The best dorm room essentials for college students

The best dorm room essentials for college students

A new college year is right around the corner, which means it’s time for a new batch of freshmen to live independently for the first time. If you’re among that group, it’s a good idea to stock up on a few essentials that’ll make your dorm room feel more like a (tiny) second home. We’ve rounded up a few dorm-friendly items we can safely recommend; this is Engadget, so expect a bunch of tech gear, but we’ve also got a few non-gadgets that can hopefully make student life less stressful, if only by a little bit.

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

I resisted a smart speaker until a few months ago. After getting an Echo Dot, I now use Alexa to set alarms, play focus music, remind me about stuff and keep tabs on the weather — all of which would have been very helpful back in school. Sure, your phone can do most of that, but anything that helps you pick up your phone less is a productivity booster in itself. Plus, the Dot works with all major music services and the sound quality is surprisingly good for its size. There’s more than enough punch here to entertain a dorm room and do justice to your study beats. — Amy Skorheim, Reporter, Buying Advice

$50 at Amazon


Comfort is key to dorm living, which is why we recommend an oversized reading pillow like this one from Linenspa. It helps change up your seating position so you’re not in your desk chair all the time, and it’s definitely a lot more comfortable than just piling up bed pillows against the wall. The pillow is filled with shredded memory foam so it won’t put a lot of stress on your back, plus it comes with a soft velour cover. That posture support makes it great for reading, playing games or watching TV. As a bonus, there’s also a handle on the top that makes it easy to carry around. — Nicole Lee, Former Commerce Writer

$34 at Amazon

Twelve South

If you like retreating to your corner of the dorm room to watch shows on your tablet, the HoverBar Duo can make the viewing a lot more comfortable. It’s one of our favorite iPad accessories, but will work with anything in that relative size range. You can use it either as a weighted stand or swap out the base for a clamp and attach it to just about any bar or table edge. In other words, it can turn your desk or bed into a mini home theater (just add earbuds when the roommates are around). The arm is adjustable, too, so you can get just the right viewing angle, but I was impressed how firmly it holds a tablet once you get it into position. It’s not a terribly complicated add-on, but it makes for far more comfortable viewing than trying to hold up your screen through multiple episodes. — A.S.

$42 at Amazon

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

A good set of noise-canceling headphones can help you get some peace and quiet anytime you need to work or want to escape the rowdiness of your fellow dormmates. You don’t need to spend a ton to find a quality pair, either: The Anker Soundcore Space A40 delivers effective active noise cancellation, eight to 10 hours of battery life per charge, a transparency mode, IPX4-rated water resistance and solid audio quality for less than $100 (and even less than $80 often times when on sale). If you don’t like their bassy default sound, you can also customize the profile through a useful companion app. Just note that these are earbuds; if you’d prefer an over-ear pair, try the Anker Soundcore Life Q30. — Jeff Dunn, Senior Reporter, Buying Advice

$59 at Amazon


Dorms may limit the number and types of kitchen appliances you can have, but most are fine with a simple electric kettle like this one. Zwilling’s Electric Kettle boils water eerily fast and doesn’t have an exposed heating element, which some housing regulations don’t allow. It also looks lovely and, in our experiments, boiled 16 ounces of water in two minutes flat. Sure, it can help you make tea or coffee, but it’s also worth it so you can stock up on instant cup foods for morning oatmeal, midnight Cup Noodles and the cravings in between. — A.S.

$96 at Amazon

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

For when their phone’s speakers just won’t cut it, the UE Wonderboom 3 can make their dorm-room parties and chill sessions on the quad even better with punchy sound. The small, barrel-shaped speaker is compact enough to fit in a backpack, and it could be attached to the outside of a bag with a carabiner clip thanks to its built-in top loop. We found the Wonderboom 3 to deliver the biggest sound of all the portable Bluetooth speakers we tested in its size range, and the latest model has improved battery life and wireless range. There’s no app, but it can be paired with other UE speakers for stereo sound. And if it accidentally falls off a table or takes a bit of a beating, its IP67-rating and drop-proof design should sufficiently protect it. — Valentina Palladino, Deputy Editor, Buying Advice

$63 at Amazon

Tripp Lite

A good surge protector certainly isn’t the sexiest tech you can buy, but it’s still good to have around: Not only will it give you enough outlets to plug in all of your devices, but, unlike a simple power strip, it’ll protect them from damaging power surges. The Tripp Lite TLP1208TEL should do the job: It’s on the larger side, but it packs 12 outlets — with four well-spaced plugs on one side and a row of eight on the other — plus an eight-foot power cord. (There’s a few landline phone ports as well, but we doubt you’ll use those.) Tripp Lite advertises 2,160 joules of protection, which should be plenty, and the device is formally listed by the UL, so it should keep your gear safe for the long run. When it does wear down, it’ll automatically shut off. And on the off chance something goes wrong, Tripp Lite backs it with a lifetime warranty and a $150,000 equipment protection policy. — J.D.

$45 at Amazon

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Nanoleaf’s modular smart lights let you add personality and functional lighting to your half of the room. The 90-degree “Smarter” kit comes with four Lines that attach at right angles, so you can make a few different designs (a square and an X come to mind). The set is expandable and each bar has millions of available colors with the ability to display two hues at once. Lines works with Alexa, HomeKit, Google Home, IFTTT and other smart home platforms, so you can set themes, create routines and control the lights with your voice. But possibly the best news for dorm dwellers is the included mounting tape that won’t punch holes in your walls and anger your RA. — A.S.

$100 at Amazon


When you’re just too lazy to sit at your actual desk, a lap desk like the LapGear Designer can make working from the bed or couch more comfortable. The Designer is softly padded and lightweight, with an easy-to-clean top that’s large enough to fit a 15-inch laptop. A stopper at the bottom helps keep things from slipping off when you’re sitting at an angle, plus there’s a slot for holding a phone and a handle for carrying the whole thing around. — J.D.

$30 at Amazon

Hulken Bag

The Hulken is a big rolling tote bag that should make it easier to schlep large laundry or grocery hauls to and from the dorm. It’s not cheap, but it’s durable and it has a few handy straps and handles that make it easier to lift up stairs and roll around campus. Hulken says it can hold up to 66 pounds in total, with a large version capable of holding four or five grocery bags and a medium version able to transport two or three. It can also fold up when you aren’t using it, so it shouldn’t eat up too much space in a cramped room. — J.D.

$115 at Hulken Bag

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Many dorms lack air conditioning, so having a fan that’s powerful enough to keep you cool during the late-summer months is crucial. The Vornado 630 should do the job, as it moves air around a room powerfully yet takes up little room on a tabletop or larger window sill. It doesn’t oscillate, but you can tilt its head vertically, and the way it circulates air allows it to send a breeze through most of a room. A simple dial lets you swap between three speed settings, while the sturdy plastic frame is easy to clean and keeps the thing relatively quiet when it’s on. If you’re moving into a particularly large dorm room, the Vornado 660 is a stronger alternative. — J.D.

$70 at Kohl’s

Baloo Living

College life is stressful and we could all use a hug sometimes. If you’d like that sensation without the whole “other person” part of it, a good weighted blanket can be a soothing substitute. There are plenty of decent blankies that could work best depending on how you sleep, but the Baloo Weighted Blanket is a good one to consider. It’s available in throw, full/queen or king sizes that range from 12 to 25 pounds. Each is filled with pockets of glass microbeads that gently compress without feeling overly hot, and they all have a slim and smooth covering that’s sharp-looking and machine-washable. It’s not a magic cure-all for sleep issues and anxiety, of course, but if you’ve wanted to try a heavier blanket, this one should be particularly easy to keep comfy. — J.D.

$179+ at Baloo Living

CGE Czech Games Edition

Playing casual board games is a great way to socialize at gatherings without the need to engage in small talk. A really popular one is called Codenames, a party game that pits two teams of spies against each other. Each “spymaster” has to get their teammates to guess hidden words (which are plotted out on a grid) using only one-word clues and a number. For example, if you wanted your team to guess the words “costume,” “web,” and “spider,” you might say “Peter, 3” to indicate that there are three clues on the board that match that word. There are also clues you have to avoid, which makes the game a little harder. The game is easy to explain and it encourages communication, which helps break the ice. — N.L.

$20 at Amazon

Big Potato

If you want a game that’s more light-hearted, we recommend Herd Mentality. It accommodates four to 20 players, which makes it perfect for parties. In it, you simply take turns flipping over a question and trying to write down what you think everyone else will answer as well. For example, if the question is “What is the best way to cook an egg?” you write “scrambled” and it turns out that is what most other players answered as well, you will get points. But beware of giving the answer that’s the odd one out, because you’ll get the dreaded Pink Cow and be in danger of losing the game – unless you can somehow trick someone else into getting it instead. — N.L.

$25 at Amazon

By John Routledge

Founder and owner of - I'm an avid tech junkie, a lover of new gadgets and home automation. You will often find me reading, writing, and learning about new technologies. I've been featured in many leading technology magazines where I've written about my favorite topics.