We all spend lots of time in our cars and trucks. And you can make that time a little more bearable with old camping gear you've likely forgotten in your shed. Here's the stuff I break out on road trips, while overlanding, and even for day-to-day use.
Cheap Sleeping Pad
Know that thin blue roll of closed-cell foam you slept on in Scouts? The quarter-inch of padding isn’t enough for a comfortable night’s sleep but is just right for laying under your car or truck when you need to get work done. Having the pad there is also a good way to catch small nuts and bolts should you drop them. And that’s just one potential use. Fold it in half and it’s a dog bed. Pack it around hard-sided items to keep them from shifting during travel. I use the versatile Exped MultiMat for this, but a Therm-A-Rest Z Lite works just as well.
Compact Bow Saw
Folding bow saws are designed to maximize portability. That can create an awkward compromise; a tool that’s too heavy to take backpacking, yet too small to work as a dedicated firewood processor. But because they’re so compact, they take up virtually no room in your trunk and are just the ticket for removing the occasional low-hanging branch that might scratch your paint or cutting up a fallen log that’s blocking a dirt road. I’ve got an Agawa Canyon Boreal 21 stashed away in the back of my Discovery. I don’t use it very often, but when I do need it, it gets the job done.
Something break on your car at night? You’re gonna need a headlamp. Any old headlamp will work, but if you’re going to buy something just to keep in your car, then you might as well get one with a magnetic base. FourSevens sells a headlamp kit that’s compatible with a number of its lights (including the incredible new Mini Mk2), but its Atom range is optimized for detail work with an incredibly wide, totally even beam that’s free of shadows. The base of each Atom is a magnet, so pull it out off the headlamp adaptor, and it’ll stick to any ferrous metal, like the underside of your car’s hood.
Worried about personal defense south of the border? You can’t take a gun, but I’ve never had customs, immigration, or the military checkpoints blink at the big ol’ can of bear spray in my driver’s door pocket. Legendary sniper John Mullins approved of my non-lethal solution: he actually carries a can of wasp spray for the same job.
Rumpl Down Puffy
A blanket built like a technical sleeping bag. It’ll keep you warm if you get stuck in a blizzard, sure, but you’ll more often use it for watching sunsets on a chilly beach or staying cozy by a campfire. For me, it’s basically insurance against my female companions ever getting cold outdoors. An old wool military blanket works just fine, too.
These things seem a little silly at first, but bring a lantern’s worth of light to a tiny, light package that’ll fit in odd places. Just the thing for wrapping a trunk lid support strut or an awning leg if you’re using the back of your car as a mobile kitchen.
Therm-a-Rest Quadra Chairs
These things are stable and comfortable and pack down into a tiny, indestructible package. That makes them easy to stow and transport: just shove them anywhere (including a roof rack). They’re too heavy for backpacking but the size just makes them so easy to carry in your trunk that you can leave them there throughout the year.
Just hang one from your rearview mirror, stick one in a cupholder, or in a dash cubby. You’ll be amazed at how much knowing which was is north and south will empower your decision making as you navigate unfamiliar roads.
Sport Water Bottles
Travel mugs leak and can be difficult to operate. Paper cups spill. But when was the last time the water bottle you take to the gym caused you a problem? I use an insulated version, with a push-button spout. It keeps my coffee hot, my water cold, and fits perfectly in a standard size cupholder. And it has never, ever spilled liquids all over my truck on bumpy or twisty roads.
A Compact Coffee Situation
Know what sucks? The coffee you’ll find anywhere on a road trip. Never settle for a burned cup of Starbucks again by instead investing in a compact canister stove, and some sort of travel coffee maker. I keep an MSR WindBurner and a fuel canister in my cargo drawer, along with a couple Yeti Ramblers, and an Aeropress. A fresh bag of ground coffee rides in my ARB fridge/freezer. I’ve seen other people use Bialettis, or just the integrated coffee press that comes with your water pot. As a bonus, you’re no longer tied to nasty truck stops. Ready for a break? Stop at that scenic view for a brew instead.