When you’re living out of a backpack or suitcase, it’s easy to get disorganized. Your luggage is always crammed full. You never seem to have enough room for everything you need. If you need to reach something in the bottom of your bag, you have to take everything else out. This is where packing cubes come in. They keep you organized and save space in your bag. That said, packing cubes are somewhat controversial among travelers. Some travelers love them. Others find them to be pointless. This guide answers the questions: Are packing cubes worth it? Do packing cubes really save space?
To find the answers, we’ll list the pros and cons of packing cubes. We’ll cover organization, weight, cost, packing and unpacking time, convenience, and more. We’ll also examine whether or not packing cubes save space. This guide covers both standard packing cubes and compression packing cubes.
What are Packing Cubes?
Packing cubes are small rectangular bags that are designed to keep your clothing and travel gear organized inside your backpack or suitcase. They can also compress your clothing so you can use the space in your luggage more efficiently. Packing cubes also help to prevent wrinkles. Clothes don’t unfold and bunch up while they’re in a packing cube. They stay in place.
Most packing cubes are made from thin and lightweight fabrics. They often feature a mesh section on the lid. This allows for ventilation. It also allows you to see what’s inside the bag without opening it.
Packing cubes open and close with a long zipper that goes around 3 sides of the bag. The lid flips open. Kind of like a miniature suitcase. Some simply open with a large zipper around the edge, like an envelope. To fill your cubes, you simply fold or roll your clothes, place them inside, then zip the cube up.
Packing cubes come in a range of shapes, sizes, colors, and materials. Most models are rectangular. They are often sold in sets of 3-4 bags with small, medium, and large sizes. Different sizes are suitable for different types of clothing and different luggage types. Most packing cubes are made from synthetic fabric such as nylon or polyester. Some are made from plastic.
Each packing cube has its own purpose. You might pack shirts in one, pants in another, and socks and underwear in another. You can also use packing cubes to organize other travel gear such as cables and chargers or toiletries.
Using packing cubes is kind of like adding drawers to your backpack or suitcase. You pack your clothing and travel gear inside of the packing cubes then place the cubes in your luggage.
Packing cubes are used by all types of travelers including business travelers, vacationers, digital nomads, long-term travelers, and even day trippers. They are versatile pieces of travel gear. Packing cubes are also known as luggage cubes.
What are Compression Packing Cubes?
Compression packing cubes are a specific type of packing cubes. Compression packing cubes compress the air out of your clothing. This allows you to pack your clothes much more densely.
When you use compression packing cubes, you can fit more clothes in the same amount of space. Using compression packing cubes can reduce the volume of your clothes by 20-30%.
You might be able to fit an extra pair of pants and a couple more shirts in the same piece of luggage. Alternatively, you can use a smaller piece of luggage.
Several different styles of compression packing cubes exist.
- Zippered compression cubes- These look like regular packing cubes. The difference is that they have a second zipper around the side. This allows you to zip the bag closed in a compressed state. To fill the bag, you open the main zipper, place your clothes inside, and close the bag normally. You then press down on the top of the bag while closing the second compression zipper. This compresses the air out of your clothes and holds them flat.
- Stuff sack style compression bags- These are stuff sacks with straps on the sides that you can tighten to compress the bag. You place your clothes inside, tighten the draw cord on top, then crank down on the 4 side straps to compress the bag. These bags are usually cylindrical in shape.
- Plastic compression bags- These are airtight plastic bags with one-way valves. You place your clothes inside, seal the bag closed, then squeeze the air out through the one-way valve to compress your clothes.
- Vacuum compression bags- These require a vacuum cleaner to suck the air out of the bag. These can work well if you need to pack a lot of clothing.
Compression cubes are designed only for soft items that can compress, such as clothing. You won’t want to store rigid items that won’t compress, such as books or electronics, in your compression cubes.
Pros of Packing Cubes
Are packing cubes helpful? There are plenty of reasons to use packing cubes. In this section, I’ll outline the main benefits.
Packing Cubes Keep Your Luggage Organized
Organization is the primary purpose of packing cubes. Packing cubes allow you to easily organize your clothing and travel gear within your backpack or suitcase.
For example, you can use one cube for shirts, one for socks and underwear, one for pants, and one for chargers and cables. This makes it quick and easy to find things in your luggage.
Because everything is separated into 3-4 cubes, you don’t have to dig through all of your stuff to get to the one item that you need. You simply remove the individual cube, unzip it, take out what you need, then put it back. Everything stays neatly folded in its place.
If I need a clean t-shirt, I know exactly where it is in my luggage. It’s in my medium-sized packing cube. I don’t have to dig through my pants, socks, and jacket to get to it. I don’t have to memorize where it is in my bag as long as I know which cube it’s in.
Packing cubes can also help you stay organized if you’re sharing a suitcase with someone else. For example, if you’re a couple, each person can use different colored packing cubes so you easily know whose stuff is whose. Packing cubes can also come in handy if you’re traveling with kids. You can use packing cubes to color code each child’s clothing.
You can also use packing cubes to separate clean laundry from dirty laundry. This helps your clean clothing stay fresher. Many packing cube sets come with a special dirty laundry cube.
These ingenious clean/dirty packing cubes from Magictodoor have two compartments. One is for clean clothes and the other is for dirty clothes. The two compartments are separated by a layer of fabric that blocks smells from passing through.
Without packing cubes, your nicely folded clothing becomes a crumpled mess when you pull something out of the bottom of your bag. You have to dig through all of your clothes or completely unpack to find what you need. It’s a hassle. Clean and dirty clothes can also mingle.
There are a number of ways to organize your packing cubes. It will take some trial and error to figure out what works for you. I like to keep all of my shirts in a medium-sized cube, pants and shorts in a large cube, and socks and underwear in a small cube. I pack my down jacket and rain jacket in a stuff sack. Some people like to organize their cubes into outfits. This can work well for business travelers.
Packing Cubes Save Space in Your Luggage
Packing cubes allow you to slightly compress your clothing if you pack the cubes full. The cubes also keep your clothes tightly rolled or folded. This allows you to pack more densely, saving you a bit of space. I would estimate that using packing cubes can reduce the volume of your clothing by 5-10%.
If you need to save more space, you’ll want to use compression packing cubes. These compress the air out of your clothing. This greatly reduces the amount of volume that your clothes take up inside of your luggage.
Compression packing cubes can reduce the volume of your clothing by about 20-30%. How much space you can save depends on the fabrics your clothes are made of. Some fabrics compress better than others.
The benefit of compressing packing cubes is that they allow you to fit more in your backpack or suitcase. With the space you save, you could fit an extra pair of shoes, a jacket, some extra t-shirts, or an extra pair of jeans.
Alternatively, you could get away with using a smaller piece of luggage because your clothing takes up less volume when it’s compressed. For example, maybe you can transition from a 50 liter backpack to a 40 liter backpack. This would allow you to travel with a carry-on bag. You wouldn’t have to check your luggage.
Compression packing cubes are popular among one bag travelers who don’t like to check luggage. You can pack a lot more clothing in your small carry-on when your clothing is compressed. If you’re trying to step down from a large suitcase to carry-on luggage, compression cubes are a great option.
Compression packing cubes are also ideal for those traveling in a cold climate or through multiple climate zones or seasons. You can compress your bulky cold weather clothing, such as a puffy jacket. If the weather is warm, you can compress all the cold-weather clothing you don’t need.
When the weather turns, you can decompress it and compress your warm weather clothing such as your t-shirts and board shorts. This system allows you to travel with 4 seasons worth of clothing. It also frees up a massive amount of space in your luggage.
Packing Cubes Reduce Wrinkles
If you pack your clothes properly, they’ll be nearly wrinkle-free when you take them out of your packing cubes. You won’t have to mess with ironing or hanging your clothes to get the wrinkles out when you arrive. This is great for business travelers who need to look presentable for meetings.
Packing cubes help to reduce wrinkles by holding your clothes in place so they don’t come undone and move around and get creased. Your clothes stay neatly rolled without wrinkles. If you have to remove one item of clothing, you don’t disturb the rest of your clothes and wrinkle them. Without packing cubes, your clothes can unroll, move around, bunch up, and develop wrinkles more easily.
The best way to pack clothes in packing cubes is to tightly roll them. Rolling clothes reduces the number of hard creases, which reduces wrinkles. If you prefer, you can also fold your clothes.
Whether you roll or fold your clothes in packing cubes comes down to personal preference. Try both to see what works best for you. Check out my guide to rolling and folding clothes for more info.
Another way to reduce wrinkles is to travel with clothes made from wrinkle-resistant fabrics. Most types of wool and synthetic fabrics are wrinkle-resistant. Cotton and linen fabrics tend to wrinkle easily.
If you’re worried about wrinkles, you will want to avoid compression packing cubes completely. The compression creases your clothes and causes them to wrinkle. It can be difficult to get these tight creases out.
Packing and Unpacking is Easier and Faster
When you use packing cubes, you have 3-5 bags to remove from your luggage when you want to unpack. Without packing cubes, you may have 35 different individual items floating around in your pack. It’s much faster and easier to remove packing cubes from your backpack or suitcase than to remove all of the individual items.
It’s also faster and easier to find and remove individual items when you use packing cubes. For example, if you need to get a fresh pair of socks, you simply remove your sock packing cube, unzip it, and take a pair out. You don’t have to dig through your shirts and pants to get to your socks.
It does take some time and effort to develop your packing system. You may have to experiment with different cube sizes and shapes. You might want to try out compression cubes. In addition, you’ll have to try out different organization methods to see which works best for you. This requires some trial and error. After you get your routine down, packing and unpacking become quick and easy.
Packing Cubes Make it Easier to Find Things in Your Luggage
Packing cubes keep everything organized. It’s easier to find things in your luggage if you know where everything is. If you memorize what is in each packing cube, you can easily find whatever you’re looking for.
In order to do this, you’ll need to differentiate your cubes somehow. I have three different sized cubes. One small, one medium, and one large. I know exactly what is in each. Some travelers use different colored cubes. Some travelers label their cubes so they know what’s in each. If you forget, you can quickly peek through the mesh window to see what’s inside.
Without packing cubes, you never know where each individual item is within your luggage. Your dress socks could be at the bottom of your pack. They could be on the side. Who knows? You’ll have to remove everything to find out.
It’s Easier to Locate Smaller Items
Small items like a pair of socks, underwear, tank tops, or cables and chargers stay bundled together neatly in their cube. They don’t get lost in the shuffle. It’s easier to find a small item inside an individual packing cube than in your whole suitcase.
Without packing cubes, small items tend to migrate to the bottom of your luggage, making them difficult to find and access.
Packing Cubes Help to Keep Your Clothes Clean
Over time, the inside of your suitcase or backpack can get dirty. Dust and lint, crumbs from food, moisture, and body odor from dirty clothes can build up. Without packing cubes, your clean clothes can rub against your dirty suitcase and get dirty and smelly. Luggage is difficult to wash.
Packing cubes create a barrier between your clean clothes and your dirty luggage. They protect your clothes from your dirty luggage so your clothes stay cleaner. When your packing cubes get dirty, you can easily wash them. Most are machine washable. If your packing cubes are plastic, you can simply wipe them down.
Packing cubes can also protect your clothes if something spills or leaks inside your luggage. For example, one time a bottle of insect repellent burst open and spilled in my pack. On another occasion, a bottle of aerosol spray deodorant exploded into my pack. In both cases, my packing cubes protected my clothing. I just had to wipe out my backpack and let it air out.
You can also use your packing cubes to separate clean clothes from dirty clothes. Choose one packing cube for dirty laundry. After a piece of clothing gets dirty and smelly, pack it away in that cube. This way, your clean clothes don’t get exposed to sweat and body odor. They stay smelling fresh.
Some packing cube sets come with a special dirty laundry bag. Some models have a second compartment for dirty clothes. You can also use a simple plastic bag as a dirty laundry bag.
They Help to Keep Your Clothes Dry
Packing cubes are made from tightly woven water-resistant material such as nylon or polyester. If you get caught in the rain, your packing cubes can provide a bit of extra protection from moisture. Even if your luggage gets damp, your clothes should stay dry.
If you’re traveling in a wet environment and you need extra protection for your gear, you can buy waterproof packing cubes. These can keep your clothing and gear dry even if your pack gets submerged in water.
Packing Cubes Make it Easier to Travel with a Carry-On Only
These days, many travelers are choosing to travel with a carry-on bag only. There are a number of reasons for this. When you don’t check a bag, you’ll save money on checked bag fees. You’ll save time avoiding waiting at the baggage claim. You can also keep an eye on your luggage at all times. It won’t get lost. There are also no careless baggage handlers throwing your luggage around. You are the only one who handles it. It’s less likely for your belongings to get damaged.
Packing cubes allow you to fit all of your clothing and travel gear in a carry-on bag by reducing the volume of space that your clothes take up in your luggage. Compression packing cubes, in particular, can help you save a ton of space. This allows you to get away with a smaller piece of luggage that fits within the carry-on size limits.
For most airlines, a carry-on bag must be smaller 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 centimeters x 35 centimeters x 56 centimeters and weigh less than 22 pounds (10 kg). Some airlines have stricter requirements. For example, sometimes the maximum weight is 8 kg or 17 lbs. Sometimes there is no weight restriction on carry-on bags.
Of course, you will have to pare down in order to fit everything in a carry-on. There are also some items that are not allowed in carry-on bags that are allowed in checked bags. You’ll have to take that into consideration while packing. If you’re trying to move toward traveling with a carry-on bag only, compression packing cubes can help you get there.
For more in-depth info, check out my guide to checked Vs carry-on luggage.
Packing Cubes can Function as Extra Bags
If you pick up a bunch of souvenirs on your trip and you run out of space in your main backpack or suitcase, you can use large cubes as extra pieces of luggage. Many packing cubes feature handles so you can easily carry them around on their own. This could give you an extra 5-15 liters of space.
You could also use a packing cube as a personal item to go along with your carry-on. A large packing cube will fit under the seat in front of you on a flight. This would be a great place to store snacks or electronic accessories.
You could also use a packing cube as an overnight bag. Leave your large backpack or suitcase in the luggage storage at your hotel, motel, or hostel and take your packing cube with a change of clothes and toiletries for an overnight trip. It’s not as convenient as a day pack but it works in a pinch.
A packing cube can also function as a laundry bag. Stuff all of your dirty clothes inside and take it to the laundromat with you when it’s full. Packing cubes have multiple uses.
Cons of Using Packing Cubes
Not every traveler benefits from packing cubes. Some travelers simply don’t like using them. Others find them annoying to use. In this section, I’ll outline the drawbacks of using packing cubes.
Packing Cubes can be Inefficient
Most packing cubes are rectangular. They are designed to fit inside a rectangular piece of luggage, like a suitcase. If you travel with a non-rectangular piece of luggage, like a backpack, packing cubes can waste space. Imagine trying to fit rectangular packing cubes in a cylindrical backpack. You will have some wasted space in the corners of the bag. This negates any potential space savings you could have had.
There are a couple of solutions. You could fill in the empty space with other items such as your rain jacket, puffy down jacket, or a pair of shoes. Some luggage manufacturers offer packing cubes that are designed for one specific bag. These cubes are cut in the same shape as the bag in the corners so no space is wasted.
Using packing cubes costs money
You have to buy the packing cubes. A basic set of 3-4 packing cubes costs around $25. Premium packing cubes from major travel gear manufacturers like Eagle Creek or Sea to Summit cost around $25-$30 each. You’ll end up spending $75-$100 for a set. That’s pretty expensive for some simple fabric bags.
This cost can be an issue if you’re on a tight budget. With that same money, you could afford to spend another day traveling. You could also put that money toward more important gear such as a better piece of luggage or some new clothes.
Packing cubes are completely optional pieces of travel gear. If your budget is tight, there is no reason to buy them.
They Add Weight to Your Luggage
Packing cubes can weigh anywhere from 2 oz to 16 oz (56-450 grams). The weight depends on how many packing cubes you use, their size, and the materials they’re made of. A single ultralight packing cube might weigh just 2 oz. A full set of 5 heavy-duty packing cubes could weigh well over 1 lb.
This extra weight can be an issue if you’re traveling with a carry-on bag only. Many airlines have a carry-on bag weight limit. This is usually somewhere between 15 and 35 lbs (7-16 kg). The extra weight of your packing cubes can put you over the weight limit. You can’t pack as much gear if you use packing cubes.
If you use compression packing cubes, you can pack more clothing into your luggage. This extra clothing increases the weight of your luggage. It’s easy to go over the carry-on weight limit when you use compression cubes.
Some airlines don’t check the weight of carry-on bags. Particularly if they’re small. If you’re worried about going over the weight limit, be sure to check the limit before your trip and weigh your bag using a luggage scale. I like this Etekcity Luggage Scale. It’s cheap, easy to use, and pretty accurate.
If you don’t have a luggage scale, check out my guide: How to Weigh Your Luggage Without a Scale.
Keep in mind that you’ll also have to carry around the extra weight of your luggage during your trip. Carrying extra weight puts additional stress on your back and knees. A heavy bag makes travel days more difficult. For ultralight travelers, every ounce matters. If you check your luggage and don’t move around often while traveling, the extra weight doesn’t really matter.
You Might Overpack
Most of us overpack when we travel. We can’t leave empty space in our luggage. If there is empty space, we find a way to fill it up. We bring way more clothing and gear than we actually need. Packing cubes make this problem worse by allowing us to pack more clothing into our luggage.
If you compress your clothes, you might be able to fit several extra t-shirts, an extra hoodie, an extra pair of jeans, plus other bulky gear in the space that you save. If you have extra space in your luggage, you’ll use it.
The problem is that you’ll end up bringing stuff that you don’t need. You need to carry this extra weight around with you. It’s also a hassle to pack when your luggage is crammed full of unnecessary stuff. If you use compression packing cubes, you need to have self-discipline. Don’t bring extra stuff, just because you have some extra space in your luggage.
I still make this mistake. I’m currently carrying three shirts that I haven’t worn in 4 months of travel. I had space in my packing cubes and I filled it. I don’t want to throw them out because they were expensive.
Packing Cubes Can Be a Hassle to Use
Packing cubes create an extra step in your packing and unpacking process. There is a bag within a bag. When packing your luggage, you must first fill your packing cubes and then place them inside your luggage.
Every time you want to get something out of your luggage, you have to remove the packing cube, unzip it, take the item that you need, zip the cube back up, and replace it in your luggage. There is an extra zipper to undo. If you forget which cube the item you want is in, you’ll have to open several to look for it. You can’t just dig around in your luggage to look for what you need.
Compression packing cubes are even harder to pack and unpack. After packing your clothes inside, you have to compress them. This takes some muscle. You can use your body weight to press down on the cube to help close the compression zipper or tighten the compression straps.
It takes a few minutes properly pack and tighten a compression packing cube. It’s not something that you’ll want to do every day. Compression packing cubes are best for those who stay in the same place for the duration of their trip and only unpack and pack a couple of times.
Compression Packing Cubes Can Damage Clothing
Some fabrics can get permanently damaged if they’re over-compressed or if they’re compressed long-term. Compression can actually weaken the fibers that the fabric is made of. This can cause your clothing to wear out prematurely. Compress can also reduce loft. Your clothes might not keep you as warm if they’re compressed too much or too often. This is an issue with some fragile fibers.
For example, a down jacket should only be compressed temporarily. If it’s compressed long term, the down fibers can break and degrade. The jacket will also take a long time to loft after it’s decompressed. Some fragile fabrics, such as cashmere and silk, can get permanently creased if they’re compressed for too long. The fibers crease and the creases don’t come out.
If you’re traveling long-term with compression packing cubes, you should decompress your clothes once in a while to reduce the risk of causing damage. Every time you arrive at a new destination, remove the compression cubes from your luggage and decompress them.
It’s best to avoid over-compressing animal fibers such as wool. Just compress these fabrics lightly if you must compress them. Generally, it’s okay to compress cotton and synthetic fibers. For more info, check out this guide.
They are an Unnecessary Piece of Gear for Some Travelers
If you’re a minimalist or ultralight traveler, you probably won’t need to use packing cubes. In this case, you might only have one or two changes of clothing. You don’t need packing cubes to organize a couple of shirts, a pair of pants, and a few pairs of socks.
If you pack light, there is nothing to organize. You’re only carrying the essentials. In this case, packing cubes are a completely optional and unnecessary piece of travel gear.
Some travelers also find packing cubes to be a bit gimmicky. They solve a problem that doesn’t exist for many. If you pack in an organized manner and use a well-designed piece of luggage, you don’t really need packing cubes.
How to Use Packing Cubes
You can use your packing cubes to organize clothing, electronics, toiletries, and other travel gear. In this section, I’ll outline, step-by-step, how to efficiently pack your packing cubes.
Step 1: Gather and Organize Your Clothing and Travel Gear
Start by gathering all of the clothing, electronics, toiletries, and other various items that you’re going to pack. Organize your gear into groups or categories and designate a packing cube for each group.
For example, you might place shirts in one group, pants and jackets in another group, socks and underwear in another group, and cables and chargers in another group.
Small groups of clothes such as socks and underwear will go in a small packing cube. Large groups of clothes such as pants, jackets, and hoodies will go in a larger cube. Shirts might go in a medium cube.
Alternatively, you could group your clothing by outfits with a shirt pair of pants, pair of socks, and a pair of underwear in each cube. This might work well if you’re the kind of person who likes pre-planning what you will wear each day. This is also a good option for short 2-3 day trips. In this case, equal-sized cubes might work best for you.
Step 2: Roll or Fold Your Clothing
For most items of clothing, rolling is better than folding. Rolled clothes take up less space. They are also less likely to develop wrinkles. Generally, it’s best to roll t-shirts, pants, swimsuits, and underwear.
To roll your clothes, fold them along the seams, flatten out any wrinkles, then roll. Try to make a neat and compact roll. You don’t want to roll them too tight or they’ll wrinkle. You also don’t want to roll them too loosely or they’ll take up too much space.
If you prefer, you can fold your clothing. In fact, some items pack down smaller or wrinkle less when they’re folded. In my experience, it’s best to fold bulky items such as jackets and sweatshirts as well as formal clothing such as dress shirts and pants. Everything else should be rolled.
Step 3: Fill your Packing Cubes
Open your packing cubes and place your clothing inside. Try to place your clothes in a way that allows you to see what’s inside each cube through the mesh window if your cubes have this feature.
You should pack each cube completely full. Try not to underfill or overfill the cubes. If you underfill your packing cubes, your clothes will unfold and wrinkle. If you overfill your cubes, it’s difficult to pack them and zip them up. You could also damage the cube or zipper if it’s stuffed too full. The seams and zippers can be fragile.
If you end up with a half-empty cube, try consolidating and using fewer cubes. If all of your cubes are overstuffed, add another cube and remove some items from your other cubes so they’re more even.
Packing your cubes efficiently takes some trial and error. You won’t get it right the first time. Experiment with different clothing in different cubes. For example, if you have extra space in your t-shirt cube put a couple of pairs of socks in there. If your pants are too bulky for a medium cube, place them in a larger cube. It’s like putting together a puzzle.
You don’t need to put everything in a packing cube. Some items, like bulky jackets and sweatshirts, are better on their own. You can stuff these items in your pack. They’ll fill up any vacant space.
Step 4: Place Your Packing Cubes in your Backpack
Fitting your packing cubes in your backpack or suitcase is kind of like a game of Tetris. When packing, you want to optimize for both space and convenience. Try to eliminate as much unused space as possible.
Items that you need to access frequently need to be easy to get to. Place these near the top. For example, you’ll want to place your cube with socks and underwear near the top of your luggage because you’ll need to access it daily. Items that you need less frequently, like your rain jacket, can be packed deeper in your luggage.
You also need to leave room for other gear such as your laptop, camera, toiletries, books, and whatever other gear you like to travel with. Chances are, not everything will fit in a packing cube.
How to Use Compression Packing Cubes
The process for packing compression cubes is pretty much the same as standard packing cubes. Exactly how you pack your compression cubes depends on the design.
In some cases, it’s better to fold your clothes when using compression bags. This is the case with vacuum-style compression bags. When filling compression bags that close with zippers or straps, you can fold or roll your clothes.
To compress vacuum-style compression cubes, leave the bag open, roll it from the bottom to get as much air as you can out, then seal it up. Flatten the bag out and pack it away.
To compress zippered compression cubes, press down on the top and carefully zip the compression zipper. You may need to use your body weight to hold the bag closed.
To compress stuff sack style compression cubes, close the drawstring at the top then tug on the four straps on the sides. Rotate the bag and tug on each strap multiple times to achieve maximum compression. You can also use body weight on top of the bag to help you compress.
Compression packing cubes are designed only for clothing. You obviously can’t compress rigid travel gear like electronics, cables and chargers, guidebooks, toiletries, etc. For these items, you’ll want to use a standard packing cube.
Packing Cubes Vs Compression Packing Cubes
The main purpose of packing cubes is organization. They make your clothing and travel gear easier to find and access in your luggage. They also prevent small items from getting lost. Packing and unpacking are also easier with packing cubes. In addition, packing cubes can help to keep clothes neatly packed to reduce wrinkling.
What packing cubes don’t do is save space in your luggage. Your clothes take up about the same space whether they’re ppacked in cubes or not.
Compression packing cubes’ primary function is to save your luggage space by removing as much air as possible from your clothing. Your clothes are packed more densly.
Compression allows you to pack much more clothing in the same space. Alternatively, you can get away with a smaller piece of luggage if you compress your clothing. Compression bags are popular among carry-on-only travelers for this reason.
The main drawback of compression bags is that they wrinkle clothing. They also make your clothing more difficult and time-consuming to pack and unpack. There is an extra step in the packing process. You have to compress your clothes. Decompressing and recompressing a bag takes a couple of minutes. It’s also a bit of a hassle. Over-compression can also damage some clothing.
For most travelers, regular packing cubes are the better option. Compression packing cubes only make sense for a few specific situations.
If you’re traveling through multiple climate zones or seasons, compression packing cubes can work well. You can compress your cold weather clothes while the weather is warm. When the weather gets cold, you can decompress your cold weather clothing and compress your warm weather clothing. With compression cubes, you can carry enough clothes for four seasons without taking up too much space.
Compression packing cubes can also work well for digital nomads, those traveling long term, or people who are moving abroad. In these cases, you may need to carry more clothes than the average traveler on a short vacation. You’ll probably want more than 2-3 outfits. It might make sense to compress some of your clothing so you can fit more in your luggage.
Those who are trying to downsize to traveling with a carry-on bag only can also benefit from using compression packing cubes. The largest bag you can carry on most airlines is around 40 liters. If you’re unable to pare down your clothing enough to fit in your carry-on, you can compress it to make everything fit.
Are Packing Cubes Worth It?
Yes. Packing cubes are worth it. They help you stay organized, keep your clothes wrinkle-free, and save space in your luggage. They also make packing and unpacking a bit quicker and easier. Anything that can make travel a bit smoother, is worth it in my book.
Having said this, packing cubes aren’t worth it for all travelers. Whether or not packing cubes are worth it for you depends on a number of factors including how much clothing you pack, the type of clothing you wear, and personal preference.
If you pack lots of clothes, packing cubes are absolutely worth it. They are also ideal if you pack bulky clothing. Packing cubes are also essential if you’re packing lots of small items like adapters, cables, chargers, etc. If you’re a minimalist traveler who only packs a couple of outfits and nothing more, packing cubes are probably unnecessary.
Personal preference is also important. Some travelers love having their clothing and gear all neatly organized in little zippered bags. Others prefer having everything loose in their bag.
To determine whether or not packing cubes are worth it for you, you really have to try them for yourself. For $20, you can buy a cheap set and give them a try. You might like them and you might not.
The Best Packing Cubes
Most travelers use 3-4 packing cubes to organize their gear. When buying packing cubes, look for bags that are made from lightweight and durable fabric with quality zippers. If the zipper breaks, the bag becomes useless. A mesh top section is a nice feature. It allows you to see what’s in your packing cube without opening it. It also allows for ventilation. In this section, I’ll outline some of the best packing cubes for international travel.
Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-it Starter Set
This is Eagle Creek’s original packing cube set. It includes 3 cubes,1 full cube, 1 half cube, and 1 folder. The cubes feature 1-way zippers, a mesh top, and a quick grab handle. The folder can compress 8-12 dress shirts and slacks. The set also comes with Eagle Creek’s excellent warranty. Eagle Creek packing cubes are some of the best on the market in terms of quality and design.
Amazon Basics 4 Piece Packing Cubes Set
This set of four packing cubes comes with one large, one medium, one small, and one slim sized cube. For most travelers, this is all you’ll need.
Each cube features a mesh panel so you can easily see what’s inside. Double zippers make the cubes easy to open and close. Webbing handles allow you to easily pull the cubes out of your luggage. A range of colors are available. Amazon also offers a range of different sets with different combinations of bag sizes.
The Amazon Basics packing cubes would be a great choice for those who are on a budget as well as those who are unsure about packing cubes but want to give them a try.
These are the first packing cubes I bought. They are of great quality for the price. They are also surprisingly durable. I still use mine frequently.
This ultralight packing cube set from Osprey would be a great choice for someone who wants to pack light and stay organized. The set includes three cubes with 1, 3, and 5 liters of volume. They are made from ultralight 40D nylon ripstop fabric. Four color options are available.
Tip: It’s also worth considering packing cubes made by your luggage manufacturer. Some manufacturers offer custom packing cubes that are designed specifically for a specific piece of luggage. These eliminate unused space in the corners of the bags because they are cut to fit perfectly. Some high-end luggage even includes packing cubes.
Compression Packing Cube Recommendations
The best compression packing cubes for travel can be easily and quickly compressed. You can choose from plastic compression bag, compression cubes, and compression stuff sacks.
Generally, compression bags and compression cubes fit best in rectangular luggage such as suitcases and travel backpacks. Compression stuff sacks fit better in top-load backpacks and duffle bags.
Eagle Creek Pack-it Specter Compression Cube Set
This set includes two compression cubes, a medium and a small. The medium cube can accommodate 13 liters of clothing and the small cube can accommodate 6 liters.
These are ultralight compression cubes. They are made from lightweight sil-nylon ripstop fabric. The medium weighs 2 oz. And the small weighs just 1.5 oz. One nice feature is that the fabric is clear enough to see the bag’s contents. It is also water resistant.
Each cube has two zippers. One for opening the bag and one for compression. At the top of each cube is a quick grab handle.
Sea to Summit Ultra-SIL Compression Dry Sack
This durable compression bag is made from Ultra-Sil 30D Cordura nylon fabric. It is lightweight, waterproof, and extremely durable. It also offers an impressive amount of compression. If space is limited, this is your best option. The 10 liter sack can compress down as small as 3.3 liters.
The top and bottom sections of the sack are made from eVent fabric. This unique material allows air to pass through without the need for a valve. The bases are connected with 4 durable straps. Using your body weight and the leverage of the straps, you can really crank down on the bag to compact your clothing.
Stuff sack style compression bags offer the most compression of any type of compression bag. They work great for bulky gear such as a down puffer jacket, sleeping bag, or blanket.
These compression sacks are available in a range of sizes including 3.3, 6, 10, 14, and 20 liter models. For most travelers, the 10 or 14 liter bag would be ideal.
There are a couple of drawbacks to these compression sacks. First, you can’t see what’s inside. It also takes some effort to achieve maximum compression. You really have to use some muscle.
Eagle Creek Pack-It Compression Sac Set
These simple compression bags allow you to easily remove air from your clothing. You simply unzip the bag, pack your clothing inside, then zip it back up. You then roll the bag up from the bottom and the excess air will escape from a one-way valve on the top of the bag. These are basically extra durable Ziploc bags.
This set comes with 3 compression sacks. One small, one medium, and one large. They are clear so you can see what’s inside.
Packing Cubes for Toiletries (Dopp Kit)
Many travelers buy a special packing cube for their toiletries. These are usually referred to as Dopp kits.
A number of different Dopp kit designs exist. Some are made from clear plastic. Many airports require that you toiletry place your liquids in a clear bag so security can see what’s inside without having to open it. Some are designed to hang in the bathroom so you can easily access your toiletries. Dopp kits are usually also made from waterproof materials. The seams are sealed so the bag is watertight. This prevents your liquid toiletries such as shampoo, lotion, perfume, etc. from leaking into your luggage if they come open in transit.
I like the Osprey UltraLight Roll Organizer. It’s compact and ultralight.
You can also just store your toiletries in a large Ziploc bag. This is cheap, durable, and airline compliant. It also just works.
For more info, check out my guide to packing toiletries.
Packing Cubes for Electronics
If you travel with a lot of technology like I do, you might consider buying a specific packing cube for your electronics.
These electronics organizers feature extra pockets and attachment points inside to help you organize your cables, adapters, chargers, power converters, headphones, hard drives, and other small electronic devices. It’s much easier to find what you’re looking for if everything is stored in its place.
I use the Bagsmart Electronic Organizer. I really like this bag. It holds way more than it looks like it would. It’s also made from a thick material that provides some protection for your fragile devices.
My Experience with Packing Cubes
When I first started traveling, I did not use packing cubes. I traveled with a top-loading hiking backpack and just stuffed my rolled-up clothing inside. Every time I needed a piece of clothing I had to take most of the gear out of my bag to get to it. My clothes always ended up unrolling and getting bunched up in my pack. It was a hassle.
Before my next trip, I bought a small stuff sack to pack my t-shirts and underwear in. This was my first packing cube. It helped me keep my bag organized. When I needed a fresh t-shirt, I could just remove the stuff sack. I didn’t have to dig through everything. This saved me time and reduced wrinkles.
Before my next trip, I decided to buy a set of cheap packing cubes. I carefully organized all of my gear in the cubes. I found this to be overkill. Having to remove and unzip a cube every time I wanted something was a hassle.
These days, I use a kind of hybrid packing approach. I use three packing cubes. One large cube for pants and shorts, one medium cube for t-shirts, and one small cube for socks and underwear. I also use a small zippered bag for chargers and cables and a plastic bag for toiletries. I pack my sweatshirt, sandals, and rain jacket without packing cubes. If I’m traveling in a cold climate, I pack my puffer jacket in its own stuff sack.
I’m a fairly minimalist traveler but not ultralight. When possible, I only pack a carry-on bag. I usually only carry a few t-shirts, a pair of long pants, a pair of short pants, and 3-4 pair of socks and underwear. I like to buy clothing at my destination for souvenirs.
Once, I tried using a compression packing cube but didn’t really care for it. I don’t pack enough clothing to make compression worthwhile. I also tend to move frequently when I travel. It required too much effort to compress my clothing every time I moved to a different city. I like being able to pack up and move quickly. Packing and unpacking is one of my least favorite parts of travel.
Final Thoughts: Are Packing Cubes Necessary?
Packing cubes are a great way to keep yourself organized while traveling. They can help you save time while packing and unpacking. You can find your clothing and gear much more easily when you know where it is. Packing cubes also help to keep your clothes clean, dry, and free of wrinkles.
If you pack your cubes properly, they can help you save a bit of space in your luggage. If you’re traveling with a lot of clothing or you’re trying to pare down so you can fit everything into a carry-on bag only, compression packing cubes are the answer. They can compress your clothes by 20-30%. When you use compression packing cubes, you are sacrificing some convenience. You may also have to iron your clothes.
Packing cubes are a completely optional piece of travel gear. Some travelers like them and others find them to be useless. If you’ve never used packing cubes before, it’s worth giving them a go.
Whether or not you decide to use packing cubes or compression packing cubes, I hope this guide has helped you in making your decision.
Are packing cubes a good idea? Share your experience and tips in the comments below!
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