Milwaukee Packout, a few months in


#1

Now that the Packout system has been out for a while, I wanted to share some thoughts on it, in case anyone else is considering buying in, and start the discussion to see what everyone else thinks. Sorry for not including photos, my camera is giving me a hard time, so I’ll try to add some at some point.

Being primarily a DIY-er and helping friends, a lot of my toolbox use is simply carry the box from the car into a house, do stuff, then carry it back out. Not as bad as carrying it all over a jobsite day in and day out, but enough I’ve looked at rolling sets for some time. I’ve sat solidly on the fence about every rolling set I’ve come across though, they just all were either lacking something, or had something about them that made me hesitant. The husky soft bag rolling stack for example, nice, but just seems expensive for 3 soft sided bags, the smallest of which you can get for like $10 on special. Not waterproof, and they just don’t seem as durable as a hard case for loading them full of tools. I have regular soft husky bags as well, so it was like rebuying the small and larger size of that, just with one minor modification to make them play nice with the bottom rolling bag. The value just wasn’t there in my mind. DeWalt was the closest I came to getting a stack, it was solidly built, hard boxes, and they have exciting expansion plans for the line. The thing that made me hesitate was the lack of organization possibilities. Even with the upcoming drawers, there just isn’t the hand tool organization I wanted. The toolboxes are also pretty plain inside, which I know plenty of people like, and it lets you do whatever you want, but I like a little more organization or options for it. With any of those hard stacks, I’d probably have wound up still carrying a toolbag for hand tools, which kind of negates the purpose of the stack.

Enter the packout system. It is Milwuakee branded, which is my primary power tool line. I also use a lot of their hand tools, I prefer them more for taking places and beating up than the Wera and Knipex and such that I keep at home, and they’re also a bit better than like HDX, or even Husky or Kobalt. They have a good balance, just like DeWalt and Irwin as well, of quality and price; I’m not breaking a $25 Wera ratcheting screwdriver, but a $12 Milwaukee one, and it will work better and take more abuse (generally) than a $5 Kobalt. And since I’m usually the one using the tools when they go places, I’ll treat them better than tools I loan out, and it’s just nicer using nicer tools. So the colors match, that’s a plus. The part that tipped me into it though was the tool bags. Finally, I had the organization piece I wanted for hand tools, and it integrates so I don’t have to take a tool bag separate from the stack. The filling and icing on the cake is the organizers, along with the small packout toolboxes. I really love those small toolboxes because of the nice little dividers and containers and bins they put in there.

A nice thing with Packout too, that helped sell me, is the modularity. Other than the rolling bottom box, I can take only whatever I decide to throw on the stack for the day. Since what I’m doing is often different, this is a huge boon for me. Previously, I’d use a couple toolboxes, but basically have one general box and one that I’d reload with more specific stuff if needed for a particular job. With packout, I can use a different box for each of the main tasks/groups, and just throw them on the stack when needed. I still use the large bottom one as the one I reload with any job specific stuff I don’t have otherwise, plus with general power tools like drill, impact, hackzall, circular, etc. It actually makes things really easy, and lets me store all the other specific tools in their respective boxes instead of being strewn all over the place. Here’s how I broke it down:
15" toolbag: General hand tools
Small organizer: Electrical / electronics parts
Small organizer: Plumbing parts / Pneumatics parts for robotics
Large organizer: Job-specific parts - I like that the organizer bins are the same size as from the non-packout milwaukee organizers, which I already use at home, so I can just swap bins into the packout one to take whatever parts I need.
Small toolbox: Blades, consumables, safety, general tools
Small toolbox: Electrical
Medium toolbox: Plumbing
Medium toolbox: Job specific - alternates mostly between a Painting/Drywall loadout and Trim/Finishing. I’m debating getting another to put these in their own boxes, but I don’t use them that often, and swap between them even less, so it isn’t high on my priority list.
Large toolbox: Job specific / large tools

Now that I’ve been using it this way for a while, I have to say I have no regrets at all about spending the premium on the milwaukee over something like the DeWalt stack or similar. There are things I would change, additions I would like to see, or modifications, but on the whole, I’m very surprised by how sturdy, useful, practical, and well thought out the system is. You can see Stuart’s reviews and notes about what comprises each of the boxes with a quick search, so I won’t go into that. But I did want to share some additional thoughts from having used it for a few months, plus some wishlist items that would make these even better.

Let’s start at the bottom, with the large rolling toolbox. The wheels do make an indent as noted, which can make for some wasted space, but I actually weirdly like it. There’s almost a ledge in the back, and I wind up stacking batteries above there. I’ve seen other boxes that square off the wheel area, either by adding plastic or shrinking the box, I prefer having the wheels encroach but having a bigger box. I don’t find that it really adds slop space for things to bounce around like I thought it would. I stand up my common tools around the outside, put a canvas rollup of ratcheting wrenches in between the wheels, the batteries in the back, and then fill the middle. I’ll usually keep two or three soft bags in here, and either use them in the middle between tools standing up, or if I’m not taking much, just put the tools in the bags. This seems to help fill out the space, and keep the tools from bouncing around and into each other, plus it’s easy to just grab the bag with the tool I need (or two tools to a bag works nicely too), or for emptying it to get to stuff in the bottom I can just grab the bag or two, and pull them out easily and that’s half the box emptied right there. I like that I can roomily fit the M18 fan in there, or the handheld M18 vac, or the M18 15ga nailer, etc., it is roomy enough to hold larger or oddly shaped tools, without seeming like it’s taking up or wasting the entire box. With this size box, it’s big enough to the point where I’m okay with not having a lot of organization options, though the top bin is a nice touch. Not a whole lot I’d change with this bin, it works as your general open space dumping ground.

The medium toolbox is interesting in that it has that top handle that locks into place and can act as a stand to keep the lid propped semi open, and not laying on the ground in the back open. It even has a nifty feature where it will lock the lid closed with just the handle, so if you pick it up by the handle but forget to do up the latches, the box won’t fly open. In use I don’t think I’ve ever actually used that handle though. I either have a tool bag on top and carry it by that handle, or I’m carrying it by the side handles because it’s heavy, and the size makes it a tiny bit awkward for me anyway for carrying at my side with that handle. But the intention for it seems to be to make packout a carry-style capable toolbox instead of rolling, using this medium toolbox. You can stack other boxes under it, or I can fit an organizer on top and still carry it comfortably with the handle. Being able to fit the organizers inside the handle of this box is one example of the level of thought the must have gone into this system, assume people will carry one box and one height worth of organizer(s), and it still fits even if they want to use the handle. The small toolboxes don’t fit under the handle, but their lids are more robust anyway, so they work fine under the box. Inside the box, the milwaukee 16pc hole saw set I have takes exactly half the box width wise. It semi makes me wonder if Milwaukee purposely took the sizing of their accessory hard plastic cases into account in sizing this system, so i could fit precisely a certain number of drill bit sets or hole saw sets or the like, or if they just got amazingly lucky or sheer coincidence. I would like to see Milwaukee make use of the middle slot they have in this box, if only for something as simple as a plastic divider to divide it in half. Then I could put parts on one side, and tools on the other, or batteries half tools half, gas canisters, etc. A middle divider with pockets for putting hand tools or something in would be another awesome addition, then for smaller jobs if I just wanted to load up a few hand tools and the general power tools I put in the box anyway, I have the tool wall in the middle to do that in a semi-organized fashion. Actually making it only half, so pockets on one side and flat on the other would be nice, but thin enough I could put two in the slot so I can have pockets on either side or both if I so choose. Maybe something that fits over or around a plastic divider so I have the options of clear, plain divider, tool pockets on one side, or tool pockets on both sides, all from one “accessory”.

On to my favorite, the small toolbox. The bins with dividers and the covered container and open one on the sides are just awesome. That I can remove one side if I don’t need it, swap it around somewhat, and on the whole not really lose any space inside if I don’t want any of it is just awesome. I wish more toolbox makers would do something like this, instead of just the “here’s an extra handle-d bin you can put somewhere on top”. I also like that they didn’t force it on you, it probably would have been just as easy to mold at least the lower bin area with the inserts straight into the toolbox, rather than making it a removable bin with inserts. Using the removable bin though, I can completely remove it all and have the box wide open if I need. Not a lot I’d want to see change with this bin. It’d be neat to have a medium toolbox depth bin that uses the same side-bin-organizer methodology as this box, the extra depth would let me fit more stuff. There’s also slots for dividers here next to the outside bins. I wouldn’t use them personally since I wouldn’t remove the outside organizer bits, but it would be nice for some people I’m sure to separate off those end spaces, but with a divider instead of having to use their bins. This box goes back to people saying all this organization wastes space, can’t fit as much stuff in, but having stuff stay where I put it, in its own compartment somewhat, I actually really like.

Organizers. Having two sizes is awesome. Making it take the same bins as the non-packout organizers is even more awesome, I can just swap the bins between the two. Not adding the raised lip in the middle of the middle so I can fit two small bins or a long one instead of only one long one, not so awesome. I haven’t found this to be of great frustration to me, since I usually can use the larger bin at least for something, but it’s the only thing in the entire system that is like ugh. I’m sure they had a reason for doing it, but looking at it with my own limited guesses, the only reason I can think is so they could put the Packout logo in the larger open space, rather than putting it kind of cramped inside one square. But the bottoms of the boxes seem designed to work with squares, so maybe a version 2 of the organizers one day will fix this? My only other comment on the organizers, is with the lids. They’re clear, which is basically a necessity on organizers anymore. But they’re a tiny bit flimsy, at least on the full-width organizer, which comes from it not having support in the middle. It’s not as in I think they’re going to break with regular usage or anything, but more I’m just a tiny bit scared to pile a fully loaded half-width unit on top of the full organizer unit because of it. Even stacking multiple fully laden toolboxes (full width) on top of any organizer combination seems just a tiny bit "ehh’. I don’t know if beefing up the lids of the organizers a tiny bit more would help with this, and it’s not bad by any means, just a tiny bit of improvement would make a world of difference to my peace of mind. The half-width organizers are actually pretty okay, because the edge of the box and lid provides extra support, so I have no qualms with them really. I think the main squeamishness is putting a heavy half-width unit on top of a full width organizer. So like heavily laden half-width organizers and/or a loaded up half-width toolbag on top of the full width organizer. Maybe the bins inside are intended to provide the lid support, but because of tolerances only after the lid compresses a bit, I just don’t know. And it’s right on that borderline of even a couple months in, I’m still being careful of doing an arrangement like that. I’ve done it a few times carefully, and haven’t had any issue, none of my organizers are any worse for it, so it’s probably perfectly okay in real life.

I only have the 15" toolbag (the medium one, that is half width, but not the tiny one), so I can’t talk to the others. For my purposes, it’s a perfect size, and I find the pocket layout to be sufficient for my uses. I’m growing to like the completely open second side, it makes it really easy to throw a drill and battery or other tool in there real quick, and then only carry the toolbag to wherever I’m working. I imagine this was Milwaukee’s intent in design, the side with the pockets fits just about everything I could reasonably want to fit in one bag at a time. Then the open side lets you fit larger items, or be able to throw in items quickly without having to work around pockets, or stuff them in pockets. On mine, I stitched in some 3/8" socket racks on the end of the open pocket, so i have common sizes of 3/8" metric and SAE sockets right there, which has been a challenge in my other tool bags. I’ve always had to do something similar, sewing in a socket holder, though not every back has been as accomodating to it as this one. It’s also nice to be able to just stuff gloves and whatever else in the open side. So I guess as much as I love organization, I dislike too much organization? I don’t know how that works, but I think Milwaukee made the right choice in putting pockets only on one side, and leaving the other side open, I find it incredibly useful. Better even than the husky bags that have unobtrusive pockets on the inside of the bin so I can use them if I want, or ignore them nicely if I don’t. The side with the pockets has plenty of them, at various levels, and they aren’t super tight like some bags, nor are they overly loose to where they let my tools go everywhere. The connection of the center handle to the outside of the bag is my only point of interest here, the center wall is rigid, but it isn’t solid through to the outside of the bag; the inner wall is riveted to the outer box which leaves just a little bit of movement possible there. My concern with that if I’m lifting a heavy bag maybe with an organizer or two on the bottom, is those rivets tearing out. The bag feels plenty solidly built, so I’m not particularly worried about it, it’s just interesting Milwaukee chose to go that route instead of making an entire structure including the handle and box, or using some other attachment method like screws through the rigid plastic or metal of the middle.

Overall, good impressions. Honestly not a lot I can think of to change with the existing boxes. Though I’m sure we’ll get new versions that have all sorts of stuff I haven’t thought of, they’ve been serving my needs quite well now for nearly three months. But that brings us to looking forward, outside of the existing boxes. This is where I think Milwaukee is headed anyway, saying “this is just the beginning”, and likewise where I see the most opportunity. I think they have a compelling package as is, and I wouldn’t ditch it if they didn’t do any of these extra things, but I think packout has a lot of potential as a platform, so hopefully milwaukee takes full advantage of that to wow the market.

  1. Packout compressor. If you’ve stumbled across my comments elsewhere on this site occasionally, you know I would just love for Milwaukee to come out with a compressor (though the FlexVolt one is superb, and I might not actually change over). But if they did one that was like the size and form factor of a medium packout toolbox, AND cordless… I’d buy it as soon as I saw it. The only thing I haven’t liked with other storage stack system compressors is the lack of thought of portability outside the stack. The medium toolbox has a handle, keep that for the compressor unit, and I’ve got a good, portable, cordless compressor that also fits on my packout stack.

  2. Packout vacuum. Just like the compressor, but maybe even more important, a vacuum is an essential tool on any job. Might as well be able to put it on my rolling tool shop. I can see them following suit with the other lines and making one in a stack container form factor, maybe another like the size of the medium packout toolbox. But I don’t think it has to be that complicated actually. I’d be perfectly happy with a replacement bottom bin for my M18 wet/dry vac that puts packout latches on the bottom only. Don’t even worry about making the top packout compatible, just let me attach it half-width-style on top of my stack, so I can remove it and use it. Right next to the medium toolbag. A slight resize of the vacuum might be needed to make it fit a little better, but the new one with the internal hose storage I would be okay with having stick over a bit, just for sake of simplicity. Heck, make a glue-on latch and catch set and I’ll just glue the square pieces and the latch to the bottom of my M18 vac and be a happy camper.

  3. Workbench top. This is maybe a more out there one, but I think a packout stack would make a good small work table. It doesn’t have to be bigger than the stack at all, just make like a half width and full width “topper” piece that is basically just a packout attachable wood workbench top. 2 inches thick, plus the inch of plastic holder for the packout bits, this would be awesome. I can plop my stack down somewhere, use the full width top as long as it was even across, and be able to have a mini worktable for doing like soldering or maybe even make it so I can screw or clamp a bench grinder or bench sander onto it. Which leads right in to…

  4. Miter saw stand adapter. The packout stack is surprisingly stable, and can get reasonably tall (and adjust the height easily by adding or removing boxes). What else do I use on a stand or bench besides grinders or sanders or drill presses or band saws or the like…? Miter saws and table saws! It might be a bit tall for a table saw adapter to make sense, by the time you get above the handle on the bottom unit, but it would be a good height for a miter saw! The 7 1/4" miter saw might actually fit pretty good right on top of a packout stack, making a quick and easy miter saw stand for when you need it, just clip it right on top.

  5. Stereo. My personal least priority, but DeWalt makes one, as do other lines, so I’ll put it on here. Maybe make this a half-width unit and put sound out the front and back, and ignore the sides. Maybe make it a full width unit with 360 degree sound. I can’t say I’d use it, unless it was priced pretty low and sounded really good. I’d rather throw the M12/M18 bluetooth speaker in my toolbox, or an amazonbasics one I don’t care about, or the M12 one if I’m only carrying M12 tools that day, and that would be good enough for me. Plus I can take it anywhere, use it away from the stack without being semi-weird, and it would be smaller. And I feel like in general it would be cheaper, so easier to upgrade as better sounding units come out. Of course I would also be the guy that would just build a stereo onto a packout toolbox if I wanted one that much, even power it off an M18 or M12 battery… maybe turn it into a packout cooler stereo so I can have some suds and some tunes at the same time.

  6. A drawer unit or smaller compartment organizer. This might not work as well with Packout as it is in Dewalt’s stack, or some of the other stacks that just aren’t the same magnitude in size, but it’d be nice to have. I’ll lump an organizer with smaller compartments in the same category, although it loses a lot top and bottom to packout mounting, a thin organizer (or maybe two-sided one?) with small compartments would be nice. Same way i can put 10 drawers with 2 dividers each in a unit, something with like 30 compartments per side for tiny little electronics bits would be awesome. Like the Plano or Husky parts boxes but attachable to packout. Maybe actually something like a tackle box idea, where it has little parts boxes inside that I slide into and out of a packout unit that holds them, that would be pretty cool and useful.

  7. Cooler / Lunchbox. Now that we have a semi-expensive jobsite lunch containment unit, packout-a-tize it! I can take my cold Dr. Pepper’s with me to silly friend’s places who do not keep stock of drinkable beverages other than water for thirsty helpful friends.

  8. Fan mount. The M18 fan could have the provisions on the bottom to mount half-width on a packout stack. No more trying to find a 2x4 or nail or whatever to put your fan on to get it on your level. Blowing up from the floor never seems to get my face as well as blowing down from above, or at least semi-level. Just getting it 2 feet off the floor helps. A packout stack is a perfect place to be able to throw a fan on top once you’re in place.

  9. Light mount. Just like the fan, make a light we can mount on top of a packout unit. Bonus points for making it expandable into a tower light like the rocket, just mounted on the packout for a sturdy base. Bonus-er points for making it like the newer M18 rover that I can aim it anywhere easily. Ultra bonus points for getting the lumens over 9000. Just kidding on that last one, but a lot of this boils down to that to me, packout is a good sturdy base for putting things on. Lighting among it, and again just like the fan, getting it off the ground usually is huge for me for a light. But not having to find a 2x4 or other mounting location or magnetized location would be cool. Just stick it on the top of your packout stack, and presto, it’s up at like waist height now at least, which seems to help in a surprising number of situations. Adding a tower to let you extend it up higher would be even better. A neat idea would be to let the tower hang over the side of the packout stack, like take where the handle and power button is on a rocket tower light, and expand that piece into a half-width packout container that holds the batteries maybe, but then it extends out to the side of the overall packout stack, and that gives you the room to put in a whole tower apparatus. With some smart design, you could maybe make it removable from the packout attacher so it works just like a regular rocket light, with the tripod legs, but the battery box moved up to the handle area. The packout attacher with 18V hookup could then be the base of a whole host of mountable things, kind of like the side of Ryobi’s garage door opener… a general 18V-holder half-width box, then you just plug a fan or a light or a speaker or whatever into either side of it!

  10. Non-toolbox 4-wheel rolling dolly/cart. Make a dolly that is just a rolling base, but isn’t a toolbox. Having the large toolbox also roll and be the base makes sense for a start. One think I like about systainers and lboxxes and the like though are the 4-caster dollies so i can just roll a stack of stuff around. This means I’m not forced into using the large toolbox if I don’t want, and I can change it from a two wheel tilt style roll to a 4-wheel locking caster style roll. Lboxxes have it, Systainers have it, Tstak has it, and I’ve seriously considered those systems for this specific piece, though none are particularly on my radar until i get a house and know exactly what I want for overall workshop organization, and I’ll pick one system and just what I need for it. In my mind, this type helps enable things like drawer units, since you can access them from the front, which makes more sense for a stack on 4 wheels than a tilting stack with a lid that has to open on the bottom. It also means I can roll around 6 small toolboxes instead of a large and three smalls if I want, and I do love the small packout toolboxes.

I suppose we’ve strayed a little far from the realm of probability there, but I truly think the power of packout, or the competitiveness of any of the brands of storage stacks is going to be in what add-ons they can add to it next. Festool has the dust extractor systainer, a compressor systainer, DeWalt has a radio toughsystem piece, and the power station that attaches to the top of one. Once the storage bases are covered, it’s all about what else you can do with it. Packout, at least to me and my usage, makes sense competing with the sortainer type systems as it kind of currently is, but also branching off as like a mobile workcenter type thing, enabled by its larger footprint and sturdiness, where I can use it as the base to support other tools on the jobsite. My super awesome stack I just came up with would be the cart on the bottom, maybe no cart even, a compressor as the bottom box, a vacuum as the second, a set of drawers as the third, then a tower light that I can put on the back of some sort of modular box fourth (with another box to make a full-width surface of course), then a miter saw mounted on top of all of that. I can cut my trim, the dust goes straight into the vacuum, blow off my saw and work area, run a nailer to put it up, and do it all at night, or during a power outage with a tower light I can shine down on the saw from over my head, or aim at where I’m working if it’s dark or there isn’t power or light yet or something.

What about everyone else, if you have Packout, what do you think so far? What else would you like to see them add, or any modular tool box system add for that matter?


#2

Really nice review and good suggestions!

I like the 15" bag too, I don’t like the way the 20" tote locks into the stack. Besides that, I’ve only been really using the rolling bin and the large and small organizer.


#3

Wow. That’s a great novel you wrote! I’m using the packout as well. I have the three size boxes and the small screw organizer. I like the durability so far. I had some trouble with water getting into the large box (where I keep my Milwaukee power tools) and that didn’t make me all that happy, but I had the same issue with the Tough System. So far I think its a great system, but I would like that desktop that you were speaking about.


#4

Hi there everyone,
I bought the packout system + organiser and tote bag. Overall very happy I swapped all my dewalt gear for Milwaukee.BUT the catch for the lid on the rolling box has started to split only a few weeks in who do I make a warranty claim against is it the retailer or the manufacturer. If I get the same service as when I returned my circular saw I’ll be a happy bunny. Broke late Friday afternoon collected from my house 9am Monday and returned Wednesday 9-30am also changed the brushes while they had it well done Milwaukee.