How To Use Packing Cubes On Your Next Trip

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If you'd like to spend less time rummaging through your luggage and more time enjoying your vacation, give packing cubes a try.

Travel can be stressful. Packing cubes are a simple and affordable way to alleviate some of the pressure.

Whether you’re headed out on a solo adventure or a family vacation, packing cubes can keep you organized. Let’s take a look at what they are, how they work, and how to choose and using them.

What Are Packing Cubes?

Packing cubes are flexible, zip-closure containers that fit inside luggage to keep the contents organized. They come in various sizes, shapes and materials. They’re sold in sets and individually, so you can mix and match to create a set that suits your needs. Think of packing cubes as mobile, soft-sided drawers for your suitcase.

Why Use Packing Cubes?

Packing cubes can save time and space, keep your clothing clean and eliminate some of the stress of travel.

Benefits of packing cubes

  • Save space. “When airlines implemented luggage fees, small luggage became a necessity,” says Breanne Kiefner, founder of Root Adventures. Zipper closures help you compress the contents, making the most of your suitcase space.

  • Save time. Separating your items by category in packing cubes means that you only have to open one specific cube, rather than rummaging through your entire suitcase to find your favorite shirt.

  • Separate dirty laundry. After a day hiking or touring the city, you don’t need to throw your dirty gear in with your clean clothes. Toss soiled items in a packing cube to keep them separate.

  • Organize. If you’re traveling with friends or family, you can separate each person’s items by packing cube and color. Plus, smaller packing cubes can be used in your carry-on to store your cords, chargers and other accessories.

  • Minimize wrinkles. Packing cubes can help prevent items from shifting around. Some come with a folding board so you can stack your clothing neatly.

  • Protect possessions. Waterproof packing cubes can keep moisture in or out. They’re great for stashing wet swimsuits or muddy shoes, and can protect clothes from liquid-toiletry leaks. If your luggage does pop open in transit, you won’t end up chasing scattered clothing around the baggage claim conveyor belt.

  • Catch a catnap. If your flight is delayed and you find yourself stuck at the airport, a packing cube in your carry-on can double as a pillow.

  • Unpack with ease. “Packing cubes help maximize the limited space without the dreaded bag-opening explosion,” Kiefner says. And with everything in your luggage already organized in packing cubes, unpacking is a breeze.

How To Choose Packing Cubes

Step One is determining what kind and how many you need. Some features to consider:

  • Materials: If you plan to use packing cubes for liquid toiletries, or your adventures often involve wet swimsuits, choose waterproof packing cubes. Packing cubes made of anti-microbial materials are ideal for separating soiled clothing from clean items in your suitcase.

  • Transparency: If you prefer to see packed items without unzipping the cube, choose packing cubes with mesh or transparent materials.

  • Size: You’ll likely want various sizes — small for accessories, larger for pants and sweatshirts — tailored to the size of your luggage.

  • Compression: Some packing cubes, such as Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Isolate Compression Cubes, offer additional space-saving with a two-zipper compression system. No vacuum or valve needed — just place your items in, pull the first zipper to close the cube, and then the second zipper to compress it. These are great for maximizing carry-on luggage space and ideal for heavy packers or trips to colder destinations, which require bulkier items.

  • Color: If you’re traveling with a partner or children, consider buying different color packing cubes for each person to make them easily distinguishable. Or you can color-code your own by category — say, black for bottoms and blue for tops.

Susan Portnoy, and award-winning travel photographer and writer at The Insatiable Traveler, recommends a mix of packing and compression cubes. “Compression cubes are fantastic when you have luggage limitations,” she says. “You’ll be amazed how much more you can squeeze into a tiny space.”

Kiefner agrees. “I use three REI packing cubes; small, medium and large, with a compression feature,” she says. “I separate my items by toiletries; large clothing items, such as pants, long-sleeve shirts and sweats; and smaller clothing items, such as t-shirts, tank tops and undergarments. No more chaos or sitting on my suitcase to zip it up!”

How To Use Packing Cubes

Cube Meshed Bags With Rolled Clothes. Set Of Travel Organizer To Help Packing Well Organizedsasimoto/Getty Images

Next step: Decide how you want to organize your cubes. Here are some common approaches:

  • Drawer-to-cube: Group items together in the same way you group them in your dresser and closet. Think socks and undergarments in one cube, tops in another and bottoms in a third.

  • Activity: Categorize your cubes by activity, grouping clothing for water activities in one cube and wardrobe for evenings out in another.

  • Day-to-day: If you have a set itinerary and a short trip, sort items according to the day you’ll need them.

Finally, choose a packing method. Depending on your preference, roll or fold your clothes before placing them in the packing cubes. If using the lay-flat approach, folding boards can help you fold and stack items neatly in the cube.

Once you’ve filled and zipped up the packing cubes, place them in your luggage.

Packing Cubes To Try

The best packing cubes for you depend on your personal needs and travel style. Here are a few standout options:

Sunny Fitzgerald
Sunny Fitzgerald is a Hawaii-based writer covering travel, sustainability, culture, home, health, wellness, and more. You can find her work in National Geographic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel+Leisure, BBC, Lonely Planet, Forbes Travel Guide, and elsewhere. Find out more at https://www.thisissunny.com/