Your Best Road Trip Ever: Essential Gear For A Driving Vacation (by Forbes)

2020 is shaping up to be the year of the road trip, thanks to the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic and still increasing COVID-19 cases. The more research we see, the more obvious it becomes that outside is better than inside, while your car is your car, and unlike a plane, train or other public transport, lets you control exactly who you share the space with and how it is cleaned. Plus, gas prices are low this year, while airline availability has been greatly reduced. In a car you can go where you want and stay where you want, whether that means hotels or camping, but for the same pandemic reasons, free standing/private accommodations like resorts comprised of cabins, rental homes at the beach or in the mountains, campsites, and especially “glamping,” are red hot trips rights now. 

Everyone want to get outside after months of the “stay at home” lifestyle, and for all these reasons, natural sites like the desert, mountains and beaches, and wide open spaces have seen a huge spike in interest. The one thing they all have in common is your car, and at the same time, many people want to avoid extraneous trips into stores and restaurants, so it is more important than ever to pack properly and take the right stuff with you. Here’s the right stuff for the perfect road trip.

Fire!: Nothing completes the road trip experience like an evening around a fire, and there is no easier or more portable way to enjoy this safely and quickly than with the high-tech lineup of packable firepits from Solo Stove. Originally designed as an ultra-light and hyper-efficient camping stove, the designs all feature a round canister shape with futuristic double-wall design producing “secondary burn” that eliminates smoke and minimizes ash. The air intake holes on the bottom pull air in towards the fuel source, while the double-wall construction allows the air to be heated up and fed through the top vents providing an extra boost of pre-heated oxygen, creating secondary combustion. The result is a hotter fire with less smoke! They light fast and easy with just a small amount of kindling, and best of all, you can carry little or no fuel as Solo Stoves can burn any wood, from twigs to branches to actual firewood - even pinecones! You can easily cook s’mores over the roaring blaze. They’re beautiful, burn as good as they look, come in three sizes and have a lifetime warranty.

People are less interested in restaurants and more in cooking themselves during the pandemic, so it might make sense to take a grill along for the ride, especially if you plan on camping, glamping, renting a cabin or home, or spending a lot of time at the beach. One of the most beloved and popular charcoal grills ever made is also extremely portable and perfect for hitting the road. Bulletproof, highly efficient and very light, the venerable PK Grill (Portable Kitchen) can do everything well, from burgers and dogs to high temp steak searing to slow smoked barbecue. Designed in 1952, it’s so durable many people still cook on original models. The two-piece rectangular body (top and bottom) is hand poured aluminum, rustproof, extremely light and great at conducting heat. The shape is perfect for two zone indirect grilling or smoking and it just works very well. For road trips, check out the Original PKGO, the classic full-sized grill in a tabletop model.

Roof Racks & Cargo Carriers: You are going to take more stuff with you on a road trip than a normal drive, and even if you have a big SUV, chances are you’ll want more space - and this is absolutely a must with smaller cars. The best way to carry more toys and luggage is on the roof, and this starts with a roof rack. Sweden’s Thule has long been the industry leader and makes tons of options for every make of car and everything you could want to carry. I’ve long been a customer, have Thule rack systems on both my cars, and a variety of bike, ski and cargo holders. Thule continues to innovate, and when I added their newer wing shaped aero bars to my car, replacing the old square models most companies offer, the noise went down dramatically, while mileage improved. Today, Thule’s wing shaped bars like the Evo or AeroBar are the best options on the market, and they accept an immense range of accessories to carry everything from kayaks to hang gliders. If you have a vehicle with a hitch mount, they also make a lot of great hitch mount carriers for cargo and bikes, letting you skip the roof altogether.

But the single most versatile thing you can add is a rooftop cargo box, which can hold everything from golf clubs to luggage to skis and snowboards, or just lots of random items including coolers, folding chairs - I keep my dogs’ folding travel crates up there. Thule makes a couple of different sizes and these can be used concurrently with bike holders. Thule’s cargo boxes have won several prestigious European design awards, attach and detach quickly, easily and securely, open from either side, have great integrated locks and assisted opening, while higher-end models add bells and whistles like felt protective liners and even lights. What they all have in common is strong, light, aerodynamic, weatherproof designs that excel at all the little details cheaper boxes miss, like top quality hinges, internal tie down straps and precision everything.

Coolers: This may be the single most important piece of road trip gear, especially in these crazy times when you want to be able to bring more stuff from home, stop at less stores along the way, and reload at outdoor eateries like BBQ or lobster shacks. YETI is widely known for making the best coolers on the market, ultra-insulated and practically indestructible, ready to handle mishaps from hungry bears to falling out the back of your vehicles. YETI makes a wide range of sizes in its flagship Tundra line of hard sided coolers, and these can keep things frozen for up to a week. For most vehicles, the top road trip sizes would be the Tundra 35 ($250) or Tundra 45 ($300), both available in a variety of colors, with college or other custom sports logos offered, both featuring extras like tie down slots, great handles, freezer quality gaskets and non-slip bases. If you are planning the kind of trip where it will matter, they also offer wheeled rolling Tundra models. But I usually take along a soft sided YETI model like the Hopper series, available in several sizes. It is still ultra-insulated, but these are more flexible in terms of space, lighter, and depending on the model, do double duty for shopping or as backpacks and picnic baskets.

Insulated Drinkware: Tons of companies today make high quality, double walled steel cups, mugs and glasses that can keep drinks hot or cold for an entire day, including majors brands such as YETI, Kleen Kanteen, Miir and Hydroflask, just to name a few leaders. But I really like what portable hydration specialist CamelBak has done, making a double walled insulated bottle specifically designed to hold a full 750ml bottle of wine ($35) without the danger of breakable glass. It protects quality red wine from damage by heat in the car, and if you put a chilled bottle of white in it, you can still enjoy it cold a day later. Of course it works for things besides wine (whisky!), but the sleek presentation adds a more elegant twist to your picnic or campfire libations than the standard canisters competitors make, and these feature a non-slip base for the great outdoors, when you might set it on a rock or tree stump. The matching 12-ounce wine glasses are surprisingly good in terms of a proper bowl shape for maximizing taste and nose, are easy to clean even on the road, and come with excellent lids that keep pesky bugs at bay. They are wine glasses for sure, but still can be used for your morning espresso or cappuccino. The wine bottle and glasses are part of CamelBak’s new and very good-looking insulated Horizon collection, which offers several colors and also includes rocks glasses, large tumblers and coffee mugs.

Tools: Sooner or later on your road trip you are going to have to fix, adjust, cut or open something, from a beer to a bottle of wine to tightening the screws on a bicycle or folding chair. That’s why mutli-tools are indispensable for travelers. When you go for a hike you want the lightest, smallest model around, which means sacrificing features, but in your car you can easily carry the do-it-all SwissTool X Plus Ratchet, which packs an entire toolbox full of options into a single included leather carrying case that will disappear in your glove compartment. Famed for its Swiss Army knives, Victorinox has long been the world’s leader in multi-function cutlery, and this model packs in an astonishing 38 different tools, including the road trip must-haves like bottle opener, scissors, pliers and a corkscrew – vital, but oddly missing on most multi-tools. But what really sets this model apart is the added ratchet driver, and if you have to turn more than a single screw, you will find this indispensable. It also has a locking blade for safety ($150).

Best Folding Chair: Wherever you drive other than a hotel, you are probably going to want to sit comfortably, at the beach, around the fire, by the lake, or just while having a roadside picnic. There are a lot of folding chairs and they begin at very low-price points, so why spend $300 on one? YETI is known for making overengineered and nearly indestructible products, and its new line of folding chairs continues that, and has been receiving over the top reviews from gear testing sites and magazines. Whatever vehicle you take for your road trip, chances are you will still have this chair after the car is retired. The Trailhead model folds quickly and easily with an x-shaped frame, pack in a compact bag, but supports up to 500 pounds - way more than most others. It is made for Flexgrid fabric that conforms to your shape for comfort and won’t be degraded by UV rays like most synthetic fabrics. More like high-end patio furniture that happens to fold, it is designed with a true chair shape that is much more comfortable. It has wide, comfy armrests, oversized pivoting feet for stability on uneven campground terrain,  and includes a mounted cupholder specially designed to fit a very wide range of sizes, from YETI’s smaller highball “glass” to its various double-walled pint glass styles and most popular water bottles. The Rolls Royce of folding chairs.