Camping: Organization Hacks Make Car Camping a Breeze

Common Car Camping Mistakes

Messy Car CampingYou’ve probably seen them at the campgrounds. Maybe you are one of them. People open the back of their vehicle and it’s packed from floor to ceiling with every piece of equipment they can jam in. It’s a huge jumbled mess. And I guarantee that the one item they want is probably at the bottom of the stack. Everything has to be removed and set around the campsite in order to find anything.

Often their campsite stays an unorganized mess the entire time they are there. An open invitation to insects, birds, and curious woodland creatures. And if you are in bear territory, it’s just plain dangerous.

It makes sense to find ways to make your system more organized.
It’ll be easier to set-up, use and take down. And you won’t attract unwanted guests to your site.

Getting Organized

We often use our Subaru Outback for our camping excursions. Since we camp often, and sometimes for only a weekend, I wanted to make it easy to quickly load up the vehicle and take off—sometimes as a last-minute decision.

We originally used plastic tubs and bins to separate our food from the kitchen items and the healthcare and toiletries. But we found ourselves still spending too much time pulling out bins, getting what we needed and replacing the bin, only to discover we needed something from it a moment later. Or we had plastic bins sitting all over the campsite. And even then, we were still rummaging through them often, as some of the tubs were deep and held lots of stuff, and quickly became an unorganized mess. I figured there had to be a better way.

An Inexpensive and Easy-to-Use System

Storage Bins for Car CampingA trip to the Container Store (my hubby calls it my ‘crack’ store) helped me find the perfect solution. In the photo you can see that I’ve purchased three plastic drawers meant to be used as slide-out drawers for storage under your bed. Each drawer measures approximately 28 inches long x 17.25 inches wide x 5 inches deep. They are extremely sturdy and roomy.

Measure the area you are working with before heading to the store and look for a set-up that works for the space you are dealing with. There are different brands and sizes available so you can customize this set-up for your needs.

The drawers I purchased are made so that they stack one on top of the other, and stay securely together, even in a moving car. You’ll want to know if the ones you are looking at will work in this way. Don’t be shy about stacking the drawers in the store before you purchase so you know if they will work or not. Experiment with different ways to create a system that works best for your scenario.

Each of the three drawers has a specific use.

Kitchen tools storage for campingOne drawer holds all the kitchen utensils, eating utensils, nesting cooking pans, paper plates, Sea to Summit plastic bowls for hot food, drinking mugs, table cloth, and trash bags.

Another drawer holds all the items we use for personal hygiene. There are rolls of toilet paper & trowel, toothpaste, hand lotion, body wipes, camp towels & washcloths, soap, small canvas bags for dirty clothes, clothesline and clothes pins and a roll of paper towel. There is also a plastic bag that holds a small bottle of laundry detergent (find these at the Dollar Store) and some natural dryer sheets. Note: we always have a stash of quarters for use in campground showers or for laundry machines.

The third drawer holds small tools and items that are used often and will be easier to find if they are all in one place. Items such as the hatchet, a rubber mallet for pounding in tent stakes, bushcraft knives, matches, spare batteries, and our smaller-sized lanterns that come in handy for the tent, or walking to bathrooms in a campground after dark.

I’ve added bungee cords to hold the drawers secure when the vehicle takes off or stops. They were purchased at the Dollar Store.

The best part is that I can keep this fully stocked at all times and ready to go. When we return from a trip I stick a post-it note on any drawer that needs something replaced and add the item to our shopping list. Having everything packed ahead means I don’t have to worry about forgetting something. When we decide to go on a trip I simply purchase food and ice, slide everything into the back and we’re ready to take off!

I decided on three drawers because I wanted a height that wouldn’t obstruct the driver’s view. They fit perfectly in the back, even with the back seats upright. And I still have room for the campstove, a water brick, the cooler, and a folding camp table. Behind the cooler is space to stack a few smaller items: a small plastic container that holds the coffee pot, hot pads, dishing washing items and dish towels – items used often. On top of that plastic container sits the fold-down rubber dish pan. I’ve even created my own easy-to-transport-and-use washing station. You can read the details in: Life Hacks: Favorite Camping Hacks  Any foods that don’t need to be kept in the cooler are stashed in a small plastic bin for easy access.

Side Note: The drawers and few items in the back of the vehicle can’t be seen because of dark tinted windows. To keep the rest of the back area of our vehicle organized and clutter free we purchased a cargo carrier for the top of our vehicle. In it we pack the tent and tarp, camp chairs, cots, sleeping bags, chemical toilet and fold-down fire ring. This allows us to keep the back seats upright. So when the vehicle is parked somewhere, the casual observer doesn’t see anything of interest piled in the vehicle, things that might attract unwanted attention and maybe prompt a break-in. Once we have set up camp we can put personal items in the cargo carrier for safe keeping while we leave the campsite to go hiking or exploring for the day.


I’d love to hear about your tips and tricks to make camping more organized.

Please feel free to share with us!






  1. Henry Collins

    Useful tips for going out in long road trips too!

    • indy

      Excellent point, Henry! We have indeed used this set up when taking all-day road trips. It allows us to ‘tailgate’ for meals or set up a picnic in a park. Thanks for taking time to comment – much appreciated!

      • Tim Nelson

        Where do you find bins like this?

        • indy

          Hi Tim, the containers I used were actually drawers designed to slide under your bed for storage. They also can be stacked on top of each other and don’t slide apart. I measured my vehicle before shopping and looked for storage drawers that would fit in that space. I only stacked three together because I didn’t want them to go higher than the back seat. I found them (and other similar types) at a place called The Container Store. I hope there is one near you to check out. Thank you for taking time to read and comment here. I appreciate it!

  2. Cynthia

    I’m a car-camping and tent camping addict. 🙂 Over the years, we’ve devised a system and gotten it pretty down-pat. We have a platform that fits in our SUV, and we have those long, flat plastic bins to hold “themes” of stuff: snacks in one bin, canned goods for lunch and dinner in another, and so on. We have one cooler, and one other bin the size of our cooler to carry more urgently needed camp stuff, such as flashlights, bug spray, cords, matches, lanterns, that sort of thing. On longer trips we have a rocket box that goes on top of the car that holds mountain biking gear, tents, folding chairs, stuff like that. What a fun read. It’s also gratifying to read about the need for organization and how you do it here. 🙂 Lastly, I love the name your husby has for the Container Store. Have a great week!

    • indy

      Thanks for the great info and inspiration, Cynthia! During the times we camp in a campground I enjoy walking around and checking out other campers’ setups and get ideas for our own setup. So I love hearing how others get organized. We also use a carrier on our vehicle. I’m always amazed at how much we can pack in there!Thanks again for stopping by and commenting. I look forward to hearing more about your adventures!


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