Keeping gear organized at home: Looking for inspiration

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    Andrew B
    BPL Member


    Locale: Seattle

    (I wasn’t sure whether to post this in “Gear” or “Philosophy & Technique”, but decided it fit better here.)

    Do you have a good system for organizing your gear at home?

    I’m finding myself overwhelmed, and in need of ideas. I think the hassle and stress of finding what I need is discouraging me from going backpacking. I am lucky enough to have a garage so space itself is not an issue in itself, but order is a challenge.

    I did a search of the forum archives and found two relevant threads from 10 and 14 years ago, respectively:

    There’s a general trend of “clear plastic tubs”, and a few people posted inspiring photos of highly specific shelving units – I’m going to think about trying that.

    My problem, to go into more detail, seems to be that I have 5 people in my family (2 adults, 3 kids under 10), and I’m in charge of all the gear. I have some items I only use for UL backpacking trips – I can keep those in one “UL” bin. But many I use for different sorts of trip – I have a titanium spoon that I use for backpacking trips, but I’ll also use it if I’m car camping with my kids. Same with headlamps; sleeping pads; stoves; sometimes my TT Notch if I need an extra tent, smart water bottles, etc. But I have many other items that are not lightweight and I’d only use for car camping, or hauling weight up a few miles to a campsite with my kids – things like lanterns, camping chairs, white gas stove, heavy sleeping pads, percolator, etc. Then there are the bulky things you can’t easily store in a bin, like backpacks, sleeping bags, camping chairs, and so on. Then there is all the ski gear, most of which only gets used for skiing, but some of which gets used for my solo-backpacking, and by my kids for car camping…

    I am going on and on here, but the end results is a big, disorganized jumble that I have to re-organize after each trip.

    Has anyone here solved this problems satisfactorily? I don’t want to have an “off limits to everyone else” backpacking bin just for me. If you can send photos, I’d love to see how you keep it all organized.

    BPL Member


    Space is my issue…

    I would create separate groups (piles, bins, shelves, etc) for each ‘major’ type of gear as you see it + an extra catch all misc group to combine all the leftover ‘minor’ types of gear into one pile: Probably not directly applicable for you but I try to split my gear into

    • Shelters
    • Sleeping bags +quilts +pads
    • Packs
    • Water filtration + food storage + cooking/eating stuff (I store a bunch of cook kit stuff inside my bear can)
    • First Aid + repair (maybe separate)
    • Outerwear: rain/wind shells, insulated stuff, hats, gaiters etc
    • Misc: head lamps, hiking poles, bug nets, etc

    Maybe some groups are in bins, some are in single drawers, some take up whole closets.

    Then have a sub organization system within each group. Car camping stuff in one sub-container UL stuff in another or on top or off to one side, etc.

    Selecting gear for each trip is a matter of going to each pile and pulling out the stuff each family member will use. Everyone can know where each group is and how its organized.

    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    One piece of this puzzle, I have a line in the garage.  Hang gear to dry and air out after trip.  Maybe one week would be sufficient but I go out frequently so I just leave it there until the next trip.

    You don’t want to put even slightly damp gear into a plastic container with lid.

    I have some plastic tubs, but also some cardboard boxes that breath

    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Colorado

    Andrew, you’ve got so many variables to deal with that this sounds like one of those optimization problems that drives mathematicians nuts. :)
    I gave up on complex organizational schemes. I found they were too cumbersome to consistently follow, so I simplified to my level of tolerance.
    In my office, I have a large bread rack type shelf filled with clear plastic tubs. I don’t label them or worry about what goes where. As long as all my gear (at least what fits) goes into a tub on the shelf I will find it again. Bigger things (packs, sleeping bags, clothing, shoes) go into a closet. Again, as long as an item went into the closet I know I’ll find it again. A few bigger items live in the same spot in the garage. This is not the most efficient system, but it suits me and I find being consistent is often more effective than trying to be clever.
    Good luck to you!

    Kevin Babione
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pennsylvania

    The more dialed-in your kit becomes the easier this is.  I keep everything except my quilts (under and top – I sleep in a hammock) and clothing in my primary backpack.  I have a large bin with “my” gear and another one with gear I loan.  Shelters, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, and other hammocks sit on a shelf where I can see them to grab for someone else (after I’ve pulled mine).

    When I have a trip I look at the temperatures and grab the appropriate quilts and clothing and then the only remaining thing is food.  When you come back from a car-camping trip return anything you borrowed to your pack – that’s your gear’s “home”.

    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    This starts with the individual. Some people are extremely organized and others are the complete opposite. I’m the organized type. I really found the difference in people when I used to implement the 5S Methodology in companies. Some people were already organized and it was easy to implement new processes and train them. Other folks were a nightmare to train and to keep on track. A lot of this is habit.

    It is important that when you return home, all gear is immediately cleaned, repaired if needed, and returned to its proper storage place. This is where the non-super organized person has difficulty. It isn’t necessarily the organization storage but “5S” components of: Sort, Set In order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain.

    My gear “closet” has gear for backpacking, day hiking, biking, boating, fishing, etc. Years ago it looked like this:

    I don’t mix backpacking and camping gear. We now have a travel trailer, so all our camping gear is in it and I want separate gear from other activities so the trailer is always ready to  “hitch and go” on short notice without having to find any particular piece of gear.

    I do use much of my backpacking gear on bike touring trips. A double use that need to help me be able to find specific pieces of gear.

    My day hiking stuff stays in my day pack. I also have another day pack with gear that is stored full time in our camper.

    I use plastic totes for most other stuff and label them, My backpacking gear is also used for biking. So for the backpacking totes:

    • Everyday stuff tote that I will use on most trips
    • Miscellaneous & mostly small items, to include extra stock of soap, DEET, water tablets, etc. tote
    • Winter tote (crampons, microspikes, snow shovel, snow glasses, goggles, etc.)
    • Gloves and hats tote
    • Hiking shoes tote
    • Water bottle and water sack tote
    • UL Shelters tote
    • Tent pole, cord, and tent stake tote
    • Stoves tote
    • Pots tote
    • Stuff sacks, Ziploc, trash compactor, and other bags tote
    • Freeze dried and instant food tote

    My sleeping pads and air mattresses are stored unrolled on a long shelf except for a couple of old blue foam pads.

    I have a cabinet in the garage where I store all my fuel: white gas, denatured alcohol, gas canisters, and Esbit.

    All my down jackets and pants are stored “lightly” folded on a top shelf in our master bedroom closet.

    In our master bedroom, I have the top three drawers of a chest filled with outdoor activity clothing. Shorts, shirts, fleece, long pants, socks, biking gear, etc.

    Another thing that really helps me are gear lists. I use a spreadsheet. For many backpacking or bike touring trips I make a new gear list. I find an similar trip I previously did and copy that sheet. Then I go through it and add or delete items as needed. Then I print it and use it as a checklist to assemble the gear I need. When I come back from a trip I might add comments for what didn’t work or what I should have brought. A side benefit is I can calculate the weight. Every piece of backpacking gear I own is in a database, so it is easy to substitute a piece of gear.

    To be honest, I don’t use this on a lot of trips, especially local, because I’ve been hiking for so long I know what I need and I have a basic list I print just to make sure I do not forget something.

    All of this seems over complicated and time consuming. But in the long run, once someone is truly mentally organized, it save tons of time. If a friend were to call me and suggest a trip, I can be packed and ready to go in less than 30 minutes.

    Bob Shuff
    BPL Member


    Locale: SoCal

    I also use a spreadsheet to keep track of gear and weights and then create a packing list. When I organized my gear into categories I used on the list it made me happy 😃.  However it is evolving constantly.

    I have large bins for hammocks and hammock tarps, for cook/mess kit and for water bottles/bladders/filters.

    I have 8 small bins for: ropes/straps, electronics, stuff sacks, knives, misc essentials (compass, emergency blankets, whistles, etc) winter hats/gloves/gaiters, hygiene/first aid, and stakes/poles.

    Quilts  and other shelters are hung on hooks, as are trekking poles and small pads. Closed cell pads and other big gear on a shelf.  Packs are stacked on a shelf in the cabinet with the small bins

    I dot have all this intermingled with bike gear and car camping gear bins. I want to work on those two areas more. The. I will be happier.

    I will note I have a basket with all the stuff I will likely need on any adventure – from day hike to multi day backpack. That makes it easy to throw in the car and if I do decide at the trailhead parking lot that I don’t need something it just stays in the basket in the car. It has extra fuel and batteries in case I forget them as well.

    I want to purge and redo some of this myself later this month. First I need to deliver the kid to his Freshman dorm in Tx. It will give me something to do when he’s gone.

    Matt Dirksen
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mid Atlantic

    What really helped me out was to create a basic color coding scheme and organize my gear based off of that. (Red=  1st aid, orange = fire/light, yellow = com/nav, blue= water, green = food, grey = general utility, etc…) I have bins and colored plastic containers which I can easily locate now.

    I believe I was inspired by this kit on Amazon, which helped get me started.

    Erica R
    BPL Member


    Buy another spoon and headlamp and keep it in the backpack.

    If you take anything out of the backpack, put a note what is missing.

    Still, everytime I go it takes me the better part of a day to go through my list and make sure everything is there, including the food.

    Erica R
    BPL Member


    Following… be better if it didn’t take so long to get packed!

    Andrew B
    BPL Member


    Locale: Seattle

    Thanks for all the helpful comments – besides the practical advice, I appreciate the empathy; I sometimes start asking myself what’s wrong with me? when packing takes so long. So it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who struggles with keeping things organized.

    Every piece of advice was useful, and I need to think about all the suggestions, put them on a list, and come up with a mix of strategies that work for my particular situation.

    Overall, the easiest plan would probably be to have a backpacking bin that is “untouchable” and more-or-less ready to use at any time (I think Mike Clelland called that his “Go Box”); and then have the rest of the “family” gear organized in categories in the garage. This would require some duplication of gear though, which I’d like to avoid. And I’d need to resist the temptation to mine through my backpacking bin for things I enjoy using on camping trips, like my quilt.

    I think I need some sort of sorting system that involves smaller bins (or just shoe boxes) than the ones I’ve been using – and I will consider Matt’s suggestion of a color system. Nick, I like the “Sort, Set In order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain” and I think that would be a good habit for me to incorporate.

    I will work on this over then next month and promise to update this thread with what I come up with! Thanks again for all the suggestions!

    Bob Shuff
    BPL Member


    Locale: SoCal

    If you want more empathy watch Dan Becker’s video here:

    Granted he’s getting new stuff shipped to him all the time to review, but for a guy who’s making a video about organization his drawers are a hot mess!  Sorry Dan.  He’s up front that it needs some work to clean things up.  Kudo’s for honesty – he was looking for that bear hang kit in the knife drawer.  I wish I had that much space so accessible, with a table and bright lights to sort it all out.  Great channel by the way.  Dan’s reviews are spot on and he’s a weekend backpacker – not a thru-hiker, which gives you a different perspective than a lot of load-out videos you see on YouTube.

    Same for @ngatel.  That’s a nicely organized setup.  Looks like he could run a gear rental business out of that garage.

    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    Being organized isn’t simply a system of storage containers, but a mindset. This mindset has to be thought out, practiced, and adjusted as needed.

    I was an auto mechanic for many, many years. In those days I needed two sets of tools — one SAE size and one Metric. Back in the ’80s many domestic vehicles used a combination of SAE and metric fasteners. Mechanics (now called “technicians”) are normally paid by how much work they do (billable hours). So inefficiencies cost them money.

    When I was young, I noticed most guys would leave any tools they used on a job on their work bench, then go get another vehicle when a job was done. During the day, the number of tools on the workbench would grow, and they were constantly walking back and forth from the vehicle to the bench or the toolbox, sometimes sorting through the pile on the workbench trying to find the correct tool. This seemed inefficient to me, and inefficient meant less pay.

    So I started cleaning all my tools after each job and putting them back into the tool box. But I was still making several trips from the vehicle to the toolbox on each job. Finally I bought a small roll-cart, and before each new job, I would select all the tools I needed and place them on the cart, so I would no longer need to walk back and forth to my toolbox wasting time. It was really effective when I did a four wheel brake job. I would work at each wheel and roll my cart to the next wheel. This is one of the reasons why I was always the highest paid mechanic; I was the most efficient.

    I had to practice this to develop the proper mindset. I use this approach for any task. For example, I have analyzed the process to take out the trash in our house, using the least amount of process steps, distance walked, and time to complete. I do this with everything, which has mostly become somewhat automatic and subconscious. I drive my wife crazy. For example, why was our coffee pot under a cabinet, and the coffee cups in another cabinet requiring several steps to walk to, and why was the coffee container in a 3rd cabinet requiring more walking? She wouldn’t change because she thinks I spend too much time thinking about trivial matters. But now, after we remodeled our kitchen, everything is in one spot so there isn’t much walking or steps. The cabinet directly above the coffee pot has all our coffee cups and the container of coffee. The coffee pot is also close to the sink, instead of her old way of having it on the counter top on the other side of kitchen.

    Later in my career, I did a lot of time studies of auto technicians and implemented 5S processes, often doubling the productivity of technicians, especially when I could reduce or eliminate time wasted going back and forth to the parts department to get parts.

    BPL Member


    Nick, please don’t throw up!    I have given up on organizing.  Get home from a outing.  everything gets cleaned and dried and fixed/replaced pronto.  Then it goes in bins in the dry basement. The problem is that I use gear for day hikes and clothes for other activities, so keeping it in specific bins does not work.    But, I keep a very detailed spreadsheet and use Lighterpack to keep a few typical outings listed.  Desert, mountain, summer, winter, etc.  So, getting ready for a trip is quite simple. Edit and update the Ligherpack for that trip, only takes a couple of minutes for options like weather.  Then print it out.   Dump everything out, check off the list as it goes into the “GO” pile.   Not pretty, but efficient for me and I can’t remember when I arrived at the first night campsite to find I forgot my tent or sleeping bag.

    The real downside is when you guys come up with some little fix or improvement on some equipment.  I have to dump it all out to find out if I have a 6″ or 7″ stake for one of the tents!


    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    Nick, please don’t throw up!    I have given up on organizing.

    LOL! No, not at all. Some people will never be super organized, and really don’t care to be. Just look at all the millions of “how to be organized” books, especially for business. I suspect most have a system that requires the reader to change how to do tasks and are forced to conform to that system. Seems there are thousands of “To Do List” apps and software too. I’m wired for organization, most people are not.

    The point being that if one wants to change, copying how someone else does it usually won’t work. But looking how many people do it, one can develop their own custom methodology by looking at some “best practices” others use.

    Besides, I am task-oriented. I like to work on projects, numbers, computers, etc. Folks who are people-oriented (salespeople, public speakers, counselors, etc.) often find task oriented activities burdensome. This is why in a car dealership you do not want salespeople doing the DMV paperwork after they sell a car.

    Dave Heiss
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    My approach was to minimize, which made it really easy to organize. I have one (1) bin that holds all my “active” backpacking gear, and one (1) bin that holds backup supplies, retired gear that I loan out from time to time, and misc stuff I haven’t gotten rid of yet. Plus there’s a storage bag that holds my sleeping bag. I’m a Spring-to-Fall backpacker so I don’t have to deal with any Winter gear, and that probably helps too.

    Several years ago I decided that when I bought a new piece of gear the old item it was replacing needed to go away. It’s been a good strategy but it requires quite a bit of discipline to resist the siren song of all the cool new gear that rolls into the marketplace. Nowadays there has to be a really strong reason to buy before I take the jump.

    My “active” gear bin includes one backpack (Zpacks Arc Haul), one daypack (an ancient pack from Camp Trails), one down bag (Sierra Designs Nitro 30), one sleeping pad (Exped Synmat UL), and one tent (Tarptent Protrail). And of course all the complimentary gear and clothing needed for multi-day backpacking in the Pacific Northwest.

    At a base weight that’s just under 20 lbs I’m not ultralight by any measure but I do work hard to keep the gear pile at a minimum. Minimizing the overall amount of gear I have has worked out well for me.

    Jacqueline K
    BPL Member


    Excepting for my sleeping bags and pads, I use to store my backpacking and camping gear in the garage in two really large bins. One of the really large bins store retired backpacks (I keep these to loan out to friends). Car camp kitchen live in somewhat transparent plastic tubs in the garage also. The transparency helps in finding things.

    These days, now that the children are older and we are backpacking more again, and have acquired more lightweight (read fragile) gear, all the backpacking backpacks, tents, sleeping pads live in the closet in study/guest room. It is cooler in the house and thus better for the tents. Once I buy something, I like for it to last.

    I keep the ultralight sporks and cups, stove, water filter stored inside the bear canisters inside original box nicely stacked up (also in closet, though these can definitely live in garage).

    I have a packing list I print out every time before a trip and I check off the list as items go into the packs. Respective gear always return to same designated spot so it becomes easy to locate them.

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    I’ve got boxes labeled for each type of gear (this is one of four such walls):

    A place for everything and everything in its place:

    But that means going into 23 different boxes to gather one stove, one pot, one sleeping pad, etc.  So for my own stuff, I leave my pack packed (after doing laundry) and ready to go for the next trip.

    Andy Stow
    BPL Member


    Locale: Midwest USA

    YouTube video

    Doug Coe
    BPL Member


    Locale: Bay Area, CA, USA

    Maybe make a spreadsheet with sections/pages/whatever for each bin and list what’s in it. Then you just need to ALWAYS put everything in the correct bin after a trip…and do a search/find on the spreadsheet to see where a particular item is kept.

    Not that I’ve done this. I have mostly just one of every item and take the same stuff each hike.

    Geoff Caplan
    BPL Member


    Locale: Lake District, Cumbria

    I’m very much in the same camp as Dave Heiss above – I focus on keeping a minimal selection of durable and adaptable gear. For example:

    – 2 packs (day and multi-day – the day pack is 50 years old!)

    – 2 shelters (base-camp/festivals and lightweight tarp)

    – 1 cooking system (alcohol) with one pot

    – 2 pads (three season air pad plus closed cell torso mat to supplement in winter)

    – 1 three-season bag, supplemented by clothing in winter.

    And so on. I also have a small selection of adaptable clothing that I use for everything.

    This covers me for all conditions from summer heat to moderate winters – I’m never out in Alaskan-style conditions. Walking in Europe you have to be prepared for a wide range of conditions at any time of the year so this small selection covers all my scenarios. If I lived somewhere with more settled and extreme seasons I guess I’d end up with more seasonally specialised gear…

    So my spartan selection fits in the corner of a closet with room to spare. I have one box for the active gear,  a shelf for my packs, and one end of the hanging rod for my outdoor clothing, pad and down bag. I have a second box of old gear I keep as spares and loaners which is tucked away under the stairs, as I rarely access it.

    Unlike Nick I am naturally a slob. A minimalist approach means I keep the organisation manageable and I’m less likely to forget anything vital. When it’s all in one box it hard to miss! Before I developed this slob-proof system my kit was scattered and I’d sometimes forget something important like my tent-pegs or my compass.

    Plus a minimal selection of gear is kinder on my wallet and on the planet.

    With a whole family to organise, a minimalist approach would pay even bigger dividends, I think. Until recently I was living with a family of hoarders, and watching them sort out their gear for any type of trip was a sight to behold. By the time they left (always well behind schedule!) they were so frazzled that they were barely able to enjoy their break…

    Scott G
    BPL Member


    Just a very basic but useful tip.

    Use under bed shallow tubs 6-8 ” (15-20cm) for small things  – stoves, water bottles, pots. A full hiking set will fit into one tub and be easily found.

    I have a second tub for alternative options.

    Deep tubs are nightmare for finding small things!


    Diane “Piper” Soini
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Barbara

    I am the most disorganized person in the whole world who isn’t diagnostically mentally ill. I keep my pack packed except for my quilt. I have some clear tubs and boxes but they’re scattered all over the place and have random stuff in them and it’s just hopeless. If I put anything in a box it’s as good as thrown in the garbage.

    BPL Member


    Wow it seems that many backpackers are OCD. Glad to hear it, me too. I have all my sleeping bags in loose laundry sacks, piled together. My best one is marked for me only! All the tents are the same, together in looser sacks, marked so it’s easy to see which one is 1, 2, 3, 4, or 6 person. The pads are left lying flat on a shelf. I have one bin with kitchen stuff, water filtering and carrying stuff, and spare plastic bags. Another with stuff sacks, and other miscellany. The stoves and gas cans sit on top of a shelf. I have too much crap and am gradually giving things away to Girl Scouts, people who want to start backpacking and don’t have a lot of money, etc. I just gave away a full length orange thermarest from the early 1990s, not lightweight, and I never use it any more, but still sturdy as ever. It was hard to let it go, but i haven’t touched it in at least 15 years (except to test its ability to stay inflated). The gal that took it was very appreciative and it felt good to put it in the hands of someone who will enjoy it. I have a heavy luxury pad for car camping, and an ultra light one for backpacking, so the old one was no longer needed. I have a really hard time getting rid of sleeping bags though, not sure why. Hoard my fears? I gave away a couple a few years ago, to the women’s shelter. But I still have too many. I also like to keep enough stuff to lend to others, without lending the really expensive stuff!

    My hiking clothing has its own drawer, with shirts, gloves, buffs, handkerchiefs, baselayers etc. that are almost exclusively for that. My ski stuff is in a separate drawer. My kayaking stuff goes in a dry bag in a closet. Rarely am I using the same gear. Recently I used my neoprene socks normally used for kayaking, for a trip with a lot of river crossings. But I know exactly where those things will be so it’s still easy.

    There are so many shoes and boots and sandals in our house and they are a mess. Four people’s footwear for all activities in a giant mess in the arctic entry. Yikes. Some day I’ll deal with that. I have more than once left the house without the shoes I needed for hiking, preferring sandals most days.

    It’s all pretty easy to figure out what to take each time with a simple checklist for each activity. I even have a separate list for camping with a group, or going solo. My family thinks I’m nuts, but they also are happy when mom has everything needed on a group trip. When I go solo kit, it’s super easy, light and crazy organized. I’ve also learned that packing 2 hours before a plane trip does not have a happy outcome.

    I do clean and mend things after a trip. Cleaning happens within a day or two, max; there’s nothing worse than a muddy pair of sweaty socks that have been fermenting for a few days! Mending happens within a week or two, usually. Nothing gets put away unless it’s ready for use.

    It’s totally OCD but if I don’t do this, with the other complications in my life and time challenges – family, work, friends, dogs, neighbors, garden, house, other hobbies, general chaos – then hiking isn’t going to happen. I just have to have things reasonably orderly. Not fussy, just in order.

    Good luck! Even a minimal system will lower your blood pressure a bit and you’ll probably get out more often.

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