10 tips for using the toilet in Antarctica

April 19, 2018

I’m going to talk about poo and wee. If this offends you, look away now. But if, like me, you find toilet stories quite entertaining, please stick around.

If you go to Antarctica you will probably go by boat. You will probably sleep on the boat and spend most of your time on the boat. You will likely have some lovely flushing toilets to enjoy.

Or you may go to Antarctica and stay at a research station. Here you will also have nice modern flushing toilets. If this is the case, go about your toilet business as usual.

Scott Base. Has flushing toilets. Hooray!

But what if you find yourself out in the field? Out on the frozen white expanse with just snow and ice for miles. No flushing toilets on the ice shelf. Not even a long-drop. Actually, there’s not even a spindly old tree to go behind! How do you go to the toilet out there? How do twenty people go to the toilet out there. This is the situation that my colleagues and I found ourselves in when we spent a week camping on the Ross Ice Shelf (check out this story to see how we got to Antarctica in the first place).

Take note of the following 10 tips and you will know what to do if ever you find yourself needing to do number ones and number twos in Antarctica:

1. Don’t even think about making yellow snow!

Antarctica is one of the most pristine environments in the world. And we want to keep it that way. So if you have dreams of signing your name in yellow on the pretty white snows, think again. It’s a big no-no. You will probably be sent home and not invited back again. Not worth it.

2. Don’t forget your pee bottle

If you’re in the field but not at camp you’ll need to carry a pee bottle with you. That’s where your number ones go. Easy for the boys, but not so easy for the girls. Luckily there is an awesome invention called the Feminine Urinary Director, also known as a shewee, that makes peeing in a bottle a breeze!

Well, sort of. See below.

3. Practice makes perfect

This is for the girls!

You may want to practice using your shewee before you go out into the field (practicing in the shower is advised). It can get a little messy your first time.

4. Don’t drink out of the wrong bottle

It is highly advisable to have a pee bottle that looks VERY different from your water bottle.

Nuff said.

5. Leave your inhibitions at home

When using said pee bottle in the field where company may be present, you might be lucky and have a Hägglund to hide behind. If not you’ll just have to walk away a bit and turn your back. You can’t really be shy when in Antarctica.

Hägglund – better than a tree
6. Build a bathroom

This is the fun bit! When you camp in Antarctica, there may be an option to build yourself a bathroom. Woo hoo! The hard-packed snow we were camped on provided perfect building material. Just cut a heap of blocks and stack them up to build the walls. Your own cosy little Ig-Loo 🙂

7. Accessorise

After the walls are built, add a pee barrel, poo bucket, toilet paper and hand sanitiser and voila, an Antarctic bathroom!

8. Build your windward wall high enough

You don’t want to be on the loo in the middle of a blizzard. But when ya gotta go, ya gotta go, so if you have to go in bad weather, a wall blocking the wind will make the experience slightly less horrendous.

9. A loo with a view is a good thing

You don’t want to be spending much time there (frost bite on the nether regions is not pleasant, I imagine) but a nice view doesn’t hurt. How about a snowy volcano like Mount Erebus to gaze at?

10. Two walls is enough

If your bathroom is built in the right place, with the opening facing out of camp (where there is not much “traffic”) then you really don’t need four walls. Our bathroom only had two and a bit and that was enough. You do feel slightly exposed when perched on the poo bucket with your pants down and no wall in front of you. But some believe the view of Mount Erebus to be worth it.

Every now and then someone would wander by on the outskirts of the camp and catch a glimpse of you, but they would usually look away quickly, offer a cheery apology, and go on their way.

11. (Did I say 10 tips??) Separate your ones from your twos

Another one for the girls (because boys do this most of the time anyway).

Liquid waste and solid waste are treated differently in Antarctica. At Scott Base the liquid waste is treated then pumped into the sea, whereas the solid wastes are bagged up and put on a ship headed for New Zealand (lucky them!). So it is preferable to separate your number ones from your number twos, hence the pee barrel and poo bucket instead of just one receptacle for everything.

Lydia separated her ones and twos…
12. Don’t worry about your butt sticking to the toilet seat

The pee barrel is not designed to sit on. It simply has a funnel for emptying the contents of your bladder into. However, number twos can take a little more time to complete than number ones so the option to sit is usually appreciated. Good poo buckets will have a nice wooden seat to perch yourself on. It’s not exactly a warm seat, but it’s not freezing either. Don’t hang about longer than you need to though.

13. It is totally okay to pee in the tent

Nights in Antarctica are very cold! It is not appealing to have to get up in the middle of the night, pull on your boots and jacket, crawl out of the tent and clomp your way over to the bathroom. Peeing in the tent (into your bottle of course!) is totally acceptable. Hopefully your tent buddy agrees.

14. Kick the bucket (my favourite tip!)

Upon completing your number twos, it would be a good idea to give the poo bucket a couple of good kicks. This will let the poo settle evenly into the bucket, thus preventing a frozen tower of poo from forming. Because you don’t really want one of those surprising you when you sit down…

More about Jodes

    1. Lolz.. this one is the best, Jodie..
      super fun!
      I like the Hagglund, fancy truck for pee.

    1. Why would anyone visit antarctica?! I would gladly visit if it wasn’t for the toilet issues.
      I’ve got experience doing my business in the cold. It wasn’t -60 C only -30 C or -35 C in an unfortunately very ventilated privy (think it translates to that, it’s a toilet located in a small shed outside the cabin) when it was windy in the middle of the winter. I hated every second of it! Especially since windy cold air also came up through the hole. It was hard to do your business in those conditions. I barely ate, tried to at least, during the stay in that cabin so I didn’t have to go. I was so miserable. Going out to it in the middle of the night from a warm cosy bed was the worst!
      The cabin is lovely, cosy beds, enjoying the sound of wood burning when in bed, the food was unfortunately delicious, was hard to avoid eating much, it all was great. The only issue I had was that bloody privy! It’s annoying because staying in the cabin in the winter is the best time of the year for it. Very cozy.
      You do get used to it eventually but that adaption period makes you rethink the decision traveling to the cabin in the first place.
      Lets not even talk about emptying out the privy. Now that’s a shitty job. Good fertilizer though.

      1. Oh boy Mila! Sounds like you had it much worse than me!! Eeek! Maybe I was lucky in that we had no warm place to go. We were in tents, no fires or heating of any kind. So the toilet was no colder than the rest of the place, so not a big deal. The cabin sounds awesome though!!

    1. My Dad and I (via Facetime) have just chuckled our way through this – he’s off to the loo now! I am doing research on stories about toilets for World Toilet Day and someone put me on to your ‘tips’ Thought I’d read them to my Dad as we are running out of things to talk about during this pandemic! So you have cheered us up on end. And I have the makings of a great story for the 19th November!!! Takes me back to my youth on the farm before we had a flushing loo!

      1. Ha ha! So glad it cheered you up! I would love to see your story if you’d like to share! 🙂

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