Road Trip Essentials: A Packing Checklist for Adventure Travelers

Get our complete road trip essentials packing checklist for adventure travelers including useful gear and necessities for an epic trip.

You don’t need much for a good road trip – just a vehicle, a few road trip essentials, a stacked playlist, a thirst for exploration, and plenty of snacks. Yet, packing for a road trip can end up being one of the most stressful parts of your trip if you aren’t organized and it’s no fun realizing you’ve left something important behind.

To help you hit the road with ease, I’ve put together a checklist of my favorite road trip essentials – simple and useful gear that will help you maximize your time on the road. With this checklist, there’s no need for a tricked out van or a daily game of Tetris, just the necessities for staying safe and having an incredible time. Not sure where you are going yet? Get some road trip destination ideas here!

Start loading up your car with this Road Trip Essentials Packing Checklist.


Road Trip Essentials You Don’t Want to Leave Home Without

You probably don’t want to leave home without the most basic road trip essentials below. Further down, we’ll share a few of our personal road trip favorites too!

Paper Map

Hopefully some of your itinerary will take you off the grid and out of cell phone service. For that reason, carry a paper map. A paper map is also better than phone apps for telling the difference between a well-graded gravel road and a gnarly 4×4 road. My favorite paper maps are the Benchmark Road and Recreation Atlases which detail public lands, camping areas, National Parks, and more.

Get our complete road trip essentials packing checklist for adventure travelers including useful gear and necessities for an epic trip.
A paper map is always handy for road trips. I’ve found some of my favorite roads and campsites using a Benchmark Road and Recreation Atlas.

GPS

A GPS is handy for navigation when you don’t have cell service. If you don’t want to purchase a GPS, download the app maps.me instead. It’s a helpful free app that you can use to navigate and find sights and amenities even without cell service. Just be sure to download the map for the region you’re going to be traveling in ahead of time so that it’ll work offline.

Headlamp

Whether you’re reading in bed, going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, or rummaging around your car, you’ll want a headlamp nearby. The BioLite Headlamp 200 is a go-to piece of nighttime gear that’s ultralight and rechargeable with a USB cable.

BioLite Headlamp // A road trip essential

Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer is always good to have readily available, especially these days. We love this all-natural one from Dr. Bronners.

Hand Sanitizer // A road trip essential

Sunglasses

That bright morning and evening sunlight can be brutal if it hits your windshield at the right angle. A pair of sunglasses will help protect your eyes. I’ve always been partial to aviator-style sunglasses like these Suncloud Polarized Sunglasses.

Sunglasses // A road trip essential

Sunscreen

UV rays can come through your windows so we consider sunscreen a road trip essential, especially if you’re road tripping in the summer. It’s also handy in case you find an exposed viewpoint you want to picnic at or a sunny hike along the way.

Sunscreen // A road trip essential

First-Aid Kit

Stay safe and be prepared in case of an emergency by having a car first aid kit that has been personalized to your own medical needs.

First Aid Kit // A road trip essential

Comfortable Clothes

Packing for a road trip means filling your suitcase full of versatile, well-fitting and durable clothes that allow you to do a little bit of everything. For one, you’ll want to have clothing that won’t wrinkle, will retain its shape (think, a little bit of stretch) and wicks away moisture so you feel clean. While crazy patterns can be fun, I prefer to pack solid prints that will go with everything. For more info and specific suggestions, check out these blog posts:

Get our complete road trip essentials packing checklist for adventure travelers including useful gear and necessities for an epic trip.
Leggings and a down puffy are a must for road trip evenings.

Pillow

I don’t know about you, but I consider a pillow a road trip essential (especially if you’re the passenger)! Bring a comfy pillow from home or an inflatable pillow if you’re short on space. This NEMO Fillo Pillow is compressible, lightweight, and awesome for camping, backpacking, and napping in the passenger seat.

Pillow // A road trip essential

Car Charger

You’ll be surprised how quickly your phone battery will drain when using navigation mode and a variety of apps on your phone so it’s good to be able to charge from your vehicle. If your headlamp and camera come with car compatible chargers, bring those along too.

Garmin InReach

I’d argue that the Garmin InReach is a road trip essential if you plan on exploring remote backroads where there is no cell phone service. If you break down somewhere, the Garmin InReach allows you to send custom text messages no matter where you are or to call for medical help if you are in an emergency situation. It also has a GPS and some helpful navigation tools for when the navigation apps on your phone won’t load. My boyfriend Ryan is a Type 1 Diabetic, so when we are in the van or hiking, the Garmin InReach gives me added peace of mind.

Garmin InReach // A road trip essential if you plan on exploring off the grid with no cell phone service

Vehicle Road Trip Necessities

You should really have these basic necessities in your vehicle at all times, whether you’re road tripping or not.

  • Proof of Insurance and Registration
  • Your Car Operation Manual
  • Spare Tire and Jack

Cash

It’s always handy to have a little bit of cash on hand in case you come across a farmers market, a roadside stall, or if you plan on camping (most campgrounds are cash only).

Get our complete road trip essentials packing checklist for adventure travelers including useful gear and necessities for an epic trip.

Essential Road Trip Snacks & Supplies

What’s a road trip without snacks? Packing up a few of your favorite snacks and a couple of essential picnic items so you can enjoy the journey is always a good idea. Here are our essential road trip snacks and supplies.

Healthy Snacks

Healthy snacks are a road trip essential that will stop the hanger from creeping in and help you avoid gas station temptations like chips and candy (no judgment though if you want to indulge!) Some of our favorites are:

  • Veggies and dip, like carrots and sugar snap peas with hummus or Bitchin’ Sauce (if you’ve never tried it, you gotta find it, it’s sooo good)
  • Fresh, easy to eat fruit, like apples, bananas, and mandarins
  • Trail mix or roasted nuts
  • Better for you chip alternatives like baked chips, snap pea crisps, and popcorn

Cooler

A cooler will keep your fruit, veggies, dips, and other snacks cold so you can eat fresh on the road. If you’re just packing a few cold drinks and snacks, a small, lightweight cooler like REI’s Cool Haul 24 Soft Cooler is a good, versatile option.

Cooler // For your road trip packing checklist

Water Bottle

A reusable water bottle is key for staying hydrated and eliminating single use plastics. An insulated Hydroflask will keep your water nice and cold on hot days. I also like their straw lid version which allows you to easily drink one-handed while you drive.

Insulated Water Bottle // A road trip necessity

Water Jug

In addition to saving money and avoiding plastic bottles, having a water jug with you makes for quick and easy fill-up of your water bottle while on the road and before heading out on a hike. It’s also a smart thing to have in case you break down or run out of gas. The GSI Outdoors Folding Water Cube holds 15 liters of water and has a convenient tap handle that prevents spilling.

Water Jug // Add this to your road trip packing checklist

Coffee Flask

Consider an insulated coffee flask your co-pilot and top road trip essential for keeping coffee and tea hot on sunrise drives, or making sure your beverage stays cold on hot days.

Coffee mug // Add this to your road trip packing checklist

Utensil Set

Saying no to single use plastics is easy when you have a reusable utensil set with you. This To-Go Ware Bamboo Utensil Set comes in a handy holder and is perfect for on the go meals whether you’re road tripping or not.

Reusable Utensil Set // Perfect for road trips

Quick-Dry Towels

A set of small quick-dry towels is a great zero waste alternative for wiping your hands and cleaning up messes and spills. A box of tissues or roll of paper towels works too.

Quick dry towels // handy for road trips

Blanket

A small blanket is a nice item to have along in case you find the perfect picnic spot or if you just need a little extra warmth at any point on your road trip. We love Rumpl’s cozy, packable blankets – they won’t take up much space in your car and they come in all kinds of fun colors and patterns.

Packable Blanket // Add this to your road trip packing checklist

Reusable Bag

A reusable bag will come in handy for those grocery store stops along the way and once you arrive at your destination.

Get our complete road trip essentials packing checklist for adventure travelers including useful gear and necessities for an epic trip.

Road Trip Entertainment Essentials

Road trips are all about having a good time, right? Right. Make the drive fun with the following entertainment essentials, and keep your day hiking essentials in your trunk too so you’re always ready for a spur of the moment hike, should you need them.

Playlist

What’s a road trip without music? A good playlist will keep your energy up and will help the miles fly by. Load up your phone with plenty of tunes ahead of time in case you’ll be driving through areas with limited service. I’m a HUGE fan of Spotify.

Podcasts & Audiobooks

If music isn’t your thing or you need a break from rockin’ out, download a couple of audiobooks or a bunch of episodes of your favorite podcasts. For suggestions, check out our favorite outdoor podcasts.

Camera

Bring a camera to capture the memories on your trip and check out our Photography page for tips and tricks for taking great photos.

Don't forget your camera! Get our complete road trip essentials packing checklist for adventure travelers.

Notebook

A notebook isn’t necessarily a road trip essential for everyone, but it can be nice to have. If you like to journal or make notes about the places you travel to, pack a small notebook.

A notebook or journal is nice to pack for a road trip

iPad/Laptop

An iPad or laptop is nice to have along for evenings when you just want to Netflix and chill. Download a few movies ahead of time for easy viewing.

Get our complete road trip essentials packing checklist for adventure travelers including useful gear and necessities for an epic trip.

Road Trip Packing Essentials

Keep your stuff organized and easy to find with these road trip packing essentials.

Suitcase, Backpack or Duffel Bag

You likely already have a suitcase, backpack, or duffel bag at home that you can use to pack for your road trip, it doesn’t need to be anything fancy, just something to comfortably hold your clothes and other belongings. If you don’t, check out these duffel bags at REI for some good options.

Packing Cubes

If you’re like me, your suitcase (or duffel) can be a disaster. I tackle this problem by using packing cubes to keep all of my clothing organized while I’m road tripping. Underwear in one. Socks in another. Pants. Shirts. Each category of clothing gets its own cube.

Packing Cubes // Helpful for packing clothing for road trips and travel

Toiletry Bag

Having all your toiletries and smaller essentials in one bag makes it easy to find them when you need them. This REI Co-op Shower Roll Bag is a favorite that makes it super easy to access all your toiletries in one place.

Toiletry Bag // So your toiletries are easy to pack for your road trip

We hope this road trip essentials checklist helps simplify planning for your next epic adventure. Now tell us…where are you headed and what do you like to bring along?

Written by Kristen Bor

Hey there! My name is Kristen, and this is my outdoor blog. I discovered the power of the outdoors in my 20s, at the time I needed it most. Now 15 years later, prioritizing that critical connection with nature continues to improve my life. My goal at Bearfoot Theory is to empower you with the tools and advice you need to responsibly get outside.

11 comments on “Road Trip Essentials: A Packing Checklist for Adventure Travelers

  1. I love these lists! As busy as a work week can get, lists like this will help get me outside sooner and more often. I think it would be great if you had a PDF document in the form of a checklist, so I could gather items on the fly and know that I have them ready or loaded into the car/truck/van/camper. Just an idea for this page and great lists.

  2. I like your advice about bringing a spare tire and knowing how to change should be part of the road trip necessities. We won’t know what would happen to us on the road during our trip. One possible problem that might arise would be a flat tire. Having a spare tire will allow us to change it immediately. However, if you’re not capable of doing it on your own you can call someone to assist you. This happened to me a few years ago, good thing I keep the contact details of my roadside assistance service provider which responded to my call immediately. Having this will lessen our worries. You might want to check the blog I’ve read a few weeks ago which provides a list of tips on handling a road trip like a pro. here is the link: https://blog.beepbeep.ph/road-trip-essentials/

  3. I found your article interesting to read the must haves list for the road trip. There are lots of thing which I never remember to bring with me on the road trip. Thank for sharing these checklist.

  4. What a great, comprehensive list. You can also add roadside assistance, it can be a lifesaver when we broke down 9 days into our trip. Loved the roadtrippers app as well. However, we made the rookie mistake of not getting a gas card until halfway through.

  5. Great checklist! One addition that we were glad to have on our recent road trip was our checkbook. During the Covid era, we prefer not to handle cash, and some campgrounds didn’t take cards, but writing a check and leaving it in the envelope worked great.

  6. These modules are all great Lots of information and quite a few things i wouldn’t ever have thought of. However, why do i need to resubscribe every time i want one of your checklists? Seems like there one subscription should “do” and there should be a place i can just download what i want.

    After requesting 3 or 4, it now tells me my request is successful but wont sent the mail with the download link.

    This is irritating for me and would seem to create lot of duplicate ‘subscriptions” for you.

    1. Hi Linda! Thanks for sharing that with us and our apologies for the inconvenience. There’s not a straightforward solution to this unfortunately as it would require us building out some sort of a membership page where people can login and download all the resources they want. At this time the way we have it set up is the easiest way for our readers to get the specific resources they want delivered to their inbox. It doesn’t result in duplicate subscriptions on our end as your email address is only added to our list once, and I am seeing that the emails for the checklists you’ve requested have been sent. Perhaps check your spam folder or try doing a search for Bearfoot Theory? If you’re still having issues please email me at contact (at) bearfoottheory.com and I’ll help get this resolved personally. Thanks again – we’ll keep your feedback in mind and will see if there’s a way we can improve this process 🙂

Leave a comment

You can leave a comment, but you wont be able to add any links.

* You can not add any links to your comment as was previously mentioned above