portable toilet sitting outside next to a river.

Your Guide to the Groover

What You Need Know About Going to the Bathroom on a River Trip

While the idea of a river trip is appealing to most people, many are inhibited or reluctant because of one thing: the portable toilet. Below, we break down the backcountry bathroom basics and answer some of the most common questions we get. Consider this your pre-trip “groover talk.”

portable toilet sitting outside in a canyon.

Bathroom Basics

On popular stretches of wilderness rivers, the common refrain is “dilution is the solution to pollution.” We practice this approach on OARS trips by urinating in the river.

To further minimize our impact, we also carry out all solid human waste and use a portable toilet system that is set up each day at camp in a secluded location a discrete distance from tent sites. Most often, you’ll hear it referred to as ‘the groover.’

The groover is essentially a toilet without plumbing and is available from the time you pull into camp each afternoon until you leave camp the next day. Toilet paper and a convenient hand-washing station, including soap, are provided.

We also carry a small container called the “day tripper” that can be easily accessed during the day should the need arise. It is a personal disposable toilet, which includes an odor-proof transport bag, chemical solidifier and odor eliminator, toilet paper, and oversized hand wipe.


Why is it called the groover?

By the mid-60s it was clear that the growing popularity of multi-day river trips was quickly leading to extreme environmental degradation in river canyons, particularly Grand Canyon. The biggest culprit? Human waste. When pit toilets proved not to be a viable long-term solution, river runners began to use large army surplus ammunition boxes—sans toilet seats—to carry out human waste. As one could guess, this rudimentary set-up left signature grooves on the backside of anyone who used it. Though the name has stuck through the years, guests will find the modern groover is surprisingly comfortable and comes complete with a toilet seat.

Will I have any privacy at the groover?

The groover is placed in a thoughtful location away from the group area. This spot is typically down a short path and often (though not always) concealed by heavy brush or other natural features that conveniently block the view from the rest of camp.

At the entrance to the groover path, you’ll find a handwashing station and the “key.” On OARS trips, the key is a small ammo can that holds the toilet paper that guests need to grab before heading to the bathroom area. If the key is gone, this means that the groover is occupied. This simple system ensures each guest has privacy.

It might take some getting used to, but we can guarantee you won’t get a view like this in any other bathroom on the planet. Take a moment to look around and enjoy the experience.

What if I need to use the groover at night?

It’s a good idea to pack a headlamp in case you need to navigate to the groover once it’s dark. While most trails leading to the groover are relatively straight forward, on a more inconspicuous groover trail your guides might also place reflective markers along the way to help lead the way.

Do I have to pee in the river?

During the day as we travel downstream, it’s relatively easy to hop off the boat for a refreshing swim or wade into the river when you have to go to the bathroom. In camp, especially during the evening when you may be in more comfortable attire or you don’t want to get wet, we provide an alternative solution for dilution.

Next to the groover, there will also be a “pee bucket” (with a toilet seat) that can be used when it’s not as convenient to go in the river. However, we kindly ask that guests don’t pee in the groover. If it’s liquid, it can be sent downstream, and that’s exactly what your guides will do with the contents of the bucket, so please avoid putting toilet paper in there.

We also offer small personal buckets that guests can leave outside their tents at night for any middle-of-the-night needs. In the morning, you can simply walk down to the river and “flush” the bucket out.

Discover Your Next OARS Adventure

Group white water rafting in the American River.

Compare Adventures

Select up to 3 trips to compare