My family recently returned from our third vacation to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks; obviously, we love the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). We decided to mix things up on this trip, though, and packed up our trusty Toyota 4Runner and hit the road. This was our first long-distance road trip, and after more than 3,200 miles on the road, I can call us experienced road trippers.

If you’re planning an outdoors family road trip, then don’t forget to pack these 11 must-have items. Although it was an outdoors trip, we didn’t camp because my husband wasn’t keen on the idea of tent camping in bear country. So, if you’re planning on camping on your outdoors road trip vacation, then you'll need to add a few items to this must-have list:

On the road

The fun and challenging part of a road trip vacation, especially one that covers great distances, is that you will inevitably spend many hours in the car. These are my top three must-haves as they helped pass the time for my children as well as my husband and myself.

1. Snacks – You can’t take a road trip without a supply of healthy snacks and drinks. We used The Grocer, a reusable grocery bag with a metal frame so that it stays upright, and stuffed it with Bear Naked granola power packs, Stretch Island fruit snacks and fruit strips, iPS egg white chips and my son’s favorite, Annie Chun’s seaweed. A fold-up cooler, the Flip-Box, kept our drinks cold without the mess of filling a chest with ice.

2. Comfort items – Pillows, blankets and extra socks are a must for our road trips. Everyone, including the adult not driving, used the pillows to cuddle up and get some much-needed rest. When your first day on the road covers more than 700 miles, you appreciate every nap you can get.

3. Entertainment – Although the deserts of Arizona, Nevada and southern Utah are pretty, the scenery gets pretty boring. A solid supply of books and electronic devices kept everyone entertained for the long drive.

Outdoors fun

When you head off on an outdoors vacation, you are responsible for planning your own activities. Unlike a visit to an amusement park, you have to decide what you’re going to do for fun and plan accordingly. These three items topped my list of must-haves for outdoors fun.

4. Bikes – We loaded up all four of our mountain bikes onto the handy-dandy hitch-mounted Thule bike carrier, and the bikes all made the 3,200-mile journey with us. If you’re bringing along your bikes, don’t forget the helmets, gloves and of course something to secure the bikes when they aren’t in use. We used a six foot-long Master Lock cable lock to not only secure the bikes to the Thule but to also secure the bikes to a bike rack.

5. Toys – I am using the word toys loosely but we did bring along a few items that would keep us entertained when we wanted to be outside but didn’t have a hike or bike ride planned. The kids loved the bug vacuum from Backyard Safari Outfitters and even argued about whose turn it was to wear the safari vest. We also brought along our Gibbon Slackline Funline, but it was too windy to use it safely on this trip.


When you go hiking, you need to bring along dozens of items — it was hard to pick just a few! — but these are the four items that were most important to us while hiking in Yellowstone.

Grizzly bear in Yellowstone6. Bear spray – Not everyone who hikes in bear country brings bear spray but in my opinion, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t bring this capsaicin-rich spray with you. We were in grizzly and black bear country and saw visible signs of bears while hiking – scat, scratched out trees and more. Both my husband, Dave, and I each carried a can of spray with us. We had it in an easy-to-reach location and both of us knew how to use the bear spray. We saw nearly 20 bears on this trip, including the large grizzly in the photo to the right.

7. Sun hats – My kids and I are very fair-skinned and none of us like the feel of sunscreen so we wore long sleeves, pants and sun hats while hiking. The hats are lightweight, comfortable and keep the sun off of our faces and necks. Our favorite style comes with an adjustable neckband that kept the hats on in the high wind, especially along the shore of Yellowstone Lake.

8. Water backpacks – All four of us have water backpacks. My kids have small Camelbaks but Dave and I opted for an REI-branded backpack that has a spot for a bladder. Based on my outdoor-loving father’s recommendation, we went with the Platypus water bladder and have no complaints. These backpacks serve an additional purpose – they can also be used to store snacks, flashlights, first aid items and other important hiking gear.

9. Good hiking socks – Having a good pair of hiking shoes is important but not everyone knows that a good pair of hiking socks can make the difference between feet filled with blisters and a blister-free hiking trip. All four of us have several pair of hiking socks, and after trying many different brands over the years, my favorites are Darn Tough Vermont, Swiftwick and Wigwam.

Miscellaneous gear

10. Laptop backpack – Although we were on vacation, I brought my laptop because both my husband and I had to check in on business issues occasionally. We rarely have the opportunity to completely disconnect and so the laptop and all of its related goodies were a necessity. After trying out several different laptop carrying cases over the past few months, we settled on the backpack design, specifically an Airbac. One of Airbac’s backpacks easily holds my 15” MacBook Pro. As an added benefit, the backpack has an air support system that takes the weight of the backpack off of your shoulders. Although this was supposed to be my laptop backpack, my husband has commandeered it for his travel backpack.

11. SPOT Satellite Messenger – Several years ago my parents gave me a SPOT Satellite Messenger for Christmas. The SPOT tracks your location by GPS and is a must-have for anyone who spends time in the wilderness. My father is a wilderness search-and-rescue team member and the SPOT is a lifesaving tool. Its also fun because you can see your GPS coordinates plotted out on an online map, which you can share with friends and family.

If you’d like to hear the details about our third, and best, trip to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, visit my Mutterings of a Mindless Mommy blog.

Note: I received samples of some of the products mentioned in this article.

11 must-have items for an outdoors family road trip
This MNN blogger and her family are road trip professionals after a recent 8-day vacation to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks.