10 essential gadgets to pack for starting university

Take this gear with you

You (or your grown-up kids) are going to have plenty on your plate when it comes to starting uni, but in the midst of the maelstrom that is freshers' week and the first term away, you can ease your way into higher education with the right choice of gadgets.

Here we've got 10 perfect gizmos for going away, whether you're shopping yourself or looking to treat someone who's starting their course in a distant town or city - from getting the right amount of exercise to hitting those grade goals, these bits of tech can help.

Header picture: Rob Bye/Unsplash

1. The toastie machine

Requiring no real cooking skills or exotic ingredients, and very fast to make, a diet of toasties has helped many a student through a term or season of revision. In terms of getting through that first term, a toastie machine is also a great way of making friends through the time-honoured tradition of sharing food. There are all kinds of makes and models to pick from, but you can get very decent toastie makers for less than £50.

2. The phone tracker

Something you don't want to be doing during the first term (or indeed any term) is losing your phone and a Bluetooth tracker can stop that from happening by beeping whenever a phone (or wallet or other device) goes out of range. Various devices will do this job for you, but one of the best is the Tile (£23 and up) - pair a Tile with an app on your phone and you can get lost phones or keys or backpacks to ring and find their last location on a map.

3. The digital notepad

Taking paper notes has given way to tapping away on a tablet or keyboard, but actually physically writing something down can have its advantages, and just feel a bit better. Get the best of both worlds with something like the Bamboo Spark, which you can pick up for around £80 online. The Bluetooth-enabled folio lets you doodle on paper and then pings the results to a digital device so you can get at them from your phone and other gadgets.

4. The portable power pack

You might not always be near a power source at uni - think field trips and long lecture blocks - which is why it's useful to have a power pack on hand to make sure you can keep taking notes, snapping photos, or checking up on Facebook. You can buy heavy duty chargers that can juice up a laptop if you need to, but most people will probably settle for something like the Anker PowerCore 20100 (around £30 online) for phones or tablets.

5. The external hard drive

Many a term has turned into a tragedy because of a lack of proper backups, and one way to guard against that is with an external hard drive, though we'd recommend getting your files up into the cloud as well. These days you don't have to pay much at all for plenty of storage space, and many drives come with backup software you can use if you want - for more buying options check out our list of the 10 best external hard drives for 2017.

6. The fitness tracker

Health and fitness is something that can easily get overlooked when you're starting university, in between all those trips to the library and to the pub. Buying a simple, inexpensive wearable is a great way of keeping yourself honest when it comes to exercise, and a lot of wearables will alert you when you've been sat still for too long. Our guide to the best fitness trackers you can buy has plenty of options at plenty of price points.

7. The wired or wireless headphones

Your three or four (or more) years of study can be beautifully serene, or they can be consistently turbulent, but music is going to help you through, and a decent pair of headphones will serve you well during your course - block out the world around you, get in some much-needed relaxation time, or motivate yourself for another study session. You've got all kinds of options, ranging in power and price from £70 or so to almost ten times that.

8. The heavy duty torch

Sure, your phone can shed some light down a dark alley or into the corners of a dark bedroom, but invest in a decent torch and it's going to come in handy in all kinds of scenarios - you know what students are like (or you soon will do). A torch you can depend on that fits in your pocket like the Mini Maglite (around £16 online) will prove its worth time and time again, from DIY jobs around the flat to finding your way home at night.

9. The portable speaker

See our note about music above: you want to make sure your time at uni is properly soundtracked, and of course there's a huge choice of portable Bluetooth speakers out there to help you chill out or rock out, whether in your room or on a picnic. We recommend our guide to the best portable speakers of the year, though you could also opt for something with extra smarts attached to help you with those essay questions as well.

10. The value-for-money laptop

Starting uni is the perfect excuse to invest in a new laptop, and these days you can pick up some serious bits of kit for less than you might think. Obviously we don't have room for a full buyers guide here, but we've previously recommended the best laptops for students, and the best laptops for under £1,000, and the best thin-and-light laptops. Chromebooks are also great choices for students, and we have some recommendations there too.

David Nield

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.