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Backpacker Magazine – June 2009

Weekend Planner: Organize Your Gear

If you want to hit the trail before everyone, you'll need to get your gear in gear. Here's how.

by: Andrew Tilin

(Illustration by Jameson Simpson)
(Illustration by Jameson Simpson)

You've been there: The misplaced headlamp. First-aid supplies scattered. Hydration reservoir growing mold. Gear chaos sounds laughably trivial–until it's piled atop a hectic weekday schedule and becomes the tipping point that keeps you from leaving home. "People often say, 'I don't have time to get organized,'" says Standolyn Robertson, president of the National Association of Professional Organizers. "But time is exactly what organizing buys you."

1) Dedicate a space Whether it's a single closet or corner of the garage, store all of your hiking and camping gear in one place. Nothing will defeat you faster on Thursday night than trying to find stuff in five different spots. Get off on the right foot, says Robertson, by starting from scratch. "If it doesn't wig you out, pull everything onto the floor." Now put it all back together using this easy-access system.

2) Customize shelves Install a modular system that allows you to move shelves up or down to accommodate gear and boxes of various sizes. "Eight inches of empty space is a waste," says Robertson. She likes Elfa brand shelving systems (, which The Container Store occasionally sells at significant discounts. Lowe's and The Container Store offer thorough installation videos online.

3) Label everything The more containers, the greater the need to keep them straight. Put stickers on the ends, so it's easy to grab and return gear at a glance. (Use a labeler to avoid masking-tape mess.) "When there are no labels, folks tend to just stow stuff wherever," says Robertson.

4) Compartmentalize "Keep like with like," says Robertson, who prefers The Container Store's see-through plastic boxes ($2-$20; As you'd expect, these durable containers fit neatly together. Store lights and batteries in one, stove and cookware in another, and so on. Multisport mayhem? Start with large, sport-specific boxes (hiking, biking, climbing, etc.) and store individual containers within.

5) Think vertical Store lightweight items up high: They're easy to pull down–and put back. Sleeping pads (best stored flat) can go on a top shelf that's only inches from the ceiling. Put sleeping bags (stored in oversized mesh or cotton storage sacks) on top or one shelf down. Leave enough vertical space down low to fit bulky gear like backpacks and tents.

6) Hang essentials Even jackets that do double-duty–say, your favorite around-town fleece–should hang with backpacking gear. Robertson advises discipline. "Start putting your hiking items somewhere else," she warns, "and suddenly nothing is where you remember it being."

7) Corral footwear Keep all shoes and boots at or near floor level, where they're easily accessible and won't rain dirt on other gear.

To Do:
Hang hydration reservoirs. CamelBak makes a dryer ($12; for its Omega bladders. Or rig your own with a wire hanger; bend it so it slips into the opening and forces the walls apart for thorough drying.

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Reader Rating: -


Jul 25, 2009

Storing sleeping pads under a bed is okay until you have cats who love to hide under there and chew on plastic! High on a shelf in the garage is the next best alternative for me.

Jul 21, 2009

we've chosen to buy seperate colored bins to easily seperate our gear from camping/climbing/paddling etc... we picked up the bins from, ahem, Wal-Mart (my least favorite place on the planet) and they ran 10 bucks apiece for a three tier bin and you can get them in a couple of different widths.

Jul 17, 2009

Make sure when using the wire hanger/dryer trick to use a coated or painted hanger. The uncoated metal will rust and leave rust contact points inside your reservoir. Hold the hook in one hand and grab the hanger by the middle bottom with another hand. Pull down to make a diamond shape, but don't pull it too straight.

Jul 16, 2009

It's not possible to visit the different pages of this story without going back to the original page. Is there any way to fix that?


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