Updated June 13, 2021.
A road trip can be as simple as jumping in the car and driving or you can pack everything but the kitchen sink. Other than a vehicle, there isn’t much extra gear that you have to have but there are some things that make the trip safer and more enjoyable. This isn’t a complete road trip guide but more of the gear that you may not already have. You can download a comprehensive road trip packing list, with camping option, for yourself and dogs by clicking here.
I have included items that I do not use but may work for your personal situation. Where I do have a piece of gear, I specify the brand and my thoughts on it.
This post includes links to products on Amazon and as an Amazon Associate we may receive a commission for purchases made through these links at no cost to you.
No one wants to get stuck on the side of the road but sometimes that’s just what ends up happening. Prepared kits are available at most retailers or you can make your own and throw it in a sturdy bag or plastic tub. At the very least, you should have flares, some heavy rope, and a blanket. Why a blanket? Well other than the obvious (when temperatures drop), if you have to change a tire or crawl under the vehicle, it helps to keep you from getting shredded on rough road surfaces and offers a layer of protection from the snow. It’s also nice for spontaneous picnics. Just sayin…
I do have a prepared emergency kit but I got it as a gift many years ago so I don’t know the brand. My bad. In fact, I got it so long ago that it was before I even had dogs.
First Aid Kit:
I keep a first aid kit in my car at all times stored next to my emergency kit. This is another piece of equipment that you can buy already assembled although some are more like trauma kits than first aid. I mean, how often have you needed to suture a cut on the side of the road? Bandages, absorbent pads, adhesive strips, and tweezers are all you really need. My kit also includes a pair of needle nose pliers, a pair of dull-tipped scissors, safety pins, tape, gauze, self-adhesive bandage, cotton swabs, cotton balls, alcohol, a bottle of antihistamine with syringe, antibiotic ointment, nitrile gloves, and chopsticks. All of these items are packed in separate ziptop bags to protect the contents from any moisture and I have calculated the dosage for the antihistamine for each dog and taped it onto the bottle. Math is not my strong suit at the best of times, so if I can remove any extra thinking when in a possible medical emergency, I’m all for it. I added chopsticks to my kit to act as emergency splints and I’m shocked it took me this long to realize how handy they could be. Besides, I always forget to tell the restaurant that I don’t need chopsticks so I’m practically swimming in them.
If you want to buy a pre-made first aid kit, you’ll find several here.
If you don’t drive without a seatbelt, why would you drive without your dog strapped in as well? There are so many horror stories about dogs being ejected from cars during accidents I don’t even want to think about it.
There are different styles and means to secure them to the car. Some harnesses have a strap that is a part of it and snaps into the seatbelt clip or to the car seat attachment point. This is the kind that I have for King. I don’t like clipping it into the seatbelt because it’s too easy for him to step on the button and he’s free, drooling on me.
Another style has a loop that you run the seatbelt through it. The harness is separate and the loop clips to that. This is the model that I have for Leo and Lilly.
Both have advantages and disadvantages: the littles can be released quickly and still have a harness on so in-and-out is quick but the clip is the weakest part of the system and they can accidentally undo the clip. King has to have the harness put on each time he gets back in but I know the harness is secure and he won’t suddenly be free.
I should note: most harnesses here are not crash-test rated or they say they’re rated but they haven’t actually passed. Perhaps it’s because they are not mandatory. Ones that are rated tend to be significantly more expensive.
All of my dogs wear Kurgo car harnesses. While I cannot attest to the functions in a crash (thank goodness), they are all robust and long-lived. King wears Piper’s harness and Lilly wears Jack’s.
Having a way to keep your dogs secure while you set up camp or make dinner is essential. I like to use a long plastic-coated cable (think laundry-line) with clips at each end that I string through the handles of the leashes as a tie out. I can loop each end around trees or snap the clips to each other around a picnic table. In a pinch, I’ve even run it around the tire of my car. I consider it essential because every campground I have ever been to has had rules about keeping dogs restrained and I just don’t trust my dogs to stay close when I’m distracted. Some come with corkscrew-like pegs which I have never used however I could see them very useful for more sedate dogs.
I got my tie-out years ago and do not remember the brand. It’s fine for Lilly and Leo but as it is older, it is no longer suitable for King. I’ve just been using his long line as a tie-out.
Find tie outs for your dog here.
Nice to Have
I used to let Piper, Jack, and Leo run off leash every chance I got even if it maaaaay have been a little kind of a lot against the rules (shhhhhhhhh). Then along came King and this meathead has no recall and is reactive-aggressive towards other dogs which means he has to stay on leash at all times. Lilly is even worse with her little puggle brain getting caught up in every little scent. I still want them have a chance to play and splash in the water and they just can’t do that on a 6′ leash.
So I dug into my horse gear and brought my old lunge line into play for King. This is basically a 30′ long nylon web leash with a clip at the end. If it can control a 1000 lb horse, it should be able to secure an 80 lb bulldog. Or so I thought. The webbing does eventually degrade and he broke his original one but it was old and had been literally pulled through the mud. Luckily I got him before he realized he was free. Then he broke the clip of the second one. Since the webbing was still intact, I replaced the clip with a climbing-grade carabiner. I don’t think he’ll be breaking that anytime soon.
Lilly has a 15′ nylon training lead. I’m not entirely happy with hers and am in the process of looking for a different one. While the nylon is soft, it’s too soft and has gotten fuzzy and is beginning to degrade. The fuzzy fibres pick up every single piece of debris it comes near which is unpleasant to say the least.
Long lines can be a bit more cumbersome to work with but I far prefer them to a retractable leash since I can loop the handle over my wrist and effectively go “hands free”. Tie a loop into a part of it, and you have a variable length tie-out. I should also note that I despise retractable leashes because I think that they train dogs to pull rather than yield to pressure.
I bought King’s lunge line from Greenhawk Equestrian Sport and Lilly’s current long-line was bought from Pet Valu.
It’s amazing how quickly a car can heat up in the sun. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of climbing into the car only to leap back out when you feel scalding fabric on bare legs. A reflective cover can help to slow the car from heating up like an oven. Many windshield covers have a shiny side and a dark side: shiny side out to reflect the sun and dark side out to absorb heat in the winter. Roll-down window covers can provide some shade for passengers in the rear of the vehicle, especially the four-legged kind that may be trying to sleep while you do all the driving. This doesn’t mean that you can leave kids or pets in the car but it will make it a little less unpleasant when you get back to the vehicle.
Space is often at a premium in small cars or when you have several passengers. A cargo box mounted on the roof of the vehicle can provide extra space for gear or help transport larger items that wouldn’t fit in the trunk.
Bringing food on a road trip cuts costs down tremendously and if your passenger list has small children, snacks are almost mandatory. A well-packed cooler can keep food and drinks cold for days. It’s also great for bringing edible souvenirs home. I mean, we do have a handy list of dog-friendly breweries and wineries that are worth visiting.
I drink a lot of coffee when I’m travelling. A travel mug keeps my drink hot between stops and helps to cut down on waste. Some restaurants and cafes offer a discount when you bring your own mug too. On a personal note, I like the Contigo Autoseal mugs. The mug stays sealed until you push a little button when you drink. It’s just one less way that I can spill hot coffee down my front or have it knocked over by exuberant pups during a break.
It seems inevitable that when something goes wrong, it will go wrong in the dark. While most cell phones have a flashlight function, holding a cell phone while trying to do anything is almost impossible. I prefer headlamps which leave both hands free but even a large flashlight can be tucked under an arm.
I like the headlamps from Petzel and am on my second Tikka. They are light and have several different light settings and it’s not because I watch River Monsters and that’s the brand that Jeremy Wade uses. I’m sure the has nothing to do with it…
I think every province in Canada and state in the United States has laws against distracted driving, meaning hands-free cell phone use only. Leaving a cell phone in the cup holder will do in a pinch, but having it easily visible in a holder is a much better, and safer, option. Even though hands-free brackets are practically mandatory, I like having one that I can put away if I’m going to be away from the car for any length of time. Call me paranoid but I don’t like to give any idea what gear I may have in the car.
Click on this link to shop for phone holders for your car.
Cell Phone Cable:
Let’s face it: we can’t function these days without our cell phones and they will inevitably run out of battery the minute you really need them. Keeping a spare cable in the car means that your phone will stay fully charged for every selfie and route change. Just like cell phone holders, the cables get put away before I get out of the car. You can get adaptors so that it can plug into the lighter socket (did I just date myself) but newer cars have a USB plug already built in, even my base model Corolla.
Search a selection of cell phone cables with this link.
Picnic tables and benches are great but they’re not always comfortable and are difficult to move. A collapsible chair is much more comfortable and gives you tons of flexibility when stopping for a rest. Director-style chairs often come with a tube-shaped carrying case which makes them much easier to pack into a trunk (or even the backseat) than the chairs that fold flat.
Pull up a seat and click here to find a camping chair.
Rather than buying bottles of water or keeping one big jug, I keep a stock of insulated water bottles in the car and fill them up at rest stops and restaurants. I like the wide-mouthed insulated kinds because the water stays cooler much longer; a real treat on a hot day when you come back from a long hike. Large-mouth bottles are easier to fill with water and even ice cubes. A large water jug, while convenient, would just take up too much space in the trunk. Several smaller bottles can be stashed in the trunk and passenger area.
I have so many different water bottles, it’s not even funny. I have a few wide-mouthed Nalgene bottles that I bought to use with a water purifier. I don’t use them much for water even though they are still water tight. I have a couple of insulated Manna 40 oz bottles. They have a wide mouth, a small spout for drinking, and keep water cold for a long time. Then I also have a wide-mouthed metal Kleen Kanteen. I’ve been trying to reduce the plastic bottles because I leave them in the car where it gets really hot. Even though they’re supposed to be BPA-free, the metal ones are more robust and have less chance of leaking everywhere.
Car Seat Cover:
A bunch of blankets can help protect your car from the dirt and hair that comes with dogs, but a waterproof seat cover will do a much better job of it. I like the ones that have straps with clips that loop over the headrests of the back seat to keep them secure. Some covers just have slits in the fabric for seat belt attachments but better ones have velcro to allow for a snug fit which minimizes the dirt that will (inevitably) be tracked in. Heavy nylon is helps to repel water (or drool) and is easier to brush off.
Some styles are basically blankets with a few attachment points to hold them in place while others are more like a hammock and attach to the front seats as well. If people are going to be in the backseat, the first style works best. If only pups are riding in the back, consider the second.
I have the dog seat cover from Amazon. It’s sturdy and does a good job of protecting my backseat but it doesn’t have anything that keeps the seat portion in place. I’ll pay more attention to that part when I buy my next seat cover.
These things are AMAZING! I keep one in the car and one in my desk at work. I can throw it in my pocket and I’ve always got a reusable cup handy since I keep forgetting to bring my travel mug with me. It doesn’t keep beverages warm as long as insulated mugs but that is far outweighed by convenience.
I use the ones from Stojo and love them.
Splurge on a collapsible coffee cup here.
Leaving electronics plugged into the car when it’s not running can drain the battery. One way to avoid that and keep devices charging all the time, it to use a solar charger. It can be put into whichever window is getting the most sun or for you lucky folks with a dedicated travel vehicle (I am so jealous), you can attach panels to the roof. If you have a sunny campsite, you’re able to move panels as needed for maximum sun exposure.
If you want food and drinks to stay cold without messing around with bags of ice or ice packs, a plug-in cooler is a handy item. They come in various sizes and some even have a function for keeping food warm, great when you’re bringing a dish to a function or want that leftover BBQ lunch for dinner.
I have a smaller Koolatron cooler that fits behind the front passenger seat which means I can easily access cool drinks as I drive.
Want to add a cooler to your gear? Click here for coolers.
Finding a shady place to eat or relax can be tricky. A collapsible awning is a great way to get out of the sun or provide shelter from the rain.
You should have a spare tire in the car but sometimes, your tire just needs a little hit of air or you don’t want to unpack the entire contents of the trunk to get to your spare. For a slow leak, a pump that plugs into the charging port will have the tire good to go in no time. The pump can also quickly inflate air mattresses or water toys without you needing to blow out a lung. Another option for a flat tire is a can of tire sealant. This is a great shirt-term option but it means that the tire will have to be replaced instead of repaired.
I have a tire inflator by Slime. I’ve never had to use it (knock on wood) so I cannot attest to it’s performance.
My Essential Gear
After listing all of that, I decided that I would tell you my personal gear.
I keep the following items in my car at all times:
In my glovebox:
- Collapsible Stojo coffee cup
- Headlamp (Tikka by Petzel)
- A plastic envelope containing copies of the dog’s rabies certificates. I also have their personal info including name, breed, coat colours, date of birth, weight, and any medical or behavioural issues taped inside facing out. That way, any random stranger can know everything vital about my dogs in a split second if I’m incapacitated.
- Cell phone charging cable with adaptor
- Hand sanitizer (even before Covid-19 I always kept sanitizer nearby)
In the backseat area:
- Metal water bowl and collapsible bowl
- Blankets and towel over the seat cover
- Outdoor blanket (Canadiana brand from Walmart)
- Attachments for harnesses and King’s harness since it attaches to the child seat clip (they all have Kurgo harnesses)
In the trunk:
- First Aid kit
- Emergency kit
- Bungee cords and rope
- Spare leashes
- Box of poop bags
- A different collapsible bowl
- Tire pump
If we’re going for a short drive, all I have to do is fill up a few bottles of water, pack some kibble, and we’re set for the day. If it’s a hot day, I’ll put my plug-in Koolatron cooler on the floor of the backseat in case we find something wonderful that needs to be kept cold.
Knowing that I have all of this in the car means that I can focus on the rest of our equipment for longer expeditions. Things like first aid kits and tire pumps don’t get used enough to remember but you can be sure that you would kick yourself the one time that you need it. And let’s face it: when you have dogs, you’re always going to need poop bags.