12 Road Trip Inessentials

Do you need these items to make a road trip happen? Nah. But you'll be glad you brought them.

All the gear you could do without, but shouldn't. (Ying Yang/iStock)
road trip

The plan is simple: you and a buddy are calling in sick, throwing a few armloads of gear in the truck, and heading to some far-flung locale. Let’s assume, though, that, being the astute, informed, and perceptive wanderer you are, you’ve already packed the essential gear you’ll need in case you end up in a tough, potentially disastrous situation. Here, then, are 12 items that will not save your life. Should you, say, accidentally leave them next to the couch on your way out the door, you’ll still make it back home in one piece. But these items will make your trip more pleasant and help ensure that you’re ready to embrace whatever adventure may come your way out there in the great open yonder. 


Helio Pressure Shower ($99)

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Click to enlarge. (Nemo)

If you’re eschewing hotels or plush campgrounds, don’t be surprised if you find yourself craving a shower after a few nights of sleeping on the ground or in abandoned parking lots. With the Helio Pressure Shower, however, which holds just shy of three gallons of water and packs down to a tidy 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches, you can spray off just about anywhere with a spigot or water source to fill it. Unlike other portable camp showers, it relies on a foot-pump system to build pressure and drive the water from the hose. The effect is on par with using a strong kitchen-sink sidespray, but the water pressure is certainly strong enough to rinse the dirt and sweat off or to clean food from utensils and plates. Roughing it is a lot easier knowing that you can wash off the grime every so often. To avoid "rinse" repeat.

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The New Primal Grass-Fed Beef Jerky (8 for $55)

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Click to enlarge. (The New Primal)

I love pork rinds and cheese puffs as much as the next red-blooded American, but when facing serious road time, you should bypass gas-station fare for substantive snacks. A good place to start: the New Primal original grass-fed beef jerky, which is gluten-free, soy-free, low in sugar, and “paleo friendly.” Taste, though, is what distinguishes New Primal jerky—no overly aggressive flavors or weird aftertastes, just hearty, smoked meat, lightly sweetened with pineapple juice and honey. It’s among the least gussied up jerky on the market, which plays only to its favor. 

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ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Brief ($26)

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Click to enlarge. (ExOfficio)

ExOfficio’s tag line for the Give-N-Go Boxer Brief is, “17 countries. 6 weeks. One pair of award-winning underwear. (Ok, maybe two).” Though that’s hyperbole (a pair will begin to smell foul after two weeks without a wash, trust me), the briefs dry quicker and remain odor-free for far longer than your typical pair would, as well as prevent filling up valuable bag space with underwear. Here’s what to do: buy two pairs. Wear the first for a day or so, then trade them out for the second. Rinse the first pair in the sink with shampoo or body wash, wring them out, and then let them hang-dry someplace in the car with ample sunlight as you drive. Repeat the process in a day or two. ExOfficio also offers the Give-N-Go in women’s versions. 

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Thermacell Repellent Camp Lantern ($60)

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Click to enlarge. (Thermacell)

I once asked a group of hunters and anglers which piece of gear was the best value for the money. Nearly without exception, they all answered a Thermacell. The Thermacall Repellent Camp Lantern uses a heated butane cartridge to throw up a 15-by-15-foot mosquito and fly shield, and produces 300 lumens of light. Because if you’re camping after a long day on the road, you don’t want to fight bugs all night or be fumbling in the dark with a cell-phone light. 

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Aquis Adventure Microfiber Towel ($10)

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Click to enlarge. (Aquis)

Bringing along a towel is key if you plan on swimming or getting wet, but full-size towels seldom dry well enough if you stay on the move. Moreover, given their size, they can be a chore to keep clean and to fit into a bag. Fortunately, the Aquis Adventure Microfiber Towel is a solid alternative. It measures a mere 10-by-14 inches, but even at that size, it’s absorbent enough to dry off with, due to its space-age microfiber material. You could buy a larger (and more expensive) quick-dry towel, but there’s no need: the Adventure Microfiber Towel serves its purpose well and demands almost no space. 

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Orvis Encounter Fly Rod Outfit ($169)

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Click to enlarge. (Orvis)

Fly fishing has a high barrier of entry, in part because, for someone new to the sport, figuring out how to assemble a decent rod-and-reel setup involves wading through a dictionary’s worth of jargon. Since its introduction, in 2013, however, the Orvis Encounter Fly Rod Outfit has demystified the process by packing most everything you need in a single, quality kit. Unsurprisingly, it’s become a favorite among budding fishermen, but seasoned anglers have taken to it, too, as a road rod, for its durability and workingman’s price. The 5- and 6-weight models will work well for trout and smallmouth, while the 8-weight can handle steelhead and most saltwater species. 

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BlastMatch Firestarter ($25)

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Click to enlarge. (BlastMatch)

A cigarette lighter may get a fire going, but it’s far from the most reliable way to do so. The flint-based BlastMatch Firestarter, on the other hand, throws out a tight concentration of sparks, three times the heat of a match, and will purportedly last up to 4,000 strikes. If a BlastMatch can’t set your tinder ablaze, then it’s doubtful another firestarter will. 

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16-Quart Stanley Adventure Cooler ($60)

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Click to enlarge. (Stanley)

You’ll save time and money, and eat healthier, on the road if you can avoid pulling off for every meal. The best way to achieve this is to swing by a grocery store and pick up a few essentials to keep in a small, well-stocked cooler. (Bread is guaranteed to get squashed, though, so if you’re into sandwiches, opt for wraps instead; plus, peanut butter and honey wraps make for a filling, not-terrible-for-you snack.) A small, hard-shell cooler, such as the Stanley Adventure Cooler, is best because you can keep it in the back seat where the person riding shotgun can easily reach it, and if stuff happens to fall on it, your food won’t get pancaked. And it's got a reasonable price tag. 

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Otis Technology Flugz Earplugs ($25)

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Click to enlarge. (Otis Technology)

You’re rolling the dice when sharing close quarters with someone on a road trip. Unless you and your buddy have gone on an excursion in the past, you’ll likely have no idea whether he or she will pay you the courtesy of turning down the music should you want to pass out in the passenger’s seat for a nap or whether he or she snores, which can cost you much-needed shuteye. Play it safe and stash earplugs in your bag. Flugz, albeit horribly named, are comfortable, boast a 21-dB noise-reduction rating, and are reasonably priced for custom earplugs. To mold them the first time, just drop them into water, microwave for 30 seconds, and then wedge them into your ear. It’s magic.

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 4,000 Questions for Getting to Know Anyone and Everyone by Barbara Ann Kipfer ($14)

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Click to enlarge. (Random House)

Fair warning: you won’t feel super badass pulling “4,000 Questions for Getting to Know Anyone and Everyone” out of your pack on long car rides, but there are few better ways of passing the time or getting to know your road mate better. Likewise, the book provides you the opportunity to ask those messy, probing questions about family, sex, and religion that would come off as too brash otherwise, though, of course, they reveal the most interesting details about ourselves. 

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Behring Pro EDC ($275)

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Click to enlarge. (Behring Made)

You’ll need a knife. You can either buy a cheap one that will wear out and need replacing every few years or you can spend the money on a decent one that won’t fall apart on you. The Behring Pro EDC is one of the latter, with a 4-inch hand-forged tool-steel blade, an epoxy-treated paracord wrap, and all-weather sheath. As an all-purpose knife, you can use it to cook, cut up kindling, eat, and clean fish with. There’s a reason old men cry when their knives get stolen—you can rely on a good blade unlike much else in life. 

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The Outlaws and Friends of Old Time Music ($35)

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Click to enlarge. (Courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways)

Road trips are not the time to deep dive into that new shoegaze band you just read about or to wade through Swans’ discography. The sound of the engine and other cars on the road tend to muddle musical texture and grate on nerves. You need simple, straightforward songwriting—three chords and the truth. Start with Wanted! The Outlaws, released 40 years ago this year, a primer on the outlaw-country movement Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings spearheaded in the early ’70s, then move on to Friends of Old Time Music: The Folk Arrival 1961–1965, an anthology of “hillbilly” and blues heavyweights from yesteryear. 

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Filed To: Road Trips / Autos / Gear
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