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Best gear for your next road trip

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This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer's guide to the best technology. Read the full article here.

A road trip can be a memorable adventure, but all adventures require a little planning. At The Wirecutter, we spend dozens of hours on each of our reviews to find the best gear for every part of your life. This year we drove 1,500 miles through four states to bring you our essential recommendations for your next road trip. Here are eight of our favorites.

Smartphone mount

After surveying more than 1,000 Wirecutter readers, and testing about thirty models, the smartphone car mount we recommend for most people is TechMatte's MagGrip CD Slot ($11). The magnetic mount offers an attractively simple way to position your phone with one hand without having to fight with tension arms or anything else that can be difficult or distracting while on the road. The MagGrip CD Slot fits securely into a car stereo's CD-player slot, placing the screen at a comfortable position that doesn't obscure the driver's view of the road. (You can also get it in a vent-mounted version if you don't want to give up your CDs yet.)

Power inverter

If you want to keep your non-USB-rechargeable gadgets charged on the road, you'll need a way to plug them into your car's 12V electrical system. We had a physicist test three leading models, and he recommended the Bestek 300W MRI3011J2 Power Inverter (about $35). Its two AC outlets output "modified" sine wave alternating current, and while many users report that it works fine with sensitive electronics (including laptops), we had issues with screen flickering when charging a Dell Chromebook (more on this here). The Bestek also has a pair of USB outlets for convenience. If you want to ensure trouble-free charging, get the larger Go Power! GP-SW150-12 Pure Sine Wave Inverter (about $150). It costs a lot more, but it outputs pure sine wave AC just like you'd get from a wall outlet.

Folding blanket

You can spend only so much time in a car without needing to pull over to pause, stretch your legs, and take in the scenery. After considering 38 picnic blankets and testing seven, we think the two-person NEMO Victory Blanket offers the best combination of comfort, durability, and compactness. With a flannel top and a padded waterproof polyurethane underlayer, the Victory is thick enough for you to lie on without feeling every stick and twig underneath you and it feels better to the touch than other fleece-lined competitors.

Tire gauge

Checking your car's tire pressure (including the spare tire) is like flossing: It's something we all should do, but don't. Proper inflation is vital—too much, and you'll feel every bump and have more difficulty stopping your car. Too little, and your tires will wear faster. After two years of testing, the Accu-Gage 60 PSI with shock protector is our perennial favorite. It was the most accurate and durable model we tested and it has no battery to change so it will always be ready when you need it.

Flare alternative

After testing three top-rated flare alternatives, we suggest the First Alert 9.1.1 LED Emergency Beacons ($25) to keep you safe if you have to pull over to the side of the road. We like the First Alert set because for the price of one high-intensity flare, you get three separate lights that are all crushproof to 20,000 pounds, waterproof, magnetic, and easy to set up and turn on. By putting one on the road (preferably elevated and located about 100 feet before your car), another on the trunk, and another on the hood, you'll create a very visible early warning for drivers.

GPS unit

For any journey that will take you off the beaten path (and out of your coverage area), we suggest the Garmin nvi 2539LMT. We spent 40 hours testing and researching and found the Garmin's driving interface easier to follow than anything else currently available, thanks to its smooth, precise automatic zoom. It has a lithium-ion battery that's good for two hours of operation, which is great if you need to unplug it so you can use your car's power adapter to charge another device.

Windshield protector sun shade

A sunshade for your windshield is a great investment, which will keep your car cooler in summer. We like the $15 X-Shade, which we found to have the best combination of low cost, decent coverage, and ease of setup of all the shades we tested. The X-Shade comes compressed in a circular carrying case about 10 inches in diameter. When you take it out, the shade opens to create a 60-by-31-inch rectangle, enough coverage for most small to midsize car and truck windshields.

Instant camera

Escape the digital world for a moment and capture your memories of the trip with some analog charm. The best instant film camera we've found after extensive testing and research is the Fujifilm Instax Mini 50S (about $95). This easy-to-use model takes better photos than most instant cameras we tested—especially if you know how to take advantage of its manual controls like exposure compensation. Also important, Instax film is still widely available and easy to find.

Some of these picks may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
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