WHAT ARE PACKING CUBES – AND HOW TO USE THEM
WHY YOU NEED PACKING CUBES AND THE BEST WAY TO USE THEM
I remember when I first heard someone talk about packing cubes, and I was thinking: “what are packing cubes?”
It was many moons ago, when I first set off on my first solo travels. I had no idea what these wonderful little things called packing cubes were. It wasn’t until I was watching a Youtube video online, when I first heard of them.
I had to turn to my trusty friend Google, to find out what they were.
I’ve always been a very organised person. I love detail, and helping everything fit into it’s perfect place in the world. Packing cubes are essentially the organised travellers’ dream. They help everything you own, fit into it’s perfect little space in your world (your suitcase/backpack).
They sounded amazing.
Now, 7 years after my first solo venture into the world, I won’t travel without them. I have seen the packing cube light, at the end of a very disorganised tunnel.
SO WHAT ARE PACKING CUBES?
Packing cubes are essentially small, cube-shaped bags, designed to organise and compartmentalise clothes inside luggage. They can also be used to compress clothing to create space, and optimise empty gaps inside backpacks and suitcases.
Usually they are used to sort and organise items of clothing into separate areas, making packing easier, quicker and all-round better.
They can be bought in different sizes, meaning that you can utilise the space inside your luggage better. Like real life game of tetris, you can squeeze more clothing into the same amount of space.
Part of the huge appeal of packing cubes is that they can be customised to accommodate your personal, different needs. As they usually come as part of a set, you can either opt to buy an assortment of different sizes, or you can purchase a number of the same size, making them completely customisable.
Packing cubes can be used with both suitcases and backpacks.
ARE PACKING CUBES WORTH IT?
Hell yeah! I’m a huge advocate of these incredible little packing tools.
To help get my point across, here are some of the many reasons that you need to be using them.
THEY SAVE SPACE
The number one thing that packing cubes have got going for them: their space saving abilities.
To see how much will REALLY fit into a 40 litre Osprey backpack, see this post.
Before using packing cubes, I was squishing things into every little corner of my backpack/suitcase. I was wishing there was room where there wasn’t, hoping to fit just a little bit extra into that small crevice.
We believe in travelling light. The smaller your backpack (or wheelie suitcase – if that’s more your thing), the more enjoyable your trip is going to be. That’s especially true for long term travellers. Eventually, lugging that enormous 75 litre backpack around is going to become too much. You’re going to wish you’d left half of it at home.
With a smaller bag, there is only so much you can fit inside it. It’s almost impossible to bring along too much stuff (however, there is always that person that attaches half of their belongings to the outside of their bag).
Now, we travel with small, hand-luggage-sized, 40 litre Osprey backpacks. We’ve found them to be more than sufficient for us. We carry absolutely everything we need for longterm travel inside of them.
Now, when I first got my hands on my backpack (fresh and shiny, delivered off of Amazon), I wasn’t sure exactly how I was supposed to fit everything I needed into it. But, with my (also fresh and shiny) new packing cubes, I fit even more than I had anticipated into it. I actually brought more than I intended to, because of the extra space.
YOU CAN FIT MORE INTO YOUR BACKPACK/SUITCASE WITH THEM
On our first Asian backpacking trip together, we both carried 65 litre backpacks. They were big. A little too big in my humble opinion.
The strange thing about it is; we now carry more things in our bags, with just 40 litre backpacks.
Although we were using packing cubes, we weren’t really using them to their full advantage. Now, we are (self proclaimed) packing pros. It’s kind of a weird (but totally awesome) skill that we’ve got.
For our hilarious list of things NOT to take backpacking, see this post.
Packing cubes compress whatever is inside of them. If you can squeeze 12 t-shirts inside a packing cube, you then zip it up and you’re good to go. They hold all of it in place, and squeeze it all into a tiny cube shape.
Essentially, they eliminate all of that spare space that’s sitting between all of your clothes when you don’t use packing cubes. They just take all of that empty air, and fill it out by squeezing it all together.
Now, obviously, there is a knack to it. I find that rolling clothes reduces the overall area of that item of clothing. It also makes it easier to squish it into a tight space inside the packing cube.
The best way to fill each cube is to start from the edges, and work your way into the middle. Add another item of clothing until the last one in the middle is totally squashed.
If the zip closes, you’re good to go. Pop it into your backpack and move onto the next one.
Once they are all inside your backpack/suitcase, it’s easier to rearrange in order to make the most out of all that valuable space. Now, with just a few items to contend with (as opposed to tens of different pieces of clothing), it’s easier to arrange it all inside. Like a giant game of real-life Tetris. Work out what works best inside your backpack, with the size and type of cubes you’ve got available.
NOTE: Some packing cubes actually come with ‘compression’. This is essentially an extra zip on the outside of the regular zip, that you can pull shut in order to squeeze everything inside a little bit more. However, it only really works if you haven’t crammed the packing cube full in the first place. I personally have a few packing cubes with compression, but I don’t actually utilise it as much as I had originally thought I would. I prefer to cram everything in myself.
THEY SAVE YOU TIME
Packing cubes save time when both packing and unpacking.
Long term travel typically means spending time in dorm rooms, with maybe up to 11 other strangers sharing your room. Being an inevitable part of travelling longterm, it’s important to make sure you’re good and ready to be a master of packing and unpacking efficiently (and quickly).
There are times when you’ll need to pack your bag at some ungodly hour of the morning. And, if you want to keep the dorm room peace, you’ll need to be quick and quiet about it. No one likes that guy that wakes everyone up at 4am whilst he’s rustling around in his bag, trying to pack.
With packing cubes, it’s easy to keep on top of your packing as you go. When you’ve pulled that t-shirt out that you want to wear, you just zip the cube back up, and pop it back into your locker/backpack/bunk bed/where ever you keep your stuff. After you’re done wearing it, it just goes back into a cube (a dirty washing cube, I hope), and that’s that.
Then, when it’s time to leave, all your stuff is neatly organised and ready to just be shoved back into the backpack and off you go. Simple. It eliminates the packing stress.
This is also relevant to times when you might just be in a rush to pack. Maybe you’re running late for a flight, or your alarm didn’t wake you up when it was supposed to. There are many reasons you might need to pack in a hurry, and packing cubes help a huge amount!
Another inevitable aspect of travel in general is not needing to fully unpack. If you’re staying somewhere for just one night, it alway seems pointless to unpack your entire bag.
If you’re using packing cubes, you won’t need to. We usually just open up our backpacks and take out whatever cube we need. Then, in the morning when it’s time to pack, it’s just a case of putting that one or two cubes back into the bag and zipping it up.
With some organisation, we know exactly which cubes hold which things. And, we also know exactly where those cubes belong in the backpack. So, packing is a breeze.
Ah, the system. I love a system.
Being organised is real treat. No more stress about where that pair of socks is, or what cube I put that t-shirt in. I love being organised.
With packing cubes, everything in your bag is compartmentalised. Everything can be packed separately, so that when you need that one particular item of clothing, you know exactly where to find it. It makes packing and unpacking much easier, and it means you don’t need to unpack your entire suitcase to know where everything is.
And best of all, packing cubes can be customised to accommodate your personal tastes. If you want a giant packing cube for your all of your bras, go for it. Don’t like putting socks with pants? Get a tiny little cube for socks alone! Done.
Although our backpacks are carry-on luggage size, we always check them. We’ve never had to take our backpacks through security checks at an airport.
Here’s how to pack your life into a carry on sized bag.
That being said, we have seen more than a few people have to unpack their entire bag at the side of a security conveyor belt in the airport. Unfortunately, these people never seem to have packing cubes.
With packing cubes, there’s no need to worry about being asked to open your bag for security. No more worries about your dirty underwear flying across the security hall. Just open up your bag, and grab whatever it is that’s causing a problem.
This is the same for customs checks. In most countries you’ll need to exit the airport through either ‘nothing to declare’ or the opposite. If you get selected for a random bag search, your packing cubes are going to come in real handy.
NO MORE SMELLY CLEAN CLOTHES
Even if you’re not travelling longterm, you’re going to have dirty washing.
On our first backpacking adventure together, we didn’t take any kind of dirty laundry bag. So, when we had dirty laundry, it just kind of sat in the backpack, next to the clean clothes.
Because the best kind of packing cubes are mesh (that way you can see exactly what’s inside), this meant that a lot of our clean clothes started to get a little bit smelly. Sometimes, we were wearing clean but smelly clothes.
The best way to get around this problem, is to bring along two kind of packing cubes. For all of our regular clothes (ie. clean clothes), we use the mesh packing cubes. But, we also have a couple of packing cubes that are fully sealed. These packing cubes have no mesh, and are water resistant, so there is no chance of any smells escaping from them. These are what we put our dirty laundry into.
Once all of our clothes have been cleaned, they go back into the mesh cubes. The fully sealed packing cubes just sit in our backpacks empty, until we need to put dirty clothes into them again. It does require a little bit of rearranging from time to time, but once you get into the swing of it, it’s really not too difficult.
I also carry one of these cubes for shoes. They are the perfect size to fit two small pairs of shoes in (flip flops or sandals), and it means that no other part of my bag (or anything that is in the bag) gets dirty. That way, I can store spare pairs of shoes in the backpack, with all of my clean clothes.
I carry two of these non-mesh packing cubes. One is small – and holds all of my dirty underwear – and one is bigger, and hold any dirty t-shirts, skirts, shorts etc..
HOW TO USE PACKING CUBES
Well, for the most part, it’s pretty self explanatory. You put your clothes in and zip it up.
BUT, if you want to make the most out of their amazing space-saving, organisational abilities, here’s a few tricks.
- Roll your clothes before you put them in. This squishes the air out of your clothes, and helps them to hold their shape.
- Work your way inwards, from the edge. Pack your clothes into the cubes from the outside in. Start at the edges, and work your way into the middle. The last item in should be right in the middle. And, it should be hard to squeeze it in. You can close the zip up as you work your way inwards – this will help it to hold it’s shape.
- Use smaller cubes than you think. You don’t want any spare space in there. It needs to be squashed full, so that it will hold it’s shape. Otherwise, your clothes are just going to be flying around in there. It’s better to have lots of small packing cubes, rather than 2 really big ones.
- Utilise different sizes. If your backpack is long and thin, use long and thin packing cubes. Use whatever fits best into the game of Tetris that is now the inside of your suitcase.
- Pack similar things in with each other. Keep one for t-shirts, one for shorts, one for underwear etc.. It makes it easier to know what you are looking for when you’re unpacking.
- If you’re using packing cubes with compression, don’t overfill the packing cube. The compression only really works if there is still a little space left inside, otherwise the zip won’t close. So, leave a little bit of air in there, and don’t overfill it.
Read all about our hilarious packing nightmares (including why you need packing cubes) here.
WHERE CAN I BUY PACKING CUBES?
For the biggest assortment of packing cubes, right at your fingertips, turn to your trusty friend Amazon.
We’ve bought all of our packing cubes from Amazon.
By far, the best ones we have used have been the Amazon Basics packing cubes. They come in a range of different sizes and colours, and they are fairly inexpensive. To date, we have had no issues with them (no rips or tears, no broken zips).
WHAT DO PACKING CUBES COST?
Not a lot.
Most packing cubes are relatively cheap. We invested in Amazon Basics packing cubes for this trip, and we couldn’t be happier. They’re fairly inexpensive, and they’re really good quality.
There are some more expensive packing cubes out there (I’m looking at you Eagle Creek), but to be honest, there isn’t really any real reason to be purchasing those.
Generally, a set of 4 packing cubes will set you back around $20 – $25, depending on colour and size.
We found that we prefer to have at least 2 different sizes, in order to maximise the space in our backpacks. It’s not difficult to find 4 piece packing cube sets online, with each packing cube being a different size.
NOTE: The first time I bought packing cubes, I purchased the cheapest ones I could find online. These barely lasted a few months before the material ripped entirely, and the zips seized up and stopped working. My recommendation would be to skip the cheapest option, and go for the slightly more expensive, mid range one.
WHAT ARE THE BEST KIND OF PACKING CUBE?
Honestly, the best kind of packing cube is a matter of personal preference. However, there are a few different things to look out for when choosing.
PACKING CUBES WITH COMPRESSION
These are the same as standard packing cubes, however, they have an extra zip on the outside of the regular zip. This extra zip is used to compress the cube, and makes it thinner. These only really work if you haven’t filled the cube to capacity in the first place, and they don’t magically make any more space than a regular packing cube. However, they can be handy if the amount of clothes in that particular cube fluctuates regularly (like if you’re using it to carry your dirty washing), because the width of the cube can be expanded to fit more into it.
Different backpacks and suitcases require different sized packing cubes. Similarly, depending on what you’re planning on putting inside the cubes, you may require different sized ones. My advice would be to purchase the smallest cubes that you can for your clothes and suitcase. That way, your cubes will hold their shape better, and be easier to fit into your bag.
MESH VS. NON MESH
Mesh packing cubes make it a lot easier to be able to see what’s inside that cube. This is particularly helpful if you have a lot of cubes that are all the same size and/or colour.
Non mesh cubes are good for storing dirty items in, such as dirty laundry and/or shoes.
So that’s it. I’ve pretty much exhausted my brain’s packing cube resources.
I hope this has been of some help in your journey to deciding and buying packing cubes.
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