Packing up for an Outdoor Dirtbag Road Trip

… and making it a success.

All excited about your upcoming road trip? Gotten your new van or outdoor vehicle and packing up for your first loooong road trip? Well, we can’t tell you what you will encounter on the way, but we definitely can help out with how to plan and pack.

Packing for a road trip is almost as important to packing up your backpack on a trip. If you forget something, you will either have to buy this during your trip, or go without it. We have almost everything in the car, and there’s definitely something to it when I would say, “it’s my car, my kitchen, my closet”. Weekend road trips are the cheapest way to get out to your favourite climbing spot, it also saves on fuel if you don’t make a day trip each time. For us, the nearest crag is about an hours drive away, and the favourite one is always about 2-3 hours away from home. So isn’t that a good idea to stay out for the weekend, save on fuel, enjoy the simplest way of living for a few days and get back to work on Mondays fully recovered, relaxed and with a cleared mind?

Car camping is actually a phrase I have not heard of often in the last 2 decades, but has been popping out the last years. It’s far cheaper than getting a luxurious VW Camper van (although it is my dream!), it’s far easier to pack up and run if it rains and you don’t have to go around looking for a good space to build up your tents in more civilized terrains. Advantages like when tired from driving, you could just stop the car, climb to the back and sleep. Makes life a lot easier. Hotels are of course an alternative but it’s such a luxury for your wallets, if you’re out most of the time.

Lets start.

  • Water:

Water is an essential element be it for drinking, washing or cooking. Without water, you dehydrate, you can’t cook pasta or warm up food, you can’t wash and result in feeling filthy, sweaty, sticky. Urrghhhh. We usually carry a 20 l canister with us on each trip. The first few years, we settled for 5 l canister which is fairly sufficient to brush teeth and make water for 1 l breakfast tea. If you cook in the evenings on your own, you will need more to make the pasta water, and the sauce that comes along with it. Then, depending on how particular you are about hygiene, you’ll need water to wash up your dishes. Since I don’t re-wash my pots and pans again when I get home, I like them sparkling clean when they get back into the box, ready to use for the next time. Further more, 4 l goes for drinking during the day. So 20 l is just fine for us…less is also ok if you’re going to eat out and wash off yourself and your dishes in the river. Note that not all rivers are suitable to do that. Before taking water from any river, it’s always a good idea to know where it flows from. The higher the terrain, the better quality it is. The further away from any urbanization, agriculture, cattle or sheep farms, the better it is. Nothing worse than getting diarrhea on your trip. We usually look for good source water to fill up the canister. If you are doubtful whether the water is drinkable, use a Water filter as described from Sven or Micropur tablets.


  • Cooking outdoors:

If the weather is dry, and the place to spend the night all perfect, I love to cook my meals outdoor. I have practically every single cutlery that I need to whip up a good meal. Not more, not less. And its all in a box. Planning and knowing your own needs is essential. Fresh local foods are far healthier if you find supermarkets to get what you need. And tastes better too. Be creative and plan in wisely. Here’s a detailed article on cutlery and co for your reading pleasure. We use the MSR Whisperlite Universal stove which has a hybrid fuel usage – but using it with white fuel makes it last a little longer and messes up less. 18 years of experience has proven that. Don’t forget to plan in sufficient fuel for your stove. It can be a pain if you need to get a certain fuel brand which fits your stove, when not using Camping Gaz in Europe. Camping Gaz can be found in most supermarkets in France, Italy and Spain. In Germany its most expensive to get the refill. However, if you’re using other brands, you will have to find a sport shop first that distributes the same brand. If you like a lightweight cooker, take a look at Thorsten’s review on the Soto – Microregulator Stove


  • Food:

Without food supplies, there’s no cooking outdoors. No cooking outdoors, no fun. So much more fun cooking back to the roots. It’s the pleasure of whipping up a gourmet cuisine on your MSR, finishing off the last drop of wine in the bottle and falling off backwards to sleep in your sleeping bag. Olive Oil, salt, pepper, spices, chilies, garam masala, pasta or couscous are my basics. If you like making chapatis (flat bread) outdoor, it’s a challenge but great fun. You’ll need flour for that.

Cooking outdoors

  • Sleeping:

There’s probably nothing far more important than getting a good night rest. Having a sleepless night ruins the next day, makes you grudgy and hard to put a smile on the face. I have been sleeping on my Thermarest for the past 16 years, on a minimum of 40 weekends per year. It’s something I swear on. No mattress, no air pumped bed or sponge whatever can ever replace what this Thermarest does for me. It has been with me on nights on gravel, uneven ground, nights in winter and summer and it’s one the best thing I’ve ever gotten as one of my outdoor equipments. Thermarest insulates on colder nights, you can regulate it how hard or soft you’d like to have your back on and it never failed on me. There was a time when I preferred sleeping on my Thermarest more than in my own bed. Through the years, I made a flannel cover for it. This was a good protection from anything sharp, caused friction so that you don’t slip off your bed, and on colder nights, it provided extra fluffiness to your comfort. You can buy those ready-made ones out of cotton, which is nice on warmer nights, if you want to use your sleeping bag as a cover blanket.

Sleeping bags are equally important. We have a Down sleeping bag for winter (for temps in the comfort zone till minus 10°c) and for the rest of the year a synthetic sleeping bag. So far this has been a good combination. I do bring an extra fleece blanket in summer, incase the nights get below 0°. Freezing up at night is no fun. When you freeze, you can’t sleep. And for some, they pack up and go home.

Pillows are a real comfort. I’ve sized mine down to exactly the size I need in the car. So that doesn’t take up much space.


  • GPS, Maps, Orientation:

In the generation of electronic devices, you can’t leave home without them. There’s so many Apps and features that’s useful and handy. If you have a GPS Navigation device, take it along. And since all these electronic devices aren’t any good without power, don’t forget the power charger for the vehicle. Or a solar-powered charger for days when you’re not equipped with any electricity. And if ALL fails, do have a conventional PAPER map in the handglove compartment, just in case.

  • Camera

Smartphones today comes basically with cameras, so it’s not likely you will forget them. But you might like to bring your DSLR or GoPro Hero 3 along too? Or a tripod to catch the moon in your 32GB mini chip?


  • Companion

Be it a four-legged friend or your two-legged one, bringing along the right companion is awesome on a road trip. You laugh, talk, sing, eat together and have all the fun. However, going out on a trip with the wrong companion can absolutely be just the opposite and make it turn miserable. It is wise to choose whom you’re going to make the trip with. Of course, if you’re really desperate, you might want to bring your ear plugs along and concentrate on your smart phone most of the time.

  • First Aid Kit

A First Aid kit comes in handy with all its contents in it. Cuts, burns or a sprained ankle, it’s good if you have these things around, and not only for accidents.


  • Music

You can’t listen to music if there’s no music in your smartphone. You might like to take out 10 favourite CDs and convert them to MP3s on a looong road trip to make things funky while you drive. I’m always amazed what impact music has on me after 2 weeks of silence 😉

  • Garbage bag

Don’t leave home without it. They are great for getting all your garbage together and putting them in the next bin. Don’t leave the place you’ve just stayed all filthed out. It’s not responsible and it increases the chances of getting your favourite spot to be closed by the officials. Apart from just filling it up with things to throw away, use it for keeping wet tents or umbrellas on horrible rainy days.

  • Number of your Road Assistance Insurance

Ok, you won’t need the number of your Road Assistance Insurance when your vehicle churns like a buzz. But when it chokes and spits and dies on you, that’s when you’ll need those numbers fast. It’s best to keep those numbers in the gloves compartment and leave them there permanently.

  • Clothing

There’s nothing far worse when you don’t have enough warm clothing with you during the trip. I have experienced snow falls in the middle of summer and constant rain for 3 weeks during a 4 week trip. When your clothing get drenched, it’s good to have a dry warm substitute. Synthetic fabrics dries quicker, and are lighter. If you’re sensitive of odour, look out for natural fabrics woven in Merino Wool e.g. those from Smartwool or Icebreaker. You won’t have to bring a huge suitcase along with 7 changes. It’s usually sufficient to have 2-3 changes and a good soap to wash dirty clothing on rest days. I have also ever encountered friends who don’t wash at all. They wear new garments for 6 weeks then throw them away :-O Wow! Be it summer or winter, don’t forget your swimwear! You never know when you’ll need them.

  • Light

Light is almost as essential as water. Without light, your nights are going to be dark, and your days short. Personally, I swear on my Petzl MYO XP Headlamp. Have been using that for years and it holds on well for a 2 week trip with a use of about 2-4 hours each night.  Headlamps aren’t what they use to be today. I’m glad they changed for the better. Even though expensive, it’s worth it.

Generally, these are really just the basics which you should take some time to think about before heading off on a road trip outdoors. Don’t forget that you will still need to plan what to take from your outdoor equipment be it for climbing, bouldering, kayaking or hiking. Have fun, live freely and love the nature with what it gives you with a little respect in return.

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