Courtesy of Paravel
Courtesy of Paravel
Packing cubes could (and probably should) change the way you travel.
Do you fold your clothes, roll them, or just throw everything into your suitcase? Whatever your method, there’s a better way to pack and sort your travel belongings.
If you’re like me, packing a roller bag for a trip often consists of making sure you’ve packed your passport, charging cables, socks, and underwear. Everything else is dumped into the bag (or rolled up if there’s time). But there’s a better way to pack a suitcase: with packing cubes. There’s a reason why travelers worldwide swear by them. Once you try packing cubes, you’ll be hard-pressed to go back.
Packing cubes are small bags that function like mini-luggage inside your luggage so that you can separate your charging cords from your socks and your socks from pants. Packing cube systems vary in quality, price, and style. At their most basic, they feature a nylon or polyester body with a mesh zippered top so you can see inside. At the higher end, the systems are made with more durable materials and quality zippers and feature more compartments.
For the very budget-minded, there’s always Ziploc bags, including the larger Ziploc storage bags, and the brand’s travel “Space Bags,” which are a compression version space saver. These budget substitutes may be perfectly acceptable to some, but given the very short life span of a Ziploc bag compared with proper packing cube systems, this is not only the least durable option, but also by far the least eco-friendly option of the bunch.
There are no set rules on how to use packing cube, but here are some tips on using them to organize and pack your luggage:
Packing cubes are absolutely worth using to keep your luggage organized, separate dirty and clean laundry, or corral small items—like electronics and cords—in one place. Generally speaking, packing cubes won’t save you space (unless you previously packed with the “shove all my clean laundry in a suitcase” method). However, a compression cube, which is like an expandable suitcase in cube form, can squish bulky items like sweaters and jackets into more manageable parcels.
For frequent travelers, it’s certainly worth investing a bit more if you want your packing cubes to last. Here are six packing cube systems to consider for every budget.
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New York–based retailer Flight 001 created a packing compression system called Spacepak, with individual cubes made from high-quality denier nylon. You can fit up to a dozen items, including shirts and pants, inside a single compressed cube. The system consists of a series of packing “briefcases,” with a zippered section for clean clothing and a separate zippered section opposite for laundry, which is a great feature. Each compartment is labeled with bold, screen-printed indicators to keep the system straight.
Additionally, the Spacepak has side vents that allow you to compress the cube and force out most of the air. Lauren de Wet, a frequent traveler and packing cube devotee, says she uses the Spacepak bags for all her travels. “It separates out dirty and clean clothes, which is a must when you’re on a two- to three-week trip,” she notes. The Spacepak comes in several colorful patterns and styles for the design-minded packer. Durable materials and premium zippers make this a great place to start for those new to packing cubes.
Using a dual-zipper design, these compressive packing cubes save up to three vertical inches of suitcase space when zipped down. Each set of two is made with nylon constructed from 10 recycled plastic water bottles. Available in six different colors, they can be embroidered with your initials so you never get things mixed up with your travel partner’s things. Paravel also makes noncompressive packing cubes in sets of three and four as well as shoe cube duos for those who like to keep everything separated in their luggage.
Eagle Creek’s popular packing cube system comes in a myriad of colors and is frequently cited by travelers as their go-to choice for packing cubes. The starter set comes complete with a garment folder and guide, a hard-backed cube, and a half-size cube, making it a rather good deal. The folder helps to get shirts and pants to fit right into the cubes. According to a spokesperson for Eagle Creek, the sets “keep nicer clothes compact and clean but also relatively wrinkle-free.”
Paul Ronto, a frequent adventure traveler and Fort Collins, Colorado, resident, swears by the Eagle Creek “Specter” series. “They make a ton of packing cube sizes,” he says. “They are affordable, and . . . they help me stay hyper-organized. I couldn’t confidently travel as easily without them.” The Specter series is made with super-lightweight silnylon ripstop material, which will keep any additional weight to a bare minimum. Added bonus: Eagle Creek products are PVC free, incorporate recycled materials, and are designed to have minimal negative environmental impact.
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The Shacke Pak set comes with four packing cubes that feature zippers made by the recognizable YKK brand, and the materials are nylon with a mesh cover. (A laundry bag is also included.) The product itself is simple, but it definitely gets the job done, according to travel blogger Sophie Anderson, who says that Shacke is her preferred brand of packing cube. “Having a designated cube for my shirts, pants, undergarments, and miscellaneous items seriously simplifies the packing process. I mean, who wants to have to take out everything when looking for one shirt or one pair of socks?” says Anderson.
Pro Packing Cubes are similar to the Shacke Pak, but they are made from ripstop nylon (versus regular nylon), which is designed to prevent ripping and tears. They also have a mesh cover and YKK zippers. Pro Packing Cubes’ use of ripstop nylon will appeal to travelers who need to cram more stuff into their bags with the hope that they won’t burst open. The five-piece Pro Packing Cube set comes with four medium-size packing cubes ideal for shirts and shorts, plus an extra-small packing cube for organizing your cables or toiletries.
Founded in 2012, Bluffworks has gathered a cult following for its travel-friendly pants, blazers, and dresses made from wrinkle resistant, moisture wicking, and machine washable materials. Now the travel clothing company is branching out into the world of travel gear with its new line of “BluffCube” compression packing cubes that officially launches in November. However, you can get an early discount by backing the already fully funded Kickstarter campaign that runs through September 8, 2020.
In addition to a side-access zipper, these packing cubes can be packed from the elastic top access opening and compressed with a strap that has an adjustable buckle. Available in two different fabrics, the “Sport” is an ultra-light ripstop nylon in five different colors, while the “Pro” is made from a slightly more structured brushed ripstop nylon designed with business travelers in mind. Each type comes in two sizes—large and small. The small is ideal for shorter trips, with room to fit one T-shirt, two pairs of shorts, three pairs of underwear, and two pairs of socks. The large can fit up to six shirts, two pairs of pants, two pairs of shorts, three sets of underwear, and two pairs of socks.
Lyndsey Matthews and Jessie Beck contributed additional reporting to this story.
This article originally appeared online on December 3, 2018; it was updated on August 26, 2020, to include current information. Products we write about are independently vetted and recommended by our editors. AFAR may earn a commission if you buy through our links, which helps support our independent publication.
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