A STAPLE FOR ANY FREQUENT TRAVELER, THE HUMBLE PACKING CUBE IS A HERO PRODUCT THAT TAKES THE STRESS OUT OF ORGANIZING AND TRANSPORTING YOUR STUFF. BEFORE YOU TRY ROLLING, STUFFING, AND SHOVING THINGS INTO YOUR SUITCASE, LEARN HOW TRAVEL PROS USE PACKING CUBES SO YOU CAN SAVE ROOM WHEN PACKING YOUR LUGGAGE.
Perhaps you received packing cubes as a gift, or you picked some up based on rave reviews from other travellers. Now what? Are they just sitting in your closet, or maybe you’re using them for home storage?
Worse yet, maybe you tried to use the packing cubes haphazardly on a trip and they just confused you! If you don’t really understand how to use packing, read on for the definitive guide to what they are—and how to best organise your packing list using packing cubes of all different sizes. Once you learn tips and tricks to get the most out of a packing cube system, you’ll learn to love them. Here’s everything you need to know.
WHAT ARE PACKING CUBES?
Packing cubes are organisational tools for your suitcase that come in all shapes and sizes. Made from a range of durable and lightweight materials, most classic packing cubes are a rectangular shape and close with a zipper. Packing cubes work with either the rolling or folding method of travel packing.
Packing cubes are primarily used to organise clothes while traveling, but the range of sizes (not just rectangles!) make them ideal for also organising camera gear, cords, accessories, and more. They differ from nylon or plastic compression bags because they can do so much more—compression cubes can compress just like a bag, but they can also hold and organize any other gear on the road.
In short, anything you put in a suitcase can likely be organized with a packing cube!
DO PACKING CUBES WORK—ARE THEY EVEN WORTH IT?
When it comes to packing a suitcase, it pays to be a little obsessive. If you tend to rearrange your suitcase multiple times on a trip, ensuring it’s as organised as possible, then packing cubes are helpful and well worth the investment. Using packing organisers is a quick, easy way to bring order and harmony to your bag—and to your trip.
And because packing cubes come in all shapes in sizes, you can use as many or as few cubes as it takes to organise your gear. That means you might choose just two medium sized cubes and a smaller sized cube to pack for a beach vacation to Thailand’s islands, city attire for Beijing, and hiking clothes for a few nights in Yangshao’s rice terraces.
In the winter though, compression cubes and larger cubes are worth the investment—these helpful cubes space and cinch-down those bulkier items. Both of these sized cubes are worth it for travellers packing for long-term trips, or for families fitting a lot of gear in one bag!
For the true organisational fan, invest in a set of packing cubes and a set of packing sacs to start—that way you are picking the right cubes for your type of trip and you have a helpful range of options.
HOW TO USE PACKING CUBES
PACK LIKE WITH LIKE
When you pack for a trip, your clothes, shoes, and accessories come from well-organised drawers, shelves, and closets. But on the road, all those items have to share the same limited real estate inside your travel pack or road trip duffel. Here are two approaches to using packing cubes:
- Group items like you would at home. You don’t keep your underwear with your shoes, or belts and electronics in a drawer with your pants. So separating them in your travel bag just makes sense—and there are packing cubes specifically designed for packing each different type of gear. Think: shoe cubes, toiletry bags, bra cubes, t-shirt cubes, and more.
- Pack by trip activity. You could pack a beach-weather cube—including cover ups and linen dresses—by rolling them in neat rows, arranging them as close together as possible. Swimsuits are easily scrunched into the same medium packing cube around the neat rows of outfits, or put them in a water-resistant slim cube. Consider the same approach for your hiking wardrobe—admittedly easier considering it may consist of just leggings, sports tops, and thin hiking pants and shirts.
As noted, packing cubes come in a broad variety of styles, shapes, fabrics, and they act like compact drawers and shelves in your bag, keeping similar items together and separating them into categories.
- Use Packing Cubes for pants, t-shirts, pyjamas, socks, and more.
- Use Garment Folders to keep dress shirts, dresses, skirts, and more wrinkle-free.
- Use Compression Cubes for bulky items and dirty clothes.
In practice, that means you can roll your socks, scarves, belts, and underwear and put them into a small, extra small cube, or slim cube. Then roll your t-shirts, compress, and zip them into a medium packing cube. Large cubes work well for your pants, larger shirts, and bulky items—although really you should look to compression cubes if you’re packing sweaters and winter gear.
A packing starter set is a great way to start your collection with a variety of sizes.
USE PACKING CUBES THAT FIT YOUR LUGGAGE
Once you have the cubes packed, it’s time to fit the cubes into your luggage. This is when travellers often get frazzled because, admittedly, when you place the cubes in your bag, they take up the entire suitcase. But, if you compress them enough—and if you packed everything into them—then it all fits. At the end, fit your shoes on top (even better if you place them in their own packing bag) and then wedge any smaller packing sacks with remaining accessories into extra spaces around the cubes (these slip into the spaces created by handles and wheel wells).
What are these smaller items? Your jewellery, small electronics, cords, headsets, pens, notebooks, belts, camera, and sunglasses. Packing Sacs come in a variety of sizes to make packing these items easy.
- An extra small sac or a durable cube works perfectly to protect your jewellery.
- A medium packing sac is ideal for your electronics cords, toiletries, or as a way to easily store your travel first aid kit.
- Don’t forget your makeup, and all your small odds and ends that seem to defy any category. For these smaller items, try another study cube.
Don’t get flustered on your first time with packing cubes, they do take some finagling, but you’ll quickly learn exactly the right configuration for your specific travel gear.
PERFECTLY CONTAIN DIRTY CLOTHES STINK
All too often a squished bag of dirty clothes accumulates and takes up more space than necessary when traveling. Separating soiled from clean clothing has always been a challenge for travellers. One solution is to launder soiled clothes daily, but that can get tiresome. Once you’re done wearing something, if it’s dirty, don’t crumple it into a ball, but rather toss it in a laundry sac, or roll it up and place it back in your Pack-It Clean/Dirty Cube—these feature one breathable compartment, and a second water-resistant compartment to hold in moisture and control odours.
If you keep the rolling technique, you can maintain a strict level of organisation in your suitcase until you get home. Sweaty stinky gym clothes? Wet bathing suit? No problem. Clean/Dirty Cubes ensure the unused, clean clothes remain just that—clean—so you can quickly identify unworn outfits to either use on the remainder of your trip, or when you get back home, the dirty clothes to pluck out and throw in the wash. This method ensures everything stays smelling fresh for your entire trip.
STAY ORGANIZED DURING YOUR TRIP
Upon reaching your accommodation, you can pick out your cube of choice, hang up all your clothing (or if you’re moving hotels throughout your stay, just take out one or two outfits) without disturbing the rest of your suitcase. It’s that simple. Once you use packing cubes, you save so much time by not rearranging your suitcase time and time again.
15 BEST PACKING CUBE TIPS
In the interest of providing an even more comprehensive overview of how best to use a packing cube, top travel bloggers share their top tips for organising your suitcase with packing cubes.
- Segment Small Electricals: Ben Horton uses packing cubes to segment small electricals—something made easier with the new eTools Pro. “I use small and medium packing cubes to organise my camera cables and batteries when I don’t want to take a whole camera bag out on location with me. It means I can travel light and grab small accessories with ease instead of having to empty the contents of my pack in order to find things.”
- Organise Camera Equipment: Jeremy who blogs as Travel Freak opts to organise camera equipment in his packing cubes. “Camera lenses will fit inside medium-sized Gear packing cubes. Other sturdy packing cubes can be used to pack your camera body or any other valuables that you may need while traveling. Don’t forget; never pack expensive equipment in your check-in luggage. You should always keep your valuables in your carry-on.”
- Protect Fragile Devices: Will from The Broke Backpacker suggests using Velcro dividers to protect fragile devices. “When using packing cubes for camera gear or fragile electricals, it’s key to use the stiff Velcro dividers integrated into your Gear Protect-It cubes. Use these dividers to create separate compartments within your cubes for each piece of equipment.”
- Easily Differentiate Kids’ Belongings: Victoria from Bridges and Balloons uses packing cubes to keep her kids organised while traveling. “I was already a packing cube fanatic pre-kids, but they’ve become even more useful now we travel as a family. Kids come with a lot of extra baggage and the cubes help keep it all organised. They’re especially useful on flights or in the car when we use them to separate snacks, toys, and spare clothes. For the kids’ main luggage, I have different colour packing cubes so I easily know whose is whose.”
- Reduce Plastic Waste: Meg of MappingMegan.com uses sustainable packing cubes to reduce plastic waste. “I love my water-resistant packing cubes, which protect the other contents of my luggage. And I use them to reduce plastic waste. You might be tempted to separate your dirty clothing, toiletries, or other items in plastic bags, only to discard them once you have used them. But this kind of usage of plastic bags causes so much waste and it is becoming an increasingly prevalent environmental problem. Use packing cubes and sacs instead!”
- Organise Your Toiletries. Travel writer Tim Leffel utilises a toiletry organiser when on the road. “I’ve been using packing cubes since I first went backpacking around the world in the mid-90s, including hanging travel toiletry kits to keep those items organised and hang them up in bathrooms without enough counter space.”
- Stay in Shape: Storyteller Emily Lush uses packing cubes to stay in shape. “I actually have a rather unusual use for my packing cubes—I weight them with toiletries and use them as dumbbells when I’m traveling. Each morning I do reps of different exercises to strengthen and tone. As a long-term traveller, it’s been an important part of my routine to keep fit on the road.”
- Colour-Code Your Packing System: Jarryd and Alesha from Nomadasaurus have a color-code to organise their packing cubes. “Having lived out of a backpack for the better part of a decade, packing cubes are absolutely essential to how we organize our gear. It might seem a little obsessive, but we have different coloured cubes for various items. Blue cubes for underwear and socks, green for shirts, red for pants and shorts, and black for cold-weather gear such as a fleece, thermals, gloves, and a hat.”
- Just Say Yes to Wrinkle-Free Clothes: Maggie from blog The World Was Here First layers clothing in packing cubes to avoid creasing. “My partner and I both use and love the Compression Cubes. One thing that works best for me when it comes to getting the most out of those specific cubes is to make sure my things inside are as flat as can be. I notice that many other people suggest rolling clothes to maximise space in the cubes, however, I have found this not to be nearly as effective as folding them flat and stacking them instead. It helps with the compression, maximising space, and also limits the number of wrinkles I get in my clothes.”
- Keep Essentials in Your Carry-On: Amber from FoodDrinkDestinations.com keeps a packing cube of travel essentials in her carry-on. “We bought an original packing cube in 2008 before our first round-the-world-trip. Since that time, we place the same packing cube carefully in one of our carry-on bags. We refer to it affectionately as The Cube. Inside we store all the small, but often important, stuff that we don’t want to lose. At any one time The Cube safely holds a bag of random currencies from around the world, transit cards from cities we frequent, random mobile sim cards, a portable Wi-Fi device, ear plugs, headphones, business cards, extra photos for visa applications, immunisation records, a backup credit card, and anything else small. The handle makes it easy to slip in and out of the carry-on bag. And, because it is a soft packing cube it doesn’t take up a ton of space!”
- Separate Seasonal Clothing: Sustainable travellers Max & Oksana from DrinkTeaTravel.com use packing cubes to categorise winter and summer clothing. “As full-time travellers, we learned the value of our packing cubes many years ago and now don’t go anywhere without them. As we often travel for long periods of time and in different climates, sometimes, half way through the trip, we’ll reorganise our folder packing cubes. We’ll put away our “winter” clothes in one cube and tuck them deep in our suitcase and keep all the “summer” clothes in another one. This keeps our suitcases neat and tidy!”
- Pair Packing Cubes with Rubber Bands: Kimmie of Adventures & Sunsets maximises space in her packing cubes with rubber bands. “Packing cubes have been my lifeblood while traveling and backpacking through 65+ countries. I travel with two large cubes and one smaller one, which I find fit perfectly, vertically in my 65L backpack. This packing cube tip is actually from my mom who works as a flight attendant; to fit as much as possible in your packing cubes try rolling clothes up with rubber bands! I keep a stash of rubber bands with me and roll all my clothes up tightly and place them like Tetris into my packing cubes.”
- Keep Delicates Separate & Safe: Bruna, travel blogger at Maps ‘N Bags separates her delicates in small packing cubes. “I usually travel with three packing cubes. One for tops, another for bottoms, and a third packing cube for socks, underwear, and bras. Because the last one is the smallest I have, and I don’t want to damage my underwired-bras, I tuck the cups inside of each other and stack them. Finally, I put the socks at the bottom, inside the cup to hold its form. It works like a charm.”
- Organise Your Road Trip Supplies: Jackie The Globetrotting Teacher uses packing cubes to stay organized on a road trip. “I love using packing cubes for road trips. Before leaving, I organise outfits and what I need for the night, like pyjamas and my toothbrush, in my packing cubes accordingly. I also have a cube for toiletries and one for medicines and first aid supplies. Then, instead of a suitcase or a large bag that takes up so much space, I use a trunk organiser, a bin or drawers to store my packing cubes in my vehicle. Because everything is separated, I can pick and choose what I take into a hotel or unpack in a tent. It’s much easier than hauling a suitcase in and out of the car every day.”
- Keep Your Cruise Cabin Tidy: Sandy from Boulevardsandbyways.com keeps her cruise cabin tidy by using packing cubes. “When packing for a recent 10-day cruise to the Caribbean I decided to purchase a set of packing cubes. With packing cubes in hand, I organised the different types of clothing I’d wear at various times during the cruise. Bathing suits and cover ups went in one, dressy tops and slacks in another. Shorts, t-shirts and tank tops filled larger packing cubes, and bras and underwear fit in a smaller sized cube. Because of the lack of drawer space, I kept the filled cubes in my suitcase. Whenever I needed an item, I’d pull my suitcase out from under the bed, pluck out the needed items and I was ready to go.”
Regardless of how stylish or simple your packing techniques are, once you give them a real try—no half-heartedness like some first attempts—you’re going to love them. Of course you could freewheel it and try to organize your bag using old shoe boxes or zip lock bags, but homespun solutions usually just add to the chaos. Face it, unless your clothes, gear, and travel accessories are properly corralled, they tend to wander, and before you know it, you’re traveling with a bag that looks like a rummage sale.
Once you’ve got your bag packed with packing cubes, it will be the most compact, organized suitcase of your life. You’ll be so proud you may not even want to unpack it upon arriving at your destination. But trust us, this is when packing cubes really shine.