Boxes - they’re hard and square, and have lids. Bags - soft, sometimes they feature a zipper or two.
Not terribly sexy, right? Don’t underestimate the power of organization. High quality storage solutions can really add to the efficiency and overall enjoyment of your overland adventures. Knowing where your stuff is, accessible at a moment’s notice, secure, and protected from the elements can give you significant peace of mind when you’re on the go, and contribute to the relaxed vibe you want to have in camp.
Wasting time rummaging through unorganized piles of gear and digging through layers of stuff in the bottom of cheap plastic bins is a bummer when you’re trying to enjoy the few days you have out in the wilderness. If you take a moment to think carefully about your gear and how it’s stored and organized in your rig before you hit the road, you will find that those days you haveon the road will be that much better.
The ultimate in hard-sided storage for overland set-ups is the drawer system. Bespoke, secure, and highly convenient, drawers also require a significant investment, and will take up more or less permanent residence in your vehicle. This might not work well for you if you drive your rig daily, or it does double duty for other tasks, like many work trucks. We covered the benefits of drawer systems in depth here, but they may not be for everyone.
For a lot of us, the default storage solution for our camping gear, cookware, clothing, and tools has been some combination of the big-box-store-special plastic bin and the tried and true “ammo box”. They’re cheap, widely available, and you don’t have to think too hard about them.
However, if you’re getting more serious about your overland adventures, even if they’re just long weekends, it’s well worth looking into lighter weight, higher quality, and more modular hard storage. Plastic bins inevitably crack over time, after a while their lids stop fitting correctly, and the handles break. They deform when you try to cinch them down tightly on a roof rack or in a truck bed, and very few of them are truly weather proof. It’s impossible to lock them.
Traditional metal ammo boxes, while robust, lockable, and for the most part, water resistant, are also heavy. They come in a limited range of sizes and shapes, which curbs your ability to get creative with your packing, hard items rattle loudly inside, and frankly, I find their hinged lids to be a pain in the neck to deal with.
Enter the AluBox. Featherweight, extremely strong, and dust and water resistant, they will last for a lifetime of adventures, well after you’ve ruined and discarded dozens of plastic bins. Aluminum hard storage maximizes interior volume vis-a-vis its exterior size, and is an order of magnitude lighter than steel ammo boxes, and even some plastic bins. AluBoxes in particular are fully lockable, and you can use their handles as secure tie-down points. Because they’re weather tight, lightweight, and secure, they’re perfect for storage on the outside of your rig, as well as inside. Roof rack attachment points made specifically for AluBoxes, like Eezi-Awn’s K9 system only add to the convenience.
Aluminum storage cases also offer the benefit of standard or customizable foam and insulated liners for delicate electronics, fragile items, or even firearms. Overlander stocks a wide range of sizes and shapes of AluBoxes, all of which feature modular and interlocking lids and bottoms, so stacking them is a breeze, and they won’t slide around.
There are quite a few generic versions of the AluBox out there on the market, and I've owned several of them. While the price difference is dramatic and initially attractive, none of them have lasted much longer than a couple of travel seasons for me (admittedly, I am prone to being pretty hard on my gear). The lid seals deteriorate, hinges loosen, sides bow, and some of them sloughed off a fine aluminum dust. In contrast, I've known folks who have had their AluBoxes for over a decade, and would lay down in front of their own rigs before they gave them up. AluBoxes have traveled with XO since the very beginning.
A couple of notes on using hard storage. First, aluminum cases are great for mounting on a roof rack because of their light weight. However, loading them up with heavy recovery equipment or tools defeats the purpose. Pack light weight items in light weight cases for carrying up high. This keeps your center of gravity as low as possible, crucial for on-road handling, as well as off-road stability. Second, hard storage needs to be lashed down firmly when you’re on the move. A fully loaded aluminum case is a major hazard if it’s flying through the cabin of your truck or SUV in the event of an accident or a roll-over. Invest in high quality straps, and make sure your tie-downs are up to the task.
The Yin to hard storage’s Yang is the humble soft bag. But don’t be fooled, fabric and fastening technologies have come a long way in recent years, and even waxed canvas has made a comeback for particular applications. With rugged zippers, comfortable shoulder straps, and sturdy grab handles, soft bags can be a versatile answer for many different storage questions.
Soft storage solutions have obvious benefits in terms of their flexibility and weight savings. They can be squished and jammed into oddly shaped corners and spaces, they can be snatched up at a moment’s notice, and they’re multi-taskers. That bag that holds all your clothes and toiletries in your overland rig can also fit perfectly in the overhead bin of an airliner. Soft storage folds away and disappears nearly entirely when it’s empty, saving valuable space. They come in an infinite variety of sizes and shapes, with all kinds of zippered compartments, and dedicated sleeves and pockets for specific uses.
Some soft storage solutions on the market now, like ARB’s Gear Storm Bags are essentially waterproof, and can live easily and worry-free outside on roof racks or in truck beds. Soft storage is uniquely talented for securing and organizing tools and first-aid supplies. Instead of your wrenches and ratchets banging around in a heavy metal tool box, or locked into a bulky plastic case, simply roll them up in a tool roll, like Overland Vehicles Systems’ canvas version. It saves space and weight in your rig, abuse on your tools, and it keeps them organized when you need them most. The same goes for first aid kits - rather than digging around in a bottomless bag for items you need in a hurry during an emergency, a first-aid roll presents all your first-aid supplies up front every time, so there’s no guesswork or lost time.
Soft storage is best for carrying items you need regularly and conveniently inside a truck bed, or in the back seat of an SUV. In the event of an accident, they are far less likely to harm occupants of a vehicle than a hard-sided case.
No matter how you create and organize your storage solution with a combination of hard and soft storage, it helps to stay consistent in how you use it. Planning up front ahead of time, and practicing packing before you get on the road will save you time and frustration in camp. Label your boxes, keep items that belong in those boxes, in those boxes, and don’t deviate from how you load them in and out of your vehicle. That way, you’ll always know where everything is.
We know you guys out there in the community have come up with some clever storage solutions in your overland set up. Share them with us down in the comments!
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We don’t like to get too hung up on labels here at Overlander, but, well… it’s in our name so we thought we’d take some time to think about what overland travel means to us and for you.