Which are the Best Overlanding Storage Boxes?

On our extended road trip around Europe the greatest challenge has always been keeping the truck tidy, along with keeping the beers chilled and trying not to lose the firelighters.

Intro

We spent exactly a year (who’s counting?) living out of our Land Rover Defender during a prolonged road trip around Europe. In our quest for some order in the chaos, we tried out many different options – from the cheap and ridiculous to the sublimely competent – and this is what we found.

The BEST storage case is NOT the best storage case. But I’ll give you a quick clue if you’re looking for rapid answers – it starts with a Z.

The Spontaneous Camping Weekend!

We have all done that spontaneous Friday afternoon loadout of the truck. Where the aim is to hit the road within fifteen minutes and the idea is to get as far from the regimented structure of the daily grind and inject some free spirit into your time off. It feels incredibly impromptu and awesomely adventurous. So you randomly sling your gear into the vehicle as fast as possible and it all comes tumbling out at the other end of your road trip. 

The bomb site

But your campsite pitch looks like a bomb has gone off. With cooking utensils, clothing, and all your provisions scattered everywhere. And it’s a real struggle to find anything.

I’ll admit that I have done this numerous times in my youth, being victim to the elements, with wind gusts blowing through the camp taking many an item with it and depositing them yards away. 

Or how about a rainstorm coming through, and soaking everything that isn’t undercover? Like that last box of dry matches, your sleeping bag, or that packet of bread rolls that were supposed to be breakfast.

And where did I put the gas cooker? 

Having said all that, I’m sure we can all agree that a long-term (Overlanding) trip is a very different proposition compared to a quick weekend away.

So let’s have a quick look at some options to help you keep your pickup or 4×4 tidy so you have instant access to that bag of apples and instant coffee.

Zarges box

Fun fact. Two of these will fit side by side on a Defender roof rack, and they’ll happily live there exposed to the elements, hardly the worse for wear, for years.

We had a couple of low-line models on the roof, roughly 8” high and 22” square and they proved to keep anything in there dry and dust-free. We found them at an army surplus store (ex-German Army Communications unit). In fact, they stayed on our roof rack for over three years.

The pros include:

  • easily, and securely, stackable with those raised corners
  • they shrug off a scalding-hot one-pot-wonder fresh from the campfire. Try THAT with a plastic box.
  • multipurpose Swiss Army Knife (like benches to sit on or a table for meal prep).
  • you can mix and match sizes. 
  • REALLY sturdy handles
  • sturdy, thin-walled rigid aluminum material that gives optimum space efficiency
  • lockable with a small padlock inserted into the secure latches
  • can take a bit of a beating (and keep going).

Like most things, it’s not ALL good news, however. 

The Zarges storage boxes are:

  • a little heavier than other plastic options. 
  • and come with a higher price tag

But in terms of ease of use, dependability, and durability they are hard to beat. Let’s also check out a couple of final thoughts below.

Pelican

Well, let’s keep this one short since these don’t really need an introduction. They are mostly utilized by military and outdoor photographers because of their toughness, build quality and customizability.

The range of options is scroll-tastic. All types of sizes, shapes, and uses from a rifle case to a laptop and everything a wildlife photographer could ever wish for.

  • Excellent quality
  • Dust-proof, waterproof
  • A broad range of sizes and uses
  • Tough-as-nails – military proven
  • Not too heavy

It’s not all rosy though. Let’s not forget:

  • It IS quite an investment
  • The interior is quite a bit smaller compared to the exterior dimensions

If you can get past the price ticket (as with the Zarges cases) then these are arguably the best cases/boxes to protect your camping/expedition gear.

The question, in my mind, remains – is it overkill?

Wolf

In pure bang-for-the-buck terms, the Wolf boxes are a hands-down no-brainer, pretty hard to beat.

Obvious pros include  

  • Light
  • Compact
  • Stackable
  • Waterproof

The design of these boxes has come about through plenty of experience in the ‘outback’. They are not too big and have a nice, straight-angled shape that maximizes interior space while providing rigidity. They’re waterproof and don’t weigh much at all. A bonus is the option of a high-volume lid.

They are quite small – which means easy to lift and carry, but you may need more of them. Something else to think about is that they are nowhere near as tough as other options. Sure you can strap them to the roof rack, but the latches and general build are on a different level. I guess you need to compromise somewhere.

The cons:

  • Thin plastic 
  • Flimsy latches that break easily
  • You can’t sit on them (they will break)
  • The size is not really optimal (unless you rework your kit around them)

Plano Sportsman’s Trunk

Let’s view this as the ‘poor man’s Pelican’. This choice came about through a specific size requirement. Sleeping in our Land Rover demanded a bespoke level-floored interior with built-in storage.

We removed one side section of the boxes so we would be able to sit inside when it rained, but we needed to keep the storage while on the move. And then sleep inside the vehicle as well.

The Plano Sportsman’s Trunk (108 quarts) had the overall width and height of our equivalent permanent storage so it slotted in there well (or at least the external dimensions did). 

The pros:

  • Waterproof
  • Lightweight
  • Sturdy enough to sleep on (when the latches are closed)

the negatives

of the Plano box are maybe not obvious at first glance but include:

  • too many exterior tie-downs, latches, and handles
  • smaller inside than you think (the shape is very tapered)
  • a pair of useless wheels
  • thin, flimsy construction (when the lid is not latched) so sit on it at your peril
  • can it take a boiling hot kettle without damage?

So the box (moulding) takes up much more space than a regular square-sided box which makes the available storage far smaller than you might think. And if there is one thing a storage box needs to do it is to provide storage ‘space’ (the clue is in the name)…

The Cheap Storage Box

I am willing to put money on all of us having a couple of these lying around somewhere. Those cheap, clear-plastic storage solutions that we all have stashed under the bed, in the attic, or hidden in a bedroom cupboard. 

They are perfectly acceptable for keeping a semblance of order among the myriad of smaller items that seem to gather and grow in your home. 

They can be pressed into service as a cheap alternative to the dedicated travel storage boxes mentioned above, but let’s be realistic for a second here. Sure they are lightweight and extremely budget-friendly, but at what cost?

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Clear – you can see what’s inside
  • Lightweight – keep ‘em coming, no problem
  • Handy sizes

Cons

  • Flimsy construction
  • Damages easily
  • Can’t stack when full (they are too flimsy)
  • The lids break and crack

The best use

for these boxes is for organizing ‘the storage box’ itself. To create some order inside your sturdy travel boxes. And this is where the clear plastic comes in handy as well- so you can view the contents.

Separating the items helps you find that can of beans or a clean coffee mug or store those spare gas canisters for easy access.

For the money, a couple of these bad boys are a no-brainer.

So why the Zarges?

Let’s face it – aluminium beats plastic all day long.

It can take a beating, take a knock. It will dent instead of crack and is strong enough to sit on while remaining light enough to lift.

As I mentioned at the start, we had a couple of them bolted to the roof rack for years. This is perhaps not possible with a plastic box…

So, What are we looking for?

The basics are:

  • Dry storage
  • Lightweight
  • Ease of Use
  • Dustproof
  • Budget-friendly

If you can combine all of that then you got yourself a winner!

What we have (managed to) learned from years in the Land Rover Club (Holland) is that there is no definitive answer. There is no ‘one and only’. Camping and travelling are different for everyone – even if they’re driving the same car.

Some are happy to forge out into the Norwegian fjords with just an axe and a sense of humour. Others are committed to installing the best gear they can find into their truck, no matter the cost.

Who’s right or who’s wrong, you may ask yourself. And while you are in that frame of mind – ask yourself what you really need?

We have a mix of all the above boxes, mostly due to the evolving nature of our truck, and above all practicality and a certain size are the biggest considerations.

So, basically. Check your wallet. Shrug. Do the best you can. And get out there and enjoy the outdoors!