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7 Surprisingly Useful Things For Camping Road Trips

You've finally accumulated your basic camping gear. Tent, sleeping bag, pad, coolers, and stuff to cook with. Now you might just be wondering on how you can make your camping life a little easier. There are about a million lists out there for “clever” or “ingenious” gear, but they all follow an annoying trend: they provide expensive solutions for problems you're not really having. Sleeping bag onesies? An inflatable hot tub? A portable hydropower plant? Try to tell that last one to the people who died after getting swept away in Sequoia National Park.

Our list here is relatively short, but that's the point. Think of this as your second wave of purchases that are surprisingly useful in situations that may arise while you're out exploring America’s wild places.


A 64 oz. Insulated Growler

There's always a need a more water. Cooking, cleaning, drinking, extinguishing your campfire, making coffee, etc. A half gallon is sort of that magic amount that helps take care of all those things. Small enough to drink from, large enough to handle all sorts of tasks. The insulation then keeps water hot enough for coffee in the morning or mountain water cold enough to stay refreshing as you drive through the desert.

Pro-Tip: You can usually fill unlabeled growlers at most craft breweries, so they’re useful pretty much 365 days a year.

The start of a month-long car camping road trip in a sub-compact looks exactly like this.


A Collapsible Sink

Camping sinks are amazingly versatile. They let you play by the rules even when there's a line at the utility sink for dishes. They hold enough water that they can even be used for emergency laundry or bathing, if, say, you get to a park and find out the showers haven't been turned on for the season. They pull large amounts of water from streams for easier treatment. More compact than a bucket and more wieldy than a standard sink tub, you'll soon appreciate the extra packing space and the fact no water is sloshing back on you.


A Flexible Mini Tripod

Every hike has that moment: You're standing at a beautiful vista with no one around to take your photo. Selfies are terrible for capturing the magic of the moment. Selfie sticks help, but all the photos eventually start looking identical. Mini tripods, on the other hand, can sit on rocks, latch around tree branches, and fit neatly into your backpack. Set the photo timer or use a WiFi or Bluetooth option and start taking photos that really capture your adventures. Someone will inevitably ask if you had a photographer following you around!


Combination Travel Locks

Not that theft is all that common while camping, but sometimes it’s hard to wrap your mind around leaving hundreds (or thousands) of dollars worth gear just sitting in the open. If there is someone looking to cause some mischief, you just need to look harder to break into than the next campsite. Grabbing a pack of 2 or 3 combination travel locks is an inexpensive way to have a little peace of mind without having to remember a key. Worried about the stuff you leave in your tent all day? Lock the zippers together. Bear locker with a ton of food? Lock it. A locker at park showers? Lock it.


A Premium Cooler

We wouldn't recommend spending $300 on a product unless we were absolutely sold on its usefulness. Having 20lbs ice blocks melt every single day while driving through the deserts of Utah and Arizona gets old very fast. Constantly digging through the "soup" the melted ice creates gets old very fast. Premium coolers make a world of a difference. You waste less food, spend less on ice, and it doesn't really matter whether you decide on Yeti, Pelican, Grizzly, or any of the several brands out there. 10-day ice retention is real.


Cooler Basket

Most premium coolers have brand name baskets designed to keep its contents out of the inevitable “soup” that's born as your first batch of ice melts. A lot fewer food products are watertight than you might believe. Suddenly, you'll have soupy water seeping into condiments, bags, jars, and anything else that becomes submerged. The basket will help keep those food items dry, saving you money and frustration. Don't have a premium cooler? Measure your dimensions and buy a dish drying rack that'll sit around the rim.

Pro Tip: If you have a FoodSaver, vacuum sealing your meat is an excellent way to keep it waterproof. Freeze whatever you're not planning on eating right away and pack it frozen.


Waterproof Food Storage

We use Snapwear, but it seems like every food storage and outdoor gear company has their own version. The more things you can make waterproof for your cooler, the less frustrated you'll be throughout the entirety of your trip. The longer your trip, the more helpful these little babies become. Watertight salsa, leftovers, meat, chocolate, or whatever else needs to stay cold and protected will save you time and money. Plus, these inexpensive containers work great in everyday life for school or work lunches, so it won't feel like you're plunking down more money for just camping.


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