These little cubes of zippered goodness will give you back some of your sanity while you travel! They help you to stay organized, keep your belongings compact, and find what you need in record time from the abyss of your backpack.
This article will provide everything you need to know about packing cubes, as well as how to use packing cubes properly.
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.
With different sizes and shapes, it is possible to find the right packing cubes to fit perfectly into your luggage (much like Tetris!). Some are squares, rectangles, or even long ones resembling square tubes. Others offer extra compression zippers, and some even have two sides, which are useful in keeping clean clothes separate from dirty.
Packing cubes keep your clothing compressed (to a small degree) and your packing organized. Once you start using them, you won’t look back!
What are the Benefits of Using Packing Cubes?
It’s true that you can pack well (enough) without ever using packing cubes. I did it for years! Once I started using them, however, I discovered the numerous benefits. No more pulling every piece of clothing out of my bag to get to the one thing at the bottom!
Packing cubes do all of the following:
- Come in a variety of sizes: While packing cubes 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. One cube for your bottoms, one for tops, another for underwear, etc. You can choose to further organize according to cube size, or even by choosing a specific color to signify which cube holds which belongings.
- Keep clothes neat and minimize wrinkles: It’s unavoidable 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.
- Make packing, repacking, and finding exactly what you need easier: When using packing cubes, you can pull that one specific cube out of your bag to get exactly what you need instead of flipping through piles of clothing in a suitcase. Some cubes have a mesh panel so you can see what’s inside each one.
- Offer alternative storage solutions: Some travelers will use the smaller sized packing cubes as cosmetics bags, while others will use packing cubes to store their electronics cables and small devices. While we think there are better bags for these sorts of items, it’s so common we have to list it!
- Maximize space: Packing cubes can keep your clothes a bit more compressed, meaning you can fit more into your luggage. Also due to the building-block shape of the cubes – they’re easy to stack and fit neatly into every available inch of your pack.
- Serve as impromptu 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 situations like these, you might be able to use a large packing cube filled with clothing.
- Store travel belongings 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.
How to Use Packing Cubes
There is no right or wrong way to use packing cubes– do what works for you! I like to roll my clothes before placing them inside – that way they are super compressed and stay that way during transit.
Once you have your packing cubes filled (but not overfilled), place them in your luggage in the best position possible. Remember what types of things you included in each cube so you can grab what you need in a flash!
If you’re using a cube to store your dirty clothes, it may be nice to throw in a few dryer sheets to keep the luggage smelling fresh.
Tip: For suitcases, be sure to fill the gaps between the bars at the bottom of the bag before placing the cubes on top. You will have wasted luggage space otherwise.
Buying Packing Cubes
Which ones do I buy?
Some companies make their own packing cubes to fit the exact dimensions of their specific bags, which is handy since there are so many sizes and brands of cubes on the market. Besides that, the extra features and quality will help you determine which ones to buy.
Name Brand vs. Cheap Packing Cubes:
There is a bit of a debate as to whether to buy name brand packing cubes or cheap ones from dollar stores or Ikea for that matter. It’s up to you which route you want to take. Some of the name brand cubes will come with warranties or have added features you may enjoy (extra compression for example), but they can be costly.
That said, there is varying feedback from HPL readers. Some have been using their cheapo dollar store packing cubes for years. Others didn’t like how flimsy and low-quality they felt, and wouldn’t rely on them for long-term travel.
Large Packing Cubes:
If you’re just starting out and are unsure of which cubes to buy, I recommend staying away from the larger sized ones. They might take up more room than you need, and it’s probably best to have more smaller ones so you can organize and compartmentalize items better. They’re also more versatile if you end up switching up your luggage.
While sets are tempting because they come with a price break, they do often come with that very large packing cube so choose wisely.
Structured vs. Flexible Packing Cubes:
Some packing cubes, like Ebags original packing cubes, have a bit more heft to them. They tend to keep their shape more, which may or may not be what you’re looking for in packing cubes. Other packing cubes made of ultralight ulra-sil fabric (like these) are very easy to pack away when not in use, are compressible, and weigh next to nothing!
Double Sided Packing Cubes:
Double sided cubes, like the Eagle Creek Pack-It Clean Dirty Cube, make it easy to separate certain items from the rest. Dirty clothes and wet clothes can be placed in the water-repellant half, while clean clothes can be kept in the breathable mesh side. Great for beach trips!
With an additional zipper for compression, they can help you fit a bit into a smaller space.
How many do I buy?
Less is more in my opinion. By taking fewer packing cubes, I am less tempted to overpack. This is because I have a goal of making the brunt of my clothes fit into just one!
But for most people, I’d say it’s an average of 3 cubes that get packed. Some choose to go with more depending on their clothing needs and packing goals, but remember that you can have too much of a good thing.
Jude B. – “I have 2 small ones & 1 large which is easily enough for 2 weeks worth of clothes & plenty of room for everything else in any cabin sized luggage.”
Shawn R. – “I like taking one cube full of socks and undies and one of tops, then halfway through the trip I change it to one of clean laundry and one dirty!”
Melanie W. – “One for shirts (large one), one for lingerie and socks (small one), one for trousers (large), one for jackets (large), one for electronics and other stuff (small) and one for laundry (small then repack in a large one and the clean stuff comes in the small one).”
Where do I buy packing cubes?
Amazon has a number of brands, styles, and prices of packing cubes, so that would be my first recommendation since it’s so easy. Outdoors stores and travel specific stores will be your next best bet. Think REI, Anaconda, Kathmandu, Columbia, etc.
But, you can also pick up packing cubes at stores like Daiso, Muji, Ikea, Ebay, The Container Store and so many more!
5 Biggest Mistakes of Using Packing Cubes
1. Bringing too many.
It’s easy to get carried away- look at how well these cubes stack and fill my suitcase! But when you bring too many cubes, you are more likely to fill the cubes with articles of clothing that you really don’t need. It’s the same as bringing a bigger piece of luggage- you fill the space when it’s not necessary.
Tip: If you’d like to downsize, why not make it a challenge. Take out one of your packing cubes and tell yourself you can only bring the clothing that fits in the remaining ones.
2. Using the big ones.
I mentioned it before; the big ones are often a bit too big in my opinion. Plus they might not fill the space of your luggage in the best way possible. I’d prefer to have 2 separate half cubes that can be mixed up a bit to find the ultimate best fit.
3. Under or over filling.
If you don’t fill your cubes, then there still may be room for the items inside to shift around and get extra wrinkled. If you overfill them, then it could make it difficult to repack, and let’s not forget about the extra stress on the zippers and bag itself.
4. Using them for the wrong things.
You can definitely use packing cubes for more than just clothes, but chances are there is a much better packing container for things like cosmetics and electronics cables, and even bras. For the electronics, you could look into a Grid-It, or simply place them in a flatter zipper pouch. Cosmetics may be better off in a bag with more of a leak-proof liner. And bras may do better in a special case, such as CupCase.
5. Using them to pack more stuff instead of focusing on organization.
Sure, it’s a bonus if you are able to fit more stuff into your carry-on because you’ve compressed said stuff in packing cubes. But fitting more in means you have heavier luggage. Regardless of whether or not your airline allows the extra weight, we at HPL are adamantly opposed to extra luggage weight and bulk for more reasons than just saving money on airfare. It’s important to focus on the organization features of packing cubes.
Packing Cube Brands
We’ve compared a few different brands of packing cubes in this post a while back. Ebags and Eagle Creek are very popular. But there are numerous packing cube brands on the market, and they are all essentially the same at their core. Just remember that some brands may also come with additional warranties or features that could be beneficial.
Packing Cube Alternatives
- Packing folders: Packing folders are very rigid, which makes them good for things like business shirts and slacks. They are worth a try depending on your travel needs. I had purchased one years ago before my first backpacking trip, but when it came time to pack up and go, I left it behind.
- Compression bags: These bags can reduce the space your stuff takes up by compressing the contents. They are great for things like puffy jackets and bulky clothing items. 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. Some people use them for laptop and camera cables and chargers instead. They’re also good for undergarments.
- Zipper pouches: I tend to use an extremely lightweight zipper pouch for socks and underwear, and I also pack a 2nd one to store my dirty clothes.
Check out some packing cube action in this video showing how I packed for a trip in just a 12L handbag:
If you use packing cubes, how many do you pack?! Let us know in the comments!
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