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 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 a camper van! Not only do these make great gifts, they also make the experience a lot better for you when you’re tagging along for the ride!
Best Vehicle Accessories
Surf Grass Mat ($80 at GTFOverland) 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 one of us is using it as a doormat at home, too! They have a larger square and rectangular sizes, too, that might become a permanent interior floor for your van once you try them.
Ikuram 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
One of the best things we’ve added to our van is this combo of cords and power brick (all available on Amazon). The USB-C Power Cord ($20) and Apple Lightning Power Cord ($16) are both 10 feet long, so no matter where you’re sitting (or laying in bed), they’ll reach.
Combine that with the Nekteck 4-Port 72W Wall Charger ($22), which has a 60W USB-C port capable of charging up our MacBook Pro even under heavy use. It’s surprisingly affordable, but we’ve used it for years now on every trip we’ve taken and it’s worked flawlessly.
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, 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) 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 BioLite Alpenglow lights are camp lanterns that know how to party! Available in two sizes, the AlpenGlow 250 ($60) and 500 ($80) do way more than just sit on your table. Flip them upside down and there’s a hook so you can hang them over your picnic table or bike stand. What sets them apart, besides incredibly long run times from the rechargeable batteries, is their various colors and lighting modes. Change the hue from cool to warm white, or switch to a rainbow of colors that remain static or cycle through the spectrum. There’s even a candle flicker mode. Shake it and it goes into party mode with fireworks!
The Nemo Stargaze Recliner Luxury Chair ($220 at REI) is the Cadillac of camp chairs. Recline or rock, it’ll cradle you in comfort. You’ll never want to slum it with a regular camp chair again. It’s a bit bulky when packed, so it’s definitely a car camping item, but worth the room it takes up.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Travel Chair Slacker ($30 at Amazon). This compact 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.
Best Cooking, Eating & Drinking Gifts
High Camp Firelight 750 Flask ($125 at Backcountry) 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 ($75 at Amazon). If you do more than slap sammies together for dinner, this chef’s knife set with 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 ($21 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 ($200 at FixitSticks) 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 ($300 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 ($52 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!
Best Non-Cycling Adventure Gear
The Badfish Selfie 14 ($1,149 on Backcountry) is a big inflatable SUP 14′ long, which makes it super stable and easy to load down with gear. And at 30″ wide, it perfectly straddles the line between fast and stable, making it ideal for all levels of paddlers. We’ve taken it on full-day trips and even down a little (mild) whitewater and it’s held up great. With bungie straps all over and an included water bottle sleeve, it’s got everything you need for exploring the water beside the bike trails, plus a backpack to stow it in.
Wanna save your arms for paddling rather than pumping? Trust us and get the Awesafe 20psi Electric Inflator (Usually $150 or less on Amazon). We like this one because it’s battery-powered, and we’re able to get 2+ complete SUP inflations out of a full charge, so it’s easier to use in the field than plug-in models. Simply set the desired air pressure, turn it on, and use that newfound time to get ready (or enjoy a bevvie). Just make sure you connect the hose to the board first, then the pump…trust us.
If you prefer to sit and paddle, the Oru Beach LT ($1,199 at Amazon) kayak uses an incredible origami-like folding design that packs down extremely small. It’s incredibly light, folds into a boat in under 5 minutes, and is surprisingly fast in the water. We’ve paddled it on lakes and oceans, and impressed everyone who saw it and tried it. And, yes, it’s way tougher and sturdier than we thought it would be.
We cyclists are notorious for ignoring upper body strength, and it gets even worse if we’re spending days or weeks on the road. The Whatafit Resistance Bands ($30 on Amazon) help solve that. Loop them around a bumper or “oh crap” handle in your van and you’ve got a pulling exercise. Then check the included instructions for lots more exercises. They’ll fit in a glove box or door pocket, taking away every excuse to stay fit on the road.