I always start a road trip happy. The prospect of the unknown and the liberation of an open highway propel my excitement—at first.
But after a few days, my mental state becomes closely tied to the organizational state of my truck. If I have unpaired hiking boots strewn across the car floor, a miserable dog crammed between duffel bags in the back seat, and I haven’t been able to reach my cell phone that’s lost under the front seat, I start to feel pretty frazzled.
These nine items won’t solve all of your road-related space and storage woes, but they will help ease some of the nuisances about packing your life into a vehicle, because an organized road-tripper is a happy road-tripper.
Yakima SkyBox 16 Carbonite ($559)
I resisted getting a gear box for a long time, but once I did, it was a total game changer. Sure, I could fit everything I’m packing in my six-foot truck bed—but that’s where I have my bed. While I used to throw bags and cargo on top of that, I would also spend every evening rearranging them to make space so I could lie down.
Now I keep most of my gear in the Yakima SkyBox 16, which has more than enough room for multiple duffel bags, camera backpacks, tripods, and other unwieldy items, and I relegate the back of the truck for sleeping and the things I need to access quickly.
Once I got the hang of the latches, the SkyBox was easy to take on and off the car, and at 47 pounds, it’s manageable with two people to load it onto your crossbars. Fully loaded, the box did affect my miles per gallon, but when it’s empty, I experienced virtually no change in fuel efficiency.
Two other bonuses worth noting: the SkyBox is made in the U.S. from 80 percent recycled material.
Pelican Protector + AMS iPhone XR Case ($50)
Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference. This vent mount has quite literally been a lifesaver, since it keeps my eyes at windshield level when I look at my phone’s GPS or to change a song. It also helps that I always know where my phone is, rather than searching for it between seat cushions or rummaging through my bags.
This has to be the easiest system for mounting your phone to your dash, since it relies on magnets built into the mount and the case. I’ve never had the phone fall off the mount, and the case is legit on its own, having kept my phone intact after many drops.
Purist 10-Ounce Maker ($40)
There are a million insulated coffee vessels out there today, but why so many of these mugs are wide-based behemoths is lost on me, because cup holders haven’t expanded to match this trend.
Which is why I appreciate the Maker, a ten-ounce bottle that’s less than three inches wide and fits into any of my truck’s cup holders. It keeps drinks hot for up to 12 hours and cold for up to 24, and I love Purist’s sleek, low-key design and matte color.
To really guard against spills, stick with the screw-off Element top, but for easier drinking while driving, try the brand’s Union top.
Yeti Hopper M30 ($300)
In the past, I’ve always packed my Yeti Tundra 65 hard cooler in the back seat of my truck for road trips. For a weeklong or multi-person excursion, this is a great choice, as it keeps ice frozen for extended periods of time and fits plenty of food.
But I started to realize that for weekend or solo missions, the Tundra was more than I needed and wasn’t worth the space it took up (my dog, who split the back seat with this large cooler, adamantly agreed).
So I’ve been using the Yeti Hopper M30 for more casual trips, when it’s easy to refill ice and restock provisions. It still has plenty of cargo space, keeps ice cold, and saves me a ton of room.
The latest iteration of this cooler also features a magnetic closure as opposed to a zipper. The only downside to these ultrastrong magnets is that it can be difficult to keep the bag open while loading and unloading (the magnets really want to close). But the trade-off is a serious seal that will keep your food and drinks cold as well as prevent leaks.
Ruffwear Mt. Bachelor Pad ($70 and Up)
Of the outdoor dog beds we’ve tried, the Ruffwear Mt. Bachelor Pad is the only one that rolls up and secures with an attached strap, which means I can stuff it away whenever my pooch isn’t using it.
The base is waterproof for outdoor use, and the microsuede, recycled-polyfill top is soft and comfortable. The entire bed is machine washable. The bottom layer could be more durable against abrasive outdoor surfaces, but for a bed that is mostly used inside your vehicle, this pad is a great choice.
Nomadix Towel ($40)
Towels can be a real space hog, whether they’re packed into bags or folded on seats. But I always travel with two: a cleaner one for showering and a more functional one for drying after surfing or working out.
Nomadix towels are made with travel in mind. They fold down into a compact 3.5-by-7-inch rectangle. For a travel towel, they’re pretty absorbent and quick drying.
There’s a print for every taste, and they’re also made with recycled plastic bottles, which is better than that waste ending up in a landfill.
Hydro Flask 64-Ounce Growler ($65)
I don’t leave on a road trip without filling my seven-gallon Reliance jug with clean water, but it’s big and heavy, so I stow it in the back and only pull it out when it’s time to refill my 64-ounce Hydro Flask growler.
Sure, this vessel was designed to hold beer, but with its large capacity, it ensures that both my dog and I have ready access to water. I always keep it on the passenger seat to remind myself to keep drinking, and since the recommended daily amount of water is roughly eight eight-ounce glasses, filling the 64-ounce growler each day makes it easy to track whether I’m staying hydrated.
This bottle is super durable and has withstood plenty of drops. And I appreciate the double-wall insulation after a hot hike or leaving the car parked in the desert.
Yakima SupDawg SUP and Surfboard Mount ($299)
If you’re a surfer, keeping your boards out of the bed of a truck or the back of a van prevents them from shifting around while you drive and saves space for other items. Investing in a mount like the Yakima SUPDawg saves you the hassle of manually strapping down your boards each time you head out to surf.
My favorite feature of this mount is the ability to lock my boards to prevent theft. The straps can’t be cut with a knife or scissors (thanks to a metal cable inside the strap body), and when locked down, they can’t be released without a key. A well-equipped thief could still slice the straps with the right tool, but this will give you some peace of mind when you leave boards on your car while stopping for food or bedding down for the night.