After all these months trapped at home, with travel finally a possibility again, you might feel like a Brood X cicada scratching its way up from underground. While this is, of course, an opportunity to see family members again or to actually vacation somewhere that isn’t just your back porch, it’s also the perfect opportunity to rethink how you pack. And to do that, you need packing cubes.
Aly Simmons, a store manager at REI, says, “Packing cubes are magic, and you won’t believe it until you try them. I even use them in my everyday life for organizing makeup. They are great to store and easy to zip up and take on the road,” she says. “But I find them most helpful when large suitcases aren’t really practical for a trip, but you still want options of what to wear.” Strategist contributor Foster Kamer is also a fan: “The paradox of being stridently carry-on and an overpacker was a frustrating, existential one — until I discovered the Pack-It Cube,” he says. “It’s exactly what it sounds like: the Russian nesting doll of luggage. And it’s the simplest of products: an empty, square bag with a zipper. That’s it.”
Packing cubes are both time savers and space savers, Simmons says. “Not only does it keep everything super-organized, you can absolutely fit more in your bag or suitcase as a result.” She’s tried every packing technique she could think of, from tight folding to rolling every single item, but nothing works as well as the cubes. “Cubes kind of work like mini compression sacks … once you get everything in it, things just fit around each other in the bag perfectly.”
We spoke with Simmons and four other travel experts and packing enthusiasts about the best packing cubes for every type of traveler — and how to use them. Here are their picks.
Two of our experts called out Eagle Creek’s three-pack of packing cubes. “I now use them on every trip to save space and stay organized,” says Christina Guan, a travel blogger for Happy to Wander. She says she’s tested six different packing cubes and “Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Cubes have by far been the best, looking like new even after years of traveling. While you’ll no doubt find cheaper options out there, they usually succumb to wear and tear. All of them did the job fine but started to rip or zippers would get jammed after a few uses.” Kamer’s favorite cubes are also Eagle Creek. With them, he says, “You will become the Frank Gehry of luggage interiors.”
Emily Krause, a travel writer and blogger, calls Eagle Creek’s compression cubes lifesavers. “My favorite way to use packing cubes is when I’m trying to fly carry-on-only with babies and toddlers,” she says. “I fit multiple people’s items in one small suitcase by assigning each person a different color cube.” She says she can fit an entire week’s worth of clothes for kids in a medium-size packing cube, “but I’ll typically need a large packing cube for my clothes. One trick I use to fit more clothes into a packing cube is to roll the clothes or fold them accordion-style.” Krause also says cubes allow you to store one category of clothing for the whole family all in the same place. “I might put all the swimsuits in a cube, or all of the rain jackets or pajamas. It makes it easier to quickly locate what you need for the next scheduled activity.”
“In my family, packing cubes provide a wonderful way to keep our individual clothes separated in a large shared suitcase,” says Micki Kosman, a travel blogger at the Barefoot Nomad. She says cubes “make it a breeze to find small items like electronics chargers and cables, underwear, socks, or scarves in a crowded suitcase,” but they are also a great way to organize larger items like pants, tops, and coats. “These cubes come with a mesh top, so you can see the contents easily, and they’re lightweight, so they don’t add extra weight to your suitcase. I’ve used mine on almost every trip I’ve taken over the past three years, and they’re still in perfect condition.”
“I’ve found that packing cubes tend to help speed up the packing process, especially when I’m taking trips. I’m essentially packing the same items each time, so it feels like it’s getting quicker and quicker,” says Matthew Spade, a freelance writer and content creator at Buckets and Spades blog. He says the Muji bag is especially useful for separating dirty clothes from clean clothes while traveling. It also helps Spade collect smaller items together rather than having to pack them into small gaps in between luggage to fill spaces.
The Peak Design is made of a rip-resistant weatherproof nylon that provides a durability appreciated by Austin Tucker, a writer at Pack Hacker. “These are some of the top-rated cubes we’ve reviewed to date,” he says. “The mesh on the sides offers breathability, and the additional zipper compresses things down further for easy packing. You can grab the grippy tabs and pull them to open the cube quickly, too.” The unique tear-away zip mechanism is one of the Peak Design cube’s main features. It also has a second zipper, which is stealthily hidden under the cube, designed specifically for storing dirty clothes. It’s “spendy, but worth it if you travel a lot,” Tucker says.
Simmons’s favorite is this Cotopaxi 42 L option, which also doubles as a backpack. It has compression straps to condense your clothes, and a large mesh zipper and smaller mesh compartments for underwear and electronic items. “The internal storage of the pack paired with the cubes is a perfect combo,” she says. “I also love it for hauling dirty gear back home. I like to use the cubes to house the dirty stuff.” The Cotopaxi 42 L travel packing cube has multiple handles that make it easy to maneuver around while traveling, and a rain cover for when the weather gets bad.
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