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How to organize your outdoor gear

It's time to do some spring cleaning. 

It's time to do some spring cleaning. 

SolStock/Getty Images

Activities like camping, hiking, backpacking (or bikepacking), cycling, and climbing (among others) often come with the need for a variety of stuff — lots of stuff. Those of us who enjoy such things have probably accumulated enough gear to outfit ourselves (and a few of our closest friends), for almost any outdoor adventure. Gear begets gear, after all. 

And all of those things take up an inordinate amount of space when stored — space that (if you’re at all like me) could probably benefit from some organization. Especially if, also like me, you live in an apartment and do not have a garage but rather, a humble, outdoor gear closet in your spare bedroom. Outdoor gear is rarely uniform in size and shape, making it especially prone to ending up in messy piles and tangled assortments of unrelated and random things — which all, in turn, makes finding what you need when you need it challenging. 

The good news is that with some sorting, time, and a trusty labeler, you, too can organize your outdoor gear. Here’s how to get started. 

Sort, repair and discard (if needed)

The first step to any organizational project is to take out all of the stuff and sort through it. Check to see if anything needs to be repaired and, if you aren’t inclined and/or equipped to do it yourself, send it off to a professional. If you have old gear you no longer use, consider donating it. Companies like Patagonia, The North Face and REI all offer opportunities to turn in and recycle old gear.

If you have things like old bike tubes, climbing ropes, or wetsuits, ship them to Green Guru Upcycling who will use them to manufacture eco-friendly bags and other items.

Once you’ve decided what you need (and want) to keep, sort by activity, purpose, or season. I like to separate gear by activity and have a storage bin (or two) for each one: bikepacking, camping, trekking, etcetera. Other people like to sort things according to purpose such as cooking/eating, sleep systems, rain coverage, and the like.

I also have one container for gear that isn’t necessarily specific to one activity; things like a small first aid kit, head lamp, fleece hat, and duct tape. No matter how you sort your items, label each bin so you know what’s inside. 

Figure out a designated place for each item or collection of items. If you don’t have a spot to put things away in, it’s easy for them to become unruly and disorganized. You know the old saying, “everything in its place and a place for everything”? Well, it pertains to all your adventure gear too.  

Storage bins

Many people use large plastic heavy duty totes like these from Rubbermaid to store their gear. They’re stackable, durable, and waterproof. To keep your stuff dry and mildew free, add a few packets of silica gel to each bin.

In the gear closet in my apartment, I don’t have the space for totes this large so I use these fabric bins from Sorbus. They have a clear window on one side so you see the contents and carry handles on either end making them easy to maneuver.

Pegboards with various hooks

If you have wall space, a pegboard with hooks is a great way to store and organize packs, climbing gear, ropes, and helmets.

Shelving brackets

You can also use shelf brackets (minus the shelves) to hang backpacks and climbing ropes. These from Rubbermaid are the kind that snap into a wall track allowing you to modify the height of the brackets easily as needed.

Use side space on shelves to hang things

If you have a shelf to house your bins such as this industrial strength one from Seville, utilize the side space to hang larger and bulkier items with carabiner hooks.

Over the door shoe racks

These are not just for shoes; use this door shoe rack for small items like headlamps, compasses, hats, and gloves.

Pre pack bags

If you have certain gear you only use for one activity, store it inside the bag you use for that particular adventure. That way you’ll always know where those items are and will be less likely to forget something essential (theoretically).

I keep an assortment of stuff sacks inside my hiking backpack, as well as an emergency shelter, water purifier, and trekking poles.

However you decide to organize your outdoor gear, make sure it’s a system that makes sense to you and your space. As a New Yorker, I have to be very conscious of how much new gear I bring into my already full apartment. On the positive side, though, my storage space constraints keep my gear buying tendencies in check, as well as ensuring that if I do purchase something new, I very likely need to also let go of an older piece of equipment. I mean how many tents does one person really need?

On second thought, don’t answer that.