Organizational Alchemy

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Overland Journal, Fall 2018.

“Junk show” were the words used to describe one camper’s vehicle, the back seat and storage area a cascading pile of sagging Rubbermaid containers and crisscrossed bungee cords. While the words were harsh, the Internet, and community forums in particular, often show little restraint. Many of us have been there, desperately throwing a ton of gear into a half-ton truck, the amount of equipment only limited by the volume of space. I have certainly been guilty, but there is a better way.

Organization can be achieved either semi-permanently with the installation of a drawer system or temporarily with removable bins and bags. Regardless of what option is chosen, they both need to be complemented with proper lashing and mounting points to ensure the load does not become a projectile toward passengers. Neither solution is superior, as both have advantages and disadvantages. The primary benefit of the drawers or slides is accessibility and efficiency, but it comes at a cost, both financially and to flexibility. We often use our overland vehicles for daily driver duties, so allocating space permanently in the vehicle will affect those hardware store forays or the number of boxes you can help your mother-in-law move (though this could be considered an advantage). In my travels, I have found organization and access to a row of drawers to go a long way toward travel zen.

Over the next few pages, Chris Cordes, Jon Solberg, and I will share our experiences organizing a vehicle’s storage area, revealing our favorite pieces of kit to achieve the elusive goal of being properly packed. This cross-section of best-practice solutions has proven effective for our staff and can be implemented across a wide swath of vehicle sizes.

Chris Cordes

Goose Gear Drawers
When I went full time on the road, I knew I’d need some serious organization to tame my gear, but I’d also need more: a place to sleep, work, and live my life. Goose Gear answered the call with a sleeping platform and drawer system that included everything I wanted. Like all of their products, it’s vehicle specific and built by hand in Southern California, so the fit and finish is perfect with no adaptor plates, squeaks, or rattles. The top deck is coated with Bullet Liner to make it durable and easy to clean, and all hardware is stainless steel to ensure longevity. Storage is provided via two sliding drawers, two large center compartments, and one huge forward compartment. All five can be accessed from the top via flush hatches with spring-loaded latches. Living accommodations include a combination mud room and workspace, a fridge, a 13-gallon water tank with flush fill nozzle, and plenty of charging ports. Goose Gear’s no compromise approach to building means that their products aren’t cheap, but the quality and execution are exceptional. PRICE VARIES | GOOSE-GEAR.COM

Eagle Creek Pack-it Specter Compression Cubes
I started using Eagle Creek products years ago on my first international trip. I was tired of my clothes ending up in a jumbled mess strewn around my bag, and their original Pack-It system allowed me to keep my shirts, pants, and undergarments organized in individual pouches. I’ve since upgraded to their Specter compression cubes, which have become my do-it-all solution for keeping my wardrobe straight on the go. Each is filled with neatly rolled clothes, and single items can be easily removed or added back into the bag without disturbing the remaining attire. It’s easy to grab what I need, and only what I need. For day to day life in the truck I keep six cubes in one of my Goose Gear compartments, and when I need to travel, I pare down to two or three and throw them in a duffel. Each bag is made from silnylon ripstop fabric and is available in a range of sizes and colors. $40/SET| EAGLECREEK.COM

Pelican TrekPak Kit
If there’s one thing that will drive me absolutely bonkers when off pavement, it’s interior noise, and nothing seems to clank around more than a kitchen kit. Whether it’s pots and pans or knives and forks, these articles have a miraculous ability to shift around, ending up just about anywhere but where you left them. Over the years, I’ve tried almost everything to tame this obnoxious beast, and so far, my favorite solution has been TrekPak. They are now offered exclusively through Pelican, and although these foam lined organizers were originally designed for camera gear, they fit perfectly in most drawer systems and allow you to create custom nooks and crannies for whatever equipment you need to sort. They use interlocking pins to connect each panel, and the dividers can be cut to any length or size you need. TrekPak is currently available in different sizes for Pelican cases, and we hope to see them offer a modular kit again soon. $35 AND UP | TREKPAK.COM

I have a soft spot for any multi-purpose product, and that’s probably part of the reason I’ve fallen in love with the Alu-Box. Made from EN AW-5754 (AlMg3) aluminum, these boxes are both rugged and lightweight. They’re also corrosion resistant, stackable, have easy to grab handles, and can be utilized in a myriad of ways from generic storage boxes to a tailgate kitchen with the lid as a drop-down table. I have two in my full-time kit, and one has been repurposed in different roles for years without failure. That one, a 42-liter model, is loaded with miscellaneous lightweight supplies and doubles as a step into the truck thanks to a Goose Gear plate on top. The other, a massive 120-liter size, is mounted to my Buckstop rear bumper and features two custom stainless shelves riveted into place. This box holds messy things like wood as well as fluids, my jack, and other repair equipment inexpensive enough to leave on the exterior of the vehicle. Both accept locks of various types for additional security. $205 AND UP | ALUBOX.COM, EQUIPT1.COM

Stock Cargo Net
I value versatility in my gear, and this type of net fits the bill. I have the factory cargo net in my Ford Excursion which was designed to hold groceries and miscellaneous equipment in place behind the third-row seat. While cleaning out the truck in preparation for the Goose Gear drawers, I stumbled upon it in its original bag behind the factory jack. Apparently, it had sat there unused for 18 years. Since I had been dreaming of some additional overhead storage, I set to work trying different positions and angles until I found the right combination of grab handles that the net could reach. Voilà, more storage room. In winter, I’ve found it useful for storing pillows, jackets, and blankets, but during warmer weather, it’s ideal for drying out towels after a swim or shower.

Adventure Tool Company Rolls and Bags
ATC tool rolls and bags have been crucial in maintaining my sanity. The tool roll is made from USA-sourced heavy waxed canvas, stitched together with high-tensile nylon thread, and reinforced with binding tape. The bags are formed using the same materials and include a Cordura inner lining for even more strength. These are products you’ll be able to pass down to your kids, and ATC backs them up with a lifetime guarantee. The tool roll carries my larger items like socket sets, oversized wrenches, and channel locks, while the bags carry all the small goods like hex keys and wiring supplies. Each of the bags can be labeled with Velcro tags for additional organization, and the canvas is thick enough to muffle any rattles emanating from within. By removing all of my tools from separate containers and assembling them in these three organizers, I’ve been able to reduce the total packed size by two-thirds. It also cuts weight and makes it easier than ever to find what I need. All of ATC’s products are handmade in the beautiful state of Colorado. $100 (ROLL), $25/LARGE, $20/MEDIUM (POUCHES) | ADVENTURETOOLCOMPANY.COM

Dr. Jon S. Solberg

SnugTop Truck Cap
I always thought truck caps were for old guys until I tried one. The SnugTop can be ordered in multiple configurations and styles; mine is painted to match and has the Sportsman’s package with a reinforced roof spec’d to handle a 500-pound static load, a Thule rack system on top, and a fishing rod holder on the ceiling. It was installed by the dealer and has never leaked. Any dust that has entered surely came from around the truck’s tailgate and truck box drain holes; these were easily sealed up with weatherstripping foam tape and some oil-impregnated foam to prevent rusting. My cap has a front window which tilts inward to allow for cleaning and slides open to allow the passing of cords and wires to the cab, but it’s not large enough to crawl through. The side windows slide open and have screens, and the rear window was configured to lock remotely with the vehicle’s key fob. I wish the side windows opened from the outside, but my Power Wagon is tall enough that it would be inconvenient to load things in this manner anyway. $3,400 | SNUGTOP.COM

Rhino-Rack Steel Mesh Platform
There are fancier, more modular platform racks available, but with a little home ingenuity, this wire mesh platform provides nearly infinite options. Mine carries two solar panels, and when camped stationary, if attached on one side with hose clamps and on all other sides with zip ties, cutting them allows the panels to be tipped up to the proper angle to catch the sun’s rays. They can be easily strapped down again with new zip ties. A Rhino-Rack Sunseeker awning provides excellent shade, but my Power Wagon’s height requires me to have a bucket or box to stand on to safely deploy it. The platform rack is sturdy enough to support my 200-pound frame for photography or spotting, and has carried everything from an inflatable Zodiac to a canoe, skis, a roll of carpet, a double stroller, firewood, 5-gallon jerry cans, and packing tubs. It’s cheap, durable, and nearly indestructible. Multiple sizes are available to fit any sized vehicle. $209 AND UP | RHINORACK.COM

Decked Bed Drawers
The Decked Bed Drawers are the crowning jewel of my organization system. They close securely, do not rattle, and are nearly dust and waterproof. They transform my 4-foot wide truck bed into a flat, comfortable sleeping platform for two people. The platform does not come with any tie-down points—great for a flat sleeping platform, bad for hauling tubs of gear. Two aluminum Core-Trax are available which accept adjustable tie-down rings, and while they’re a good tie-down point for a motorcycle, they don’t offer enough lashing points for multiple, smaller camping items. I added E-Track from my local hardware store to fix this issue since gear must be lashed due to the slippery nature of the Decked’s top surface. Locks are available to keep snoopers from snooping, but they’re not heavy duty enough to keep out a motivated thief. Luckily, my tailgate locks in the upright position, which prevents the drawers from being opened. The drawers do not open all the way, but they open far enough. I use the back portion of each for heavier, lesser-used pieces, like tools, a hydraulic jack, and spare parts. $1,250 | DECKED.COM

Cargo Glide
This sliding platform is handy for loading heavy, bulky items to the front of the truck’s bed which would be otherwise nearly impossible with a topper. But it makes my life better every day by allowing me to easily load all the necessary commodities for life on-the-go. It does not rattle, glides effortlessly, and provides a plethora of lashing options along the edge, though it would benefit from another lashing point or piece of E-Track down the middle. There is only one model of Cargo Glide which works with the Decked Drawers, and its installation is straightforward. Its load limit is only 1,000 pounds, due to the leverage applied to the polyurethane Decked drawers when 1,000 pounds of gear slide out to full extension on the Cargo Glide. If you’re not running the Decked drawers, Cargo Glide offers much more robust models. I cannot speak to its durability if exposed to dust and rain, as mine is securely mounted under my SnugTop. This is by far my favorite piece of kit in the truck. $1,000 | CARGOGLIDE.COM

Plano Sportsman’s Trunk
The Plano Sportsman’s Trunk series offers a convenient way to store camping or outdoor gear in a secure, weathertight box. They are made of plastic, and the lids remove completely, latching in place with two or four secure handles, depending on size. Mine are sturdy enough to stand on, and the larger ones can be found with wheels which make them easy to remove and roll into their designated storage space. The “marine” version has a rubber seal around the lid which is adequate; I have four large non-marine versions, whose lids can be modified with a circumferential length of window weather stripping, making them every bit as weathertight. These boxes fit perfectly on the platform of the Cargo Glide and can be easily removed, unpacked, and left on the ground overnight if inclement weather requires sleeping under the truck cap. The tapered, geometric shape of the Plano boxes sacrifices some volume over a perfectly square aluminum packing box, but when empty, they stack inside each other. Mine are used to store tents, sleeping bags, mats, and less bulky items which are only needed once per day. $30/MEDIUM | PLANOMOLDING.COM

Remote Medical International First Aid Kits
These are hands down my favorite medical kits. They come sized and spec’d to your preference and can be ordered to care for one person on an overnight trip, or custom ordered to include everything you’d expect in a tertiary care hospital’s intensive care unit: cardiac defibrillator, intravenous medication drips and tubing, and hardware to secure an airway or place a chest tube. The contents are not generic, but genuine brand name medical wares from companies such as 3M, Johnson & Johnson, and Littmann— brands well known to medical professionals around the globe. The selection of included over-the-counter medications is well thought out. Kits also come with diagnostic equipment like blood pressure cuffs, thermometers, and pulse oximeters for individuals with more advanced training, such as Wilderness First Responders and dedicated emergency physicians, to diagnose and treat while deployed in the field. If you appreciate the advantage that quality tools offer during a breakdown in the middle of nowhere, then you’ll appreciate having a quality med kit like one from RMI if a true emergency arises. $275 | REMOTEMEDICAL.COM

Scott Brady

Triple Aught Design Axis Expedition Duffel
Organizing the back of our vehicles can often result in everything being neatly stored in drawers and boxes, often stacked to the ceiling. I prefer to use three layers of storage, starting with drawers at the bottom, then a layer of hard cases, followed by soft luggage on the top and sides, even seatbelted to the second row of seats. These bags contain clothing, bedding, and other soft items. The luggage for this is best when combined with a durable shell, dust and water resistance, multiple lashing points, and compression straps to reduce shifting and increase compaction. Triple Aught Designs nailed all of the above with their Axis Expedition duffel.

Constructed of long-life and water-resistant sailcloth laminated to ripstop nylon, the shell is durable and lightweight, a combination absent in most heavy-duty duffels. The base is constructed from X-51 510 denier Cordura hydrostatically bonded to X-Pac polyester, yielding a completely waterproof and highly durable bottom. The zipper is dust and water resistant and forms a U shape for maximum access. It’s sewn together in the USA and finished with dual backpack and six compression straps. $195/SMALL, $235/MEDIUM, $275/LARGE | TRIPLEAUGHTDESIGN.COM

Front Runner Drawer Kit
The drawer system is often the foundation of an SUV’s storage setup. The greatest advantages are ease of access to a bottom layer of equipment and lockable security. Drawers typically include full trim kits that extend a flat load surface above the height of the wheel wells, significantly improving nesting and organization options. The drawers serve as the base layer of my three-tier setup, and I use them for storing heavy, but important items like recovery equipment, tools, tire repair and inflation kits, and emergency medical gear. It’s about convenience and having immediate access to critical kit when needed.

For the G-Class, one of the best options for drawers is from Front Runner, the South African manufacturer steeped in decades of remote expedition travel. Their products include options for steel dividers and even several Cub Pack boxes that slide into the wide side drawer. Constructed from steel, the framework and drawers can support 250 pounds each and include matching keyed locks for security. Full-width rails are flush with the carpeted deck and allow for flexible lashing and mounting options for fridges, boxes, and bags. $756 | FRONTRUNNEROUTFITTERS.COM

Front Runner Gullwing Windows
In a typical wagon, accessing all areas of the rear storage volume can be a challenge, particularly after a fridge and boxes are lashed in place. On the G-Class, this is particularly true, given the large square shape but relatively small rear door. To address this, Front Runner designed gullwing windows for vehicles like the G-Wagen and the Defender (other companies make solutions for various vehicles, such as Land Cruisers). The panels install easily by reusing the factory glass seal and can be specified with either a solid aluminum panel or a glass option.

The frame is made from 3CR12 stainless steel, and the access hatch is cut from a sheet of 6-millimeter aluminum, both powder coated black. To hold the gullwing up, two high-pressure gas struts work in conjunction with low-profile hinges to support the door. Two keyed locks at the lower corners help ensure security; they can latch but be left unlocked for ease of access when theft is not a concern. These panels are especially helpful on the side of the fridge since soft goods and chairs can then be stored. $799 PER SIDE | FRONTRUNNEROUTFITTERS.COM

Giant Loop 5- and 3-Gallon Fuel Safe Bladder
Every so often, something truly useful comes along. A product so thoughtfully designed that it becomes a “must bring.” So, in addition to a map, a set of tools, and a two-way radio, I now bring the Giant Loop bladder. I have a 3-gallon unit for my adventure motorcycle and a 5-gallon unit for my 4WD. It is infinitely more practical than a NATO can strapped to the roof, as you only need to fill it with the amount you need. It easily stores in the vehicle’s rear footwell or on the rack, strapped down using the full-length webbing and multiple handles. When empty, it rolls up and stows out of the way.

Fuel Safe constructs the bladders from fully welded film, protected from the elements and punctures by Giant Loop’s ballistic nylon, reinforced sleeve. Fuel is filled and emptied via the universal connection that is compatible with most threaded spouts like the EZ-Pour and others. The product is also significantly lighter than a typical metal NATO can, weighing in at only 1.75 pounds. $300/5 GALLON, $240/3 GALLON (OTHER SIZES AVAILABLE) | GIANTLOOPMOTO.COM

GearAid Arc Light and Power Station
Lighting in camp is important, but it never seems to be where we want it. Fixed LED rack lights look so overlandy, but they are rarely used and require significant expense and complex wiring. I started using portable LED lights that serve multiple functions, providing illumination for cooking, reading inside a tent, working on the vehicle, or even lighting for photography. There are many choices in this category, but I chose the Arc as it charges with a standard micro-USB cable and can also charge a smartphone five times from the integrated 10,400 mAh lithium-ion battery.

For mounting, I use a Ram mount connected to the 1/4-20 threaded hole on the metal kickstand which easily grips a roof rack, door handle, or rain gutter; the light survived a few hundred miles of Baja backroads when I forgot it was clamped to the roof crossbars. The unit can also mount to a tripod, and the color temperature can be changed from 3000, 4200, or 6500 kelvin. Output ranges from 20-320 lumens with a run time of up to 96 hours. $120 | GEARAID.COM

Snow Peak Baja Burner
There are some brands we keep coming back to, and Snow Peak is one of them. We have used their products on all seven continents, most recently to keep bellies full while crossing the Greenland Ice Sheet at -40°F. Their nested pan sets are particularly good (and durable), but the Baja Burner comes to the forefront with its all-metal construction and lifetime durability. Made from stainless steel, aluminum, and brass, it is heavy at 6.2 pounds, but feels sturdy and built to purpose. I like that it is a single burner, as most meals I cook in the field rarely require the expanse of a 48-inch Bertazzoni cooktop.

The Baja Burner uses readily available isobutane liquid fuel and connects with a Lindal valve (or adapters to other canister standards from Expedition Exchange). Pushing 12,000 BTUs, the boil time is consistently under five minutes for 1 liter, and the flame adjusts to a steady simmer. The legs fold out, or the unit can be used with their iron grill table. It cleans easily, and stores in the included nylon carrying case. $180 | SNOWPEAK.COM

Land Cruiser BJ74

ARB Outback Solutions Drawers
We love the cargo capacity of our BJ74, but to take full advantage of it, you need to give its cavernous interior a little dose of compartmentalization. We chose to do so with an Outback Solutions drawer system, which is available in a range of sizes and designed to be stacked or paired in several combinations to fit your needs. Our BJ74 has a two-drawer setup with optional side panels which fill in the gaps between the drawers and the Land Cruiser’s interior to prevent gear from falling into the abyss. The left drawer is equipped with a roller-top for easy fridge access, while the right sports UV-resistant carpet and tie-downs for additional gear. The lockable push-pull slam latches are comfortable to grab and always feel sturdy even when the drawer is heavily loaded, and the floors have been cross-folded for maximum support. The corrosion-resistant, stainless steel slides operate smoothly under the load of tools and recovery gear. Overall, these drawers are great for people looking for an out-of-the-box solution for additional storage. $657 | ARBUSA.COM

Front Runner Wolf Pack
On top of the Outback Solutions drawers, we strapped down Front Runner Wolf Packs which are loaded with any number of items depending on the occasion. Now I’ll admit that these boxes don’t look like much at first, but they’ve got it where it counts. Their UV-resistant plastic exteriors can withstand all sorts of abuse including use as a step stool and life bouncing around a trailer. Their lids and bases are designed to nest on top of each other with a snug fit, which makes them excellent as stackable storage containers. You can also pair them with accessories like high top lids for more storage and padded interiors for equipment that likes to rattle like pots and pans. The only downside to these boxes is they’re not sealed against water or dust, but we can live with that. For cheap and practical storage, the Wolf Pack is hard to beat. $40 | FRONTRUNNEROUTFITTERS.COM

Tuffy Box
When you’re traveling on long trips, hiding or removing everything valuable from the vehicle isn’t always an option. There are just certain things that don’t make sense to tote around, but that doesn’t mean you want to leave them out in the open. Our solution was a Tuffy security console. It’s made of 16-gauge steel for durability and theft resistance but features an extremely comfortable armrest on top for those long drives or boring commutes. The Pry-Guard II uses a 1/4-inch steel latch, and their patented anti-twist, push-button lock system has a 10 tumbler double-bitted security key with built-in weather seals. The package includes grade 8 mounting hardware, a rubber floor mat, and, of course, some serious cup holders with rubber drink stabilizers. Interior storage is significantly better than the factory consoles in most vehicles, and the overall look and feel is impressive. I could make any number of testaments to how much I like this product, but I feel the fact that I’ll be putting one in my truck soon says enough. $126 AND UP | TUFFYPRODUCTS.COM

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Chris didn’t receive a real taste of the outdoors until moving to Prescott, Arizona, in 2009. While working on his business degree, he learned to fly and spent his weekends exploring the Arizona desert and high country. It was there that he fell in love with backcountry travel and four-wheel drive vehicles, eventually leading him to Overland Journal and Expedition Portal. After several years of honing his skills in writing, photography, and off-road driving, Chris now works for the company full time as Expedition Portal's Senior Editor while living full-time on the road.