With a holiday weekend coming up, we’re all looking to get out of the concrete jungle for some nature and fresh air. But, upon surveying the lodging scene, you may have noticed that there’s, um, nowhere to go. Every well-kept and cleaned Airbnb under the sun is booked, and crashing with friends is no longer the more-the-merrier affair it was pre-pandemic. If you're not already sharing an established “social bubble,” even staying with family can be tricky. And then there’s the matter of travel — with long-haul train and bus rides a less-than-safe transit option, suddenly car travel seems like the way to go.
If you’re determined to mark the long weekend with a multi-mile hike, a full day at the beach, or grilling in the grassy countryside, you can still enjoy a jaunt out of the city — you’ve just got to be prepared. With this in mind, we rounded up the best gear for a comfortable, home-like experience even if you’re spending the day eating, drinking, and even napping out of the trunk of your car. Whether it’s a comfortable, stylish camping chair that collapses into a two-pound bundle; a tailgating table that attaches to your tires; or a portable cast-iron grill about the size of your laptop, there’s plenty of swag to make your vehicular excursion very comfortable and very fun. We tapped into what tailgaters, car-campers, and van-lifers have known for millennia: you don’t need four walls to feel at home; just four wheels.
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Pop-Up Sun Shelter
Whether you’re driving two hours to the beach or simply lounging at the public park a few blocks from your apartment, an extended stay in the sun requires copious amounts of shade. We browsed a lot of tents before settling on this one, based on its pleasing design and ease of setup and breakdown — it comes in a neat circular bag and pops open in one movement.
Picnic Time Manta Sun Shelter, $, available at Bed Bath and Beyond
Souped-Up Picnic Blanket
If you want to spread out on a blanket for some picnic-ing or sunbathing, you might want to think about upgrading to Kelty’s thoughtfully designed “BFF” blanket. It’s equipped with loops for staking into the ground and a water-resistant nylon side that protects from dewy or dirty surfaces. It even folds up into a pillow-shaped carrying case.
Kelty Bestie BFF Blanket, $, available at Kelty
Waterproof Sleeping Mat
If you’re looking to catch forty winks wherever you’ve set up shop, you’ll need a little more than a flimsy beach towel for a comfortable snooze. These waterproof sleeping mats were designed for rafting, but their superior comfort and easy-to-clean fabrication make them perfect for any outdoor nap. (The mats also make for great back or neck support when rolled up.)
NRS Full Paco Sleeping Pad, $, available at Backcountry
Waterproof, USB-Charging String Lights
If your excursion lasts into the wee hours, never fear — there are plenty of rope lights out there designed to look Pinteresting dangling from your car or tent, creating a back-porch vibe no matter where you are. These top-rated USB-chargeable fairy lights are both waterproof and beautifully illuminating.
Power Practical Luminoodle Light Rope (Five Feet), $, available at Amazon
Lightweight Camp Chair
With a quick-drying fabrication that’s available in a host of design-friendly colors and a strong-but-lightweight aluminum frame, this Helinox chair can be packed into a bundle weighing no more than two pounds, making it very easy to tote on to the beach, to a campsite, or into your friend’s backyard for a socially-distant barbecue. They’re on the pricier side, but seem to be worth every penny.
Helinox Chair One Camp Chair, $, available at Backcountry
Attachable Tire Table
There are a lot of portable tables out there, but the Tire Table wowed us with its sturdy, simple, and sensible design. “This little table is neat,” said an Amazon reviewer. “I love the easy setup and the option to use on any tire. My main use is serving as a stand for my grill when camping but I can see myself using it as a table when traveling along the side of the road or rest stop for lunch. Put my awing out on my RV and I have my own oasis. Well made. I love the push connections and flat storage. This is a good little table at a fair price.”
Tire Table Steel Table, $, available at Amazon
We came for the pretty powder blue of this stylish, high-capacity cooler, and stayed for the 4.7-out-of-5-star rating and 338 excellent reviews — many of which compared this under-$100 Monoprice model to the three-times-as-expensive Yeti. Sold!
Monoprice Emperor 25 Cooler, $, available at Monoprice
High-Functioning Soft Cooler
If a hard-sided, 25-liter behemoth is a little too much cooler for you, may we suggest a soft, packable alternative? Icemule’s backpack-style cooler is a top-rated option, and the 10-liter size will hold four bottles of wine. (In that case, actually, we might go a size up.) Bonus: it flattens and rolls up for easy storage when its contents have been exhausted.
Icemule Cooler Bag, $, available at Amazon
Outdoor Wine Glasses
You’re obviously going to be packing the aforementioned cooler with plenty of rosé, so you better have some wine glasses that were made for outdoor use. These sleek, BPA-free ones have a weighted bottom to prevent spillage.
GSI Outdoors Stemless Wine Glass, $, available at Backcountry
The cast-iron experts at Lodge have created a super-simple and seemingly indestructible charcoal grill. It’s totally compact, and its iron construction ensures that it conducts heat really, really well.
Lodge Sportsman’s Grill, $, available at Amazon
Cuisinart GrateLifter Portable Charcoal Grill, $, available at Home Depot
On-The-Go Knife & Cutting Board Set
Not only is this travel-friendly set extremely handy-dandy — with a case that doubles as a cutting board and a magnet closure that keeps the knife safely in place when it’s not in use — it’s also very, very high quality.
Snow Peak Chopping Board Knife Set, $, available at Moosejaw
If you’d like an upgrade from your glove compartment stash of takeout-excess plastic cutlery, try Light My Fire’s BPA-free all-purpose sporks, complete with a spoon, fork, and even a tiny serrated edge for (light) cutting.
Light My Fire Tritan® Spork (Two-Pack), $, available at Sierra
Sporty Bluetooth Speaker
Let’s not overlook the importance of music to add a home-like ambiance to your day trip. There are countless Bluetooth speakers on the market, but we like the compact and colorful design of Ultimate Ears’ Wonderboom. (Good luck deciding among red, blue, gray, or this irresistible millennial pink.) It has a “boost” feature for amplifying sound clarity outdoors, 13-hour battery life, and a nifty little hook so you can hang it any old place. Oh, and did we mention it’s waterproof — and it floats?
Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2, $, available at Amazon
If you need to generate a breeze but are lacking in traditional power outlets, try a solar-powered fan.
Hereta DHD Multi-Function Solar Fan, $, available at Amazon
Female Urination Device
Ladies, let’s not forget the inevitable. When nature calls and you don’t have access to a toilet, simply reach for a female urination device (“FUD” for short) to make a go of it standing up. (If you’d like to read more on the topic of an improvised outdoor pee, check out our “Where to pee?” guide.)
Sunany Portable Stand Up Urinal Cone for Women, $, available at Amazon
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