I mentioned this article would be coming in a member post a while back. Over my kids’ spring break in March, we took a road trip from Houston to Las Cruces, New Mexico… and back. It was a lot of fun, but rather than focusing on the trip, let’s just talk about the gear and some of the other odds and ends of it all. The good stuff.
Pre Departure Planning
The last time I did a large road trip I used a couple different mobile apps to handle helping me plan a good route. That was a total bust this time — surprisingly this is a shitty app market for these tools. So I did 99% of the planning in Apple Maps, routing and re-routing from place to place to get a sense of the distances/time involved. And then I plugged it all into Numbers to plan out an itinerary that would work.
Had there been better tools available, I think we would have broken up the trip even more, stopped more and all that. However, as it was we had planned this rather last minute (from booking popular hotels perspective) so we were stuck with less stopping than we probably would have ideally wanted.
So all that to say: Apple Notes, Numbers, and Apple Maps handled everything for me. And it worked just fine, but it would have been nice for a tool to give me accurate information on distance between fuel/restrooms on a few stretches. Apple Maps was out of date on what was still in existence in a couple scenarios — oops — but no major issues arose.
Things I Bought
Alright, some (all that I can remember) of the things I bought before the trip:
- 2022 Chevy Tahoe Z71, kind of. I was buying a new car already, but certainly the timing was very fortunate for this trip.
- Road Atlas: updated mine from 2018 to 2022, yay (I keep one in my car always).
- Car Garbage Can: I mentioned this in member posts before, but this garbage can is amazing to have in the car with my kids. It makes keep trash contained very easy — and I wish I had bought one sooner.
- New Car Charging Cables: new car, meant I needed a different passenger charging cable setup. I got these to go with those cables, but they are shit. Don’t buy those adapters.
- Zip Ties: I had no 12” on hand, so I got some.
- Fire Extinguisher: mentioned this before, but I got something cheap with good reviews. I hope to never need it.
- Rohm Portable White Noise: I actually picked up two of these, as portable white noise machines. I don’t think you need the model with the case, but the case is nice enough. Battery life is great.
- Tire pump: I had one that was slow and can’t really do larger SUV tires well. So I got something which looks much more solid in case I needed to air a tire.
- Battery Jumper Box: it’s been on my list for a while, I now have one.
- Tire Plug Kit: to go with the tire pump, after watching a video on how durable these are, and decently easy to use — a cheap add so I don’t need to wait on a tow, or use a smaller spare tire.
- Ricoh GR IIIx, kind of: again I was due to get a new camera, but I got this one in time for the trip for sure.
- Car Tarp and Sand Bags: I wanted something to provide shade for hanging out at national parks and such.
- Portable Toilet: self explanatory.
- Wilderness Wipes: to wipe off the wilderness.
- Kid sunglasses: because they can’t not lose/scratch/break their sunglasses. Might need subscribe and save on these.
- Sitting Chairs: to stand in.
- Sled and wax: for the sand dunes.
That’s it for the items I bought for the trip…
Bags / Knives / Lights / Etc
I don’t have a full list of all the stuff I took, so instead I’ll focus on some of the gear-gear I packed:
- Knives: Super Tinker, Hogue Deka, Benchmade Mini Adamas, Winkler SD2, Benchmade Mini Bugout.
- Flashlights: Sofirn LT1, HDS Rotary, D4V2, Muyshondt Maus, JetBeam RRT01 Raptor, HDS Rotary Tactical, SureFire Backup, Petzl Tikka.
- Bags: Filson Small Duffle, Mystery Ranch ASAP, Marsupial Fanny Pack, Mystery Ranch Scree 32 (stays in car as emergency bag), 2x PDW CaB-II Totes.
- Down/Synthetic Blankets (one for each person)
- Camping Pillows (three, drivers can’t sleep with one while driving I am told).
- Vortex Binoculars & Monocular (8x and 10x).
More than most would likely pack, but less than you might expect from me. I used a smaller section of this gear than I expected for a week long trip.
Post Trip Thoughts
After the trip, and looking back at it all, here’s some thoughts overall from a gear perspective.
Secret Gear Heroes
These items surprised me for how awesome they proved to be all trip long:
- Mystery Ranch ASAP: maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise, but this bag is killer for hiking and I had absolutely no complaints. It’s stellar. I used it to tote all the gear I brought that wasn’t clothes to and from hotels and the car. Then pulled that out that stuff whenever we went out hiking which left only hiking related gear in the bag. It worked like a charm, and never felt like it wasn’t a great fit for the activity. It practically disappears when loading it with only a light day hiking load. I used the beaver tail on it for the trip, as a quick place to stash my iPad (in a sleeve) since the bag was pretty full with other stuff.
- Victorinox Super Tinker: easily the most used knife of all of mine on this trip. It stayed in my sling the entire time, but the scissors seemed to find daily use all over the place. Really good stuff. I cut up tons of tags (from inside shirts that were rubbing people), trimmed threads, and cut blister patches down to the correct size.
- Sofirn LT1: I forgot to pack a nightlight. This ran all night, every night for my kids — and then easily recharged during the day (not that it needed it) on my iPad charger. Perfection. I originally brought this as I had space for it in my bag, and thought it would be a good emergency item to have should the Russia situation get crazier.
- Marsupial Fanny Pack: Carried my camera, the Super Tinker and plenty of tissues for the whole gang when we weren’t out hiking. I wore it a lot across my chest to make access quick and easy most of the trip, I am a huge fan of this bag. Everything fits in it great, and it has just the right amount of organization, while still being nice and compact. Bonus points for it fitting perfectly inside the center console of the Tahoe as well.
Those are the stand outs for me. Of course a nod to the Tahoe, because the sheer size of that vehicle kept us from feeling cramped on driving days. Whether from proximity to each other, or the amount of gear I crammed in the car — it was a great experience to have a substantially large car than the X5 (which is what we took on the last road trip). I’ll probably write later about how much I love the Tahoe.
Needless / Bad Choices Gear
A few things simply did not get the use I thought they would, or were bad selections on my part (not bad gear, but not used well on this trip or for these purposes):
- Vortex Binoculars/Monocular: I packed one of each and really thought they would come in handy. There was probably a time or two I could have used them, but I never did. I’d file these under needless for this particular trip. I love both of these items, and I blame having a camera on not using them. If I wasn’t lugging the camera, I probably would have had one or both of these more readily accessible and used them. Oh well.
- RTIC Soft Sided Coolers: I packed a 20 and 40 can models. The 40 stayed in the back of the car with extra water and snacks, while the 20 was in the second row between the kids with snacks and drinks for the drive. They both were not good choices on my part. The 40 didn’t keep anything cold enough for long enough, I should have packed a hard sided which would have keep everything much colder. And the 20 was so difficult for my daughter to open, that it defeated the point of the whole setup (them to easily hand me drinks while driving). Next time I am going to get a hard sided cooler that is smaller than my 45 for the back, and something easier to open for the kid area. I like these coolers, but they were not good fits for these uses.
- Water Bottles: I am not saying I should not have packed these. I could have packed about 50% fewer water bottles (all filled) if I had some better way of treating the water. So this was just the wrong thing, and too much of the wrong item. I think 1.5 bottles per person would have been enough instead of my 2.5 packing method this time.
I’m surprised, but those were the three biggest misses on this trip.
This is a rather arbitrary and incomplete list of gear I packed, which I feel was really necessary and made things better, but would not have killed me totally if I didn’t have them. Ok, sure, let’s go with that (look even with all this shit, clothes and everything, there were no windows in the back of the Tahoe blocked, which was my main rule).
- Moving Blanket: I used a black moving blanket to cover everything in the back of the car. This kept things out of sight, and made me feel a lot more comfortable leaving shit in my car no matter where we parked. It was a last minute addition, but super glad I tossed it in. (The cargo cover on the Tahoe doesn’t fully cover the cargo area, it stops short of the second row seats. It’s so fucking stupid, the new X5 with a third row also does this, FYI.)
- Toilet Paper: so many toilet stops found no toilet paper, but I had some with us and it made everything a non-issue.
- Garbage Bags: I took a roll of ‘kitchen size’ garbage bags, it helped keep everything clean and made cleaning out the car quick and easy.
- Tissues: we rotated through most of us having a mild cold, so yeah, these helped. We stopped a few times to get more too.
- Vollebak: I essentially only wore Vollebak shirts, and it was awesome. Kept me cool/warm and moving fine so that I could deal with anything else. The Equator shirt is hands down my favorite shirt, I have two. The Planet Earth shirt is better for cooler weather, or keeping a chill off — it got a ton of wear also.
- Beyond Clothing: I only wore their pants, and also awesome. All the pockets, all the stretch, wiped clean. So comfy.
- Car Tarp and Sand Bags: I thought for sure this would not get used. We penciled in staying at White Sands for some extended time and it being one big thing of sand, I knew there was no shade. So I bought this knowing that we would want some (I also saw in a couple YouTube videos setting up sun shades was common), and we sure did want some shade when we were there. This is a pretty neat tarp, it worked well enough and took about 7 minutes to put up, and about 4 to take down. That was my second time putting it up, so could be faster next time. The sand bags I used in place of stakes at each spot, because it was nearly impossible to drive a stake in the ground on the packed sand we parked on. We used this once for a couple hours, but it was worth having and was pretty inexpensive. It’s not perfect, but it packs down small, and worked well — also it’s not silly expensive like many other options were.
- Chairs: yeah, for sitting under the tarp. Actually the specific reason I bought the chairs I bought, was because of how compact they folded down for travel, and yet they expanded out into what feels like a more full sized chair. They are not the best chairs out there, but I was pretty happy with them. If I did it again, I would buy another two with the full mesh setup to keep the heat down. As it was, no complaints, any warmer and these would have been a touch too warm. But, let me say again: these pack down really nice and small and that makes them a winner in my book.
- Sunglasses: white sand, in the sun, is very bright. Holy bright. I am glad I had good sunglasses (these are the best sunglasses you can get, just get them), as my wife immediately bought darker sunglasses (Roka) after we got back from the trip.
- GR IIIx: This camera was stellar. It’s been a long time since I really took a ton of pictures, but I took a ton on this trip. And this little camera left me wanting for nothing. Love this.
- Blister strips: like always, they came in handy.
- Finger nail clippers: if you don’t travel with some, you should. Also they work to cut small tags and such if you can’t bring a knife with you.
Ok, last but not least: the gear I felt like I was missing after coming back.
- Household Water Filter / Something: I would have loved to have a better water filtering setup for on the road. I have debated whether this is taking a smaller Brita, some water bottles with built in filters, or my Steripen. I am not sold on any option just yet, but filtered water bottles are the ones most interesting to me for ease of use and not taking up more space. Doing this would have cut down on the water I packed in the car, and bought at the store. However I really need to think this through more. I think for road trips a small Brita would be best, for US travel a Steripen works, and for anything else a water filter bottle per person would be ideal. Sounds expensive though.
- Better Coffee setup: I filed this under missing, instead of bad because my French press setup did work. It just wasn’t ideal. I will upgrade this before I travel again, likely an Aeropress and I don’t want to talk about it.
- Peanut butter: and really something to eat it on, but this would have helped a lot of the kids. We ended up going grocery shopping one night to fix this mistake. Not to self on that one.
- Night light for kids: mentioned above, simply forgot to pack an Obulb MC. Well technically I told the kids to pack them, but I didn’t check they had, and they had not.