The Best Gear for Your Road Trips in 2024 | Reviews by Wirecutter

We independently review everything we recommend. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Learn more›

We've finished testing the Yakima SkyBox NX 18 cargo box, which replaced our former pick, the SkyBox 16 Carbonite, and we recommend it. See Stowing your gear for more details. Short Ratchet Straps

The Best Gear for Your Road Trips in 2024 | Reviews by Wirecutter

A road trip is an adventure. It doesn’t matter how far you go. But all adventures require a little planning (and one or two backup plans, in case things go sideways).

We took our first testing road trip in an age far less complicated than these past few years, but the gear we tested and the advice we’ve gathered here should still help you navigate the roads safely and comfortably.

Our original trip, in 2016, included 60 hours of researching and testing gear to take on the open road. We packed all of our top contenders into a Honda Fit EX and headed out on a four-day jaunt to determine what’s nice to have, what’s great, and what’s absolutely essential for your next road trip.

In 2020 we added a few items to help you adhere to safe-travel guidelines, and those things will always come in handy during flu and cold season. We’ve also added several selections to take on challenging winter car trips.

After traveling for 1,500 miles, through four states and six national parks, we think we have a good grasp on what makes an excellent road trip. In addition to performing our own research and testing, we consulted with half a dozen engineers, mechanics, and other experts to bring you these picks. Our hope is that the recommendations in this guide will help you see more and explore farther down the road than you thought possible.

Below, you’ll find recommendations for cargo boxes, binoculars, coolers, emergency beacons, a first-aid kit, a folding blanket, an ice scraper, an instant camera, inverters for your electronics, a multi-tool, phone mounts, a portable jump starter, ratchets and tie-down straps, a road atlas, stain remover, a stowable daypack, sun shades, sunglasses, a tire-pressure gauge, a toolkit for cars, a travel game, a travel pillow, water jugs, windshield water repellent, wipes, and so much more. These items will help you have a successful road trip, regardless of region or weather.

However, even if you have the best gear in the world, it’s always best to address small problems before they become emergencies. That’s why we asked Christopher Smith, a veteran automotive journalist with a penchant for restoring fixer-uppers, to help us put together some advice on how to prepare your car for a trip. (And he lives in South Dakota, where things are spread out, so he’s always prepared.) We cover everything from checking your tires and dipsticks to knowing what you should do if your car starts smelling like rotten eggs for seemingly no reason.

This guide isn’t specifically geared toward families, though most of the picks would be useful to a family traveling by car. We do have guides to infant car seats, travel car seats, booster car seats, and water bottles for kids—all things that are of particular interest to families on the road.

Being able to find what you need when you need it—whether it’s water, emergency lights, a change of clothes, or a granola bar—can make the difference between a short, easy stop that rejuvenates and a long, frustrating one that makes you question why you left home in the first place.

It all starts with packing. Don’t overthink it. We like to keep items grouped: emergency gear in the back right of the trunk, water in the back left, spare batteries in the glove compartment along with the power inverter, and so on. After a few days, double-checking that everything is where it should be before heading off becomes a comforting ritual, and it helps mitigate the worry that you left … something … in the motel last night.

And don’t overpack. As with a bag, a well-packed car is one that has less than you think you want to bring but everything that you truly need. You don’t have to bring everything—just the things that are essential. Remember, you want to enjoy the drive. Not having to worry about countless items that someone might lose or misplace is a big step toward that enjoyment.

This cargo box offers great aerodynamics, easy mounting and operation, and a lot of storage at a reasonable price.

A cargo box effectively allows you to double your trunk space by moving bulky items from your car’s interior or trunk to its roof. After gathering up as much intel as we could about rooftop cargo boxes from experts, retailers, manufacturers, customers, and outdoor-gear reviewers, we’ve concluded that of the 21 boxes we surveyed, the Yakima SkyBox NX 18 offers the best combination of features, build quality, and value pricing for most road trips.

The NX line replaces the Carbonite line of Yakima boxes, which included our previous cargo box pick, the SkyBox 16 Carbonite.

The cargo box’s low-drag aerodynamic design minimizes wind noise and reduces the impact on fuel economy. Its 18 cubic feet of space allows it to hold skis, duffle bags, backpacks, sleeping bags and other camping gear, or any random (though fairly lightweight) stuff, and it does so securely—both in solidly mounting to your roof rack and in resisting theft. If you don’t have a rack already, this REI car rack buying guide is a good place to start, but be sure to consult your car’s owner manual to see how much weight its roof can bear.

The SkyBox NX 18 is easy to use. Like most cargo boxes these days, it uses sliding brackets, rather than one or two fixed spots, for attachment to the crossbars, making perfect positioning a snap. To secure the brackets to the crossbars, you use a simple torque wrench (included) that will announce with an audible click—like a gas-tank cap—when you’ve tightened the four installation bolts down securely. The tool lives inside the cargo box, though out of the way of your gear, for safekeeping.

Once installed, the SkyBox NX 18 allows easy access from either side of the car, and its newly redesigned dimensions (a change from the previous model) make it less likely to interfere with a liftgate if you put it on a hatchback or station wagon.

If you need more space, Yakima’s older-generation 21-cubic-foot model (the company has not released an updated, NX 21 version so far) may still be available for purchase. Be aware, however, that this box weighs more and can encourage overloading past your car rack’s weight limit, which might be lower than you expect. It may also be too long in the back to clear some liftgates. As Ken Klaes, general manager of ReRack, a Portland, Oregon–based cargo-box retailer and rental company, explained to us: “A rack designed to carry 150 pounds doesn’t forget that the box is there; the weight of the box itself (often 50-ish pounds) needs to be subtracted from the weight rating to give you a real capacity for the box.”

Easier to use than non-ratcheting straps, these straps ensure that your stuff stays put.

I spent many years working in rigging and rope access on offshore oil platforms, where I played with loads, angles, line pulls, and sheave-block friction percentages—in other words, I know a thing or two about strapping things down. You can find two common types of roof straps: ratchet straps, which have a mechanical lever and gear, and cam straps (sometimes called “lashing” or “loop” straps), which connect to themselves through a cam buckle. If I could choose only one type, I’d get ratchet straps because they’re easier to secure. More specifically, I’d get the Keeper Endless Loop Ratchet Tie-Down.

We spent several hours examining 22 strap options before landing on the Keeper version. Keeper is a reliable brand, and the ratchets are easy to tighten and loosen, thanks to their all-metal construction. (Cheaper ratchets are hard to release and prone to sticking or breaking due to their reliance on plastic parts.) At 13 feet long, these 1-inch straps are long enough for all but the most strenuous loads on the largest of vehicles, and their nylon webbing’s 400-pound working load limit and 1,200-pound break strength put them right in line with similarly priced straps. You could get something that’s heavier-duty or longer, but you’d be paying more for strength or length you don’t need.

On our trip, driving in a car without a roof rack, we used the Keeper straps to great success. The straps held a full water jug to the roof of our Honda for a few dozen miles through the backroads of Arizona with no issues. Other Wirecutter staffers have owned Keeper straps for years and vouch for their overall strength and durability.

Simpler and cheaper than ratchet straps, these straps have above-average strength ratings.

If you prefer the simplicity of a cam strap or don’t need the extra force that a ratchet strap provides, we like the NRS 1″ HD Tie-Down Straps, which come in a variety of lengths. They’re pricier than more popular options, but their webbing is rated to a 1,500-pound breaking strength (the cam itself has a 2,000-pound breaking strength) and a 500-pound working load, in contrast with the 600-pound breaking strength and 200-pound working load of this best-selling Keeper set. Equipment of this grade may seem like overkill, but Wirecutter’s Mark Smirniotis had several weaker cams fail on him when he was strapping loads to his Jeep. He noted in 2016 that of all the straps on Amazon with more than 25 customer reviews, the NRS straps were the only ones that had no reviews complaining of failed cams. NRS is primarily known as the premier kayaking- and rafting-accessory company, so the folks there probably know something about strapping awkwardly large loads onto cars.

This strap offers a quick way to add load-stabilizing anchor points to a small car.

For owners of compact cars who want to move long or oversize loads, such as a kayak, we also like the Thule Quick Loop Strap. You secure these straps under the hood of your car (or the trunk, if you don’t have a hatchback) to create a set of forward anchor points to help stabilize the forward section of whatever it is you’re carrying. Judging from our testing, these straps are very quick to set up, and they can add a welcome level of versatility to tough packing situations.

Driving can be fun, meditative, exhausting, and torturous. After five hours of driving through the desert, it can sometimes be all of those things at the same time.

A thousand little gadgets promise to make a long drive somehow easier. Most of them are useless and seemingly designed to distract you more than anything else. Try to avoid these items. The best gear is durable, unobtrusive, and easy to use—so you can keep your eyes (and your thoughts) on the road.

You will get bored—500 miles on cruise control with an automatic transmission can be a pretty dull time. Not always, of course, but sometimes it will be boring, and maybe that’s the point. In this frenetic age, that feeling is practically a luxury, and it’s essential to the trip. Revel in it.

It would be impossible for us to pick the best overall sunglasses, since your choice ultimately depends on your personal style. We have picks for cheap sunglasses in a separate guide. But driving sunglasses are different because they’re designed to help you perform a specific task: driving safely. In that regard, Maui Jim makes the best sunglasses around, though they are something of an investment.

These are the clearest driving sunglasses we’ve found, with no perceptible distortion.

We compared a Maui Jim pair with more than 20 types of sunglasses, driving or otherwise, and found this pair to be the best of the bunch. The Maui Jim sunglasses had the clearest lenses, with no perceptible distortion, on the lightest frames we tested (0.6 ounce, or about half the weight of a wooden pencil). I’ve never encountered sunglasses that I can wear for hours on end without somehow hurting my nose, ears, or both. But during my trip there were a few afternoons when I had completely forgotten I was even wearing the Maui Jim sunglasses—despite five-plus hours of driving with them on.

The clarity of the lenses was another surprise. The Maui Jim lenses are so clear that it’s borderline unsettling the first time you try on these sunglasses. Thanks to the lenses’ exceptional clarity and polarization, everything—including the scenery around you and the road ahead—looks sharper through them.

As far as specific model recommendations go, I suggest scanning the offerings on the Maui Jim website and reading the fit descriptions to find something that matches your aesthetic sensibilities. Unlike companies that go by lens size only, Maui Jim lists face shape as part of its fit guidelines. That means you’re more likely to find what’s most comfortable for you on your first try. Just keep in mind that bigger lenses tend to be better because they offer more coverage.

Maui Jim glasses come with a two-year warranty. After checking with the company, we confirmed that it fulfills warranties on its sunglasses no matter where you buy them. However, Maui Jim services only authentic lenses and frames that haven’t been modified in any way. You can tell whether the pair you have is genuine (and not a knockoff) by confirming that the Maui Jim logo is etched, not just painted onto the lens.

In an ideal world, people wouldn’t use a phone at all while driving, and if you have a copilot, you shouldn’t have to—you can delegate the phone-related tasks to them. But in reality, for many drivers, a phone is the source for navigation, information, messages, music, and (of course) phone calls. However, if you hold the phone in your hand as you drive—or look down at it in a cup holder or center-console bin—it can be a major distraction and safety risk. That’s why we recommend using a smartphone mount.

Whether it’s on a dashboard or windshield, this model is easy to set up, grips securely, and has a strong magnetic mount that supports most phones in any position.

This model is easy to set up and remove, and it has the same strong magnetic mount as the dash version. It securely held on to our cars’ vent slats.

This mount attached quickly and firmly to our cars’ CD slots and has the same magnetic mount as the other iTap Magnetic 2 versions.

I enjoy the simplicity of my phone with no accessories, so I like that the iOttie iTap Magnetic 2 mounts offer an attractively easy way to mount and unmount my phone with one hand. In our tests, the magnets in all three versions—dash/windshield, vent, and CD slot—were strong, supporting most of our phones vertically and horizontally over even the roughest terrain. Only the large, 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max gave them some trouble when they held it horizontally; the mounts were solid with a 6-inch Google Pixel 2 XL.

To use the magnetic mount, you have to attach a small metal plate to the back of your phone or to the case. Doing so is safe for your phone, and we found this detail to be small, subtle, and attractive enough that we didn’t mind it. Often you can hide it entirely by attaching the plate to the inside of a phone’s case. But the plate could interfere with your ability to wirelessly charge your phone; if you want to be able to continue to use that function, consider the following options from our guide to wireless charging phone mounts.

This model delivered some of the quickest charging speeds and earned top results for stability. It lets you easily mount and unmount your phone, too.

This is the sturdiest vent-mounted model we tested, with fast charging speeds, a firm grip, and a quick way to attach and remove your phone.

The iOttie Easy One Touch Wireless 2—available as a dash and windshield mount or a vent and CD player mount—offers a convenient way to charge your phone in the car while also giving you easy access to audio controls, directions, messages, and more. In our tests, both models ranked among the quickest at charging our phones. Their spring-loaded tension arms made attaching or removing a phone of any size simple, and they held the phone steady while we drove. Both models offer a wide range of adjustability for positioning your phone where you can readily see it, regardless of the vehicle. iOttie also offers a magnetic mount (for vent use) that’s compatible with wireless charging.

Rain and snow add stress to a road trip, and they decrease your visibility and your reaction time in an emergency. Along with wipers, rain-repellent windshield coatings can help keep your windshield clear. If you want the most effective rain repellent, pick up the classic Rain-X spray bottle and commit to applying it once a month. If you simply want to give your windshield a boost, Aquapel is almost as effective and can last six times longer between applications—but it is very expensive.

This affordable hydrophobic spray offers effective protection, but it wears off after a couple of weeks.

May be out of stock

Most auto-supply shops offer a huge variety of Rain-X products, including wiper blades, gels, and washer-fluid additives, but you should stick to the original Rain-X formula in the 16-ounce spray bottle because it has the most reliably positive reviews from buyers. Once applied, Rain-X forms a hydrophobic coating, which causes water to bead up and quickly slide off your windshield. Most people who have used Rain-X agree that maintaining its effectiveness requires reapplication about once a month. If your wiper blades start “chattering,” that probably means the coating is beginning to wear unevenly, and it’s time to reapply.

Aquapel bonds to your windshield for up to half a year, but it costs more than twice as much as Rain-X.

If you can’t commit to applying Rain-X once a month, consider Aquapel. Instead of coating your windshield, it bonds to the glass chemically, and it should last for three to six months before you need to pull out another one-time-use sponge and reapply. YouTube user jwardell posted a 30-day comparison video that shows how Rain-X is more effective initially, but after a month Aquapel still works even after the Rain-X has all but worn off.

For either repellent, proper application is the key to getting the maximum benefit. You need to start with an extremely clean windshield. Then clean it again just to be sure. Both of these repellents dry best in warm weather, out of direct sun. Even when perfectly applied, however, these substances have potential drawbacks. Some people who have used them complain that the repellents cause noticeable haziness at night. Others report that they had trouble getting windshield chips professionally filled after learning that the chemicals interfered with repair methods—though Aquapel’s site disputes such claims. Still, if you’re stuck in inclement weather on a road trip or a commute, either the original Rain-X spray or Aquapel can help increase visibility and decrease your stress levels.

Efficient at clearing ice and sweeping snow, this scraper works on vehicles of all sizes.

The Hopkins SubZero 80037 tool combines a scraping blade and ice-crushing teeth to make quick work of thick or thin ice, and its plow-like bristle broom is the best we’ve tested—equally adept at shoveling snow off body panels and brushing it out from tight spots around mirrors and wipers. The Hopkins SubZero has a self-locking extension that’s easy to use when you want to fold the scraper away to make room in the trunk of your car. It’s of average size—39 inches folded up and 60 inches fully extended. But no other contender offers such a complete scraping-and-sweeping package with so few weaknesses.

This atlas is large enough to use while you’re in motion, with a logical, straightforward layout.

With the advent of GPS units and smartphone navigation apps (both of which we recommend over the onboard navigation systems that might come with a car), the age of the paper road atlas would seem to be over. But don’t let anyone convince you of that. A road atlas is the heart of every road trip. It’s the inspiration.

Planning a road trip starts with imagining the places you could be next weekend, if you threw a few granola bars and some clothes into the backseat and left everything else behind. Of course, you could bring up Google Maps, look up the top 10 travel destinations near you, plan your exact route, and save a PDF to your digital device so you’d know exactly where to go and how to get there at each stage of your trip.

Or you could pull out a physical map and highlight a route. You might not know exactly what to expect when you get there, but you’ll definitely know that you can get there. And regardless of electronic-device failures, you will always have a map in hand.

For use in the car, we like the classic Rand McNally Road Atlas—just make sure to get an updated edition. Its oversize shape makes it simple to read and easy to spread out on the hood or in your lap, and the user-friendly design can’t be beat. This atlas’s arrangement of state and keyhole maps is the best for navigation.

As a test, we used the Rand McNally atlas to complete the first leg of our trip, from Ventura to Joshua Tree, California, with no phones and no GPS, on roads we had never driven before. The Rand McNally atlas was simple, functional, and easy to follow. Most important, it was fun to use.

We did read one complaint from somebody who began using that year’s map early: Some of the roads it listed as passable were still mid-construction at the time. If you’re buying a map in the middle of the year or later, you could play it safe and stick with the current year’s edition.

Best-in-class directions, driver alerts, points of interest, and free map updates—combined with the best screen we’ve seen on any GPS unit—set this model apart from the pack.

For most shorter trips, a smartphone can provide all the navigation assistance you need. But should your journey take you off the beaten path (and out of your coverage area), we suggest the Garmin DriveSmart 55. Like the best GPS units, the DriveSmart 55 can also connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth, which lets you send destinations to the device, get incoming messages on screen, and receive extra trip and traffic info. The DriveSmart 55’s extensive points-of-interest database helps guide you to an area’s best sites and businesses through integrated Tripadvisor ratings, Foursquare listings, a database of sites from the History network, and US national park directories (something that other brands’ models don’t offer). Similar to a smartphone, the DriveSmart 55 allows multi-touch gestures, such as pinching or spreading for easier zooming on a map; this feature is a clear step up from the resistive displays of less-expensive units, which allow only single-finger gestures and require you to tap on the plus and minus buttons to zoom in or out.

The DriveSmart 55 also provides helpful traffic info in many metro areas. It responds to voice commands as effectively as the best GPS units, and like other top models it includes free lifetime map updates—in contrast with the pricey updates you need to buy for many cars’ built-in navigation systems.

Not quite a shower but pretty darn close, these wipes are amazing after a sweaty day in the desert.

Road-trip and backpacking veterans know just how much better a shower can make an adventure after three days and a lot of smelly clothes. When taking a shower is not an option, or even if you just want to tidy up a bit after a long drive, body wipes can provide some much-needed relief.

We considered 22 brands and tested nine different body wipes, including some that were popular on Amazon and others that were recommended on the blogs of seasoned outdoorspeople.

Cheap, portable, and durable, the Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes were the clear winners.

The wipes come in a resealable package, which helps keep them fresher for longer. You can find them in two sizes, XL (8 by 12 inches, in a pack of eight) and Compact (6 by 8 inches, in a pack of 12). On our trip, we preferred the XL wipes for their extra coverage and longer cleaning power. The fully compostable Wilderness Wipes were among the most lightly scented ones we tested, and their lack of alcohol left our skin feeling clean and moist.

Effective, EPA-approved, and (usually) easy to find, these pre-soaked wipes need only four minutes of contact time to neutralize the coronavirus—and they’ll kill other nasty bugs you might come across in your travels, too.

Most disinfecting wipes are the same. Although we recommend Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, we advise getting any pack of wipes you can find that contains a disinfectant on the EPA’s List N (most have a bleach or quaternary ammonium base). Clorox’s bleach-free wipes are usually sold in single canisters or in four-packs at a range of retailers. These wipes can eliminate the coronavirus and other pathogens on hard surfaces—countertops, door handles, and bathroom fixtures—in your home, vehicle, or motel room, but not on fabric or other soft materials.

This aerosol works in 10 minutes and is fabric-safe, but it’s guaranteed to eliminate the coronavirus and other pathogens only on hard surfaces.

Instead of bleach, which can damage car interiors, Lysol Disinfectant Spray uses quaternary ammonium. It’s safe on hard surfaces and most fabrics, and it’s gentler on skin than bleach. It also produces fewer harsh fumes—which is good if you’re disinfecting the same space frequently. The spray eliminates the coronavirus, for instance, on hard surfaces in 10 minutes, but on soft surfaces it only sanitizes (kills most but not all pathogens).

One thing we’ve learned in the past few years is that face masks can be useful whenever you’re sick (with COVID-19, a cold, the flu, whatever) and don’t want to share your misery with fellow passengers, people at rest stops, or anyone else. Fortunately, compared with the situation in early 2020, medical-style N95 and KN95 masks (which many experts recommend as the best protection) are widely available these days. They’re easy to tuck into a bag, which we do now whenever we travel. You can find out where to buy these masks in our guide.

By keeping a pack of these in your glove box, you’ll remain tidy through multiple meals at drive-throughs.

In our testing, we’ve found that if you spend five hours a day in the car on a drive-through-fueled cannonball run, there’s no way you’ll get to your final destination without having some kind of condiments disaster. I met my own inevitable conclusion outside an In-N-Out Burger on the last leg of our trip.

When the unavoidable happens, you’ll need something more than a napkin and ice water to clean up the mess. We recommend Shout Wipe & Go Instant Stain Remover Wipes. We tested them against other instant spot removers and assorted DIY methods to see how they handled wine, coffee, lipstick, and mustard stains.

In our tests, the Shout wipes easily outperformed the popular Tide To Go pen, and the Shout option was the only stain remover that erased almost all traces of lipstick on the collar of a shirt. These wipes also did pretty well on the ketchup I spilled.

The single-use towelettes don’t occupy much space; you can throw a dozen into your glove compartment and barely notice they’re there. Plus, by using a single wipe per stain, you don’t risk depositing an old stain on another piece of clothing, as you might with reusable stain-remover sticks.

Once it’s rubbed in, this moisturizing lotion is lighter and drier-feeling than competitors. It’s better for people with normal to oily skin.

You might find yourself washing your hands a lot on the road, which can result in cracked and dry skin. Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion is thick enough to stay neat in your hand and thin enough to spread quickly and smoothly onto your skin. Unlike its competitors, this moisturizing lotion dries nicely without leaving a greasy film in its wake. And its neutral scent won’t follow you out of the bathroom or into your car.

Can a long road trip be comfortable? I didn’t think so: Long hours of sitting in one position, nights spent camping or sleeping in cheap motel beds, and breaks for indigestible fast food are a terrible combination. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

With a little planning and a few small luxuries, you can keep the enthusiasm of your trip alive. Skip the fast food and instead pack your own snacks and water. Keep off the main highways and pull over when the scenery strikes you (not when you’ve gone a certain number of miles). And stop for as long as you need. The cliché is unavoidable: It’s the journey that’s important, not the destination (though that should be good too!).

Our favorite picnic blanket travels easily, feels comfortable to sit on, and holds up to wear and tear.

There’s only so much time you can spend in a car without needing to pull over to pause, stretch your legs, and take in the scenery. We stopped dozens of times on our trip, and we were glad every time we were able to take a side road, pull out a blanket, and find a place to sit down and share some food.

In 2023, Nemo enlarged the Victory Blanket, which previously fit just two people, to fit four people. At roughly 95 by 95 inches, according to our measurements, the Nemo Victory Picnic Blanket is now bigger than most blankets we looked at; it’s well suited for larger groups of people or for two people who want room for more board games and snacks. For those who need even more space, the Victory Blanket is also available in a truly mammoth extra-large version (120 by 120 inches). Both sizes come with two adjustable, clasping straps that keep the blanket rolled up tight, and those clasps can perform double duty as bottle openers.

The redesigned-for-2022 Therm-A-Rest pillow remains a firm and supportive choice that packs down to 50% of its expanded size. It now has a sewn-in cable that you can cinch down to make the pillow firmer.

price may vary by color or size

A good travel pillow is hard to find. It shouldn’t take up much space, and it should be able to expand when it needs to. And, ideally, it should allow you to shape it for use as a shoulder or neck pillow when necessary, such as when you’re on a plane or in the passenger seat of a car.

We found that the foam-filled Therm-A-Rest Compressible Pillow Cinch fit all of those criteria exceedingly well. During the day, it can fold in on itself (a loop-and-toggle closure holds it tight), which makes it easy to stow in a backpack or to toss into the backseat. When it’s in this tightly packed configuration, you can also use it as a shoulder and lumbar pillow. The Therm-A-Rest pillow is a bit larger than your typical travel pillow when it’s packed down—about the size of a tissue box—but saving space is less of a priority when you’re driving instead of flying.

At night, the pillow unrolls and expands into a decent bed pillow, though side-sleepers with larger frames may say it has too little padding. But this is a travel pillow, of course, so it will never feel like your home pillow, which is all part of the fun somehow. I sleep on my side and back, and I found it exceptionally comfortable compared with camping pillows I’d used in the past, although I did have to supplement it with a flannel shirt when I wanted to sleep on my side. In spring 2022, Therm-A-Rest released a slightly redesigned version of the pillow. The “regular” version is roughly the same size and weight as the old “medium” version, but the integrated pocket is now larger (9 inches deep instead of 6), which we found makes the pillow easier to roll up. The pillow also has a cord sewn in a loop into its back; you can tighten the cord and cinch it securely to make the pillow firmer. One other change: A thin layer of polyfill backs the brushed polyester fabric on its face and softens the lumpiness of the foam filling.

The Therm-A-Rest pillow is well reviewed on Amazon and on REI’s site. It’s available in a variety of colors and sizes, but we prefer the regular/medium for its mix of portability and support.

This liner is a lightweight, moisture-wicking, easy-packing fix for scratchy motel sheets.

Not all motels are created equal. Some are fantastic, with their bright neon signs truthfully advertising a cheap, clean, and convenient place to stay. But out there you can stumble across other motels—desperate, last-chance places you wouldn’t wish on anyone, and cursed by all of the bleary-eyed travelers who’ve been forced to stay in them for a night.

Sea to Summit’s Premium Silk Travel Liner is the best accessory to bring along for these situations. Inclement weather, unexpected traffic, or poor planning (my personal downfall) may at some point prevent you from reaching your expected destination for the night and force you to stay somewhere you wish you didn’t have to. We can’t help you accept your fate, but we can make that night just a little easier to tolerate.

Lightweight and contoured, this mask fits comfortably and blocks light well for a wide variety of face shapes (though it’s best for those who sleep on their back). And the mask’s deep eyecups allow your eyes to flutter during sleep.

Not every bedroom on the road is as dark as some people would like. That’s why we recommend the Nidra Deep Rest Eye Mask. Its contoured eyecups rest over your eyes, giving them space to move, which makes this mask comfortable to sleep in—even when you’re sitting upright (as you might in the passenger side of a car). Although the mask is adjustable, with Velcro straps, restless sleepers may want to consider other options in our full guide to sleep masks. If the Nidra mask fits you well, its weightless feel can make you forget you’re wearing a mask at all as you continue to sleep in bright cars or poorly shuttered hotel rooms.

This blanket offers the greatest warmth and durability for the lowest relative weight, price, and size. It also stuffs away very well when not in use.

The Rumpl Down Puffy blanket, which has a soft yet durable nylon shell that’s stuffed with water-repellent and sustainably sourced down, wards off the cold better for the price than the competition. It helps you to stay warm longer, inside or outside. (A puffy blanket has come in handy for us especially on winter road trips in an EV, when we don’t have the heat of a combustion engine warming the interior of the vehicle.) So far in our testing, the Rumpl blanket has survived four rounds in the washing machine without a snag, and it dries within an hour. And it’s been notably stain resistant after encountering dirt, dew, and even coffee.

Predominantly for van camping or long-term car camping, this blowup mattress takes up a hefty amount of space when stowed away but provides the most comfort of any camping mattress we’ve tested.

Although the size of the Hest Sleep System limits its use to either vans or pickup trucks, we’re including it on this list because of its impressive night-over-night comfort. If your road trips tend to include lots of outdoor activities such as biking, hiking, or climbing, a good night’s sleep is fundamental to having the energy you need to enjoy your days. The Hest mattress takes up about the space of a small cot mattress (78 by 25 inches). Half consists of a dense foam layer, and the other half is a high-pressure inflatable base that needs a pump system to inflate. The Hest mattress is not a small piece of kit when rolled up: It weighs 26 pounds and packs up into a 28-by-16-inch bedroll, including the air pump. If two of you are camping, you can connect two Sleep Systems together, though Hest also makes the Dually two-person foam mattress, which we haven’t had a chance to test yet.

Sturdy and accommodating yet packable, the Tinkle Belle funnel is easy to use and clean when you’re on the road or hiking a trail.

It’s not always easy to find a secluded spot on the side of the road or a clean-enough public restroom. The Tinkle Belle funnel has a stable, rigid base and a flexible spout, so it won’t collapse under you during use, as Wirecutter senior staff writer Nancy Redd learned while researching the topic. One of the longest and widest of all the single-piece reusable funnels Nancy tested, the Tinkle Belle funnel makes less mess and is easy to use, as the more coverage a funnel has, the lower the risk of leakage or spills. While you’re on the road, a simple rinse works fine for cleaning the funnel. Although the Tinkle Belle funnel is larger than most, it folds up for more-compact storage. You can also buy it with a matching case.

This shade provides effective sun protection and fits a wide variety of windshields. It’s easy to store, too.

If you’re traveling through a sunny area, a sunshade for your windshield is a worthwhile investment. We like the A1 Windshield Sun Shade, which we found to offer the best combination of low cost, decent coverage, and ease of setup. Its pop-up design made it much simpler to install and stow than the accordion-style shades we tested.

Recommending just one sunshade for all cars is difficult because vehicles vary so much in size. But A1 offers several sizing options ranging from 59 by 19 inches to 69 by 36 inches (when the shade is fully expanded). You can compress each of these size options down to fit into a circular carrying case, which you can easily store on the door or underneath the seat. When you take the A1 sunshade out of the case, the compressed plastic arcs inside the sunshade spring open to create a rectangular shape, which you can adjust to fit your car’s windshield. Amazon reviewers mention that the build quality is solid and that the metallic finish does a good job against the sun, particularly in hot Southern states like Florida and Texas. Several reviewers also recommend, however, that you buy a size smaller than you think you need to avoid excessive overhang.

Although we prefer the A1 shade’s pop-up design, it’s not completely foolproof. Even with the choice in sizes, you still might have difficulty arranging the two plastic circles (which provide rigidity) within the A1 shade into a shape that hugs both edges of the front window and balances off the rearview mirror. Gaps, loose corners, or overhangs are almost unavoidable. In the end, what you gain in compactness and decent price, you lose in rigidity and reflective power. If you’re uncertain, measure before buying, or look into a custom shade like the WeatherTech shade described below, which is guaranteed to fit.

This custom-fitted shade will ensure that no sun gets in, even in the sunniest climates.

If maximum temperature reduction is your goal, invest in a custom-fitted WeatherTech SunShade. Thicker than the A1 shade, WeatherTech’s shade completely blacks out the windshield when you install it. This shade is also notably bulky—about the size of a yoga mat when rolled up—and difficult to store discreetly. But if you frequent sunny climates, it’s well worth the cost, which at this writing starts at $55.

This shade sticks easily to car windows and provides great sun protection for passengers.

We researched 14 shade models and tested two finalists before determining that the Britax EZ-Cling Window Sun Shade is the best around. Available in a pack of two, it’s dead simple to install, and it’s effective. The Mylar on the back provides some protection against UV rays, and it acts like a large sheet of cling film that seems drawn to your windows once you pull the shades out of the box; the black mesh on the inner surface blocks a good amount of sunlight while still allowing you to see through the shade. We like the EZ-Cling shade better than film-only shades because the EZ-Cling design has a support ring of firmer material around its perimeter that makes it easier to install without prompting wrinkles and bubbles. I have way more fun than I rightly should when I’m putting these things onto car windows.

Unlike similar models with suction cups, the EZ-Cling shade doesn’t have any secondary or removable parts. Wirecutter’s Dan Frakes tried four other shades of various types and was dissatisfied with all of them, so he brought two EZ-Cling pairs for testing on a four-day road trip with his family. “They clung to the windows well,” Dan said. “They were a lot easier to install than both the suction-cup models and the flimsy film ones we’ve tried. We also removed them and reapplied them many times as our position relative to the sun changed, and it was easy to do so. Our only real complaint is that they’re small—they don’t cover an entire backseat window.” That kind of half-coverage can’t keep the sun off young children for too long, especially when the sun is low on the horizon.

Quick tip: Be sure to wipe your EZ-Cling shades with water when you first get them. A thin film protects the Mylar sheets during production, and it can leave a waxy residue on your car’s windows if you use the shades right out of the box without first wiping them down.

This extending shade attaches to a variety of vehicles, whether you have a roof rack or not, and whether you attach it to metal or a composite material such as a pickup-truck bed cover.

Although the MoonShade works best on SUVs and trucks, it’s lightweight and adaptable enough to work with smaller vehicles. When deployed, the MoonShade covers 9 by 7 feet, and its height adjusts from 78 inches to 96 inches. The shade mounts in three ways: directly to a roof rack, with very strong magnets, or with surprisingly robust suction cups for composite materials. We found that all three methods are secure enough for most situations, though as you might imagine, the suction cups are somewhat less stable than a direct mount on a rack. The MoonShade weighs 8 pounds and stows away into a carrying case that measures 28 by 6 inches, which is small enough to fit in the trunk of most cars. The MoonShade is great if you like to pull over in the middle of the day and set up a lunch, or if you tend to do activities outdoors in predominantly shadeless areas, as in the Southwest.

You could cross America with no plan at all and survive solely on fast food as your nourishment, without ever having to leave your car. But we don’t recommend that. Packing your own snacks and bringing your own water is not only healthier but also safer—you never know when you might be stranded somewhere along the way.

We got stranded on our second day of driving, somewhere east of Joshua Tree, California, when we pulled off the side of the road onto a soft, sandy shoulder (we were new in this part of the country). The car’s dash thermometer read 105 degrees Fahrenheit. As we waited, I was thankful that we had full water bottles, more water in the trunk, and plenty of food.

A highway patrol officer drove up, gave us a little lesson about sand, and pushed us out with no trouble. So things turned out fine. The beauty of a road trip is in the unexpected moments. You can be prepared for most of them by having a little food and water on hand.

This simple lunch-box-style cooler is insulated with thick closed-cell foam and made from a durable coated nylon.

Capable of carrying everything from healthy snacks to emergency ice packs, a cooler is one of those items that can make long trips a lot more enjoyable. After several 500-mile days on the road, having a chilled container filled with cold drinks and body wipes is a gift. We recommend bringing along our favorite soft cooler, the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler 20 Can.

The lid of the RTIC cooler is capped by more than 2 inches of closed-cell insulation, and its walls are a touch thicker than those of the far more expensive Yeti Hopper Flip. When we tested them head-to-head, all that extra insulation seemed to give the RTIC cooler an insulating edge. The exterior of the RTIC cooler is made of a durable, thickly coated nylon—waterproof and tough—and the zippers are waterproof, as well. Still, don’t leave the cooler out in the sun, as the light and heat can degrade the material and slowly wear it out.

When the RTIC cooler is open, it stands erect like a grocery bag, providing easy access for loading and unloading.

Better insulated and less expensive than the competition, this cooler keeps ice for a week. And its well-designed drain port makes it easier to clean.

If you need extra insulation for longer hauls and don’t mind sacrificing a little extra space, we recommend the Coleman 70-Quart Xtreme 5 Marine Hard Ice Chest Cooler. Our testing shows that a hard cooler will almost always outperform a soft cooler in insulating ability (five-plus days, versus a soft cooler’s two-day average) and durability. So the hard cooler is a great pick for RVs, trailers, or boats. But hard coolers are huge, so you might not have room for one if you’re carrying a bunch of other equipment.

A bottle with a straw is the easiest way to quaff water and keep your focus on the road since you don’t have to tilt your head back while drinking.

The 25-ounce CamelBak Eddy+ is the most reliable, most versatile water bottle for road trips that we found. This bottle has an integrated straw in the lid that features a plastic bite valve to keep it sealed (something that anyone who has owned a CamelBak hydration pack will be familiar with). Just bite down to open the straw, and release to seal it shut. That leak-free lid makes this bottle an ideal driving companion—it fits in a cup holder and is easy to sip from while you’re keeping your eyes on the road. The straw lid twists off to reveal a wide mouth that makes adding ice to your drink easy, which is handy if you like to keep your water cold. However, this is a plastic bottle, so adding ice could also make it sweaty; if you want to avoid that, the insulated version should prevent moisture from accumulating on the outside of the bottle.

Contigo’s Autoseal Transit is a wider mug that may fit better in cup holders than our top travel-mug pick. It doesn’t retain heat as well as our top pick, but some people may find its flat lid easier to drink from and to clean.

The Contigo Autoseal Transit Mug is a very different mug from the Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug—our top pick for travel mugs—but it offers several features we like for road trips. The lid has fewer parts, is easier to clean, and prevents spills with its Autoseal button, which you have to hold down to keep the sipping port open. Plus, the flat lid won’t bump your nose or get in your line of sight while you’re drinking, as can happen with the Zojirushi model’s flip-top lid. Although this Contigo mug doesn’t keep drinks nearly as hot as the Zojirushi mug over a long period of time, some people might prefer that (we’ve heard complaints of the Zojirushi model keeping drinks too hot in the past). In addition, the Transit is a little wider than the Zojirushi mug, which is good if you want your mug to fit more snugly in a car cup holder or if you use a device such as an AeroPress, a pour-over dripper, or a tea steeper directly with your mug.

Edward Abbey wrote an entire book about being alone in the desert, long before portable screens, streaming music, and the best and worst of what instant entertainment can bring. He saw incredible things. But then again, Abbey wrote that book before he had kids.

Being in close proximity on a road trip can bond families and friends. Of course, a packed car could also become a pressure cooker. Some games, toys, and electronics can provide welcome relief.

Even more important, on our trip, every 100 miles the scenery around us changed drastically, and being able to charge our cameras allowed us to capture some wonderful personal moments.

More-sensitive gadgets may not function correctly while using this DC-to-AC converter, but a smoother converter costs $100-plus.

Lots of newer cars have USB ports capable of charging plenty of smaller gadgets. But to plug in bigger items, such as a computer, or certain items that have larger batteries, you need an inverter to transform your car’s round-plug, 12-volt direct current (12 V DC) outlet into a three-prong outlet with the same 120-volt alternating current (120 V AC) you have in your home. After sending our three favorites, culled from a list of 18 top-rated inverters, to physicist Jim Shapiro for testing, we recommend the Bestek 300W Power Inverter for simple devices such as water boilers. Not all inverters are equal, however, and you need to know what you’ll want to plug in before deciding which one to buy.

The Bestek unit—like every inverter that sells for less than $100—creates AC power, but in what’s called a “modified” sine wave. Shapiro examined this phenomenon using an oscilloscope. “Although the Bestek and similar units produce voltage at the same 60-hertz frequency as house voltage, the waveform has sharp corners, unlike the smooth, curvy sine-wave signal from your local power company,” Shapiro explained. “Those sharp corners give rise to higher frequency harmonics that are not friendly to electronic devices.”

However, because many electronics, including laptop computers, use power supplies to convert AC back into DC before delivering the power to your device, a higher-quality power supply can make the arrangement work—as owner reviews attest. Shapiro was able to charge an iPad without any problems via the AC outlets on the inexpensive Bestek inverter. Charging a Dell Chromebook, on the other hand, caused some problems: “The screen flickered, and I noted that when I asked the computer to display the charging time left, it oscillated between giving that time and ‘calculating,’ indicating that the software was having problems.”

While we were on the road, we realized that the Bestek inverter’s dual USB ports and dual outlets offered a nice benefit, particularly for people traveling in an older car that didn’t have USB ports built in everywhere. You shouldn’t have issues charging USB devices because they charge on DC voltage anyway. And though you can’t see the inverter’s safety features, such as over-voltage and low-voltage shutdown, they’re included as well.

For powering a TV (for tailgating) or any other demanding piece of electronics during a road trip, we used to recommend the Go Power GP-SW150-12 Pure Sine Wave Inverter. It now appears to be out of stock almost everywhere (or discontinued). As an alternative, we recommend looking into a portable power station, which is basically a large battery in a protective box, with AC outlets and other ports built in. They tend to be expensive, so for road-trip purposes we recommend our budget pick, the Jackery Explorer 300. If you need to power only a laptop during your trip, we have several recommendations for portable laptop chargers. Note that portable power stations and laptop chargers both charge on wall outlets and can’t draw power from a car outlet.

This model can charge phones, tablets, and computers from its USB-C port, plus it has a second port for charging USB-A devices. It adheres to USB-C fast-charging standards and includes a quality cable.

If your electronic gear doesn’t require AC—for instance, you’re charging smartphones or Bluetooth speakers more than laptops or portable TVs—you can save a few bucks and a lot of space by getting a car charger. Compared with the familiar USB-A port, the smaller USB-C port can charge most modern phones faster (if you’re using the right cable) and can even charge tablets and laptops. And the Nekteck PD 45W Type-C Car Charger provides the best of both worlds. When you’re using a USB-C–to–Lightning cable, the charger’s USB-C port can charge an iPhone about three times faster (at 18 watts) than the USB-A wall charger that comes in the box from Apple; your phone can charge from empty to roughly 50% in just half an hour. This Nekteck charger’s 45-watt output and included USB-C–to–C cable also support the maximum charge rate on Android phones (such as the Samsung Galaxy S10), the 2020 iPad Pro, and even many laptops. And you can use the 12-watt USB-A port at the same time to charge a second phone or other device with any USB cable you already have.

The Besign BK01 kit offers great sound quality for music and good sound quality for phone calls. It also lets you pair two phones and access your voice assistant with the press of an easy-to-find button.

If your car lacks Bluetooth support—which you may want for wirelessly listening to music or connecting your phone calls over the car’s stereo system—and you aren’t willing to swap out the stereo for a new one that has such a feature, your best option is a Bluetooth kit. The best and easiest way to add Bluetooth to cars with a line-in jack is to get an aux kit. The Besign BK01 Bluetooth Car Kit provides good sound quality for music, clear-sounding voice audio for hands-free calls, and access to Siri or Google Assistant at the press of a button. It also allows you to connect two phones at once, so you and your passengers don’t have to duke it out for the aux cord.

Depending on the length of your trip and the temperament of your passengers, you may need to find a way to keep folks occupied. Providing their favorite movies or TV shows on a tablet is an option. After testing six top tablet-mount contenders, we determined that Arkon’s Center Extension Car Headrest Tablet Mount is a great pick for viewing by multiple backseat passengers.

This model positions a tablet solidly between the front seats for easy viewing by all backseat passengers.

The Arkon mount anchors with a pair of adjustable clamps that tighten around the metal rods that support a front seat’s headrest; the tablet holster is located on the end of an extendable pole that you can move to a position between the front seats, where all three passengers in the backseat can view it.

We had recommended the LilGadgets CarBuddy Universal Headrest Tablet Mount for people who preferred a mount that’s best for just one backseat passenger. It appears to have been discontinued, but it’s a good find if you can get your hands on one.

Fun and simple to use, this camera takes good-looking wallet-sized photos for 60¢ per print.

Buying Instax Mini film in twin packs helps you get the best price.

With a smartphone, showing a photo to hundreds of followers is as easy as pressing the share button. But if you want to create something tangible, an instant-film camera can add a fun and welcome dose of analog charm to your digital world. Our pick is the Fujifilm Instax Mini 12, which provides high-quality, retro-cool prints at a reasonable price.

The Best Gear for Your Road Trips in 2024 | Reviews by Wirecutter

E Track Also, when your phone is serving as a radio, a map, a restaurant guide, and whatever else, you’ll appreciate having a dedicated tool that does one thing: take instant shots that look great.