Wondering what to pack for a road trip? You don’t need much for a good time – just a vehicle, a stacked playlist, a thirst for exploration, plenty of snacks, and a few road trip essentials. 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 packing list, 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 for Navigation, Saftey & Comfort
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!
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.
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.
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.
Hand sanitizer is always good to have readily available, especially these days. We love this all-natural one from Dr. Bronners.
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.
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.
A hat is always on our road trip packing list. It can be handy for keeping the sun off your face while driving and while out exploring. Trucker hats work great, but I prefer a full-brimmed hat like the Columbia Global Adventure hat for all-around sun protection.
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.
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.
Packing for a road trip means filling your bags with 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:
- What to Wear Hiking – comfortable, lightweight clothes and layers that you can wear road tripping and hiking
- Van Life Packing Checklist – packable, versatile clothing options for on the road
Phone Charger & USB Cord
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.
Road Trip Apps
Downloading a couple of apps before you head out will make road trip planning easier and will help you find things you’re looking for on the road, like campsites, rest stops, amenities, and more.
One of our favorites road tripping and camping apps is The Dyrt which makes finding campsites while on the road easy. The PRO version allows you to find campsites and read reviews even when you’re offline or out of service, and it also has a trip planning tool that allows you to plan and save your route. Bearfoot Theory readers can currently get a FREE 90-day membership to The Dyrt PRO.
The Road Trippers App is a handy one too. It lets you save locations on the go, find destination points along your route, and locate lodging, gas, restaurants, and more.
The iExit App can help you determine the best areas to take a pit stop on major highways while you’re traveling.
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.
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 at campgrounds (most are cash only).
Vehicle Road Trip Essentials
You should really have these basic necessities in your vehicle at all times, whether you’re road tripping or not.
- Driver’s License and Registration
- Proof of Insurance and Contact Info
- Your Car Operation Manual
- Spare Tire and Jack
- Roadside Emergency Kit
- Jumper Cables
Road Trip Essentials for Personal Care
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.
Lip balm is always nice to have along in case your lips get extra dry. We prefer lip balm with SPF for sun protection, like this one.
Toothpaste & Toothbrush
Any old toothpaste you have at home will do, but if you want a travel-size tube to pack for your road trip this natural, eco-friendly Dr. Bronner’s toothpaste is a great pick.
Bring the toiletries you need from home, like soap or face wash, lotion, shampoo, conditioner, and deodorant. If you want to save space, try these refillable 2.5 oz humangear GoToob+ Medium Squeeze Bottles. Simply fill them up with your favorite products and pack them in your toiletry bag.
Tissues or Toilet Paper
Tissues or a roll of toilet paper are always handy to have in the car on a road trip in case rest stops are under-equipped or you have to pee in the wild. Just remember to pack out and dispose of your toilet paper in the trash.
You’ll want a way to tame that windswept hair after a long drive, so throw your hair brush in with your other road trip essentials. A small, travel size version like this one is always nice to have for trips.
A bandana is nice to pack for road trips. It can be used in many ways and is sure to come in handy, whether as a napkin or as a headband t keep your hair from blowing in the wind when you’ve got the windows down.
Sometimes it’s nice to freshen up after a long drive, or maybe you’re hiking and camping on your road trip as well. A pack of wipes is always on our road trip packing list so we have the option to clean up a bit in a pinch. The Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes are our favorite because they’re gentle on the skin and they are compostable (although you still need to dispose of them properly in the trash).
Vitamin C/Immune Boosting Tablets
We like to pack hydration tablets on any adventure, and if they’re immunity-boosting that’s even better. These NUUN tablets are easy to throw in your bag and pop into your water bottle when you need an extra boost.
While you wont always need something like Advil or Ibuprofin, we like to include it on every road trip packing list since it can be a life saver when you get a killer headache and need it.
>> For more on this topic, read our tips for staying fresh and clean on the road
Road Trip Snacks & Kitchen Essentials
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 supplies and snacks to help you eat healthy on the road.
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
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.
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.
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.
Consider an insulated coffee mug 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.
Muli Tool/ Swiss Army Knife
A multi-tool or versatile knife like this Swiss Army Camper Knife is always good to have along, whether for slicing apples or cutting rope.
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.
A set of small quick-dry towels is a great zero waste alternative for wiping your hands and cleaning up messes and spills. A roll of paper towels works too.
A reusable bag will come in handy for those grocery store stops along the way and once you arrive at your destination.
>> If you’ll be camping on your road trip, check out our Car Camping Essentials Packing Checklist
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.
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.
A book or two is always nice to have along on a road trip so you can read on your downtime. We often like to bring books about the places we’re exploring so we can learn about the area while traveling.
If you’re traveling with kids, games are a road trip essential for keeping everyone happy and entertained. But games arent just for kids! Bringing along a deck of cards or your favorite game is fun for everyone.
A set of headphones or AirPods are nice to bring on a road trip in case you need a little alone time.
Bring a camera to capture the memories on your trip and check out our Photography page for tips and tricks for taking great photos.
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.
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.
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.
A day pack for hikes and other outings is always good to bring on a road trip. It doesn’t have to be big, just big enough to hold water, your phone, camera, keys, snacks, and other hiking essentials. This Osprey Mira pack has been my go-to for day hikes and adventures for a long time.
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.
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.
We hope this road trip essentials checklist helps simplify packing for your next epic adventure. Now tell us…where are you headed and what do you like to bring along?