One of the best parts about car camping is having the option to bring all the comforts from home, aside from the kitchen sink.
However, the ability to bring almost any creature comfort from home to the campsite invites the complex dilemma of how to organize and transport it all in your car.
Large, commercial plastic containers succumb to handbag syndrome, which leaves even the most seasoned pros fishing through a bottomless pit of cast-iron pans and propane canisters only to slice open a finger on an errant knife.
Until recently, most of us were regulated to using black-hole tubs from Home Depot or another hardware store to transport everything. In fact, Office Depot was the only company to offer a stash compartment on the lid that kept cooking utensils free from puncturing a bottle of dish soap, or an axe from chipping your enamelware.
Also, containers typically designed for office supplies or garage storage crack after a few hard uses, and most aren’t designed for the outdoors.
The challenges in car camping organization are plentiful – and it requires planning, and stocking up on the right storage tools, to keep your gear protected, clean and accessible. Consider this advice before opening the back hatch of your SUV.
Pack items that pair well together.
If you’re out on a week-long overlanding trip, your gear will bump and bang against itself as soon as you get off-road.
A loosely packed axe will wear a hole in just about anything it comes into contact with. Hatchets, recovery equipment and fold-up shovels are designed for durability anyway, so keep them away from their more fragile cousins in a small nesting container, like Front Runner’s Wolf Pack option.
Buy a small label maker to identify what’s what. Setting up camp can be a tedious process, but much easier when you know what to grab from where.
Brands like Patagonia also make packing cubes that divide and organize your gear even more. Use these as a way to keep like items together stacked in larger camp containers, or to place on top with what you need access to first.
Tools from your camp kitchen will inevitably take up the most space, so any tubs that divide this stuff are your best bet.
Yeti’s new Loadout GoBox is perfect for this, since it includes a divider, a caddy, and three zip pockets. At only 20.5 inches wide, our only qualm with this rugged gear case is that we wish it were larger.
As an alternative, you can group spoons, spatulas, silverware and tongs in a small, cinchable canvas sack. Army/Navy surplus stores stock plenty of military-grade, all-purpose bags, and a quick search on eBay will land you a mid-century military mess kit that’s like a tool roll for even the novice camp chef.
Murphy’s law dictates that anything that can be punctured will.
Follow this maxim and make sure dish soap, white gas and other camp fuels live in a divided container or are free from rubbing against other sharp items.
Tepui (masters of the roof-top tent) made a large, bulletproof Gear Container for this purpose. It includes dividers that are easily adjustable by velcro, and is made of polyester canvas coated with synthetic resin, ensuring anything you toss in it will stay dust-free and dry.
Dirty and dusty items will get everything else filthy.
Think of your camp tub as a zip-lock bag and the outdoor elements as breading. Fine ash, sand or silt on a shovel will coat all your pots, pans, plates and bowls, so brush off the shovel with a small hand broom or find separate places to stash that stuff.
Speaking of zip-lock bags, pack plenty of them, in all sizes.
We don’t condone single-use plastics, but these reusable silicone zip bags from Stasher will do the trick even better.
Keep that set of cutlery that you haven’t quite washed yet in a bag to separate it from clean dishware, or slide your paper coffee filters into a sandwich bag so they don’t get wet before you need them.
Perfect your packing list by taking careful inventory before and after each trip.
Toss in a small notepad and pay careful attention to items that are running low or in need of improvement.
For example, an empty fuel canister will be a bummer in the woods, so note how much you have before you hit the road. Small projects like sharpening your hatchet, or deep-cleaning your cookware should all be part of the prep process, so write yourself a to-do list.
By following the tips above and evolving your camp container, you’ll feel less anxious about that thing you might have forgotten, or that item you think you just heard break in the trunk of the car. You’ll save time, money, and stress – the last thing any of us wants to bring on a car camping trip.
The most important tip of course, is to keep it simple and bring only what you need. It’s easy to overpack, but a trip outside should be about escaping life’s complexities.
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