LAST UPDATED: 24 February 2023
How Many Portable Toilets Do I Need?
Confused about how many portable toilets you'll need for your race? Here's everything you need to know about how many to hire and how to deploy them.
Portaloos, porta potties, portable toilets...Whatever you call them, there's one thing for sure: if you ask your participants, you can never have too many of them!
Figuring out your race's hygiene facility needs (both in number and deployment) can be a tricky task. Order too few units and you run the risk of seriously upsetting your participants - not to mention forcing people to make alternative arrangements that can put a strain on the local community! Order too many and you're throwing money away, as well as potentially using up valuable start/finish area real estate.
To help you work out what type of facilities you'll need, how many to hire and how to plan about deploying them in your race, we've put together this short guide on portable toilets: from start to finish.
Your start area is where your toilet arrangements will matter most. With potentially thousands of runners waiting nervously for the start of your race - and often having arrived hours in advance - demand for facilities will be at its highest.
When it comes to provisioning for hygiene facilities, like so much else of your start area planning, the decisions will depend heavily on available fixed facilities you can leverage. So think hard about your choice of start area. If you have existing buildings/infrastructure you can use around your race HQ, it would be silly not to.
Accessibility & placement
Before going into how many and what types of facilities you'll need, let's briefly look at where and how you should position everything.
It is important that you make sure all toilet facilities are easily accessible both by participants as well as crews delivering and picking up the units. That means using a well-signposted area on firm flat ground that won't turn muddy with rain and can take the weight of heavy vehicles.
If you are using existing buildings with or without toilet facilities, it makes sense to place your portable toilets near them so traffic can easily pass between the two. Also, crucially, if your race is looped you should think about placing the facilities at a point close to your course so participants can use the facilities during the race or find them easily after they finish.
In terms of arranging your portable toilet units, you have a few options.
Your simplest option is to arrange your toilets in a line and get people to form queues in front of them with one queue per cubicle (arrangement A on the image below). This is a very common choice for most events and, although it is not the most optimal in terms of facility usage, it's easy for people to understand and work with.
Arrangement B, where all cubicles are fed from a single queue, is actually a bit better in making sure no cubicle goes unused. In this arrangement there are no dedicated queues for each cubicle - the first person in the queue gets to occupy any cubicle that becomes available.
A slight improvement on arrangement B, often seen in larger events like the London Marathon, is the U- or C-shaped way of arranging cubicles - arrangement C. Here, not only are cubicles fed from a single queue, ensuring optimal occupancy, but also the front of the queue is the same distance from each cubicle, thus eliminating the need for people to have to travel or keep an eye on cubicles a long way away. This arrangement may look like a tiny improvement on B, but it makes a good deal of difference when there are 20 or more cubicles per cluster.
Working out your requirements
Now, on to numbers...
You won't be surprised to hear that opinions on toilet requirements vary - a lot! Run Britain in their handbook to race directors suggest hiring 1 toilet per 30 participants.Through some not-very-scientific polling we conducted in our race directors group, suggestions ranged from 1 toilet per 25 (higher end) to 1 toilet per 75-100 (lower end). We'd say, for most events, a baseline of 1 toilet per 30-50 participants is a good starting point.
Around this baseline number, there are several considerations that can increase or decrease your facility requirements:
- Your participants' gender mix. A higher percentage of women participants will increase your requirements, so if your race is women-only you'll need to raise this with your vendor.
- Your choice of units. Inclusion of urinals in your hire plan can take some strain off toilets. This can both help reduce your costs as well as your space requirements, if that is an issue. As an example, instead of the 1 per 30 rule above, Run Britain suggests the alternative of 1 unit per 50 participants with the addition of one 5m urinal per 500 participants. With urinals coming in all shapes and sizes, it's important you discuss your exact needs with one or more specialist hire companies.
- The time of year and weather conditions. Any conditions, like hot weather, that can influence your participants fluid intake will also influence their use of toilet facilities.
- Your race's start time. The earlier your race start and the longer your participants have to sit around in your start area (e.g. because they had to pick up their bibs early on race day), the higher the strain on your toilet facilities.
- Contingencies. In all the purchases you make for your race you'll have to allow for things breaking down and toilet hire is no exception. Consider a 10% contingency to your requirements to cover against units breaking down or becoming otherwise unusable. This is particularly important if you plan to use the facilities for long periods of time.
Keep these in mind in all your calculations, including your race course and finish area requirements.
If your race is a half marathon or shorter, you'll likely not need any additional facilities along the course. If it is longer than that, however, you'd want to provide toilets along the course to stop participants taking things into their own hands!
The bigger issue to think about here is placement and participant flow than numbers of units. As a rule of thumb, for a marathon or similar expect to need around 1 unit for every 200 participants. But, if your race is populous, it would be good to space your units out every 5km or so to improve access and availability.
For your finish area you'll want to follow the same common sense rules as with your start area, with a couple of additional considerations.
As with your start area, you'd want to make the most of existing facilities. If there are toilets or showers you could use, approach the manager of those facilities and get them to agree to access to their facilities by your participants.
If existing facilities are not available, take care to position your units some way away from your finish line. Last thing you need in a busy finish area is toilet queues blocking your finish line and the flow of finishers from it. Make sure the area is clearly signposted and on sturdy ground (parking areas make good choices for this).
Finally, in calculating how many units and what type you'll need, think about two more things:
- How long are participants and spectators expected to hang around at the finish area? Are there after-race festivities that may keep people around for longer? If so, you'll need to prepare for higher demand on your facilities.
- Is alcohol or food being served at your finish area? Food and alcohol consumption can increase your capacity requirements by between 10%-20%.
Keeping your units well-stocked can make a big difference to your participants.
Usually, hire units come with a base provision of toilet paper and hand wash, but it wouldn't hurt to keep some more around and replenish as required. Your participants will love you for it!