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Get in gear for late-summer road trips

Image: Camper
By day, the SylvanSport GO travel trailer is a two-wheeled, aluminum-framed trailer that can haul up to 800 pounds of bikes, boats and other gear. Come evening, you crank up the frame, fold out the sides and release the integrated tent to create a nylon shelter with sleeping space for two (four in a pinch).Working Pictures / Working Pictures via Sylvan Spor

The days are long and sunny, the price of gas is finally edging downward and Labor Day is less than a month away. If you’re thinking about taking that summer road trip, it’s time to start packing.

So what’s it going to be? A long weekend with that special someone in a city a few hours away? A week-long family vacation exploring historic towns and scenic sites in a nearby state? Or perhaps a load-up-the-rig outdoor adventure involving camping equipment, fishing gear and backcountry roads that haven’t seen a grader since gas was under a buck a gallon?

Clearly, there’s no single style of road tripping, so no single packing list will fit the bill for everyone. But depending on your destination and driving style, the following products can make your trip a little more pleasant, get you where you’re going and put you back on track when things go sideways.

Even if you have an iPod full of music, do you really want to scroll through thousands of songs to find the most road-worthy ones? Head instead to the iTunes Store and download one of the many iTunes Essentials playlists (25 songs for $24.75). Among the newest travel-appropriate additions: Beach Grooves (Shaggy to Sergio Mendez), Cruisin’ L.A. Style (Chuck Berry, Beach Boys, etc.) and Kid’s Summer (Raffi, SpongeBob and The Wiggles).

The jury’s still out on the hazards of Bisphenol A (BPA), but traveling families can forgo the fretting with several BPA-free bottles from Thermos. Made of double-walled stainless steel, the FUNtainer straw bottle ($15) with push-button flip lid will keep liquids cold for up to 12 hours; the Foogo Sippy Cup ($15) will do so for six. Both will also keep those backseat messes to a minimum.

Of course, when you combine kids, cars and liquids, accidents still happen — especially those of a regurgitative nature. The YakPack ($8) is designed to clean up the consequences. Each clear zipper bag contains a scoop, scraper, vomit absorbent/odor neutralizer, dry cloth, anti-microbial wipes, non-latex gloves and biohazard disposal bag. (There’s also a motion-sickness bag if you get enough warning.)

For emergencies of a non-digestive nature, the PSD NOAA flashlight/radio ($50) from Life+Gear may be a bit more useful. Crank the handle for 60 seconds and you’ve got a flashlight (with emergency red flashers), siren and radio that will receive AM, FM, Weather Band and NOAA Alerts. The unit also runs on 3 AAA batteries and AC current via an optional wall adapter for home use.

Need to find a Wi-Fi hotspot, but don’t want to fire up the laptop? Now in its second generation, the Digital Hotspotter ($60) from Canary Wireless will provide detailed data, including network ID, signal strength and accessibility information, for up to 20 networks at a time. It features a back-lit LCD screen, runs on two AAA batteries and weighs just two ounces.

Traveling to an unfamiliar city? With the Internet-enabled Dash Express GPS unit, you can e-mail addresses directly to the device before you leave, conduct online searches for millions of businesses and services (via Yahoo! Local Search) along the way and get up-to-the-minute traffic information via a two-way system that (anonymously) monitors the location and speed of all Dash users in the area. The unit retails for $300; service plans start at $10 per month.

Or maybe you’re a four-wheeler whose idea of fun is exploring old Jeep trails and Forest Service roads, in which case the Denali 5-Piece Outdoor Utility and Emergency Kit ($42 at  can come in quite handy. Use the folding shovel to clear a mud-stuck wheel, the camp saw and hatchet to cut through small-diameter timber and the tilting-head flashlight if you’re still at it come nightfall. When you finally get yourself free, use the enclosed multi-purpose tool to open that much-deserved bottle of beer.

Camping, off-roading, mountain biking: They’re all good clean dirty fun, but that doesn’t mean you have to haul a bunch of grungy gear home with you. The Nomad Portable Power Cleaner ($229) features a rechargeable 18-volt battery, 12-volt DC adapter and 20-foot hose with adjustable spray nozzle. Fill up the detachable 3.5-gallon water tank in a nearby lake or stream and you can even hose off Rover or your favorite fisherman when they come back to camp overly aromatic.

Finally, if you want to carry all of the above — and a whole lot more — consider the SylvanSport GO travel trailer, which is essentially a Transformer for road trippers. By day, it’s a two-wheeled, aluminum-framed trailer that can haul up to 800 pounds of bikes, boats and other gear. Come evening, you crank up the frame, fold out the sides and release the integrated tent to create a nylon shelter with sleeping space for two (four in a pinch). At $7,995, it’s not cheap, but think of the money you’ll save on lodging.