Camping in Antarctica: What’s the bathroom situation?

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Antarctica Planning & Tips

Camping in Antarctica is one of the most memorable and worthwhile experiences one can take part in when visiting the White Continent. Getting off the ship for a night, bedding down on the ice and listening to the chatter of penguins is a unique adventure.

Despite the allure of camping out in one of the world’s most pristine environments, there is one key factor to consider, and that’s the bathroom situation. Given that no waste can be left on Antarctica, it’s a valid concern. In this article, I’ll be explaining the setup, which should hopefully put the minds of any budding campers at ease.

Antarctica is a leave no trace environment

Two people in bivvy bags sleeping in Antarctica
Antarctica is a pristine and unspoiled environment that needs protecting
Copyright Max Draeger

Antarctica is one of the few untamed ecosystems on our planet and we want to keep it that way. The unspoiled landscape is what makes Antarctica so special and, as such, there are strict regulations when it comes to shore landings and camping.

Antarctica is a leave no trace environment which means that you should leave the landscape exactly as you found it upon arrival. Just as litter should never be left behind, neither should human waste, and that includes urinating in the snow. Your guides will press upon you the importance of this and the potentially damaging impact it could have on the environment, but it’s up to you to be responsible and follow the guidelines.

Where to go when nature calls

A 'loo with a view' in Antarctica, a small portable toilet unit and a half igloo for privacy
An expedition camp-master building a ‘loo with a view’ on the Antarctic Peninsula

Prior to departing the ship for a camping adventure, the camp master strongly suggests that everyone make use of the onboard toilet facilities and limit their liquid consumption. The cosy bathrooms and flushing toilets aboard the ship will be the last you see for 12 hours and you really don’t want to be doing a ‘number two’ out in the cold if you can avoid it.

On my camping trip, our camp master also advised everyone to bring a pee bottle to avoid having to stomp through the cold night to relieve themselves. Although this is a lot easier for the men, women not wanting to leave their tents can purchase a Feminine Urinary Director or ‘Shewee’, which will make life a lot more straightforward (please note that these are not provided, for hygiene reasons – you’ll need to order one at home before you travel and pack it in your suitcase).

Once on land the camp master will talk everyone through the night’s procedure and explain the toilet facility. That’s right, you’re not expected to cope with zero facilities all night. Two snow walls are dug out from the ice to form a half igloo or ‘loo with a view’, which is placed one hundred yards or so from the camping site facing in the opposite direction for privacy. There will be two toilet buckets – small toilet units as shown in the picture above – a ‘number one’ bucket and a ‘number two’ bucket, and a flag system to show if the toilet is occupied or not. It may sound rudimentary, but camping in remote areas is rarely a 5-star luxury experience.

Next to the buckets, you’ll find toilet paper and hand sanitizer. It’s certainly not lavish or warm, but I doubt you’ll ever find yourself sitting on a loo with a view as good as this one.

My parting recommendations

A traveller prepares a bivvy bag in Antarctica ready to sleep out on the snow
Green tents pitched in the snow on the Antarctic Peninsula
A traveller in a bivvy bag in the snow on the Antarctic Peninsula
Travellers setting up red tents on the Antarctica Peninsula

Make sure to mark your water bottle and your pee bottle very clearly! Our camp master told us several stories of people mixing up the bottles in the middle of the night and, well, need I say more?

Take some time to practice using a pee bottle prior to camping in Antarctica. It’s not as easy as it looks, especially when you’re sleepy and cold. With that in mind, try to keep liquid consumption down to a bare minimum whilst camping. Getting up in the middle of the night to pee in freezing temperatures is not particularly pleasant and can generally be avoided with planning.

Last but by no means least, wear appropriate clothing. My travel partner wore a fleece onesie as she thought it would keep her cozy and warm, but she had to take the whole thing off in order to use the toilet and strip down to her skivvies in the cold, which wasn’t fun.

Setting the pragmatic advice aside for a moment, remember that camping in Antarctica is a true bucket-list adventure and a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people. There are some practical considerations, absolutely, but that’s true of all elements of a voyage to a frozen continent where safety is paramount. Once you’re there, all of the planning will disappear into the rearview, and soaking up the experience will be all that’s on your mind.

Molly Hutchison

Polar Specialist

Molly is a Polar Specialist at Swoop. She’s been working and playing in the travel world for 10 years and has crossed the Antarctic Circle and camped on the Antarctic continent. When she’s not out travelling, she keeps the spirit of adventure alive in her home state of Montana.

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