Part of the appeal of road life is that your needs are so much less than at home. (It’s amazing how quickly the closets full of clothes you ditched become an afterthought). Moreover, space is limited. So around the holidays, gifts can become a point of consternation.
But if your mother is like mine, she’s going to buy you something no matter what. With that in mind, my wife, Jen, and I sorted through our favorite, indispensable possessions to craft a list of items your favorite vanlifer will appreciate rather than pawn.
America the Beautiful Pass ($80)
If you travel around the U.S. much at all, the cost of this pass, which provides entry to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, including national parks, will pale compared to the money you would otherwise spend on entry fees. Plus, with our public lands under fire, purchasing one of these passes—and using it—is a vote for access and investment in the infrastructure that we all love and use.
Doma Deep Coffee ($19 for 12 ounces)
I’m not a terribly particular person, but good coffee is nonnegotiable. We get all of ours from Doma, a small roastery in northwest Idaho. The Deep blend, a silky medium roast of Guatemalan Huehuetenango beans, is a winter favorite, partly for the smooth wake-up and partly because a portion of each can’s proceeds goes to Protect Our Winters. We purchase our coffee at GoCoffeeGo, which ships anywhere in the U.S. for cheap, meaning we’re never stuck without a good brew.
Having spent much of my adult life as an avid climber, I still have piles of bail ’biners that I’ve liberated from routes. While I sometimes appropriate those leftovers for work duty, I’ve also purchased a few of these smart utility clips because they’re so damn handy. The swivel hook on top means you can easily hang this over railings, fences, awnings, and tree branches and still take advantage of the clip for organizing extension cords, hanging up solar lights, and countless additional tasks.
Maven C.1 Binocs ($325)
A good set of binoculars in the woods provides as much entertainment as your television back home. From camp I can usually find some sort of game (deer, elk, bighorns, javelina) to watch, and even when I can’t, the act of searching is reward enough for the way it engages you in your surroundings. Maven Optics makes some of the finest binoculars on the market, with supersharp, high-contrast glass, for a fraction of the cost of the competition, because it sells only direct to consumer. With its 8X magnification and weight of just 24 ounces, C.1’s are an incredible value with clarity better than models twice and three times their price. And they’ll keep you occupied for years to come.
OnX Subscription ($100)
If I had to pick a single product that has most changed our existence in the trailer in recent years, it would be the OnX mapping service, which makes finding great campsites on public land easy, even without cell coverage. The Elite membership gets you access to high-resolution maps of all 50 states, both on your laptop and smartphone. The company is also worth supporting for the incredible public-lands advocacy work it has been doing in conjunction with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
Prest-O-Fit Aeroweave Breathable Mat ($110)
I was completely lukewarm on this 8-by-20-foot heavyweight-mesh-plastic mat when Jen insisted on buying it; now I wouldn’t travel without it. This is our portable front porch, the place where we sit and have coffee in the morning, do yoga in the afternoon, stretch after rides, spread out gear ahead of trips, and chill out in the evening over a cocktail. Not only does it extend our space from the trailer, it also minimizes the dirt and grime that gets tracked into our Airstream, Artemis.
Snow Peak Japanese Dutch Oven ($270)
We have been through several pot and pan setups since we hit the road, but this Snow Peak Dutch oven is the last one we’ll ever buy. Unlike less expensive versions, the ductile cast iron in this Japanese set is lightweight, which makes for easier maneuvering in a small space. The rounded bottom conducts heat better than a typical flat one, the nesting pot and pan minimize space demands, and the built-in handles ensure you’ll never be scrambling for a pot grabber. Yep, it’s pricey. But “Buy it once, buy it right” is the maxim I wish I would have subscribed to from the get-go.
ViAir Portable Air Compressor (From $65)
From flat tires on the trailer to tubeless setups on our bikes, a compressor is a bit of a necessity on the road. We discovered this the hard way a few years ago after smashing open one of our truck tires, plugging it, and then taking a very long time to inflate it with a bicycle pump. ViAir’s portable models connect to your car or trailer battery via alligator clamps or even plug into a 12-volt adapter, which means you’ll never get stuck in the woods with a flat again. They are also compact enough—ours is about the size and weight of a bag of flour—that it’s not prohibitive to carry one full-time.
Yakima x Rumple x Stickfort Puffy Blanket ($159)
When you’re sitting around the fire on one of those crisp desert nights, which we do a lot, there’s nothing better for snuggling warmth than a Rumpl Puffy blanket. The synthetic-fill insulation is as warm as down and packs into a stuffsack about the size of a toaster, but it’s more durable and easier to wash on the road. This special-edition Stickfort model features stylized illustrations of Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge by Pacific Northwest artist and illustrator Adam Haynes, and $5 from every sale goes to the Friends of the Columbia River Gorge conservation group.