What’s all the fuss about packing cubes — and are they right for you?

Oct 15, 2019

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I used to think packing cubes — individual bags for your suitcase — were useless, a mess of nylon and zips. Then I tried them and can safely say that thanks to packing cubes, I can fit more in my suitcase and am now a more organized packer.

But before I converted to the other side, I always wondered what all the fuss over packing cubes was. They’re just zippered compartments, after all, and aren’t anything wildly innovative. And now that I use them, I often get questions from friends and family, who see my orderly suitcase and pepper me with questions like: Do they help? How do they work? Are they worth it? Should I buy some? If so, what brand?

Here’s what I tell them.

(Photo by FG-Trade/Getty Images)
(Photo by FG-Trade/Getty Images)

What do packing cubes actually do?

Packing cubes can help you carefully pack your suitcases and travel better in a number of ways:

  • Different-sized cubes help organize and separate clothing. You can group items together by color or type of clothing (e.g., all your shirts in one, workout clothing in another).
  • Putting small items, like socks or power cords, into a packing cube can help them from rolling or moving around in your bag.
  • A packing cube can double as a pillow, laundry bag, shoe bag or cosmetics bag in a pinch.
  • Cubes help keep your clothing wrinkle-free, regardless of whether you’re a roller or a folder.
  • If any liquids spill elsewhere in your bag, your items have extra protection.
  • Separating items makes it easy to pack, unpack and repack quickly and efficiently. In fact, once you have a system in place with your cubes, packing can become even quicker and easier, especially for frequent travelers or business travelers who often visit the same destinations for work.
  • Compression cubes can help you fit more items into your bag if you have limited space or are traveling with just a carry-on.
  • If you’re packing a backpack, cubes can help you find what you need without having to take everything out of the pack.

Further reading: How to pack like a frequent flier 

Using packing cubes (especially compression ones) is a good idea for fixing an overflowing suitcase. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Using packing cubes (especially compression ones) is the perfect fix for an overflowing suitcase. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.)

How did packing cubes change my life?

As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t always into packing cubes. In fact, I didn’t even really want to try them. I thought that, as a travel writer and frequent Ryanair flyer, that my packing game was completely on point — I even use the app PackPoint to ensure I never forget anything.

But when a friend repeatedly raved about them, I thought it would be fun to give them a try, mainly so I could prove to her they were a waste of money.

Now I’m a packing cube convert.

After deciding to try them, I had to find the right ones. Once I had carefully investigated several brands online like eBags, Amazon Basics, Eagle Creek, Away, Lean Travel and Gonex, I selected Eagle Creek, specifically, cubes in its Pack-It Specter line. The brand had great reviews, and I appreciated that the cubes were more malleable and less structured than some of the others so I could easily fit them in a backpack.

Further reading: 15 best shoes for travel

A progression of my compression packing cube. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)
A progression of my compression packing cubes. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy.)

Reviewers said the zippers were sturdy and the nylon fabric lightweight and flexible, so I decided to purchase two different three-packs of the Specter, one with small, medium and large cubes and another with a medium dirty/clean cube, a medium structured compression cube and a toiletries cube. I didn’t mind then that they weren’t transparent, but I’d like to eventually get another set that has a mesh or transparent section so I can see what’s in each cube.

Fast-forward a couple of years. I’ve used the cubes for over 100 trips. I don’t always use all of them — it very much depends on the season, length of my trip, whether or not it’s a business trip and if I plan to check a bag or use a backpack — but I find the compression cube, as well as the different-sized cubes, are the ones I consistently use the most. I particularly love using the cubes for items like undergarments, swimsuits and to keep fitness or casual clothes separate from dressier or business items. I also use the smallest cube for cords or miscellaneous items like adapters.

I’m really happy with Eagle Creek, as the cubes are showing no signs of wear and tear just yet, but I could have also been just as happy with another brand. In the future, I plan to order more structured cubes to use in larger trolley suitcases and transparent cubes so I can confirm the contents of the cube without having to unzip it.

Further reading: 8 tips for doing laundry while traveling 

Are packing cubes right for you?

Whether you’re an expert traveler or packer or someone who rarely goes on vacation, packing cubes can benefit everyone. But they can be especially helpful if:

  • You’re a backpack traveler. Backpackers can use softer packing cubes to separate items when filling up a backpack. This can help organize within a small space and make items much easier to find, especially as you can’t open a backpack extra wide like you can a suitcase.
  • You want your suitcase to be organized. Cubes help separate items so each has its own place and your suitcase looks (and actually is) much neater.
  • You have to hit the ground running upon arrival. Business travelers who have immediate meetings may not have time to unpack, settle in and iron their outfits. Packing cubes can separate a change of clothes, keeping it wrinkle-free and ready for you to quickly find and change into upon arrival before an important meeting or event.
  • You want to fit as much as possible in a carry-on. Using compression cubes when traveling on low-cost carriers with size limits means you can put in all your clothes then zip the compression cube, which will shrink it into a more manageable size, allowing you to fit more in.
  • You need a bag within a bag. I already mentioned that packing cubes can double as a pillow, laundry bag or shoe bag. But they can also be helpful to store items in when doing other activities. I’ve used packing cubes to store my wallet, phone and valuables within a beach bag, toiletries inside a gym bag and necessities inside my daypack when hiking. Having a bag you can zip is always useful. They can even hold snacks or children’s items within a purse or stroller.
My suitcase stays organized with packing cubes. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)
My suitcase stays organized with packing cubes. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy.)

I highly recommend you give packing cubes a shot, even if you’re not a believer. If you still aren’t convinced, now is the time to point out that packing cubes are pretty affordable. Amazon has plenty of options varying in quality, style and color, starting at just $22 for a five-pack of Gonex cubes. If you’re unsure they’ll work for you, start with a lower-priced set. You can always upgrade once you decide which ones you like best and what features work or don’t work for you.

Happy packing!

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Featured image by FG-Trade/Getty Images.

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