Best Emergency Toilets: Backup Plans If You Can’t Flush

By Will Brendza | Updated: 02/02/2024

Survival SanitationToday I have something really important (yet highly under-rated) to share…

A Complete Guide On Emergency Toilets If You Can’t Flush

Because there are severe consequences for mismanaging human waste.

Human waste is easy to joke about…

But it can cause some deadly problems if it isn’t disposed of properly.

If you understand how to deal with it safely and efficiently is a matter of life or death…

TOPICS IN THIS GUIDE…    ↓(click to jump)
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A Brief History of Toilets

Every animal does it.

For instance, bears crap in the woods.

As humans, we’re more ingenious at containing, handling, and hiding it.

Most people, on the other hand, use toilets.

And over the course of history, by God, we have become attached to our porcelain thrones.

Because they are:

  • Efficient
  • They keep life clean
  • They’re comfortable
  • They’re familiar

Imagine what life would be like without our modern-day toilets.

Unfortunately, in a long-term survival situation, you may get to find out.

Because when your toilet doesn’t flush, you’ll be up sh*t creek without a paddle.

However, there are always alternatives.

Greener pastures, so to speak.

With a little bit of elbow grease and some age-old techniques, anyone can make a makeshift waste reciprocal.

No, it’s not the most glamorous bit of survival knowledge.

But damn, if it isn’t one of the most important ones!

↓ A brief history of toilets video

Waaaaaay back in the day, during the time of ancient Romans, toilets were kept on the outside.

No privacy stalls, no flushing mechanisms, and no cell phones to satisfy your boredom.

Just stone toilet seats on the street that dropped waste into underground cesspits or street drainage systems.

Needless to say, this was not sanitary.

This form of waste management resulted in many health problems for ancient Romans.

In medieval times, a similar concept was adopted to accommodate castles and large cities.

It consisted of a toilet seat over a deep hole, where waste was deposited and forgotten about forever.

There was no flushing mechanism (unless it was positioned above flowing water, in which case all the unsanitary contents contaminated the local water source).

↓ How did the Romans go to the toilet?

Chamber pots were also popular throughout history and are still widely used in hospitals and other care centers.

The biggest drawback to these, though, is that they have to be emptied after each use.

And cleaning a chamber pot is not fun.

In rural, off-grid locations, the outhouse has always been a standard solution.

But it was not until the late 1800s that the flush toilets we currently use today became the norm.

And thank god for that!

History must have stunk like a public port-a-john on a 120-degree day.

Waste management has been around since the advent of humans.

And it will still be around long after the “sh*t hits the fan.”

The WHY – Dangers of Un-Managed Waste

Unless you like infectious diseases, you must stay on top of waste management.

↓ How to dispose of human waste (poop and pee) after a disaster


In survival, infectious diseases are bad news.

I am talking about nasty characters like cholera, dysentery, rotavirus, norovirus, hepatitis A and E, cryptosporidium parasites, and a host of worms.

Bad sh*t (pun intended).

Fecal sanitation issues kill people.

And wouldn’t it suck to die because you were not careful with your poop?

Or worse yet, to watch your family or community suffer and die around you from fecal-related illnesses?

The dangers are serious; developed nations have laws surrounding your waste.

No matter where you are or what you are doing – if no working toilet is available, you must be careful how and where you deposit your load.

Besides, in the simplest terms possible: it sucks to live around a bunch of exposed, decomposing crap.

That’s just a fact.

In survival, if you don’t plan a system to manage your waste, your home and surrounding areas will become your toilet, and you’ll live in a dirty bathroom.

And nobody wants that.

↓ How Sewers Work (feat. Fake Poop)

The 6 Best Emergency Toilet Solutions

Fortunately, there are several methods for dealing with your waste.

Here are the most popular, most effective emergency toilet solutions:

cat hole shovel in dirtImage Source

1. Catholes

We will start with the quickest, simplest emergency toilet option to build.

It is the least comfortable, least sustainable option for an emergency toilet, but it works…in a pinch.

The cat hole is a small hole dug roughly 6 inches deep using a shovel. You squat over the hole and do your business.

Fill it, pat it down, and forget about it when you’re finished. FOREVER.

Everyone should be prepared to utilize this option in the great outdoors and for short-term survival situations.

Here are the best survival shovels worth an investment and a video on how to do this right.

↓ How to Poop in the Woods

However, the problem with catholes is in large quantities; they’re terrible for the environment.

Plus, who wants to dig holes and squat outside for an extended period of time?

The answer is: No One.

Catholes are not your best option if you stay put in one location.

Catholes are best on the move or camping for short periods of time deep in the backcountry.

Not for communities or families living in one place.
A Dirty PVC Survival Cache On A Table

2. The “Poop Tube”

This option is most popular among hikers, backpackers, and rock climbers because it is lightweight, easily packable, and reusable!

While a few online companies offer “poop tubes,” it’s better to head to your local hardware store and gather the supplies yourself.

Simply get a length of PVC pipe (the length of width is entirely up to you – most people prefer a tube ~1’ in length and 4-5” in diameter, but preference varies significantly from person to person) and a couple of caps for both ends.

By this same logic, you can use plastic bags or other airtight, lightweight containers for waste containment and transportation.

But again, this is not an option you can live off of long-term.

After several weeks you will tire of your poop tube and start looking for more sophisticated long-term emergency toilet solutions.

↓ Poop Tube 101

latrine trenchImage Source

3. The Latrine Trench

A latrine is like a larger, slightly higher-tech version of the cat hole.

You can create a makeshift bathroom trough by digging a ~4 ft. deep x 6 ft. long trench.

And with a few sturdy branches and some cordage, you can build a basic A-frame structure.

This simple lean-to makes for a rustic seat so users can position their butts directly over the target zone.

Once a latrine reaches capacity, you cover it with a significant amount of dirt, and another location must be found for a new latrine trench.

You can utilize the latrine trench on a longer-term basis.

Much longer than using cat holes or poop tubes, but they are still considered a “temporary” means of waste management.

↓ How to Dig a Latrine for a Large Group

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backyard outhouse

4. Outhouses

The outhouse is a more complicated option and takes more planning, time, and effort to put together than latrine trenches.

Most of us have used an outhouse (and if you haven’t, get out there and try it – it’s a fundamental human experience ), so you know the premise.

Essentially, dig a really deep, wide hole, build a privacy shed with a seat, and place it over the hole. Voilà!

Outhouses are a tried and true way to manage a significant amount of waste.

And while they still require a decent amount of work, they are relatively labor-free (once built) compared to some of these other options.

They also do a better job of containing the unpleasant odor of human waste.

↓ Building an Outhouse at the Off Grid Cabin

Of course, even a large outhouse pit will eventually fill up.

And when it fills up, you have two courses of action you can choose from:

  1. Either fill the hole with dirt, move your privacy shelter to a new place, and start over.
  2. Or if you have access to the right technology/equipment, you can empty outhouses every so often, eliminating the need to move the bathroom at all.

Filling and moving are the traditional way of doing things, but, like cat holes and latrine trenches, it’s hard on your surrounding environment.

One way to extend the life of your outhouse is to avoid peeing in it.

Save your crapper shed for number 2 uses only. Urine equals excess weight and volume that you can dispose of in the woods.

Quick Story…

When I recently spent time in the Arctic Circle in Alaska (specifically at Camp Kavik), the outhouse had a sign that read: “Real Men Piss In The Bushes.”

Of course, this isn’t only true; it also ensured unnecessary wastes weren’t added to the outhouse storage containers.

The more people that peed in those outhouses, the faster the outhouse storage systems filled up, and the more often Kavik Sue and her entourage had to empty them.

And for the ladies, you can get a female urination device that makes it much easier to pee in the bushes, just like the gents.

emergency toilet bucketsImage Source

5. The Poop Bucket & Survival Toilets

A portable camping toilet is as simple as it sounds.

When you’re done, take the bucket to your designated waste dumping area (could be an outhouse or latrine trench) and toss it.

This is basically a DIY chamber pot.

↓ How To Make The Business Bucket

Some people recommend lining the bucket with a plastic bag, so there’s less cleanup to do in the aftermath, and it’s easier to transport.

This works, but it also means you must dump plastic bags into the environment, which pollutes the area and takes thousands of years to decompose.

This, at first, will not be an issue, but after a few weeks (or months) in one place, it will build up into a mountainous non-degradable problem that does not just go away with time.

There are several upgrade options to a poo bucket.

Still, the general idea is very similar: it provides a comfortable place to sit, relax, and crap while also offering a container to keep waste away from things you care about.

Many come with linings for disposal.

But you can always add your own plastic shopping bags from grocery stores make a great alternative.

But anything plastic is detrimental to the environment – I suggest you use biodegradable poop bags.

They are cheap, easy to use, and save the Earth a bit.

Here are a few of the best survival toilets available online:

If you want the simplest lightweight toilet solution, then consider Biffy Bag Disposable Toilets.

They are ideal for anyone who plans to move on foot.

And is perfect for people who have a bug out vehicle, a survival trailer, a survival RV, or even a remote bug out location.

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Another portable survival toilet option is this pop-up portable toilet.

The Camco 41541 Portable Toilet is another excellent option for those who want a more robust emergency toilet option.

The Century Portable Toilet is another option for anyone with room in the vehicle.

It is thick plastic, durable, and easy to maintain.

However, the biggest downside to all these bucket and container emergency toilet options is: what do you do with the poo once the containers fill up?

You can’t just put it in a pile and pretend it won’t become a health hazard.

So next up is my favorite emergency toilet solution for survivalists and off-grid locations.

6. Composting Toilets

If your survival plan includes staying at a specific location (your home or bug out location), you must invest in a composting toilet.

They are an ingenious solution to the “no tap water” equals “no flushing” problem.

Plus, they turn your waste streams into fertilizer for your survival garden.

These toilets look like traditional flush toilets.

But instead of flushing the waste away, it collects it and helps to accelerate the breakdown of the waste into fertilizer.

↓ How to Make Humanure Composting with a Composting Toilet

Nature’s Head is a leader in composting toilet space.

While getting one is a bit of an investment, it should be a major piece of every survivalist’s waste plan.

Plus, it’s perfect for off-grid homes and for reducing your water bill today, and it’s a “must-own” for your preparedness strategy.

Here’s a video of how these emergency toilets work.

↓ Nature’s Head Composting Toilet – Honest Review

empty toilet paper rollImage Source

But What About Toilet Paper?

Everyone understands the plight of a toilet paper deficit.

The panic that sets in after you’ve done your business and realize there is no toilet paper, tissue, or even a paper towel.

That’s the stuff of nightmares.

So do your best to prepare for this.

Always keep a roll or two in your bug out bag or outdoor backpack; you will thank yourself – trust me.

The same goes for any other method of waste management – outhouses, latrine trenches, cat holes, etc. – to keep toilet paper and tissues stocked up.

It’s relatively cheap and may become a great bargaining tool after SHTF.

So if you don’t want to ever run out of T.P. – it’s wise to keep a large stockpile.

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Want a free 78 item prepper checklist?

Click here to instantly download this Complete Checklist PDF. No purchase necessary.

But what happens if we all run out?

Nowadays, a mass supply shortage of T.P. is not a situation we think about often.

But you should think about your T.P. plan B.

And some of you probably already know what plan B is: plants.

That’s right!

Should you run out of toilet paper in the wilderness, hunkering down, or in a bug-out situation, you must resort to a natural solution.

And plants are your best bet.


Wiping your ass with poison ivy will make life worse.

Pinecones work (but be sure to wipe with the grain of the cone… NOT against it).

Or there’s Mullein weed, wooly lambs ear, and other soft leaf-like plants that also work fairly well.

You may be surprised.

In the Midwest, corn cobs are an option to get the job done.

But things will get pretty sore fast.

Copious amounts of soft tissue paper have pampered our modern-day butts.

Being forced to switch to leaves and corn cobs will be a literal pain in the ass.

So be mentally prepared for that!

The Final Word

We never see characters in movie scenes using bathrooms or movies about how ancient cultures dealt with their waste: people prefer not to think about piss and sh*t.

That’s fine, but when there are no government-run programs or agencies to manage our waste and no running water to flush our toilets, someone will have to step up and devise a plan for dealing with the problem.

Whoever that person is, no matter what community or what group they belong to, they will be heralded as a hero.

Toilets aren’t glamorous. But most of us use one every single day.

It’s just part of life as a human that will never go away, and the consequence of ignoring it is serious.

Don’t fall victim to your own feces.

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