Wrong turns, low fuel, engine breakdowns, flat tires ~ any and all of these road situations can make for a bad day on a road trip anywhere.
Now, throw in one or two incidences of the extreme weather New Mexico and its borderlands are noted for like monsoon rains, dust storms, and sunroof-busting hail storms.
And suddenly that at-one-with-nature road trip you’ve been planning through New Mexico might not be so easy breezy.
But it can be if you come prepared with the road trip essentials you’ll learn about below.
Traveling with the right gear will help you make your New Mexico road trip one to remember ~ for all the right reasons.
So, here you go:
my picks for the 11 New Mexico road trip essentials you need most.
Food & Drink
1) Plenty of H2O
You won’t realize just HOW essential water is until you spend some time in New Mexico and feel, maybe for the first time in your life, a real DEEP thirst.
Leastways, that’s how it was for me.
That’s why you want to load up the car with two to three gallons each day of your trip.
Why so much?
Well, your body needs a daily supply of water that is AT LEAST half your body weight in ounces. So if you weigh 170 pounds, for example, you need to drink 85 ounces of water a day.
But this basic amount may not be enough to sustain you during your trip because:
- New Mexico is a relatively dry state. And, especially in its desert, the dry air will have you reaching for the water bottle more often than what you’ve experienced in other more temperate climates.
- New Mexico is a high altitude state, with a mean elevation more than a mile above sea level.
This combination of a dry climate and high altitude will deplete the water from your body much quicker than what you’ve likely been used to. So you may end up drinking double or more your usual amount of water ~ possibly up to 2 gallons.
That additional gallon I’m recommending is a worst-case scenario in which something happens on the road that delays you getting to a new water source.
- One good habit to get into if you’re driving around New Mexico (or elsewhere in the Southwest) is keeping an empty 20 oz. bottle in the car at all times. It’s small enough to fit into your vehicle’s cup holder yet holds enough water for short hikes. And it’s easy to refill whenever you find a water fountain or faucet.
Drinking a good amount of water will help you stay healthy and full of energy throughout your road trip. Your smoother skin will thank you, too.
2) “Good for You” Snacks
A mixture of easy-to-grab and consume edibles needing no refrigeration are the best. These include:
- pistachios, pecans and other nuts
- sweet potato and other veggie chips with sea salt
For the protein, consider throwing in:
- beef jerky, canned sardines and/or canned tuna, and smoked salmon
And don’t forget sweet snacks like:
- fresh fruit, especially berries, apples, pears and bananas
- dried fruit versions of these same kinds of fruit, like these baked crunchy banana chips by Bare, my current fave snack.
Fruit snacks like these provide essential vitamins and minerals, including potassium. And, as sources of sugar, all are low-glycemic and rich in nutrition. That means you can enjoy the sweetness without the fatigue-crash that can follow after eating more sugary fruit and fruit snacks, like dried dates or mangoes.
Sun Protection (for both you and your car) + Skin Care
3) Serious Sunglasses
New Mexico sunshine in the afternoon is no joke.
You’ll need a good pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful amounts of UV rays and to keep the skin around your eyes from aging prematurely. They should shade your eyes with the fullest coverage possible.
Consider wearing a non-prescription pair of wide coverage sunglasses over your smaller pair of prescriptive lenses to save money. As crazy as it may sound ~
it works for me!
A good pair of sunglasses is a must for when you’re driving west in the late afternoon. At that time of day, the sun’s brightness can blind you and make seeing the road ahead difficult.
*** Related Tip
When driving toward the east in the late afternoon, put on your headlights, as the locals do. This way, drivers traveling west will have an easier time seeing you’re there.
4) Sunshade ~ for you
Especially if you have a pale complexion, you’ll want to carry a light sunscreen. (Rather than a high SPF sunscreen that will get in the way of your skin getting the healthy doses of sunlight it craves to produce Vitamin D.)
Do you plan to be in the sun for an extended length of time? Make sure to put sunscreen on the most vulnerable areas like your nose to shield it from burning.
If your car breaks down in the desert on a hot day, you’ll need good sun protection for your entire body. Your car will overheat and so will you if you stay inside of it without air-conditioning. That’s where a tarp comes in handy. Staying beside your car with a tarp over you will help you stay cool until the cavalry arrives.
5) Sunshade ~ for your vehicle
When the sunlight is strong, place a reflective sunshade across the front window whenever you leave the car for more than a few minutes. It will keep your vehicle cooler and you in it once you return. A sunshade will also help prevent all the stuff stashed on the back seat from overheating.
6) Brimmed hat
A hat with a brim helps keep the sun out of your eyes, your head cool and protects your hair and scalp from excessive exposure. Try to get one with a sweatband if you plan to exert yourself outdoors. It’s hard to see the trail ahead with sweat rolling down your face.
7) Skin Wipes
Clean, moist towels like skin wipes are ideal for freshening up after long hauls of 5 hours or more. Or after short drives on especially hot days. A quick once over during a bathroom break will help you stay looking and feeling fresh until your next shower or bath.
For Incidents & Emergencies
8) First-Aid Kit
Most things outdoors in New Mexico are sharp. You’ve got stones, cacti, tumbleweeds. Even the leaves of the yucca, the state plant, can hurt if you get too close.
What isn’t sharp, can sting, like scorpions and wasps. And you may run into creatures that try to take a bite out of you, like fire ants.
The ideal way to deal with these situations is staying mindful of your surroundings so as to avoid them altogether.
But that would mean never getting out of your car.
A better option is a well-stocked first aid kit to handle any cuts, abrasions, and bites you might get.
You can buy a ready-made first aid kit or put one together yourself. Make sure it contains, at a minimum:
- bandages (of various sizes and styles, from Bandaid adhesive to Ace wrap bandages with hooks)
- hydrogen peroxide or alcohol pads (to cleanse cuts and help prevent infection)
9) Roadside Assistance/Emergency Kit
As with the First Aid Kit outlined above, you can buy one of the several good kits on the market or make a roadside assistance kit yourself.
Whichever you choose, make sure:
- your car has the lug wrench and jack that, along with the spare tire, it should have come with, and;
- your roadside emergency kit includes each of these:
- tire pressure gauge
- flashlight loaded with fully charged batteries and fully charged spares
- duct tape (for repairing the odd break in your vehicle, in your shoe, and your glasses)
You’ll also need:
- tire inflator and sealer
- toolkit (containing pliers, adjustable wrench, screwdrivers, at a minimum)
- work gloves
- 2″x 6″ piece of plywood to help secure the jack
- wheel chocks (wedges that keep your vehicle from rolling forward while you’re working on it)
- lithium ion battery jump starter with cables
A jump starter is better than jumper cables alone since you don’t have to wait for another driver to come along to offer a change from her car. Plus, you can use it jump start your laptop, phone, and other devices as well as your car.
The final essential for your roadside emergency kit is:
- set of LED roadside flares/beacons
The brighter lights of LED flares versus regular flares alert drivers earlier to the fact that your stalled car is on the road ahead. They’ll also make it easier for a searching party to find you, should break down in a vast area such as the Gila National Forest.
And if you do lose your way or become injured while hiking in one of New Mexico’s wilderness areas, having LED beacons along will increase your chances of getting out of there unharmed.
Instead of dying from exposure and thirst as some unfortunate and unprepared visitors have done.
New Mexico Road Trip Essentials Worthy of Special Attention
10) A Real Map + Compass
Yes, I know, a map and a compass are TWO different things, but on a road trip, they serve you best when used together.
And yes, again ~ we’re talking about a map made of . . . paper!
A real map is super for when you’re in an area your car’s GPS knows nothing about. Or in an area so remote the GPS doesn’t work at all.
A compass will help you find your way if you lose your bearings while on a hike. It can also help whenever you find yourself driving off the grid, in a location your map doesn’t cover.
Southern New Mexico has more than a few such locations ~ not only in wilderness areas but on stretches of roads near long-established cities where the infrastructure for cable, cell towers, and the like don’t exist yet.
In these places, you really don’t want to be caught after sunset with a cell phone reception ranging from lousy to none at all. That’s where a real map + compass combo is crucial.
11) Fully Charged Cell Phone
A fully charged cell phone will be vital for if you get sick and the antiseptic and band-aids aren’t enough. Or when ~ despite your beautiful toolkit ~ you still need AAA to come out and get you moving again.
Even in an area where cell reception is weak, you may be able to text a friend or family member who can then call for help.
*** RELATED TIP
Call a friend or family member every day of your trip at the same time each day. Tell them where you are and where you’re going next and when.
This way, if you do become stranded somewhere, you increase your chances of being found sooner rather than later. When you miss your next call with your friend, and she can’t reach you, she can assume you’re in trouble, alert the authorities, give them some idea where to start their search.
These essential items make for a safer and therefore, more enjoyable desert road trip anywhere you go. But they can really make a difference if that trip is in New Mexico.
So invest the few dollars and the time it takes to get them. Then make sure they’re on board before you start your trip.
With so much natural beauty (and good food) to be discovered, you don’t have time to waste wandering in circles or waiting on AAA.
Also Road Trip-Related: Your Southwest Desert Road Trip: 6 Lessons to Rock It