Once I started vehicle based travel, it was hard for me to go backpacking ever again. That's not to say I don’t still go, but I learned something about myself when I started driving instead of hiking as my primary access to the backcountry - I like a good chair and a nice meal. Overland travel has spoiled me on the ability to take it all with me. The trouble is, the longer I do it, the more “all” there seems to be to take with me. Not too many years ago I had a realization that the time and energy I spent packing and unpacking at each camp was starting to have a negative effect on my overall experience. I had to do something.

  1. Simplify
  2. Organize

While I have and will advocate for simplified travel, that is to pair down your kit to things that increase your safety, comfort or enjoyment only, the real gem I discovered was organization. Over the 10+ years I’ve been traveling I’ve learned a few things from my travels as well as tips from others I’ve traveled with or spoke to. My aim is to share that with you today.

There are a few base level tips and then a few specific tips. For context, my daily driver is my overland vehicle and versatility is the name of the game for me. While I rarely travel with anyone but me in my 80 series, I often need all 7 seats. Bear in mind that while I think permanent drawer type storage is great, it’s not in my wheelhouse of experience or tips for this story.

First some general tips.

Tie it down

Structure into organizational units

You’ll want to organize your gear less by how it fits in, and more into how you’ll use it. Tools, spares, etc are less likely to be used and shouldn’t be front and center in your packing unless you can do so without disrupting the rest of your packing. Focus your groups by: living, sleeping, eating, and emergency. If you can pull everything you need for cooking out of one bin or a single bin and a fridge you will find yourself enjoying cooking far more. However, avoid the temptation to put everything into as few boxes or bags as possible.

Keep your chair, access to lunch stuff, day hiking gear, camera gear etc near the top of your pile so you aren’t digging for what you need every lunch stop. A nice stackable hard box like a wolf-pack works well here.

Leave space for haste

It’s fun to play Tetris with your gear in the garage to see just how efficiently you can pack everything, and to be honest there are going to be times when you will need to. When I have 5 people and their gear, the Cruiser gets pretty darn efficient. In most cases, you want to leave room in your packing for inefficiency. Don’t pack each box to the brim, leave space in your clothes back for sloppy packing and don’t compress your gear down unless you really need to. Remember the goal of these tips is less on ways to fit more in, but rather in ways to make what you have less of a burden to your enjoyment.

Tie it down

Seriously, if you can, tie everything that weighs more than 5 lbs down. Don’t let your cargo be the thing that kills you in an accident. While that may be difficult to do for all items you can be strategic in tying down hard cases while stacking soft bags and cases on top and using a less rigid tie down system using bungee cords fixed to your hard case straps. ALWAYS have fridges, tools, spares, recovery gear, etc tied down.

Quick access gear should be a priority. Having your fire extinguisher (you DO carry a fire extinguisher don’t you?) and your quick access first aid supplies close at hand and easy to find and use is critical. It’s the one organizational unit that bucks the first rule. Some people have labeled the location of these items on the outside of their vehicle for others to be able to quickly locate and I think it's a great idea.

Weight down low

This rule is semi-flexible depending on what's practical, but generally speaking all your heaviest stuff should be as low as possible and centered between the axles. Not only is this way safer, it will result in a better ride off-road. While it's certainly tempting to throw it all on that sweet new roof rack, every pound up there will make your vehicle far less stable on and off-road and will affect your mileage. If you need the space, consider using lightweight weather sealed boxes and storing only soft goods up top. They don't help your aerodynamics but they allow you to store soft goods without fear of the weather.

Okay, now for some specific “hacks” on packing and organizing.


Soft bags

I prefer soft bags to hard bags, because they fit in more places, their volume changes as you fill or empty them and most importantly, they are quiet. A great place to consider soft over hard is tools. My current tool solution is a soft tool roll inside a doctor’s bag with a few other tools. This setup has worked great for me in terms of keeping all my tools easily accessible and to prevent them from rattling around.

Multiple bags for clothes

I always take three soft bags with me for clothes. One for clean, one for dirty and one for cold weather. Even in the summer in the desert you’ll need at least one coat. In the worst case, you can put your cold clothes in your clean bag (you’ve remembered to leave room for haste, right?) and use your cold clothes bag for nasty muddy boots and socks come bed time. Having 3 bags may seem counterintuitive to organizing for simplicity, but it does wonders for your morning and evening routines. I keep my dopp kit (hygiene) in my clean clothes bag as well.

Camera gear

Day bag and camera access

I’ve tried all sorts of ways to keep my camera gear handy over the years but I’ve finally settled on something I like. Because I travel alone I like to clip an open top camera case to my headrest in the passenger seat. That way I have instant eyes-free access to my camera in the event I want to shoot something and it's never in harm's way. I also have a larger case on the seat bottom for additional lenses, batteries, mounts, etc. This bag is strapped down so It can’t fly away. I keep my day bag and/or a light bug out bag in the passenger footwell.

The beautiful bedroll

While my bedroll is a FAR cry from the spartan cowboy bedrolls, I’ve found that for my sleeping situation it's been the best blend of ease of use, comfort and packability. If you are sleeping in an RTT, this will be less critical, but having your blankets and pillow and other bedding located in a nice convenient place is still a good idea. If you are sleeping in a tent, in the car like I do, or out in the open my bedroll solution is ideal. It takes up a lot more room but this isn’t backpacking, and if you’ve got the room, it's a wise use of your space.

1 gallon at a time

Fridge organization

If you’ve got a fridge you’ve probably already got your own method for organizing and I don’t want to step on your toes, but may I suggest something that I’ve found that I love? Instead of throwing away finished gallon milk cartons, cut them in half and use the bottom half for buckets. You can put soups and chilis in them (in a gallon ziplock bag of course) without fear of the bag tearing. You can stack them and they seem to fit perfectly in most fridges like my ARB. I’ve had to do an emergency fridge clean way out in Utah's remote Lockhart Basin because I didn’t have this tip in my toolbelt.

What if you need to have both frozen and cold food? Put your frozen food on the bottom and cutout a block of closed cell foam as a divider for the cold food on top. You can set your fridge to a setting between 0 and 36 and keep frozen food frozen and fridge food cold without freezing as the top of your fridge is less well chilled and you will be opening it from time to time.


Keep garbage bags, ziplock bags, rags, and toilet paper near the surface, you will need to access them more often than you might think and when you REALLY need them you will be grateful. Remember to pack out your garbage and be a good steward of our lands.

Hopefully my experience can be of value to your in your trips. Stay tuned for more tips and hacks.



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