Tools for Possibilities

Portable Comforts

Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 61

Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, and the links to them may or may not work. We present these vintage recommendations as is because the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Disposable urinal

Travel John

I’ve used these for several years, and they’re great when the need to urinate calls but no facilities are accessible. I’ve found them useful while flying in small planes that don’t have a toilet, and also when I didn’t want to leave my tent in the middle of a rainy night to relieve myself. Long lines for the Port-A-Potties at the airshow with your kids? Problem solved.

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I learned of the piddle pack concept while serving in the USAF. Back in the day it was a plastic bag with a sponge that wasn’t always successful absorbing all the urine. The technology these days, similar to what you’d find in a disposable diaper, is much better. A biodegradable polymer within the bag turns your liquid input into an odorless gel that won’t spill, and a unisex collar makes it ideal for the whole family. Keep some in your glove compartment. You won’t be sorry. — Sean Lally

Unflippable umbrella

GustBuster Umbrella

The GustBuster is a cool-looking, lightning resistant umbrella with a patented system of vents that is, the manufacturer claims, “wind tunnel certified to 55+ mph.” The other night it started blowing up a storm — winds to 20 miles per hour. Just for giggles I tried turning the GustBuster sideways and it just would not pick up any air — it really does work amazingly well. The holes in the inner surface seem to neutralize all of the typical suction.

The version I decided on for my all-weather walking is labeled a “golf umbrella” and is big enough for a small wedding reception. (I exaggerate but 62 inches is certainly big enough for me and the dog.) The price is right, $45 — a bargain for a good umbrella. If you’re concerned about weight (this super-sized version weighs close to two pounds) there are smaller, lighter versions. On their website they say the GustBuster is very popular with professional golfers — seemingly, a good indication of long-term quality and performance. Also comes with a limited lifetime warranty. I’m impressed — very cool tool. — Chuck Green

Budget trekking umbrella

Euroschirm Trek

I did research on a travel umbrella for a lengthy South American trip, found this and love it. It’s made of tough, lightweight materials, fits in its own sleeve, can be put away wet, and has a tiny compass in the handle. I got mine with a silver reflective top, so that it’s also useful in sunny conditions.

At 10 ½ inches long closed and 8 ½ ounces, the Trek’s bigger and heftier than the previously reviewed Knirps umbrella, but also less expensive. It also costs less than the previously reviewed Go-Lite umbrella. Forget about parkas and pants, umbrellas are the way. — Geoff Wilke

Feminine urinary director


Sport and Travel Freshette. It’s slightly larger than the TravelMate—just longer than the palm of my hand when collapsed and about half as wide—but still can fit in the hip pocket of a camping backpack quite easily (and you can still use it through your pants’ fly). The Freshette’s larger cup, similar to the unisex collar on the previously reviewed Travel John (upper right), fits more easily than the TravelMate—and solves the positioning and overflow problems to which the TravelMate is prone. It really is easy to pee all over yourself with the Travelmate due to its small size and smaller throughput (the main reason I can’t recommend it).

The flexible outlet tube on the Freshette makes for easier aiming. With practice, it’s possible to collapse it after use, store it back in the bag, then get it back out and reuse it without touching any of the wet bits, if you’re squeamish about that sort of thing. And if you need the extra feature, there’s a “complete portable” kit that comes with sealable bags you can attach, in case there’s a need to pack out your waste or you’re going to drive like Lisa Nowak.

While it’s the best product of its kind that I found, the Freshette is more expensive than the TravelMate, and its weird shape and larger size make it harder to pack. Also, the plastic bag it comes with is not the most durable. Mine lasted through about three weeks of camping before getting a hole. Both models tie for ease of being able to clean yourself off without toilet paper.

There are many other variations on the Freshette, which I imagine would work about as well: The Whiz Freedom—quickdry anti-bacterial flexible medical plastic; the SheWee—slightly smaller and available with a durable hard case; the PStyle—more a channel than a funnel and no tube; the Lady J—wider funnel. — Sarah Mercer

Pliable camping containers

Guyot Designs Squishy Bowls

For weight- and space-conscious backpackers or car campers, the squishy bowls offer an alternative to old-school non-collapsible aluminum/stainless steel/titanium bowls. And while these food-grade silicone bowls won’t stand up to direct fire, they are oven safe up to 500° F. They can be baked, boiled and frozen without ill effect, making them more versatile than the previously reviewed Orikaso campware and the newer Fozzils’ take on that design.

Guyot’s bowls are entirely pliable, and eating out of a bowl without structural rigidity can be a strange experience the first time. Their flexing and bulging when holding liquids does take some getting used to. But I’ve never had a problem eating out of them. This amorphousness comes in handy when you want to slurp back the rest of your milk or finish off the end of your camp stew, as you can squish the side of the bowl into a convenient spout. It also means they sit solidly. They hold hot liquids well, and are insulated enough to prevent you from burning your hands when you hold them as commonly happens with a traditional metal bowl. — Oliver Hulland


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