Got a friend (or spouse) that’s all about the Vanlife? Or do you regularly head off for a weekend of cycling and car camping? Or are you just trying to kit out that camper van with the essentials?
So do we, and here’s our list of the best gifts for life on the road. This list assumes you have the basics, like an air mattress and tent, so we’re focusing on the accouterments that dial up the fun, enjoyment, and safety.
Everything here has been tested and approved by our own writers and riders over months and years of traveling by car, truck, and camper van! Not only do these make great gifts, but they also make the experience a lot better for you when you’re tagging along for the ride!
Best Vehicle Accessories
Surf Grass Mat ($85 at Amazon) is a simple concept that ends up being one of the best accessories you can pack. Use it as a changing mat or door mat to keep both feet and interior clean. Stand on it to rinse off so you don’t end up in a muddy puddle. We like the round one so much that one of us is using it as a doormat at home, too! They have larger square and rectangular sizes, too, that might become a permanent interior floor for your van once you try them. They also have smaller rectangular versions that roll up and use an integrated velcro strap for storage which make perfect gifts for riders with normal cars, trucks, or vans, too.
X-BULL Traction Boards ($90 on Amazon) may not have the street cred as the name brand boards, but they come in the obligatory safety orange and six other colors, so you can match your ride or go stealth. We’ve used them for leveling our VanDOit on uneven terrain and even put them to the test as ramps to get up a ledge. Considering the weight of our van, we’re impressed they didn’t break, making them a solid suggestion for a basic precaution against getting stuck. The included carrying case keeps your interior clean, too, if you’re not mounting them externally.
Skeeter Beater Mesh Bug Screens ($140-$200 at Skeeter Beater) snap over your van doors with magnets (though we’re starting to see some folks trap them under the weather stripping, too) to keep bugs out. They can be a bit finicky getting in and out of, to be honest, but they work, which is especially great at night when all the bugs wanna cozy up by your interior lights.
Best Mobile Office Gear
The NekTeck GaN 100W Charger ($40 on Amazon) is small enough to stow in a glove box or center console but makes quick work of topping off the latest MacBook Pro, even under heavy use. Additional 65W USB-C and 30W USB-A ports work great for everything else, from tablets to headphones to cycling computers and AXS/Di2/EPS battery chargers.
Pair that with Anker’s excellent Power Line USB-C cables ($22 on Amazon, they also make Lightning cables), which are rated to handle up to 240 watts for fast charging on that high-powered plug adapter, and they’re 6′ long so they’ll reach almost any seat in the vehicle.
Marathon sessions will get your laptop hot, and a soft, simple, compact lap pad not only makes it safer to work from a car seat, but it’s also far more ergonomically comfortable. You can also use it as a pillow in a pinch. We like the LapGear MyStyle Lap Desk ($20 at Amazon) because the bean bag-like padding conforms to your lap and it’s simple…and it comes in different colors and graphics.
Best Camp Setup Gear
The essential device for every camp is a headlamp, and the tiny but powerful 350-lumen Black Diamond Cosmo ($35 at REI) is perfect. It has three brightness settings plus a red LED for bedtime visibility, works with three AAA batteries (included) or their rechargeable battery pack (sold separately), is rainproof, and has a digital lock so it won’t accidentally turn on and drain its power when stuffed in a bin or bag.
The compact Travel Chair Slacker ($33 at Amazon) tripod stool is small enough to throw in a pack for day hikes, but we’ve found the best use is when crouching near the fire to cook food or stoke the coals, or while working on your bike in the stand. It’s hard to move around and lean in from a camp chair, and we don’t wanna waste energy standing the whole time…this stool solves all those problems, and the quality construction means it’ll last for years of adventures.
One of the biggest challenges with car camping in the summer, whether you’re in your van or a tent, is staying cool while also covered up. Personally, I like the weight of a blanket to help me sleep, but standard blankets are too hot. But the Hilu Blanket ($185-$199 on sale at Hilu) uses a proprietary Graphene thread to pull body heat away and keep you cool. It’s uncanny…it feels cold even in the summer heat…and it’s the perfect blanket when it’s hot and humid. It’s a bit slippery when laid over a sheet, so it works best in direct contact with your skin.
The other big challenge? Pooping in the woods. Or desert. Or Walmart parking lot because it’s late and you just don’t want to make one more march across the parking lot and have to make eye contact with the greeter. Again. That’s where the Trelino Evo composting toilet ($350-$550 at Trelino) comes in. Its flat, wide, rectangular base is way more stable than a 5-gallon bucket; far more comfortable, too. Trelino’s design separates wet from dry waste, capturing each so the deucies can dry out so they won’t stink (just add the compost of your choice). The soft close lid is a nice touch, too.
Clean, safe drinking water is the final component of a good camp setup, and the LifeSaver Jerrycan ($295-$350 at Backcountry) holds 18.5L (4.89 gallons), includes a microbiological filter that eliminates 99.99% of the organisms that could make you sick, a charcoal filter puck for chlorine removal and taste, and an optional shower attachment. The closure cap doubles as a pump to pressurize it, then just twist it open to release pressure when not in use. Fill it from any hose (it also fits inside those RO water fillers at Sprouts, Whole Foods, etc) and you’ve got days of water.
Best Cooking, Eating & Drinking Gifts
High Camp Firelight 750 Flask ($125 at High Camp Flasks) has a surprise feature…they’re magnetic! Just pull the two tumblers off the flask, then top them off with 750ml of your favorite cocktail (or even a full bottle of wine!). It’s stainless steel and vacuum insulated, and even the tumblers are insulated, so they work great for your morning coffee, too. And, because they’re magnetic, if you happen to have a metal table, they definitely won’t get knocked off!
There are camp cooking sets, and then there’s the GSI Outdoors Rakau Knife Set ($80 at REI). If you do more than slap sammies together for dinner, this chef’s knife set with a bamboo cutting board, sharpener, and cleaning cloth has become our go-to prep station. Definitely beats chopping veg and slicing meat with a multi-tool!
Boiling water in a camp stove is for chumps if you’ve got power available. The Aroma 1L Electric Kettle ($40 at Amazon) gets the job done quickly so you can get that coffee going. It’s also great for hot chocolate, ramen, or even warming soups (just keep an eye on it, and wash it out right after). The cord wraps into the base for tidy storage, too.
We keep the Fixit Sticks All Purpose Driver Kit ($210 at Amazon) on hand because it’s a complete socket set and bit set, with Torx, Hex, Flat, and Phillips head bits in nearly every size you’d need. It’ll do more than fix and adjust most bike components, it’ll likely help repair anything else on your vehicle or other adventure gear. And, its compact size makes it easy to stow when not needed.
For more bike-specific repairs, the Feedback Sports Team Edition Kit ($350 at REI) has everything you need for even the geekiest little repair. From rotor straighteners to valve core removers, cable cutters to spoke wrenches, it’s all here. There’s even a little pick to get the crud out of tight spaces, which you’ll wonder how you ever did without. This basically lives in our van year-round and has saved the day too many times to count.
If you haven’t used a Silky Saw, know this: It will change your life. You will be looking for things to saw, they’re that smooth and fast. The Silky Gomboy 240 Folding Saw ($55 at Amazon) is the perfect size for cutting firewood or getting that fallen tree off the road so you can continue your trip. Throw it in your pack for quick trail work, too!
When it’s time to load your bikes inside the van or truck bed, Freedom Coast’s Adjustable Fork Mount ($159 at Freedom Coast) lets you angle it forward and backward to help keep handlebars from fighting for elbow room (that’s what kids are for). It fits into L-track with the included hardware, no tools necessary, or can be screwed into floorboards, slide-outs, or wood using its countersunk mounting holes. Choose from six-axle mount inserts to fit any bike, including 20×110 DH bikes and 15×150 fat bikes!