By Jakob Schiller | Jun 12, 2018
Original Article Published here in OutsideMagazine.com
Trucks are expensive. Like, stupid expensive. So it might feel like a slap in the face to be told you should spend an extra grand or more on a set of drawers for the bed. But hear me out. They make a huge difference for anyone who likes to play outside. Mine have quickly become one of my favorite upgrades.
First, a primer. Drawers are covered organizational bins that live full-time in the bed of your truck and slide out on rails, much like the drawers in your dresser. Most systems have two side-by-side double covered drawers that take up the entire length and most of the width of the bed, while topping out at about a foot high. Many are waterproof, so you can use them without a camper shell and won’t have to worry about rain; most lock to keep your gear safe; and most are rated to withstand heavy weights, so you can stack lots of gear on top. Customizable options also exist, but more on that later.
I’m a fan because drawers are great organizational tools. Just like the Rubbermaid bins and Wolf Packs in my garage, they ensure my gear has a designated spot and can always be found. As our Gear Guy, Joe Jackson, has argued, organization isn’t just nice for peace of mind—it also helps you get out the door faster. Less rummaging means more time on the trail.
Right now, I own a 2005 short-bed Tacoma, and all my truck-related tools are in the larger of my two DECKED system drawers ($1,150). (DECKED offsets the drawers to make one wider and one skinnier.) The bigger drawer, which is 18 inches wide and 53 inches long, has approximately 140 liters of space and holds the tow straps I use to pull people out of the snow, a large set of tools in case something breaks, jumper cables in case I leave the dome light on, gloves for when it’s cold, an extra jacket, all my ratchet straps, my breaker bar for changing a tire—you get the idea. If I were to stuff that drawer with camping gear, it could easily hold four sleeping bags, four pads, and a big six-person tent. The smaller drawer, which is 53 inches long and 11 inches wide and has approximately 86 liters of space, can hold two bags, two pads, and a four- or five-person tent.
I’ve made the mistake of packing the bread in the middle of my truck bed, forcing me to unload everything on the side of the road so I can make a sandwich for lunch. Drawers, on the other hand, slide all the way out, so I can always access the bread without setting up an impromptu highway-side yard sale.
I chose a side-by-side double-drawer DECKED system for my Tacoma because the layout offers a lot of storage, and because they lay flat and come with a high-strength, polyethylene plastic full-bed platform upon which I can stack up to 2,000 pounds of gear. Thanks to that weight rating, I never have to worry about crushing the drawers below, even when I throw Yeti coolers full of beer and La Croix on top.
There’s no right or wrong way to organize a two-drawer system. Walt Wagner, who owns Tactical Application Vehicles, an expedition and overland shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, likes the high-strength, double-drawer aluminum Alu-Cab models ($900) and often keeps one drawer “clean” and one “dirty.” Tools and recovery gear go in the dirty drawer, and things like clothes, sleeping bags, and cooking gear go in the clean drawer.
Over the years, I’ve seen some creative two-drawer organizational strategies. Grayson Schaffer, an Outside editor-at-large and co-owner of the production company Talweg Creative, has a Toyota Tundra outfitted with DECKED drawers like mine. On a recent multi-day film trip that involved lots of camping, he and his crew stuffed one slide-out drawer with nonperishable food. They had everything from licorice to sweet potatoes in there, creating an easy-access pantry. The other drawer was reserved for cameras. He used padded F-Stop Internal Camera Unit bags to store bodies and lenses. Other photographers often use reinforced plastic Pelican cases with customizable padded inserts.
If you don’t want to go with the standard two-drawer system, there are lots of other options. You could make your own if you have the carpentry skills, or you could make a hybrid slide-out like those of photographer Stuart Palley, the country’s best-known wildland fire photographer. He outfitted his Tacoma with a Bedslide (starting at $900), a shelf that slides out but doesn’t have sides or a top like a drawer. On the slide, Palley stores a large camera case with three DSLRs and lots of lenses, plus two drones, and he covered it with a DIY plywood shelf that holds his other camping and fire gear.
“I didn’t want to be limited by the size of premade drawers, which is why I went with my own option,” Palley says.
Goose Gear, run by Brian Fulton, a cabinetmaker by trade, offers a number of different drawer systems for trucks, Toyota 4Runners, and Jeeps. Fulton says one of his most popular is the Camp Kitchen 2.0 ($1,700), a large drawer that houses a slide-out mobile fridge and stove down below and a storage shelf up top. The drawer itself is not customizable—it’s always built the same way—but where you place it in your truck is totally up to you.
Fulton says he designed this setup because he hated having to unload his fridge from the bed of the truck every time his family stopped for lunch or his daughter wanted a soda. Access to food and his stove was most important, and he felt the standard side-by-side drawers often took up unnecessary space.
Fulton and Wagner both say that when you’re ready for drawers, try to backwards plan. Start by figuring out which drawers will fit your truck or SUV. Decked, for example, makes drawers for lots of full- and midsize trucks, but its gear will not fit in a 4Runner because there isn’t enough trunk space. Front Runner makes lots of options for Jeeps, Toyota Land Cruisers, and Land Rovers, while Goose Gear has options that will fit most off-road vehicles.
Next, think hard about what you’ll be carrying, where you’ll be carrying it, and how much gear you realistically need to haul along. If you’re carrying big-ticket camera or hunting equipment, for example, Tuffy makes bombproof steel drawers that are pretty much impossible to break into. But all that steal is heavy and eats up lots of gas. If you’re going to be off the grid for a long time, the newer and soon-to-be-released version of the Alu-Cab drawers are designed to hold a water container up front. For daily driving, I love the Decked drawers because they’re lightweight and don’t bog my truck down.
Like any gear, it’s an easy trap to pick the most complicated, feature-rich setup because you think you need all the bells and whistles. And it’s also easy to load your drawer system with every piece of gear known to man, just in case. Don’t do it. All that extraneous stuff will ultimately slow you down and make life harder, not easier.
“I definitely think less is more with drawers,” Fulton says. “I try to help people figure out what they need and discard anything extra.”