Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

What's The Best Car Gear For A Roadtrip?

Summers are filled with road trips and road trips are about junk food pit stops, managing gas station bathroom filth and also the car itself. For some reason, every time I get a car, I begin to fill it with lots of extra little things that I imagine might come in useful in a pinch a far ways from the safety of home. I suppose that's how I ended up with an old VW Vanagon camper van with a tricked-out electrical system, closets, stove, and two full-sized beds. It's a special feeling of freedom combined with creature comforts when I take my van on a trip across the Western American ranges.

Most car gadgets are useless little toys. Like the solar window fan that blew no more cool air than a gentle cross breeze would. And the little 12v chilling/heating coolers. They don't work.

But I do have some favorite car gadgets.

My favorite thing so far are these sheepskin seat covers, which are like the ones my dad used to have on his old Mercedes station wagon. Wool is an amazing material. Its insulation qualities allow it to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. And wool is non-porous, so it's super easy to clean if you spill a slurpee on these seats. I personally own these and they're high quality, except the back strap is a little flimsy. I still like them.

Eventually, you will have to change a tire. Sometimes at night. I have, in every car, a headlamp so I can change a tire with both hands free, or find a good spot in the woods to pee.

I also recommend stowing a pair of gloves in the car to keep your hands clean and warm during the process. Five-dollar utility gloves from a hardware store are good, but I have had these old deerskin motorcycle gloves in my car for a decade, and I love them. It's also nice to have a cheap rain jacket in your car for emergencies and for sudden downpours. This jacket by Marmot is $55, a great everyday value, and I like it as much as the more expensive gore-tex jackets we rain- and shower-tested.

Speaking of emergencies, it's not even close to being a piece of gear but you should have an AAA membership if you do any sort of driving at all.

There's no such thing as a road trip without music.

I haven't verified it to be the best around but it's good enough that I bought two generations of this Pioneer radio, which is perfect if you have an iPhone or other smartphone because it has a USB charging port in the front that can also play music from any App (with an app mode that lets you still use the touchscreen controls and not just the buttons on the radio). It also has bluetooth and a microphone for calls.

(If your car has no way to hook up a phone or MP3 player to play music, I like this FM transmitter.)

Here's a 10-foot long iPhone cable that I use to let people in the back seat DJ and charge their phones.

I use the music streaming service RDIO, which is like Spotify but with a better user interface. I also have a set of castanets in the van. I should really get some maracas too before my next baja trip.

Sunglasses—I like these aviators but I do not make any claims to them being the best. I just use them religiously.

Those with heavier feet will want to consider a radar detector. Here are our two favorites, which aren't cheap but are cheaper than speeding tickets.

I also like this solar gadget charging battery pack, which is useful if you are car camping.

And to remember everything on film, here's my favorite instant camera: the Fujifilm Instax 210.

I also have a pair of these binoculars in my van for spotting waves along California Highway 1.

And if you need a GPS, this Garmin model is my favorite one because it's not too expensive at $200 and can be voice controlled.

Lastly, I think the only time I get suckered into paying for plastic bottles of water is on road trips. Recently, I've started carrying a water bottle like this to avoid paying for tap water and making more waste.

Related: What Are The Best Audiobooks For A Roadtrip?

Sponsored posts are purely editorial content that we are pleased to have presented by a participating sponsor, advertisers do not produce the content. This post is brought to you by NEW Armor All Extreme Shield Wax. Help keep your car looking as good as the day you bought it with Armor All. Go to for a $10 rebate.

Brian Lam is the editor of The Wirecutter.

14 Comments / Post A Comment

roboloki (#1,724)

all you need is half a pack of cigarettes, a full tank of gas and sunglasses.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

A body bag in the trunk is also handy for emergencies, like meddling kids.

BadUncle (#153)

@SidAndFinancy Oh, Mr. Fancy. The rest of us just get by with tarps.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

Pretty sure you're gonna need all the gears of your car, but if I had to choose, I'd choose 4th gear as the best.

@whizz_dumb And if all else fails, I suppose you could try this one.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

I really want that instant camera.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

OK, I'm ready for The Great American Road Trip. Now please just write a post on how to get an extra $10k in my bank account so I can take a month off work to drive all over the backroads of These United States of America.

soji07brave (#236,117)


Ah, ha haaaaa.
I love that the link to RDIO redirects you to an amazon page for multicolored finger castanets.

Curationary@twitter (#236,228)

I can't believe you haven't taken a look at Sony RX100. The hottest pocket camera on the market today. Check it out. Let us know if you want to recommend it.

Adiko Josh (#237,392)

What a gear folks.

J3rrYcid (#238,559)

I think the GPS has become quite a quintessential gadget to have in our car. Most of us can say goodbye to being lost now. Some people have also gone on to install in-car cameras. These can help with insurance claims if you ever get into an accident, and the video footage can come in handy as video proof.

Great… We just lost 30 mins to craigslist looking at VW Campers. (we're not that upset about it)

We're cooking up an epic road trip app/website and we'll be looking for people to test it soon. Feel free to add your name to the invite list.

Simon Katich (#245,138)

some basic parts or minor parts in a car, but play major roles. Those parts are: car break, car light, car mirror, car horn, car gear, car clause etc. Car gear is one of the important and most necessary part of the car in terms of its work function. Car gear need to be working properly for the better and safe running of the car. BMW Repair Beverly Hills

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