(Words and Photos: Paxton Hall)
It’s a nightmare scenario for any outdoor gear junkie: a one bedroom apartment without a single closet. Where do the skis go? How about the climbing rack? Backpacking and car camping gear? Not to mention the ever expanding collection of books . . . As any van dweller will tell you, a small space shouldn’t limit your outdoor pursuits. It just requires a more thoughtful approach to organize and store all your gear.
“Man this is small” I thought as I walked around our new home. Home was, and still is, a cozy one bedroom apartment in one of Seattle’s sleepy residential neighborhoods. With visions of pacific northwest adventures filling our dreams, my girlfriend and I quit our jobs in Vermont and hit the road for Seattle three years ago. We lined up an apartment on craigslist, technically sight unseen, after a good friend had checked it out and raved that if we didn’t sign the lease, she would. It was nearly perfect, except for the fact that, aside from one armoire in the bedroom, it completely lacked any storage space. With a growing cache of outdoor gear I had no clue how I was going to make it work.
Fast forward a few years and my gear storage set up is not only dialed, it beautifully highlights for house guests what we’re passionate about. Whether heading out for a day-hike, a weekend of car camping or even a multi-day ski tour trip - having our gear easily accessible makes packing easy and even fun (okay, maybe just for a gear nerd)! Follow these steps and you, too, can have well organized camping gear, even in a small apartment.
Do A Gear Audit
Purge Your Stash. Go through your gear, pick out the items that haven’t made it into the pack over the past year or two and make a pile of them. I don’t like to make rash decisions, so any items I’m on the fence about I’ll hang onto for another few months before making a final decision. Don’t just trash the gear you’re ready to part with, hit your local gear consignment shop or post things to Craigslist or Facebook.
Identify Your Most Frequently Used Gear and Make It Super Accessible. As you’re sorting through your gear, ask yourself what gear you use the most often. Make that gear the easiest to grab. I have a few pieces of gear that see way more use than most. For me that’s my gym climbing gear, go-to pack, headlamps, and beanies. I can grab these items literally on my way out the door and not waste any time heading to the climbing gym or the trailhead.
Carve Out Dedicated Spaces
Identify and Create a Dedicated Storage Space. You have to get creative when creating gear storage space out of thin air. Look around your place and look for spaces that are underutilized. Walls are blank canvases for peg boards and shelves and hallways can feature more than just a coat rack. We reimagined a funky corner area in our living room where we had placed a bookshelf and indoor plant, but still had plenty of unused space. We found an armoire at Ikea (the Brimnes Wardrobe with 3 doors) that fit the corner almost perfectly and only cost $150 new. The standard wire shelves featured in many gear closets would have worked too, but we wanted to hide the majority of our gear from view.
Make Your Gear Your Decor. Some pieces of outdoor gear deserve to be seen, whether it’s a shiny new piece, or an item with a deep history that brings back memories every time you see it. My Dynafit TLT6 ski boots have seen me through some wild adventures and I love seeing them tucked away neatly in our apple-crate side-table. Did I mention I bought them on eBay for a steal?
Get Creative with Dead Space. Command hooks are an organizer’s best friend. Hanging rods can create more usable storage space and expandable closet shelves can add structure to your gear organization game. Look at your gear closet or storage spaces with an eye for empty space. I used command hooks to add extra organization in the armoire for trekking poles and hats. For my custom sleeping bag storage system I used twine and command hooks to create a containment system. Just make sure to leave some space to be able to maneuver and grab your gear without having to waste time moving other gear out of the way.
Bins, Bins, Bins. It’s no use having a dedicated organization space if your outdoor gear is stored in messy piles. Bins keep things organized and can help separate gear by activity. They’re especially helpful to keep smaller items organized. Make sure your bins are clear so you can easily see what’s inside if you don’t remember exactly where everything is. I love these wire, metal stackable ones from the container store.
Separate Gear Storage by Activity. Organizing gear by activity can help make packing and unpacking more efficient and less stressful. Take stock of the different activities you’re into and assign bins/space for each activity. I definitely have gear that I use for multiple activities, but I have separate sections for climbing gear, camp kitchen items, tents and camp chairs, sleeping pads, cleaning supplies and one space that contains multi-purpose gear.
Use Gear to Store Gear. Make your gear work for you. Don’t store your bear canister empty! I use mine to store camp kitchen gear. I store all of our stuff sacks in a Patagonia Black Hole Cube.
Keep It Fresh! Look, camping gear can get funky. You should always let your gear air out after coming home and wash it every once and awhile, especially at the end of the season. But sometimes, airing out isn’t enough to get rid of the funk and you don’t have the time or energy to do a full wash before your next adventure. Stick a few mild-scented dryer sheets in your sleeping bags and tents. I also like to take small empty bottles of essential oils and stick them in the armoire to keep it fresh. I try to use milder scents so my gear doesn’t actually take on the smell itself.
Did we miss your go-to camping gear storage hack? Leave a comment below and show us your gear closet by tagging @cascademtech in your photos on social!
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