There are two ways you can go about packing your clothes for travel. You can roll them or you can fold them. The goal when packing is to maximize the amount of clothing you can fit in your luggage and reduce wrinkles. The best way to pack depends on a number of factors including the material the clothing is made of, the type of clothing you wear, how much clothing you pack, and personal preference. This guide outlines the pros and cons of rolling vs folding clothes when packing. I’ll cover organization, space savings, wrinkle minimization, clothing materials, ease of packing, packing speed, and much more.
Over the past 12 years, I have spent about a third of my life on the road. I’ve developed a packing system that works well for me. I roll most of my clothing but fold some items. In this guide, I’ll share my experience. Hopefully, this guide helps you pack a bit more efficiently on your next trip.
Rolling clothes saves space in your luggage, keeps your clothes more organized, reduces wrinkles, and makes it easier to find items in your luggage.
Folding clothes makes packing and unpacking faster and easier. Chances are, most of your clothes are already folded at home.
You should fold clothing made from natural fibers (cotton, wool, linen, etc.), formal clothing such as suits and dresses, bulky items such as sweatshirts and jackets, and thin and lightweight clothing.
You should roll clothing made from synthetic fabrics, casual clothing, socks and underwear, items made from wrinkle-resistant fabric, pants, and items that you would hang up at home.
Space Savings: Does Rolling or Folding Clothes Take Up Less Space?
In most cases, rolling your clothes saves space in your luggage. This allows you to pack more clothing. Alternatively, you could use a smaller piece of luggage. If you plan to travel with a carry-on only, you’ll probably want to roll most of your clothes.
I performed a test to determine how much more efficient rolling clothes is and why it’s more efficient. First, I folded some clothing and packed my travel backpack completely full. I was able to fit 4 t-shirts, a long-sleeved shirt, 2 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of shorts, and a sweatshirt. This completely filled my backpack.
Next, I rolled the exact same clothes and re-packed them into the same backpack. I found that the rolled clothes took up a bit less space. When rolled, there was still enough space left to fit 3 additional t-shirts in my backpack.
To confirm, I re-packed the clothes folded and tried to fit the additional t-shirts. I was able to fit one additional shirt when everything was folded. In this test, rolling my clothes would allow me to fit 2 extra shirts.
I believe rolling clothes take up less space because rolled clothes are a bit more dense. When you roll tightly there is less air trapped between the fabric. Folded clothes are less densely packed. When you roll clothes, you’re also packing out toward the sides. You fill all of the empty space in your bag. This leaves a bit more room on top. While packing rolled clothes, it appears that you’re saving a lot of space. In reality, the difference is pretty minor.
I have also found that rolling clothes is not always the most efficient way to pack. Some items of clothing take up less space when folded. This is the case with bulky clothing like sweatshirts and jackets.
If an item of clothing is too bulky when rolled, try folding it. It may save some space. I usually roll my shirts and pants then stack my folded jackets on top. I have found this method to be the most efficient.
Winner: Rolling clothes usually saves space in your luggage.
Rolling clothing allows you to see your clothes more easily. All of your clothes are rolled in neat little bundles next to one another. You can easily look through all your clothing without having to lift layers off or unpack. Visibility is great.
This makes it faster and easier to find an item of clothing in your luggage. If you’re looking for your favorite red t-shirt, you can easily spot it and grab it. You don’t have to hunt around for it. This comes in handy if you’re staying somewhere where you don’t have space to unpack and spread out, like a hostel dorm room.
When you fold your clothes, some of your clothes are hidden. You have to lift layers to find what you’re looking for. Clothes can unfold when you remove one item buried between layers. It takes more time to dig through the layers to get what you need. You may have to partially unpack to get one item of clothing. It’s a bit harder to stay organized when you fold your clothing.
Winner: Rolling clothes makes it easier to stay organized because you can see all of your clothing.
Packing and Unpacking
Folding clothing is faster than rolling. After some practice, you can easily fold a shirt or pair of pants in one quick motion. You can simply stack your folded clothing and move the stack into your suitcase or backpack.
Chances are, most of your clothes are already folded at home. In that case, you can stack the clothes you want to pack and transfer the stack straight from your dresser drawer into your suitcase. It’s faster and easier to pack when you fold your clothes.
Unpacking folded clothing is quicker too. When your clothing is folded, you can remove the whole stack from your luggage and transfer it into a drawer in your hotel room’s dresser. This is nice if you’re staying in the same room for multiple days. You can move in and make yourself at home. If you’re the kind of person who likes to unpack, folding your clothes may be the better choice.
If you don’t unpack, it can take a bit more difficult to remove the item of clothing you need when your clothes are folded. You may have to dig through your bag or remove some items.
Rolling clothes requires two steps. First, you have to fold the item of clothing. Then, you roll it up. You have to roll carefully to avoid creating wrinkles. You also need to roll tightly so your clothes don’t take up too much space. Rolling clothes properly is somewhat time-consuming. It’s slower than folding.
When you roll your clothing, you must also place each item in your luggage one or two at a time. You can’t grab 8 rolled shirts all at once like you can with a stack of folded clothes. It takes more time to pack. Unpacking rolled clothing is also a bit more time-consuming because you have to remove each item one or two at a time.
If you don’t unpack and just live out of your suitcase or backpack, it can be quicker to get what you need when your clothing is rolled. You can see all of your clothes and easily remove one item without disturbing the rest of your clothes. This makes rolling the better choice for those who live out of their suitcase and never completely unpack.
Winner: Packing and unpacking are faster when you fold your clothes.
Does Rolling or Folding Clothes Create Fewer Wrinkles?
It’s impossible to completely eliminate wrinkles. Clothing compresses and bunches up in your suitcase and creases form. Some items wrinkle less when folded and others wrinkle less when rolled.
Generally, clothes wrinkle less when rolled. Rolling clothes reduces wrinkling in most types of clothing because there are fewer hard creases. The fabric is rounded instead of creased. Folded clothes have hard creases at the folds. Wrinkles form at these creases.
Generally, it’s best to roll casual clothes such as t-shirts, jeans, shorts, swimsuits, socks, and underwear. It’s also best to roll clothing made from thin materials and synthetic fabrics.
It’s best to fold more formal clothing such as button-up shirts, dresses, and dress pants. Clothes made from natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and wool should also be folded.
One annoyance of rolling your clothes is that the fabric can bunch up as you roll. This causes wrinkling. When rolling your clothing, try to flatten out any wrinkles or bunched-up spots as you go. Also, try to roll reasonably tightly. This helps to reduce wrinkling. Some travelers also place a band around their rolled clothing to prevent it from unrolling.
It’s best to fold formal clothing such as dress shirts and slacks to reduce wrinkling. You can limit wrinkling by properly folding your formal clothing. A properly folded dress shirt will have minimal wrinkling.
To reduce wrinkles in the first place, it’s best to travel with clothing made from wrinkle-resistant fabric. Wool and synthetic fabrics are wrinkle-resistant. Cotton and linen fabrics wrinkle easily. Consider the fabric material when buying travel clothes.
One great way to reduce wrinkles is to pack your clothes in packing cubes. These hold your clothes in place so they don’t unfold or unroll and get creased in your luggage. With packing cubes, it’s also easier to remove one item of clothing without disturbing the rest and wrinkling them.
Without packing cubes, your clothes can unroll, move around, bunch up, and develop wrinkles more easily. If you’re worried about wrinkles, don’t use compression packing cubes. These compress your clothes, making wrinkles worse.
If you find that your clothes are wrinkled when you unpack, try hanging them in the bathroom while you shower. The steam from the shower can help to loosen some of the wrinkles. Of course, if your hotel room comes with an iron, you can iron the wrinkles out.
Winner: It depends on the type of clothing and fabric. Generally, clothes wrinkle less when rolled. Some items wrinkle less when folded. It’s best to roll casual clothes and fold formal clothes. Generally, you should fold natural fabrics. You should roll synthetic fabrics.
Which Types of Clothing Should be Packed Rolled?
- Clothing made from synthetic materials such as polyester or Lycra
- Casual clothing such as t-shirts, shorts, skirts, jeans, and travel pants
- Delicate items including socks, underwear, and swimsuits
- Anything made from wrinkle-resistant fabric
- Long pants. Many travelers prefer folding pants but I prefer rolling
- Items that you would hang up in your closet at home
Which Types of Clothing Should be Packed Folded?
- Clothing made from natural fibers such as cotton, linen, or wool. Cotton and linen wrinkle easily when rolled. They wrinkle less when folded. Wool clothing tends to be bulky when rolled. It takes up less space when folded.
- Formal clothing such as button-up shirts, suits, dresses, and dress pants. These tend to wrinkle less when properly folded. Consider using a garment folder to reduce wrinkles and keep your dress clothes clean.
- Bulky items such as knit sweaters, sweatshirts, jackets, and jeans are often best folded. These items are too bulky when rolled.
- Thin and lightweight clothing, such as those made from silk or rayon. Particularly thin clothing tends to take up less space when folded.
- Items that are usually folded on store shelves are best folded when packing
When you fold clothing, consider where you make the fold. Ideally, try to fold your clothing along the seams. Try to make folds in places that aren’t too visible. In most cases, there will be a slight crease where the fold was.
Packing cubes are small rectangular bags that fit inside your backpack or suitcase. They are designed to help you organize your clothes and travel gear. Packing cubes can also help to compress your clothing so you can use the space in your luggage more efficiently. When packed properly, packing cubes can also help to reduce wrinkling.
Packing cubes come in a range of sizes and styles. You can use them to organize your clothing any way you like. For example, you might put shirts in one cube, pants in another, and socks and underwear in another. Some travelers put a different outfit in each cube so they know what they’re going to wear every day of their trip. Packing cubes can also help you separate clean clothes from dirty ones. With packing cubes, you can quickly and easily find what you need. There are also special packing cubes for toiletries and electronics.
If you’re limited by space, packing cubes can help you fit more clothing into your luggage. If you pack the cubes full, they compress your clothing slightly. They also keep your clothes tightly rolled or folded. This allows you to pack more densely.
If you need even more space, you could use compression packing cubes. These use zippers or straps or a vacuum mechanism to compress the air out of your clothing. This reduces the volume of your clothing by 20-30%.
Packing cubes can also help to reduce wrinkles. They prevent your clothing from coming unfolded or unrolled and bunching up as you dig through your luggage. Compression packing cubes do wrinkle clothes.
There are drawbacks to using packing cubes. They add another step to taking an item of clothing from your luggage. You have to remove the cube, zip it open, remove what you need, then replace the cube. They also add a bit of weight. A set can weigh 4-8 ounces. This can make it more difficult to pack a carry-on bag when there is a weight limit. Packing cubes also cost money. A set of 2-3 costs around $25-$50. They are a completely optional piece of travel gear but some people swear by them. Some people find them to be a waste of money.
For more info, check out my guide to the pros and cons of using packing cubes.
Rolling Vs Folding Clothes in Packing Cubes
Most packing cubes are designed to accommodate either folded or rolled clothing. Whether you roll or fold your clothes in your packing cubes really comes down to personal preference. Some types of packing cubes are designed specifically for one packing method.
In my experience, rolling works best with traditional zippered-style packing cubes. Rolled clothes can fill the corners of the cubes so less space is wasted. Folded clothes can leave some empty space around the edges. It’s also a bit easier to remove a rolled item of clothing from the cubes without disrupting the rest of your clothing. You can easily remove an individual bundle. When you roll your clothes to put in your packing cubes, try to make the width of your rolls the same as the width of your packing cubes.
You can also fold your clothes in zippered packing cubes. In some cases, folded clothes fit better. It’s best to try packing your clothes folded and rolled to see how they fit best.
Some types of packing cubes are better suited for folding clothes. This is the case with most compression packing cubes. Folded clothes tend to compress better. You should only pack wrinkle-resistant clothes in compression packing cubes. Otherwise, you’ll have to iron.
If you use a garment folder, you’ll have to fold your clothes. They aren’t designed for rolling. These work well for dress clothes.
Rolling Vs Folding Clothes in Different Types of Luggage
The type of luggage you travel with can determine whether you should roll or fold your clothes. Some types of luggage can work with either packing style. Rolled clothes fit better in some types of luggage.
Suitcases and front-loading backpacks can accommodate either rolled or folded clothes. These types of luggage have large front openings that allow you to easily access the contents of the bag. You can pack however you prefer.
If you travel with a top-loading hiking backpack or a duffle bag, rolling clothing tends to work better. There are a couple of reasons for this. The rolled clothes stack inside these bags more efficiently. It’s also slightly easier to pack and unpack when you roll your clothes because the opening on these types of bags is smaller. It’s hard to lay folded clothes flat in a top-loading backpack or duffel bag. They tend to get bunched up.
I usually travel with a top-loading hiking backpack. I always roll my clothes because I find it much easier to get rolled clothes in and out of the bag. When I travel with a standard suitcase, I tend to fold some of my clothes.
For more info, check out my guide to the pros and cons of traveling with a backpack vs suitcase.
How to Roll Clothes for Travel
Rolling your clothes is pretty straightforward. When rolling your clothes:
- Lay your clothes out flat on the bed or floor. Smooth out any wrinkles.
- Try to fold your clothes only along the seams or in spots that won’t be too visible. This prevents hard creases in visible places. If you’re using packing cubes, try to fold your clothes so they’re the same width as your packing cubes.
- Start rolling. Be sure to smooth out any creases or bunched-up spots as you go. This will help you keep your clothes wrinkle-free. If your clothes are wrinkled when you pack them, they’ll be wrinkled when you arrive at your destination.
- Try to roll your clothes fairly tightly. They’ll take up less space this way. Rolling tightly can slightly compress your clothing. You don’t want to roll too tight or the fabric can get stretched out.
To roll a t-shirt, lay the shirt out flat, fold the sleeves in along with an inch or two of fabric on the sides. Next, roll from the bottom. Alternatively, you can fold your shirt like you normally would then simply roll it up. Another option is to fold the shirt in half vertically, fold the sleeves into the center, then roll. To roll a pair of pants, fold them in half vertically at the waist then roll them up from top to bottom.
If you’re not using packing cubes, consider securing each rolled piece of clothing with a small band. This will hold your clothes together so they don’t come unrolled. You could use an elastic band or a simple piece of string.
The Ranger Roll
Another popular technique for rolling clothes is called the ranger roll. This is a packing technique used by militaries.
To create a ranger roll, fold one end of a t-shirt up about two inches from the bottom to create a pocket. Next, fold the shirt vertically in thirds. Next, start rolling at the opposite end and tuck the roll into the pocket you created at the bottom.
This packing technique prevents your clothing from coming unrolled. It stays in a neat little bundle. You can ranger roll t-shirts, pants, shorts, underwear, and socks.
To save space, you can roll multiple items of clothing into one ranger roll. You can also roll a whole outfit including a shirt, pants, socks, and underwear into a single ranger roll.
How to Fold Clothes for Travel
Packing dress clothing without creating wrinkles is a challenge. Chances are, your clothing will have some creases when you remove it from your luggage. There is no avoiding it. You can reduce wrinkling by properly folding and packing your clothes.
To fold a dress shirt, button it up all the way and lay it face down on a flat surface such as a bed or table. Spread the sleeves out to the sides then fold them back toward the middle of the shirt. You want to fold the sleeves near the shoulders to avoid creating visible creases. Next, fold each side of the shirt in about 3 inches toward the middle. The sleeves should make a ‘V’ pattern. Finally, fold it in half from the bottom up. You can fold it twice if you need to save space. As you fold smooth out any wrinkles.
Check out this great YouTube video for a visual guide.
To fold jeans or dress pants, lay them out flat and fold them in half at the waste. Next, fold them in half around the knee. Fold them in half again if necessary. As you fold, be sure to smooth out any wrinkles.
The best way to reduce wrinkles in your dress clothing is to pack clothing made from wrinkle-resistant or non-iron fabrics. These materials are designed to repel wrinkles, making them great for travel. Wrinkle-resistant clothing is made from fibers such as nylon, polyester, or wool. Non-iron fabric is treated with chemicals that help the fabric stay wrinkle-free.
Try to place your folded dress clothing at the top of your luggage so they don’t have the weight of other clothing or travel gear sitting on top of them. You want to pack these items loosely if possible. If they’re packed too tight, more wrinkles will form. The collar of dress shirts can also lose its shape if it’s bunched up. Make sure it’s flat before packing.
When it comes to folding jackets and sweaters, you can fold them the same way you do at home. These items don’t really wrinkle.
Another Option: Stuffing Clothes
Another packing technique you can use is stuffing. Simply stuff clothing into empty space without folding or rolling it. This is a great way to fill up any empty volume in your luggage. Some jackets, such as rain jackets and down puffy jackets, are designed to be stuffed.
Luggage with Built-In Compression Straps
Most suitcases and travel backpacks feature built-in compression straps. After packing, you tighten the straps. This helps to compress some air out of your clothes and hold them in place. Compression straps allow you to fit more clothing in your luggage. You also won’t have to sit on top of your overloaded suitcase to zip it closed. The compression straps do the work for you.
Compression straps work best when you fold your clothes because they are designed to compress your clothing down flat against the bottom of the suitcase. If you’re rolling your clothing or using packing cubes, you probably won’t need to use the built-in compression straps. In this case, you can just leave them in the bottom of the luggage and pack on top of them.
What’s the Best Way to Pack Clothes for Travel?
The best way to pack your clothes is a mix of folding and rolling. Fold button-down shirts, dress clothes, formal clothes, bulky clothes such as sweaters and jeans, and clothes made from natural fibers such as linen and cotton. Roll everything else including t-shirts, shorts, dresses, activewear, skirts, socks, and underwear. This hybrid approach gives you the best of both worlds. It’s also the most efficient.
While packing, take time to roll or fold your clothes properly. As you roll or fold, flatten out any bunched-up spots so your clothes stay as wrinkle-free as possible. Fold or roll carefully so all of your clothing is uniform in shape and size. It’s easier to pack clothing when everything is folded or rolled into the same size. If you have sloppily folded clothes with different dimensions, they won’t stack neatly and they’ll take up more space than necessary.
If you’re using packing cubes, pack them full so your clothes don’t move around or rub against one another inside. This can help to reduce wrinkling and save space. Make sure you’re using an appropriate packing cube for your packing method. Some sizes and shapes work best with folding. Other work best with rolling. Don’t put wrinkle-prone clothing in compression packing cubes.
When placing your clothing or packing cubes in your backpack or suitcase, try to pack strategically to maximize space. Fill empty spaces in the corners and edges of your luggage with other travel gear. For example, if you have some space next to a stack of folded clothes, slot in your flip flops. It may take some trial and error to find the most efficient packing method. Packing is like putting a puzzle together.
It’s also important to consider convenience while packing your clothing. Place items that you’ll need to access regularly near the top. Place items that you won’t need as often near the bottom. For example, you’ll want to pack your socks and underwear somewhere you can easily access them. You can pack your rain jacket and swimsuit near the bottom of your bag because you probably won’t need these every day.
I roll almost all of my clothes and always have. When I travel, I rarely unpack. I usually just live out of my travel backpack. I find it much easier to see my clothing and take what I need out of my backpack when everything is neatly rolled into little bundles. Rolled clothes also tend to fit better in my bag. There is less wasted space. I try to pack ultralight so I can fit everything into a carry-on bag. Rolling makes that easier.
I roll my t-shirts, shorts, jeans, travel pants, swimsuit, socks, and underwear. There are a couple of items that I fold. I usually travel with one collared button-up travel shirt that I fold and place on top of my other clothing. It wrinkles less when properly folded. I also fold my sweatshirt and place it on top of everything else. Sometimes I travel with a down jacket and rain jacket. I stuff these into a stuff sack and place them in the bottom of my bag.
The biggest drawback I have found to rolling my clothes is that they tend to come unrolled when I dig through my bag or remove and replace clothing from my bag. When clothes are loosely rolled, they take up too much space and wrinkle.
The best solution I have found to this problem is to use packing cubes. They hold my rolled clothes in place so they stay compact, neatly rolled, and wrinkle-free. I keep my shirts, pants, socks, and underwear packing cubes. I use regular zippered packing cubes, not compression packing cubes. My sweatshirt, rain jacket, and down puffy jacket are packed outside of the packing cubes.
At the end of the day, the way you pack your clothes mostly comes down to personal preference. Most of your clothing can be either rolled or folded. Some people prefer folding while others prefer rolling. I recommend you try both packing methods to see which works best for you. You may find that one packing method works better for the type of luggage you use or the clothing that you wear.
The only type of clothing that needs to be folded is formal clothes such as suits, dress shirts, dress pants, and some dresses. Folding these items reduces wrinkling. Consider using a garment folder. It’s also best to fold bulky clothes such as jackets and sweaters. They take up less space this way. Most other types of clothing wrinkle less and take up less space in your luggage when they’re rolled.
Do you roll or fold your clothes for travel? Share your experience in the comments below!
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Zachary Friedman is an accomplished travel writer and professional blogger. Since 2011, he has traveled to 66 countries and 6 continents. He founded ‘Where The Road Forks’ in 2017 to provide readers with information and insights based on his travel and outdoor recreation experience and expertise. Zachary is also an avid cyclist and hiker. Living as a digital nomad, Zachary balances his professional life with his passions for hiking, camping, cycling, and worldwide exploration. For a deeper dive into his journey and background, visit the About page. For inquiries and collaborations, please reach out through the Contact page. You can also follow him on Facebook.