Confession time: Packing can be a love-hate relationship, right?
One moment you're buzzing with travel plans and the next, you're staring down an empty suitcase, wondering how on earth to fit your life into it. Sound familiar? Enter packing cubes.
Truth be told, I used to be a hater of these packing cubes. "More work? Extra expense?" I thought.
But I couldn't miss out on the hype. So, I bought the most affordable set I could find to test the waters.
Well, let's just say, I've never looked back. It's been years and the cubes and I are going strong. My carry-on now feels like a Tardis - bigger on the inside. Plus, I can find everything. Yes, everything!
Intrigued? Let's dive deeper into the world of packing cubes. By the end, you can decide if they deserve a spot in your luggage. But, don't forget to also peek at our life-changing packing tips and minimalist packing list.
Trust me, both your sanity and suitcase will thank you!
What are Packing Cubes?
Packing cubes, as the name suggests, are various-sized cubes where you can store clothing and accessories in. However, they may come in different sizes and shapes. Generally, you’re looking at small bags with zippers that you can use to compartmentalize your suitcase.
Tip: Keep in mind that while packing cubes are called cubes, they sometimes come in a flimsy looking bag. Don't worry, they're usually like that until you fill them up with clothes! Most packing cubes don't come with extra support to form the cubed shape to prevent them from not being able to fit in suitcases, or to restrict them to certain suitcases only.
Packing cubes usually come in sets containing several different-sized cubes. They allow you to pack your clothes by type or outfit, so you can keep everything organized in your suitcase or backpack.
Many sets come with a mix of packing cubes and zipper bags, which are handy for underwear or laundry bags.
Generally speaking, they're a great tool that you can have fun with as well. It's always so satisfying for me to arrive at my destination ready for a shower and seeing my neatly packed and organized suitcase. It's definitely oddly satisfying for sure!
How does packing cubes work?
It's very simple! They act as organizers for your suitcase. Most packing cubes work by opening a large zipper around the edges of the cube.
You put in your clothes, folded or rolled, and zip it back up.
Some packing cube sets come with other organizers, like a pouch for your shoes, or a laundry bag for your dirty clothes.
Personally, the only travel gear that matters to me are the cubes themselves. That, and the pouch for my shoes. I no longer have to go to the convenience store and buy something just to get a plastic bag for my shoes. Don't judge.
Regular vs. Compression Packing Cubes
You may have heard about compression packing cubes. So, what’s the difference? If regular packing cubes allow you to fit several items, compression cubes can help you create more space in your suitcase by reducing the amount of air bubbles that exists in your packing cube.
I'm not gonna lie, I was skeptical at first as well. But after seeing them in action in a hostel, I fell in love with compression packing cubes.
Compression packing cubes usually come with two sets of zippers. One zipper closes the cube, while the other goes all around it and helps compress things and make the cube thinner. A compression packing cube can be handy to pack even more clothes in a small suitcase or backpack.
If you're looking for a compression packing cube, you're in luck. Check out our very own Traveler's Essentials Compression Packing Cube!
Vacuum Compression Bags
Vacuum or plastic compression bags are airtight plastic bags with one-way valves, which forces air out to compress your clothing even further, saving more space.
Vacuum bags, as the name hints, require a vacuum to pull the air out of the bag. After you seal the bag close, these vacuums will squeeze air out of the valve to compress the contents inside. This process may be either automatic or manual.
I personally think this is more fitted for digital nomads than a backpack traveler. That's because you wouldnt want to lug around a vacuum that can't be compressed, ruining the point of a vacuum bag.
Even if it's a compressible manual vacuum, you wouldn't want to be there manually compressing your clothes each time after you decompress them.
I'd only bring them if you're going somewhere you're confident you'll be staying for a long time. I'd also recommend them if you're moving places, they're super useful!
Benefits of Packing Cubes
The use of packing cubes vary individual to individual. For me, it's all about efficiency and organization, which is hard to maintain the longer the trip gets.
Yes, it's absolutely true you can get by without packing cubes. But if you're not the most organized traveler, definitely use packing cubes. It'll save you a lot of time, stress, and effort in the long run!
Keeping Things Organized
The possibilities here are endless. Who says packing cubes are only for your shirts and pants?
If you happen to have one of those packing cube sets, you're able to put more than just shirts, pants, and socks in there. Stuff I've packed in these cubes include keys, medication, emergency money, gum, cables, and more!
I personally like to stuff my small toiletries in these cubes. While other brands sell you compression cubes and toiletry cubes separately, they're mostly the same. I sometimes also put my charging cables in there, as I've found they tend to be less tangled if I line them around the cube.
For your regular clothes, there's also a bunch of possibilities. You can pack various clothing items in each cube, like t-shirts in one cube, pants in another, dresses in another, and so on. Alternatively, you may pack entire outfits in small packing cubes, so you only open one cube at a time.
While packing cubes aren't garment bags and aren't made to help keep your clothes wrinkle free, I've found that if you neatly fold them up before your trip, they stay relatively wrinkle-free throughout the trip!
No matter how you choose to organize things, packing cubes allow you to have a tidy suitcase. No more pulling on one t-shirt at the bottom of your suitcase and making a mess of everything else. Also, forget about having to take out all your clothes to find that one pair of shorts buried deep within your backpack.
Packing More in Smaller Spaces
I probably already made this point clear, but you can save a lot of space.
If you fold or roll up your clothes properly, you can fit much more in a packing cube than you would by throwing stuff in your suitcase. You save space and keep things neatly organized, clearing you more space in your luggage for souvenirs or local snacks.
Ever since I started using packing cubes, I travel just with a carry-on, but I always manage to pack everything I need for several weeks of travel.
Various Sizes for Various Items
The great thing about packing cubes is that they come in different sizes. Items like pants and pullovers may take up more space than t-shirts and underwear. You can use bigger packing cubes for bulkier items and smaller ones for thinner ones.
Downsides of Packing Cubes
I’d like to tell you that packing cubes are a perfect invention, but there are a couple of downsides. However, I believe these are easy to overcome.
Risk of Overpacking
This one is a real risk that you must pay attention to. Packing cubes allow you to pack much more stuff in the same space, but that adds extra weight. If you travel with a carry-on, you must pay attention not to overpack!
They're also usually deceptively small. I sometimes have the issue where my packing cubes don't fit my backpack because I overpacked my packing cubes and now they're too big.
A Bit of Extra Hassle
I won’t lie to you, there’s just a bit of extra hassle when using packing cubes. You need to zip and unzip various bags to grab all the items you need for your outfit, especially if you pack clothing items separately.
Nevertheless, I’ll say the extra hassle of packing cubes is worth it if it means keeping things organized throughout your trip.
While I can definitely swear by them, I can also understand that they're not for everybody.
Packing solutions exist only to people who'd like the added benefit of staying organized while traveling. If you're someone who's already very organized and knows all of the neat tips and tricks to folding your clothes in a way that conserves space, you probably won't find packing cubes extremely useful.
Also, it's an added cost to keep your suitcase organized, which is definitely optional but not a requirement. Some premium suitcase brands have now opted to include packing cubes in their luggages as part of the product as well!
How Do You Pack Using Packing Cubes?
There are two schools of thought around this: the rolling and the folding methods. I use a mix of both, and that has been working out well for me.
Some people prefer folding everything neatly and stacking them inside the packing cubes. I’d argue that this adds extra work to find things inside each packing cube.
Others prefer the rolling method, as it allows you to line up all your items and easily grab the one you need without having to unpack the whole cube. However, rolling may lead to extra creasing.
I find that rolling items that don’t crease easily and folding the rest is a good mix. Even within the same packing cube, I may have a layer of rolled-up clothes and a few folded items on top.
Traveler's Compression Packing Cubes
I'll admit, I've gone through fair share of packing cubes. Most on amazon are just flimsy, while some zippers break after a few uses, which at times left me more disorganized thanI would've been without a packing cube to begin with.
That's why I was super excited when FlightDeck released their one set of compression cubes: Traveler's Compression Packing Cubes.
These comes in different sets, sizes, and colors, but I personally recommend either getting the sets of 3 for short 2-5 day trips and the sets of 6 for 5+ day trips.
My personal preferences might not be suitable for you, so we've also released individual small, medium and large cubes for sale!
These compression cubes are made with nylon, equipped with mesh panels and bigger zippers, which solves most of the pains of those cheap amazon packing cubes.
2 minor features that I love about these cubes:
1. Cube Handles: You'd think this is a common sense feature to have for packing cubes, especially if you're gonna be stuffing them into backpacks half the time. These handles came in clutch for those impromptu outfit changes while out and about.
2. Extended zipper: Sometimes it's hard to find the zipper, especially if it's dark. That's why these packing cubes have extended ropes on the zipper to make unpacking much easier to do. Love it!
Not to mention, these cubes comes with compression zipper that helps compact and reduce air, creating more space in your backpack or suitcase.
How I pack with these compression cubes
Large & Extra Large Cubes
- Long sleeve shirts
- Crop Tops
- Button ups
- Pairs of socks
- Shorts and Pants
Verdict: Are Packing Cubes Worth It?
If you like keeping things organized and want to make the most of the small space of a carry-on, I’d say packing cubes are worth a try. Buy a small set and see for yourself if it works well for you.
However, if you don’t like the idea of having items packed in several separate bags, maybe packing cubes are not for you. It ultimately comes down to your travel style and personality.
My Overall Rating: 4.8/5
- Optimize Packing Space
- Reduce Clutter & Stay Organized
- Versatile and Portable
- Different Variations of Cubes
- Mostly Affordable
- Extra Hassle
- Sometimes Flimsy
- Not for everyone
- Prone for overpacking
Best Packing Cubes
We have an entire guide about the best packing cubes. Ultimately, your choice depends on 3 things: your budget, how many packing cubes you need, and how important the material quality is for you.
If you're interested in getting your own packing cubes, I'd honestly recommend our very own Pilot’s Compression Packing Cubes Set. They're compression cubes, which gives you the added benefit of having more space to stuff souvenirs or snacks with. I've done all the research in picking out these quality cubes so that you can bring them everywhere you go. Durable, versatile, and portable, these things can and will follow you on trips across the world.
If you don't need a set, I've included some individual packing cubes (large, medium, and small) for sale as well!
General FAQs about Packing Cubes
Do packing cubes work better than rolling your clothes?
It depends. For bulkier items, you don't want to roll them. You'll just increase creases and wrinkles. If you only have non-bulky casual clothes, rolling is the best way to go to maximize space. However, if you'd like to stay organized without compromise, I'd opt for both rolling and packing cubes.
Can you pack more or less with packing cubes?
More, especially with compression cubes. You can fit more travel gear in your suitcase with packing cubes, which can help reduce items rolling around your backpack and save you from paying for a checked bag.
Do packing cubes really help?
For most, they do. If being disorganized doesn't pain you as much, you might not find them helpful. But if you struggle with a messy backpack/suitcase from time to time and would like to find a way to fix that, packing cubes are the way to go.
How do you use packing cubes efficiently?
I'd first sort your clothing by occasion or type. Then, I'd categorize within each group which ones can be rolled, while which should be folded. From there, depending on volume, I'd experiment with the amount of packing cubes. If possible, label each cube and place them in order of when they're first used if they're packed in a backpack.
Are compression packing cubes TSA approved?
TSA do not prohibit compression packing cubes. In fact, they would recommend it. It's much easier to pull out to check and still keep your suitcase organized. Win win situation.
Start Packing and Plan Your Trip with Pilot
Now that you’re all set to pack your bags with packing cubes, it’s time to start planning your next trip.