How to Make a Bucket Toilet (and Other Tips) in Case It Rains on Playa

(Photo by Scott London)

(Photo by Scott London)

OK folks, so we’ve had some unseasonably late rain in northern Nevada this year. Small sections of Highway 447 were washed out last month, and in early August the DPW survey team evacuated the playa when storms swept through the area. If you remember 2014’s 12-hour Gate closure (we sure do), you’ll know why we feel it’s important to share our best tips for preparing for rain on your parade.

Probably the most important tip is, if you see rain coming, tune in to BMIR 94.5 FM for the latest news and updates on what to plan for. (You did pack a battery-powered radio, right?) Burning Man has its own weather tracking team who will be feeding the latest updates to BMIR, which will continue its no-snark news broadcasts at the top of every hour.

Here are the top tips for dealing with rain:

  • Batten down your camp. (Rain is almost always accompanied by high winds, which will blow anything unattended into the next county.) This includes tents, shade structures, lawn chairs, clothing, paper plates and napkins, beer cans, or anything else that could potentially get blown away in a sudden, fierce windstorm.
  • Shelter in place until the worst of it is over. And make sure your campmates have a safe and dry place to shelter, too. Don’t go out dancing in the rain if there is lightning.
  • Protect all food, medicine, bedding and clothing from getting wet. There is nothing worse than trying to sleep in a wet sleeping bag. Speaking of food and medicine, be sure to bring extra on the chance you may be stuck on site for a period of time if it rains during Exodus.
  • Turn off and cover generators or anything generating electricity. Also beware of extension cords and cables that run through puddles — lift them onto anything off the ground, like a wooden block.
  • Store fuel safely. Make sure any stored fuel is above ground and in some sort of secondary containment to keep it away from water.
  • Don’t climb on any structures in a severe rain storm (really, that should go without saying, because lightning).
  • Don’t drive your car or Mutant Vehicle on the wet playa — all vehicles must stop moving. Driving on wet playa destroys the road system and creates ruts. Also, it is very possible you’ll get stuck.
  • Same goes for riding your bike. Within seconds, your tires will collect wet clay and quickly seize solid with about 5″ (and 10 pounds) of thick clay-like mud making it impossible for the tires to rotate.
  • If you absolutely have to walk around, duct tape heavy-duty trash bags to your shoes to minimize what can immediately become “playa platforms” on the bottom of your shoes as the layers of wet clay accumulate with each step you take.

Lastly, in the event of extended rain, pumping trucks will have trouble servicing the toilets and the porta-potties will fill up. You’ll need your own place to go. The solution? A Poop Bucket™! Making a poop bucket is old skool Burnertastic, and super simple. You’ll want:

  • A five gallon bucket with a lid (you’ll really want the lid)
  • Heavy-duty garbage bags (compactor bags are the best)
  • Some kitty litter (or sawdust)
  • A pool noodle (if you want to get all fancy)
(Image credit: Prepper Journal)
(Image credit: Prepper Journal)

The pool noodle (cut halfway through to its center point) fits nicely around the lip of the bucket and provides some cush for your tush. Line the bucket with a garbage bag, toss in an appropriate handful of some kitty litter for odor control and absorption and keep the lid on it until you need to use again. Don’t let any single garbage bag get too full (you really don’t want them breaking when you remove them). When the first gets partially full, seal it and place the next bag on top of the sealed one and use it. Poop bucket savants thread the toilet paper roll through the metal handle of the bucket, so it’s right where you need it at all times. Some people have been known to bring a toilet seat instead of the “pool noodle”. Either way, you’ll want to be prepared for just such an emergency.

Remember you need to take that “shit” with you when you leave — do NOT under any circumstances leave this mess for others to deal with. Don’t even think of bringing ANY materials from your Poop Bucket into the commercial porta potties (the mantra: if it wasn’t in your body, don’t put it in the potty! Otherwise the pumping machines get clogged). Also, human waste cannot go in dumpsters. So dispose of your Poop Bucket materials in the appropriate location (this is why you have the bucket lid — HELLA duct tape that thing on there for the ride home).

As you can see, Burning Man is fun and all, but preparing for the playa is no joke. Please remember the desert environment can be extreme. Strong gusts of wind, high temperatures during the day, cold at night, and yes, sometimes it rains. And rain is a serious matter in the Black Rock Desert. Read and review the information above, share it with your friends and campmates, and we’ll see you out there!

About the author: Burning Man

Burning Man

The official voice of the Burning Man organization, managed by Burning Man's Communications Team.

29 Comments on “How to Make a Bucket Toilet (and Other Tips) in Case It Rains on Playa

  • Jaclyn Miller says:

    This was so helpful I wasn’t even thinking about a poop bucket I just figured I would use the porta potties the whole time. I could of been stuck up shit creek without a paddle. I will definitely be bringing a poop bucket now thank you.

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  • Ken says:

    This is much easier to build than the poopapult I was working on! I’ll bring the bucket as a backup.

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  • Lisa Bunker says:

    Could a bucket’s contents with no kitty litter or stuff other than human waste be dumped in the porta-potties? Not the liner, of course.

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    • Will Chase says:

      ONLY human waste can go in the potties, period. Like no litter or anything else at ALL. So if you’re able to make that happen, you’re all good.

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    • Sphinx says:

      I BADLY want to see you try to stand inside of a port o potty with a 5 gallon bucket of sh*t in 100 degree weather, and empty it in there without spilling it all over yourself or dying of butt fumes. ><

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      • JL says:

        FYI FOR ODOR CONTROL, AND YOUR BEST DEFENSE AGAINST ANTS, AT HOME: CINNAMON. ABSORBS WHAT AILS YA. ANTS WON’T CROSS A LINE OF IT ON THE GROUND. CASSIA OIL, ISOPROPYL, H2O AND A SPRAY BOTTLE ARE JSUT THE THINGS ON THOSE INDOLENT AFTERNOONS. JUST ADD FAN-WEILDING ACOLYTES OR MAYBE JUST A MEANS TO POWER A HUNTER FAN, foe odor erasing fungus killing hymenopt3ra off-pissing, and if the fans get going enough to boost evaporation in their path, air conditioning. you’re welcome. oh and but yeah: it burns.
        don’t put that down there.

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    • billy sharpstick says:

      the reason for having a bucket is because the portapotties would already be filled up because the pumping trucks would be unable to empty them. (otherwise, you just go to them and poop directly into them.)

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  • belinda williams says:

    Has one of the people who was “on playa” back in 98 post event ….., and has been out for other events. This is VERY good advise. If it
    rains, just hunker down and wait it out. Don”t mess with Ms. playa, she is a very hash mistress. Obey her, stay still, accept her punishment, in the end you will enjoy it!

    ed/bill/belinda/junkman

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    • CosmicGoddess says:

      <3 this!

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    • Bigdadoodoo says:

      I was there. What a mess. But a great time was had by all except for the silly people driving

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      • Mr. Crankypants says:

        ” But a great time was had by all except for the silly people driving…”

        Yes, they were silly. However silly is one thing and stupid is another. Prime example of stupid: the 10+ people who decided it was a good idea to climb three level high metal scaffolding in order to watch the lighting storm roll on to the playa.

        Remember it’s one thing to not harsh another’s experience by suggesting they climb their monkey ass down off of the ungrounded lightening attractoe and quite another thing to suggest that they might hurt an unsuspecting participant when they fall off the structure (after being struck) and hurting the unsuspecting participant 20 feet below.

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  • Croc says:

    Old rafting guides like me remember the days before Home Depot buckets and when space is at a premium. We had what we called groovers for human waste on long trips. These are ammunition boxes, which are great because they easily seal up and are water tight. However, when sitting on it, the side edges leave “grooves” in your butt!

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  • dvs says:

    Most sporting good stores sell a potty bucket that’s already made to go, they’re cheap and you can get liners with a compound you can add that transforms the waste to a sanitary lump that can be thrown out with the liner in any trash can. The liners/compound are not as cheap so I bought them online. But that way you’re not sloshing human waste around driving home.

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  • Cinnabar says:

    The secret that Porta Potty cleaners have told me is to just put a little water and the bio-blue packets in the bucket before using. The fecal matter will dissolve into the water. Use only single ply TP. You can then empty the bucket contents into the portapotty because you are using exactly the same things that they are putting into and sucking out of them. I’ve also always had good luck running the bucket over to the truck when they are servicing a neighboring rv and they will just suck it up right there for you.

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  • Wintermute says:

    I am wondering what the best way to dispose of the waste is off the playa? I didn’t see this in the article and I think many of us are wondering exactly where to go to properly dispose of it. Thanks for all this advice by the way!

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  • Way says:

    Shit-buckets are HELLA nice mid day when the port-o-potties are little ovens in the sun and you’re hung over!!! That billowing stench might make you HURL!

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  • Repete says:

    How accurate are weather reports? For instance, if we check the weather a day before leaving, and see sunny skies, can we trust that? What about a few hours before leaving? Or is the playa completely unpredictable? If we see rain in a report, we’d gladly hang back in Reno.

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    • Completely unpredictable. My first year the weather was supposed to be totally clear and sunny, which it was mostly but it still rained at night a couple times. My second year was supposed to be the dustiest and driest year ever, it was actually more pleasant than my first year. What I have learned is to pay attention to the weather reports but pack and plan for anything.

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      • Repete says:

        yea i’m not interested in the weather for the week as we’ll be prep’d for the apocalypse either way. I’m merely interested in if we can check it right before leaving reno and get a reliable go/no go weather report for the upcoming 3-5 hours.

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      • Will Chase says:

        Captain Safety’s right. Totally unpredictable, but some bigger storms (like last year’s) are more predictable. We monitor the weather very closely, and we’ll communicate out updates as needed so you know what’s up and can plan accordingly.

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  • Trace A. LaMont says:

    PLEASE – PLEASE – PLEASE
    If you must walk before the surface completely firms up again walk on the edges – NOT the middle – of the streets… Walking down the middle fucks up the integrity of the surface such that when it does firm up it is beyond “washboard” or “corduroy” for bicycling during the event… BE KIND and THOUGHTFUL of your fellow Burners…

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    • Green Flash says:

      I remember 2014 well, as I was driving one of the last few vehicles allowed on Playa Road before it was closed . Here’s a tip- When you pack, make sure you can get to enough food, drink, and supplies to be comfortable in case you can’t move. We spent the entire day stranded, but through sharing we had a great time.

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  • Ignatz says:

    Yes, last year’s rain – after the dry-out – turned the roads into large cobblestone clods that made bike riding and night-time walking rough. Walking barefoot during rain and lightning makes you a moving lightning rod from which few survive. No, it doesn’t confer magical powers.
    Staying under cover is wise and perhaps safest inside your enclosed vehicle where the metal body protects you from electrical discharges coursing through your body (too late for the poo bucket). If you’re in a tent that has metal struts and ribs anchored in the ground, move to the car. If struck the nylon tent is likely to burn like a flashbulb with severe consequences for inhabitants. We were lucky last year – no casualties, even though there were many temporary structure strikes. So be safe, avoid combustible structures without lightning rods and head for the car, van, or pickup. Remember that lightning can travel long distances from the cloud base so stay protected until the storm cell is a good distance from BRC.

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  • Playa Friend says:

    I believe the best way to dispose of human waste is to take it home and dispose it in your own toilet. Careful, now… ;P

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  • Playa Friend says:

    If you’re not able to properly dispose of it in the porto potties, I meant to include.

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  • Eurythmics – Here Comes the Rain Again Songtext und Lyrics auf Songtexte. So baby talk to meLike lovers doWalk with meLike lovers doTalk to meLike lovers doHere comes the rain againRaining in my hand like a tragedyTearing me apart like a new emotionI want to breathe in the open windI want to kiss like lovers dowant to dive into your oceanIs it raining with you?

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