Outhouses—The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

After talking with some girlfriends about going camping and one of them mentioning how she liked her indoor plumbing far too much to leave it, I just knew I had to do a post about outhouses!  Boy, have I ever run into a few interesting and unconventional outhouses in my day!

Most outhouses are definitely ordinary, if a bit smelly, but there are a number of bad ones out there and some are down right scary, so I’m going to point out a few rules that turns an ordinary outhouse into a GOOD one.

The Number One rule is: There must be a VIEW.  You may think this takes away from privacy.  (see rule 4) But really, what is privacy when you are closing yourself in a tiny dark box that more often than not STINKS, when you could be sitting on a throne in front of God’s glorious creation enjoying your time of peace and rest?

Yes, an outhouse must have a good view!  When I worked out at a camp on Quadra Island near Vancouver Island, a few of the staff guys I worked with made it their mission of the summer to find THE PERFECT outhouse location.  They finally found one that they dubbed “The Throne Room”, which happened to be a box with a toilet on top on a bald hill in the middle of a little island that overlooked the rest of the freshwater lake and the jumping cliffs that we were camped near.  (I wasn’t allowed to visit the Throne Room as I was a female and they had designated it Males only, so I cannot vouch it’s worthiness as the Perfect Outhouse, but they had crowned it their favorite of the summer).

Desolation Lake

The morning view from steps to the Desolation Camp Outhouse

Many of the guides I worked with used outhouses as their primary place to spot animals.  So for many outhouses in hunting camps, there is a half door, or a window for that very purpose.  (I not ashamed to admit that I certainly enjoyed being able to watch the scenery from those little houses!)

Greg unpacking horses at Weir Camp. And there stands the outhouse, with a perfect window to keep an eye on things or scout for sheep.

Number Two: It must be ACCESSIBLE and CLOSE ENOUGH.  At my camp on Trout Lake, while I worked for an outfitter east of Atlin, BC, the outhouse was a good 150 meter walk/run from the cabin, back in the trees, around a small swamp.  It was dark and the path was narrow and covered in tree roots that liked to trip you when you were in a hurry.  It was awful.  One of my hunters like to use it to smoke pot because it was a good distance from the cabin and we couldn’t monitor what the privy was being used for. (No drugs were allowed in camp.) So a little bonus for the trip was that you could get high off the fumes retained in the cabin—AND they masked the usual outhouse odor.

At another camp on Lincoln Lake, the outhouse was only 30 feet from the cabin but was on an uphill scramble.  The view was great—even to the point of spectacular, but this time accessibility trumped the view, because no one likes to rock climb when they have to get to a toilet FAST!  That outhouse was also particularly bad, because it was on a slope that tilted you forward and the door didn’t latch, so you had to with one hand hold onto the door and the other brace yourself on the seat in order to keep from sliding down the hill and somehow figure out how to wipe without losing the roll of paper out the door.  (see rule 3 and 8) It took practice, that’s all I’m going to say about that.  (I ended up digging a new outhouse hole in my spare time, because I was so sick and tired of that one, and I made sure to tilt the outhouse slightly more back, than forward, unfortunately the climb remained bad as there wasn’t many spots to place an outhouse in that camp.)

Rule Three: It must be COMFORTABLE.  Outhouses come in all shapes and sizes and forms.  Most are built by men who don’t use an outhouse quite as often as a woman.  Most of the seats are way too high off the ground, requiring a step or two to hoist yourself up on the seat.  Sometimes, there is no seat.  Often the seat is a regular toilet seat, taken from a modern indoor type toilet.  These seats tend to FREEZE your hiney off first thing in the morning!  For a number of years I just thought that was the way it was—when you used an outhouse you would have a partially numb bum in the mornings or during winter camping.  Then I worked for an outfit in northern BC, who had it down to a science!  STYROFOAM!  No more “outhouse tush-aches”, like a ice cream headache, only in your rear end.  They would take a sheet of Styrofoam and cut a hole in it and voila! Instant comfy-cozy-warm-tushy holder!  Easy to clean or replace.  I really wish people in the south country would figure this out sooner than later!

One of the ugliest outhouses I've come across, though the air circulation was great. If you look closely you will see the iconic pink Styrofoam seat. Which boosts the ratings of this outhouse far higher than you would think!

The one outfit in the Yukon I worked for used what was called The RAIL.  Let me tell you, it is NOT the most comfortable method.  Simply made, it’s a sturdy branch placed at sitting height between two trees that you balance on to do your business.  No hole to dig.  The refuse was burned and buried when we moved on to the next camp.  It takes real skill to master the rail!  (a couple hunters didn’t and had a nasty experience falling over backwards.)  Often the views from the rail were great, but this time COMFORT outweighed the number one rule!

Number Four:It must have some PRIVACY.  It doesn’t need to be completely private, but no one likes to watch someone sittin’ on the john—or for that matter see someone watch you sittin’ there.  One outhouse at the ranch house near Atlin had a two-seater.  I don’t understand why?  There was no partisan between the two holes.  Seriously, why would you need two holes?  Who in their right mind would use the outhouse at the same time?  I’m not comfortable with this.  I made sure to always latch the door on this one.

Tent Outhouse, this one wasn't as bad as others, since it was white, but it still held the smells in it's fabric pretty good.

Number Five: It must have fresh AIR FLOW.  One outfit in Alberta used a little “tent” for their outhouse, it was awful.  Very claustrophobic and seemed to contain the worst of smells in it’s very fabric, so that even if you moved the whole tent to a fresh hole, it still stank. The worst thing was, it had a zipper that went from top to bottom, so you couldn’t even unzip it a little to breathe.  (Which also brings me to Rule 6)

Number Six: It must have LIGHT or illumination of some sort!  It really sucks to be in a dark hut where you can’t even see, to find the hole—or the TP.  It’s not like falling in a toilet at home.  It’s way worse, as I’m sure you could imagine. {{Blocking out bad memories right now}}

Number Seven: It must have a DEEP enough hole!  Especially if you are the same camp for a long period of time, with lots of people who have a TP fetish.   NASTY!

Rule Number EIGHT:  Last but not Least, you MUST be able to REACH the TP (or HAVE TP)!!!!  You gotta know how frustrating it is to reach for the TP and find you can’t.  Someone in their brilliant mind when they were designing the outhouse figured everyone had a wing span of 4 feet or more, or thought that critters might enjoy the tp, so hung it way to high.  Sucks!  Gotta tell you!  The other annoying thing is to find out there is no toilet paper left and the hike back to camp is too far, or too public.  It happens, more often than not, especially when you work with guys.  Sometimes the TP is placed in critter-proof containers.  These containers are often human-proof too.  A couple of times, the TP escapes and rolls down the hill (I’m thinking of that damn Lincoln Lake privy again, gosh I hated that outhouse! And I was in that camp for a number of weeks at one time).

BUNNY TRAIL: While working at the outfit east of Atlin, I was told that the previous outfitter actually put guides, cooks, wranglers and even his hunters on a TP ration.  They were allowed 2 squares per visit to outhouse.  Lorna was pretty choked, being that she was the only woman in camp and she had kids with her.  She used to supply her own TP rolls, that she hoarded like gold and would allow the others to bribe her for some extra.  I thought she was exaggerating until a returning hunter and his wife came to camp, and half their luggage was toilet paper!!!  TP was power in that camp!

So for the sheer fun of it I just had to rate some of the outhouses I’ve used, I’ve provided criteria to show you just how I judged and scored each of the following:

Outdoor Commode-ation Ratings

5 STAR “Commode-ations” Hit 7 out of the 8 rules and must have the number one rule.  It happens to be an enjoyable, peaceful stop in your day, one that you might even look forward to.

3 STAR “Commode-ations” Hits at least half of the 8 rules.  It provides a safe place for doing the necessary, but you get in and get out with no lolly-gagging.

1 STAR “Commode-ations” Hit maybe 1 or 2 of the rules.  It might just be better to take a hike behind a bush, it’s that bad.

5 STARS: 1. Camp Desolation (Atlin, BC) ranks number one.  It had everything going for it.  A spectacular view through a half door.  Good seat level with styrofoam, so no cold bum.  TP was close at hand and it was located a short jaunt behind the cabin.  Private enough, with good light and air circulation.

2. Weir Camp (Atlin, BC) ranks a close second.  The only thing that bothered me about this one was that it was located smack dab in the middle of the horse corral, so when horses were being packed and people were milling around, it was just a wee bit not private enough in my mind, though it had a full door with a high window that you could look out of.

The outhouse at Weir Camp with young Kurt and Cheyenne posing for a snap. I never realized how few outhouse pictures I took, until I looked and realized I only took pics of the seriously nasty or the very unique.

3. Ceaser Lake (Yukon) It had comics.  It had a view.  It was comfortable enough to read the comics.

3 STARS: 1. Trout Lake (Atlin, BC) was just too far from camp and with no view, it just was a bad outhouse.  It was dark and dank, and way too scary of a walk at 3 in the morning, especially after we had a grizzly in camp.

2. Base Camp (K-country, AB) Located in the middle of camp, it was in a decent spot for most of the guest tents, but the full door made it claustrophobic and wow! The smell! Too many people and not a deep enough hole, made for a bad outhouse.

3. Livingstone Camp (Forestry Trunk Road, Alberta)  The seat was impossibly high.  It required at stepping stool, which happened to be a shifty log that rolled away at the most awkward moments.  Plus it had one of those awful indoor toilet seats.  Brrrrr . . .  Cold! Yep didn’t like it.

1 STARS: 1. The Rails in the Yukon have to be my least favorite!  Every rule was broken except on occasion, number one and maybe number eight.  The balancing act on a cold snowy morning with no shelter was just not my most favorable experience.  Losing the roll of tp down the hill was awkward and embarrassing.  It was pretty much a small step up from doing your business freestyle behind a bush.

2. The Tent or Tarp Contraptions (Alberta).  Yep they pretty much broke every rule except for number four and eight.  I hated the zippers that would snag right when you were in desperate need.  I hated the sauna experience on a hot day, that amplified the claustrophobia and the smells.  Oh the smell!

3. Lincoln Lake (Atlin, BC) Until I fixed it.  It pretty much was a horribly uncomfortable experience.  The only redeeming quality was that after you hiked up, the view of Marble Dome was spectacular.

View from Lincoln Lake outhouse of Marble Dome and the Lake. The great view almost made up for the climb.

So now I’m curious, what’s your favorite or worst experiences with an outhouse?

Gallery | This entry was posted in Cooking and Wrangling along the Great Divide in the Alberta Rockies, Cooking and Wrangling the Wilds of Northern British Columbia, Daily Life in the Bush, Horse Wrangling in the Yukon and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Outhouses—The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

  1. Laurie says:

    While buiding our house back in Ontario the first “house” built was the outhouse! we called it “Staffy’s Throne”. It was whitewashed in side and out, the large door window was covered in whitish/clear mactack and it had hydro with a light for those dark nights! Luxury!

    • Jake says:

      Staffy’s Throne, great name Laurie! Whitewash sure makes a difference and so does that large door window with mactack and oooohh a light! Yep I agree! Luxury!

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