Getting a Handle on Drawer Systems

Getting a Handle on Drawer Systems

by Stephan Edwards

For a long time the storage solution in my adventure rig revolved around plastic bins and “ammo boxes”. 

They were lightweight, stackable, inexpensive, mostly easy to move around, and, frankly, they didn’t require much thought. To keep them organized, I even had a basic labeling system - “Kitchen”, “Clothes”, “Tools”, etc. But the more I committed to longer overland journeys, and the more I was actually living out of my vehicle, rather than just driving it, the more the bins became the bane of my existence. 

The regular shuffle of moving these boxes in and out of the vehicle to set up camp, or even grab a snack on the trail at lunch time, became a serious chore when I was doing it day in and day out for long periods of time. Inevitably, the kitchen knives and the spatula found their way into the food box, and tools got tossed in with camping supplies, so stuff never ended up where I expected it to be.

And, the daily game of Tetris I had to play moving them in and out of the back of my rig meant rarely used bins tended to make their way to the back. So, when I finally needed that recovery gear, I found myself having to unload every other box onto the ground just to reach it. It was maddening.

No matter how I arranged them, the bins never seemed to fit exactly right. For safety’s sake, they needed to be lashed down tightly every time I got on the move, always a creative process with the limited number of less than sturdy factory tie-down points in the back of my Jeep, and later my Mitsubishi. Inescapably, my bins would get dusty, wet, or covered in dirt from repeatedly dumping them on the ground, which in turn made a mess inside my rig.

Then, I had a revelation. A few years ago, I was privileged to borrow a Toyota Land Cruiser pick-up for a long expedition through South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana. The truck was equipped with a drawer system for all of my storage. I didn’t think much of it at first, but as the weeks went on, I began to realize what a positive impact this storage system had on the overall efficiency and enjoyment of my journey

The drawers’ convenience, security, organization, and clever design meant I spent less time shuffling gear around and digging for the lost headlamps, and more time exploring unknown landscapes and having adventures. Cooking became a joy, rather than an endless merry-go-round of open and closing boxes. Personal items and clothing were always ready at hand, the food stayed organized, and fragile or valuable items were locked away safe and sound.

How Do Drawer Systems Work?

In recent years, drawer-based storage systems for overlanders have become increasingly lightweight, robust, and sophisticated in their design. With aluminum or composite construction, incredibly beefy soft-touch sliders, and strong locking mechanisms, some systems even offer complete slide-out kitchen set-ups with dedicated work surfaces, stoves, and sinks. Many manufacturers, like Decked and CargoGlide build drawers and slides that are engineered specifically for your vehicle, so fitment is exact. This can go for both bed-sized sliding storage for pick-ups, and smaller drawer systems for SUVs. ARB’s sliding cargo systems match up seamlessly with their line-up of mobile fridges.

With thoughtful planning, you can build a drawer-based storage system for any rig, big or small, that provides a permanent home for all your gear - from tow straps to tent pegs. This is the great advantage of drawers. They provide a level of stable organization that plastic bins just can’t match.

You’ll always know where to find each and every piece of equipment every time. There’s no stacking and unstacking of boxes, and there’s no more burying seldom-used items like tools under a mountain of other stuff - simply slide open a drawer, grab what you need and push it back into place. For those remaining loose items, most drawer systems also provide burly lashing points for ratchets and bungees. Drawers save your back by eliminating the hoisting and lifting of heavy bins off the ground over and over, and your gear and your rig stay clean and dry. 

Organizing your gear in drawers also ramps up the convenience factor - not only on the road, but also for inspiring you to get out on an adventure in the first place. By keeping expedition equipment secure and ready to go in a drawer system, getting away for a weekend or a week is simply a matter of loading up the fridge and filling the pantry. You no longer need to spend an entire morning loading up your truck, and possibly running the risk of forgetting something important. There’s great peace of mind in knowing that you’ll be ready to hit the road at the drop of a hat when the opportunity presents itself. 

Protection For Your Stuff

Drawer systems also add a layer of safety and protection for your gear that boxes and bins can’t match. Many of these storage solutions are designed to blend seamlessly with the interior of your vehicle, employing automotive grade carpet on the exterior in subtle colors. Equipment stays out of sight from prying eyes, and drawer locks provide one more deterrent to determined thieves.

Securely mounted to your vehicle, whether in a truck bed or a cargo area, drawers safeguard your gear from bouncing around on bumpy trails and keep dust and moisture at bay. Padded compartments can cushion and hold fast your sensitive electronics and camera equipment, while also keeping them at the ready when those can’t miss sunrises or skittish wildlife need to be captured fast.

One final benefit is the well-being of the vehicle’s occupants. In the event of a collision or a roll-over, your expedition equipment won’t go flying through the cabin. Fixed in place and locked down, drawer systems keep all your gear firmly where it belongs. This is especially important for heavy items like tools, air compressors, and recovery equipment, which can present particular dangers if left loose in a vehicle.

When you’re ready to take advantage of everything drawer storage systems have to offer, the potential combinations are nearly endless. Maybe all you need is a single drawer with a handful of tie downs; maybe you’re the camp’s Ina Garten and you want a 5-star sliding kitchen set-up; maybe a full expedition build-out with a tower of drawers filling every last available inch of your rig is the ticket. However you approach the design of your overland storage solution, the modular nature and strength of dedicated drawer platforms make it easy to turn that vision into reality.  

It’s time to bin those bins. Overlander stocks an array of sliding storage for all kinds of vehicles. From drawer and bed slider solutions for popular platforms like the Tacoma, Tundra, and Ram by Decked, CargoGlide, and Mountain Hatch, to more universal applications like drawers and fridge slides from ARB, and truck bed storage from Bedslider, we have you covered with the drawer systems that will make your journeys that much more safe, convenient, and enjoyable.

We also have the expertise to help you plan and install your drawer system the right way.

So what's your approach to storing all your expedition gear? Which equipment takes priority in your storage strategy? Any tips you've found over the years? Let us know down in the comments!

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