From cheap plastic tubs to roof racks, cages and everything in between we look at some of the common 4×4 storage options.
Storage in your 4×4 has become an art form over the years. From throwing everything in milk crates and lobbing it in the back of dad’s four-wheel drive when we were kids, to incredible modular setups, there are literally more options than you can shake a drawer system at. In this yarn, we’ll explain the different ways of storing stuff in your four-wheel drive. Everything from tubs to drawers, roof-racks and cages, and hopefully you’ll come away with an idea of what will work best for you.
Kicking off with what is usually the most cost-effective option; storage tubs. These can include everything from $5 tubs that work for storing your Christmas decorations as well as they do holding gear in your rig. Depending on how excited you want to get, tubs like this can be had at your local discount store for next to nothing, nest within each other while you’re not using them, and their lids will allow you to stack them, one on top of the other. This is the absolute bare bones storage option and suits a lot of people, simply due to their cost and simplicity. But bear in mind that the cheaper options won’t last long if they’re copping a lot of abuse. The plastic is usually thin and the latches prone to breaking. However, we’ve seen some at Bunnings from the Tactix range that look pretty good but won’t break the bank. Essentially, at the ‘cheaper end’ you get what you pay for. Tubs will work wonders if you don’t have the option for a permanently mounted storage solution, and you need to be able to remove everything out of your adventure rig because it’s also your daily driver too.
Next, we move up to more high-tech tubs. Something like Pelican/Rhino ‘space-cases’. They’re a decent quality plastic, will usually mount/stack together really well, and have internal seals with the ability to lock the outside of the case. A lot of the time, if you’re really struggling for room in your rig, smaller, less often needed gear can be relegated to a space-case and tied down to the roof of a four-wheel drive. These things are magic, however reasonably pricey, and some have metal components and hinges that can and will rust.
Injection moulded tubs
From there, we head over to the injection moulded tubs. As an example, the Expedition134 general-purpose boxes are a good bit of kit. They’re made from the same material and build processes as a set of injection moulded recovery boards. So they’re tough as nails, have no metal parts on them, are completely lockable, and will last the ages as they’re UV stabilised. They are also completely smooth inside, so cleaning and getting muck out of them is easy.
Super high-tech tubs/cases
Lastly for the ‘tubs’ are the proper space-age cases. I’ve got a couple of these in the Pelican brand that I use to store the laptop and camera gear when I’m out on the road. They’re near indestructible, are fully sealed (but come with pressure release valves for changes in altitude), and more often than not have high-density foam inserts to keep any delicate gear safe. These are the most expensive in our list of tubs, they don’t stack very well, nor do they nest together for storing them when they’re not being used. But they’re amazing for fragile gear; not so much for the frying pan or cooking gear.
Pros of tubs:
- Easy to use; and
- Different tubs for different jobs (camping/fishing/picnic/hunting etc).
Cons of tubs:
- Need to be lifted if you’re stacking them;
- Often brittle if they’re bouncing around;
- Easily forgotten (ask me how I know); and
- Stacking will usually require the same brands/sizes.
This is where things start to get pretty cool. Back in my day, a set of drawers were knocked together over a weekend with a couple of mates, using marine ply, more self tappers than we knew what to do with, and Teflon runners. Ball-bearing runners were a pipe dream, and if you actually cut the ply square, you missed your calling as a chippy. Thankfully, these days drawers can be had relatively inexpensively, and without needing to think about cutting straight. A set of drawers will only really benefit you if you’re able to leave them in-situ permanently, as at 50-80kg to a set of drawers, removing and replacing them when you need to fold the rear two seats in your seven-seater MU-X down just isn’t going to be an option.
Standard twin drawers
Most off-the-shelf drawer systems you’ll find incorporate a pair of drawers, that you can’t separate, made from a steel frame with MDF or ply top and front. They’re bloody heavy, and once you’ve put them in the four-wheel drive, chances are they’re staying there until the end of days. You’ll find (so long as you don’t own a Lada Niva) that you will be able to get ‘wings’ for the drawers, that’ll fill in the side panels, and give you a place to hide random gear (think jack, rags and spare brake fluid), or even a battery and DC-DC charger.
Going above and beyond the standard twin drawer setups, more than a few companies are now making modular drawers, so that you can run them side by side, or stacked one on top of the other; allowing you to set them up as you see fit. This is especially useful when you’ve got a fridge you want to run, but putting it on top of the drawers lifts it too high to get at without a step ladder.
Please. Stay away from cheap drawers. I’ll take it as a personal favour. I bought a set, on the idea that ‘they’re only $300… what could go wrong?’. Despite the bearings in the runners falling apart within the first month and the drawers no longer working, when I went to replace the bearings, the runners themselves, and the mounts for them were all fractured and buggered. Long story short, when I fronted up to the mob that sold them (chances are you know who I’m talking about), I was informed I had misused the drawers; as they are not supposed to be used every day as a set of drawers and that they wouldn’t warrant them. The drawers, at this stage, got torn out of the back of my 79 Series canopy and got left in the middle of their carpark. Suffice it to say I learned a valuable lesson that day, and now, I’m imparting it on to you.
Pros of drawers:
- Set and forget;
- Can be modular;
- Can have switches/compressors/batteries hiding in and on them; and
- Many wings are available for most makes.
Cons of drawers:
- Bloooooody heavy;
- Cheap ones are shit;
- Expensive ones are expensive; and
Roof storage options
Then you’ve got your roof. There are so many options for roof and top of tray/ute tub storage it’s not funny. It’s pretty much horses for courses, but we’ll run through them anyway. These became more prevalent with the introduction of rooftop tents, and taking a swag camping with you, as opposed to a smaller canvas or nylon tent.
Anyone who’s anyone has had roof racks on a vehicle in their life. They sit up there on the roof, do their thing, and carry the kayak or a length of timber once a year, and that’s that. In the four-wheel driving space, they get a little more use than that.
This is where things really took off in more recent times. About 15-20 years ago, nearly every bloke and his dog wanted (and had) a roof cage. They were mostly gutter mounted (as we all have four-wheel drives with gutters on them back then), though some were mounted directly to pre-existing roof racks, but they allowed you to put a lot of stuff on the roof. Anything from spaces cases and tubs as above, to swags, jerry cans and just about anything that could survive being in the weather. Then, there were roof platforms.
Bringing roof storage into the future has been roof platforms. The vast majority are made from alloy extrusion, weigh very little, don’t rust (like their steel counterparts) and honestly, just look good. They’ve all got a very modular design, with channels for tiedown points and accessory holders. They’re the duck’s guts as far as roof storage goes.
Something that is starting to become more popular are tub racks. These new-comers to the storage world fit over a standard style-side tub on a ute, and usually sit just under roof level. They mount to the top of the tub and offer an alternative to just a canopy over the top of the ute-back. More often than not, you’ll find a rooftop tent on these racks, and they get everything just that much lower, bringing the centre of gravity down, along with increasing aerodynamics with not having a rooftop tent up in the wind.
Pros of roof storage
- Heaps of storage area;
- Where else can you put solar panels, really?
- Lots of different options; and
- Perfect for bulky gear; swags, tents, etc.
Cons of roof storage
- Increased centre of gravity; if there’s something heavy up there, you need to think about it;
- Weight limit to the roof / gutters; and
- Increased drag means decreased fuel economy.
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