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While compression sacks and other alternatives can help you pack and fit more clothes into your luggage, they can also make your bag heavy. Our word of advice: Use compression sacks (or their alternatives) with caution.
As someone who loves to travel light, organizing luggage is both a skill and an art form.
Whenever I travel, I like to pack plenty of clothing options to make sure I’m prepared for every occasion and temperature. Since I try to go carry-on only and mostly carry a backpack, this often becomes a problem. Thankfully my sister bought me a compression bag before I left for Australia and I haven’t been able to travel without it ever since.
Heather showed us how to pack a lot without it looking like you did, and compression sacks are one of the many ways to do this. I’ll explain what makes compression sacks a must-have travel item and show you how to use them.
What Are Compression Sacks?
Compression sacks are bags made of nylon or similar material that you stuff your clothing into. You pull the fabric tabs to suck the air out of the bag, leaving you with more room in your luggage.
Alternatively, they can help you pack your belongings into a smaller, more manageable space. (That’s why we like them here at HPL.)
They come in different sizes and differ from packing cubes since they are designed to smush your belongings down as much as possible. They also aren’t as rigid and therefore take up space in a more efficient way in your backpack.
Compression Sacks, Packing Cubes, & Vacuum Bags (A quick comparison)
You’re probably thinking that compression sacks, packing cubes, and vacuum bags are one and the same – BUT they’re not.
Depending on what you need, here’s a quick comparison of these three travel essentials:
- Compression sacks help you make more room in your luggage.
- Packing cubes help keep your stuff organized. They come in different sizes, generally take up little space, and are often made of fabric.
- Vacuum bags help you shrink soft items to save space, like clothing, when you travel. They are very similar to compression sacks in that way, but they are generally made of plastic and designed to lay flat. They’re also the perfect option to keep your stuff dust and mildew free.
Do I Need Compression Sacks?
On my trip to Australia, I got one large compression sack and put the rest of my clothing in Ziploc bags and packing cubes. While you could find alternatives to shrink your clothing size, like vacuum-sealed plastic bags, I think the compression sacks are the most durable.
You can also purchase different sizes and organize your clothing with one bag for shirts, one bag for pants, and one bag for everything else. Or you could use them as laundry bags once you’ve used up all your clean clothing.
Keep in mind that compression sacks help you to pack more clothing, which ultimately adds to the weight of your luggage. Weight is annoying, and on many airlines around the world, that weight can cost you a LOT of money.
Who Are Compression Sacks Ideal For?
Compression sacks are handy if you’re traveling with carry-on baggage only for destinations where the size of your carry-on luggage matters (not the weight!). Campers with sleeping bags and outdoor gear will also appreciate the ability to make their load as compact as possible.
Hikers, backpackers, scuba divers, and travelers of all styles can benefit from compression sacks. Hikers can throw their sleeping bags and other gear inside and backpackers can bring more clothing. There are waterproof versions available for scuba divers or kayakers.
They may not, however, work well for business travelers who have to keep their clothing looking neat and wrinkle-free.
How Do I Use Compression Sacks?
First, organize your clothing how you want to find them, with the items you will need first at the top and the ones you might not need at the bottom.
Then fold each item lengthwise and roll it into a ball. Place items in the order you’ve chosen into your compression sack.
Pull the drawstrings, fold the top over the bag, and pull straps until all excess air has left the bag.
Lastly, place the filled compression sack in your luggage or backpack and you’re good to go!
Compression Sack Comparison: Sea to Summit, Gobi Gear, and More!
Compression sacks are popular with hikers and backpackers, particularly for their ability to condense a sleeping bag into a small size.
We’ve rounded up four different styles of compression sacks from four different brands that each have their own features worth checking out. All are the medium sized versions, unless otherwise noted.
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Compression Sack, $35
Before I left for Australia, my first major backpacking trip, my sister got me a compression sack to use. It was this exact Sea to Summit variety that I used for many many years following. I will admit that I overpacked for that trip, especially when I was able to make the items that much smaller by using a compression sack.
Sea to Summit makes fantastic products out of ultra sil, including their super lightweight compression sack. But don’t let it fool you, as it’s durable as well.
Four compression straps are there to eliminate empty space and a handle in the bottom makes it easy to pull it out of your bag. They come in four sizes and multiple color options for whatever your preference may be.
- Capacity: 14 liters
- Weight: 2.7 ounces
- Fabric: Ultra Sil Ripstop Fabric
- Dimensions: 8 x 18
Gobi Gear SegSac Traveler, $35 (formerly Hoboroll)
Do you ever wish your compression sack had different compartments for different items of clothing like pants, shirts and undergarments? The Gobi Gear SegSac does just that, created by an intrepid traveler looking for something that could serve as both a compression sack and bag for light hikes.
It’s been redesigned to include new features, which have solved a number of the issues that the first edition, one I have, had. They include tougher materials that are also water resistant, as well as stronger straps and buckles.
The compartments can be both a good thing and a bad thing. It will keep you organized, but I found that I was limited in fitting in as much stuff because of the dividers. The previous version didn’t compress as much as my other compression sacks either.
- Weight: 3.5 ounces
- Fabric: ultra light 30D nylon
- Dimensions: 10 x 15
Frelaxy Compression Sack, $11
The Frelaxy compression sack is another option that comes in five sizes: small, medium, large, extra large, and 2XL. It’s a standard compression sack that is lightweight, adjustable, and is made of water-resistant and durable polyester.
Like many other compression sacks, it has four adjustable straps for even compression. The pull handle is situated at the bottom and is easy to carry.
Compared to other compression sacks on the market, Frelaxy is fairly cheap. We haven’t tested them personally, but they appear to do their job well of compressing items like travel pillows and sleeping bags when traveling.
- Weight: 3 ounces
- Fabric: water and tear-resistant polyester
- Dimensions: 7 x 18
Redcamp Compression Stuff Sack, $12
When you’re a frequent traveler, most compression sacks look the same. The Redcamp stuff sack looks like it’s just another compression sack, except you also get a zippered pouch on top.
I found this to be a great additional feature since you can use it to keep your small items close without having to rummage through your sack. It also comes with a small buckle to tighten and secure the bag’s opening.
While we haven’t tried this brand personally, it looks to be a low-cost option for a compression sack that easily pulls tight to compress items.
- Weight: 4 ounces
- Fabric: water-resistant nylon
- Dimensions: 7.1 x 16.5
Grand Trunk used to make a compression sack which also works as a packing cube. It included sturdy zippers and compression straps, as well as the dual compartments. The Kelty Compression Stuff Sack is another option that went out of stock and was one of the cheapest options available on Amazon.
Unfortunately, both compression sacks are no longer available at the time of updating this post.
The good news is that we created a list of alternatives, like Eagle Creek’s compression packing cubes, down below. So make sure to check them out!
Compression Sack Alternatives
If compression sacks feel like the wrong fit for you, here are some alternatives that you may want to go for when you travel.
Compression Packing Cubes
If you constantly worry about overpacking and disorganized luggage every time you travel, packing cubes would be a total game changer and life saver!
Pack-It Isolate Compression Cube, $40 for S/M set
This compression packing cube comes in a set of small and medium and is perfect when you want to travel light and maximize packing space. What’s great about this is that it comes with self-repairing zippers (because zippers are the first to give up when you overpack stuff!) and transforms into a laundry bag since the ripstop poly fabric material is machine washable and water-resistant.
- Note: These are Brooke’s favorite packing cubes.
Gonex Compression Cube, $30 for set of 4
If you bring a lot more stuff than just clothes, the Gonex compression cube set would be a good choice. You can choose between a set of 3 or 4, which is ideal when you’re looking for a budget-friendly packing cube set. When it comes to durability, the Gonex packing cube may not be the best out there, but it gets the job done – as long as you are careful.
Ebags Classic Medium Compression Cube, $20
This classic medium compression cube from eBags is a good option for travelers who need to pack clothes for an extended trip without compromising on space. If you’re eyeing a winter travel trip, the classic medium compression packing cube can easily fit, according to one reviewer, a sweater fleece jacket, a down vest, jeans, snow pants, wool cap, infinity scarf, gloves, and 2 long-sleeve t-shirts.
That’s a steal for its price and you’d have more space to spare – even with just a backpack!
Travel Vacuum Bags
We tend to avoid vacuum bags at HPL because they have been known to tear or break more regularly than fabric compression options.
Remember that these items might help you to pack more into a smaller space, but your bag will be heavier because of it.
Here are some options if you wish to go this route. We understand that some trips call for different kinds of packing, and these might be a better fit. For normal travel, we definitely recommend compression packing cubes for clothing and compression sacks (like in this article) for things like coats and sleeping bags.
Chestnut Space Saver Travel Vacuum Bags, $15
You’d think that most vacuum bags would need a pump to help you compress it successfully. Not with the Chestnut space saver. These vacuum bags come with slider clips and all you have to do is pack, zip, and roll the bags to remove the air.
It’s up to you if you want to leave your bags rolled or unroll it in your luggage. The only downside to this is that while the slider clips make it easy to seal, it also tends to fall off when you slip it haphazardly.
Cozy Essential Travel Compression Vacuum Bags, $22
Compared to Chestnut, the Cozy Essential vacuum bags are much better when it comes to durability thanks to its double zipper seal and thicker PE/PA (Polyethylene/Polyamide) plastic material. Just like Chestnut, this vacuum bag can be sealed without any pump or vacuum.
You can also get various sizes of small, medium, and large vacuum bags in just one pack, which makes this budget-friendly.
VMSTR Vacuum Storage Bags with USB Electric Pump, $32
If you’re someone who likes ultimate convenience and comfort, the VMSTR vacuum travel bags would be perfect. It comes with a USB powered electric pump to help you compress the vacuum bags that come with it. While we like how efficient the extra pump can be to remove excess air, we’re not a fan of needing to bring the extra device while traveling.
Quick tip: Manually squeeze the air out first from your vacuum bags before you connect the electric pump. This will help you speed things up when packing your stuff. For added convenience, the electric pump has a little rubber adapter that you can attach to a bag while you pack another.
How to Choose the Right Compression Sack
Compression sacks come in a variety of sizes – small, medium, large, extra large, and 2XL.
There is no one size fits all when it comes to choosing the right size compression sack for your travels. However, if you need to bring a tent or a sleeping bag plus some other items, an option between a large to extra large would be a good size.
Small and medium size compression sacks are ideal for kids or teens when camping and can also fit adult clothes for a week or so (depending on how light you pack, of course).
Since it can be a hassle to buy a compression sack only to find that they don’t fit what you need, you can take note of the actual size and volume by doing the following:
- Put the items you’ll bring for travel in a cardboard box. Make sure the box is bigger and fits your items with a little more space.
- Measure the length, width, and depth or height of the box in inches.
- Multiply the L x W x H of the box to get the volume in cubic inches.
- To get the volume in liters, divide the total by 61.
Once you’re done, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what compression sack size you should bring for your next travel.
Here’s a quick example:
- Length: 15
- Width: 11
- Height: 8
Volume in cubic inches = 15 x 11 x 8 = 1320 cubic inches
Volume in liters = 1320 cubic inches/61= 21.64 liters
Depending on the brand, you can buy a compression sack that is a large size to fit what you need.
When choosing a compression sack for your travels, it’s important to consider the material.
- Will it rip if it catches against something sharp, like a broken zipper on your backpack?
- Will it be ruined by having dirty clothes stored in it?
- Most importantly, can you wash it if you need to?
Most of the brands I reviewed are made of ultra sil nylon, which is ideal for compression sacks. It holds up against the elements, is water resistant, and is lightweight.
While material is important, durability goes hand-in-hand. Most of the time with travel products, you get what you pay for in terms of quality. I like the Sea to Summit for this category as not only have mine lasted well, but they also are made by a reputable travel brand.
These compression sacks come in all prices and quality levels. When doing your research, we recommend seeing if the product comes with a good warranty, as that can add additional value to the product.
Where Can I Buy Compression Sacks?
Most outdoor stores, like REI, MEC, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and even Wal-Mart, sell compression sacks. If you’ve found your chosen brand you can search online for deals on websites like Steep and Cheap or Backcountry.com.
Overall, we like compression sacks and packing cubes better than vacuum travel bags at Her Packing List. I like each compression sack for different uses, so it’s difficult to pick one that stands out from the rest.
Each has its own pros and cons, so it’s up to you to decide which will best suit your needs.
Whether you like to use compression sacks, packing cubes, or vacuum travel bags, remember to use them with caution since fitting more clothes can also make your bag heavy. Worse, you might end up paying for expensive overage fees in excess baggage weight.
So what do you think? Would you rather use compression sacks, packing cubes, or vacuum bags when you travel?