Recent studies show that one in three car campers suffers from Messy Rig Disorder (MRD).*
Messy Rig Disorder can result in road-trip-related stress, lower-than-normal stoke levels, misplaced headlamps, and unnecessary arguments between car camping buddies. In extreme cases, Messy Rig Disorder can even cause road trippers to fall out of love with car camping. Tragic–we know.
Luckily, we have our PhDs in rigology (the study of rigs), and we’re here to help you overcome this common malady. In this guide, we’ll highlight gear storage tips, tricks, and tactics–as well as a few of our favorite gear storage solutions–to help you organize your gear, tidy up, and improve your overall car camping health.
Without further ado, let’s dive in and leave your Messy Rig Disorder in the rearview.
1. Adopt and Always Adhere to Organization Systems
Almost every tip in this article boils down to a single word: systems.
Smart car camping organization systems are simple procedures you follow without fail. Adopting these systems can take the guesswork out of car camping, and adhering to these systems will minimize chances of messiness, misplaced gear, and subsequent headaches.
Here are a few examples of potential systems you can employ to make life at camp run more smoothly:
- Always keep your food in a clear plastic bin. Stash the bin in the trunk when you’re driving, and in the passenger seat when you’re at camp.
- Always stash a backup headlamp and spare batteries in the console.
- Always keep your toothbrush and toiletries in the passenger door cupholder.
The trick to each and every one of these systems is the “always.” If you commit to constantly putting your gear in the same place, you’ll find it easily when you need it most.
2. Micro Organization is Macro Success
Larger items, like sleeping bags or surfboards, are fairly straightforward to organize. It’s the smaller items, like water bottles, books, headlamps, cell phones, etc., that are easy to lose–and a pain in the butt when you do.
When you’re organizing your car before a trip, pay special attention to smaller gear. Adopt micro-organization strategies for these easy-to-lose essentials. Store these smaller items in designated, out-of-the-way places, and be sure to return each essential to its designated home after each use. This tidying tactic won’t just de-clutter your rig, but it’ll also help you keep tabs on important items.
3. Keep An Eye on Your Car Keys–And Have A Backup Stashed
Locking your car can deter both would-be criminals and curious bears, and it’s one of many reasons why we prefer car camping over tent camping. (Check out our Death Before Tent Camping hoodies and tees if you feel the same way.) That said, keys are so easy to lose–and so critical to your car camping life–that we’re including this as a separate bullet point.
As we mentioned earlier, systems are key (pun very much intended), so be methodical with your storage of car keys. We like to stash keys in a cupholder, or on the hooks of our Seatback Organizer, or in the zippered compartment of the Cargo Hammock. Remember: Where you stash your keys doesn’t matter quite as much as your commitment to returning them to the same place after each use.
Bonus Tip: We like to have a backup key stashed under the car in a magnetic hide-a-key, just in case.
4. Cargo Bins Are Your Friend
Cargo bins are incredibly useful for keeping gear organized and your rig tidy. Don’t pack bins randomly, but instead group gear strategically. Camp kitchen gear goes in one bin, mountain bike gear in another bin, fly fishing gear in another bin, so on and so forth. Be sure to label your bins to further reduce guesswork.
If you’re looking for a radical, rugged cargo box, the YETI LoadOut GoBox is hard to beat. The burly exterior and durable build make it ideal for storing important gear, like emergency and safety equipment, while the cargo tray and divider amplify the organizational capabilities.
That said, you can grab cheaper plastic options from Target, the Container Store, etc. In fact, we’re especially big fans of cheaper, clear plastic bins, too–we’ll get into that more below.
Bonus Tip: We love to keep as many car-camping bins packed and ready to rock in the garage as possible. This makes packing and prepping for the next trip a breeze.
5. See-Through Storage For The Win
All car campers can benefit from see-through storage.
Let’s say you’re on the hunt for your Swiss Army Knife, and don’t remember where you used it last. If you can literally see the knife tucked in your clear plastic camp kitchen bin, you won’t tear apart your car looking for it.
Clear plastic bins and drawers are an easy, affordable storage solution that come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Larger drawers can be used to store shoes, clothes, or cooking gear, while smaller drawers are perfect for toiletries, tools, or headlamps and lanterns.
Clear plastic bins aren’t the only storage essential that offers car campers this advantage. Here are a few more of our favorite see-through storage solutions:
- Mesh Gear Duffel: Our rugged, see-through Mesh Gear Duffel encourages on-the-go organization, and it’s perfect for letting damp gear drip dry and air out, too.
- Cargo Hammock: Our Cargo Hammock is a surprisingly expansive and completely collapsible net shelf that will revolutionize your car camping life.
- Milk Crates: Milk crates are a classic, see-through gear storage solution that outdoor enthusiasts have been relying on for decades. They’re cheap, strong, and chances are you have a few lying around the house.
6. Convert Unused Space into Useful Storage
If you want to optimize your vehicle for car camping, focus on turning unused space into nifty, practical storage.
A perfect example of this approach is the Luno Seatback Organizer. This compact organization station attaches easily to the seatback, turning underutilized space into valuable, compartmentalized storage real estate. With pockets aplenty, a water bottle holder, transparent headlamp compartment, G-hooks for key storage, and more, this feature-packed organizer is a game-changer for car campers. In fact, we often refer to the Seatback Organizer as the “nightstand of car camping,” and many Luno crew members keep two in their rig at all times.
Another piece of gear that helps you turn unused space into valuable storage is our new Cargo Hammock. This nifty net is easy to install, includes a low-profile “Compact Mode” for everyday commuting, and expands to provide over 8.5 square feet of storage space. We like to stash bedding, clothes, even food and fishing gear in the Cargo Hammock netting, then use the zippered compartment for smaller, easy-to-lose gear like lighters, sunglasses, etc.
7. Invest in a Cargo Carrier
The more gear you can stash outside of your sleeping area, the better. We love car camping with an external cargo carrier, especially when we’re skiing, snowboarding, surfing, fishing, or generally embarking on any adventure that involves wet or bulky gear.
Thule and Yakima are both big players in the roof box game, offering locking systems that make it easier to keep expensive gear secure on the road. While we usually recommend going the roof route, as roof boxes are quite large and can store gear like skis, snowboards, inflatable SUPS and paddles, etc., both brands offer cargo carriers that attach to the hitch of your car, too. If you do go with a hitch carrier, check out the Pivot from Küat–it allows you to store gear on a hitch rack without losing the ability to tailgate.
Bonus Tip: Keeping wet gear out of your sleeping area doesn’t just minimize chances of unpleasant odors–it’s also a good way to reduce chances of condensation, which can be a serious problem when car camping in cooler temperatures.
8. Store Gear Outside
One of our favorite ways to store gear while car camping is to simply keep it outside. Genius, right? Depending on where you’re camping, you may choose to store camp chairs, tables, coolers, and more next to your vehicle.
Bonus Tip: Keep gear dry, and out of the way, by sliding it under your vehicle. We often do this with surfboards while car camping on the coast, freeing up room in the trunk for our cozy sleeping setup.
9. Get Creative!
While we love ourselves some purpose-built car camping storage gear, decking your rig out in the latest and greatest equipment can be pricey. If you want to go a more affordable route, comb through your house and garage first. There are plenty of odds and ends you may have lying around the house that can play double duty and help you organize your car camping gear. For instance:
- A hanging shoe organizer can double as a kitchen cabinet to hold spices, utensils, and paper towels.
- Window planters with suction cups can create shelf space out of thin air.
- Shower caddies can double as a hanging dish rack or produce holder.
With a little creativity, there’s no limit to the potential storage solutions!
No More Messy Rigs
We hope this article helps you rethink car camping storage–and reorganize that messy rig!
If you’re looking for more car camping storage advice, car camping tips, etc., check out our Ultimate Guide to Car Camping here.
As always, thanks for reading, and we’ll see you on the road!
-The Luno Crew
*Messy Rig Disorder (MRD) is a very real and not-at-all-made-up disorder. If you have a car camping companion who is suffering from Messy Rig Disorder, feel free to send them this article so we can say what you can’t.