13 Road-Trip Essentials

The gear you want, no matter where the road takes you

Apr 30, 2015
Outside Magazine

A road trip without the essentials is just a drive.    Photo: Pierce Martin/Flickr

With spring in full force and summer vacation right around the corner, it’s time to start planning the most American of all traditions: the road trip. Whether you’re driving to a state park for a weekend camping trip or heading out for a multiweek jaunt down the West Coast, here are the items you should have on hand to ensure a successful trip. 


  Photo: Robert Annis

If you’re doing a traditional American road trip, you need a vehicle. The Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium has more interior space than some apartments I’ve lived in, with plenty of legroom for backseat passengers and rear storage space for all your gear. The standard four-cylinder engine is both peppy and fuel efficient, getting up to 32 mpg on the highway. Make it a complete adventure vehicle with a Thule T2 hitch rack


  Photo: Robert Annis

With 12 different functions, the Gerber Multi-Plier is the next best thing to keeping a fully loaded toolbox in the back of your vehicle. This versatile multitool can handle many common roadside tasks, like tightening a loose bolt and popping open a bottle of Three Floyds Zombie Dust when you finally arrive at your destination. The sharp blades also lock in place, so you won’t be missing part of a finger when you return home. 


  Photo: Robert Annis

A decade ago, people brought a cellphone on a road trip in case they needed to call AAA. Today, a smartphone like the iPhone 6 acts as your navigator, in-vehicle DJ, and mediator for trivia arguments. It does almost everything except drive the car for you. (I’m sure that’s coming soon.)

Phone Charger

  Photo: Scosche

Hardly anyone gives a second thought to phone chargers, but all aren’t created equal. The Scosche reVolt is one of the most powerful dual chargers out there, cranking out 4.8 amps per device, nearly five times that of most vehicles’ built-in ports. As a bonus, the reVolt unit is tiny and unobtrusive; you’ll barely know it’s there when you aren’t charging your phone.

Smartphone Mount

  Photo: Robert Annis

Thanks to the Google Maps app on my phone, I rarely bother with a stand-alone GPS unit anymore. But I hate taking my eyes off the road to glance down at the map. The WinnerGear Montar mount claims to have the world’s strongest suction-cup design, so it won’t constantly fall off the windshield. The clamps holding the phone are secure but still easy to pry apart with one hand.  

Paper U.S. Atlas

  Photo: Rand McNally

I’m old enough to remember poring over road maps to plot a route instead of typing a destination into my phone. Technology’s great and makes traveling much easier, but at some point, you can bet your smartphone’s GPS won’t work. When that happens, it’s time to pull out the trusty paper road atlas that served our parents and grandparents well before iDevices made us all lazy. I’ve had a Rand McNally road atlas underneath my driver’s seat for years. 

Go-To Album or Playlist

  Photo: Robert Annis

When it’s late at night and yours is the only car on the lonesome highway, sometimes you need a little audio stimulation to keep you going until the next time zone. My personal favorites are alt-country classics: the landmark Old 97’s album Too Far Too Care and Strangers Almanac from Ryan Adams’ old band, Whiskeytown. Both seem tailor-made for long hours in the driver’s seat while tapping your fingers on the steering wheel and singing along.


  Photo: Robert Annis

A wool or fleece blanket can help save your life if you ever get stuck in a snowdrift. It can also pay dividends for your love life as the perfect accessory for an impromptu picnic…or other outdoor activities. I also stow a space blanket in my glove compartment in case I see someone in need. 


  Photo: KIND

Kind bars recently caught some flack from the FDA for labeling some of its bars “healthy” when they didn’t meet the agency’s strict definition of the word. But that shouldn’t take away from the fact these bars are better for you than a lot of the options marketed toward active folks, and, best of all, they’re damn tasty. The Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Healthy Grains bar will help you avoid that calorie-laden, gas-station doughnut you were eyeing. 

Travel Mug

  Photo: Stanley

I bought a Stanley travel mug at a cyclocross race years ago, and it works as well today as when it was brand-new. The vacuum-insulation technology is more than 100 years old, but when something’s perfect, why change it? The only possible complaint is that it works too well—freshly brewed coffee is still piping hot five hours later.

First-Aid Kit

  Photo: Adventure Medical Kits

During a road trip, when I’m not in my car, I’m usually on my mountain bike, which means coming back with any number of scrapes, sprains, and slices. Adventure Medical Kits’ Smart Travel pack will help you overcome all of those, as well as other common traveling ailments like stomach distress and dehydration.

Seat Covers

  Photo: Robert Annis

Road trips are inherently messy affairs. You don’t want blood, mud, and coffee staining your seats, do you? Machine-washable seat covers will help keep your vehicle’s interior a bit tidier. Find them online or in your local auto parts store.

Auto Club Membership

  Photo: AAA

The best thing about a road trip? Absolutely anything can happen. The worst? Absolutely anything can happen. Having a AAA membership offers peace of mind when you’re stranded roadside with no gas or a busted radiator. Believe me, I know. As a bonus, your AAA membership entitles you to discounts at more than 150,000 hotels, amusement parks, and retail outlets around the world.

Filed To: Gear, Road Trips

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