In all my early cruises, back in the 1980s and before I had boats big enough to carry a portable head, I did my business on shore in cat holes dug and buried in out-of-the way places. While that was still accepted practice then, river runners, to preserve the places that saw lots of use and abuse, had already begun packing-out all waste. I got with the program for the last sea kayaking cruise I took, along the Gulf coast of Florida where the islands were small, sandy, and easily spoiled. I carried newspaper to catch and wrap waste and stowed it in a cylinder I’d made of plastic drainpipe with a watertight screw-on lid. It was the right thing to do but by no means pleasant.

With my latest larger cruising boats, I’ve become accustomed to the comfort and convenience of portable heads, but they’re too big to carry aboard my canoes and small rowing boats. I’d still like to cruise in those smaller boats, but I won’t revert to cat holes, and I’d much rather sit than squat.

photographs by the author

The collapsed toilet fits in a zippered bag that ensures it stays closed when it not in use. The roll of 10 liner bags fits in the toilet when it’s collapsed.

I had cut down a 5-gallon bucket for my Small Boats Head System to make it more compact for my rowboats, but it’s still a bit large for carrying aboard my canoes. The XL Retractable Portable Toilet from TripTips is even more compact and is easy to fit aboard any boat. Packed in its zippered case it weighs just under 3 1⁄4  lbs. It is 13″ in diameter—the same as systems using 5-gallon buckets—but only 3 1⁄4″ tall. In use, its eight telescoping sections rise and, with a small twist, lock to hold the seat 13″ high. That’s just 1 3⁄4″ shy of one of my toilets at home. I’m 6′ tall and setting the toilet on a throwable boat cushion gets it up to a more comfortable height. For children, the seat can be lowered in eight 1 1⁄2″ increments by not engaging all the sections. TripTips makes another retractable toilet that has a maximum height of 19 3⁄4″.

The 8-gallon liner bags fit the collapsible toilet are well as 5-gallon bucket systems. They have a draw cord at the top for closing the bags after use.

The toilet is made of ABS plastic and is rated to support 440 lbs. It can support my full weight—with my feet off the ground—and feels very solid. An instruction manual and a roll of 10 plastic bags for waste collection are included. A bag is installed by lifting the lid and the seat, folding the bag over the opening, and keeping it in place by lowering the seat. After use a plastic strip in a sleeve at the top of the bag draws it tight. The two extended loops of the strip can then be used to tie the bag tightly closed.

The seat holds the bag in place and the lid folds down out of the way.

TripTips offers Poo Powder, separately, for use with the toilets. The scented powder solidifies liquids into a gel to prevent leaks, spills, and odors. (Similar gelling agents are available from other outdoor equipment suppliers.) The base of the toilet is an open compartment 9″ in diameter and 2 1⁄2″ deep in which used bags can be stored. Those used bags are ultimately disposed of as trash destined to landfill. Wherever possible, I take advantage of shoreside facilities that are connected to a wastewater treatment plant to minimize the environmental impact.

Packed in its case, the portable toilet is compact enough for canoes and can even fit below decks in some kayaks.

With the lid that covers the toilet seat closed, the unit can be used as a camp stool (putting that throwable cushion on top adds height and comfort). The toilet can also be used with a waste bag in place as a trash can for keeping a campsite tidy. Even for the smallest of small boats, the TripTips Retractable Portable Toilet is a good fit and makes it more convenient and less unpleasant to keep the places we visit unspoiled, which is the right thing to do.

Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats.

The XL Retractable Portable Toilet is available from TripTips and its Amazon Store for $39.99.

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