Packing cubes have changed the way we pack and travel. One of the simplest packing accessories might just be the most impactful to make your trip smoother. But do packing cubes really save space? And are they actually worth using compared to alternative methods? If you're not convinced yet, here are all the details.
Packing Cubes Pros and Cons
There are plenty of benefits of using packing cubes for your travels. But like every piece of gear you choose to pack, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons to decide if they make sense for your trip.
Organization - There’s no question that using packing cubes makes it way easier to organize your gear and clothing in your backpack or suitcase. The standard bucket style packing space is hard to organize and a pain to dig through when fully loaded. Packing cubes will help organize the space.
Easier packing & unpacking - When you pack up to move to a new city on your trip, instead of dozens of items you need to fit in your bag you’ll only have a handful. And once you find a good system for packing each cube you can do it with your eyes closed.
Separate dirty clothes - Doing laundry on the road can be a hassle but packing cubes can make it easier. Keep a dedicated cube for dirty clothes or use a divided cube to separate your dirty from clean.
Compress bulky items - Sweaters, jackets, or other bulky items can eat up space in your pack, but packing cubes can help compress these items and minimize the space needed to fit them.
Pack more - Particularly true with compression packing cubes, you can fit more gear and clothes in a smaller space. This means you can travel longer and farther with a smaller bag which is easier to travel with and might save on checked bag fees.
Easy to overpack - The largest drawback of using packing cubes is how easy it becomes to overpack. Cubes make it much easier to pack more gear in a smaller bag which makes it very easy to add a few extras of everything.
Temptation to bring just in case items - For the same reason, now that your suitcase can fit more, it immediately becomes tempting to pack those ‘just in case’ items you were on the fence about.
Extra weight - Every time you add something to your bag you’re adding weight. Keeping your bag lightweight makes traveling easier in nearly every situation. Even though the cubes themselves aren't that heavy they will still add weight to your pack, and if the cubes lead to overpacking then you can easily get weighed down.
Adds an extra step to packing - You do have to think about how you’re packing your clothes in the cubes and once your clothes are packed in the cubes, you then have to pack the cubes in your bag. Once you get used to traveling with cubes this won’t take much thought but it does take some strategy to properly pack everything in 3 or 4 cubes compared to one large space in the suitcase.
Do Packing Cubes Really Save Space?
Yes, packing cubes really do save space, they compress your clothes and more efficiently fit in a bucket style compartment of a suitcase or backpack.
Packing cubes compress your clothes so they take up less space. This is true with any type of packing cubes, not just ones that are specifically called compression. When you stack your clothes in the cube and zip it closed, the cube will keep them tight and compact so that there’s less air in between them and they take up less space in your bag. The cubes are more efficiently doing the same thing as the strap that is included in most suitcases, that runs across your clothing to hold everything in place and compress it down.
Packing cubes make your bag more organized. The traditional suitcase and travel backpack offers one large bucket style area to pack. Clothes and gear don’t naturally fit well within this cubed space. But packing cubes do. Harness your childhood tetris skills and arrange the cubes in the most efficient way possible. The cubes easily fit into the right angled corners of your bag and neatly stack on top of each other. When you only have a handful of cubes to pack it is much easier to do so neatly and more organized, which leads to space savings.
Packing Cubes vs Compression Packing Cubes
Compression packing cubes have an extra zipper that runs around the perimeter. Once you’ve added your clothes and zipped the cube closed you can also close this additional zipper to compress everything inside. The compression zipper is the same as what you find on an expandable suitcase. But instead of being made to provide more room, it lets you compress the items enclosed down into a smaller space.
Vacuum sealed compression cubes are also available but it's an expensive and bulky solution that we don’t recommend.
So how do you decide between traditional packing cubes and a compression set?
Compression packing cubes let you pack more clothing or gear into a tighter space, so you can bring more or scale down the size of your primary bag. Both of which can be huge benefits.
But they can also make your pack a lot heavier due to the now dense cubes in your pack. It’s a balancing act between space and weight.
Compression cubes are arguably more versatile. An individual compression cube can do more and get packed more efficiently while offering more versatility for a variety of trips.
Stuff Sacks vs Packing Cubes
Stuff sacks are primarily relied upon for off-road backpacking trips to stash your gear. Proper weight distribution in your backpack when trekking is paramount and stuff sacks can help make it easier. They are very often weatherproof or waterproof to protect your clothes and gear from the elements.
Stuff sacks are cylindrical rather than cubed, top loaded, and often have compression straps. You can lay them horizontally or vertically in your backpack to organize your gear on treks, hikes, and camping trips. Compared to cubes, the cylindrical shape also means clothes aren’t stacked flat and could get wrinkled. But when you’re out trekking that’s not really a concern.
If your vacations tend to be off-road or in the great outdoors with a heavy backpack, stuff sacks are likely a better solution than packing cubes.
Packing Cubes vs Rolling Clothes
Before packing cubes became mainstream one of the best travel tips available was to roll your clothes. This is a great shortcut to get some of the benefits of packing cubes without actually using cubes. Rolling your clothes squeezes the air out, makes it easier to pack in a bucket style compartment, and makes it easier to organize your suitcase.
Of course, you lose out on a lot of the major benefits of using cubes. Rolling your clothes is no faster to pack or unpack, although it might be easier to find individual items compared to layering clothes. You won't get the same amount of compression so you can’t pack more items or bulky clothes. And it definitely does not help you manage laundry.
Some avid travelers have actually combined these two into one super efficient packing system by rolling their clothes in the packing cubes.
What to Use Instead of Packing Cubes
Packing cubes should be a go-to item for every traveler. The benefits far outweigh the cons and they will inevitably make packing easier, making your trip smoother. If you don’t have a set of packing cubes yet, there are a couple of alternatives to using packing cubes that can be an improvement over the traditional layered style of packing.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the traditional layered packing style, it has been tried and true for decades of travels. But travel gear has come a long way and so has the way we pack. We’ve all had to dig through layers of packed clothes to find a specific item and know how that looks after just a couple days of living out of a suitcase.
As we already covered, rolling your clothes can help compress some of the air out of your clothing and make it easier to find the items you’re looking for quickly. While certainly a step up from the traditional layered style of packing, it's more of a band aid solution to the real problem of limited space and lack of organization.
Some bag manufacturers are designing compartmentalized bags to provide similar organization to using cubes, but built into your bag. You won't get the same versatility and all the benefits of using cubes, but a compartmentalized bag is sometimes a good alternative. Some hardshell suitcases are split into 2 compartments like the Thule Revolve and travel backpacks are getting creative with multiple compartments to stay organized like the RMU Expandable Travel Backpack. But even with these built in compartments we still rely on our packing cubes when using these bags.
Traveling With Packing Cubes
Whatever type of packing cube you choose to travel with, you’ll be in good hands. Your bag will instantly become more organized and all the other benefits will help make your trip smoother. We consistently hear from first time cube users that they can no longer imagine traveling without them. Try a set for yourself and find out!