Packing with Compression Sacks — Fit More Clothes!

how to pack smaller

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I’m someone who likes to pack plenty of clothing options so I make sure I’m prepared for every occasion and temperature. But since I carry a backpack and try to go carry-on only, 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 a 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.

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 are especially handy if you’re traveling with carry on baggage only for destinations where the size of your carry-on luggage matters (not the weight!). And campers with sleeping bags and outdoor wear will appreciate the ability to make their load as compact as possible.

Do I Need Compression Sacks?

compression sacksOn my trip to Australia, I got one large compression sacks and put the rest of my clothing in Ziploc bags and packing cubes, which the zippers soon broke on. 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?

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 pressed.

How to Use Compression Sacks from Caroline Eubanks on Vimeo.

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 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

Compression Sack Comparison: Sea to Summit, Grand Trunk, Kelty, Hoboroll

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.

Grand Trunk Getaway Compression Pack Cube, $80

Grand Trunk Compression Cube side view

This compression cube by Grand Trunk is the perfect mix of packing cubes and compression sacks. The cubes come in three sizes and three colors, each with two compartments. This makes it easy to keep your dirty clothes away from the clean ones. Once you’ve zipped up your items in the cube’s sides, you zip a horizontal zipper and pull on the sturdy compression straps.

I received one to test out a few months back, in the medium size, and was unsure at first. It didn’t seem to hold that much clothing when compared to packing cubes and compression sacks. But I later realized the right amount that will fit into it and have brought it on trips around the United States. I like the sturdy zippers and compression straps, as well as the dual compartments, but it doesn’t compress as much as a traditional compression sack. Keep this in mind when researching.

Grand Trunk compression cube

The company also makes hammocks, camping gear, etc.; the compression cube makes sense when paired with their other products. You can shrink down your travel hammock into one of the cubes for ease of storage.

Specs:
Capacity: 18 liters (expanded)
Weight: 11 ounces
Fabric: Water Resistant Nylon
Dimensions (compressed): 4 x 10 x 16

>> Grab a Grand Trunk Getaway Compression Cube on Amazon.

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Compression Sack, $35

Sea to Summit Compression Sack, Compressed

Before I left for Australia, my first major backpacking trip, my sister got me a compression sack to use. It was this Sea to Summit variety that I still use today. 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 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.

Specs:
Capacity: 14 liters
Weight: 2.7 ounces
Fabric: Ultra Sil Ripstop Fabric
Dimensions: 8 x 18

>> Grab a Sea to Summit Ultra Sil Compression Sack on Amazon.

Hoboroll Compression Sack, $40

Hoboroll compression sack, inside

Do you ever wish your compression sack had different compartments for different items of clothing like pants, shirts and undergarments? The Hoboroll 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 recently been redesigned to include new features, which have solved a number of the issues that the previous edition, one I have, had. They include tougher materials that are also water resistant, as well as stronger straps and buckles.

Hoboroll compression sack

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. It also only comes in one size at the moment, but does come in multiple color options.

Specs:
Weight: 3.5 ounces
Fabric: ultra light 30D nylon
Dimensions: 10 x 15

>> Check out the Hoboroll v2 on Amazon.

Kelty Compression Stuff Sack, $25

Kelty compression sack, compressed

After coming home from my year in Australia, I invested in a second compression sack instead of the ziploc bags I had used in addition to my Sea to Summit compression sack. I found that one of the cheapest on Amazon was the Kelty compression stuff sack.

Kelty compression sack

Like my previous one, it has four straps to compress and a drawstring, but also has two buckles attached for quick release. It also folds up into a tiny pocket to throw in your bag or clip onto the outside of your backpack. It comes in four sizes and four colors. I’d read reviews about it breaking, but I haven’t had any issues. In fact, many users said they store sleeping bags in the larger sized compression stuff sacks.

Specs:
Weight: 4 ounces
Fabric: water resistant nylon ripstop
Dimensions: 8 x 15

>> Grab a Kelty compression sack on Amazon.

Kelty vs Sea to Summit
Kelty vs Sea to Summit

Material

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 lightweight.

Durability

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’ve had all of these compression sacks for anywhere between a few months and a few years. None have completely broken, but I found the Sea to Summit to be the most durable of the bunch, looking as new as the day I got it.

Price

While I like the Grand Trunk compression cube, I find the price to be extraordinarily high. I’ve been pleased enough with the product itself and am glad to see its durability, but when compared with the price of the other compression sacks, it’s double. You can get quality without spending quite so much.

I like each compression sack for different uses, so it’s difficult to pick one that stands out from the rest.

  • I use the Kelty and Sea to Summit together on longer backpacking trips because they can be squished into the cavernous depths of my backpack.
  • I like the Hoboroll for shorter trips with a small amount of clothing.
  • And I like the Grand Trunk for weekend getaways where I am doing my best to pack light.

Each has their own pros and cons, so it’s up to you to decide which will best suit your needs.

Her Packing List compares 4 different types of compression sacks.

Where Can I Buy Compression Sacks?

Most outdoors 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.

>> BUY compression sacks on Amazon*

Do you use compression sacks when you travel?

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Melissa- The Mellyboo Project says

    I’ve sworn by my compression sack for years! on my most recent trip to Africa i actually used it to compress my sleeping bag so i could pack my sleeping bag INTO my backpack (I also threw a few bulkier items, such as my hoodies in with it!

  2. Marine says

    My sleeping back came with one of those !! It’s soooo good ! I didnt know you could buy them sepereatly – definitely keeping an eye out for them next time I go shopping,
    I usually use vacuum storage bags but I don’t always have a vacuum around so this will be a great alternative !
    thanks for this article 🙂

  3. Elizabeth says

    Thanks for making this helpful article and video! I am looking at the Sea to Summit bags and I can’t decide which size to get. Which size is featured in the video? 6 L, 10 L, 15 L, or 20 L? Thanks!

  4. AnneMarie says

    I just want to note that most if not all SCUBA gear cannot and should not be compressed. Also it is all meant to get wet but should be able to dry out after use, so a waterproof bag would not be useful. Most divers carry their gear in mesh backpacks or duffle bags.
    Otherwise very nice article!

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