The Wonderful World of Packing Cubes

packing cubesSince 2006, I have used packing cubes on every domestic and international trip I have taken. Packing cubes make many a traveler’s “must have” packing gear list, and I cannot imagine hitting the road without them.

What are packing cubes?

Packing cubes are relatively small containers made of fabric, often in a rectangular shape, used for packing clothing. They zip closed and are small enough that you can fit several into a carry-on bag, suitcase, or backpack.

What are the uses and benefits of packing cubes?

I packed a suitcase for many years without the use of packing cubes and traveled without a problem! Once I started using packing cubes, however, I began to discover numerous benefits to using them – they can help you pack and travel better.

Variety of sizes: While packing cube are often rectangular in shape, they vary in length, width, and height, making them perfect for packing any type of clothing – or anything else you may want to stash inside. Differing sizes also mean they can fit in any size daypack, backpack, or suitcase.

Organize clothing: Packing cubes help you pack like items together. I like to use the larger size for my pants, shorts, and long-sleeved shirts and the smaller for short-sleeved shirts (all in one), underwear (panties and bras in one), and feminine products.

Keep clothes neat and minimize wrinkles if you can pack the cubes to capacity: It’s unavoidable (at least for me!) to have a few wrinkles, even when rolling clothing. By filling packing cubes to capacity with tightly rolled clothing or neatly folded garments, the items are kept in place from point A to B.

Easy to live out of my bag – makes packing, repacking, and finding exactly what you need easier: Sometimes when I’ve been sightseeing all day, I want to pop back to the hostel to freshen up and change shirts before heading out for dinner with a new friend. I can easily take one packing cube out of my bag to get exactly what I need instead of flipping through piles of clothing in a suitcase.

Cosmetics bag: The smaller sized packing cubes are great for using as cosmetics bags. They’ll hold your make-up, medicine, and a variety of other toiletries. Just be sure to pack your liquids in the airline-approved bag.

Maximize space: I seem to fit more into my suitcase when using packing cubes than I used to without them. Perhaps it’s due to the building-block shape of the cubes – they’re easy to stack and fit neatly into every available inch of your pack.

Pillows: Sometimes the hostel pillow just doesn’t cut it. Or perhaps you find yourself on an impromptu trip or camping in the middle of nowhere. In times when I’ve needed a pillow, I gladly used my largest packing cube, which was filled with clothing.

Storage in between trips: There are certain items you might only use when you travel. Instead of taking everything out, only to have to track down the items again for your next trip, you can store them in a packing cube to make them easy to find.

packing cubes

Using packing cubes on the road

Packing cubes are now a “must have” item for me. I found my first set to be too stiff and rigid, and my next purchase utilized a more flexible fabric.

While traveling, I may put dirty clothes in one cube, along with a couple of dryer sheets to keep the suitcase smelling fresh. I wash my packing cubes from time to time and hang them to dry.

I have six cubes altogether and vary the amount I bring on a trip – usually I travel with 1 long rectangular cube and 2-3 shorter (but taller) ones.

>> See how different packing cubes did when we compared four brands.

In Istanbul, I met a traveler who used cubes that were cylindrical in shape for her backpack and she loved them. As I travel with a small suitcase, I am curious to hear from those of you who carry a backpack. I think that cubes fit like puzzles pieces neatly in a rectangular suitcase – do you feel the same with a backpack?

Packing cube alternatives

  • Packing folders: I was eager to own a set and then found them to be too rigid the first time I used them. The folders stayed at home while I traveled in Oz but they work well for some people.
  • Compression bags: These bags can reduce the space your stuff takes up by compressing the contents. At HPL we compared four different brands of compression sacks so you can choose the right one.
  • Shoe bags: Shoe sized bags that protect your clothing from the soles of your shoes. I pack my laptop and camera cables and chargers inside instead!

>> Check out different packing cubes on Amazon.

Have packing cubes aided your packing or do I love them more than the average gal? Ladies, if you use them with a backpack or use folders or compression bags instead, share what works (or doesn’t!) for you.

Photo credit: 1.

25 COMMENTS

  1. says

    Christine, my sets are from Rick Steves and I love them! The stiff ones that I disliked came with a suitcase my parents bought at one point. I haven’t tried a brand other than Rick’s, but I’ve seen plenty of “softer” ones that other travelers have used.

  2. Krista says

    I use a backpack and the normal square/rectangle packing cubes work great. I think it might depend on the type of backpack. My backpack opens somewhat like a suitcase and the cubes fit fine. Some have backpacks where everything loads at the top and I would think cylindric ones would work better with those. I don’t know if that is the case with the person you met but that is my theory :).

    I use Eagle Creek packing cubes and they look similar to the ones you have and the are soft and flexible and not at all ridgid. I like them!

    • says

      Krista, I think my friend did indeed have a top loading backpack! Thank you for sharing about your backpack and cubes — I’m thinking about getting a backpack for future trips and was wondering how the cubes would work with the different shape :-)

  3. says

    Oh, how I second your love of packing cubes. I have two sets: one is a Rick Steve’s set and one is Embark (which I think is a Target brand). With the help of these cubes I am all packed for six months in Paris- in one carry-on and one suitcase.

  4. Beth says

    I bought a set of packing cubes just before my big trip to Europe and wasn’t able to use them in my (top loading) backpack. I tried packing things into them but just wasn’t able to fit as much into the same amount of space – the cubes took up all the room. I ended up using gallon size ziplock bags, which was actually fantastic. I labelled them and brought a few extra but didn’t even need those. I’m about to go on another trip with a rolling suitcase, so I’ll give the cubes another try.

  5. says

    I used a compression bag when I went to Costa Rica earlier this year. It was a life saver. All of my clothes went into it and then using the straps, I squat it down to half it’s normal size. There were a few wrinkles but I think I could’ve avoided some if I’d packed a little more carefully to start. I was able to steam/iron things flat when I got to where I was going.

  6. Mandy says

    I LOVE my eagle creek packing cubes. They help me stay organized and they help me keep my packing to a minimum. Mine have been to Ecuador, the Canadian Rockies, and all over the US on MANY geology field trips and road trips. I have 2 medium and 2 small sized rectangular cubes and a folder that I use when I have clothing that I like to keep a little neater (button up shirts, dresses). I use the smaller cubes for socks and undies and the medium cubes are the perfect size for rolled up t-shirts. Though I haven’t used these with a backpack, I have used them quite a bit with a duffel bag as well as a small rolling suitcase. In a duffel they do shift quite a bit, especially as I acquire better travel gear and pack less, but I wouldn’t leave home without them!

  7. Heike says

    My father is head over heels for those packing cubes. He does a lot of business trips and always uses them. According to him the rectangular cubes are the best for keeping button-down shirts wrinkle-free. Hey also uses a shoe bag for his office shoes, they do a great job preventing the shoe polish from staining the clothes or the inside of the suitcase.
    Personally, I used a shoe bag before but other than that I always thought those cubes were a waste of space. But after reading what you wrote and remembering the chaos in backpack, I might just give it a try. :) I already looked up some cylinder-shaped bags that would fit in my 28L-pack just right.

  8. Marjorie says

    I love mine – I use them all the time, regardless of travel! I use the smallest ones in my purse and/or backpack everyday, one for those loose odds and ends in a purse (favorite pen, chapstick, eyedrops, extra hair ties, little bits of candy, etc) and one for my electronics – I corral all my cables, headphones, adaptors, chargers, ipods and small cameras)

    I have a long narrow one which I use for sock and underware, and I have a few medium ones that I use for my rolled up shirts and shorts, if i am taking pants other than jeans, I take a large one, they don’t wrinkle much that way!

  9. Susan says

    I fell in love with packing cubes last year. My brother and sister in law used theirs ona trip to China. I used gallon ziplock backs. They had plenty of extra room in their suitcase, while I was pushed for space. So I bought some and used them on a 3 week trip to Iceland (even though it was July, I needed long pants and long sleeved shirts, plus a jacket – highs were only 60 degrees) My mother used the ziplock bags, I had one medium suitcase, while she had 2. With the packing cubes, I had plenty of room for all the wool sweaters I bought while there.

    I use Eagle Creek brand, and have a variety of sizes that I use. They are a lifesaver! I will invest in more before my trip to Italy this summer, especially after reading your packing list for Italy!

  10. Sally says

    I love packing cubes! They make my wheeled duffle bag organised. They could easily be removed from my overweight luggage and moved to my hand carry whenever I head from a big long haul flight to budget airlines. It’s not embarrassing to open my bag in crowded places. Always used them as pillows on camping trips.

    When coming home from weeks-long holidays, it’s easy to know which clothes are still clean (overpacking – good feedback from my packing that next time I will no longer bring) and clothes heading straight to laundry.

    A little ocd but I can tell if I have not packed everything from looking at my cubes.

    One of the cubes would always pack a black dress with a matching cardigan and a foldable shoe. If I’m headng to a big city then same cube would have scarf (winter) and a purse just in case I can’t resit a posh dinner place (love food reason!)

    Absolutely love them!

    My boyfriend loves them too!

  11. Aislinn says

    I’m going on a mission trip to Kenya, as well as a cross-U.S.A. roadtrip next summer. Do you think it’s possible to pack for 10 days-2 weeks in a small (11x23x11) duffel and a backpack? Would these cubes help?

    • says

      We ABSOLUTELY think it’s possible, Aislinn! You’d be surprised what you can pack into a small bag. Just be smart and bring pieces that can be layered up and down. Packing cubes can help to organize your clothing, as well as compress slightly to fit better into your bag.

  12. Sofia says

    I will use the cubes on my next trip, but i have used the compression ones and recomend it if you’re doing an extended trip.
    Once we were staying with family, on our return trip we just borrowed the vacumer and compressed them again! it was a saver with space and our clothes and textiles didn’t force the bag’s zippers!

  13. Sandy says

    I use and love Eagle Creek packing cubes and folders. Whether I carry on or check my bag, I don’t like the idea of TSA handling my clothes. I use a 2-sided cube for sleepwear, workout clothes, and knit shirts and 2-sided half cube for underwear, swimsuit, and socks. For years I never checked a bag and used the bundle packing method. I could pack more that way, but my bag was a mess after day 2. With the cubes and folders, clothes stay organized and easy to find without messing up the whole bag. The packing folders reduce wrinkles. I have used compression bags once and will definitely do that again.

  14. Emily says

    Just got the Eagle Creek ones that are made of silnylon.

    They are SO lightweight! Otherwise, I don’t think I would have made the sacrifice of the added weight for the sake of convenience.

  15. Nancy says

    I love my e-bags, and have color coded them somewhat. I love them! I use blue for day wear (like the blue sky), yellow for the beach (sunshine) and black for nightwear (dark sky).

    Also, I also invested in some bags – one for each outfit, so I can put the dress, under ware, and jewelry – all in the same bag. Quick and easy to get ready, and I don’t have to look through all the bags to put together an outfit.

    The problem or question I have is that sometimes its difficult to determine the contents, even with the mesh panels. I mean, black is black. Is that my black dress? or my black sweater, or my black pants, etc? Any thoughts on that?

  16. says

    I think you are my new favorite blog.! Anything that can help my OCD and nerdiness feel normal makes me happy. I just bought my first set of travel clubs and cannot wait to use them.

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