessity.

What can you do if you find that you need to urinate or poop while out and about? The first step is to make sure you have access to the right supplies.

Always Carry Your Own Bathroom Supplies

One way to be prepared for unexpected bathroom breaks is by always carrying tissue or paper napkins that can easily double as toilet paper. Even if you are able to find a restroom, it may be out of these necessary supplies.

Also carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer that you can use in case there is no soap and running water. Carry these items in a sturdy ziplock plastic bag, which can also serve a secondary purpose—to get rid of your bodily wastes.

Another option is to keep these bathroom supplies inside a fanny pack. Put them next to your money, house keys, and anything else you want to have with you whenever you are on the go.

When You're in Town and Need a Restroom

Just because you are in the midst of civilization doesn't mean that there is a restroom you can access. Bathrooms in public parks may be locked or closed, and business bathrooms may be unavailable or for customers only. What can you do?

Know Before You Go

Use online search engines for public toilets or download a cellphone app that can help you spot where a restroom might be should you need it. Gas stations and restaurants are a good place to start.

Some businesses only provide bathroom access to their customers. So, you may have to purchase an item before you can use it. Carry extra cash in case you find yourself in this situation.

It's important to note that the Department of Labor does require all businesses to supply their employees with toilet facilities. If you are in an emergency where you absolutely need to go, they may be kind enough to let you use theirs, even if they don't have to.

Consider Portable Toilets

Construction sites often provide access to portable toilets, also commonly known as porta-potties or port-a-johns. These can be a blessing when you're out in town and have an immediate need to urinate or poop.

Even in the suburbs, you can often find portable toilets in areas where there is ongoing construction of new homes, major remodeling projects, business construction, or road repair. That said, they may be padlocked or in poor condition, so be prepared.

If you really have to go, the condition of the portable toilet may not be so important. All that matters is that you have a private spot to take care of your personal business.

Find Hidden Spots

If all else fails and there are no restrooms available, you may have to find an out-of-sight location to do your business. While this is an option, be aware that, by taking this route, you may be violating local indecent exposure or public urination laws.

If you determine that it is worth the risk, try to find the most private location you can. This could include going behind a dumpster in a back alley or finding a hidden spot behind an abandoned building.

Avoid using private shrubbery. Nobody wants somebody sneaking off into their garden to use it as a bathroom, and you may find yourself sought by local law enforcement for peeping or trespassing.

Also, if you do go poop outside in a somewhat public area, clean up after yourself. Use your supplies and take care of your mess.

Relieving Yourself Outdoors at a Park or Other Natural Location

There is a right way to eliminate your wastes when you are walking or hiking in a natural area without a toilet. Taking this step is important because solid waste products (poop) can contaminate groundwater, streams, and lakes and ultimately spread disease.

Ideally, you want to find a private location in the woods that is at least 20 feet off a trail and at least 200 feet (70 to 75 paces) from a stream, pond, or other water source to avoid contamination. Urinate into absorbent soil to better soak it up versus having it run off.

If you have to poop and don't have your bathroom prep pack with you to pick it up and discard it safely, take the necessary precautions to leave it behind. Dig a hole approximately 6 inches deep and big enough around to hit with some accuracy. Cover your feces when you are done.

If your only choice is bare rock or hardpan desert and you can't take your poop with you after you go, spread out the feces with a stick or other disposable natural item so the sun's ultraviolet rays will break it down and sterilize it faster.

You can also use natural toilet paper (grass or leaves) if needed. However, it is unfortunately common for people to unintentionally grab poison oak or ivy leaves, with painful consequences.

To prevent this from happening to you, learn how to identify poisonous plants and leave those leaves alone. You'll be glad you took the time.

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Article Sources
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  1. United States Department of Labor. Restrooms and sanitation requirements.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Toilets & latrines. Updated December 17, 2015.

  3. National Park Service. Rocky Mountain. Updated June 10, 2016.

  4. Korajkic A, Wanjugi P, Brooks L, Cao Y, Harwood VJ. Persistence and decay of fecal microbiota in aquatic habitats. Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 2019;83(4):e00005-19. doi:10.1128/MMBR.00005-19