News center
Impressive experience in graphic design.

The Best Gear for Your Road Trips in 2023

Nov 15, 2023

We’ve added the Decked x BoxoUSA Tool Bag for do-it-yourself roadside repairs, our updated favorite picnic blanket, the Nemo Victory, and our new instant camera pick, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 12.

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 20 boxes we surveyed, the Yakima SkyBox 16 Carbonite offers the best combination of features, build quality, and value pricing for most people. (As of spring 2023, Yakima is replacing its SkyBox Carbonite line of cargo boxes with the SkyBox NX line. We’re currently testing the SkyBox NX 18, which is the functional equivalent of the SkyBox 16 Carbonite, and we will report back soon.)

The cargo box's low-drag aerodynamic design minimizes wind noise and reduces the impact on fuel economy. Its 16 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 16 Carbonite is easy to use. Like most cargo boxes these days, it offers tool-free installation and sliding brackets, rather than one or two fixed spots, for attachment to the crossbars, making perfect positioning a snap. Once installed, it allows easy access from either side of the car, and its tapered back end makes it less likely to interfere with a liftgate if you put it on a hatchback or station wagon.

If you need more space, Yakima sells a 21-cubic-foot model for more money—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. 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.

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. You can check out our full guide for all the options, including an FM transmitter and a speakerphone. But 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.

You save $7 (25%)

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.

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.

After doing extensive research, we found the Instax Mini 12 to be the best instant-film camera. Its compact body feels durable, and thanks to its minimal controls, anyone can easily learn how to use it. The 3.4-by-2.1-inch prints cost only about 60¢ apiece, so documenting your trip won't break the bank. Its photos aren't perfectly sharp, but they are pleasingly colorful and creamy, with a classic look that we love.

The questions are not always the most thought-provoking, but they sure can spark a conversation.

You can find countless travel games for all ages, from magnetic chess boards to Adult Mad Libs, and we’re not about to review them all here. (You know what kinds of games you like to play.) So instead we’ll tell you about the game we chose, Chat Pack: Fun Questions to Spark Conversations.

I am, as a rule, generally wary of anything designed to prompt conversation. But by day three of our trip, with 1,100 miles behind us and 400 miles ahead, my then girlfriend (now wife) reached for Chat Pack and told me it was time.

It's hit or miss with Chat Pack. Some of the questions are oddly inspiring, if clunkily written: "What is one item you own that has virtually no monetary value but has such sentimental value that you would not sell it for $1,000?" So, what item do I have that has no value but remains precious? My grandmother's wire glove stretchers. And that became an hour-long conversation.

Some of the questions were abrupt duds: "If rain could fall in any scent, what scent would you want it to be?" "Like rain," we both answered. Who doesn't love the smell of fresh rain? The feeling of camaraderie in the car was strong; we agreed that it was a dumb question. We were a young couple on an open road in full accordance with each other, and that's not a moment you take lightly.

So get a Chat Pack. Your mileage may vary. But this pack helped us pass the time, and it takes up barely any space.

Make time in your trip for the detours. If there's one bit of non-gear-related advice we can give, it's that the complicated route always proves to be more interesting. There will be times in the car when a sort of tunnel vision can set in, and the destination becomes all-consuming. At my worst, as I pressed down on the accelerator, I found myself mentally calculating the time saved for every increase in miles per hour—as if the scenery I was flying past wasn't what I’d come to see in the first place.

The first time we pulled over without a plan was on some Bureau of Land Management stretch east of Zion National Park in Utah. We were alone, on an outcropping overlooking a shallow canyon. Someone had built an impromptu fire pit. But somehow it wasn't until we finished lunch that we realized there was no point in going any farther.

You can find many ways to plan a trip. But once in a while, take a risk and make a left when all the maps and devices are telling you to go right. You won't know where you’ll end up—and that's the whole point.

Amazingly affordable with great optics, these binoculars offer performance comparable to that of many models costing thousands more.

Binoculars might not be a necessity. But when you’re standing on the edge of a trail in Zion National Park and looking for nesting peregrine falcons or lying at the edge of your campsite in Joshua Tree watching a pack of coyotes move under a full moon, will a good pair of binoculars come in handy? Yes. Yes it will.

The waterproof and lightweight Athlon Optics Midas ED binoculars boast a rugged shock-absorbing exterior. And this pair's optical clarity and extra-wide field of view allow you to see more of the scene, more clearly and accurately. In fact, the professional ornithologist who tested binoculars for us said that things looked every bit as good through the Athlon binoculars as they looked through his $2,500 Leica Ultravid pair.

And the optics of the Midas ED pair aren't the only strong suit: These are exceptionally durable binoculars that easily withstood the humid, dusty, and hostile environment of the Mexican rain forest and the harsh sun of the Californian desert. Also, their focus dial adjusts reliably and smoothly across a wide range of depths, making it easy for you to focus on what you’re trying to see, no matter where it is.

It's always a good idea to have a bag on hand for spontaneous off-the-road excursions. But anything that will take up space on a trip needs to be functional enough to hold cameras, snacks, jackets, maps, and souvenirs. And it needs to be durable enough to survive beach trips, sightseeing excursions, picnics, and museum tours.

Toss this lightweight, phone-sized packable bag into your trunk or under your seat, and you’ll never get caught without a spare bag again. If you need something to carry every day, though, you’ll probably prefer one of our more-structured picks.

After researching dozens of packable daypacks across a spectrum of portability, features, and prices, and then packing, unpacking, loading, wearing, and drenching the top-rated finalists during multiple rounds of testing, we’ve found that the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Travel Day Pack is the smallest and lightest packable backpack of the bunch. Packed up, it is very discreet, nearly the size of a keychain accessory. The bag itself is a no-frills sack made from a paper-thin siliconized Cordura nylon, so it's very light and water resistant. The Ultra-Sil bag also has reinforced stitching at stress points, which allows it to carry more weight than you might expect. That said, since this pack is made of such thin, light material, carrying large or awkwardly shaped loads is somewhat uncomfortable, especially in comparison with our more structured picks.

If lightness, waterproofing, comfort, and organization are more important to you, check out the alternative picks in our review of packable daypacks for travel.

This physical sunscreen lotion absorbs easily and is free of added fragrance. Though this water-resistant formula can feel greasy, like most physical sunscreens, and leave behind a white cast (especially on darker skin), we’ve found its dependable coverage to be worth the trade-off.

On most road trips you’ll be exposed to the sun, whether it's your arm out the window or your legs and neck during a pit stop, so we recommend bringing our favorite sunscreens along for everyone to apply. (The one exception: your youngest passengers. Do not put sunscreen on an infant. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends keeping children who are younger than 6 months out of the sun entirely.) Although most sunscreens containing only physical UV blockers are notoriously harder to spread and more visible on skin than sunscreens with chemical UV filters, Blue Lizard's Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+ formula spreads relatively quickly and easily, and it absorbs nicely. Formulated with both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, this sunscreen provides broad-spectrum protection, from both UVA and UVB rays. Blue Lizard says this formulation, which contains no added fragrance, is sweat resistant and water resistant for 80 minutes (the highest such claim allowed by the FDA). It comes in bottles that uniquely change color, from white to blue, in the presence of harmful UV light.

Although it contains added fragrance, this easy-to-apply chemical sunscreen lotion doesn't have an overpowering sunscreen-y scent. It rubs in nearly transparently and appears colorless on most skin tones.

Banana Boat Light As Air Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+ is our favorite chemical sunscreen that doesn't contain oxybenzone. Fairly runny and lightweight, it blends seamlessly into a variety of skin tones. Although it contains added fragrance, it's not strongly scented. It's water resistant for up to the maximum-allowable claim (per FDA guidelines) of 80 minutes, and it costs far less per ounce than our physical-sunscreen pick.

Having an emergency kit in your car is a great idea for day-to-day driving, but it's pretty much a necessity for long-distance road trips. Although it's tempting to buy a preassembled kit and be done with it, we haven't found a great one yet. Even the most promising options suffer from having jumper cables that are too short, too thin, or both. Basically, if you want a good kit, you have to make it yourself, and we’re here to help.

We spent hours researching and testing each of these essentials to confirm that they’ll be useful in case of an emergency, whether it's your own or someone else's.

On a desolate stretch of two-lane highway in northern Arizona, we were driving behind a rental camper van just as it had a rear-tire blowout after hitting a rumble strip. The couple driving the van couldn't find their jack, didn't know where the spare tire was, and had come to a stop just past a low dip in the road. It wasn't a good scene. But it couldn't have happened at a better time (for them, at least), and it gave us a great opportunity to put our emergency gear to the test.

It's also wise to get a membership to a roadside assistance program. We don't have a single best recommendation for everyone, since your options and needs vary depending on what car you have, how you use it, and where you live, but here's a good guide by Popular Mechanics on what to look for in choosing a plan. Basically, make sure your plan fits your needs. For example, if you live in a city, 3 miles of free towing may be enough. But if you’re going on a road trip across the desert, paying for more range is worthwhile.

This kit is chock-full of bandages and cleaning supplies that are suitable for minor incidents.

On the road, a first-aid kit is useful for keeping someone comfortable until people with real medical expertise can help. It's much more important to have a basic kit with you—and to be sure that the bandages haven't degraded and the disinfectants haven't expired—than to have a 432-item, war-zone-worthy kit sitting at home.

We like the First Aid Only 298 Piece All-Purpose First Aid Kit. It lacks some of the higher-quality tools that we recommend for a wilderness first-aid kit, but it comes with plenty of bandages, alcohol prep pads, pain relievers, and equipment to treat up to four people's minor cuts and scrapes on a weekend trip. (For an extensive list and comparison chart, see our full guide.)

This small shovel slices through icy snow and can be disassembled for car storage. It isn't cheap, but it's what we’d want to have in a roadside emergency.

After spending two years researching car shovels and testing five contenders, we found that the best one to keep in the trunk for an emergency is the Voilé Telepro Mini Avalanche Shovel.

The tool, popular with ski patrols and people clearing backcountry trails, has a solid metal scoop and a two-piece handle that clicks together to form a sturdy shovel. Our tester keeps the Voilé shovel in her truck every winter, and it has come in handy more times than she can count. Though the Voilé shovel is too short to be a primary shovel, it's perfect for any kind of fast shoveling. When you aren't using it, you can tuck its three pieces neatly under a car seat or in the back.

This is the favored tire gauge of all the professionals we interviewed.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $20.

Checking your car's tire pressure (including that of the spare tire) is like flossing: It's something that everyone should do but many people don't do. Proper inflation is vital. Too much, and you’ll feel every bump and have more difficulty stopping your car; too little, and your tires will wear faster. Worse, they’ll also overheat, which can separate the treads and blow the tires, something we saw happen right in front of us in the middle of nowhere in Arizona. Don't let that happen to you.

When we asked three different San Francisco Bay Area tire shops which gauge they used, they all pointed to the Accu-Gage 60 PSI gauge with shock protector. After our testing, which included road-tripping with the tool ourselves, the Accu-Gage model has emerged as our favorite tire gauge for several years running. It's accurate and durable, and unlike a digital gauge, it has no battery to wear out. The Accu-Gage model is available in several different configurations, but the performance is largely the same. We prefer a version with a hose attached and a straight chuck, because that design makes it easier to hold the gauge and check the tire pressure at the same time. The version we tested even comes with a removable rubber bumper in case you drop it.

A portable jump starter is essentially a lightweight battery attached to two jumper cables that you use to jump-start your car. It's easier, safer, and less intimidating than old-fashioned jumper cables that you attach to another car—and it's something that you can use if you’re alone, instead of waiting for roadside service/a kind stranger/a friend/a relative to show up and bail you out.

This jump starter has the right safety features and contains enough juice in a small package to start most cars and SUVs.

Wirecutter has recommended Weego gear since we first published our guide to portable jump starters in 2017. Guide writer Mark Smirniotis researched 40 lithium-ion jump starters and tested 12. Two Weego portable jump starters (both of which are now discontinued) became picks: the Weego 22s (the top pick; about $60) and the Weego 44 (the upgrade pick; about $150). Though we no longer maintain that full guide, many of us at Wirecutter still keep a Weego jump starter in our cars. But now, in many cases, it's an updated version, namely the affordable Weego 44s, which hovers around the same price as the 22s model, its less powerful predecessor.

Measuring 5.62 by 3.44 by 1.04 inches (LWD), the Weego 44s jump starter is about the same size as a cell phone in length and width. It also weighs less than a pound (around 12 ounces, according to my kitchen scale) and has safety features that help prevent you from hurting your car or yourself: If you incorrectly attach the jump starter to your battery (which can potentially damage the battery or your car's electrical system), the unit's reverse-polarity protection feature activates, issuing a red light and an alarm alerting you not to proceed.

The Weego 44s is rated to work with a wide range of vehicles, including gas engines up to 7 liters and diesel engines up to 3.5 liters. It can jump-start pretty much any gas- or diesel-powered passenger-vehicle engine—anything from a Mini Cooper (2 liters or less) to a Dodge Ram (as much as 6.7 liters)—and it fits that power into a package that's small enough for most glove boxes.

The Weego 44s comes partially charged out of the box and takes about 2.5 hours to charge from zero. A USB-A–to–Micro-USB charging cord is included, but it doesn't come with a charging cube, so you need to plug the USB-A end into your own USB phone charger that works in regular household outlets or use an outlet with a USB-A port. According to the company, the unit can stay charged for more than a year in storage, though you should make sure to top it off every three to six months. With regular use, it's rated to last for about three to five years or up to 1,000 recharge cycles. Plus, it can provide multiple jumps before it needs a recharge itself (five lights on the side of the unit indicate its remaining battery life).

The Weego 44s has checks and balances to ensure that you safely jump-start a car, but its lithium-ion polymer battery comes with certain caveats. Though the manufacturer indicates that the unit will operate in temps of -4 °F to 140 °F, leaving it in a car in extremely hot or cold conditions is not a great idea. "Most devices that contain a lithium-ion battery, whether it's your smartphone or a portable jump starter, should not spend long periods of time in extreme temperatures since it can cause permanent damage to the battery," says Wirecutter senior staff writer and battery expert Sarah Witman. "You should also keep in mind that car engines need more power to get started in freezing temperatures, so it's especially important to keep your jump starter fully charged when driving in cold climates."

If you’re a die-hard jumper-cable partisan, make sure that the cables you get are long enough for most scenarios and thick enough to carry sufficient current to jump most vehicles.

This cable is long and durable enough for any situation, with a current rating that can handle SUVs.

After scrutinizing the specs of dozens of jumper-cable options and having an electrical engineer analyze three top-rated models, we recommend Lifeline's AAA Heavy Duty 16-foot 6 Gauge Booster Cables. As this image illustrates, these cables are long and thick enough for most situations, and their 400-amp current rating means they can handle most vehicles, even trucks and SUVs. They also come with a surprisingly sturdy and convenient mesh storage bag.

One thing that sets these Lifeline cables apart from other cables we found on Amazon is that the 6-gauge description is accurate. For example, Capri sells a 4-gauge, 20-foot cable that reviewers say is closer to 8-gauge. That's no good, because thinner cables can fail to deliver sufficient current to start trucks, SUVs, and other larger vehicles.

If you’re unfamiliar with how to use jumper cables, familiarize yourself. But lest you forget, Lifeline includes a handy diagram in the bag. The important thing to keep in mind: Do not attach the black clamp to the black post of the dead battery. Instead, clamp it to an unpainted metal surface under the hood. Also, don't touch the exposed parts of the clamps together while the cables are hooked up to a battery; they will spark.

This tool roll is designed for off-road emergencies. The handy roll and its mix-and-match tool configurations offer almost everything necessary to keep a vehicle on the road.

If you don't own any tools for car maintenance, this kit is a great start. With 65 individual tools, the Decked x BoxoUSA Tool Bag with Tool Roll has nearly every tool that a home mechanic (especially those who own a truck) might need to keep their vehicle on the road. As the kit was designed originally for off-roading, bringing the whole thing and all its contents would be overkill for most people (the entire kit weighs 31 pounds). But selecting the necessities—the ratchet and wrench set, for instance—depending on the kind of journey you’re planning is easy and efficient due to the built-in compartmentalization. Included within the kit are combination wrenches, sockets, impact sockets, hex and torx keys, breaker bars, and a family of hammers, pliers, and screwdrivers. The heavy-duty Cordura nylon bag is built to last, too. If you’re at all interested in doing some of your own car maintenance, or if you want to be prepared in case of emergency, this toolkit offers a solid foundation.

This headlamp emits bright light with the highest beam quality. And it stays charged for days, whether you charge it via USB or use AAA batteries. It's the perfect headlamp for backpacking trips.

We’ve been testing headlamps since 2012, including our latest round of research and testing in 2022. For a road trip, we like the Petzl Actik Core because it's rechargeable, so you won't ever get caught with a dead battery, as long as you have a USB car charger on hand. Its 450-lumen light ranks among the brightest of all our picks. (As of early 2023, the Actik Core was updated and now has a 600-lumen beam; we’re currently testing the new version.)

Twice during our trip we pulled into our camping site late, and our headlamp was the first thing we reached for. Knowing that it was always charged meant that we didn't have to hunt for batteries or use our car lights and disturb neighboring campers.

Right out of the box, the Actik Core was easy to use. It has just one button and three brightness options: low (6 lumens), medium (100 lumens), and high (450 lumens). If you hold down the button for several seconds, the color turns to red; double-pressing lets you access the strobe setting. Compared with some other rechargeable headlamps, which require complicated button-press configurations to reach the desired setting, we found this one to be simpler, though we lamented its lack of a flood beam. We also liked the double-button setup of the Black Diamond Spot 400 and the Vitchelo V800 a bit better than the Actik Core's single button.

Crushproof and waterproof, this set of three beacons comes with magnets for car mounting. And these are much safer than traditional flares.

To keep yourself safe while your car is parked on the side of the road, we suggest StonePoint LED Emergency Beacon flare alternatives.

We like the StonePoint set because, for the price of one high-intensity model like the PowerFlare device, you get three separate lights that are all crushproof to 20,000 pounds, waterproof, magnetic, and easy to set up and turn on. The magnets are important because they let you mount the beacons on your car, which adds height; having a flare anywhere above the surface of the road greatly increases your visibility. By putting one on the road (preferably elevated on something and located about 100 feet before your car), another on the trunk, and another on the hood, you create a very visible early warning for drivers.

Traditional magnesium flares will almost always be brighter and more visible. But their hazards—both to your health and to the environment around you—are substantial. (Read the health and environmental hazards section in this report [PDF] for a breakdown of the risks and the potentially harmful chemicals involved.) Combine that with the fact that you can mitigate any differences in visibility simply by elevating an electric flare, and you end up with a compelling argument against using traditional flares.

Of the three beacon models we tested, we couldn't figure out how to open or turn on the Wagan model. And the Smittybilt U.F.O. safety light, though tough, wasn't especially effective during the day and came only one to a package. Only the StonePoint beacons were easy to fill with batteries and place on the road exactly when we needed them. They also happened to be the brightest flare alternatives we had with us.

I should take a moment here and repeat what the responding officer told us when he arrived on the scene. Regardless of what safety beacons you have laid out behind you, "Stay off the road, and when in doubt stay in your car."

This light, slim multi-tool is easy to carry and built to last.

May be out of stock

No emergency kit is complete without a multi-tool. Most minor situations—such as a loose Phillips-head screw or a need to create a rag for checking your oil—are easily fixed as long as you have the right tool. Multi-tools are small enough to carry in a jeans pocket or to attach to a belt, so you can take a set of useful tools almost anywhere. Our choice is the Leatherman Skeletool CX, which comes with pliers, a bit driver, a pocket clip, and a carabiner/bottle opener, in addition to a high-quality, 2.6-inch 154CM carbon-fiber stainless steel blade. The Skeletool CX stood out from the other 22 multi-tools we tested because it focuses on the functionality, ergonomics, and solid construction of a few essential tools, instead of cramming dozens of different tools into a single bulky body that makes it difficult to use. That means it's easy to carry but still has just about everything you could possibly need (short of a hammer and a socket set) to make an emergency repair in the field and on the road.

This tape is super strong and sticky, flexible enough to wrap around corners, and easy to tear in a clean, straight line.

If you can't duct it, fuhgeddaboudit. We tested the heck out of 11 rolls of duct tape and chose Duck Max Strength tape above the competition for its perfect blend of attributes, namely high material strength, a strong adhesive, and superior overall flexibility for easy wrapping around odd shapes and curved surfaces. Is it an absolute necessity on the road? No. But the moment you need to fix a ripped tent wall or to keep unruly motel shades shut, you’ll be glad you packed some duct tape. It can even handle first-aid duties when the right materials for the job are unavailable. Duct tape is, as any MacGyver fan will tell you, a very useful tool.

This water jug holds enough water for two people for two days, and it has a spill-proof screw-on vent cap.

The general rule for water in an emergency is that one person needs one gallon of water for one day. But four to five gallons is a good amount to throw into your trunk—enough to get you through being stranded, even with a passenger. You should increase that estimate if you plan to go out in the middle of nowhere, or if your travels take you to a desert region or some other dry place. We found on our trip through the Southwest that we were refilling our water bottles a lot more than we were stopping for gas.

After researching 16 different types of water jugs, we recommend the Reliance 4-Gallon Aqua-Tainer for most situations. The Reliance jug has two standout features: a screw-on vent cap and a spigot cap that reverses in on itself when not in use. These features work together to prevent major spills. The screw-on vent cap doesn't come undone, unlike the pull-top vents on some competitors, which tend to pop open and spill water as soon as you hit anything other than the smoothest roadways. Spigot caps can be a weakness for some jugs, too. In contrast, when not in use, the Reliance jug's spigot unscrews and drops into the jug itself, sealing up the whole canister nice and tight. On our road trip, we used the 4-Gallon Aqua-Tainer, which can provide water for two people for two days; for more people, consider the 7-Gallon Aqua-Tainer.

The Reliance Aqua-Tainer jug is made from BPA-free molded plastic. It's easy to pack around in the trunk of a car—certainly easier than large, bladder-type jugs (like the MSR Dromedary Bag), which, though excellent for camp showers and good for a backpack, are too difficult to pack around in a trunk because of their non-rigid shape. The Aqua-Tainer's hard sides also make it easier to use for dispensing water from, say, the roof of your car. But be sure to throw a shirt or towel under the Aqua-Tainer before setting it atop your car like this: We learned the hard way that the molded plastic edge can scratch your car's paint job if you’re not careful.

Before investing in a jug, you should know that water kept in plastic bottles won't harm you, even if left in a hot car. A 24-pack of Poland Spring is not environmentally kind, but it is safe for a brief trip. Avoid gallon jugs, since they’re typically made out of HDPE plastic, which punctures easily. (Such jugs also have caps that pop off easily.) We wouldn't buy collapsible jugs, either, since they are prone to leaks and are unruly when pouring.

It takes only a few minutes to get your vehicle checked out for a proper road trip. When in doubt, or when preparing for an especially long trip, see a mechanic first. There are plenty of potential mechanical troubles that a professional can identify—and that you’d rather learn about in their shop than on the side of a highway. Use these tips to determine where to go for help, based on the age of your car and what you need done.

Getting word-of-mouth advice from family and friends remains a very good way to find reputable mechanics. Sites such as RepairPal and Yelp are also helpful. And don't forget to check local Facebook community groups.

Before heading out, check these commonly taken-for-granted aspects of road-tripping.

This article was edited by Ria Misra and Christine Ryan.

Kit Dillon

Kit Dillon is a senior staff writer at Wirecutter. He was previously an app developer, oil derrick inspector, public-radio archivist, and sandwich shop owner. He has written for Popular Science, The Awl, and the New York Observer, among others. When called on, he can still make a mean sandwich.

Wirecutter Staff

by Eve O'Neill

We spend a lot of time driving each year, and this is our list of essential road-trip gear to include in your packing list.

by Ria Misra

The women of Wirecutter drew on our experience—many of us log thousands of miles a year—to create a packing list to help you truly enjoy flying solo.

by Signe Brewster

Our photo and travel teams have spent thousands of hours testing the must-haves and the nice-but-not-necessities for documenting your next adventure.

by Haley Perry

You don't have to be a digital nomad to travel like one. Here are a few gadgets and accessories to make travel as painless as possible.

Dealership service departments: Independent mechanics: Quick oil/lube centers: Under the hood: Tires: Lights: Smell test: Sulfur/rotten-egg smell: Sweet smell: Burning carpet/paper smell: Musty/mildew smell: Burning rubber smell: Noise test: Clunking or rattling over bumps: Clicking or groaning sounds when turning: Loud humming that increases steadily with speed: Grinding, squeaking, or squealing when stopping: Feel test: Soft or spongy brake pedal: Shimmies or vibrations: Update your GPS system. Make sure that you have maps or a paper atlas. Make sure you’re covered by a roadside assistance program.