The coin-colored Subaru Impreza sits low with the weight of metal and plastic and human flesh. We drive purposefully south, into the good weather window we hope will carry us all the way to the summit of Tahoma (Mount Rainier). Going into the weekend, so full of anticipation and excitement, the five of us never imagined that loading the car would be the crux of the trip.

A summit ski of Tahoma is no small feat, and our collective pile of gear proudly demonstrates our lofty goals. Two tents, four pairs of skis, splitboard, five sets of boots, two stoves, five sleeping pads and bags, three cans of fuel, 10-plus Mountain House meals, 5-plus pounds of GORP, and a pile of skins, poles, ice axes, backpacks, and many warm layers of down and Gore-Tex sit outside the lonely trunk, waiting to become fast friends. Good thing we’re a group of Elder Millennials, raised on the Dewey Decimal system and rotary phones and simple video games like Tetris. We got this.

It would appear we’re at 90 percent capacity with 30 percent of the stuff still remaining on the ground.

Knowing that we’re working with a small hatchback trunk and a large rocket box, we first set about building a solid base. Into the box go our long things (the blue squares of the 4-box long-polyomino, if you will), and the base of the trunk is packed with our mostly flat duffel bags and tents. Next, come the backpacks, oblong and lopsided, stuffed in with each other to create a bigger, cohesive piece.


Stepping back to survey our progress, it would appear we’re at 90 percent capacity with 30 percent of the stuff still remaining on the ground. I’m not a math major, but I don’t think that works out. Now it’s time to get creative.

The six-pack of IPA is separated, with beer cans put ever-so-gingerly into ski boots. Yeah, I know it’s gross in there but desperate times call for desperate measures. A backpack is yanked from the trunk, half of its contents pulled out in a flurry to fill the gaps in the roof box, plugging up every last holdout of air. It’s shoved back in place, and now we have room for a helmet, our happy bowl holding Whiskey and gloves.

Last we have boots. Separated briefly from their partners, these are pushed and shoved into the strangest of positions. We go to great efforts to put the most aromatic pair in the roof box.


Now we’ve come to the trickiest, most delicate bit: the trunk closure. Five brave hands hold items in place as the trunk is closed as far as it can be, then, with a count of three, the hands pull away and the door is slammed closed.

Triumphant, we climb into the car, the remaining 12 percent of crap piled on our laps and thrown over shoulders into the only-accessible-from-the-inside spare holes in the hatchback. I’m pretty confident this is what it feels like to Level Up.

A winning Car-Tetris score. Photo: Ciari


Tips for Car-Packing Tetris Success:


• Play to your strengths. Every member of the group has something to offer your packing. Figure out strengths and designate roles, then stay in your lane. If you opt to have one Packer, respect the Packer’s directions and let them do their work. Be a team.

• Mix things up. Just because something came as a set does not mean it needs to remain a set for the duration of your drive. Unpack bags and separate boots. It’ll be fine. You’ll figure it out when you get there. Just don’t leave anything sitting on the roof (or under the car, or on the kitchen table dammit I knew I should have put that with my car keys!).

• If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Tetris can be stressful. If you go at it too fast at full bore you might get ahead of yourself. Don’t be afraid to stop, take a breath, try again. You may have made a bad decision but you can fix that. Pull out a bag, shove in a boot. Try until you get it. And if everything doesn’t fit, you are probably taking too much stuff. You can fix that problem by taking less stupid stuff.

Read more from Kristina Ciari at Occasionally Epic.