The Swedish “Utedass” – simple wilderness toilet or important cultural icon?

For British people, the term “outside loo” is something strongly associated with a way of life from our parents’ or even grandparents’ generations, conjuring visions of portly housewives in aprons, working men in cloth caps and children with shorts and grubby knees braving biting winds to scurry down to the bottom of the garden and “spend a penny”. It is an anachronism from a time when families gathered around the “wireless” for evening entertainment, prices were reckoned in shillings and baths were taken in a tin tub in the living room on a Friday night.

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But in Sweden, a country at the very forefront of modern communications technology and with one of the highest standards of living in the world, the outside toilet or “utedass” is still very much alive and well and an essential part of Swedish outdoor life.

As we discussed in our article on Swedish summer houses, many Swedes have access to a cabin in the country which is regularly used at weekends and during holidays, and while most will have running water for cooking or washing, a great many of these summer houses will have outside toilets. This “old-fashioned” style of living which characterises the typical Swedish summer house is not only often a necessity dictated by the remoteness of the cabins and the physical distance to services such as mains water pipes, but for many Swedes is an integral part of the nature experience, a chance to escape the trappings of the modern life and take pleasure in a simpler way of living.

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As a result, the “utedass”, or dry compost toilet, remains a central feature of modern Sweden.

For visitors from overseas, asking for the loo and being directed to a small wooden shack in the forest can bring on a minor attack of culture shock. But there is no need to be concerned – Swedish dry toilets are a much pleasanter experience than you might expect!

When travelling to one of Nature Travels’ holidays in Sweden, you may encounter outside toilets on experiences such as our Romantic Adventure in Forest Log Cabin and Forest Weekend with Elk and Beaver Safari or at one of the mountain cabins on our extended dog sledding tours. Here are some of the questions we are sometimes asked regarding the Swedish outdoor toilet:

Are “utedass” found only in Sweden?

No, but they are particularly characteristic of and strongly associated with summer houses and remote cabins in Sweden.

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Are Swedish outdoor toilets comfortable?

Many summer house owners go to great lengths to make the “lilla huset” or “little house” as comfortable and pleasant as possible, decorating the inside of the cabin with flowers and photographs, thoughtfully providing books and magazines and even using polystyrene toilet seats to ensure exposed bottoms do not get cold!

Do Swedish outdoor toilets smell?

In many toilets you will find a bucket of earth or compost and a small cup, which should be used to sprinkle a covering of earth over the waste once you have finished. This not only helps the composting process but also controls odours. As a result, Swedish dry toilets should smell earthy but not unpleasant. In general, modern chemical toilets of the kind found at music festivals or public events are likely to have a much more unpleasant and aggressive odour.

Is it necessary to use the toilet if you just need to urinate?

Swedish outdoor toilets will generally be found in remote areas, and there is likely to be no-one else around when you need to go to the loo. To minimise odours and also to avoid filling up the toilet so quickly, it is best to use the Utedass mainly for solid waste. For liquid waste, a quick trip to the forest (especially for males) is the preferred solution.

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Do all Nature Travels experiences have outdoor toilets?

No! Our log cabins in Sweden are fully equipped with kitchens, showers, flush-toilets etc and furnished to a high-standard. Many of our other Sweden holidays, such as wilderness canoeing, timber rafting or sea kayaking feature wild camping, and on these experiences toilet facilities are not available. You will be given full instructions on how to deal with your toilet waste to ensure that you do not pollute the local environment, create a health hazard or leave any trace for travellers who may come after you.

As well as being a central part of Swedish outdoor life, dry composting toilets are a sustainable, environmentally-friendly alternative to flush toilets, requiring no power or chemicals for their operation and using no water. If you would like more information on composting toilets, including advice on how to build your own, visit the excellent Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales or download one of their factsheets.

Best regards

The Nature Travels Team

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