The gear you’ll want on a road trip to our national parks

With some states still closed off and international travel still a bit risky, 2020 will end up being the summer of the road trip. Every summer growing up, my family hopped in whatever Ford SUV we happened to own at the time and drove around the country, hitting up multiple state and national parks. When you live in Michigan that means putting quite a few miles in the car (the closest national park to Detroit, Indiana Dunes, wasn’t a national park until 2019). Since then I’ve added quite a few parks to my list, and these items below make the trip every single time, without a doubt. 

Patagonia Houdini Jacket – $99

There are few things worse than being stuck on the side of a mountain in the rain with no jacket. At the same time, I don’t want to be carrying a ton of gear on my back slowing me down, “just in case”. That’s where the Houdini jacket comes in. At only 3.7 ounces, there are literally sinkers in my tackle box that weigh more than this jacket. And the fact that it folds into its own pocket makes it easy to stow away and forget about until you need it. I’m heading out on an 18-mile trek in the Rockies in a couple weeks, bringing only what I need, and the Houdini is on that list.

Thule Canyon XT Cargo Basket – $278.95

I have to admit, I first bought my Thule Canyon XT to sit atop my Subaru XV because I thought it looked cool. I knew that down the line the utility it provided would come in handy, but at the time it was about 67% an aesthetic choice. Since then I’ve moved out west and have used it to strap down paddle boards, duffels, fishing gear, you name it. I had no idea when I bought it how much use I would get out of it, and I prefer the basket over any kind of cargo box, just because I can strap down a variety of cargo. It paired especially well with the item below this one, freeing up most of the cargo space in the back of the Subaru when I visited the Grand Canyon last year. Sure it adds a bit of wind noise, but with slightly more aggressive tires than stock, the XV isn’t all that quiet anyway, and I’ve gotten used to the noise.

Patagonia Black Hole Duffel – $129-$349

When road tripping to different national parks, I don’t always pack light. Between tents, clothes, photography equipment and fly-fishing gear, the car can fill up rather quickly. One of the benefits of having a cargo basket is the ability to throw all or most of your luggage on the roof. The downside is that, unlike a cargo box, once it starts raining, things get wet. That’s where duffels like the Patagonia Black Hole come in. While not completely waterproof (I wouldn’t submerge my luggage in a river) I haven’t had an issue with anything getting wet while driving in the rain. 

I have a variety of sizes and use them all rather frequently. The rolling variety also comes in handy on big shoots when having to carry a lot of equipment through multiple airports. Traveling like this can definitely be hard on your luggage, which is where the best feature of these bags comes in: their lifetime ironclad warranty. According to Patagonia, “If you are not satisfied with one of our products at the time you receive it, or if one of our products does not perform to your satisfaction, return it to the store you bought it from or to Patagonia for a repair, replacement or refund. Damage due to wear and tear will be repaired at a reasonable charge.”

That being said, I’ve owned these bags for a little longer than seven years, and they have accompanied me on trips to Cuba, Iceland, Patagonia, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and Antarctica, and I have yet to have to get them repaired. They definitely look like they’ve traveled all over the world, but it’s more of a patina than damage.

First Aid Kit – $21.96

My wife and I were packing up our car after a day of hiking in the mountains this weekend when a woman approached us. “Excuse me, this is a weird question, but do you happen to have a bandage?”

I looked down at the woman’s hand, which she had gripped tightly. Blood was dripping from it. “I cut it on the car,” she replied, seeing the concerned look on my face. Thankfully we’re always prepared for this sort of thing. It is the easiest thing in the world to buy a first aid kit, throw it in your car and forget about it. More people should do it. And when it’s needed, you’ll definitely be glad you did. Buy a smaller one for your backpack too. 

Exped Megamat Duo – $349

There was a time in my life when I would look at someone who set up a tent/car with a comfortable air mattress and wool blanket and pillows with disdain, thinking that suffering through a night on the ground was just part of camping, helping one get in tune with nature. Then I realized that if I get a good seven to nine hours of sleep at night, the 10 to 12 miles of hiking the next day was much more enjoyable. Today, I have the Megamat Duo, an air mattress that perfectly fits in the back of my XV and allows my wife and I to sleep comfortably while camping. Perhaps even on the verge of glamping. Vacations should be enjoyable and the first feeling you experience when waking up in the morning shouldn’t be back pain. 

The North Face 0 Degree Sleeping Bag – $111.95

In September of 2017, Producer Alex Malburg and I traveled to Iceland, originally to drive a 70-series Land Cruiser around the country, until someone crashed it right before we got there. We settled instead for a Renault Trafic camper van, and while I was more than a bit bummed we weren’t driving my dream rig, we were still getting to travel the country. On a whim I grabbed two of my heavier synthetic sleeping bags to bring with us on the trip. The van had blankets and pillows, but the bags weren’t that heavy and I thought it might be good for some photos. 

A day and a half into our trip the van broke down on the side of the road. With an engine that wouldn’t start, we couldn’t charge up the auxiliary battery that powered the heater, and with an 18-hour wait until someone could bring us a new van, we were stuck. Within a few hours the heater stopped working, which in 35-degree weather wasn’t great, but thankfully we had the sleeping bags. It wasn’t the best sleep of my life, but at least I was warm. Ever since then, I keep those sleeping bags in the back of the car, just in case, especially during the colder months.

Patagonia R1 Hoody – $159

These next two items of clothing are two of the most worn items in my closet, are made by the same company, and are both classified as hoodies, yet couldn’t be more different. The R1 Hoody is classified as a midlayer, which means it is generally worn over a baselayer, and under a jacket or shell. The grid fleece helps trap air near your body to keep warm, and the long zipper can be undone when the temps are rising to prevent sweating. 

Plus it’s the only item of clothing on this list that has its own music video.

Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Hoody – $55

The Daily Hoody, unlike the R1 above, is what I wear when temperatures are higher, and I wear it as a baselayer. My Irish and Scandinavian roots prevent me from getting anything close to resembling a tan, so in the summer, I am covered head to toe, whether it is 40 degrees or over 100. With a lightweight hoodie like this I can stay out of the sun while still being relatively comfortable. 

MSR PocketRocket 2 Stove (w/fuel) – $33.71

This stove is one of two that I usually bring with me on trips, and because of the size, it wins out over the classic Coleman. It’s tiny enough to fit in my pocket (hence the name) and strong enough to boil a pot of water quickly. It screws right into a fuel canister and my only knock against it is that it isn’t the best for large cast iron due to its size. 

Patagonia Baggies – $55

Of the four items of clothing on this list, in the summer, Baggies are probably the most versatile piece of clothing I wear. In fact, I’m wearing a pair as a I type this sentence. These quick-drying, lightweight shorts are great for running, climbing and hiking in, and when you get to a lake after a long summer day, you can hop right in without giving it a second thought. They come in two lengths for guys, 5-inch and 7-inch, and 2.5-inch and 5-inch for women. 

Lodge Cast Iron Skillet – $37.99

I cook with this at home, bought my dad one for Father’s Day, and definitely bring it with me when car camping. When Producer Alex Malburg, Consumer Editor Jeremy Korzeniewski and I went camping in Jeremy’s 1975 VW Camper Van, he made nachos in this. They were delicious. The only thing I would say is to not use it with the Pocket Rocket listed above and instead opt for a grate over a fire or a larger stove like a two-burner Coleman.

Nalgene – $10.99

Not much to say here other than I prefer the narrow mouth to the wide-mouthed variety. These indestructible bottles accompany me on every single trip I take, whether I’m driving or flying. Make sure to check out your vehicle’s cup holders to see if they fit. 

Miir Insulated mug – $24.95

On a cold morning, I love waking up, climbing out of the sleeping bag and having a warm cup of coffee. Unfortunately, half way through said coffee, nature usually calls. When all I had was a $3 enamel Coleman mug, I would come back to a coffee that had lost all its heat. Not so with the Miir mug. I’ve had coffee stay hot for hours in these, so much so that I rarely ever use the lid. 

Black Diamond Headlamp – $40

In 2013 I drove our long-term Nissan Pathfinder to Glacier National Park on a nine-day, 4,000-mile road trip. On my first night there I went into the bathroom around dusk, to brush my teeth and wash up before bed. As I exited the bathrooms, I had realized that it gets dark quickly when the sun disappears behind the mountains. I tried as carefully as I could to make my way back to the tent without any kind of light whatsoever, but as I was approaching my campsite, my forehead smacked into a hefty, low-hanging branch, leaving quite the bump on my noggin. Ever since that moment I have remembered to bring a headlamp with me. Learn from my mistake.

GoPro Hero 8 – $299

I started using GoPros when the first Hero came out, and most of the videos you see on Autoblog have been shot using these little action cams. The Hero8 is the best one yet. The stabilization is miraculous, and the picture quality is, in my opinion, unmatched by any action cam on the market. 

Yeti Tundra Roadie Cooler – $199

Yeti coolers are polarizing. You either love them (the camp that I’m in) or think they’re way overpriced and overrated. While I would say that, yes, they are expensive, it is because they work, and without Yeti, who knows if rotomolded coolers would be around like they are today. My current favorite is the Tundra Roadie, which Yeti just updated. It’s the smaller of the two I own, only holding about 24 quarts, but it fits a lot better in my XV than the larger versions. If you like cold beer though, I would opt for the larger size. 

National Parks Passport – $23.57

Did I first go to Yellowstone in 2003 or 2004? When was the last time I was in Rocky Mountain National Park? Have I ever been to Canyonlands or did I only visit Arches? If you’re like me, after years of traveling, it can be hard to remember exactly when you were where, but with the National Parks Passport, you can keep track of every visit, down to the day. There are stamps and stickers available at most visitors centers at each park, and it can be a fun memento of your trip. And if you forget to bring it, you can always stamp along a receipt or other piece of paper you have with you and tape it to the passport later. 

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