Why you should use packing cubes to improve your (traveling) life
I used to think packing cubes (individual little bags for your suitcase) were useless — an extra expense and a mess of nylon, mesh and zips.
Then I tried them.
Packing cubes can help you become a more organized and efficient traveler, but that's really only one of the benefits.
Now that I'm a packing cube convert who regularly uses and evangelizes these little squares, I often get questions from friends and family members who see my orderly suitcase and pepper me with questions.
"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.
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What do packing cubes actually do?
Packing cubes can help you organize your suitcase and improve your overall travel experience in a number of ways.
The different-sized cubes help organize and separate clothing (think: tops, bottoms, swimsuits). You can group items together by outfit or type of clothing (all your shirts in one, workout clothing in another) or, especially if you're traveling with a family, you can use them to pack by day.
For example, everyone's Monday outfits go in this cube, Tuesday outfits go in another cube.
This is really handy for that first night where one cube holds everyone's pajamas and other immediately required essentials.
Packing cubes help keep your clothing wrinkle-free, regardless of whether you prefer to roll or fold them. They also help you fit more items into your bag, which can help keep you on "team carry-on."
Additionally, if you want to help reduce your risk of bringing bed bugs home from your travels, they can play a major role there, too. More on that in a moment.
Related: How to pack like a frequent flyer
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, 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 I decided to try packing cubes, I had to find the right ones. Once I had carefully investigated several brands online such as 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.
Related: 15 best shoes for travel
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 and 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, and 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 such as undergarments and swimsuits, and for keeping fitness or casual clothes separate from dressier 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 see the contents of the cube without having to unzip it.
Related: 8 tips for doing laundry while traveling
As another example, TPG director of content Summer Hull swears by CalPak packing cubes, which come in lots of fun colors, are sturdy and, most importantly, hold up very well to hot air tumbles in the dryer, which is a bit of a rare attribute for most packing cubes.
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're packing for multiple people and want to organize items by day of the trip.
- 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 them wrinkle-free and ready for you to quickly find and wear 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 and then zip the compression cube, which will shrink it into a more manageable size, allowing you to fit more in.
- You want to minimize your risk of bringing home bed bugs.
I highly recommend you give packing cubes a shot, even if you’re not yet a believer.
If you still aren’t convinced, now is the time to point out that packing cubes can be pretty affordable. Amazon has plenty of options varying in quality, style and color. One budget-conscious brand on Amazon is Gonex. Another Amazon brand liked by some members of the TPG staff is Peak.
The aforementioned CalPak packing cubes are pricier (about $70 for a set), but as mentioned, they can hold up to heat while some less expensive brands can not.
If you’re unsure that packing cubes will 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.
Packing cubes can help you avoid bed bugs
Although I haven't had a run-in with bed bugs (yet), some travel experts recommend using packing cubes to help with bed bug prevention if you don't want to bring luggage into your house.
After enduring a bed bug nightmare from travel, for example, Summer Hull sought to do everything possible to prevent that from happening again. That included never again bringing luggage into her home -- which is admittedly tough for a family.
Packing cubes made the seemingly impossible task easier. She's able to immediately run clothing (and the packing cubes) through a hot cycle on the dryer after traveling to kill any potential bed bug hitchhikers. Then, once they've been heated, the packing cubes can be safely stored and used to pack inside the home.
It's much easier to quickly load suitcases (that have been stored in bins in the garage) by tossing in a few ready-to-go packing cubes, instead of folding and packing everything from scratch out in the grass.
Related: The best carry-on bags for 2022
Are packing cubes worth it?
Packing cubes aren't a gimmick -- they are a legitimate tool frequent travelers can use to stay organized, maximize what can fit in the carry-on and even keep your home safe from bed bugs. Getting all that for around $20 - $40, depending on which packing cubes you order, is definitely worth it to us.
Additional reporting by Summer Hull.